Love Among Autumn Leaves: A Short Story

Every time I come home for Reading Week in the fall, I always take the time to go on a walk, to offer myself the opportunity of relaxing from the demands of university and appreciating the beauty of the natural environment. Indeed, there’s something charming—almost romantic—about the changing of the leaves from green to a palette between a raging red and a pleasing purple, and how they fall to create multicoloured paths that bring variety and brightness to the increasingly cold days.

Fall walks—and any walk in general—are best accompanied with music that soothes you and allows you to blend in with your surroundings. This walk is no different. I’ve loaded up a fall playlist that my friends have recommended me, and so far I can say that these songs have done the job—I feel undeniably connected to the trees, the falling leaves, and even the other pedestrians enjoying their own walks. I feel liberated from the stresses of classes, assignments, and tests; all I can think about is natural beauty and the tranquility of it all.

As I turn a corner onto the neighbourhood park, I hear the next track on my playlist come up. Immediately, I recognize the piano arpeggio that opens the track, followed by saxophone and trumpet. I rack my head, scouring through my library of song memories, until I find the exact name: “Autumn Leaves,” a popular jazz standard, played elegantly by saxophonist Cannonball Adderley and his band. By the time I’ve determined its name, however, I realize that I’ve also unlocked the secret mental box of lived experiences that come with it. I brace myself for the inevitable onslaught of reminiscences—especially of Angelica, my angel of love and pain.

Oh well, I guess she’s back in my head again.

Angelica introduced me to this version of “Autumn Leaves” about a year ago, on the last day of class before fall Reading Week that year. We had gone to visit a record store downtown as a celebration of the end of midterms and also of our mutual love of music. From the rows of records that transcended time and national borders, she pulled out a record with a pitch-black cover, overlaid with white, green, and blue text that was neatly placed towards the right side.

Somethin’ Else by Cannonball Adderley,” she introduced. “One of my favourite albums of all time. I simply love the musicianship that goes into this record.”

“Any particular highlights?” I inquired.

“Try the first track, ‘Autumn Leaves,'” she replied. “It features some of the best jazz playing I’ve ever heard. You’ll fall in love with the music pretty quickly.”

Angelica’s eyes suddenly lit up and a bright, cheeky smirk appeared on her face. “How about this,” she said. “Let me play this record for you right now so you can hear the song for yourself.”

She walked across to a record player towards the back of the store and placed the record on the turntable. She pressed the start button and offered me a pair of headphones that was plugged into the record player. I carefully took the headphones and placed them over my ears.

From the very first instant, I was welcomed by a rising series of piano notes—the same notes that I hear now on my walk—followed by the gradual appearance of the saxophone and trumpet. As the rest of the jazz band emerged, I was blown away by the calm, beautiful emotions of the piece, which gave it an intimate romantic mood. The lush sound felt like a deep soulful hug, one from which I didn’t want to come away. And as I looked around the store, I realized who I would have liked to get that hug from.

Angelica was standing by my side, dressed extremely warmly in a yellow beanie and a great grey coat that went all the way from her shoulders down to her knees. I took a look at the long brown hair falling past her shoulders to her waist, her sparkling amber eyes, and the smile that shone brighter than ever as she noticed that I was enjoying the track. At that moment, I felt a strong sense of belonging—I realized there was no better moment than now, listening to such emotionally rich music, being next to a pretty girl who shared my tastes and with whom I could enjoy the things that I valued most. I never wanted to let this moment go, not for all the riches in the world or even my future successes in life.

Sometimes, listening to beautiful music can change your point of view and see things totally anew. I realized how true this was as I became overwhelmed by emotion and warmth—I had fallen in love with Angelica, plain and simple.

As I finished the song, took off my headphones, and faced Angelica’s brilliant smile, I wanted to let her know how much I wanted her in my life. And yet I felt a reactionary force pushing against it in my mind, a larger, unstoppable reluctance that wouldn’t budge no matter how much I willed to overcome it.

That unease and hesitation did not go away as the weeks progressed and turned into months. I would wake up in the morning, eager to message Angelica for the entire day, to walk into the classes that we shared and to sense her presence filling the vast lecture halls with passionate warmth and confident elegance. Every sight of her, every conversation with her would inspire a growing desire to grasp her full attention and ask, “Would you like to go out with me? Like, more than friends?” It would be just two questions, twelve simple words, a tiny fraction of the thousands of words that we exchanged every day. Yet this desire would always be repelled by a sharp shiver of anxiety that would force it to retreat into its hiding place in my mind only seconds after it had made its courageous emergence.

The falling leaves of autumn slowly gave way to the bright snows of winter, and I also gradually made progress in conquering my fears. On the day of my last exam for the semester, I finally gathered the confidence to confess my feelings, a definitive offensive that would push back once and for all the obstacles to my will. Once I finished the exam—for a class that Angelica and I were both in—I would immediately find her and tell her everything that I had meticulously stored and prepared in my heart for the past two months. I imagined her deep in thought for a few seconds until her eyes would sparkle—just as it had at the record store—and she would say that she’d been in love with me for the past few months as well and that she’d been waiting for the right moment to tell me. We would both feel the love and warmth of Christmas and New Year’s, and we would be immensely grateful for each other’s presence and the relationship that would be growing between us.

The prospect of messaging “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year” to my girlfriend were on my mind as I handed in my exam paper, gathered my stationery and belongings, and walked out of the examination hall. Light drops of snow were falling all around me, blending into the layers of white that covered the paths and lawns in front of the university buildings. I saw her not far from me, dressed in her familiar yellow beanie and grey coat—just as she had been dressed the moment I fell in love with her.

I made my intention to walk towards her and turn into reality what I had run through my mind countless times over the past few hours. Then, I noticed another guy walk up to her, dressed similar to me in a long brown overcoat that covered his tall frame. From a short distance, I watched as they came together in an affectionate embrace—the exact one that I wanted to give her—and their lips met, pressing against each other for what seemed like forever.

There it was. I’d lost my war of love right as I was about to launch my winning stroke. My dreams fell to pieces like the snow around me, destroyed by a cannonball in the form of her boyfriend. It was back to the beginning for me in my path to romance—but I could not fathom starting all over again with someone else.

I’ve tried to forget Angelica after that day. I remember walking back to my student house and sitting on my couch for hours, staring at the blank white wall, ignoring every notification and invitation from my friends to celebrate the end of exams, and trying to force tears into my eyes but ultimately in vain. I remember sending her one final message, where I revealed everything that I would have said right after our exam, which I knew would go nowhere but might allow me to toss away the final pieces of my broken love from its now-parasitic presence in my mind.

Christmas that year was probably my worst yet. I wished that all those carols about love and joy would be turned off and replaced with a monotonous silence, unbearable as they now became. Back home, I stayed in my room for the entire winter break, indulging in melancholic music and writing forlorn poems that embodied the immense pain in my heart. I reluctantly returned to campus, knowing that I needed to avoid her for fear of crippling embarrassment.

My friends tried to help me forget her. They set me up with some of their friends and acquaintances—brief moments of bliss that led to a few flings, but even they couldn’t replace the reminiscences of Angelica that continued to occupy my mind like an indelible bad taste on my tongue. The only remedy seemed to be the passage of time: the growing amount of things that occupied my time, from classes to extracurricular commitments, inadvertently but effectively allowed me to put most traces of her under lock and key, hidden in a mental box away from the rest of my recurring thoughts.

Angelica has popped up in my mind once or twice in recent months—her face appearing in occasional intrusive yet painless flashes—but no symbol of remembrance has been so powerful as hearing the music that made me fall in love with her once again. For a couple of seconds I consider skipping to the next track just for some peace of mind. But it has been a while now, and I want to try to enjoy this track without her taking over my thoughts. For what it’s worth, it’s actually an elegant piece that deserves to be paid attention to.

I let the track continue as I walk through the gates into the vast, leaf-covered plains of the park. Time has served me well, giving me the space I need to distance myself from the passion, pain, and failures of another era. Last fall, Angelica gave me the motivation to live for every day and the next; it’s up to me to find something new this season to keep me going. Perhaps the horizon before me—the multicoloured, tree-lined landscape or the blue sky dotted with full white clouds—can give me some insight. But at the very least, just as the music has helped me fall in love with Angelica a year ago, it could equally give me an appreciation for my surroundings and the opportunities ahead.

YouTube link to “Autumn Leaves”:


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