Every summer me and him found the big stump in a different place. We never really thought to examine the stump or wonder about where it came from or how it moved around or why it moved around. It was this dead tree with this like cave-thing under the roots with a little light that came in through the hollow stump above (it was weird, I dunno). In outdoor school this cabin counselor whose camp name was Rosebud told us that this kind of stump was called a nurse log because it was dead but not a waste because everything could eat it, like mushrooms could eat it and bugs could nest in it, although thinking about it now I don’t remember why it was a nurse log and not an apartment log or a dinner log… Anyway, it was a good thing and it brought nutrients to the forest and all that, so that’s pretty good I’d say.
When he was seven and I was five, we found the stump in the woods off this long street with a fancy name I can’t remember that started with a C and it was full of new houses that were all stucco by his Nana Kitty’s house and then when he was eight and I was six it was on the other side of town and it had seemed bigger when he was nine and I was seven and we would crawl inside through the dirt and pine needles and hide under/in there for hours. The most important time—most important to me anyway, couldn’t really say how he felt about it/me—was the last summer when we found it before he moved away when he was twelve and I was ten. It was kind of crazy to say it and I hardly believe it but we found the stump on our families’ trip to the coast four hours West (boring!). It was there in the woods by the beach, a little sandier than the last time we saw it. We crawled under it and he told me about “The Talk” he had in class when he was my age because I told him I didn’t know what jizz was (I do now!) and then one thing led to another and somehow we both had our pants around our ankles and he was showing me how to “make stuff come out” but nothing came out because I wasn’t old enough for that yet, I guess. We had done that a few times before but this time was important because he asked me if he could practice kissing me because this girl in his grade liked him apparently and also apparently she was a slut and everyone knew it and he didn’t want to kiss her and not have experience. I kinda acted like I was weird about it at first, but then he acted like it was no big deal after all and he didn’t need to practice-kiss me and then I think I seemed a little more like I wanted it, but not entirely. It didn’t last very long because in the middle of the kiss while we were laying on the dirt with the sun coming in through the hole in the stump and our pants around our ankles, I reached over and, you know, grabbed his you know, and he opened his eyes and stopped kissing me and then put his pants back on and we went and played Grand Theft Auto at his Nana Kitty’s and then a month later he moved away because his mom lost her job and I didn’t get to see what “making the stuff come out” was like.
This time I was a freshman and he was a sophomore (because of a summer birthday, not because he was stupid and got held back or something, he was really smart and in Trigonometry when he was a freshman when everyone else was in Algebra 1). He had just moved back with his mom when she got rehired at her old job and I was so happy for him to be back my hands shook when I read the message he sent about it on AOL Instant Messenger and my back felt all warm and my breath got shallow and I had to press my hand on my crotch to push it down more to the side of my leg so my sister Katelyn wouldn’t see it and scream or something.
I decided to sign up for MySpace like three weeks before he moved back but I also waited to add him as a friend because I didn’t want to seem like I had only signed up for the purpose of adding him as a friend and looking at his pictures, which is what I did do and really why I did sign up but he didn’t need to know that. I would die if he knew that. After a week of adding people in my class and having some of them add me back and arranging them on the page in order of closeness of friendship (Top 8) I added him. And he added me back right away! Within seconds! I knew he was right on the other side of the Internet, I bet he was smiling about it too. No way he wasn’t, no way! I went through his pictures a lot (like a lot, a lot). There were a few of him and this girl and in one of them he had his arm around her and everyone else in the picture did too, like a group friend picture and they all had their arms around each other, but his was really around her, I could tell. They were all standing in front of a pool and he was in his wet swim trunks with no shirt and he had gotten tan which came easy to him because even though he was white he had Native American ancestry that he mentioned all the time. His arm was up and I could see that he had thick dark hair in his armpits but his arm wasn’t around this girl’s neck like he was pulling her in for a noogie like that asshole Jack did to me all through the eighth grade… it was around her waist and one of his fingers was going through the little piece of string on the side of her bikini bottoms. Maybe on accident? I bet they were just close friends, though. Guys and girls can be friends! I didn’t want to linger on that pic because she was in it and I just didn’t like her face, she had a face that wasn’t likeable… But I did want to look at the picture because you could also see that little bit of hair going down into his swim trunks that everyone else calls a happy trail or a treasure trail but I think that’s a gross thing to say.
When he moved back I didn’t see him for a couple weeks. He would IM me and tell me he had to help his mom get the house set up and move boxes and stuff. I got tired of waiting so I walked over to his new house and knocked on the door. His mom answered and recognized me immediately and said I had gotten a lot taller (which I had!) and then she called down the hall for him to come to the door and he came after a few minutes of me talking more to his mom about how I had been and all that. I half expected him to be mad at me for showing up unannounced but he wasn’t. He smiled and said hey and asked me what’s up and I asked him if he wanted to hang out, and he said yeah sure and called out to his mom to say we were leaving and we went into his back yard.
I hadn’t found the stump since he moved away, but we found it again in the woods behind his new house. He asked me if I was sure that this was it.
“Are you sure this is it?”
And I told him, yeah, I was sure.
“Yes, I am sure this is it.”
We agreed that if this wasn’t it, it looked just like it. Sure looked odd though, looking closer—not how either of us remembered it. The red wood had turned spongier and there were heaps more moss now after a few years.
I asked him if he wanted to go inside like we used to and he said sure but then he took his shirt off because he said it was new and he would get yelled at if he got it stained and I was not ready for him to be shirtless in front of me! I took mine off too because I didn’t want to seem like I was being weird about anything or something even though my shirt wasn’t new anymore. I had to force myself to not look at his chest and his stomach and keep eye contact with him when he talked to me even though I had no idea what he was saying and my stomach was full of moths. We crawled inside the stump cave and even though it had looked smaller than we remembered, there was still plenty of space inside.
We laid in the dirt on our backs like we always did and we talked about what it was like in Tacoma (where he moved back from) and he mentioned that girl from the picture a few times (Alissa, Alissa, Alissa. I get it, you love her!) how she was “so great” but really just a friend/bestfriend (not BFF) and nothing more even though they had kissed twice—one time at a pizza party with no parents, and one time at the zoo when they went with their parents. They used tongue the second time but she pulled away because he had started it and she didn’t see him like that because they were too close of friends and it would be weird. And then I did the stupidest thing I have ever done and I tried to make a joke and that is NOT WHAT I AM GOOD AT.
The joke was I asked him if he used any of the moves on her that he practiced on me. He stared at me for A LITERAL HOUR and then was like “What?” and I was like “JK, JK” even though we both knew I was not JK and he did know what I was talking about.
I didn’t know what to do so I froze and all these pictures of him kissing me were flashing through my head and it was really quiet and he really wasn’t kissing me, and so I flew out of my mind and closed my eyes tight and hugged him and told him that I had missed him. And he hugged me back and our skin was touching and the hug lasted for like ten seconds and then we both looked up and we were calm and the sun wasn’t coming through the hole in the trunk anymore and suddenly it was dark, so we both were like “What?” So we crawled out of the stump cave and we realized the cave had moved again! We were both standing on the beach where we went when he was twelve and I was ten, but it was today time and not then and the moon was full and both our shirts were missing and he grabbed my hand and held it in the good way where the fingers interlace, not the friend way when the hands are cupped and he open-mouth kissed me with tongue and it kept going and he hugged me while he was doing it and my back felt warm again and my breath got shallow again and we laid down on the sand and kissed for a long time.
Then I opened my eyes and I was still hugging him in the cave from before and light was coming through the hole in the trunk again, and he looked at me and told me he had missed me too and he patted me on the back.
We talked on IM for a while after that, but whenever I wanted to hang out he was too busy helping his mom.
A month before school started again and I would be a sophomore and he would be a junior, I sent him an IM and told him that I wanted to be more than friends with him and that I wanted to be with him. He was online, so I know he saw the IM, but he never responded.
The first Friday of school I sent him another IM to tell him that I was tired of waiting, and that if he realized his feelings for me, to come meet me at the stump at eight that night and I would be waiting. I got to the stump early in case he was early. I crawled under the stump with a flashlight headlamp and I wore my favorite striped shirt because it made me look more muscly. I waited and waited and waited and I could see his house from the opening to the cave but he didn’t show up. I knew he had seen the IM because he was online again when I sent it. I knew he had seen it! And then I saw him and he was hanging out with other boys and some girls who were also juniors and they were all playing a fighting game on the TV in his downstairs family room and then he got up and changed the channel to a movie and one of the girls walked over to him and he put his arm around her (not in the noogie way!) and then he stood there for a while and then two boys and two girls paired up and walked out of the room and he went to close the blinds on the sliding glass door (probably so it wouldn’t cause a glare on the movie screen). When he looked out the window into the dark back yard, I knew he saw my flashlight headlamp because he waited for a second and I think he looked sad even though he was going to kiss this girl and watch movies.
Then something sounded like a bucket of water poured on the ground but the sound was only in my head and not actually in the world (IDK how to explain) and then I wasn’t there anymore, I was back on the beach, alone. It was cold and dark and I was wearing shorts and my favorite striped shirt had a dirt stain on it so I crawled out of the stump cave and onto the beach. The moon was almost full and there weren’t many clouds but there were outlines of the mountains going into the ocean to the north and the south. A family was sitting at a campfire and their big dog was chasing waves a little way off. I walked towards them and I don’t even know why. I mean, I guess I know why because I didn’t know how I was supposed to get home but the dad asked me if I had been in the log for a long time, and I told him “No, not too long.” I looked around the beach and thought about how I was supposed to get home and how sad/mad I was that he didn’t love me back but also that he would break up with that girl probably and I guess I could wait for a while so I went and played fetch with the big dog.