It seems like a lifetime since I first met Carter Harlow.
We lived in the same small town where you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing a familiar and friendly face. I was five years old and he was six. I remember that day, perfectly. We were at school, playing outside during recess. The school year was almost up, and it was a hot sunny day. The kids in my class played chase, or were in the sandbox making sandcastles. I was sitting on the swing, in my own little world. I didn’t know how to swing yet without someone pushing me. My legs dangled, and I kicked the pebbled rocks with the tip of my shoes. I watched the other kids playing, seeing they all had a playmate. It made me sad and envious that I didn’t have that. All I wanted was someone to push me on the swing. I didn’t have any friends back then, and maybe Carter knew what a lonely little girl I was.
Looking back, I didn’t understand why my Mom didn’t want anything to do with me, or why my Dad always smelled funny. But, Carter didn’t make fun of my dirty clothes, or say anything about how I hadn’t bathed in a week. He walked right up to me, touched my hand holding tightly onto the chain of the swing, and looked right at me.
“I’m Carter. What’s your name?”
I squinted my eyes at him, wondering if he was about to comment on why I was alone. Most kids made fun of me because I didn’t have any friends. They would tease me relentlessly, but it seemed like Carter wasn’t like the other kids at school. “Shelby.”
He stared at me for a moment, then asked, “Can I push you?” I smiled brightly and nodded eagerly. All I wanted was a friend, someone to play with me. Carter took his hand off mine, and walked behind me. He grabbed a hold of the chains, and began to push me. I remembered laughing loudly, loving how high he pushed me. I also remembered holding on tightly to the chains, and looking around the playground at the other kids. They didn’t pay us any mind, and I told Carter to push me higher and higher. He did as I asked, laughing right along with me. I finally had someone to play with, and I felt happy. For the first time in my life, I felt just like all the other kids. I felt normal. I remembered how in just a short amount of time, I felt accepted.
When the bell rang for us to go back inside, Carter slowed me down, and helped me off the swing. He held my hand as we walked back into the building, and I started to dread him letting my hand go, and heading back to his class. I didn’t want him to leave me. “Don’t worry, Shelby. I’ll see you after school.” He told me once we stopped at my classroom. I grinned, and nodded at his promise. That one simple promise meant the world to me, and even if I didn’t have any friends in my class, I knew I gained a new friend with Carter. When he met me right outside my classroom at the end of the day, I knew at the tender age of five, Carter would always keep his promises. Even though we’d just met, we shared a bond, something special.
Thinking about it now, I was way too young to understand the connection we had. There was just something about that sweet, young boy. He quickly became my best friend, and there was hardly any moments when we weren’t together.
Now that I’m older, I still don’t understand the connection we had back then. Even when Carter and his family opened their arms and home to me when I needed them the most. I still didn’t understand why he wanted to be around me. No one else in my family cared anything about me, and it was inevitable for me to fall head over heels in love with him. It didn’t happen suddenly. It happened slowly over the years, slowly changing our relationship into something I couldn’t live without. There are so many things I still look back on, and I try to figure out why Carter and I were so drawn together. Why, after everything we went through, he could just … let me go. I thought what Carter and I had was special, one of a kind. But, everything changed once Carter left for college.
When Carter Harlow broke my heart, I did what I knew best.