NJ ♡’s LB
“Where are we going mom? Is this it?” Noah asked as he stared out the window of the ‘96 Buick. His mother put the car in park as she bumped the curb with the front wheels. She adjusted the rearview mirror so that she could see his eyes and just a small bit of his smile.
“Yeah. This is it.” Noah furiously unbuckled his seatbelt, bounced out of his car seat, and started to wrestle with the door handle.
“Hold on, baby. I’ll get ya.”
“Hurry up! Hurry up! Hurry up!” Noah shouted as he snatched the Star Wars bookbag out of the floor and dumped the contents on the seat: a shirt with Yoda’s silhouette, his communication folder from school, his math homework, a handful of sucker sticks, a crumpled Valentine’s card with Garfield that said Be Mine Lilly, and a .7 mechanical pencil with no lead. “It’s not in here. We forgot it.”
“No we didn’t. If it’s not in the front part of your bookbag, it’s in my pocketbook.” She removed the key from the ignition and stepped out. Noah frantically wedged the sucker sticks in the small crack between the seats and tossed everything else back in his bookbag.
Almost as if he was spring loaded, the back car door opened and Noah fired out of it.
“Slow up, baby. We are still in a parking lot.” Noah’s head whipped side to side when the trail caught his eye.
“There it is! There it is!” he announced. His mother adjusted her pocketbook on her shoulder and smoothed the wrinkles out of her shirt made by the seatbelt.
“And the bridge is right down there?” he asked.
“And it’ll really work?”
“Well it worked for me and your daddy.” With that, Noah snatched his mother’s hand and led her towards the opening in the woods at the edge of the parking lot. “Baby. Baby. Baby. Slow up. That bridge’ll wait ‘til we get there.”
“Can we get one of those?” Noah asked as he motioned over to the Rent-A-Bike kiosk where the trees parted and the trail began. He reached around his back with his right hand to make sure his bookbag was still there.
“I don’t think they have training wheels for those bikes like you have on yours.”
“Mama, I don’t need training wheels anymore. I’m grown,” Noah said as he puffed his chest out a little, and she stifled a laugh.
“Well maybe the next time. The bridge is right on the other side of those trees.” She motioned with her free hand towards the sidewalk- trees lined the left side and the right was a brick wall that ran from the bicycle rental to the opening. “Just follow the sidewalk and go past that brick wall.”
Noah forgot about the bicycle and pulled harder on her hand. Crickets and birds competed to try and out-sing the other as the pair approached the woods. He ran his right hand along the brick wall and felt each bump created from a combination of missing mortar joints, words chiseled into the wall, and time.
He could feel they were close and held his breath. The trees to their left and the wall to their right ended as the sun met them on the other side.
The bridge stretched over the Dan River on the outskirts of town. It started as a completely wooden structure a few feet off the ground. After a few feet, black chain-link fence covered the outside of the railing. The builders initially placed it there to prevent anything small from slipping through; however, visitors found another use for it. Trees reached out and poked through sections of railing and towered over the railing. A few locks clung to the fence. Noah’s pace slowed as a bicyclist zipped past them on the opposite side of the bridge.
“Didn’t you say you and dad put one on the bridge?” he asked.
“Yeah, but that was a loooonnnng time ago. Who knows if it is even still there.”
After the initial part, the bridge transitioned to a combination of metal girders covered by wooden planks, but the chain-link fence continued along the outside edge. The locks grew more frequent the closer they walked to the middle of the bridge.
“Here?” Noah asked.
“Where should I put it?” he asked.
“Wherever you want sweetie.”
“How about here?” he asked as he dropped on his butt and rummaged around in the front part of his bookbag. “Haha! Got it!”
Noah turned the combination lock over in his hand. He spun the cylinder on the front around and around.
“Did you do what I told you?” his mother asked.
“Yep.” Noah turned the lock over in his hand. On the back in a black Sharpie, he had written NJ ♡’s LB. “You really think this’ll work?” He fumbled with the lock. Three spins to the right. Stop on 33. Two spins to the left. Stop on 7. One spin to the right. 13. It did not open. He repeated the combination and pulled the lock. No luck again. His mother took it from his hand, tried once, and it opened. She leaned over and handed it to him.
Noah carefully attached it to the black part of the fence.
His mother smiled and said, “They say it works.” She looked out at the rough waters below them. “Most of the time.”
Noah stood up, and they headed back to the car.
Lance sat at the intersection in his forest green Tahoe and looked up the hill at her house. It used to be their house. Now it was hers.
He turned the volume up on the satellite radio and tried to forget.
Nirvana. You Know You’re Right.
Almost as if by reflex, he made his way down the road toward the nature trail.
Three blocks down. Take a right.
Four blocks. Left.
Through the stop light.
Over the bridge.
Left on Craghead Street.
Another block past the taco shop.
A left into the parking lot.
He parked as far as possible away from the trail almost next to the Farmer’s Market. He shut his eyes as the song changed.
The White Stripes. Fell in Love With a Girl.
Lance shook his head.
Of all the songs in the world… he thought. His emotions sat somewhere between wanting to scream into the steering wheel and a psychotic laugh.
A moment later, he was standing on the bridge.
How’d I get here that quick? he asked himself. I don’t remember the trail or the trees or...
A jogger brushed his left shoulder. He looked over his shoulder at her. She did not turn around.
He pulled his phone out of his right, front jeans pocket.
Swipe open. Music folder.
The 1975. Love It If We Made It.
Ed Sheeran. Castle on the Hill.
Post Malone. I Fall Apart.
“Ok, fate,” he said as he looked out over the waters below him. “I get it. You can quit messing with me.”
Panic! At the Disco. Hey Look Ma, I Made It.
“Now that’s better,” Lance said with a smile as he fumbled in his left pants pocket for his keys. After a moment, he pulled them out and found one that looked like an antique. He carefully removed it from the keyring and returned the rest to his pocket.
Without looking, he reached down and detached a lock slightly below his waist on the fence attached to the bridge. He turned the key so that it would not come out of the lock and finally looked at the initials.
LC luvs AR.
Lance removed the marker from his pocket and carefully crossed out the initials.
With a smile, he tossed the lock off the bridge.
The river below welcomed the lock to its final home as it sank to the bottom.
“So it goes,” he said with a smile. “So it goes.”
He remembered the walk to the car this time, careful to only look forward and not back.
The sign on the door of the brewery announced Trivia Night! The First Tuesday of every month!
Tyler took a deep breath as he opened the door to the crowded bottle shop. I know he thought to himself. I know. What kind of real love story starts in a bar? Relationships usually end in a bar. A slight smile escaped his lips as he adjusted his reflective sunglasses and the first person shouted his name.
“Tyler!” The table was crowded, but he found a way to wedge himself in between a girl he graduated high school with and her best friend from college. After about five minutes, they knew and had discussed each person in the entire shop.
Tyler played baseball with the guy staring at the imported beer rack and went to preschool with the freckled girl in the corner. The two older people playing cornhole were coworkers of Tyler’s dad; their opponents lived down the block from where he grew up. His current neighbors sat at the far end of the bar-she sipped a cider and he was on his third IPA. No one at the table knew the old man with the beard coming out of the restroom.
Someone once told Tyler he should be a politician because he knew almost everyone. He said he ‘didn’t have the look for it.’
Then he saw her.
Peyton’s brown, curly hair was half pulled up on her head. She sat on a yellow, metal barstool next to a girl with black rimmed glasses. She messaged him earlier and said her friend from work would be with her. Tyler said he would try to get someone to come with him. He was unsuccessful.
“I’ll catch up with y’all later.” Tyler did a few quick ‘see ya’ handshakes and carefully danced his way up to the barstool next to her where she placed her purse.
“You did make it,” Peyton said with a sparkle in her brown eyes. “We were beginning to wonder.”
“Sorry. My life is a little crazy. It took me a minute to get from the front door to here.”
“We noticed.” Her friend nodded and walked off towards the back of the brewery. After a few minutes, they realized they went to the same highschool but at different times.
“What can I get y’all? I know you want a cider,” the bartender said with a point at Peyton.
“Surprise me,” Tyler said. The bartender said ok, walked off, and returned with a chai cider for Peyton and a stout that was ‘not too heavy.’ It was then that Tyler noticed the song in the background…
I drink coffee for breakfast. I want warm cups of tea. I just might love you forever. I hope you warm up to me.
“I love this song,” Tyler said.
“Really? You know Mallrat?” Peyton asked.
“Uh...yeah.” He cleared his throat and started singing along with the music. “My mom she smells like cigarettes and they broke each other’s hearts. She says that love is like a chess game and boys gotta do the chasing.” He stopped and laughed. “Sorry it didn’t work out the other week. I didn’t even think about it being Valentine’s Day.”
“Yeah. I just thought it might be weird.”
“Maybe, but it worked out.”
Tyler closed his eyes and started singing again to himself. “I hope your dreams are amazing. I hope I maybe sneak my way in...I'd like that.”
They finished their drinks and then she asked, “Wanna grab something to eat?”
“Well I hate to tell you this,” the man behind the counter said, “but the food truck left about an hour ago.”
“Well somewhere’s gotta be open. And if nowhere here is, we’ll drive down to Greensboro. And if you don’t feel like riding all the way there, we can grab some fast-food and I know this really cute bridge where we can sit and eat.”
“Yeah. I know it. I might’ve put a lock or two on it before.”
“Me, too,” he said. They both smiled. “Me, too.”
His Jeep was parked out by the front of the shop on the curb. They snuck out just as trivia started. He opened her door, and she jumped up in.
“So where to?” Tyler asked.
“I don’t know,” Peyton replied.
Phillip Gillis is a teacher, writer, wanderer, semi-retired professional wrestler, and father of two beautiful children. He is also a proud native of Allensville, NC and grew up in a hardware store, C&G Supply Center.