I'll never forget.
Three words that Park could barely swallow. He hadn't heard from Eleanor since the night he left her in Minnesota with her uncle. Park had sent her dozens of letters, but received nothing until today. It didn't feel real. She was gone. The stranger who quickly became his best friend, and the first kiss that mattered. Piles of mix tapes she'd never get to listen to still sat on his floor. Park had spent the last six months making room for the overwhelming lack of her. The sight of Eleanor's handwriting made his head spin. He missed her with a voracity that shook his world upside down. Eleanor's absence followed Park. Nothing had ever been as loud as her silence.
Park couldn't stop swirling the phrase around in his mind. I'll never forget. Did she honestly think he could forget? Jesus, a whiff of vanilla still sent him into a tizzy. Park spent his days blankly going through the motions. She had infiltrated each aspect of his life. He couldn't sit on the couch without flashing back to the feel of her warm lips against his. Hope swelled in his belly each time he saw a poufy mess of red curls in the distance. It was never Eleanor. It would never be Eleanor. That surge of possibility fizzled into disappointment and left a bitter taste on his tongue. Everything was tainted by the void she left.
Park tried to describe the feeling in his gut. Anger? Relief? Disbelief? A combination of all three, probably. How could she give him three measly words after all they shared? Was that all she had to say? She was haunting him. Everywhere he stepped he was forced to acknowledge the hole she left in his life. On the other hand, if she could send him a postcard she must be surviving… Park spent countless hours worrying about Eleanor's safety. She had suffered enough in life already. He wished he could wrap her in his arms and protect her. Is this the last he would ever hear from her? Is this really the end? Should he try again to contact her? Would his letters be met with response this go around? Park was hesitant to allow himself the simple comfort of her words. He wasn't ready to let go. She was all he wanted to remember. She was all he could remember.
What had life been like before Eleanor? Decent. Like grilled cheese. It was good enough, sometimes even great. He had his music, comics, and enough friends to avoid the pit of loneliness. But Eleanor was a gourmet grilled cheese. She was Monterey jack and cheddar, melted into thick slices of bacon, between crispy sourdough bread. Plain grilled cheese did nothing for him anymore. It left him hungry for the real thing. Eleanor was the real thing. No one would ever compare to the bodacious redhead who cracked him open. Before Eleanor, Park hadn't known who he was. Eleanor had sparked a fire within him. A fire that still smoldered, even after all this time. He wasn't finished loving her. And apparently, she wasn't finished either.
That night he laid awake in bed going over his options. He could write her, he could keep forcing his feelings back down his throat, or he could drive to Minnesota... What was stopping him? He had a car. His dad would encourage the idea. Park didn't have anywhere to be for the next three days. Maybe this was a sign. If Eleanor was still thinking of him, maybe there was a chance. The fear of rejection was what was stopping him. What would Park do if he got there and Eleanor refused to see him? Or worse, what if she told him, face to face, that she wanted to leave him in her past? I'll never forget. He still existed in her heart. He must. They were worth remembering, and they were worth another chance. He fell asleep with the hint of a smile on his cheeks. Park was going for a drive tomorrow.