But for all of you who have never read it, please enjoy Last Forever, a short story.
A starlit sky soars overhead as they walk along the beach. The waves coil rapidly against the shore, draining away after white caps are illuminated briefly by the moon. They laugh and forge ahead in a sprint along the sand, shoes forgotten near the boardwalk.
It is night, and they are together.
There are five of them, and they run until one girl trips over her own quality skirts and they all fall tumbling into the sand. Laughter echoes across the previously vacant beach as they lay there, looking up at the stars. There are very few clear days like this, especially at this time of year, when fog ambles into town like a bear through the wood.
Sand sifts into the folds of their finery, but they do not move. They do not dare. Limbs entangled, heads on tense thighs and heaving chests, girls and boys alike, so much older now, completely comfortable in the satin sand beneath an inky black sky.
"Could you guys have imagined Anthony doing this when we first met him?" one girl eagerly quips, the words rushing out of her mouth simultaneously. She follows up the noise with a bout of laughter, her belly shaking the head of the lanky Asian boy resting there. He appeared almost angry, except for that bright smile gracing his lips.
All five shared the inside joke for a moment, although they all looked in the same direction: up.
The lanky Asian boy coughed. "I couldn't have imagined you all dressing this nicely when we first met." The laughter sprang up again. The lanky Asian boy fiddled with his bowtie. A fussy wind brushed over the group, ruffling their clothes.
"Will it ever be like this again?" the talkative girl asked no one in particular, her fingers running through the lanky Asian boy's smooth hair, falling through her fingers like velvet sashes. He smiled, no longer looking at her. He squeezed the hand of another girl, pierced, pretty and sensitive beside him. She, in turn, nudged the knee of another and so on, until their touches reached the talkative girl once more. Her lips tilted upwards when she felt them.
No one seemed to know how to respond. The five were hushed, trying to imagine a life without the rest. It was impossible.
"Of course," a scatterbrained boy sing-songed, sitting up and looking over the group. He plucked at his tuxedo t-shirt, shaking off some of the sand caught in the sequins.
Slowly but surely, the others followed suit. Their hair was in disarray, and each of their black-and-white outfits was now accessorized by sand. No one seemed to mind. They looked quizzically at the scatterbrained one, hoping he had all the answers, knowing he did not.
"How do you know?" the sensitive girl asked pensively. She ran a hand over her pearl silk dress, studying her fingers.
Anthony spoke for the first time that evening. "You don't," he answered, turning away from the rest of the group to hide the hollows of his cheeks, much more defined in the unforgiving moonlight. His knees were up and he rested his arms lazily on them, watching the chorus of churning waves with contempt. The group looked wordlessly at him. The talkative girl picked herself up, her white chiffon over black Vegas showgirl skirt whisking about her, only to plop down again beside him.
"You're dying." she stated simply, quickly, as if announcing the losing team in a baseball game. He looked at her blearily, tears beginning to sting his eyes. She pursed her lips and tilted her head to the side. There was sand in her hair. "We know that. But why does all this have to change because of it?"
He stared at her not comprehending. "Because I won't be here to share it with you all next year."
The sensitive girl gracefully placed herself on his opposite side. "Who says?" She stared at him with the same pursed lips as the first. He looked from one to the other, then turned his head around to look at the rest of the group behind him. They were smiling pathetic smiles.
The lanky Asian boy, now a man, guffawed. "What do they know?"
His friends supplied the correct response, "Nothing!"
Anthony shook his head, looking back at the ocean stretching on toward forever before him. "It's not fair, you know."
The talkative girl leaned her chin on his shoulder, looking up into his eyes. "What's not fair?"
He nudged his chin toward the water. "That the ocean gets to last longer than I do."
Silence reigned once more. With a tilt of her head, the talkative girl cuddled into the crook of Anthony's neck, eyes narrowed at the water in front of them. She wrapped her arms around his waist. It wasn't fair.
A year from then
The five of them run down the beach with no shoes, still in their colorful evening finery. None are holding hands, but all run in stride until a black tuxedo-clad one trips on a splattering of wet stones. The other four look at each other instinctively before rolling their eyes and smiling. Soon all are beside him, a mess of limbs and clothes and hair. They laugh until their sides ache.
A new voice, belonging to the tuxedo-clad boy, breaks the silence. "Isn't it weird to celebrate like this?"
The talkative girl rolls her eyes. "You didn't know him. He would've loved this."
The lanky Asian boy nudges the talkative girl with his foot. "He does love this."
The new voice adds, "You going to do what you came for?"
The sensitive one, on top of the pile, sits up. She opens her bulky pink purse, and pulls out a tiny porcelain urn. She smiles softly. The talkative girl rises, turns to her, and nods.
She is joined by three other boys and girls, men and women. They walk unhurriedly toward the water, hand in hand, the tiny urn clutched by the sensitive girl. She nibbles at her bottom lip and opens the lid, releasing the hand of the scatterbrained boy next to her in his Hawaiian t-shirt. She takes a small pinch of what is inside, and passes the urn down the line. Each takes his own pinch, and the lanky Asian boy at the end of the line places the urn carefully at his feet. Each stares down at his little bit of ash. The newest friend sits behind them, staring, not comprehending.
Glancing at each other, they take their little bit of ash and place it in the sand at their feet, just as a wave comes tumbling to the shore to take it away. The lanky Asian boy gathers the urn in his arms, and the sensitive girl at the other end crosses to him and replaces the lid.