Maple Tree Lane – A Short Story

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Photo by Birgit Loit on Unsplash

This was a short story I wrote earlier this year for my advanced creative writing class before I graduated. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about making it into a full-length story, as short stories generally aren’t my go-to.

The only trigger warning I can think of for this story is the loss of a loved one. There is a heavy theme of grief and loss within this story. Lastly, the world has been quite heavy lately and I do not want to burden you any further.

With that said, I hope you enjoy the story!

 Fifteen Years Ago

The rain fell hard onto the roof of the police car as it zoomed down the highway. The lights flashed quickly in unison, shedding a brief red or blue hue of light across Caroline’s face as she sat burrowed into Whitney’s side. Caroline slowly leans up and swipes her nose across the sleeve of Whitney’s jacket.

“Sorry Whit…” Caroline sniffles.

“It’s okay.”

Caroline leans back against Whitney, the policewoman looking back at them, a pained expression across her face. Whitney avoids her eyes and instead looks down at the slippers on her feet. The once fluffy material was now matted and covered in muddy rainwater from being rushed out of the slumber party and into a police car. Even the faces of Whitney’s friend’s parents had the same, grievous expression as the policewoman. Whitney and Caroline were spending the night at Whitney’s friend’s apartment in the city. They didn’t go to the same school but rather spent their Saturday mornings together in dance class. So, when the police came to pick them up instead of their parents, who were out celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary, Whitney’s stomach formed into a tight knot.

The police car pulls off of the highway and into a small, dimly lit town. Home. Except they aren’t going to their home, they are going to Maple Tree Lane where their grandmother lives.  The sirens stop but the lights remain on, Caroline still sniffling into Whitney’s side. After another moment, the car pulls to a stop in front of a dark blue craftsman. An older woman quickly makes her way down the cement steps from the porch, reaching for the rear door of the police car before either officer upfront has even gotten out. 

“Oh, you poor things, come to Grammy.”

Caroline slides out first, being pulled into the warm embrace. Whitney slides over and tries to avoid being pulled into the hug but it’s no use. The smell of burning wood and molasses fills her nose and the tears come spilling down her face. Whitney can’t tell who is crying more, her or the sky. Grandma pulls them up the steps onto the porch, another woman waiting for them with blankets.

“Go inside with Miss. Fran while I talk to the nice officers, okay?”

Miss. Fran, still in her bathrobe but wearing running shoes instead of slippers, is quick to usher the girls inside. Whitney, however, manages to listen through the cracked open front door.

“It appears they were hit head-on by an inebriated driver; the other car fled the scene of the crime. It was called in too late, by the time we arrived…” The policewoman clears her throat, “They had already passed. We are incredibly sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you for bringing the girls here, we don’t have a lot of family nearby, and the thought of them being alone…” Grandma’s voice cracks, “Please be safe out there.”

“We will ma’am. Again, we are very sorry for your loss. The coroner will reach out in the morning and can help you with any funeral plans.”

Gram nods and waits till the officers have reached their vehicle before she comes inside and sits on the couch, beckoning Whitney, and Caroline to her side. 

Present Day

“Oh good,” Caroline smirks as she swivels in the desk chair to fully face Whitney, “I thought I was going to have to sit here all afternoon waiting for you.”

“Remind me to change the locks…better yet, new roommates too.” Whitney laughs as she enters her bedroom and places her camera bag down on the floor.

“Nice to see you too,” Caroline rolls her eyes, “I came because I have some news”

Whitney raises her eyebrows as she sits at the end of her bed, “Good?”

“Very good, so ya know how I just graduated and all that?” Whitney nods, “Well I was invited to audition for the first chair in the Australian Symphony!”

“That is amazing! You’re so talented, they should’ve just offered it to you,” Whitney smiles, “But what is the catch? You could’ve called or texted.”

“Well like I said, Australian Symphony. In…Australia…” Caroline nods her head like she is confident slightly to the left, which is the correct direction of Australia. 

“How long do you plan to be gone for?” Whitney asks, removing the clip that kept her dark hair up and out of her face.

“Probably a week, they have me on a flight leaving early Monday morning, but…” Caroline pauses for a moment, “I’d prefer to not leave Gram alone for that long.”

“I get it,” Whitney replies, letting her fingers run through her dark hair.

“It’s just a week, I promise,” Caroline smirks, “Besides, if I get it, then I’d have to move there for years.”

“Are you trying to make some sort of statement?” Whitney retorts as she kicks off her shoes to sit cross-legged on the bed.

“No, but you can’t avoid home forever. I know it has been hard on you since they passed, but it’s not like there aren’t people that care about you.” Caroline says dryly.

Whitney can feel the slight annoyance in Caroline’s voice, and she doesn’t blame her. Caroline grieved differently than Whitney did, and Caroline leaned on Gram in a way Whitney was unable to after their parents passed away. Whitney blamed the small town; she began to feel more as though she were being kept in a jail cell. High School Graduation was when she was finally granted release. She went to college six hours away and settled an hour away in the city after. Caroline on the other hand flourished in her music, a gift she inherited from their father. Her violin gave her an outlet to express her feelings safely and now, Whitney felt proud of the thought, that Caroline might land a first chair position in a world-renowned orchestra.

“Alright, sorry.” Whitney relents, “I can move some stuff around. A week off, hanging out with Gram, sounds kind of nice.”

“See? Half glass full isn’t so bad.” Caroline smirks, “How long do you need to pack? Should I come back tomorrow and pick you up?”

“Nah,” Whitney looks around at the barely furnished room, “Give me a few minutes.”

Whitney walks over to her closet, pushing the door open and pulling out a green, beat-up duffle bag. Their mother’s military bag from her early days in the Army. It was one of the only things Whitney wanted to take from their parents’ home before they officially moved in with their Gram. She pulls a handful of shirts, and a mix of shorts and pants from drawers, and rolls her eyes when Caroline laughs as she opens her underwear drawer.

“What are you five?” Whitney snaps in Caroline’s direction as she tosses the duffle bag on the bed next to her camera bag.

“No, I’ve just never seen such a dismal and boring underwear drawer,” Caroline smirks.

Whitney ignores her, grabbing a pair of sneakers off of the floor next to her dresser and tosses them into the duffle bag. Double-checking what she has packed, Whitney zips up the duffle bag and slings her camera bag back over her shoulder, “Alright, let’s get a move on then. You have to get ready for your big flight.”

Caroline stands up from the desk chair and pulls Whitney into a hug. “Thank you, really. It means a lot to me.” Caroline whispers. 

Whitney hugs her back as the straps of the bags dig into her shoulder. “You’re welcome.”

——————–

An hour later, Caroline pulls into the driveway of the dark blue craftsman. Not much has changed over the years. The hairs on Whitney’s arm stand as Gram gets up from her rocking chair and steps off the porch to greet her.

“You’ve grown!” Gram exclaims, pulling Whitney into a hug.

“I have not,” Whitney laughs, “You’ve just gotten shorter.”

“It’s called getting older young lady,” Gram smiles as she gently cups Whitney’s face in her hands, planting a kiss on her cheek before letting her go, “Are you hungry?”

“Not really,” Whitney says as she grabs the bags out of the backseat of the car.

“Alright, well I have a roast in the crockpot for tonight,” Gram smiles, “It’s nice to have you back home, even if it is temporary.”

Whitney closes the car door, glancing over at Caroline as they all turn and walk up to the porch. Whitney makes her way through the house, the nostalgia flooding in at the lack of change that has occurred. As she walks into her old bedroom, the nostalgia seems to hit the hardest. “Gram wouldn’t let me change anything after you moved, I wanted to turn this room into my music room,” Caroline says as she plops down into a fuzzy blue bean bag chair. 

“You own a violin, a guitar, and a cello,” Whitney says as she sets the bags down on the bed, “How much more space do you need?”

“Well, jokes on you because Sam bought me a keyboard for my birthday, and it takes up so much more space than I thought it would.”

“Well, feel free to change it up in here on the off chance the Australian orchestra is full of idiots and can’t see the talent right in front of them.” Whitney grins, “Is Sam going with you?”

“Yes,” Caroline smiles widely, “I’m excited. It’s going to be our first trip as a couple.”

“Good for you two, you know mom and dad vacationed in Australia before you were born,” Whitney says as she sits down on the bed, “In one of Gram’s old photo albums, there is a bunch of pictures of them there.”

“This trip is going to be amazing then,” Caroline exclaims, “It literally cannot go wrong. I won’t let it!”

Caroline waves her fingers in the air as though she is warning the universe or some higher power. Whitney doesn’t remember a lot from that trip, she remembers that she stayed behind with Gram and Gramps, before Gramps got sick and passed away. That was shortly after Caroline was born. Whitney was convinced he was holding out just so he could meet Caroline before he passed.

While her memories from being that young were blurry, she could distinctly remember the white hospital walls, the sterile smell of his room, and the way his wrinkles bunched up on his face when he smiled at her. Whitney shared her middle name with their paternal grandmother, Jane. While Caroline received their maternal grandfather’s name as her middle name, Quinn. 

“How has Sam been?” Whitney asks.

“She’s been good. She’s been learning the ropes at the bakery; her dad has been itching to retire since her mom did last year.” Caroline replies.

“Wait, how old are her parents?”

“Nearly as old as Gram,” Caroline smirks.

Sam grew up a few blocks down from Whitney and Caroline. Her parents owned the only bakery in town and was by all accounts, wild in Whitney’s opinion. Sam was the youngest of three, but she was born a little over a decade as a Christmas surprise after her siblings. Gram knew this and would often invite Sam over to hang out with Caroline, which worked as they developed a close relationship. One that bloomed into more during their junior year at prom. Sometimes Whitney felt a pang of envy over her sister’s ability to really live, to let people in, and be open to new experiences. This was something Whitney knew she struggled with but felt with time she would eventually be able to move out of her way.

“Alright, I’ll let you unpack and I’m going to start packing. I’m going to finish packing. Sam is stopping by in the morning to pick me up so we can head to the airport.” Caroline says as she pushes herself up and out of the bean bag chair.

“Sounds good, you know where to find me if you overpack and need help zippering your suitcase shut.” Whitney smiles as Caroline walks past her before pausing and turning into the doorway,

“Don’t forget to say hi to our neighbor. He still lives next door, ya know, and I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t mind seeing you after all these years.”

The smile disappears from Whitney’s face as his face comes into her mind. “Shut the door on your way out.” She replies curtly, turning her back to Caroline. The door shuts quietly behind her as Caroline disappears into her bedroom across the hall, leaving Whitney to purposefully stew. 

——————–

Saturday night melts away into Sunday and the lazy Sunday soon turns tearful as Caroline leaves with Sam. Gram puts her arm around Whitney’s shoulders as they wave at Sam and Caroline, watching them pull out of the driveway and head out of town to the airport. 

“How are you feeling?” Gram asks Whitney.

“I’m fine. I hope she does well, she has worked so hard for this moment.” Whitney replies.

“No, I mean how are you really?” Gram asks, “I assume there is a reason why you avoid coming home as often as possible?”

“It’s not you,” Whitney grins as the two sit on the swinging bench, “this place just reminds me of them. It’s hard.”

“Hard times don’t last Whitney,” Gram says gently, “but tough people do, and you are as tough as they come.”

“You say it like it’s a bad thing,” Whitney says.

“Being too tough, pushing people away, being avoidant…” Gram temporarily trails off, “It’s no way to live.”

Whitney sits quietly, letting the words float around in her head. After a moment Gram stands and holds out her hand to Whitney, “Come take a walk with an old lady.”

Whitney stands and takes Gram’s hand, slowly walking down the stairs of the porch and making their way down the street. Whitney wants to ask where they are going but the knot in her stomach already knows exactly where they are headed. A few minutes later, they round a corner and enter the cemetery.

They walk past rows of headstones, all varying in size and color. Some are old and worn, while others are shiny and new. Some are big, taller than both her and Gram. While others, just a little plaque on the grass. They stop about halfway through, Gram stopping before an older headstone that reads, “Quinn Alfred Gilbert – 1945 – 2000 – Beloved husband, father, and grandfather.”. Gram kneels and places her palm momentarily on the top of the stone. 

“We both were robbed of time,” Gram says to Whitney, “Both of us.”

Whitney looks down at the two headstones in front of her. “Theo Peter James – 1974 – 2007 – Husband, Father, Musician” and “Monica Heather Gilbert-James – 1975 – 2007 – Cherished Wife and Mother – Army Veteran”. 

“How did they meet?” Whitney asks, surprised at how she blurts out the question.

“They met in high school. Your mother didn’t take your father seriously. The first time he asked her out, she said she had plans already,” Gram smirks, “But he kept calling and asking, each Friday night the phone would ring, and she would reject that poor boy.”

“What changed her mind?” Whitney asks.

“Your grandpa. He knew Theo’s parents and knew they were good people. They ended up retiring down in Florida, but he knew they raised a good boy. So next time he called, your grandfather answered and agreed to let him come over to the house.” Gram lets out a small chuckle, “Monica was furious. She spent the first half of the night in her bedroom, refusing to come out. Your grandfather knew Theo had musical talent, so he pulled out his guitar and asked Theo to play. He played some song I can’t remember, and it was enough to get your mother out of her bedroom long enough to finally agree to go on a proper date with him.”

Whitney smiles at the thought as she sits down on the grass. Her cheeks feeling warm as she thinks about all of the times, he would serenade her to sleep. All of the times those little melodies calmed her anxious heart. 

“You remind me of her,” Gram says as she rests her hand on Whitney’s shoulder, “Caroline is all Theo. Her light hair, blue eyes, and fair skin. Her musical ability and go-getter spirit. But you,” Gram gently nudges Whitney’s chin until she is looking up at her, “You are all my Monica. Dark hair, brown eyes, tan skin, stubborn, clever, and tough.”

The tears finally fall down Whitney’s face as she stands and embraces Gram. Whitney hadn’t been to the cemetery since their parents were buried and there was something about coming back with Gram, something that felt comforting. What either of them wouldn’t give to have all three back. 

“Well, now that we have visited them,” Gram says as she wipes away Whitney’s tears, “How about some lunch?”

“I don’t know if I can eat right now,” Whitney replies.

“That’s all right, how about some lemonade then? It is hot out today.” Gram says as they loop arms and make their way back out of the cemetery. The closer they get to the house; the more tension seems to fill the air. 

“You know, he still comes by to visit,” Gram says as they round the corner and walk back up Maple Tree Lane to the craftsman.

“Oh, come on, you too?” Whitney stops and rolls her eyes, “What is with you and Caroline and these constant reminders?”

“The way you left,” Gram says softly, “Did you ever acknowledge that boy’s feelings?”

“We kept in touch after I left,” Whitney nearly spits out the words, wanting nothing more than for the conversation to end.

“And how long did that last? Whit, you barely call me as it is, and I am your Gram.” 

“It’s too hot to do this right now, let’s go inside,” Whitney says as she gently nudges Gram towards the house.

“No, I think I’ll be going to visit Lucas. Are you coming?” Gram asks as she picks up the pace towards the craftsman. 

However, it isn’t the craftsman she is charging towards. It is the light grey bungalow next door that she has her sights set on. “Gram…please!” Whitney calls out as she jogs to catch up with her. For a woman of nearly seventy-five, Whitney was shocked at her stamina. Especially in the summer heat. It was nearly a hundred degrees Fahrenheit today and their Gram was, almost running down the street like she didn’t have a care in the world. For the first time in Whitney’s life, she was experiencing Gram as her own mother had, and she didn’t like it. Luckily for Whitney, stairs were not Gram’s friend and even though she tried to beat Whitney, Whitney cut her off three steps up. 

“Let’s go home, please.” Whitney almost whispers.

“Afraid someone might hear us?” Gram replies loudly.

“Good God woman!” Whitney seethes, unable to stop Gram completely.

“This is for your own good!” Gram says even louder than before.

Before Whitney can respond or continue her attempt to stop Gram from getting up the staircase, she hears the front door creak open.

“Elizabeth? Is that you?” A woman’s voice calls out.

If looks could kill, Whitney would have been charged with first-degree murder. Instead, Gram gently pushes past Whitney as she continues her ascent. 

“Yes, it is! Nice to see you, Corinne,” Gram says cheerfully as she reaches the top of the staircase, “You remember my granddaughter, Whitney?”

“Absolutely,” Corinne nods, “It is so nice to see you again. How about you two come in from this heat for a few? I just made some iced tea.”

“Iced tea sounds delightful right now,” Gram smiles before turning to look down at Whitney, “come along, we don’t want to be rude.”

Whitney grumbles under her breath but gives in and walks up the rest of the steps. She greets Corinne at the top and enters the house, cool air hitting her like a ton of bricks. Gram makes herself comfortable on the couch as Corinne smiles at them, “I’ll just go grab some glasses from the kitchen, please make yourself comfortable.”

As Corinne heads into the kitchen, Gram pats an empty spot on the couch next to her. 

“No!” Whitney hisses, “We should have gone home!”

“Oh, come sit down,” Gram smiles, wiping her forehead with the back of her hand, “You know the air feels much better in here anyways.”

“We have AC at our house too, you know.”

Before Gram can respond, Corinne walks into the room with a wooden tray in her hands. A pitcher of iced tea sits in the middle, with three glasses and two small plates of cookies and fruit. Whitney smiles politely and takes a seat in the armchair opposite of Gram. Corinne pours each of them a glass, before sitting down next to Gram on the couch.

“So, what brings you back home?” Corinne asks Whitney.

“Caroline was invited to audition with the Australian symphony, so I’ve come to keep Gram company,” Whitney says.

“Oh, you two are so sweet,” Corinne smiles, “If they know what’s good for them, they’ll just give her first chair.”

“We’re all rooting for her,” Gram says, “This iced tea is delicious Corinne.”

Thank you!” Corinne grins, “Would you like a macaroon? Bought them this morning.”

“If you didn’t bake them, absolutely.” Gram and Corinne both laugh as Gram takes a light, blue-colored macaroon from the plate.

Corinne was known to unintentionally start fires whenever she dared to cook. When Whitney was in the tenth grade, Corinne offered to help her and Lucas bake at least five dozen cookies, all of which somehow went up in flames one way or another. From then on, Corinne stuck to preheating, or simply letting Lucas and his father, Daniel, do the cooking.

Corinne turns and offers Whitney one as well, not wanting to be rude, Whitney takes a light green colored one. The flavor of mint temporarily filling her senses. They all sit together quietly, eating their macaroons before Gram breaks the silence.

“So, is Lucas home?” Gram asks, seeming to enjoy watching Whitney squirm.

“He should be home any minute,” Corinne responds, “Today is his last day of school. Friday was the last day for the students, but he had to go back today for a final meeting and to pack up his classroom for the summer.”

“We should probably get going then,” Whitney says, “We don’t want to intrude.”

Both Gram and Corinne let out a low laugh, “You aren’t intruding. I love having your Gram over, you are just a bonus today.”

“I’m sure Lucas would love to see you too.” Corinne smiles as a car door closes outside, “Speaking of!”

Whitney braces herself, wishing her iced tea would turn into a long island iced tea. The front door opens and Lucas steps into the house. 

“Oh hey, Mrs. Gilbert, nice to see you,” Lucas says before he finishes scanning the room.

His brown eyes meet Whitney’s and her face flashes hot, as hot as if she were standing outside and letting the summer sun beat directly onto her. He looks so much older, granted it had been nearly ten years since Whitney had truly seen him. She’d wave in passing in the past, but never actually stopped to say hi. His light brown hair was still curly and messy, his cheeks and arms were still covered in freckles but now he had a slight beard and even if she didn’t want to admit it, Whitney still felt herself pulled in his direction.

“Hey, Whit…Whitney?” Lucas almost sputters out.

“Whit is fine,” Whitney nods as she sets down her glass of iced tea, “Thank you so much for the iced tea, I should go though. I brought my camera and have some photos to edit for work.”

“Are you sure you can’t stay?” Corinne asks as Lucas puts his box of stuff down next to the door.

“No, I’m sorry. I promise to stop by again before I leave.” Whitney says, as she stands and looks at Gram.

“Oh no, I am staying put. I’ll see you at home for dinner.” Gram smiles as she takes another sip of iced tea. 

“Alrighty then, Luke…Lucas…” Whitney says as she slips past him, “Nice to see you.”

As the door closes behind her, Whitney lets out a sigh of relief. She quickly makes her way down the steps and is about to dart up the stairs to the craftsman when Lucas calls after her.

“Nearly ten years and that’s it? Are you always going to run out on me?” Lucas says his face turning red as he makes his way down the steps. 

“I didn’t think you’d want to see me,” Whitney replies as she slowly turns around to face him.

“And why wouldn’t I want to see you? You were my best friend.” Lucas nearly spits out the words at her.

Whitney gently rubs her forehead, pushing a few stray hairs out of her eyes. “I heard about your engagement. Congrats.”

Lucas lets out a laugh, but Whitney knows it’s not because her comment was funny. She feels like crawling into a pre-dug grave for that comment. Even she knew that was an unnecessary and low blow. 

“We broke off the engagement, I know you know. Caroline was there.” Lucas says, almost between gritted teeth, “You expect me to believe that you weren’t her first call after I walked away from that altar?”

After a moment of silent agony, “I just don’t know what to say to you.”

Lucas looks like he wants to say something like he wants to reach out to her. 

“Maybe say what you would have said years ago before you left the first time.”

Before Whitney can respond, he turns and makes his way back up the stairs to the bungalow, closing the door behind him, and leaving Whitney to melt in the heat on the sidewalk. She was angry, but not with him. After commencement, Lucas asked Whitney to meet him by their spot. Their spot happened to be a weeping willow tree on the edge of town, where you could see a clear view of the city skyline.

He told her that he loved her, but not in the way he had said it before. He loved her. That he wanted to go with her, so they could have adventures together. To make new memories outside of the small town, he understood how much it hurt her to stay in the place where her world fell apart. Not knowing what to say, Whitney panicked and left. Something she came to regret not long after. 

Wiping her face for the second time that day, Whitney slowly makes her way back up the stairs to the craftsman, immediately falling into bed. 

——————–

The next few days go by in a blur before Gram finally forces Whitney out of bed with a spray bottle filled with water. 

“You didn’t come here to sleep all day and play with your camera all night,” Gram says as she sprays her again, “Now get up, no more of this.”

“Only if you stop spraying me!” Whitney yells from under the blanket.

“Fine. Truce.” Gram says.

Whitney slowly uncovers herself from under the blanket to see the spray bottle sitting on her desk beside Gram, who is holding her hands in the air like she is about to be arrested. 

“Why don’t you go out today?” Gram asks, “Get some fresh air before the storm clouds finally break and it rains.”

“A walk might be nice.” Whitney nods, “Do you want to join me?”

“No, this humid weather always makes my joints hurt,” Gram says as she gently rubs her knees, “You go and enjoy yourself. I mean it, get some ice cream, and slide down a slide or something.”

Gram gets up and grabs the spray bottle, playfully pulling the trigger but not enough to actually wet Whitney, just enough to mist the air and make her point clear. Whitney takes a moment and looks out her open window. The dark clouds hang heavily over the town, threatening to let the rain pour down at any moment. Despite the clouds, Whitney could still hear people outside. Children playing in their backyards, people walking their dogs down the street. She quickly gets dressed, throwing on shorts and a t-shirt. She brushes her teeth, throws her dark hair up in a bun, and Gram hands her a muffin and bottle of water for the road.

“Not taking your camera?” Gram asks.

“Not this time, I don’t want to get caught in the downpour with it.”

Gram nods as she tosses Whitney a set of keys and turns to go sit on the back porch. Whitney heads out, enjoying the blueberry muffin as she makes her way through town. There wasn’t much to do, and it wasn’t like she had a bunch of friends from school to catch up with. So, she continues, eventually ending up at the weeping willow. She carefully climbs up the side, settling herself into the nook of a thick tree branch. 

“I’m surprised you didn’t bring your sketchbook,” a voice says from above her.

Lucas grins down at her, before carefully lowering himself down to sit on the same branch as her. “Is it okay if I sit with you?”

Whitney nods, noticing the small, pocket-sized sketchbook in one hand, and a 2H graphite pencil in the other hand. “Cool,” Lucas responds as he focuses back on what he was originally drawing. Whitney takes a peek at his drawing, the city skyline. Her heart beats out of her chest, and she thinks about what Gram said. How she was so tough and how much she reminded Gram of Monica. But for the first time in her life, Whitney wanted to be like her father and Caroline. To reach out to Lucas and hope he could forgive her.

“I love you too.” 

The words leave Whitney’s lips before she can decide if she even wants to say them. Lucas grins and continues sketching. Waiting for her to go on.

“I love you and I’m sorry I didn’t say it before. I’m sorry that I walked away and then acted like we didn’t have a past like you weren’t my best friend too. I thought if I left, I could spare myself the pain of losing someone else.”

Lucas closes his pocket-sized sketchbook and tucks it in his pocket along with the graphite pencil and turns carefully on the branch to look at Whitney.

“Can you forgive me? I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t. I was such a jerk, for such a long time.”

“There is nothing to forgive,” Lucas says, slowly inching his way along the branch closer to Whitney. 

“Caroline did call me too. She called me all giddy and told me to come home, that you hadn’t married Jen and that I could finally take the chance I had given up before.” Whitney says, trying to not let her voice crack, “But I felt guilty. I felt like it was still my fault that you walked away from your own happily ever after.”

“It was your fault.” Lucas says as Whitney finally looks up to meet his gaze, “But you have nothing to feel guilty for. Jen and I…it just wasn’t right.”

“Why?” Whitney asks.

“Because she wasn’t you,” Lucas answers her, “She wasn’t as hilariously serious as you are. She didn’t make me feel like I could conquer the world as you do. She wasn’t my best friend.”

“I- “

“When you left, I was hurt. I was angry and I didn’t understand. I was young. Jen not long after and I decided she was it. You left and even when you came back, you avoided me like the plague. So, I forced myself to move on, but really,” Lucas moves a couple of stray hairs off of Whitney’s forehead, “It was always you and I knew what you had been through, and I didn’t want you to feel like you had to reject me again. So, I let it be, I learned to be patient. I knew we would find our way back to each other.”

“I don’t deserve you,” Whitney begins, before Lucas gently places his pointer finger over her lips.

“Please, get out of your head. Just for this moment.” Lucas smiles softly, “I can see you still need convincing.”

He leans in and presses his lips against Whitney’s. And as if the universe could feel the tension dissolving between them, the clouds break. The humidity slowly dissipates as the rain pours down all around them. Small drops land on them, but neither notice. Both are tied up together on the branch, neither wanting the moment to end. Whitney pulls back slightly to catch her breath,

“Thank you for waiting,” Whitney whispers, “I promise I won’t keep you waiting any longer.”

“Good” Lucas grins before leaning back in.

——————–

The next few days fly by, with Caroline calling to tell them the good news, that she has moved onto the second round of auditions. That she absolutely could not wait to see everyone, and she was already planning a bachelorette party for Whitney, no matter how much she stated she was against the idea. Whitney allowed Lucas in and for the first time since she lost her parents, truly felt happy. Though there still was the issue of her life back in the city, Whitney decided to finally pursue the life Lucas had dreamed for the both of them. One where they were together. 

The time had come to plant the seeds of her new life. Whitney returned to her apartment briefly, to inform her roommates of her move and to sell what furniture she could. Everything felt seamless, but there was still a small tug of discomfort about the new changes. Maple Tree Lane had always been a place of sadness and grief. Whitney’s chest would crack wide open every time she set her eyes on the dark blue craftsman. Now, however, the house finally felt like home. And Whitney finally felt complete. 

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