My toe nail polish was chipping. I distinctly remember looking down and feeling a slight flash of embarrassment that quickly faded, replaced by something softer and darker. The pale pink she had slathered haphazardly on my nails, giggling when she dripped or painted my skin, was weeks old now, chipping. I hadn’t considered taking it off.
Your hand grazed my hip.
“Look,” you said, holding a tomato before me, and I wrenched my eyes from the fragmented paint below to meet yours, not looking at the vegetable, or fruit, I supposed, as an afterthought.
“Mmm,” I managed in response, turning like I was looking at the cucumbers. I wasn’t.
We were at the farmers’ market. The sun too low in the sky still to make being awake acceptable, but you had made my roommate let you in and then dragged me bodily from my bed. “It’ll be good for you,” my roommate had mumbled softly as you’d pulled me from my room, the first time in days I’d really seen sun.
The vendors filled the air with the soft sounds of morning chit chat and the bright smells of fresh produce, but I studied my toes. Brooding. Her giggle as she painted my toes resounding in my head.
You touched two fingers to my chin, surprising me, and I looked up, looked at you.
“Look at the tomato, Kat.”
“Yes. Tomato,” I murmured, and when you sighed, “I don’t like tomatoes, Kyle.”
My first real sentence in…days? Definitely the first today.
You held my wrist lightly, pulling me to the next booth, where peaches sat like fat boils in the sun, pink and red, glistening. The smell of them ripe, too ripe, the scent cloying, overpowering, and I shook my head, studied my toes.
I pulled my wrist free, and wandered a little bit away from you. You let me go, pretended to select a peach, but I saw your eyes follow me. I was annoyed, assuming all the creases in your brow were concern, only concern.
I roamed away from you, no destination in mind, wandering between booths.
The summer wind brushed my hair across my eyes and I turned, spinning so that the wind blew my hair back, cooling my face. A vendor called to me, and I turned towards him, his direction as good as any. I picked up one of his strawberries, lethargically, uncaringly, but it was red, her favorite color, and it called to me more than anything else I’d seen today.
“Try it,” the man, the vendor told me, eagerly.
I shrugged, and brought the berry to my lips, his eagerness urging me on, but not my own. The soft skin of it puckered as I bit, juice flooding my mouth, and memory flooding my mind.
She had made pie. Strawberry pie, years before, her first attempt, I think, and she sat on my kitchen counter, waving a fork at me playfully. That giggle bouncing off the yellow walls.
“Try it, Kat!” I was reluctant for some reason, maybe because I knew this pie was her first, and because this was before she learned the use of a timer in cooking. “C’mon!” She’d pulled me forward, from where I stood at the stove.
I opened my mouth reluctantly, and allowed her to dollop the pie onto my tongue. And then I sprayed whipped cream at her, exploding in giggles. “It’s terrible!”
“It’s terrible,” I told the vendor, smiling a little, my muscles unsure of the almost forgotten expression.
His face fell but I turned, picking up a grape, and tried it too, wandering away from the stunned man with the strawberries that really weren’t so terrible.
I noticed my toes again. I hadn’t painted them since she had. I’d worn closed toed shoes, pumps I think, last weekend, black of course. Everything had been black.
I glanced up and caught you watching me again, and saw the flash in your eye, of concern, pity, I was sure.
I turned away and saw them glistening in the morning sun, red like blood and love and pain. I thoughtlessly picked one up, hefting it in my hand, feeling its imperfect red skin, smoothing my thumb across its curve. I took a bite, unthinking, and I broke, unexpectedly crippled by an unassuming fruit.
It didn’t mean to hurt me. It didn’t know apples were her favorite.
That if she was here, if she weren’t gone, my best friend would be fawning over the apples. Tasting each of the colors and picking her favorites, lugging home bags and bags of apples.
And you find me that way, broken by that apple, my one hand braced on the table, the other clutching the offending fruit, the vendor looking at me like she’s worried I might puke on her table.
You wrap your arms around me, my back to your chest. A small voice in my head realizes this is new for us. You’ve never held me. You whisper in my ear, knowing somehow, already, this scene had broken me.
“Remember the apple pie on your eighteenth birthday?” You paused, pulling me away from the booth, still embracing me, so that we stood under a tree, slightly away from the rest of the market.
I remembered. She had made apple pie, a huge apple pie. I’d been irritated at her, mad that she’d made her own favorite for my birthday instead of mine. I sighed, relaxing against you, and a tear slipped from the corner of my eye.
“And then she brought out the other pies. The chocolate, the cherry, the lemon, and,” you chuckled, “the coconut cream pie.”
The coconut cream pie that somehow, had ended up plastered across my face. I realized, though my cheeks were wet, that I was smiling again. The second time I’d thought of her and smiled in weeks.
You chuckled again. “It took you the rest of the night to get all of the whipped cream out of your hair, but you smiled the whole time.”
“Most people just get to blow out candles,” A sob shook me, but my smile widened, the conflicting emotions crashing within me, threatening to overwhelm, but you centered me, turning me to face you.
“She wouldn’t want you to be sad, Kat,” you tell me softly, so softly, “not this sad. She would want you to eat apples for her and smile.”
And it was like you’d given me permission to breathe air I didn’t know I needed, my breath came rushing in, soothing my aching chest, allowing my sobs to wrack me, for a moment, and then calm. You pulled me to your chest, soothing me, whispering to me.
And when my tears finally slowed, you curled the apple in my hand and held it to my lips, urging me to bite, letting the memories of her, that I had been trying so hard to suppress, fill me as my mouth filled with the sweet taste of apple.
I closed my eyes for a minute, my mind clearing, and then, all at once realized the truth, about your crumpled brow and watchful eyes.
Before I could think better of it, knowing only that she, impulsive and glorious as she was, would have been proud, I rocked forward, touching my lips to yours.
That day, with your arms around me, an apple still in my hand, and your lips on mine, I began to heal, to allow myself to let go of the pain and just remember the giggles, the fingernail polish, the pies.
And the kiss tasted like apples.