by Olivia Rawlins Olivia Rawlins

Olivia Rawlins biography to come.

These were my favorite times to watch her. Her face contorted into a mixture of displeasure and confusion. A silent smile twitched the corners of her mouth, playing with the lines, creasing rosy cheeks and wrinkles in the folds of her eyes. There was a serene stillness, an unmatched realness that masked the depravity of her world and cloaked her in unwarranted ecstasy. Golden sunlight danced across leather-bound books, crinkling their taut pages and yellowing their fraying edges. Her fingers slid along the spine of one, engulfing the essence of coffee-stained words and dog-eared pages.

“Do you believe that our souls live inside of books?” Her question faintly lingered off her lips, leafy eyes focused daintily on a row of used novels. A tattered sign hung above them labeled “Classics.” “Because sometimes I feel incomplete apart from withering pages and misshapen reality…like I’m not myself unless I’m immersed in the culture of someone else.” Her words caught, as she sheepishly glanced up at me. A smile toyed a corner of her thin lips, and a slight giggle parted their perfect composure. Brunette ringlets fell across her youthful cheekbones.

“Sorry, I guess that’s weird, huh?”

“I think that your soul is most alive when you are entranced in the makings of a story, when your mind is reeling with the plot line, when your fingers are scratching against a pencil as it etches along a paper. I believe that your soul is beautifully and artfully damaged with the realness of this world, and therefore, you are the most authentic and genuine while you are inescapably lost in literature.”

Her eyes studied mine, traipsing their depths for a sense of security. She knew, though. She was secure. She didn’t need that assurance. Her head shook steadily, cheeks blazing with the timidity of a compliment. She was never good at receiving those.

“How many points do you think we get for making out in the graphic novel section?”

I tossed a wink at her, grabbing her palm and dragging her down the aisle of our bookstore.

“I guess we’ll just have to give it a try.”

# # #

Coley had developed the point system last summer. We were at the pier, bare feet licking the rough wood of the boardwalk. Sticky ice cream was engulfing her hand, roaming from its coned home down her slender fingers.

“My tongue doesn’t work faster than the sun,” she whined as she stared, disheartened, at what used to be her mint chocolate chip ice cream. I chuckled a laugh, offering a napkin as consolation. Her nose tucked upwards, taking the napkin, as she attempted to rectify her futile situation. I took the cone from her, searching to find a trashcan.

“Ten points if you go and dump the rest of the cone onto someone’s head,” she said with a tinge of mischief.

My eyebrows furrowed. “What?”

“The point game,” she stated, in a matter of fact tone. “We tell each other to do things, and we get points for it.” Hazel eyes stared at me behind black-rimmed glasses. My hesitancy served as her opportunity. She took the cone from my hand and strolled alongside an older man walking his dog in front of us. I stared in disbelief as the light green ice cream trickled from its tan shell and into the man’s graying hair.

Her feet pounded the sun-dazed, wooden dock, as she screamed: “Now, RUN!” Her bronze legs soared past me, sticky fingers enveloping themselves into the crook of my palm as she pulled me along after her. Reaching the end of the pier, she fell in a sweaty frenzy into pebbles of sand. Her laughter sang along with summer waves pounding the shore.

“Coley…I cannot believe you just did that.” My words sounded weird and jumbled together, slightly amused, but slightly annoyed. She lifted golden-green eyes to match mine, flicking her wrist. A line of bracelets jostled up and down her forearm.

“Lighten up, Knox. It’s just a game. Anyway, that’s ten points for me.” Her head fell back against the sand. Coley was filled with an adventurer spirit; calming her light was a constant adventure in and of itself. I had spent only a few months experiencing this temperament, but it had managed to overwhelm, consume, and drown me. I was hopelessly and irrevocably in love with the adventurous heart and soulful mind of Coley Ellsworth.

“One day I’m gonna rip out all the seats in a bus and replace them with mattresses. I’ll stock it full of Little Debbie snacks and jars of dill pickles. Then I’m never coming back. I’ll drive until I hit California…I’ll be the reformed, female Christopher McCandless. Because ‘the core of man is the passion he has for adventure!’…Or something like that,” her eyes flickered closed, dangling a slender arm over my knee. My lips curled into a smile in spite of myself.

“Just try to avoid Alaska. And death,” I added. She snorted in response.

“And you’ll come with me, of course.” She opened one eye, gazing intently at me as I watched the waves roll over each other on their fight to the shore. A child raced down the waterfront, squealing every time the frothing water sped in to baptize her feet. The North Carolina shore grew along the water, disappearing between wandering legs and blankets catching in the wind. This was where I had grown up; my entire life was in these shelled shores and southern tide. My eyes met Coley steadily, as I placed my hand atop windblown curls.

“Of course.”

# # #

November air clung to our coats as we trudged out the doors of Read, White, and New bookstore. Coffee served as our own personal incubators, warming our hands through cardboard sleeves and liquid fire. Coley lifted her free palm towards the sky, closing her eyes and breathing deep the crisp leaves and bonfire air.

“Don’t you just love November? It exemplifies happiness. Leaves fall like rain, and they flood the earth, and smoke swirls from orange and red logs,” She breathed deeply again. “It’s just happiness.”

“I love your infatuation with the little things, the way your glasses perch on your nose when you sip your coffee, or even the way that you rant about November weather. You remind me of the beauty in the things that are so often forgotten,” I murmured, kissing the top of her head. Her wind-beaten cheeks rounded into a smile.

“I’m leaving in a week,” she blurted suddenly. “Come.”

My heart dropped into my knees; or maybe that was just my coffee as it unexpectedly splashed from my cup and down my pants.

“Crap,” I grumbled, quickly preoccupying myself with my scathing jeans. Coley’s concentrated gaze stood, unaltered.

“Knox…” She said, grabbing my hand as it pawed at my coffee-soaked jeans.

“Coley, I can’t. I can’t leave. My life is in this town. I’m not like you – I don’t just wander, I can’t just pick up and go. I crave stability in the little things. I yearn for a home. Why can’t you just be happy here?”

Her hazel eyes turned dark as sadness clouded them. Brunette ringlets slung around her face as she rocked backwards on her heels. She nodded slowly. “I’m sorry, Knox. Truly.” She placed her palm on my face and kissed my cheek before walking away.

# # #

Her words are burned into my skin; song lyrics sing her name. It rolls off my tongue to the tune of my truck grumbling down 1st Street. Her heart lives in wanderlust, in ragged vans and rickety trains. My heart lived in her, but that wasn’t enough. Today, I imagine her baptized in California sun, head tilted up, toes ground into layers of sand. And she’s happy, or at least happier than in the North Carolina, small town coast. She became the Christopher McCandless, reformed, female version.

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