Summer’s Boy- Julia Cury ’19

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

-William Shakespeare, Sonnet 18

I met Kai on the longest day of the year, under a rainbow-colored Ferris wheel that rotated as slowly as the setting of the sun. Even at six-o’-clock in the afternoon, the sky persisted on being hydrangea blue, just the same as his eyes— hydrangea petals, petals of the sky. Standing next to the cotton candy machine, he watched me from his jubilant crowd of devotees, their laughter indistinguishable from the peals of carnival music tinkling from the speakers. His voice rang out the strongest—the only voice I could pick out from the euphony of music and happy chatter and say: Yes, that’s his.

The air was hot and muggy. A sheen of sweat covered my body, and my shirt stuck to my torso in a way I hoped looked flattering, not gross. I was not the only one approaching him, I realized; others stopped to turn their heads at him in curiosity and wonder—who was this loud boy, this boy who energized the still air like a spark plug, who was a concentrated breath of all things good and all things summer—more so than the summer solstice itself?

When he spoke to me it was like the crash of the waves; when he smiled, it was like a breeze that carried with it salt and sand. His name was only three letters long and meant “ocean” in multiple languages, and he had eighty-one carnival tickets because he had come here yesterday, too. His friends introduced themselves in a flurry of names and handshakes but I forgot all their faces when Kai and I left. By the end of the night, we had used up all his tickets underneath pink and gold lights.

Early on I saw he had a slow-burning vibrancy that ignited every few minutes and left him breathless. His words, his gestures, his actions—all signaled the abundance of life bubbling inside him, begging to be let out. He had the keen immediacy of a dying man; his skin glowed as if fevered and—I discovered as the stars came out—it was just as hot to the touch. But he was far from ill; these were the qualities that made him seem twice as alive, three times as effervescent as anyone else.

I spent every day the rest of that summer experiencing first-hand Kai’s vivaciousness. We raced through green fields and tumbled to the ground, where we stared up at the golden sun; we pushed each other into rivers and jumped into clear ponds; we drove through the bluish mountains that surrounded our town and parked the car every ten minutes to admire the view. Eventually I found out he was a bit of a local fable—“Summer’s Boy,” seen regularly only from May to September and possessing all the qualities of the season he was nicknamed after.

I asked Kai where he went once it got colder. He looked at me with his blue summer eyes, and laced his tan summer fingers through mine, and gave me vague summer answers: “Key West,” “boarding school,” “sailing around the world.” I wasn’t sure what to believe, so I threw my suspicions out the rolled-down car window and found them again only when the air grew cool.

With the end of summer came the dulling of the leaves, as well as the dulling of his eyes. Slowly his irises went from a piercing, flowery blue to a lifeless gray. His tanned skin paled dramatically over the span of weeks. And by October, gone were the sun-streaks from his light brown hair, which darkened until it became mousy. It was almost Halloween and he was shivering violently in the car even though the heat was on full-blast.

“It’s nothing,” he pressed. I realized how weak his voice had become.

We tried to live like we had that summer—two immortal teenagers fueled by adventure and promise and the rays of the sun. We tried to love like we had, with a fearlessness that could have set the world on fire, but he was broken in tiny trembling pieces. His light went out and left the nights colder—nights that were distant cousins of the starry three a.m. skies that had watched us kiss passionately in the open trunk of my car.

I asked him every day what was wrong, but he averted my attempts with shadows of his summer flippancy. One day when he was so weak—so cold—that he couldn’t even lift his body from the passenger seat, he finally addressed my worries with a soft, “There’s something I gotta tell you.” What followed was a carefully practiced string of directions that I took without question while he drifted asleep next to me.

Kai’s instructions led me down a long dirt mountain road in the middle of the forest. It was nearing dusk, and the sun had almost set by the time I reached an old stone mansion gated off in the woods. It was in a dignified state of disrepair—a small, squat castle facing a lawn overgrown with weeds. Even from the car, I could smell the dust from the secret attic and the musty hidden passageways. Either that, or the neo-Gothic residence was getting the best of my imagination.

I parked outside the fence and nudged Kai. After swinging open the rusty gate, we hobbled toward the mansion—he, leaning against me with a shaking arm, and I, struggling under the weight of his cold body. At the doorstep, I raised my hand to knock, but before my knuckles could rap the door, it opened with a slow groan. Awaiting us on the other side was a gracefully aged woman in a silk robe.

“Oh—Kai! Oh dear, I had a feeling it’d be today—be a doll, would you, and help me carry him up the steps? His room’s the second door on the right.”


Though the resemblance had been clear from the moment she had opened the door, the woman who’d ushered us in formally revealed herself to be Kai’s mother.

“We’ve tried everything,” she said with her slow, manicured Southern twang.

In a dust-covered armchair in the main room, I steadied my grip on a cup of tea as hot as Kai’s hand used to feel in July. His mother sat across from me in a faded floral loveseat, directly beneath a chandelier that threatened to crumble down at any given moment. Upstairs, Kai was in bed—his deathbed, rather, awaiting a fate that sent to my bones a chill unrelated to that of the temperature outside.

“The best doctors in North Carolina…” she continued, “in all the South, really, ‘cause we’ve been to a few states. We even tried living in the Bahamas for a year. It didn’t work—even in eighty-some degrees, December there hits him just as bad as it does here. ‘Course, we already knew that… This runs in the family. His father had it, too. Every summer, sparklin’ more and more like a diamond, and every winter creepin’ closer and closer to death.”

I tried to absorb the knife-blade meaning behind her words, but even the cut of the impact could not lead me to fully understand. A flood of questions left my lips and hurled themselves toward Kai’s mother: why was he born with this, why is this even possible, why him, why. Kai’s mother didn’t know the why’s; she focused only on the what’s. He had this mysterious illness, and it was unquestionable, unchangeable, a cruel defect of nature. There was nothing—nothing—they could do.

Last December, Kai had just barely scraped out of his inevitable meeting with Death. That meant that this year, it would be worse. This year, he would die—purple-fingered and cold-skinned with the wool blankets up to his ears—one of his clammy hands limp in his mother’s, one of his clammy hands limp in mine.

I had always taken pride in my strength and stony composure, but every day that winter, tears fell like ice drops down my cheeks. I visited him for hours, as often as I could. Only when necessity called for it did I leave the side of his bed—the bed in the light blue room where he had lived for nearly eighteen sets of seasons. I held his hand and talked and wished I could do more.

On a grey evening I looked at him and said as plainly as I could, “It’s December twenty-first.”

“I know.”

“The longest night of the year.”

“I know.”

It would happen tonight. His lips were tinged blue.

After a violent fit of coughing, he told me suddenly, “I don’t believe in heaven. I believe in summer, that’s all. Every summer I’ve ever had, that was my heaven delivered to me in pieces throughout my life.”

“And hell?”

“Winters,” he shivered. “Though… I don’t know anymore. You’re here right now. That makes it different, like an area of grey.” He trailed off for a few minutes then continued, “Heaven and hell—two birds with one stone. Sounds like normal life, doesn’t it?”

“I don’t know what normal life is anymore.”

He smiled—a slow, shrewd summer smile that set a lump in my throat. “Thanks for being my stone.”


Kai died that night, the house swathed in a funeral shroud of freezing midnight blue. There was no ceremony, no visitors. No crowd of doting young adults like the one that had surrounded him at the carnival. He was buried in his backyard beneath a headstone engraved with lines from Shakespeare’s eighteenth sonnet. Quietly was how we went out—he did not burst in a supernova like he would have had he died on the day I met him, when he was effulgent as the sun.

So ended Kai’s lifelong cycle of dreaming then thriving then fearing then withering away.

I did not know which season brought me more sadness after that: spring, a reminder that I hadn’t always known him; summer, when he had been at his brightest; fall, whispering in my ear that something was terribly, terribly wrong; or winter, his last grey-eyed glance at me.

I saw him in all the seasons, in the bloom of buds and the deadening of leaves and the frost. But I saw him most sharply when the sun grew hot. That was when it all came rushing back to me every year—the blue flowers of his eyes and the white sea foam of his smile. The wind brought his smell and the concrete brought the warmth of his touch. Every bird sang with his spirit, with his loud carefree words that echoed one thing over and over again:


His little bit of heaven, and mine.


Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.


-William Shakespeare, Sonnet 18

Image Source: Colours of Summer by Michael Pardo