Harvey and I gathered our things in our arms before making our way out of the office, checking that all the lights were off and the doors were locked. Harvey threw our bags in the back seat the same old Ford Capri he’d had for eight years, a few papers spilling out onto the floors.
“Harvey?” I asked as we both found our seats in the car.
“Could we stop somewhere on the way?”
“Of course,” he smiled at me, taking my hand in his own. I felt his rings between my fingers, familiar and slightly awkward.
“To Blue Stone Bakery we go,” I announced as he pressed on the gas. We drove down the road a bit before Harvey spoke, realizing what I’d just said.
“Wait, why the bakery?”
“I guess you’ll just have to wait and see,” I smirked.
“Maeve, baby, you didn’t have to do anything special. It’s not a big deal!”
“Harvey, it’s a big deal! You should be proud of yourself.”
He rolled his eyes at me. We talked some more about work and joked about one of our co-workers who always makes fun of Harvey’s colorful shirts.
“It’s like he wants to wear khakis for the rest of his life,” I joked.
“Life has way too many colors for that,” Harvey smiled to himself, one hand on the steering wheel and the other still holding mine. His eyes were fixated on the road in front of him, but I was watching him. After all these years, I still couldn’t look away.
The road always changes, even if you don’t notice it. Sometimes flowers grow, sometimes they die, sometimes there’s potholes, faded paint, or cracks, but it always gets you where you need to go for the most part. It doesn’t always have to be some crazy adventure or grand view. Sometimes it’s nice to just look out at the same old wildflower field you’re used to. Sometimes that’s the most beautiful thing.
“Here we are,” Harvey pulled into the little cracked parking lot, coming to a stop in front of the little white shop. He began to unbuckle his seat belt before I stopped him.
“I got it. I want it to be a surprise,” I told him.
“Okay, okay,” he laughed, sitting back in his seat.
A faded blue sign reading BLUE STONE BAKERY hung above the glass door. I pulled on it and with the welcoming ding of the bell, my senses were flooded with the smell of cinnamon and fresh baked bread. I chatted with the ladies behind the counter before paying for the small wrapped up loaf in my hand and heading out the door. Harvey smiled at me from behind the steering wheel as a skipped towards him.
“Alright, Peterson. What gives? What’d you get?” he asked.
“Ah, no. Celebration starts at the thinking spot!” I teased.
He chuckled, amused at my dedication to my little surprise and we took the short drive to the flower field. The flowers grew tall, racing backwards against us on the side of the road. The colors flashed by so quickly they became one big blurry color until we stopped and got out of the car. We went to our normal spot in the middle of the field and Harvey laid down a blanket as per usual. I sat criss cross, facing him with a stupid grin on my face. He pursed his lips together, trying to hold them from curling into a smile.
“Harvey, you should be so proud of yourself today. I’m proud of you, for many reasons and this is just one of them. Congratulations on five years of sobriety. I got you your favorite... banana bread,” I held out the loaf and he took it in his hands, looking at it for a brief moment before shifting his attention back to me.
He pulled me into him, his arms folding around me. He was powerful, but gentle at the same time, his fingers curling tightly around my arms, pressing me into every ounce of him.
“Thank you, Maeve. You know I couldn’t have done it without you,” he pressed his lips to the top of my head before looking at me with a light behind his eyes. “God, I love you,” he breathed, crashing his lips into mine. It was so familiar, but as cliché as it is, he still made my knees weak. I would never get enough. It was so easy to love him.
It wasn’t always like this.
- - - - - - -
Harvey started having binge drinking spells after his parents got a divorce, before we met. When his mom got diagnosed with cancer, it only got worse. His mother, Rosalie, was one of the only good people he had in his life before me. He spoke very little about his life before we met- he said he wasn’t one to live in the past, but I wonder if there was something unattainable about that past that he couldn’t possibly bear to go back to now that Rosalie was sick. Most people don’t want to look back on their past because something bad happened. They made a mistake or lost a friendship. I think he didn’t want to look back because he thought he would never have someone love him that hard again. He’d mentioned- always in passing and in a low, uncomfortable voice- that he had performed in talent shows, played for the middle school soccer team, attended dances and played in band. Rosalie was always there.
A few weeks after that night in the woods, we had to do a project together for our English class over our favorite 20th century author. Harvey and I still hadn’t still hadn’t talked about the fact that we’d kissed and didn’t dare address the air of uncertainty and awkwardness between us. I sat behind him in class as our teacher gave a big speech about academic honesty before dismissing us to talk about our project. Harvey whipped around to face me, a little too excited.
“Haruki Murakami!” he explained.
“Ray Bradbury! Are you kidding?” I argued.
“But think about all of the history and culture just in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,” he threw his arms in the air. He hadn’t shown this much emotion since before his mom got diagnosed. This was good for him.
“You’re forgetting about the importance of Fahrenheit 451 on the whole sci-fi genre,” I calmly held up a finger, happily waiting for his passionate defense.
There was finally some familiarity between us in this silly pretentious argument. The rest of our classmates were looking at us like we were crazy.
“Okay, hear me out, what if we did both?” Harvey suggested.
I mulled it over for a minute. It’d be extra work, but we could do it. I nodded.
“Do you want to come to my house after school to work on it?” he asked.
That would be the first time we would be alone outside of school since the night in the woods and it made me nervous.
“Sure,” I said, hesitantly.
My little yellow Beetle rolled through the country side about ten minutes out of Briar Creek’s town center and finally stopped at a rusty metal mailbox.
I could make out white letters, slowly turning brown from the dirt kicked up in the road. I turned down the little gravel drive way, dust flying from behind the back wheels of my car and disappearing as soon as it appeared. The house was small, old, and made of different shades of red brick, each one clinging on to its neighbor for fear of loosening and falling to the ground like its fellow comrade on the other side. There were four different rose bushes in the front yard, guarding the screened in porch from unwanted visitors. Two of the bushes blossomed with a few red buds, another full of yellow flowers, and the last bore lovely baby pink petals, turning brown. Harvey stood beside the yellow bush with a bright green watering can examining the buds before turning around to notice my arrival with a wave.
“Welcome to my humble abode,” he greeted, gesturing to the little house behind him. “My mom is inside making sandwiches and stuff. We can work on the porch if you want.”
“That sounds good to me! I do my best work in the fresh air,” I reached into my car and got my laptop, pasteboard and various other necessary supplies. Harvey began to lead me past the rose bushes, but I stopped.
“You didn’t tell me you grew roses,” I smiled, touching one of the small red buds. I looked up at him and he fidgeted with the spout of the watering can in his hand.
“I don’t know. I didn’t think it was that important and nobody really cares about that stuff. It’s an old person thing,” he laughed, scratching his head.
“Harvey, we’re like super nerds. I don’t know why you’re calling this lame when this is clearly the coolest thing you do,” I joked.
“Did he just call The Rose Society an old person thing?” a woman in overalls wearing a bright pink head wrap appeared at the threshold of the door. Her eyes crinkled at the edges in a friendly greeting and she held a plate stacked high with sandwiches in a red nail polished hand.
“What’s The Rose Society?” I asked, looking to Harvey. He smiled knowingly. Rosalie put the plate down and beckoned for us to come inside.
“I’ll show you,” she lead us to a large wooden shelf in their living room almost taking up the whole right side of the room. From top to bottom, the shelf was packed with miscellaneous books, various pictures including a photo of Harvey at his kindergarten graduation, candles, trinkets, and most of all, trophies. There were trophies of every size and metal shaped like roses.
“Wow,” I said under my breath.
“I’ve been growing roses for the Briar Creek Rose Society Competition since I was Harvey’s age,” his mother wiped some dust off of the shelf. “We started growing roses in our yard when he was little. For health reasons, I’m not able to really care for them anymore, so Harvey waters them and keeps them up for me. You always loved getting these trophies, Haz,” she nudged him and he smiled to himself. I’d never heard anyone call him that before.
“This is my mom, Rosalie,” Harvey introduced her, even though I already knew who she was.
“I’m Maeve,” I held out a hand.
“I’m a hugger,” she laughed, bringing me into a friendly embrace. “It’s nice to meet you, Maeve. You’ve really helped Harvey come out of his shell a little. You know, I’ve always encouraged him to express himself, but his father-”
“Mom,” Harvey shifted his weight from side to side, looking down at his feet.
“Sorry, baby,” Rosalie tousled Harvey’s dark, mop-like hair under her hand before looking at me. “Go ahead and get to work. You kids have fun!”
Two weeks after I first met Rosalie, she was gone. At the funeral, I sat behind Harvey and his family. Next to him was his grandmother, the woman who he would live with for the rest of high school. She grieved her daughter-in-law quietly, daintily wiping the tears from her eye with a white handkerchief. On the other side of this woman, sat Harvey’s dad. Harvey rarely talked about about him, but the comments he made were never good ones. He was not an encouraging father figure at all. He seemed like a man submerged in his own masculinity. I knew he was only at the funeral because it would make him look shitty if he didn’t attend. So, there he was in front of me, pretending to be a good dad and ex-husband. He sat tall and proud on the red velvet padded pew next to his mother and son, lips pursed and eyebrows furrowed.
But Harvey... Harvey felt nothing. It was that moment that he lost the light behind his eyes. The preacher talked about eternal life and hope, but I watched Harvey the whole time. Nothing. His face stayed solemn and still. The sunlight came in from the tall stained glass window next to him, washing his face with greens, blues and reds, illuminating emotionless eyes and casting shadows from his eyelashes onto his cheekbones. The colorfully stained Jesus smiled at us, extending soft hands from his comfortability on the window, but Harvey wouldn’t allow himself to believe him yet. He would sit frozen in his pew until this was all over and it would be a while until it all broke down and melted away.
I was afraid of him pulling away from me like he did last time, but he didn’t. He was distant emotionally and I could tell, but he didn’t physically tear himself away from me. I was glad he kept me close, but I still worried about him. He was almost acting like nothing had changed. If I asked how he was doing, he quickly changed the subject. And when it came to anything about us, I didn’t bring it up. I just wanted the Harvey I knew before. I wanted him to be okay. We were a second thought. As long as he was in my life, even just as my friend, it was okay. A few weeks after the funeral, we were hanging out in my car after school, trying to figure out if we wanted to go get milkshakes or not.
“So, I heard there was a party tonight at Sam’s house,” Harvey inquired from across the console. He had been more quiet today than usual.
“That’s not really my scene,” I laughed. “Plus, maybe we should stay away from alcohol for a while, huh?”
“Maeve, I swear I’m totally fine. I know you don’t believe it because of last time, but I can control myself,” he promised. “Plus, you’ve never been to a party. We should go together...” he froze for a second before clearing his throat, “for, um, for literary research.”
I rolled my eyes.
“What kind of research? To see how long the average eighteen-year-old male can drink beer upside down?”
“You see my point,” Harvey winked at me.
“No, Harvey it’s just a bad idea.”
“Fine, it’s no big deal. I’ll just go without you,” he crossed his arms.
I wasn’t going to let him go alone. If I did that, who knew where I’d be driving to pick him up if something went wrong again.
“Fuck it, I’ll go.”