Author's Note:

I wrote this short story for English. I just wanted to put it on here because I've haven't put a story on here for a long time. I hope everyone enjoys. Again, I welcome all constructive criticism.

Inhibitions

I stroll along the streets of Venice, feeling lost somehow. It is my paradise. Sitting in one of the outdoor cafes right on a canal route, I buy some espresso and biscotti. All around me, tourists are lining up early to cram into gondolas with strange odors to tour the canal. Buildings are packed together on both sides, and they open up to the morning sky, almost divine. From where I sit, I am hardly visible, just another person enjoying Venice. Thinking is overrated. It's exactly the way I like to feel.

A portrait artist sits on the sidewalk, waiting to be hired. His hands move instinctively across his sketchbook. I am captivated by the image he draws. It is a woman, despairing. I can tell by the way he draws her that he loves her. Now, the memories come back to me, and I remember. I feel no hate for these memories and the sorrow they bring, only a sense of cherishment.

I was in a place just as beautiful as Venice, if not more, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In fact, it was where I had first met Ethan. It was the second semester of senior year, and I was, for once, the most carefree person in the world. There were absolutely no tests, homework, or grades to worry about. Deciding to do something enjoyable, I opted to take a little walk down to 82nd St. and visit the Met. When I got there, it was nearly empty, probably because it was a weekday and 12 in the afternoon.

Standing in front of the Lute Player by Caravaggio, I got an eerie feeling that someone was watching me. On one of the benches sat Ethan, sketching doggedly. His wavy brown hair curled lovingly around the nape of his neck. I was fascinated by his hands. They were the most beautiful and shapely hands I had ever seen. It seemed that everything touched by those hands would become art, beauty, passion. I wanted to be molded by those hands, to lose all willpower and strength, to become whatever the hands willed. Some part of me remembered that he was still sketching me, and snapped back to the present.

"That's really good," I said, "Are you an artist?"

Flustered, he replied, "Sorry, I didn't realize that you were watching me. I'll stop sketching if you want."

"No, it's fine. It's just that I've never seen anyone draw as well as you."

"Thanks."

"No problem."

He showed me his sketchbook. After a couple minutes of silence, the only sound being Ethan's pencil across his paper, I soon realized that I had to leave to go back to class.

Reluctantly, I whispered, "I have to go now. It was nice meeting you." I walked outside, expecting to never see him again.

That night, I had a blissful dream, but when I awoke, it was gone. No matter how hard I tried to remember, I just couldn't. I had only a dim recollection hands of the sky, stars staggered across it like paint on the Lute Player, and hands, Ethan's beautiful hands. They moved with a grace and control that I could never hope to master.

The next time I saw those hands again, I was at a party, a beach party at Coney Island to be exact, at the end of the school year. It was filled with the same laughter, hope, youth, and love like every other high school party. Music blared over the stereo, and soon people got up to dance. I had gone with Stephen, a guy my friend Rose had set me up with and whom I hardly knew. He was being perfectly pleasant, appropriately romantic and friendly. For some reason that till now I still cannot fathom, I despised being there with him. Don't get me wrong, I didn't hate him, I just hated being there with him.

We sat at a magnificently set table. It was a normal patio table draped with a white silver lined tablecloth and elegantly accented with simple pearl colored china. Whoever had thrown the party must have had good taste… and lots of cash to spend. I'm almost certain that none of the furniture, silverware, china, or anything else for that matter were returned to its rightful owner that night. I don't even know how I got invited. This is just the way a high school party is. Someone announces it and invites maybe 10 or 12 people. Before long, word gets around and those 10 people saying they'll come becomes 100 arriving at your doorstep. Over the next few hours, more than 200 people will probably turn up.

I sipped some diet Coke, which was the only drink other than water available there because people just naturally assumed the girls were on a diet. Before long, Stephen asked me up to dance. I accepted, and we got up from our table.

After about 3 songs, I was worn-out and whispered to Stephen, "I'm growing a little tired of all this dancing. I'm gonna go for a little walk down the beach, okay?

He replied, "Do you want me to go with you?" I could tell that he expected, even wanted, me to say yes.

"No thanks. I'll be back later." His narrowed eyes pierced my back. He would probably tell everyone how I was a horrible date. I proceeded to walk down the beach myself, barefoot and dressed in a pleated red skirt and a pink tank top. Without a thought, I took a breath of fresh and salty ocean air, and ran into the ocean. Yes, I was quite idiotic back then. I was a fairly capable swimmer, and was about to swim about 20 feet offshore until I realized I was freezing. Unable to really move at that point, I decided to do what I learned in swimming class to prevent drowning: I laid on my back and screamed my lungs out for help.

I don't know exactly how long it took for someone to notice me, but it seemed like hours to me. There was a splash of water about 5 feet away from me, and I knew that I was being saved. A hand looped around my waist and gently tugged me back towards the shore. I didn't care who it was, but I held on to that arm for dear life. Soon I was back on solid ground, sobbing incoherently.

A semi-familiar face appeared in front of me and asked, "Are you all right?"

I remember hitting him with something and demanding, "Do I look like I'm all right?" Then I couldn't take it anymore, and the contents of my stomach came flying back up. I remember very clearly what I ate and drank that night. There was salmon, some lobster, that diet coke, and asparagus. Trust me: none of it looks the same coming back up. At that point, Ethan realized something was wrong and got help carrying me back to the house. Once we were there, the mother of the girl throwing the party took one look at me and headed upstairs for the medicine cabinet. Feeding me some disgusting liquid that tasted like cod liver oil, she (I think her name was Mrs. Jones) gently untied my hair.

"You'll feel better after drinking this, dear," she assured me.

I remember muttering something along the lines of, "But I'll be late for my meeting with the president!" Then I fell into a sort of half sleep. I was still aware of what was happening around me and could still hear, but I was barely conscious.

Ethan's concerned voice asked Mrs. Jones, "Is Astrid going to be okay?"

She replied, "I'm sure she'll be fine, Ethan. I'll call her parents to inform them, but why don't you go on home?"

"If you don't mind, I'll stay here overnight with her. I want to make sure she'll be okay."

"Well, in that case… I better go home. We don't usually live in the beach house, you know. The cleaning crew will be here in 3 days. I guess you two could stay over tonight."

"Thanks Mrs. Jones."

"No problem. Tell Astrid I hope she feels better. Bye."

"Bye."

I drifted in and out of sleep that night. I woke every half hour or so and demanded that Ethan feed me chocolate truffles and homemade vanilla ice cream. That poor guy, I wouldn't let him live until he actually did it. I have no idea how he managed it, though. When I was finally fully awake at 5 in the morning, Ethan was ready at my side, giving me more ice cream and chocolate.

Yawning, I said, "Morning."

He good-naturedly replied, "Good morning."

"Thanks for saving me from drowning."

"No problem. Just glad you're alive," he said.

Dimly recollecting last night, I asked, "Did I really puke all over you, or was it just a dream?"

"Nope, I regret to inform you that that was real."

"Oh, then, um… sorry about that."

"Don't even worry about it."

Suddenly overcome with a desire to walk on the beach and see the sunrise, I said, "I'll be back soon, okay?"

Suddenly wary, he asked, "Where are you going?"

"Just going to watch the sun rise."

He replied, "Let me come with you."

"Sure, whatever."

Ethan grabbed his coat and walked outside. We strode companionably at the same pace. I'm sure others walking by us could see what I, at that point, had only a vague feeling of, love. Perhaps old couples walked by and whispered, laughing, to each other, "Puppy love." To this day, walking is one of my favorite pastimes.

He burst out, "My name is Ethan, by the way."

Caught by surprise, I replied, "And mine is Astrid."

"I knew that already."

That wasn't really a surprise. "Well, it's nice to meet you."

"Do you really not remember me?"

Totally unaware, I said, "Am I supposed to remember you?"

Ethan, that angel, he let it go and said, "Never mind. Maybe I just made a mistake, and thought you were someone else I know."

"Maybe."

After about another five minutes of walking, we stopped. Ethan leaned onto the railing, and wrapped his fingers around it. Suddenly, everything seemed quieter. Maybe it seems like I'm over exaggerating this moment, but it really was dramatic, at least for me.

Trying to act casual, thinking that it might not actually be the guy with the amazing hands (Although, how could it not?), I said, "Aren't you that artist guy from the Met?"

Looking surprised and slightly aggravated, he said, "You remember me as the 'artist guy' from the Met?"

"Well… you are, though."

Trying to keep from laughing, he raised one inquisitive eyebrow and said, "Okay." I watched him smile and could almost feel myself melting.

To fall in love is a most wonderful thing. That summer will always be remembered as the most beautiful summer of my life. Not because the ocean was more stunning than usual, or the clouds especially enchanting, but simply because Ethan was there. We rented that beach house from Mrs. Jones for the whole summer, and we traveled all over New York City. She was like our guardian angel, and she watched us fall in love, shaking her head every time she saw us together.

We took carriage rides in Central Park. We kissed on July 4th to the sound of fireworks. There were silent nights, when we would sit to watch the sunset, and Ethan would hold me close. He took me to the top of the Empire State Building for the first time.

"Well, what do you think?" he asked.

"It's okay," I said.

"Just 'okay'? This is the Empire State Building we're talking about. Books have been written about it."

"Well, maybe it's just not my thing."

"Really?" he asked with that trademark eyebrow, "Then what is your 'thing'?"

"I'm more of a museum person."

"Hmm… then let's go," he said.

Incredulous, I asked, "Where?"

"Where else?" he replied, "The Met."

We didn't even bother to take a picture, just went down the elevator and took the 6 train to 86th St and went to the Met. He bought me an art book that day, full of Renaissance works, titled Art and Beauty. I still have it, on a bookshelf in my flat. Now, many years later, the pages are creased and the spine has worn down.

My parents strongly disapproved of Ethan. I think that just made me love him even more. They told me that our relationship would amount to nothing. I told them to shut up. On the last night of that summer, I was grief-stricken. I was leaving for Harvard, and he was going to Venice Arts School. I remember that day the most. It might have been the most beautiful day of the summer. The sun was shining brightly, but it wasn't that hot, just warm enough. We stayed at the beach house that day, sitting in front of the French sliding doors. I laid my head down in his lap, and cried.

Ethan whispered to me, "Don't even worry about it. I won't stop loving you," he assured me.

I fell asleep for an hour around noon, and when I woke up, the room was filled completely with lilies. Their fragrance heavily perfumed the air, and I was overwhelmed by their splendor. A letter was on the kitchen table. I picked it up, almost afraid. It told me everything I ever doubted. He loved me; he never wanted to leave me. His letter was simple. His words didn't weave an exquisite web nor were they especially sophisticated, like mine. It was the kind of beauty that I could create, words immaculately linked together in harmony. Yet it made me experience emotions that I had never known before. Lying next to that letter was a sketchbook and a collection of canvases, filled with his renditions of me and everywhere we went. That was the moment that I knew I loved Ethan Larson.

I walked down the beach to where I knew I would find him, our special spot. I walked barefoot on the damp sand, wearing nothing but a simple white sundress. He was lying down, looking up at the blue, blue sky. He was beautiful.

"Hey," I whispered.

"Hi," he replied. His hands slowly encircled me.

That night, the night before the morning he left for Venice, I heard an indistinct sound. I was vaguely aware what was happening, but I couldn't bring myself to stop him. Ethan was leaving, without saying goodbye. After all these years, I don't regret not saying goodbye to him that night. If I had even touched him, I know I would not have been able to let go.

I sigh, and put down my espresso. Ethan was one of the only beautiful things in my life. I can't say that I'm positive I did the right thing. Perhaps if I had stopped him and refused to let him leave, we could have lasted, gotten married, and grown old together. I still walk around sometimes, half-expecting to meet Ethan on the streets and have him tell me it was all a big mistake, that the letters he sent me were lost in the mail.

It's time to leave. Soon the canal route will fill with tourists, and the relative peace I find here will be consumed, replaced with whiny children and irate mothers. The horizon no longer seems like such an intimidating presence.