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Love


Artwork by Jenna Tse, staff artist

He holds her hand, his fingers intertwined with hers. The sunlight that filters through the canopy of trees creates a kaleidoscope of light and shadows on their skin. He leans in and mutters something in her ear, making her laugh which in turn makes him smile. Their hushed voices roll along the waves of summer winds that carry a symphony of sounds: the whispering of leaves, the gurgling of the lake, the gleeful screams of children in the playground. She says something back and then tilts her head towards him, her face hovering inches away from his, soaking up his scent.


He closes in on her when she’s taken long enough, and I look away as they kiss.


Down on my lap, my sketchbook contains scratches and outlines of them. Fleeting moments immortalized on paper. Yet their eyes are all wrong; her smile is not quite as happy on the page. I have failed to capture the intimacy conveyed in his loving eyes which caress her skin with his gaze.

I slam the sketchbook shut and toss it aside, my pencil landing somewhere in the high grass, most likely lost forever. The couple turns around to look at me, scandalized. I’m embarrassed but secretly pleased that I’ve interrupted their moment. In silent agreement, they pick up their blanket from the ground, pack up their scattered belongings, and leave.


“There goes the subject of your next masterpiece,” Julie says softly, her novel resting on the grass beside her, forgotten. She’s been watching me draw, her eyes half-closed and lazy.


I turn to look at her, sprawled out on our picnic blanket. “Julie, have you ever been in love?” I ask.

“Maybe. Why?” She eyes me suspiciously. “Have you?”


“I don’t even know what love is.” I pick up a blade of grass and twirl it between my fingers, listening to a dog bark at its owner as he tosses it a frisbee. Down by the lake, a pair of old men laugh about something over crumbs of bread. They toss the crumbs unceremoniously to the geese who show up in pairs to collect their mushy lunch. In a nearby tree, two pigeons coo softly to one another. Another couple giggle from their picnic blanket several feet away, laughing over the sandwiches they’ve packed in saran wrap and soggy napkins.


Julie starts to say something, but my mind wanders.


It seems like everyone else knows. They have all discovered this great secret. Even the birds travel in pairs and the trees stretch up, eager to greet and soak in the sunlight. Everything out there, they all belong together like puzzle pieces who have found their match, their jagged edges simply falling into place.


Maybe love, like everything else, is passed down from generation to generation. Maybe it’s something that’s taught. If that is the case, then I’ll never find out. My parents tolerate each other at best. They’re headstrong and difficult. They are like bricks, expecting me to be the mortar between them, keeping them in place.


Julie rests her hand on mine. I turn to look at her. “You didn’t hear me, did you?” She smiles.


“Sorry.”


She fiddles with the hem of her shirt. “I was saying that maybe love feels like watching you draw. Maybe it’s like that warm feeling I get in my chest when you’re huddled over your sketchbook and chewing on your lip. Maybe love is like what I feel for you.”


I stare at her. She smiles a little wider.


Julie with her books and her invitations to the park. Julie with the green eyes and the red birthmark right on her chin like a kiss. In all the books I’ve ever read, love was always in the least expected places. And now here it was, in the girl I’d been best friends with since kindergarten.


I take her hand. She looks away and laughs. For a moment, her laugh is lovelier than it’s ever been before and I think maybe love is like a heartbeat, always pounding but only ever felt when it’s at its strongest. Or when you sit still and let it wash over you, beating like a drum.


Julie begins to speak and my heart seems to find a new rhythm, one that sounds like her name spoken a million times: Julie, Julie, Julie.


I look down at our hands, and in the back of my mind, she is what I begin to draw.


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