Jaden & Lily: Amphitheatre

May 15, 2019

The amphitheatre was overgrown and deserted, aside from the two of them. Calling it an amphitheatre was misleading — it was little more than a concrete stage at the bottom of a hill, with wooden benches dug in along the slope. Past the stage, the hill continued to slope past a public trail into the wide river that cut through the city downstream. The trees that flanked either side of the amphitheatre did little to shadow the place, the sunset instead framed by the metal bars on the stage once used to hang lighting and sound equipment — or so Jaden assumed, anyways. Truth was, he had never seen any sort of show here, or any gathering at all besides the time his science class passed through for “Nature Observation”. He had been attending the old school at the top of the hill for three and a half years now, and was almost ready to head off to university. Jaden quickly pushed the thought out of his mind — thinking about the future like that only caused him stress, and he’d be a fool to waste this time consumed by such thoughts. He focus his mind on taking in his surroundings, and when he was confident in his statement, he spoke. “This place really is beautiful, huh?”

“Yeah. It’s a shame they’ll be tearing it down.” The reply came from Lily, the girl who had dragged him out here in the first place. She was in the same year as him, and most of the same classes, too. They’d been friends since they were kids, and after some attempts at romance during their pre-teens, they agreed to stay friends. Lily still teased him about it occasionally, but they had both moved on. They valued their friendship greatly, so when Lily invited him out here, he agreed without hesitation.

“I imagine this place means a lot to you,” Jaden offered. “I’m sorry they seem so intent on getting rid of it.” Lily sighed.

They had just come from the school assembly hall, where a collection of teachers, parents, and other official-looking people probably from the school board, were holding a meeting about the future of the amphitheatre. Since it was technically the school’s property, it was the school’s responsibility to upkeep, and one look at the beer cans strewn among the uncut grass could tell you that it was not a responsibility the school cared to keep. Between rebellious students, homeless people, and occasional drug addicts, it was no wonder the school wanted nothing to do with the place. They’d put up a fence last year at the top of the hill, to discourage students from going down, but a hole was cut not a week after it went up, and there’d been no attempt to repair it.

When Lily offered no response, Jaden tried a more hopeful approach. “You never know, though — maybe they’ll decide to start taking care of this place instead. I mean, it seems a bit silly to hold a meeting open to the public centered around how to improve the amphitheatre if they’d already made up their minds on destroying it.”

Lily smiled. “It’s charming that you’re trying to cheer me up, but if you think there’s any hope for revitalization then you weren’t paying attention in there.”

“Oh come on now,” Jaden scoffed. “You’ve gotta have some faith left. Like, look at how many teachers showed up! I think the entire English department was there!”

Lily smirked. “Does that surprise you?”

“I guess not,” Jaden chuckled. “They were the main ones encouraging students to come out tonight.” He paused, thinking. “Huh. Hey, now that I think about it–”

“We were the only current students there.” Lily sat down on one of the weathered wooden benches. “There were a few seniors I recognize from last year, but no one aside from us who hadn’t already graduated.”

Jaden let out a thoughtful hmm and took a seat beside her. “Alright, so student turnout wasn’t great, but when is it ever? I heard they nearly had to cancel the last few school dances because they didn’t sell enough tickets. Hell, even the clubs aren’t raising much interest, and those are free to join. Now you’re asking them to come show support for this old place — the good kids don’t care ‘cause they’ve never been down here, and the bad kids are gonna keep coming down here even if they take out the stage and benches.”

They were both silent for a moment. The occasional bird call cut through the gentle rustle of the wind through the leaves.

Lily gazed off across the river. “Where does that leave us, then?”

“Somewhere in the middle I suppose,” Jaden replied, similarly absentminded. “Bad enough to know the beauty of this place, good enough to not bring any booze with us.”

Lily snorted. “Almost sounds like you regret that last part.”

Jaden stood and smiled. “Nonsense. You don’t need alcohol to have fun.”

“No, but I’ve heard it helps,” Lily shot back.

“I can’t really dispute that, as I’ve never gotten wasted myself.” Jaden mounted the steps to the concrete stage. “ But I imagine this time next year, I’ll have a strong opinion one way or the other. Enough about the future though. Did you come down here to sulk, or to enjoy this place while it lasts?” He started playing an upbeat rock song on his phone, placed it near the edge of the stage, and outstretched his hand towards where Lily was sitting.

“Sulk, mostly,” Lily countered, “but I can’t let you make a fool of yourself all alone up there.” With an earnest smile on her face, she stood up and walked to the edge of the stage. Jaden kneeled down and offered his hand, but she waved it away. “You’re not pulling me up with those skinny wrists,” she laughed, “more likely to just fall on top of me.”  She easily pulled herself up onto the stage with a twirl, gracefully nearly clipping Jaden’s phone as she did.

“Well excuuuuuse me, princess,” Jaden grinned. “No need to show off, not like we have an audience.”

“Don’t we?” Lily mocked confusion, looking out at the wooden benches. “No, I think we’ve got a full house, and they’re gonna be mad if we don’t start dancing before the good part.”

They danced, and laughed, and sang badly. The playlist shuffle played through a wide range of songs, some of which Lily teased Jaden about — he teased her right back when she belted the lyrics off by heart. They only quieted down when they heard cars starting up in the parking lot.

“Meeting must be over.” Lily sighed as Jaden went to turn off the music. “I wonder if anyone will come down here.”

“I doubt it,” Jaden conceded as he fumbled with the volume. “All those teachers, former students — they’re not actually fighting for the amphitheatre. They’re fighting for their memories of the amphitheatre. You heard them in there, they’ve all clearly got fond memories of this place. Tearing it down is like taking away their memories.”

“Hm. So you were paying attention.” Lily walked over and sat on the edge of the stage facing the river. “Their reasons aren’t all selfish, though. They want to restore the amphitheatre so that new generations of students can experience what they experienced. They used to hold all sorts of events down here, and apparently they were enjoyable enough that they’re willing to fight to make that happen again.”

“Must’ve been great.” Jaden slid his phone into his pocket and sat next to Lily again. They watched the river flow by. As the growl of the last engine faded into the distance, a sense of peace washed over them.

“You said earlier that this place must mean a lot to me.” She glanced over, then went back to watching the river. “It actually doesn’t. I wish it did — our English teacher made it sound lovely from the stories she told. But…” Lily glanced towards Jaden again, then lowered her gaze and her voice. “I’ve never had the courage to come down here alone. I wanted to see it once before they destroy it.” Lily looked away. “I’m sorry for dragging you out here.”

Jaden nudged her and smiled. “No, no, I’m happy you invited me. I’ve only been down here a couple times myself, and it really is a fantastic spot. I regret not coming more often. Besides, I had fun today, didn’t you?”

Lily turned back towards him, hesitated, then leaned against his shoulder. “Yeah, I did.”

They sat, leaning against each other, watching the water ripple and glitter as it reflected the setting sun. The soft breeze began to take on an evening chill, pushing them closer together.

“Yaknow,” Lily pondered, “I can’t imagine that many students have actually been down here. Not recently, anyways. Maybe the teachers are just fighting for their memories. Maybe this isn’t our fight at all.”

Jaden could offer nothing but a sad smile. Maybe, in another time or another place, he would’ve made this his fight. But the future was already terrifying enough, and it simply didn’t have room for a run-down suburban wonder. He loved this place, and this moment, but a part of him had already accepted that it was temporary, and he was okay with that.

“Still,” Lily continued, “I don’t want to forget about it. The teachers are right. This place doesn’t deserve to be forgotten.”

“No,” Jaden agreed, “it certainly doesn’t.”