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The Sound of Heartbeats
Still the Same
Nicholas Jackson lived next door. Over the years, when he crossed her mind, Savannah pictured him as going big places and doing grand things.
Nicholas was the first boy she ever kissed and the first boy she ever loved. He was the reason why, every summer, even before school ended, her bags were packed, ready to go to her grandmother’s.
They were two skinny kids, covered in freckles and full of energy, him and her. Never a summer passed that he didn’t have a new adventure planned for the two of them. And as hard as getting away from their grandparents was, they managed. It was part of the fun, she supposed, looking back. Grace Smith and Henry Jackson didn’t like each other for a long time, a lot of summers.
The two would wave, “Good morning,” or “Good evening,” if the other one did it first. Otherwise, Henry Jackson stayed on his side of the azaleas and Grace Smith stayed on her side. Both worked in their gardens, going about their daily routines of soap operas, afternoon naps, and baseball games. Savannah and Nicholas watched their grandparents’ drama of disdain for the other from under the mimosa tree, peeking from behind fronds that hid their blond hair and freckled faces.
Savannah’s grandfather died at a young age leaving behind her grandmother. Nicholas’s grandmother died young, too; and his grandfather returned to Port Island after retiring from the military. There, he settled in the house beside Savannah’s grandmother. He grew up there, on the island, the same as Savannah’s grandmother.
Each summer, Nicholas would wait and watch as a station wagon wheeled into Savannah’s grandmother’s driveway. Savannah and her parents would pile out of the big car, Savannah with suitcases in hand.
Not long after she arrived, Savannah would hear an owl hoot, three times. With everyone busy talking and catching up, no one ever noticed as she slipped out the screen door and into the back yard.
Outside, Savannah would answer the owl hoots with a whistle that almost sounded like a bobwhite, except for the summer she lost one of her front teeth. Then she would shinny up the mimosa tree, Nicholas watching. They would look at each other, a year older. Back then, that was a lot.
The next morning, always well before sunup, the station wagon would be gone; Savannah’s cheek still damp from her mother’s good-bye kiss, her father’s aftershave lingering in her room.
So began Nicholas’s and Savannah’s childhood summers together.