For two weeks I continued to go to the shed, hoping, praying that there would be another letter. But there never was. I eventually just stopped going. Sometimes when I was near the park a part of me would say ‘go and check, maybe he left something’. I’d start to walk that way, but then another part would say, ‘don’t be an idiot’ and I would continue walking home.
Everyone could tell I was upset. My parents and my friends knew I was off, but no one knew why. I never told anyone about the letters. It took a while, but eventually that urge to go check the box started to dwindle.
Exactly one month after the last letter, I was home alone studying for my final exam, which was scheduled for the next day. My family had just left when I heard a knock on the door. I figured my mom probably forgot something. But when I opened the door it was him. Even though I had never seen Ali before, I knew it was him. It had to be. He wasn’t exactly how I had pictured him, but it wasn’t too far off. Plus, he was wearing the watch he tried to gift me.
I just stood there frozen. There was so much I wanted to say but I just couldn’t get the words out of my mouth. “How did you know … where have you …?”
“Where have I been? Trying to find a way to get to you! I’m so sorry, Jamie. I didn’t mean to abandon you, I swear.”
“I never thought I’d hear from you again.”
“I tried to find a way to reach out, to get a message to you, but I couldn’t. I’m sorry. And I couldn’t just walk away, not without ever meeting you in person. You don’t know how many times I’ve dreamed of this moment … it still feels surreal.”
“Yeah …” It really did.
“Can I come in?”
I wasn’t sure if I should let him into my life again. Now that I look back, I know it was a mistake. But in that moment, I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was just so surprised to see him. I stepped out of the way, allowing Ali to enter my modest, dated home.
“My dad found out about our letters. A worker saw me go in and put something in the lock box. After I left, he picked the lock and found the letter inside. He gave it to my dad, or I should say he sold it to him. My dad then searched my room and found the other letters. I never threw any of them out. I kept them all. But he burned them. He destroyed everything. He said I could never write to you again. He wouldn’t even let me leave the house for the first two weeks. Even after, when I went back to school, he had one of his fucking lapdogs follow me. I tried my best to get away, I swear, but I couldn’t until my mom got back home today. She was out of town the last month. If my dad knew I was here, he would kill me. But I just had to see you and tell you how sorry I am. I don’t care what my dad says or does,” Ali continued passionately, “I’m not giving up on us, on this friendship even if I lose everything.”
It was a lot to take in. Ali just blurted everything out rapidly. I could tell his heart was still racing. I didn’t think to question his story. “It’s not worth it. I’m not worth it, Ali. We had fun, but clearly we’re not meant to be friends.”
“Bullshit. Just because we live on different sides of this stupid fucking town that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. Look, I’m not naïve, I know money is important, but it’s not everything. When people see me, they see my dad’s money. They see that rich kid and they assume they know who I am, they assume I’m just a spoiled brat. But I’m not and you know that. You see me for who I am. With you I’m my true self, and it feels,” he paused to sigh, “it feels incredible. And I’m not giving that up. I’m not giving you up.” And then he repeated a phrase he often wrote. “You’re my lifeline, Jamie. I can’t do it without you.”
When reading his letters, I would go over that phrase over and over again – ‘you’re my lifeline’. I was in love with those words. Hearing him say them out loud, made my heart swell.
“So, what exactly are we going to do? We can’t continue writing.”
“No. But I have a plan. Do you trust me?” he asked.
I should have said no. “Of course, Ali.”
“I want to give you something. I know you rejected this watch, but I kept it just in case you change your mind. It’s yours if you want it. But this next thing you can’t reject.”
“What is it?”
“Come outside, I want to show you.”
Leaning against the side of the house was an expensive looking bike.
“I can’t take that, Ali.”
“Yes, you can,” he insisted.
“And what do I tell my parents? They know I can’t afford that!”
“You’re still working in the stables at the Richmond home, right?”
“Say it’s one of their old bikes. They’re always throwing shit out constantly. Say they gave it to you for a job well done.” He could tell I wasn’t convinced. “Look, this bike gives you the freedom to get away. We can meet whenever, and wherever we want, not on the west side or the east side, but just away from it all. We could meet near the forest in the north. It would take you forever to walk back and forth. But you can bike there. I can bike there and we can meet. We only have a few weeks left before you leave for university. I don’t know what else we can do. You have to take this, Jamie. For me, please.”
For him, I took the bike.
“Okay. So, when do we meet?”
“Now! I have to study –”
“Study when you get back.”
“My exam is tomorrow.”
“We both know you’re prepared.” He was right. “I have to go drop off my car and grab my bike.” His car was drawing a lot of unwanted attention. No one in this part of town, not even in their dreams, owned a car like that. “And I’ll meet you in half an hour.”
“Ali, I don’t –”
“I’m not taking no for an answer. Remember, I’m a spoiled rich kid. We have a lot to catch up on. Promise me I’ll see you there?”
“I’ll be there.”
He gave detailed instructions of where to meet before taking off. My heart was telling me to go, but my brain knew it wasn’t a good idea. I should have listened to my brain. But half an hour later, there I was, meeting him at the edge of the forest.
Before we set out biking, we found a secluded spot that was supposed to become our regular meeting space. He marked a tree just so that we wouldn’t forget. We then set out. Ali told me he wanted to show me this neat waterfall, but that it was faster if we biked on the main road. It truly was the best day of my life. It was just so different to be in his company, to hear his voice, his laugh, see him smile, to have a conversation in real time. I was mesmerized. I asked him if he ever got my other letters. He said no. We assumed the worker took those too.
“How did you know where to find me?” I asked as we biked on an empty country road. I was super curious how he tracked me down.
“It actually wasn’t all that difficult. I know your dad works for my father. I remember you told me your dad’s name. I called HR and asked if they could pull up an employee file. They probably shouldn’t have given me that info, but who questions the boss’s son? Luckily, there were only a couple of Arthurs in the system, and only one lives on the east side.”
“Helps having a powerful dad, I guess.”
“Indeed. But I have to be honest. I did something I shouldn’t have done a few months ago.” He looked guilty, and it made me feel sick. “I waited for you at the park one night.”
“I know it was wrong, and I’m sorry. I just … I wanted to see you and I knew you didn’t want to meet and … I know it was wrong, but I just … I couldn’t help it. I felt really alone in the world, and seeing you there, the smile on your face when you were reading my letter … it was enough to keep me going. The truth is … I’ve been meaning to tell you something. It’s what I wrote about in my last letter. But we’re almost at the falls, we just need to cross this road and …”
I was going to ask what that meant, to keep him going, but I didn’t have the chance. He didn’t have the chance to finish his sentence either. We were biking in the middle of the road, when I heard the car. I only had a second to react. It was going to hit him. I quickly got close and pushed him as hard as I could. He went rolling down into a ditch. I didn’t have enough time to move out of the way. The car hit me. I went flying in the air, landing hard on my side. The car didn’t stop. Whoever it was just drove away.
I don’t really remember what happened next, it was all a blur. I do remember waking up hours later in hospital, my worried mom by my side. My right leg broken, and my throbbing head in bandages. When I woke up my first thought was of him, if Ali was okay. The nurse assured me the boy who brought me here was fine. He did need stitches though. Turns out, he badly cut his back on a metal fence as he fell. Despite his own injury, he got up, picked me up, and walked back up to the side of the road to flag down a car.
I desperately wanted to see him, to make sure he was okay, but he was gone. His dad came and took him home. I, on the other hand, had to stay. The doctors wanted to monitor me overnight. I had to convince my mom to go home and sleep. She said she’d sleep on a chair. But she had work in the morning, and it wasn’t fair. The nurse also assured her I would be okay.
I slept most of the night but woke up around two in the morning when I heard a noise. I assumed it was just the nurse. It wasn’t. It was Ali.
“What are you doing here?” I asked surprised.
“I had to come and see you. I waited until everyone went to bed and then I snuck out.”
“You shouldn’t have come,” I told him, “you’ll get in trouble.”
“I don’t care. I needed to make sure you’re okay. You saved my life, Jamie. You really are my lifeline.”
“I didn’t do anything.”
“You swerved in front of a speeding car so that you could push me out of the way. You would have been fine if you stayed on your side, but you risked it all for me. How is that nothing?”
“But I still hurt you.”
“The stitches?” He turned around and lifted his shirt to show me his bandage. “Jamie, this will heal. It’s nothing compared to your injuries. I can’t thank you enough. What you did for me is … for a guy who doesn’t deserve it, who isn’t good enough is … it’s beyond words.”
“You would have done the same for me, and you’re totally worth it. Ali, no matter what anyone says, you are an amazing human. Never forget that.”
He smiled, taking my hand in his. We just sat there looking at one another. It was probably only a few minutes but it felt like an hour. Then he did something I had dreamed of countless times, but never thought would happen. He leaned forward and put his lips on mine. It didn’t last long. It was a brief, soft kiss. My heart started racing, and that caused the machine I was hooked up to, to beep loudly. It was enough for him to break off the kiss, and to catch the nurse’s attention. She angrily stormed into the room and ordered Ali to leave immediately. As he left, he told me he would be back later that day. But he never came back. I didn’t know it then, but that was the last time I’d ever see him, that is until last week.
“What do you mean you never saw him again? What happened! Dude, you’re fucking killing me here!” Will screams as we sit under the park tree.
“It turns out it was all a lie. The friendship, the kiss, all of it. None of it was real.”
Now we know why Ali stopped writing -- and why he came back. But what does Jamie mean when he says none of it was real?
As always -- feedback, theories and comments welcome below. I'm curious to know what you all think. Thanks for reading!