First Love (A.K.A. The House of Cards Collapses)
By Kristen Sheley
Written November 1998

You'll deny the truth, believe a lie
There'll be times that you'll believe you can really fly
But your lonely nights have just begun
When you love someone....

-Bryan Adams

We sat in his car, looking down into the valley at the rows and rows of future Christmas trees that were growing. Peter had taken me up here, to his father's tree farm, whisking me away in his maroon Honda Civic with nary a word of explanation. The sun was setting, another late summer day nearly over with. I waited patiently, trying not to ask questions or bother him as he fiddled with the radio, attempting to find a station that wasn't broadcasting commercials. I sat in the passenger seat, my legs crossed at the ankles, my hands folded in my lap.

Peter finally gave up his search with the radio and snapped it off. Silence filled the car, a comfortable silence. I looked at Peter, hiding a smile. Those blue eyes, the dark blond hair with the curls that fell across his forehead, the little lines around his eyes from years of grins.... We were only friends, but I cared for him more -- a lot more. I think I even loved him. I never told him how I felt, though, terrified that our friendship would be ruined. But maybe....

Peter took a deep breath, gripping the steering wheel and finally turning his head to me. "I have something important to tell you, Marie," he said softly.

My heart began to thud, and I suddenly found it difficult to breathe. Oh my God, I thought. He likes me too! Oh my God, that has to be it! I felt hot shivers all over and tried my best to pretend that I didn't know what he was about to say. "Yes?" I asked softly.

Peter looked at me a long moment, his face serious -- then a grin broke out across his face. I couldn't help but smile back. "I'm getting married!" he exclaimed.

The words made no sense to me. "You're what?" I asked, the smile frozen on my face.

Peter laughed. "I'm getting married! To Tracy! You remember her, don't you? We started dating last December. She's a kindergarten teacher up in Seattle. Anyway, I asked her last weekend and she said yes! Isn't that great?"

My mind struggled to comprehend what Peter had just uttered. I felt as if I was a computer that had just received an indecipherable command. The phrase "Does Not Compute!" echoed in my brain. Peter Samson Marrying Does Not Compute!

I blinked, my mouth dry. I tried to swallow. Peter was staring at me, waiting for me to say something.

"That's...that's great!" I managed. I blinked again, the numbness beginning to wear off. A chill suddenly replaced the pleasant warmth that had coated my body only a minute before. I suddenly felt as cold as I might be if I was naked in a blizzard. "I'm happy for you. That's wonderful!"

"We're probably going to have the wedding next summer," Peter said. "You'll be able to come, right?"

I nodded stiffly. "Of course." My throat ached with a flood of tears threatening to break free. I reached for the door latch. "I'll be right back. I need some....fresh air."

It was a poor excuse for an escape. I felt Peter's puzzled gaze on my back as I exited the car and shut the door. My chest began to hitch as I walked as fast as I could towards the valley of trees. I'm okay, I thought, trying to fight back my emotions. I'm okay, I'm okay, I'm okay, I'mokay, I'mokayI'mokay

"He has a fianceé ," I whispered as I reached the first of the trees, where I would be out of sight of Peter. My face crumpled and the next words came out in a sob. "He-he's getting married! Nooooo!"

I started to run down the path separating the trees, as if I could escape the news. Tears blurred my vision, the trees becoming dark blobs on a lighter landscape. As my vision grew worse, I stumbled over a root and fell to the ground. I lay there, my nose an inch from dirt, and allowed the tears free reign over my face. They dripped down my cheeks and made a puddle in the dry soil.

"Why?" I moaned softly. I struggled to breathe past the ache in my chest and the lump in my throat. "Why couldn't it-couldn't it be me?"

I had met Peter Samson two years ago, at a Starbucks near the campus of Portland State University. He was a 22-year-old senior at the University; I was a 17-year-old senior in high school who was taking some classes at the college. He had come over to my table as I was reading a book and attempting to jumpstart my body with caffeine. The coffee shop was jammed that day. He had asked me if he could sit down at the table, and I told him it was fine. We got to talking, discovered we had a lot in common, and exchanged e-mail addresses. I wasn't yet ready to give him my phone number. Caution and Paranoia were my middle names.

Months passed and we got to know each other better. In those first months, I felt that he liked me more than the friends we were becoming -- but I said and did nothing about it. At the time, I was still in the friendship mindset, not interested in having a boyfriend. Peter never confronted me with his feelings, either, for which I was tremendously grateful. I didn't want a pressure on me to like him in the same way.

Then he graduated in June, nine months after we first met, and moved back to his home in Vancouver. Without an e-mail account for a few months, we exchanged letters back and forth and it was then I began to realize that perhaps my feelings for him had changed. I looked forward to the mail arriving, hoping it would bring another letter from Peter. I would smile at the mere thought of him, and the few times I would see him in person, I'd feel warm shivers of delight every time he was close to me.

But I said nothing, scared of losing the good friendship we had. I'd never had a good guy friend before. Peter was the first.

Peter, who had majored in accounting and computer science, got a job as an accountant with a company in Seattle and moved up there. Meanwhile, I started my freshman year of college one hundred miles away from my home at the University of Oregon. We kept in touch through e-mails and chats. Occasionally, he would visit his parents' home in Vancouver and I would visit mine in Portland. We'd spend an afternoon together. Despite the distance and differences in our age, I continued to fall harder for him. Peter seemed to have his life all organized and well planned out -- something that appealed to me tremendously. With each day, I fell more and more into loving Peter. I loved the person he was, I loved the way he looked, I loved the sound of his voice, I loved the conversations we had. Just being with him made me feel better.

And then Tracy came along.

Peter had told me about her over my Christmas vacation in my freshman year of college. I held my tongue, smiling wanly at the news. Peter had not dated anyone in the time that I knew him, though he'd dated before then. He was a victim of "nice guy syndrome" -- girls would break up with him and say he was "too nice." But I wouldn't have done that. I hope, secretly, that his relationship with Tracy would be brief. I never asked him about her after December, and he never said anything more about it. When months passed with no more word about Tracy, I assumed that they had split up.

But now, this news.

I felt like someone had slugged me in the gut. At the back of my mind, I had always thought Peter and I would end up together. My mind raced ahead to the future, and that old childhood rhyme spun around in my head, taunting me. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage--

"No," I mumbled. I sat up slowly, my hands clenching the soil. I lowered my head and squeezed my eyes shut as tight as possible, until I felt that my contact lenses would be fused to my eyeballs. I saw him first, dammit! I spent over a year of wanting to be his girlfriend! Why did this have to happen? Why did I have to fall for someone that I could never have?

"Why?" I whispered. "Please, God, why? It can't end like this, can it?"

The only sound to my plea was the whisper of wind in the trees.

I sat with my head bowed for what seemed to be an eternity. My tears stopped, but I knew it was only temporary. There would be many more shed in the days to come. I wiped at my wet cheeks with the back of my hand, wishing I could erase Peter's announcement as easily as I could the tears.

Finally, when I was as composed as I could be, I stood and headed back to the car where my first love was waiting.

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