Shifting Gears

I could feel the time ticking by, faster and faster until there wasn’t any left. More people departed, shedding tears as they lingered in goodbye hugs.
Photo by Justinas Teselis on Unsplash
Photo by Justinas Teselis on Unsplash

Hanna shifted off the faded grey couch. “I should head out.” 

My heart skipped a beat as she grabbed her keys off the coffee table. She was the first person to leave—only more would follow.  

The group watched as Kyle stood. “I’ll walk you out.” 

My eyes tracked their movements as boots hit the floorboards. 

Hanna reached for her coat. “Hey, good luck at U of T,” she said. “Not that you’ll need it.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Kyle rolled his eyes. “But thanks.”

She slung her purse over one shoulder. “Seriously,” she said as the door swung open. “Bill Nye better watch out.”

Kyle stepped outside, leaving the rest of us in the cramped living room. I sat in my usual spot on Noah’s couch, digging my nails into the skin of my palm. He couldn’t leave yet. Not right now

Noah turned, nudging my side. “You okay, Hadley?” 

I smiled weakly at him. “I’m fine,” I whispered, brushing my long hair away from my face. He nodded and offered a small smile. I was grateful for the comfort, even if it barely did anything to combat the anxiety swelling in my stomach.

Kyle came back from the door and sat down beside Noah. 

The fun resumed in the form of Mario Kart Grand Prix’s, Dutch Blitz, and other party games. At some point, Kyle brought out a bag of potato chips and passed it around. I watched it all from far away. I could feel the time ticking by, faster and faster until there wasn’t any left. More people departed, shedding tears as they lingered in goodbye hugs. 

Midnight came too soon. Only four of us remained. Kyle said something about his curfew, so we all slowly stood to leave. 

Each step towards the exit stabbed at my heart like a knife. This was my last chance to clear the air. Say something—anything.  

I turned and opened my mouth, but when I faced Kyle, the words stuck in my throat. 

He avoided my gaze and shouldered his jacket. I put my own jacket on, pocketing my phone and hiding my shaking hands. 

Noah opened the door. Goosebumps rose on my skin as a chill spread through the foyer. I watched Kyle, taking in every moment I could before he left for good. His thin blond hair blew in the soft wind, his smile wide. It didn’t reach his eyes. He’s sad.  

We all stepped out of Noah’s house and were surprised to see tiny flakes of white falling from the night sky. I put a hand out, catching some of the small pieces of ice. They melted into my skin, the cold calming my nerves. 

Noah and Sarah began a small snowball fight. I rolled my eyes, coming to stand beside Kyle. I glanced up at him, eyeing the small wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. A clear, crisp sound shattered my heart. That’s the last time you’ll hear his laugh

The four of us walked down the long driveway onto the road, scraping the snow from our shoes. After a moment of awkward silence, Kyle sighed heavily. 

“Well, this is it.” He closed his eyes and took a deep, cold breath. 

The rest of us stayed silent, waiting for him to make the first move.  

Kyle enveloped Sarah in a warm embrace first, murmuring a goodbye. My heart contracted anxiously as he made his way towards me.  

Noah poked my side again. “Hey—it’s okay.” My hands started to shake. “He’ll come back to visit.” Maybe. Maybe not.

I ignored him, watching as Kyle neared. His blue eyes finally met mine, and a million moments flashed between us. 

Spring days spent throwing grass and dirt at each other. Secret smiles between conversations. Goofing around on field trips to Victoria and Duncan. Afternoons lounging in the field near his house, hands clasped together as we watched the clouds. All those evenings spent debating ridiculous subjects over the phone. The little gold necklace he gave me on our one-year anniversary. Hundreds of hours with each other. The falling out. The fight. The years of silence from both sides. 

My eyes teared up, and I fought to keep my emotions at bay. This isn’t right.

I opened my mouth, but I was too late. Without a word, he circled his arms around me. I stood frozen for a moment, relishing his familiar warmth. I raised my arms and wrapped them around his waist. I buried my head into his shoulder, and the world faded.

Do something. 

It seemed snowflakes slowed to stillness as I took a rattling breath. Now.

The words slipped past my lips without thought. 

“I love you.”

Shock froze the blood in my veins. He tensed ever so slightly and pulled back from our embrace. Time seemed to stop, as if his response would change everything. Anything. I recognized the same battle of emotions in his gaze. Please. Hope surged in my throat.

His lips twitched into a small, knowing smile before he looked away. 

And walked away. 

My heart fractured, and I knew I had ruined everything. A chasm of hurt and regret opened at my feet as I begged the earth to swallow me whole. 

I barely registered Kyle getting into his car and glancing back at the three of us left. The engine of his car roared to life, drowning out the sound of sniffles around me.   

I raised my eyes to the window, fighting the wave of emotion rising in my chest. Our eyes connected once more, and I held the stare for as long as possible, hoping to convey something to him in the final moments we had. He stared back, his lips pressed into a fine line. 

The car shifted, then slowly drove down the street. Its right blinker flashed, and then it was gone. 


My friends wiped their tears away, breaking the tension with laughter and smiles. I tried to grin and bear it, smiling through the pain as if soon it would pass like an itch. I put the heartache on pause, gritting my teeth between goodbyes more temporary.

“Have a good night!” 

“See you later!”

“Drive safe!” 

I turned to my own car, feeling for the keys buried in my pocket. 

Finally alone, the tears won. I braced myself against the door of my Mazda, the tears pouring down my face onto the frozen windows, tracing tracks in the frost. After what felt like hours, the heartache faded to a dull throb. I opened the door, sat in my car, and started the engine. Slowly, the heater began to melt the ice that had formed on the windshield over the last five hours. 

My mouth grew dry as I fought with my seatbelt. Click. I unzipped my coat and removed my gloves. I sniffled and raised a hand to my chest, where the small gold K initial lay against my heart. I reached behind my neck and pulled at the clasp, letting the old chain fall into my palm. 

I dropped it into the cupholder and wiped away the wetness on my cheeks. Then I took a deep breath, flicked my headlights on, and made my way back home, shifting gears through the snow. 

Paige Vandop

Paige is a second-year Creative Writing and Anthropology student at VIU. She has read from her self-published dystopian sci-fi YA novel Masked Rebellion at a department campus event and is at work on a trilogy. She works for students as a freelance editor and is a Nonfiction Editor and the Portfolio Series Coordinator for Portal 2024.

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