When she woke up Saturday morning she was happy to see that the sun was shining through her window. Soon her family would be moving to New Mexico where there would be plenty of sun -- but she’d grown up in Washington state and these clear days were the rarest and best.
She decided she would take her book and walk through the fields below the house then on down to the river. This was not her usual thing but after she ate breakfast, she told her mom where she was going, and left. Her granddad owned several acres all around. He had let them lay fallow for several years, so they were just grassy meadows really. The fences that skirted some of the land were covered with huge mounds of blackberry bushes which, from a distance, made them look like English hedges.
She reached the edge of the fields and the little hill that ran down to the river. She situated herself on the grass there and opened her paperback. The sun felt so good on her arms and legs and the sound of the river was soothing. She looked up from time to time, watching for deer and foxes. The few times she’d come down here, she always spotted deer. She was glad she came today since this would be the last summer she’d experience here.
After an hour or two she closed her book and stared at the few clouds drifting by. They were fleecy and bright against the blue sky. When she looked along the tree line on the far side of the river, something caught her eye. It looked like the roof of a house. A tree must have fallen during the winter, because she’d never noticed it before. She couldn’t see all of the roof, but enough to know what it was. She lay her book in the grass and walked to the river. It was shallow this time of year but crossed it carefully and slowly. The algae on the rocks was very slippery. Luckily she didn’t fall.
She wanted to see the house. Was it abandoned or new? Generally she wasn’t interested in such things but today her curiosity was working overtime and she felt as thought the house was calling her. “How silly,” she said aloud. “why do you care, Melissa?” But when she broke out of the trees and into a small clearing she was glad she cared. “How interesting,” she whispered.
The house was very old but not ancient. There was a small stone retaining wall at the edge of the tiny yard and stone steps, cracked and covered in moss and dandelions. The house itself was overgrown with vines and weeds. The white paint was chipping away and what was still clinging to the exterior was dingy. The yard was mostly tall grass. There was a rusty old wagon and some other pieces of junk strewn around. Melissa wondered who had lived there and what the story was. Abandoned and broken. It might have been frightening in the dead of winter, but in the strong sunlight did not scare her.
She walked up the stone stairs and picked her way through the yard. Then she walked up onto the wrap-around porch, looked in the open doorway and stuck her head inside -- just far enough to peer into the shadows. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end when she heard a voice; “Hello.” She gasped and jumped back.
“It’s alright,” it said. “It’s just me.” It was a boy’s voice.
“Who is me?” she asked with a slight annoyance in her voice.
“Okay, but I don’t know any Lukes.”
Now the boy stood in the doorway. “Well, now you do,” he said, smiling. He had dark curly hair, fair skin and eyes so black you couldn’t see the pupils.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
He looked at her curiously. “Um . . . I live here.”
She almost laughed out loud. “You can’t live here! This place isn’t habitable.”
He looked both hurt and irritated. “It’s inhabited by me.”
“Where are your parents?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “Well, I don’t remember anyhow. They left a long time ago and never came back.”
Melissa stared at the boy and he stared back. Neither said anything. She didn’t believe him. He wasn’t telling the truth. The idea of him living here was ridiculous. His clothes were clean and his hair was cut. Melissa wouldn’t stay clean even a few minutes in that filthy place. “Where do you sleep?” she asked.
“I usually wake up in the big chair upstairs.”
This boy was strange, she thought. Normal looking, clean, polite, obviously not stupid, but he was just not right. With obvious skepticism in her voice, she said; “The windows upstairs are partially broken. It’s got to be damp up there. Probably black mold and everything.” He was silent. “You can’t sleep up there!”
“It’s just where I always wake up,” he said.
This conversation was more than frustrating to Melissa. “I never heard of anything so silly!” she snapped. She was almost positive he was lying. Exasperated, she turned away from the house.
“Are you leaving?” Lucas asked clearly disappointed.
“Yeah, I’ve got to go,” she said and walked back through the trees from where she’d come. When she was halfway through the trees his voice was right behind her. “I hope you come back.”
“She spun around. “Geez! Don’t follow . . . hey where are you?” He was not there. There were nothing but trees. Maybe he was hiding. “Brat,” she muttered to herself as she huffed off.
By the time she reached the little hill where she’d left her book, she had cooled down a bit. She climbed up the rest of the way and into the meadow. Against her will, she turned and looked back. Her heart melted just a little. He was so cute and so innocent.
* * * * *
That night when she tucked in, she didn’t reach for a book -- just clicked off the bedside lamp and stared blankly at the ceiling. She couldn’t stop thinking of Lucas. She had been replaying the strange conversation in her mind all afternoon. She wished now, that she had asked him how old he was. How long had he lived there, where did he go to school, what was his last name? Instead she had lost her temper and learned nothing.
She wanted to go back and talk to him but she had plans with her mother the next day. They were going shopping. They did it once a year -- a trip to Seattle -- just the two of them. This would be the last time since they would be moving soon.
Even in the midst of shops and stores, her mind kept drifting off toward the river at home. Maybe he was really confused and lonely. Over lunch, against her better judgment, she told her mom.
“Oh, I don’t like the sound of this, Melissa. It’s suspicious. I think you’d better stay away from there. There are a lot of mean people in this world.”
“I know Mom. I thought that too, but he is just a boy -- not some big scary man.”
Mom looked serious. “You ever heard of a wolf in sheep’s clothing? There are plenty of bad boys out there, too.”
Luckily both of Melissa’s parents worked during the day. There was no one to eye every move she made. She decided to return to the old house and find out more about Lucas. She pulled out a box from under the bed. Her treasure box was full of things that meant something to her but couldn’t be carried around all the time. She reached in and retrieved her old jackknife that her grandfather had given her. She pocketed it, just to be on the safe side and left the house.
* * * *
“You have such a beautiful aura,” he said. “I knew you were a good person as soon as I saw you.”
They were sitting on the steps of the back porch. “I wish I could say the same,” Melissa answered, “but you really frightened me when you appeared the other day.”
He chuckled. She was happy to realize, despite her hesitancy, that Lucas was really as sweet as he was handsome. “How old are you?” she asked.
“Sixteen,” he answered.
She smiled at his use of that old word. He was funny too. “and how long have you lived here?”
“Since I was a little kid.”
Melissa looked at him thoughtfully. “Strange that we’ve never met. We’ve lived in our house just across the river since I was five years old.” She looked at his pale bare feet. “How come you wear your pants like that?”
He looked down at his legs. “Like what?”
“With the hems folded up. You gonna go wading or something,” she laughed.
“Isn’t that the style?”
Had she realized his answers were not in jest she probably wouldn’t have thrown her head back and laughed. “Where’ve you been for the last forty years? That’s how kids from the 1950s wore their pants. At least in the pictures I’ve seen.”
“That’s the trouble,” he said seriously. “I don’t know where I’ve been.” He looked puzzled. “What do you mean ‘the last forty years’? What year is it?”
“Man, you’re so out there! It’s only 2012!”
His beautiful eyes met hers. He looked very disturbed. He got up and walked toward a swing under a huge weeping willow. She bent to take off her shoes. It was such nice weather. When she looked up again, he was gone. She called his name. No answer. She walked out to the swing and called again. Then she went around to the other side of the house. She still got no response. Although she was very annoyed, she stuck around a while and waited. After almost half an hour she stood up and walked into the house and up the stairs. She wanted to see this place he said he always ‘woke up’ in -- the big chair upstairs.
Melissa was shocked by the large room upstairs. There was broken glass and debris everywhere! The dust on the few pieces of furniture must have been half an inch thick! There was only one easy chair and it was so eroded and laden with mildew, she couldn’t imagine him sitting there. She was so bothered by the room that she ran down the steps, out of the house and on through the woods toward home.
I’m not going back there she said to herself. Just too weird. But she dreamt of him that night. They were sitting on the porch holding hands -- as if it were the most normal thing in the world. Then he reached over and kissed her cheek. Before she could kiss him back, he was suddenly and inexplicably pulled back into the house and out of sight. She woke up feeling both warm from the kiss and cold from fear.
Melissa did not believe in dream interpretation, she thought dreams were simply jumbled up and dramatic recreations of events and thoughts and things that you saw on TV during your day. Nevertheless she wondered. This dream was so vivid. Just the same, she refused to give in to her emotions. She kept busy doing things around the house and in her room; scrap booking, studying, anything to keep her from going to visit her spooky friend or obsessing about him. She nearly succeeded, too, until she went to bed. Was he sleeping too? Was he sitting alone and abandoned in that awful chair? How could parents just leave a child -- especially one so adorable? And if it was all some kind of sick joke he was playing on her, why?
She fell asleep thinking of him and she dreamed of him again. The dream was almost identical to the prior one. Once again she woke up warmed by his tenderness, but not afraid this time. Instead she felt heartache and a longing to stay with Lucas -- to protect him from . . . from what?
* * * *
She was very disappointed the next morning. She’d come to the house, but he was not there. Except for a few birds in the trees, the place was so still and devoid of atmosphere -- it was just a house hidden in the wood. Had she imagined all that had been spoken between her and the boy? Was she crazy? Hallucinating? Just to make sure she decided to climb the sagging stairs inside and look through the main room.
She crept up the stairs and entered the room. She stood and studied it. She noticed a closet. She walked over to it and opened the door. There was a pile of old cans and rags that were sitting on a wooden box. She pulled out the box, groaning at the dirt and grime. She drug it out and over to one of the broken windows where there was more light. When she opened it she only saw old magazines and newspapers, but she slid her hand down the side and, pulling up the top layer, felt a square object. She pulled it out. It was an old cigar box. This was kind of exciting. It made her feel like an archeologist or something. Opening the cigar box she was pleasantly surprised to see lots of old snapshots -- they were the old kind; square with scalloped edges and dates printed in the center of the bottom border.
Pictures of the house from the forties and fifties. It looked well kempt and charming. There were shots of people too, old fashioned clothing and hairstyles. Then she came across one from nineteen-fifty-eight and her eyes widened. She brought the photo to the light and gasped. It was Lucas. But it couldn’t be. Perhaps it was his dad. But he was identical to the boy she’d met so recently. She turned it over and read the writing on the back. “Lucas -- October 1958.” Still, maybe his father’s name was Lucas too.
She closed the cigar box and put it back where she’d found it under the stack of papers. She bent down and pushed the big box back to the closet and was about to stand again when the floorboards gave out! The last thing she remembered was tumbling through the ceiling and landing on the main floor.
Suddenly she awoke to the sound of Lucas pleading with her to wake up. She opened her eyes. He was so beautiful and he looked so worried. Her butt hurt, but she sat up and felt no other pains. “I’m alright, Lucas. It’s okay.”
He let out a sigh of relief. “I couldn’t wake you up,” he said. “I thought you were dead at first.”
Melissa stood up and gave him a look when he didn’t reach out to help her stand. “Where were you?” she asked.
“I don’t remember,” he answered, “but I heard the thud and found you lying on the floor.”
“Oh no,” she said, “it’s almost dark. Mom will be worried sick.” She looked at him and saw his expression was still worried and . . . sad. She suddenly wanted to hug him -- to reassure him, she was fine. But when she put her arms around him she felt nothing but air. She gasped and tried to put her hands on his shoulders. Her hand went right through him as if it was air. But he looked perfectly solid. What in the world?
“Lucas!” she whimpered.
He stared at her in disbelief, then his face changed as if something horrible had dawned on him. “No!” he cried out.
Melissa ran from the house when Lucas disappeared. She couldn’t understand what had happened, but she had to get home. As she hurried across the field it came to her. He was a ghost. A ghost of a long dead boy. She was overcome with sorrow and a terrible disappointment. Deep down she had entertained the idea of them becoming a couple. She had not admitted it to herself, but it was the only explanation for her heartbreak as she struggled home.
FIFTEEN YEARS LATER
Melissa was living in New Mexico when she married and had her first child. She hadn’t been back to Washington since the family had moved away. Now she was driving back to visit some school friends and she was looking forward to it.
She felt very nostalgic as she entered town and decided to drive by her old house and neighborhood. On a whim she parked her car near her old house and got out. She wanted to visit a place she had thought of many times over the years. She began making her way through the meadow that was once her grandfather’s land.
The abandoned house looked almost the same -- a bit shabbier and worn down. It was late fall and most of the vines, blackberry bushes and weeds looked gray and brittle. A few dead leaves dangled from the stems or were caught up in the brambles. She approached the front door, then stopped and walked around to the other side of the house instead. At the base of the porch she called out. “Hello?” There was no answer and, although she had known deep down that his ghost had surely moved on to some other plane, she was deeply disappointed.
She stepped up on the sagging porch and went directly to the open door, peering in to the darkness. She called again “Lucas?” Then she saw something and her heart leapt! A light mist gathered and coalesced and transformed into a human figure. He walked toward her, more handsome than she remembered. His dark eyes were alert and curious.
“Hello,” he said. “Do I know you?” She didn’t answer -- just looked at him and marveled at how real he seemed. He squinted his eyes. “You look familiar.”
“It’s me, Lucas. It’s Melissa. I’ve come back to see you.”
“Melissa? But Melissa is my age. She went away for a little while. He looked confused and skeptical.
“It has been a few years, Lucas. I’ve grown since I last saw you.”
“Well,” he said, “I don’t see how that could be, but you do carry that aura of light about you. She had that.”
Melissa’s chest ached with a kind of love and longing for the past, but she understood that time did not pass for him. “Oh, darling boy,” she said. “How I wish I could embrace you.”
“That’s quite alright,” he answered. “I’m not accustomed to affection.
She was happy that he remembered her as a girl even if he did not recognize her now. She longed for the time they sat together on the porch and talked. When she’d asked him questions and why he wore his trousers the way he did. She had laughed at his answers. She smiled.
He didn’t believe she was the girl he had met. She knew deep down that it was useless -- that time was gone -- lost forever. “I guess I’d better be going,” she said, smiling at him. She turned to leave and he called out.
“Thank you for coming. If you see Melissa . . .” he hesitated for a moment, “give her my love, and tell her to hurry back.”
She couldn’t put her finger on her exact feelings, but she was glad she had come regardless of how it hurt. It dawned on her that, although she hadn’t realized it at the time, he had been her first love. She turned and walked back through the forest, across the river, up the hill and over the fields. When she reached her car, she was overcome by emotion and felt her legs would give out. She got in the driver’s seat and started the engine. As Melissa drove away, tears streamed down her face . . . for Lucas and for herself.