By: Lily Luchesi
Edited by: Kelly Smith
How could you move a city gal from NYC to a town somewhere in Butt-Fuck, Virginia right before she starts high school? How?
That’s what fifteen-year-old Maria Devine’s parents did, however, due to her father’s job being temporarily relocated. But no one knew how long “temporary” actually would be and Maria hated starting high school in this one-horse town!
Nothing would make it better…or would it?
Next door lived a nice, “down-home” family, the Sweetzers: mother, father, older son and younger daughter. All of them had light eyes and medium-brown hair with fair skin. They looked like and advertisement for the all-American family.
Maria, a Goth and die-hard fan of acts like Type-O Negative and The Cure, didn’t even bother meeting them.
One night, right before school began, Maria couldn’t sleep, so she opened her window to get some air. It was then she heard the most beautiful, ethereal guitar playing she had ever heard.
Not caring that it was almost 1am, she put on a jacket over her black, skull-printed pajamas and went outside to find the source of the music.
A candle, silhouetting the young man sitting there with an acoustic guitar, was illuminating the back porch of the house next door.
“Hello?” Maria called tentatively.
The music stopped and the man’s head popped up. “Who’s there?”
His voice was soft, musical. It went through Maria and gave her the most pleasant chills down her spine.
“I’m Maria Devine, your neighbor.” She walked closer and saw him in full light. He was breathtakingly handsome, with a strong jaw, a nice smile, side-swept hair and light, angel-blue eyes.
“Hi. I’m Chris Sweetzer.” He didn’t offer a handshake, but, then again, what teenage boy would?
“You play beautifully,” Maria said, gesturing to the guitar.
“Thank you. I didn’t know anyone was listening this late.”
“I’m a night-owl,” she admitted.
“Please, sit,” he said, and she sat precariously on the edge of the wooden porch, not wanting the other side of the porch swing to squeak and wake up the Sweetzers. “Would you like me to play some more?” he asked, giving a sexy smile. He looked about eighteen or nineteen.
She listened to him play until she realized it was nearly two, and if she didn’t sleep she’d be dead on her feet for school the next day. She bid him goodbye and he said, “I’d rather you not tell my parents I’m out here. They hate it when I do this.”
She winked. “Our little secret. Will I see you tomorrow?”
He winked back. “Maybe. Listen for my guitar.”
School the next day was unbearable! The kids all made fun of how Maria talked, how she dressed, and the fact that she didn’t like Twilight or One Direction.
The teachers hated her, because she was ahead of their curriculum and repeatedly said how bored she was. Hey, it was true!
The only thing that made the day easier was the fact that she would soon see Chris Sweetzer again. She found herself thinking of him during the day instead of her teacher in Spanish I. His eyes were haunting her, so much brighter than they should have been in that uncertain light. The way he played was like an expert, not a teenage boy. She wondered how long he had been playing and if he was planning to make it his profession.
She saw his younger sister, Rita, in the lunchroom. They were the same age, but in just one of the same classes. Rita was pretty, with the same hair, skin and eyes as her brother, but muted. She looked depressed, with large dark circles under her eyes.
Maria didn’t know why she was so sad, but she overheard others talking about “poor Rita; she’s still not over it” and “such a tragedy; he was so young”. Perhaps a boyfriend had passed away?
“Is your sister depressed?” Maria asked Chris that night.
“Why do you ask?” he responded. She explained, and he didn’t look up at her. “Things were…tough last summer,” was all he would volunteer. She didn’t want to press him; she knew that he would tell her if he wanted her to know.
“How was your first day?” he then asked and she told him, not omitting any of her complaints. It was nice having an ear to listen.
Chris didn’t play every night, but when he did Maria always came. He continuously asked her not to tell anyone that they met. Perhaps he was concerned that he was eighteen and she was fifteen, but they didn’t kiss or even hold hands, let alone do anything that would be considered statutory rape.
But she understood: her parents would forbid her to meet with him, no matter how innocuous the meetings actually were, and then she’d be upset. It was easier this way.
She was smart, and three months into the school year, she was assigned to tutor a classmate who was falling behind in her studies. The classmate turned out to be Rita Sweetzer.
“Don’t mention the incident to her,” the guidance counselor advised…as if the new girl in town even knew what the “incident” was! “It is probably the reason she can’t concentrate in class. Distract her, help her learn and try to make her smile, huh?”
“I’ll do my best,” Maria said uncomfortably. She resolved she wouldn’t mention Chris whatsoever, in case Rita tattled and then Chris would be watched like a hawk and she’d never enjoy his company again.
Rita was quiet and yes, she was very depressed.
After a week of tutoring she had barely said ten words total, and never smiled. Her schoolwork wasn’t bad because she was unintelligent, but because she had a lackluster approach towards it and life in general.
Maria, an Italian New York bitch, finally had had enough of monosyllabic responses and said, “Look, Rita, let me be frank: I heard you had a tragedy in your life before I moved here. I’m really, really sorry about whatever it was—don’t tell me—but someone needs to set you straight. It happened. No amount of sulking and being a bitch towards me will make it not happen.
“Life goes on, Rita. We can’t stop living just because maybe someone else didn’t. We have to live life to the fullest; be happy and keep the departed’s memory alive.”
Rita, who had been coddled by her shrinks, her parents and her friends, had never been spoken to so harshly. For a second, Maria wondered if she was going to start bawling and then she’d be in for it—she’d get reported for being emotionally abusive to a distressed classmate and have a mark on her perfect record.
Instead, Rita hugged her so tightly Maria thought she was going to pass out.
“No one…no one put it to me like that before,” she admitted, tears glistening in her eyes. “Thank you.”
“No one had the balls,” Maria said with a laugh. “You’re welcome.”
“You helped my sister,” was the first thing Chris said that night when Maria met him in the backyard.
“She needed to be set straight,” Maria shrugged. “I did what I had to.” She looked at him. It was November, but he was wearing jeans and a black T-shirt. “Aren’t you cold?” she wondered.
“Nope. Are you?”
She shook her head. They had been talking since August and she wished he would at least hold her. She had fallen hopelessly in love with this boy, but she felt so disconnected with him!
“So…can’t anyone know that we talk yet?” she asked suddenly. “Or are you too ashamed to have a freshman girlfriend since you’re eighteen?”
He sighed and put the guitar between his legs. “Things are more complicated than that, Maria,” he said. “I would love to parade you around campus as my girl, and I wouldn’t even sleep with you until you’re legal. But…”
“I’ll tell you one day. I promise. And we’ll be together.”
“When?” She knew she was being persistent, but she really wanted an answer.
But “soon” wasn’t soon enough. It was close to summertime and Mr. Devine got the call to come back to NYC. Maria, eight months ago, had been praying for a return to her beloved city, but now she wanted to stay here with Chris. She’d be sixteen soon, and, with parental consent they could finally be together!
They were invited to dinner at the Sweetzer house the week before they were to leave, but Chris wasn’t at the table. Maria assumed he was at a friend’s house. After all, he was almost 19.
They ate and talked. The three Sweetzers were all pale and without the lively spark of Chris. If it weren’t for the similar appearance, she would think he was adopted!
In the living room, there was a sort of shrine to Chris, with photos and diplomas and awards. It was nice, but she felt bad for Rita, who must’ve felt neglected and second best to her brother.
Later that night, her parents were talking in the living room as Maria finished packing.
“So sad about their poor son,” Mrs. Devine stated.
“They’re still not over it,” Mr. Devine observed.
“What about Chris?” Maria asked, confused. She had just seen him the night before and he hadn’t mentioned anything bad happening.
“Rita didn’t tell you?” Mrs. Devine said, shocked. “Chris passed away. Tomorrow is a year to the day of his death.”
Maria Googled Christopher Sweetzer, unable to believe that he was dead. How could he be dead? She’d been talking to him and listening to him on his guitar for the past ten months now!
But here was the headline on the local paper’s website:
18-Year-Old Dies In Freak Accident
The article read:
18-year-old Christopher Sweetzer passed away in St. Anthony’s Hospital yesterday from injuries sustained when the roof of his backyard porch collapsed on top of him. He had been practicing his guitar in the early hours of the morning, excited by his acceptance into Julliard.
There was no fault on the builder’s part, but the collapse may have been due to the recent rainstorms we had been experiencing.
The date, time and location of the funeral followed, as well as where he was going to be buried.
Maria’s head swam. It couldn’t possibly be true! Since her parents were asleep, she dashed to the Sweetzers’ back porch.
“Chris!” she hissed over and over again. “Chris!” But he didn’t show up.
The next day she went to the Christian cemetery and found his gravestone, and that hit it home for her. It had his photo, an engraving of a guitar and the inscription:
Christopher Gerard Sweetzer
Beloved son and brother
The Heavenly choir welcomes him with open arms
She cried and cried over the headstone until her heart felt as if it would burst from the grief. Had she really, truly, been talking to a ghost? How was that even possible?
But he had made this year bearable for her, he had shown her what love was and he would always, always, be in her heart now. She just wished that she could see him again before she left.
She listened every night, but he never showed up again.
It was better in NYC. Maria enjoyed herself there. But she wasn’t the same selfish girl she had been when she’d left a year ago—Chris had changed her somehow, made her softer.
She took up the guitar, and when she was eighteen, she was accepted into Julliard School of Music.
Her first night there, she couldn’t sleep, so she roamed the halls.
It was a nice school and she felt a connection with Chris. She wondered if she’d ever see him again in this lifetime, or if she’d have to wait until she entered Heaven. He had changed her, made her better, given her life purpose. She’d always love him.
As she was musing, she passed a practice room and heard the most beautiful notes being played from a guitar coming from within. Familiar notes… Her hand shook as she pushed open the door, afraid of what she might see.
A single guitar was on a stool, placed precisely in the middle of the room. On top of it was a note addressed to her. She picked it up and read it, tears streaming from her eyes.
I knew you needed purpose, my sister needed a friend and I needed someone to hear me.
You were the best thing to happen to me, alive or dead. You helped my sister get over my death. She was planning to kill herself before you talked to her. You saved her life, Maria, and for that I am grateful.
I am glad I inspired you, not just to play the guitar but also to smile more and to learn to love. Do everything in memory of me and with plenty of love.
I love you. I couldn’t tell you before, but I do. I’ll always be with you. Forever.
Keep love in your heart and music in your life. Live every day like it’s your last. Promise me.
Always and forever,
Maria let her tears fall as she said, “I promise, Chris. I love you, too.”
A breeze passed her cheek, like a kiss, and the last few notes played on the guitar before he was gone, back to Heaven, to play with the choir.
You can read more of her works on her blog.