That was the greatest summer of my life, and the toughest. At 13 going on 14, I was awkward, self conscious, and hated the way I looked. I pretty much hated everything about myself. The one bright spot in my life was my best friend, Archie.
Being a kid living out in the country of the Pacific Northwest had been so much fun with him to share it with. We lived near the beach and loved to go fishing, search for treasures, or just hang out and talk. We spent every minute we could together. We got each other from the first moment we met. I'd loved getting to know him as we walked the gravel road from the school bus stop to our houses, just blocks from each other. We'd kick rocks as we walked and talked about everything.
Having Archie for a friend meant I also got to hang out with his brothers and all their friends. Sure I was the only girl in the group, but no one seemed to mind. We did whatever we wanted; roaming the forests in our back country neighborhood, riding our bikes all over creation, or playing Kick The Can.
Archie was the sweetest boy I'd ever met. He was strong in his faith even then, and the love of Jesus radiated out from him to everyone around him. His stepdad was another story. A mean and hateful man, he beat Archie and his brothers routinely. I was always a little nervous to see my friend, trying not to notice the latest round of bruises on his arms.
Summer was winding down. We'd both celebrated our 14th birthday and were on the brink of crossing that line from friendship into something else. I think we both knew it but neither spoke of it. I was feeling things I never expected, things I was unfamiliar with.
That summer had been almost perfect...until the day we'd both been dreading arrived. He was leaving the next day to move to Florida. We met at our usual spot and walked the gravel road to the woods. We promised to keep in touch, and I knew we would. He left me his three-wheeler, his dog, and his new address. We spent that evening talking about everything, then all too soon it was time to say good-bye. They were leaving early in the morning.
Archie wrapped his arms around me for the first time and we hugged for what seemed like an eternity. Always the tough girl, I couldn't hold back my teenage emotions any longer and began to sob. I'm gonna miss you so much, I blurted out before I knew what I was saying. You're my best friend and I don't know how I'll ever get through 8th grade without you. He smiled and brushed a tear of his own away, saying, You'll be fine.
He looked at me for a long time and then surprised me. He said, I've wanted to tell you this for so long, but I've been chicken. If I don't tell you now I never will. He kept looking at me. My heart raced, not knowing what he was going to say. He looked me right in the eye and said, I think you are so beautiful, not just on the outside, but the inside too. The first time I met you I knew I was gonna love you...and I do.
I was speechless. Archie was a really cute guy; it never occurred to me he'd have those feelings for me. I was overwhelmed with joy, but also scared to death. I...love you too, I whispered, almost choking on the words. I'm so stupid, he said, kicking a rock. I wanted to say something but I was afraid it might ruin everything.
It's okay, I said, I'm really glad you told me. He held my hands and as I stared into his big blue eyes, I realized I truly did love this kind, gentle boy. It was an unconditional acceptance of each other with no pretending; the purest, most innocent kind of love.
We both closed our eyes and he very gently pressed his lips to mine. Our first kiss was the softest, sweetest, most wonderfully romantic experience; far better than I'd ever imagined. It was perfect. Then he was gone. I'd had my first brush with love...and loss. Nothing would ever be the same.
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