Sam and Winnie
Sam stared at the road ahead. He’d done this drive a thousand times, each one the same. His thoughts would wander, his eyes looking ahead at a winding pavement that never seemed to end. The worn black and yellow of the aging country road melded into one, disgusting color during summer, reflecting the heat off the asphalt. During winter, the colors would lose their feeling, instead relying on the gray of the world around them as the trees died and the animals hid until spring. The fall months were his favorite time to drive here. The leaves falling from the trees would dance across the road as they found their new home in the ditches on the other side of the street. If he glanced up, he’d see the birds flying south as winter approached. These things made the ride enjoyable for Sam, who had enough on his mind. Focusing ahead and singing along to the radio, he was interrupted by the sudden buzz of the iPhone next to him. He picked it up, its cracked face barely able to make out the message:
When do you get back…?
He smiled for a moment. The person on the other end of the message had begun to dominate his thoughts lately. They’d stay up late together back at school, laughing and talking for hours as they walked the entire campus. He’d tell her about his whole life, from his parents splitting to his dreadful time playing high school football. She loved to listen, and he began to adore her for this. It almost surprised him, how much she actually seemed to like him. Sam was never any girl’s first choice. He was tall, awkward, and had a sort of baby-face. But for once, it seemed like someone was genuinely interested in him. As he looked back to the road, he couldn’t help but smile. Right before he left school to return home for the weekend, they’d almost kissed. Around 2 AM the previous Thursday morning, Sam and she had been walking back to their dorms after a night of laughter and laying in the grass near the school football field. They had laid down side by side that night for the first time, looking up at the stars and talking about what they really wanted to do when they left school. She wanted to be a doctor. Sam really thought she was one of the smartest people he’d ever met. Sam, however, wanted to write jokes for a living. He got his kicks by making her smile, one that was intoxicating to him. By their third meeting, he’d memorized every inch of her face, from her perfectly white teeth to her brown eyes that melted into her eyelids and brought a warmth in his heart he hadn’t felt in a long time. That night, though, was the one that solidified his feelings. He wanted to be with her and only her . That’s why he had to head home first and face Winnie.
After what seemed like forever, his car drove past the dusty green road sign marking his journey’s end. He made the right turn, his heart sinking as he stared at the house in front of him. He knew it all too well. Its yellow, worn siding was the staple of his last two summers, the lawn surrounding it being his hangout spot while he waited for his girlfriend inside to come out. Her dogs, all six of them, would charge from the backyard as he pulled up. They adored him, and the oldest of the group, Jada, would bring him her favorite ball so that they could have a catch. This was the daily ritual for two summers. Soon she’d emerge from the house, the screen door out front squeaking each time to remind Sam who he was really there for: Winnie. He loved her. Her real name was Winifred, but she hated it so much and made everyone call her Winnie. The only time he used her real name was to taunt her. On days when they’d have petty arguments in the car, he’d always remind her that “you really shouldn’t be like that, Winifred. It isn’t very nice”. Her eyes would shoot daggers into him, but he couldn’t help but fall in love with her all over again, even in her moments of anger. She had freckles every summer that, with her smile, reaffirmed to Sam that she was the most beautiful girl he’d ever met. Her laugh was contagious, and they’d spend hours upon hours driving throughout his hometown laughing and singing their favorite songs. She loved Fleetwood Mac the most, and he always looked forward to her rendition of “Dreams” from the Rumors album. She wouldn’t admit it, but her voice was beautiful. They’d liked each other since high school, where they met on stage doing musicals together. For the past two years, Sam was sure he’d never love anybody as much as Winnie, and it was this thought that made his heart break and sink further into the depths of his chest as she emerged from behind the screen door that evening.
“Finally! You took longer than usual this time” said Winnie. She was walking down her the wooden ramp that served as her porch. She was wearing her signature favorite shirt: a thin blouse with a flower pattern. To compliment it, she wore her pink jeans and cream flats that accented the whiteness of her skin. Sam always loved her sense of style. It was mature, but still managed to be fun and colorful regardless of the occasion. Her descent from the porch caught his eye unlike it ever had before. She didn’t just walk, she took her time, each stride showing off the confidence she carried everywhere she went. Winnie was the coolest person he knew, even more confident then himself. He admired her lack of shame as she’d do impressions of their friends for him in public places, while Sam tried to contain his laughter before those around them could scold them with their eyes.
“Yeah, I know. The usual road was blocked. Some asshole decided today was the day to repave the whole thing” he said.
Winnie ran towards him, wrapping her arms around his neck. She always greeted him the same, with a big kiss on the cheek and a hug that was just tight enough to fully take his breath away. Usually, he’d hug her back just as tight and give her a kiss on the forehead, returning love they’d shared for the past two years of his life. This day was different. He took the hug, his hands stuffed deep in his pockets and his eyes staring forward into the green of her backyard. It was at this moment that he sensed she knew there was something wrong.
“What’s up?” she asked, her arms still wrapped around his neck with her bright, green eyes staring up towards him.
Sam looked down into her eyes, his own welling up with tears the moment their gazes met. “I—I don’t know” he managed to say, almost as if the tears held back each word he wanted to say. Winnie let go of him and held his hand.
“Sam, sit down. What’s wrong?” she asked as she led him to the bench on her porch. He struggled to move as the tears were streaming down his face.
Sam sat on the bench, with Winnie beside him with her hand on his leg. He would try to look up at her, which only made him cry more. She went to put her arm around him, but all he could do was pull away.
“We need to talk.”
He looked into her eyes at this point, and he could read the fear on her face for the conversation that would follow.
“I met someone.” He braced himself for the reaction.
“You did.” Winnie began to pull further from him.
Sam began to shake his head. The tears wouldn’t stop.
“Who did you meet?” she asked. He knew that she knew the answer, or some form of it.
“Someone who – I guess someone who has me rethinking stuff”
“What sort of stuff?” she asked.
“I don’t know – “
“I don’t know “
“Alright. I’ve been thinking more about us” he finally said. Their eyes met as the words left his mouth.
Winnie sat there. Sam didn’t dare look long, but he felt the sadness taking her over. She got up and went to her door. Sam got up to stop her.
“Winnie”. He reached out for her arm. She shrugged him away.
“Don’t do that.” she demanded. She was staring into him now. Not just into his eyes, but into his thoughts. She was invading every thought that crossed his mind.
“Who is she?” asked Winnie.
“That’s not important”
“Oh, that’s not important? Two years with me, and I don’t get to know who ruins that?”. Winnie’s voice got louder.
“She’s just someone from school.”
“Did you cheat?”
“No. No, we haven’t done any of that.” Sam’s eyes were glued to her rotted porch floor.
“You’ve probably wanted to” she said as her tears formed.
“No no no. It hasn’t been like that.” He said. He was lying at this point. The thought to cheat crossed his mind every time he met with the girl. He sat with her and listened to her tell stories, all the while wondering what her lips might feel like against his. His mind had wandered now, and he didn’t fully hear Winnie as she asked what he feared.
“What?” He was brought back to Earth.
“Is this it, then? Are we breaking up?” she asked again.
“I don’t know” he answered, avoiding her eyes.
“Look at me, Sam. Give me that fucking courtesy if you’re going to throw this away”
He continued to look towards the floor. His tears dropped, one by one, onto the wood of the porch. He couldn’t breathe now. He never thought this would have to happen. Winnie had been the one, the one , who he thought he’d marry. They imagined their life together, an apartment somewhere quiet, just each other’s company and a few pets to keep them warm. Now, though, now he didn’t know. How was someone he saw in his destiny so suddenly wiped away, almost like marker on a whiteboard? One day, Winnie conjured the butterflies in his stomach, and in the next they disappeared.
“Answer me, Sam.”
“Winnie, I don’t know what to --“
“Fine, let me do it then. We’re done” she said, throwing her hands up.
She stormed back into her house, the old screen door slamming and almost falling off its hinges. Sam stared at the door, barely making out its shape through his tears, his mouth agape. He stood, frozen. Sam’s mind was racing a mile a minute, and soon it went blank, his mind barren. He caught himself just staring at the handle of the screen door. It readjusted after being forcefully twisted, moving slowly and creaking each step of the way.
He walked to his car and sat down. The black wheel stared back at him as he wept. He looked back one more time to the house.
In that moment, it was summer again. Winnie was running around the yard with him, dancing and singing. The air was warm, the sun on its way to set. They embraced each other, sharing a kiss as they fell into the grass. They laid there until night fell, the stars painting them a picture as they held each other.
Summer was over, though. The grass was dying and the stars were scarce. It was time for him to drive away.