Sharon scooped up a handful of gravel from the driveway before she ran around the side of the house, keeping low and close to the shadows cast by the hedge and the trees along the fence.
Richard's shade was down, but she could see his bedroom light showing around the edges. The pink sky was reflected against the window.
She chose a pebble from her palm and tossed it carefully. It bounced off the side of the house, just beside his window. She tossed another one and it hit the glass.
Richard's shade scrolled up and he pushed the window open. "Hello, Juliet," he said in surprise.
She rolled her eyes. "Just get down here, Romeo."
He grinned and pulled the window closed again.
Sharon waited for him, still trembling slightly with adrenaline and anger.
Dusk was settling. She could hear crickets, and the hedge behind her seemed full of sparrows all trying to find a place to roost for the night. The sunset was starting to turn from pink to a lighter yellow at the edges, and stars were already beginning to show high above.
She could see Richard in the thinning light, his hands in his pockets, his shoulders slightly bent against the cool evening air. "You know," he said, smiling at her as he approached, "you can always use the front door."
She felt tears start to well up against her will. She bit her lip and forced them back. "I talked with them," she said, and her voice cracked.
Richard's smile faded, and his last few steps were rapid. "You did?"
Sharon rubbed the tears away before they could fall, and felt Richard's arms wrap around her.
"It's not like I have a choice anyway," Sharon said in a small voice. "If I want to go to college, it's not like I can rely on my grades."
"You're clever," Richard said, his voice sharp. "You're incredibly clever."
"I know," she said irritably, waving him away. "I know most things well enough, I suppose. But my brain just doesn't work the right way for exams, Richard. I bombed."
She wiped her eyes again, cursing herself for not being more organised throughout the year. She'd spent all of senior year practically joined at the hip to Richard, his index cards and neat pages of organised notes in front of her almost as often as they were in front of him.
If only she'd read them.
Or, even better, if only she had been organised enough to make her own study notes.
"What are we going to do?" she asked desperately, leaning against Richard again.
He hugged her. "We'll think of something."
"Maybe I just won't go to college," she said miserably. "Or maybe I can find somewhere closer to here that will take me, you know? Despite my grades."
She felt Richard's breath against the top of her head and she closed her eyes.
"I think we'll need a genuine miracle for that to happen," he murmured.
She snorted and shoved him. "Shut up."
He smiled at her and took her hand. "Do you want to come in?"
She shook her head and rubbed at her tear-streaked face. "Come for a walk with me."
"Now?" Richard asked.
"Please?" She leaned against him a little and pressed a kiss to the bottom of his chin. She gave him a wobbly smile. "Soon we won't be able to walk anywhere together."
"Don't say that," he said desperately. "We'll think of a solution, Sharon."
She kissed him again, rising up on her toes to meet him. The crickets had overwhelmed the sound of the sparrows and the night air seemed filled with them.
The sun had finally slipped below the horizon, officially ending another day of the last summer she knew she'd be sharing with Richard.
Richard's father's car was wide and bulky and black. And boring.
The only reason Sharon liked it was because of the backseat, which offered enough room for her and Richard to lie side-by-side. (Cramped, but comfortable.)
Richard had parked out near the end of Burnt Hill Road, under the shade of an oak tree. The windows were down and the afternoon was clear and warm. Richard's arm was around Sharon, her head against his chest.
She would have been utterly happy if it weren't for the pressing issue of college, which was constantly on her mind.
"I had another argument with my parents this morning," she said miserably.
Richard's thumb moved against her upper arm.
"They refuse to try and work out any other solution," she continued, furrowing her brow. "It's completely unfair."
Richard sighed, and Sharon could picture his face, creased with concentration and worry.
"If I were a boy, everything would be easier," she said suddenly. "Boys get their own way all the time."
"We do not," Richard said immediately. His arms tightened around her. "I'm glad you're not a boy."
She laughed. "Me too, I suppose." She tightened her own hold on him in response, and tilted her head up to kiss him. "I just don't want this summer to end."
"In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me lay an invincible summer."
Sharon frowned. "What?"
Richard breathed an exasperated sigh against her mouth. "Didn't you read anything in high school?"
She grinned. "The letters you wrote."
He kissed her again.
"What does that mean, anyway?" she asked dreamily, resting her head back against his shoulder.
He kissed the top of her head. "The summer can last forever."
"I wish," she sighed. She closed her eyes. "This is our last summer together, ever."
"You're not planning on coming back at all?" he asked, pressing kisses against her hair.
"Of course I am," she said. "But who knows what can happen in a year..."
"Nothing will happen to us," Richard said confidently.
She lifted her head and smiled at him. "I know."
He kissed her again. "I'll indulge your melancholy if you promise me you won't fall in love with anyone else."
"I promise," she said immediately. She swiped an X over her heart. "You won't fall in love with someone else, will you?"
"Never." He crossed his own heart and grinned at her.
"My father says I shouldn't pin all my hopes on my high-school sweetheart."
Richard wrinkled his nose. "You never listen to your father."
She grinned. "I know. But you said you'd indulge me." She put her head against his chest again. "I have a lot of complaints to list yet."
Richard laced his fingers through hers. "Complain away," he said. "I'm listening."
She closed her eyes. "You're the only one who does listen to me, Richie."
Sharon flinched at the tone in her father's voice.
"You're not to disappear with that boy again," her mother added. "We've had enough, Sharon. It's time for you to start growing up."
It was only the ridiculousness of their argument which caused Sharon to feel lost for words. She floundered for a minute, her mind racing, trying to come up with an appropriate response.
"California is just what you need," her father said, frowning at her over the top of his glasses. "You've got entirely too much freedom here. It's time you started acting like a young lady; like the young lady you're supposed to be."
Sharon glared at him. "Maybe you should just get a store mannequin, Dad," she said furiously. "Then you can position her and dress her however you like, keeping her here all day long –"
"Sharon," her mother gasped.
Sharon didn't stay to hear more. She slammed the door on her way out and started to run, hoping they were watching.
She headed straight for Richard's.
Sharon threw a whole handful of gravel at Richard's window.
He appeared almost immediately, looking alarmed. "You know," he called down to her, "when Romeo approached by Juliet's window, he had the grace to not throw any stones at her."
"Well I'm not Romeo," Sharon snapped. "And you're not Juliet." Tears streaked her face.
Richard blinked at her, taking in her dishevelled appearance. "I'm coming down," he said softly. "Wait there."
"I don't want to go," she sobbed against Richard's shoulder. "And I don't want to stay here."
He clung to her tightly, his arms wrapped around her. "It will be all right," he promised. "They're wrong about us, Sharon. We'll make it."
She curled her fingers into his shirt. "They keep s-saying things like it's time for me to grow up..." She choked in her haste to have him understand. "They're going to try e-everything to keep us apart."
"Let them try," Richard said furiously, his voice against her ear. "You and I both know they won't win."
"I just want to get out of here," she said, looking up at him with streaming eyes. "Let's get out of here, Richie, let's just run away..."
His face fell. He cupped her face with his palm. "And do what, exactly?" he asked softly. "We don't have any money, Sharon –"
"I have money!" she interrupted.
Richard smiled patiently. "Enough money for somewhere to live? To get us from A to B?"
"Don't start with the algebra," she muttered. She slumped, knowing he was right, and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
"I can't stay here," she said quietly. "And I don't want to go to California. I'm scared. I'm going to hate it there."
"I know," he said sympathetically. His fingers traced through her hair. "Come on," he said. "Let's go for a walk."
The sun was sinking against a canvas of pink and purple. Sharon and Richard settled themselves in the long grass down by the brook and waited for the stars to come out.
"Won't your parents be waiting for you at home?" Richard asked after a moment.
"I don't care," Sharon muttered. "Let them wait. They're sending me away. They have to get used to being without me."
Richard hugged her to him.
"It's a month," Sharon said miserably. "How can time possibly be moving so fast?"
"I don't know," Richard replied quietly.
They were lying on the backseat of his father's car again, in the shade of the oak. The afternoon was warm and still, the summer air heavy with the promise of evening thunderstorms.
Sharon propped herself up on her elbow and looked down at Richard, shifting herself delicately so he didn't roll off and fall to the floor. "It's almost too hot to be this close."
"No it isn't," he murmured, his eyes closed.
She smirked. "If my parents knew where I was right now..."
"It isn't me who would receive the punishment," Richard answered smugly. "Besides," he added, "I'm nothing to fear. Your parents really shouldn't worry so much about you being in my company."
She kissed him, sliding her body half over him. "I'm not so sure," she whispered hotly against his mouth. "You don't kiss like a nice boy, Richie."
He laughed and pushed her lightly. "And how many boys have you kissed, other than me?"
"Oh, I can tell," Sharon dismissed. She leaned over and kissed him again. "I wish I could take you to California with me," she whispered. "Do you think you'd fit into my suitcase?"
"I fear I wouldn't," Richard sighed, resting his head back against the seat. He ran his hand down her arm and clasped her fingers in his. "Have your parents answered your questions about visits home, yet?"
"Not yet," Sharon said, scowling. "I'm scared they're just going to send me away and not give me any means to come home again until college is over with."
"They can't keep you there like that," Richard assured her.
She ran her hand through her hair. "I bet they can. I bet they'll try."
Richard gazed up at her for a minute. "You know," he said quietly, "there's always been a way for you to stay here in Stoneybrook."
Her eyes widened. "What do you mean?"
"I mean it seems the main reason they're sending you away is because of me," Richard said. "If you truly wanted to stay here, you could just..." He trailed off.
"Tell them we're over?" Sharon asked in amazement. She blinked, and frowned at him. "No," she said immediately. "We have to sneak around enough as it is."
"That's your first reason for rejecting that course of action?" Richard asked, pretending to be hurt. "That we have to sneak around? Not, 'I can't live without you, Richie, even if it's a only a performance,' or something like that?"
She laughed, and he started to tickle her. She shrieked and squirmed around, kicking her legs against the door of the car, breathless and red-faced, her skin damp with sweat in the summer air.
"Stop," she pleaded, fisting her hands in his shirt. She gasped for breath. "Stop, stop! Mercy!" She screeched against his shoulder and collapsed into giggles beneath him, trapped between the backseat and the weight of Richard's body.
"I don't want to go home yet," Sharon whispered in Richard's ear. "Let's drive somewhere else."
"Where?" he asked, brushing his lips against her cheek.
"Anywhere. I don't care. Just don't take me home yet."
She leaned against his arm as he drove across town. There was a crowd of kids in Brenner Field, playing softball. Sharon could hear them shouting and laughing as they drove past, windows down, the cool evening air blowing in across her skin.
The fairground was lit up against the setting sun, the Ferris Wheel turning slowly. Sharon breathed in deeply as they drove past, slowing to let families cross the road. The air smelled of popcorn and the ocean.
"Let's go to the beach," she said suddenly.
"I have to get used to it, if I'm going to California," she said dramatically.
Richard smiled and steered the car onto the road that led down to the coast. It was busier on this side of town. The day had been long and hot. People were wandering around, tanned (or unfortunately sunburned) and happy, savouring cardboard cups of ice-cream or sticks of cotton candy from the fair.
They kicked their shoes off in the car, and Richard chased her down to the sand. She screamed when he grabbed her waist and threatened to throw her into the waves.
"Don't," she said, laughing, upside down over his shoulder. "I'll never forgive you! Never."
He pretended to drop her and she screamed so loud it hurt.
He fell with her onto the sand and they were both laughing.
And then, suddenly, she started to cry. She pressed her face against his shoulder and sobbed.
"I don't want to leave," she said. "I don't want to go. I love you and I don't want to go."
Sharon and Richard sat side by side in the car, watching water pour down the windshield. Thunder rumbled overhead, and the smell of hot asphalt and wet grass was thick in the air.
"You should see my bedroom," Sharon said quietly, watching the water pour down the glass. "I've got clothes everywhere. My mom keeps telling me to pack, but there are still ten whole days..." She trailed off and drew in a shuddery breath that almost felt like a sob.
Richard took her hand.
"I keep trying to think of a way out," she admitted softly. Her eyes were wide, though she wasn't taking notice of anything.
The noise of the rain hammering down on the car meant she had to raise her voice. "Dad keeps telling me I have too much freedom here. I don't know how he expects me to 'straighten up' when I'm thousands of miles away from him and his... His..." She sobbed for real, and Richard pulled her across the seat to lean against his shoulder.
"I'll write," he whispered. "All the time. I promise."
She nodded and wiped her tears away with the back of her hand. After a moment she swung herself on top of him, her knees either side of his hips.
He breathed out slowly against her cheek when she kissed him.
"Tell me what you'll write to me," she whispered.
"Every tiny detail of my day," he said, smiling slowly against her mouth. "I'll give you copies of my notes from class."
"Just like in high school," she murmured approvingly.
He laughed and nodded. "Just like that, yes."
"Who's going to help me when I lose my books?" she asked softly. "What will I do when I leave my history notes on the shelf in the library and take a Shakespeare anthology to history class with me?"
"You can't possibly do that again," Richard murmured. "Learn from your mistakes, Sharon."
She sagged against him and gave a helpless laugh. "I'll be lost without you."
"I'll be just as lost without you," he said.
"Why does everything have to change so much?" Sharon asked, and her voice cracked. "We're only teenagers, we shouldn't have to worry about these things." She clung to him tightly. "Life shouldn't be so hard when you're this young."
"The lament of every teenager ever," Richard murmured. He buried his hands in her hair and kissed her.
"You know," Sharon breathed, wriggling closer to him, "if my parents have their way, I won't be back here until after college. The next time I see you, we could be in our twenties."
"The horror." Richard mock-gasped.
Sharon grinned and kissed him again, her hands either side of his face. "I bet you'll be wearing glasses by then."
"Most likely," he groaned. "I bet you'll have cut off all your hair."
"Never!" she gasped.
He laughed and kissed her again. "You'll be home next summer," he whispered. "Your parents can't keep you away forever. They'll miss you almost as much as I will."
"They can afford to visit me in California," Sharon answered. "You can't."
"I'll sell my father's car," Richard said with a sly smile.
Sharon tipped her head back and laughed. "How much do you think you'd get?" she asked. "It's a piece of junk!"
"I like it," he said, his hands circling her waist. "I think you do, too."
"No I don't," she denied, but she was smiling. She looked around the backseat and leaned over to pluck an old mail sack off the floor. "What if he wants to sabotage us?" she asked. "What if he brings our relationship to a close through his power at the post office?" Her eyes widened dramatically.
"What if the sky falls?" Richard asked, matching her expression of horror.
"What if the world really is flat?" she asked.
He laughed and fell back against the seat. "Stop it."
She pulled the rope out of the neck of the mail sack.
"Don't do that," Richard groaned. "He'll make me poke it back through the holes."
"Too late," she sang softly. She circled his wrists with the rope and painstakingly knotted it.
"You're terrible with knots," Richard commented.
"We can't all be Boy Scouts," she answered, lifting his wrists and wriggling into the new, tight circle of his arms. "There," she breathed in satisfaction, pressing kisses against his face. "Now we'll have to travel everywhere together. I believe you'll have to come to California with me, Richard."
"Very clever," he murmured against her neck. "Nobody could possibly foil this plan."
The sun seemed to be setting too fast, casting the yard into shadows. Richard and Sharon stood together at the side of the house, clinging to one another tightly.
"They're wrong," she gasped desperately, blinking tears away so she could see his face properly.
"I know," Richard whispered. His hands cupped her face, his mouth pressed firmly against hers. "I know, Sharon, I know." He kissed her again.
"They don't understand," she sobbed. "Why won't they just let us be together? Why do they have to send me away? I don't want to go; I don't want to go..."
"Listen," Richard whispered desperately. "They won't win. They won't. We both know we're supposed to be together."
She nodded, clutching his hands to her face.
"They can try and force us apart," he said, "but they won't win. Right?"
"Right," she gasped.
She winced and pushed against Richard, forcing him closer to the fence, away from the view of the house.
Her father's voice rang out across the yard again. "Sharon Porter!"
"He's last-naming me," she whispered, her voice hitching in an attempt at humour.
Richard smiled. "Stay another minute."
She leaned against him, pressing her face into his chest, her arms tight around his waist. "I love you," she moaned. "Promise me you'll write, and you'll tell me all about college..."
"I will," he vowed. "You'll write as well, won't you?"
"All the time," she whispered, pressing kisses against his mouth between words. "All the time."
"We'll both be so busy," he said, his voice hushed as Sharon's father shouted again. "But we'll find time to keep in touch."
"Always," she agreed, nodding her head rapidly.
Richard smiled again, sadly. "California's the luckiest state in the whole country," he said. "Don't forget Connecticut had you first."
She laughed helplessly; bitterly. She clung to him tightly.
"Sharon, if you're out there with that Spier boy, you'll be grounded until Christmas!" her father roared. "Get in the house, now!"
Richard dragged her back into the shadow cast by the house next door.
Night was starting to sweep in. Everything was blue and purple.
"I wish he would ground me," Sharon whispered. "It's probably the only way I'll be able to stay here."
Richard kissed her properly then, his arms around her, one hand cupping her tear-streaked face. She pressed herself against him, rising up on her toes, her arms around his shoulders.
"I love you," he whispered.
"I love you too, Richie." Her voice caught. She forced herself to let go of him. "I'll come back as soon as I can."
She couldn't stand to actually say goodbye. She turned and fled back across the lawn, rubbing tears from her eyes, her throat aching.
She turned back when she reached the door, searching for him in the evening light.
He stood in the yard, in the deepening shadows cast by the setting sun, watching her sadly.
She tore her eyes from him and went back into the house.