June 26th 2002
“I can’t see! Where are you taking me?”
“You don’t recognize this place?”
“Recognize what? I can’t see a thing.”
“It’s just a little bit further.”
“I swear, Lan, if this is some kind of stunt…”
“It’s not. Come on.”
Landon Reese held out his right hand. In the faint glow offered by the starlight, Cassidy Voltaire could barely make out his face. Just a hint of the hard line of his jaw, and the flash in his eyes that owed nothing to the shadow moon.
A deep breath, a smile, and she reached out, clasping his hand in hers. Landon smiled back. Careful to hold the picnic basket in his left hand high above the line of the bushes alongside the trail, he led her steadily downwards, slipping once or twice on the steep scree. Landon seemed sure of his path, and his footing, and Cassidy took comfort in that.
Once into the line of the trees, the shadows deepened, and Cassidy squeezed his hand just a little harder. Landon threw a glance over his shoulder, a cheeky smile playing on his lips.
“I can’t believe you don’t remember,” he said.
“This is like the opening of every horror movie I’ve ever seen,” said Cassidy, ignoring him.
“You don’t watch horror movies.”
“Yeah, well… it would be exactly like that if I did.”
Landon just chuckled, concentrating on leading them through the maze of trees that rose like sentinels on either side of the narrow dirt track. Cassidy breathed in, relishing the fresh smell of holly and wild grass.
Soon, they broke the confines of the trees and stepped out into a natural glade, like a tiny amphitheatre, with an audience of towering oaks. The moonlight seemed intensified, bathing the glade with light that seemed to sparkle.
She was still holding Landon’s hand, forcing him to come up short. He turned, that grin on his face again.
“You remember,” he said. It wasn’t a question.
“God…” Cassidy breathed, “How long has it been?”
“Ten years… maybe more?” Landon shrugged, “We were kids.”
“I used to love this place,” said Cassidy, “I can’t believe I forgot about it.”
“You remember that tree?” asked Landon, pointing to a gnarled old oak that seemed quite indistinguishable from the rest, “You chased Jimmy Palmer with a rock when he called you a girl.”
Cassidy laughed, “He climbed up where I couldn’t reach,” she said, “Refused to come down until after dark.”
“My dad laid into me about that one,” said Landon.
Cassidy threw him a sharp glance, but Landon had already let go of her hand, making his way to the centre of the glade. He crouched down, setting the basket down on the grass, still slick with dew. He unpacked a blanket, which he swiftly spread out, followed by two wrapped sandwiches, glasses and a bottle of champagne.
Cassidy settled on the blanket, her long legs, laid bare by her cut off jeans, splayed out in front of her. She cocked her arms straight, leaning back to gaze up at the stars.
All Landon could do was look at her. The perfect form of her long neck, the colour of dulled ivory. The way her chestnut curls danced down around her shoulders. The strong set of her features, cast into relief by the light of the moon.
He shook his head, trying to clear it before he lost himself completely. He held out one of the sandwiches.
“No,” said Cassidy, “I just want to sit here for a bit.”
“I could open the champagne.”
“No. Just… sit here with me. Just for a while.”
Landon scooted round behind her, creating a V with his legs, allowing her to lean back against his chest. It was the place Cassidy felt most comfortable, secure in the cocoon of his body. The star of the school’s swim team, Landon wasn’t overly-muscular. Rather, his body was lean, and hard, filled with the coiled energy of a tensed spring. He put one arm around her, bending his head to plant a soft kiss on the top of her head, and inhale the aroma of her hair.
“I can’t believe it’s over,” said Cassidy.
“At last,” said Landon.
“Aren’t you going to miss it?”
’What? Classes? Boring teachers? The same old faces every single day?”
“It wasn’t that bad.”
“No,” he agreed, “I guess not.”
They didn’t talk for a while. The only sounds; the swishing of the leaves in the wind and the restless chirping of crickets in the undergrowth.
“It’s all ahead of us, Cas,” said Landon, at last, “One lazy summer and then it’s college, saying goodbye to this town… Our lives are waiting for us out there.”
“I’m not sure I’m ready,” she admitted.
“You are. You’re brilliant.”
“You’re supposed to say that!”
“It’s true,” he said, “You’re going to love Georgetown, and everyone there’s gonna love you. You’ll become rich, successful, and you’ll forget all about that hick from your old hometown that you left behind way back when.”
“Don’t say that!” Cassidy admonished him, spinning in the crook of his legs so she could face him.
She saw the usual humour in those grey eyes of his that she’d fallen in love with – long before she knew what love was. But there was something else in them, something new… a trace of fear that was completely unfamiliar. As far as she knew, Landon Reese had never been afraid of anything.
“I’ll never forget you,” she said, “If anything, you’re the one who’s going to forget me. New York City, the capital of Bimbo!”
“I think that’s Los Angeles.”
“Whatever,” offering a small smile, she stroked his cheek, “We’ve been together for three years, Landon.”
“I think we’ve been together a lot longer than that,” he said.
“Probably. We just didn’t know it.”
“So, you promise?” he asked.
“Why should I believe you?”
Cassidy considered the question for a long moment, as though weighing the proper response. Landon waited, not daring to reveal just how nervous he really was.
It was true that he’d loved her far longer than the three years they’d gone out, officially, as a couple. But it never did well to reflect on just how long this girl had held him in her grasp. It was too much of a fantasy to live up to scrutiny. After all, you’re not supposed to find your soulmate when you’re six years old.
“I have an idea,” she said, “Pass me that bottle.”
Landon frowned, but did as she asked.
“Moét & Chandon,” she said, examining the label, “I’m impressed.”
“I reckoned it was a special night,” said Landon.
Gripping the neck of the bottle, Cassidy hoisted herself up and trotted over to the east side of the glade. Curious, Landon followed her. Uncaring, or unaware of the mass of crushed moss, stones and mud, Cassidy dropped to her knees by the base of a tree. She started scrabbling in the dirt with her bare hands.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“What does it look like?”
“A squirrel impression.”
“Shut up, and help me!”
Smiling to himself, Landon knelt beside her, helping to gouge a shallow trench in the loose earth.
“We bury this bottle,” Cassidy explained, “And ten years from now, we come back here and we dig it up again. Ten years…” she grinned, “Think of everything that’ll change by then. We’ll be different people. We’ll have stories to tell. What time is it?”
“Two past midnight,” said Landon, checking his watch.
Cassidy rolled her eyes, “Can’t you just say midnight?”
“I could, but that’d take the fun out of it.”
“So, two minutes past midnight, June 26th 2012… We meet right back here.”
“If we remember,” said Landon.
“We will,” Cassidy sounded certain, “Because this is our night. Our graduation night. I promise…” she leaned in, laying the softest, most fleeting kiss on his lips, “We’ll remember it forever.”
Landon tried to breathe. Locked into her eyes, he read the truth there – behind her words.
She nodded, “That’s exactly what I mean.”
“But I always thought…” he stammered a bit, “You always said you weren’t ready.”
“I am now. I love you, Landon. Only you.”
Deep inside, Landon felt something shift when she said that. Later, he’d agonize over what exactly had changed between them that night – apart from the physical.
They had the summer, and they made the most of it, but it was different. They’d lost and gained something too intangible to name, and too precious to forget.
He couldn’t place it, but it was there.
That was for later, though. That night, there was only the dancing silver of the moon in her eyes, the yielding softness of her lips, and the memory of a dream.
And for that moment, two minutes past midnight, it was enough.