The Scarlet Fall

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          The heat from the coffee mug warms my hand while I walk into the living room. As I plop down on the soft suede cushions, almost spilling my drink, I notice colors outside the window. Since it's the middle of October, fall is just setting in and the leaves are turning into bright colors all over the neighborhood. The Westley's across the street have beautiful canary yellows with green hints and the Anderson's a couple houses down have brilliant oranges with traces of red. But I am most captivated by the scarlet red coming from my yard. The huge maple tree sprung out of the ground, its bark carved with intricate lines and its long branches twisting and turning. The contrast between the dark brown wood and the bright red is absolutely beautiful. I watch as the wind breaks off one leaf and it twirls all the way to the ground, where hundreds of other loose leaves have fallen.

          "It's not a crush!" I had whispered loudly to Charlie. She had been teasing me all day about my sideways glances at Luke. She thought that because I thought he was attractive, I was going to go all boy crazy. I must have spoken a little too loudly, because Luke looked up from his book and glaced in our direction. I remember the way blood rush to my cheeks and I looked away. Charlie snickered beside me. "Stop it," I had mumbled to her.

          Another hour passed and Charlie and I decided we'd done enough studying for that day. I gathered my stuff and headed towards the library exit, my mind occupied with the terms for my test. When I rounded the corner, I ran right into someone, knocked myself to the ground and sent my books flying.

          "Oh my God! I'm so sorry, I wasn't watching where I was going," a deep voice said. I looked up and recognized Luke's face. My heart had started beating out of control and I couldn't seem to catch my breath. "Here," Luke had said, and held his hand out as an offer to help me up. I took it and he lifted me up with ease. I avoided making eye contact and remembered thinking it couldn't get anymore awkward. Luke bent down and started picking up my books.

          "You don't have to do that," I quietly said, surprised that my voice hadn't completely deserted me.

          "No, I insist," he had replied as he picked up the last book. As he handed them back, his fingers slowly grazed mine and I wondered if he noticed it just as much as I did. He paused for a second, studying my face.

          "You look familiar, are you in my English class?" he asked. I remember ignoring the twist of nerves in my stomach and nodded my head. "Really? That's great actually. I don't really know anyone there and I have some questions on the last study guide we got. Would you mind helping me?" Luke's kind eyes stayed steady with mine and a wave of calm had suddenly flowed over me.

          "Sure," I answered.

          Another leaf from farther up the tree broke off, my eyes following it as it falls, landing gracefully, a few inches from the one I watched a few seconds ago. I take a small sip of my coffee.

 

          "So, what'd you think of it?" Luke had asked as we walked out of the theater, his hand intertwined with mine. Fall was just beginning at the time, so the air around us was slightly chilly. We had just finished watching a movie and he had yet to drive me home.

          "I thought it was good, but I think the characters could have been written with a little more depth. The main character lacked the back story that would have made the ending so much more emotional. And the love interest wasn't very creative with trying to win her over," I replied to him. He stopped walking and tugged my hand so I would stop too. I had turned and looked at him. "What?" His eyes had this serious gaze in them and I worried for a second that I had said something wrong. It had been our first date and I really didn't want to screw it up.

          "I've never met someone so perceptive," he had said ever so quietly, "and so incredibly beautiful." My heart had begun beating out of my chest and all my thoughts seemed to run right out of my ears, down the street and far away from me. He tugged on my hand once more and pulled me close to him. He left our faces only inches apart. I knew what was coming, but I was terrified to move.

          His face had slowly closed the gap and our lips touched for the first time. They were soft and caressing and something clicked in my mind. It had just felt right.

          Blinking away the memory, I watched as two more leaves fell. As they touched the ground, a gust of wind picked them up along with a few others, creating a whirlwind of red.

          My eyes had slowly fluttered open as morning light trickled into Luke's bedroom. Luke had been laying right beside me and was still asleep. We had spent the whole night talking and laughing. I couldn't have helped the smile that spread across my face. I had started to study his features, the way his light brown hair was all rustled, his eyelids fluttering every now and then, and the slight indent he had on his left eyebrow from a scar that had been caused long ago.

          The night before, he had told me about his mother's constant worry for him after his dad had left when he was little. He had described the need he felt to be the man of the house and to take care of his mother and younger brother, Aiden. I had listened so intently, wanting to know as much as possible about this boy. And when he asked about me, I told him the whole history of pressure my mother and father put on me to exceed in school, since they both graduated from Ivy League colleges. He listened and comforted me and by the end of the conversation, I didn't want to leave. So instead of going home, I had stayed the night. Nothing else happened, I wasn't ready to take the next step, so we just slept, curled up next to each other.

         And then I was so incredibly happy to wake up next to him. I leaned forward and kissed his cheek softly. His eyes fluttered open and a sloppy smile spread across his face.

          "Morning beautiful," he had whispered.

          I took another sip of my coffee, watching the leaves continuously fall from the tree, as if they were letting go of an old life and hoping to fall into something new. Suddenly, the wind whips through the tree, sending a spiral of scarlet shades into the air. With a dawning realization in my head, my heart squeezes as I see Luke's car pull into my driveway. In the midst of everything becoming clear and the exhilaration building in my chest, I quickly set down my coffee and spring off the couch. Completely forgetting a jacket, I stumble out the door and run right into Luke's arms.

          "Woah, woah! Slow down, what's wrong?" he says. I tilt my head up to see his eyes widening and concern creasing his forehead. A smile spreads across my face and he starts to look even more confused.

          "I love you," I say. Luke's eyebrows raise in surprise and after a moment, a smile bright as mine covers his face.

          "I love you too," he says. My heart drums hard in my chest and I fear that it might fly right out. Luke moves his right hand from my waist and cups the side of my face, bringing my lips to his. I close my eyes and all I see is swirling red leaves. 

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