It was a Sunday afternoon, the last weekend before he left Seattle for his senior year of college in California, and he was getting desperate.
He sat down in the back one minute before the service started, hoping no one talked to him. No one did. The congregation, in a strange cadence with the priest, started reading lines in unison out of a booklet. Kyle looked at the mottled light coming through the stained glass windows at the side of the sanctuary and touched the worn pew in front of him with impassive fingers. He felt sick and alone. Everyone else in the room seemed like they knew what was going on. They spoke in written lines that somehow still sounded intentional. As he watched them the words of the liturgy passed through his head with fleeting impressions, as if they had been printed in a faint, pastel gray. He thought about slipping out the back and going to a coffee shop instead.
“The first lesson is from the book of Ezekiel, chapter 22,” a voice from the front of the sanctuary said. Kyle did not move, but his eyes looked up. Something about the name Ezekiel, with its sharp, knifelike sound, gave him pause.
“Behold, I strike my hand at the dishonest gain that you have made,” the reader continued, “and at the blood that has been in your midst. Can your courage endure, or can your hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with you? I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it. I will scatter you among the nations and disperse you through the countries, and I will consume your uncleanness out of you. And you shall be profaned by your own doing in the sight of the nations, and you shall know that I am the Lord. The word of the Lord.”
“Thanks be to God,” the congregation said, and everyone sat down. Kyle said nothing. He stood up and walked mechanically out of the church. Somewhere, deep inside of him, a hot, simmering pool of guilt had reached a boil.
Outside the air was gray with smoke from the late summer wildfires. He passed lawns of dry, brittle grass until he came to Jordan’s house. He could hardly bear to look at it. Three years after that nighty—almost to the day, he realized—it looked lonely and abused. He wondered if she still even lived there anymore.
He walked another block to his parents’ house, went into his bedroom, and pulled out his phone. It felt like a brick in his hand, and his arms and legs felt like twigs threatening to collapse in a pile on the hardwood floor at any moment. He took a deep breathe and pressed call.
“Hi Jordan, this is Kyle...” his heart caught in his throat. She has no clue, he thought. No idea at all.
“It’s Kyle Daniels, from high school,” he said. “Yeah... Yeah it’s been a few years. How are you?... Cool. Um, hey. I know this is out of the blue, but I leave for college this week, and there’s something I need to talk to you about... It’s important. Can I meet you somewhere tomorrow?... Ok, thank you.”
He scribbled Golden Gardens, 2 pm on a notepad, dropped the phone on his bed, and stared at it with wide, crazed eyes. “I just called her,” he said out loud to the empty room. “I just called her, and I’m going to tell her what I did.”
The next day he sat on a log on the beach at Golden Gardens Park, looking out at the gentle swells of the Puget Sound and trying not to breathe heavily in the smoky air. He checked his phone—2:04 pm. Then he saw her. She was passing the volleyball courts, walking down the sand in his direction. She had a new tattoo on her arm, he noticed as she drew closer, and another on her leg just beneath her cutoff shorts, but otherwise she looked the same as he had seen her.
“Kyle! How are you?” she spread her arms to hug him. But before she could he put an arm out to stop her.
“Sorry,” he said. “I can’t. You might want to sit down.”
“Okay.” She sat down slowly and looked at him and with raised eyebrows. “What’s going on?”
Kyle’s heart was beating wildly. He blinked and clenched his teeth. Every bit of his body and his will wanted to leave, to tell her it was nothing and get the hell back to California, far, far away where he’d never see her again. The escape played out in his mind in an instant. But he did not move. Something kept him fixed to the log. Three cavernous seconds passed. He cleared his throat.
“I’m here to apologize to you,” he said. “Just let me talk for a second. Please.”
She nodded and whispered a silent “Sure.”
“The summer after we graduated high school, there was a big party, right before I left for college. You had a lot to drink,” he said. “As in, you were blackout drunk, so I offered to take you home.”
“You lived near me, and we were kind of friends,” he shifted on the log. “And everyone trusted me,” his voice shook a little and he coughed again to clear it. “They trusted me. So I took you home, but before I left.”
He bit his lip. He still wanted to run. He still could run, a voice in his head said. His mouth was dry and the ashy air felt like it wanted to choke him.
“Your parents were out of town. No one was home. So before I left, I—” Kyle paused again. He wanted to sink into the sand and disappear. But like a man about to leap into freezing water, he pushed every thought and sensation aside, and he spoke the words.
“I took pictures of you, six of them. Without your clothes on.”
“Oh God,” she said. Kyle was staring at the ground but he risked a glance up in time to see her countenance change. It cut him to the quick.
“I swear Jordan. I swear to God that’s all I did. And I deleted the photos last year,” now his words were coming easily, and they fell from his lips like bombs from the sky. “But it was wrong. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever done and it was so wrong. I have no excuse. And I’m sorry.”
She slapped him.
“Get away from me,” her voice was cold and firm as stone. “Go back to California and don’t ever come here again.”
Some strange force within his heart caused him to look her in the eyes, and for a fleeting moment he saw her. She was all there in a frenzied image of shame, humiliation, shock, outrage, anger, regret, fear. Every image and memory of her that he had stored away in his mind turned to ash. There was only Jordan, a living human being whom he had unspeakably disgraced, sitting before him, beautiful and radiant even in the muted sunlight.
It was too much to bear. He turned and started to walk away. From the volleyball courts someone jeered. “That’s right, you leave her alone!”
His chest felt like a frayed string stretched taut, threatening to break, and he longed for a wave from the Puget Sound to reach out and swallow him and wash him out into the dark and endless depths of the sea.
“Wait,” it was her voice. She had stood up but did not approach him. “Why did you tell me?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m lost, and I’m trying to find something. All I know is that ever since I did that to you, I’ve just been dead.”
He sighed, looked at the ground, and raised his arms in a weak shrug. “I’m so sorry. I won’t come back.”
As he left the beach and walked toward the parking lot, a breeze picked up from the west. He got in his car and looked out the window toward the Sound. The sky was starting to clear.