To this day, the scent of vanilla takes me back to that dreamy December of 2009.
We saw each other every day those five blissful weeks. Both of us were restless and hopeful for what the future held.
Off to university soon, that last month before we left was all about possibilities and what-ifs for what could be.
He had given me a vanilla-scented fragrance for Christmas. Twenty years later, it’s still my favourite scent.
Soft around the edges with jasmine and musk, the scent symbolised everything about that moment in time, when we wandered in and out of dream worlds those December nights.
Every evening, I’d spray that same perfume on my wrist, as the lofty scent wafted through his Toyota. He always parked it around the corner, just out of sight for me to slip away unnoticed from my father’s prying gaze.
We took long drives daily, sometimes with a destination, sometimes aimless. Pink sunsets at dusk faded into the night as the street lamps came on and lit up highways.
We made our way out of symmetrical, suburban lanes, onto winding city interlinks circling glittering skyscrapers. Down to inter-state highways with nothing around us but palm oil plantations, petrol stations, towering billboards, and exit tolls cast against the dark, starless sky.
Each road dotted with orange streetlamps, each wrong turn stretching those hazy nights just a little further.
Staring out at the skyline through his car window, leaves glistened on stirring trees reflecting KL’s low-hanging moons, before the evening rain arrived as it always did that season.
We spoke just enough, basking in the silence only broken by the trampling rain and the songs on his stereo. Zee Avi and The Cure played on a constant loop as we ventured down roads that didn’t end. I go back to these songs every once in a while, anthems for that December when we felt that nothing was beyond our reach.
Thoughts left unsaid brought us closer than things that were – we both knew they didn’t need to be spoken. It would only break the spell.
Orange-tinted shadows spread across his tanned, inked skin as I lay on his lap as he drove, the sound of whizzing cars outside.
It should have been a confusing time. Deciding what I wanted out of this big future people warned me of. All those roads in front of me that were dizzying.
But I already knew what I wanted.
I wanted this fever dream to go on forever. This perfect moment between our past and the rest of our lives.
He had been the first decision I had made wide-eyed. The first I had made for myself.
I glanced at him as he drove, his eyes determined but always tinged with sadness. Eyes that weren’t always present with you, as they drifted to places I knew I’d never fully see or understand.
I had trusted those eyes.
The further down this road I went, the more exciting and excruciating. The thought of waking up, of never being this happy again, was a perfect rush of grief and bliss all wrapped into a cocktail of hope and inevitable heartache.
That was where that vanilla scent took me. To places I knew would not last, fleeting moments I had to grasp at and bottle up before they vanished.
We knew it would end eventually. And so, we held on all the more.
A month later, I was off to university. We promised we’d keep in touch and of course, we tried.
I brought that same vial of perfume with me all the way to Sydney. It gave me the strongest sense of that December and of him that I could carry with me on that one-way 8-hour flight.
The weight of the distance hit us immediately. We sank a little more under it every day. With each broken promise, missed call, misunderstanding through a patchy cellphone receiver.
And one September night, it all ended. We woke up from that fever dream and realised December was over.
To this day, just a waft of vanilla takes me back to that moment in time – the Toyota, the streetlights, the highways – where everything felt possible until it no longer was.
The copyright of SHORT STORY | December Nights belongs to Susanna.