The leaves and grass were a crisp refreshing green, but her hair was still the colour of freshly fallen autumn leaves. We would spend our summer days driving with the windows down going 50 over the speed limit as we dashed down hot asphalt roads towards the beach. We’d hop out of my dingy old sunfire and race to see who could get the best patch of sun on the slightly rocky shores of Grand Bend. The sun never really liked her, so she would try to tuck her whole body under the shade of her large umbrella but when she’d doze off into a midday nap some piece of unguarded flesh would roll out from its shelter and be pulverized by the most brutal rays of sun. But no matter how many times she got burnt, she’d still beg me to come back every chance we’d get. How could I resist the plea of a best friend?
When we weren’t strolling the beach or being typical teenage mall rats we had our jobs. I babysat the neighbours kids half of the time and the other half I worked at the equestrian barn down the road mucking stalls and feeding the hungry giants that everyone other than me seemed to be smitten by. She worked at a Dairy Queen. Once a week her and her fellow employees would bring random foods from home and experiment with them in the deep fryer before cleaning out the oil. Apparently deep fried
peaches are alright. Sometimes I’d load the kids I watched into my sunfire and shuttle us over to the DQ. It was a pain to get two car seats into that little car, but the way those kids eyes lit up when I mentioned the words “dilly bar” almost made up for the pain of installing car seats and removing sweet sticky syrup and popsicle sticks from the back seat.
We’d pull up to the parking lot and the kids would unclip their seat belts and waitfor me to open their doors. Then one foot at a time they’d wriggle their ways out of their booster seats and wait with raised arms for me to lift them from the car. The sun always seemed to penetrate through the back of my shirt while I leaned over to do this. After freeing the two wild beasts from their constraints we’d strut into the icy restaurant hand in hand and zip up to the counter. If she was at cash she would smile in a way that made me know that she both loved and hated that we came to visit her. If she was in the back she’d slide her way to the storefront to say a quick hello. No matter what, the way her icy blue outfit and visor contrasted with? her spicy red trusses made her uniform look almost fashionable on her. I always found it odd that her name tag was spelt wrong. They added an extra “e” to her name, but it was just like Adriann to not bother correcting people.
We both booked off one week in August and rented a cottage down by the
beach with a few friends. She was never much of a drinker, but this week she gave her sobriety a vacation and joined in with the rest of us. We’d stay up late drinking, dancing, talking. She told me how excited she was to get into the residence she had, how many facebook friend requests she had gotten since making her University of Waterloo graduating class of 2014 profile. I knew she worried about me. I was staying back. Taking a year to reroute. She was on the fast track to somewhere great.
At the end of our week we held a big bash. All of our friends drove up and camped out. They brought tents for the backyard and blow up mattresses for the living room and we celebrated her 18th birthday in style. When we woke up the next morning bottles lined the pool, cigarette buds sat in a mason jar on the front porch and the scent of a new goodbye lingered in the air. I looked her in the eyes, but there was something different about her.We left the cottage that evening. The next week I didn’t see her much. But she called me once and told me she went on a date with a guy she had met at the cottage. I dropped by her work with the kids the next week but something had left her eyes.They used to seem so fresh and unassuming, but something had replaced that. She seemed skeptical of my intentions. I’d known her since the first day of the third grade when I moved to Kitchener and I had never seen this side of her before. I left her an extra large tip that day in an attempt to cheer her up. Nice I thought she had seen me do it, but
maybe she didn’t because she remained like a marble statue, unchanged. And though she had always been pale, it appeared that all of her pigment had flushed out of her in the last two weeks.
One day shortly later I dropped by her house without calling like I usually did.
Nobody was home. So I decided to wait for her to get there. I called her cell phone three times before she answered. With every buzzing of the line my impatience grew and my hope to see her again died. “Hello.” I heard slide out from her end. “Hi, I’m at your house”I somehow let slide out as I wiped my palms on my khaki shorts. “umm… Yeah… I’ll be
there soon” I heard some rustling in the background but I didn’t bother asking anything else. “Okay” and then the line went to buzzing again. You know how time seems to move slower than molasses when something is wrong or to pass in the blink of an eye when something is fabulous. Well when she slithered out of that midnight black volvo time was creeping by like the last bit of honey being squeezed out of a thick glass jar. And that was before my eyes landed on him.
He looked clean cut enough. He sounded, smelled and stood like the average guy. But something caused a mosh pit to explode into full Heavy Metal concert mode in my stomach. His eyes were a green-grey and his skin was pale and lifeless like Adriann’s had become. When he shook my hand his palm was too clammy in the worst possible way. Never trust the cold sweats.
Adriann had changed to match him. Her style, her hair, her walk. It’s like he sucked the life out of her and slapped on a long sleeve in August just to prove how lifeless she was. She had traded in her pastel sundresses for denim capris and grey long sleeves. Even her hair had somehow lost its luster and was hanging around her face like curtains. Her usually defined cheekbones were sticking out just a fraction of a centimeter more, but I noticed.
She offered me to come in for a beverage. But it didn’t feel sincere. I declined. Months passed, school came. At first I would text her, but then her reponses got further and further apart. Eventually they stopped all together. I heard her and Thomas were still together. Then I heard she flunked out. Then I heard she had gotten into some trouble with the law. The rumours just piled up. I met up with her for coffee one day. Our conversation lasted fifteen minutes before Thomas called and asked her to come home. We had barely gotten past the hellos when she threw on another layer of fabric and pulled herself to the doorway. She looked so frail as she shuffled to the exit with a wave and half smile.
That was the last time I saw her.
I got the call the next fall when I was in my third week of class at college. They said she must have taken off from Thomas and drove to the beach. They found her purple lipped on the shore, half in the water, half on the rocky sand. Half conscious, half
out of it, high as a kite. She was just too frail to make it through.
I rushed to meet her at the hospital. I wanted to hold her hand and tell her everything was going to be alright. But it was too late when I got there. I spoke at her funeral. I spoke of the Adriann that I had known and loved. The Adriann that left the moment Thomas pricked her with a needle. The one that planned a future, a bright one, the one that a pimp, drug dealer and abuser killed long before her heart stopped beating.
As I drove home from the funeral I rolled my windows down to let some crisp fall air in. Just as my mind began to drift I passed under the shade of trees and something intruded through my window. I nearly skidded off the road, but I managed to get back on track. I looked in the passenger seat and saw a vibrant pile of freshly fallen autumn leaves being tossed slightly by the wind. I left them alone. It was nice to drive with some company again.