You wait for him by the river’s edge, pulling your cardigan tight around your shoulders. A pair of swans float along the bank opposite, pausing to dabble for food in the reeds. They lift up their heads, stretch their necks skywards like they are gargling, or laughing together. You watch as they drift apart then back together, as if joined by an invisible thread. Everyone knows that swans mate for life. You wonder if maybe he is your soulmate, and he just hasn’t realised it yet.
The river was your idea. It’s on the way out of town and there’s a place he can park out of sight from the road. Your spot is under a weeping willow tree, away from the path beaten by the dog walkers. You tell yourself that you prefer this to somewhere more conventional, that you enjoy living dangerously.
You hear the shush of tyres as he pulls up, engine clicking off. You stand and smooth wrinkles from your skirt. He flashes a grin and you can’t help but smile back even though he’s kept you waiting and you wish you could be just a little bit angry with him. He glances over his shoulder and takes your hand, tells you that you look nice. As you walk he asks about your day, how it’s going at college. He tells you about his weekend plans in short, clipped sentences. There never seems to be enough time for meaningful conversation but you hope that maybe there will be, another time.
When you get to your spot, it all happens in a rush. He lays his suit jacket down on the grass, pulls you close, runs his hands under your skirt. You allow yourself to sink backwards, stare up at the leafy bower above as he finds his way into your clothing. You tell yourself that you are too young to settle down, that you’re using him as much as he is using you, and that you aren’t in love with him even though it feels like you are. His teeth find your nipples and you gasp out loud. You’ve never known anyone else mark you the way he does, but it makes you feel desired, like you are being claimed. You are scared that if you give him up you might never be wanted like that again.
Afterwards, you share a can of coke as your breathing returns to normal. He pulls a leaf from your hair, drapes his jacket over your shoulders. The swans glide by side by side and you hear him say that all the swans still belong to the Queen, that they used to have their owner’s marks stamped onto their beaks like brands, back in the nineteenth century. You nod and smile. He likes to pretend he is doing you a favour, educating you with snippets of meaningless information. You want to ask when you’ll see him again, whether he still thinks you’ll be together when you’ve finished college. You want to talk to him about moving away, away from this town where everybody knows you to somewhere you can start again together. Most of all you want him to stay with you awhile, but you know he can’t, this time. You look for the swans, but they have floated out of sight.
Rebecca Field lives and writes in Derbyshire. She has been published online by Riggwelter Press, Spelk fiction, The Cabinet of Heed and Ellipsis Zine among others, and has work in the 2018 and 2019 National Flash Fiction Day anthologies and tweets @RebeccaFwrites.