I recently started an online Facebook community for writers called The Write Vintage. Each week, I’m posting prompts on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Tuesday is “Two Line Tuesday,” where writers come up with two quick lines of dialogue about the prompt. Wednesday is “Six Word Wednesday,” for the most micro of micro-fiction, a story in six words or fewer. On Thursdays, our prompts get a little more in-depth: (A Picture is Worth) 1000 Words Thursday. In the group, I’m sharing a black & white image and encouraging everyone to write no more than 1000 words based on whatever the image inspires.
Here’s our image prompt for today:
And here is my piece that goes along with it:
When The Last Leaf Falls
It had been an unusually hot summer at the camp. More and more groups were opting for lake days and pool time, which kept Gage – the resident lifeguard – busy. His skin turned to gold as the days stretched longer and longer, the sun refusing to rest and give way to starlight. This seemed to make Lilly happy. She loved the sun, even though it turned her skin a painfully warm pink that peeled instead of mellowed. But Gage didn’t work at the camp for a tan, or water sports, or even Lilly. Gage worked at the camp for the stars.
The campground had been owned by Gage’s family for sixty years. His aunt Maggie was the Camp Director now, living year-round on the property with her two dogs, Bear and Wolf. The dogs’ names were a bit of an inside joke since neither bears nor wolves were spotted anywhere near this particular camp, as they were too far down the mountain and in too warm a climate, but there was a camper or two every week who asked, worried about the potential wildlife dangers. Maggie always replied, “This is the only bear and the only wolf you’ll find in this camp.” Maggie always had a way of making people feel comfortable.
This particular night seemed to take longer than usual to arrive. Gage had been atop the lifeguard chair for nearly six hours straight when Lilly had finally come to relieve him and take over his post for the few evening swimmers enjoying the lingering twilight. She’d reached out and squeezed his hand before she ascended the ladder. It was the most affection they’d shown each other in weeks.
It wasn’t for Lilly’s lack of trying. Gage had walled himself off to getting closer to her, ever since Maggie told him the news in early June.
“It’s gonna be our last summer, bud.” She hadn’t looked at him as she said it. Her eyes were on the horizon, unmoving, as though she was counting every leaf on every branch of every tree she could see.
“What do you mean, our last summer?” Gage had assumed she’d finally hired a certified lifeguard, one who hadn’t only taken a single Saturday CPR certification course at his local community college.
“We’re bleeding money. I can’t keep it going. I talked it over with your folks, and Uncle Gary. We sold. They’re taking ownership at the end of the season.”
“The end of the season?!” Gage was surprised by his own reaction to the news. He’d never imagined working at the camp forever. In fact, with his college graduation looming and the imminent pressures of ‘career’ and ‘adulthood’ beckoning, he had been sure this would be his last summer. He never imagined it’d be the end for all of them.
“When the last leaf falls,” Maggie replied sadly. Then she whistled for Bear and Wolf, and headed to the lodge for her morning chores.
They were still weeks away from autumn beginning, when Gage would return to school as the weeklong camps stopped and gave way to weekend retreats. Still, he felt the impermanence in everything he did. He could fix up the pool shed…but it wouldn’t be theirs much longer. He could organize the games in the lodge cabinet…but it wouldn’t be theirs much longer. He could spend nights with Lilly in his arms, counting the stars, whispering imperfect promises to one another…but it wouldn’t be theirs much longer.
He had told Lilly almost as soon as Maggie told him. She’d be sensitive and caring, of course. That was Lilly’s nature. But she didn’t have the same connection to the camp that Gage had. Gage was her connection to the camp. They’d both been campers together for a week their sophomore year of high school. Junior year, they shared their first kiss near the end-of-camp bonfire. At the end of senior year, Lilly had asked Gage about getting a job there next summer; she knew he’d be there, and she didn’t want their summers to end.
During the other seasons of the year, Lilly and Gage never spoke. When they were in high school, they had one another’s home phone numbers, but Lilly’s father had started a home business and the line was usually tied up dialing in to his America Online service. Gage’s family didn’t own a home computer. By the time they both went away to college, they’d gotten school email addresses, but neither spent much time in the labs on campus. Gage didn’t date much, and when he did, the relationship had always fizzled by the end of spring. He wasn’t sure if Lilly dated; he assumed she must, though they never discussed it. No matter what, the summers were theirs.
Gage heard the dirt crunch under Lilly’s feet as she approached the porch of the cabin. He was lying across a deck chair, and instinctively moved aside. She lay next to him and draped a quilt she’d brought with her across them both. They both stared up at the clear night sky.
“I thought I’d see the stars of the new millennium here,” Gage murmured quietly.
“I thought I’d see them with you,” Lilly replied, even though they both knew this was one of those imperfect promises neither was likely to keep. They were still six years away from the new millennium; they’d both be nearly thirty when it arrived.
Gage rolled onto his side and pulled Lilly close. He kissed her deeply, and hoped, somehow, that kiss said everything he wanted to say. That he’d fallen for her the first time he saw her. That arriving at the end of each May was the best day of his year, and leaving at the start of each September was the worst. That even though he’d never found the words, he loved her. And he would continue to love her every day, even after the last leaf fell.