He loses his first kiss in autumn. He's twelve, she's just turned thirteen, and at the time he isn't sure what all the fuss is about but knows how special it is anyway.
She's gorgeous, pale-skin, brown hair, dark eyes always filled with happiness and joy the way he wishes he could be. She doesn't want to be there any more than he does, and they grouse to each other about how they don't need a 'special school.' It's the first time he's worked up the courage to say it.
She carries a book too, just like his sketchbook, but she says it's a diary. It's hung with a little lock on the front and he jokes about it being the key to her heart, a little boy's poor attempt at flirting but she laughs anyway. He wants to hear that laugh again, and he does, when he shyly asks if he can draw her.
It's half-way through his sketch that she leans in and presses her soft lips to his. It's a little clumsy and awkward, given how she's standing up and he's cross-legged on the ground, and nowhere as romantic like he'd thought but still somehow just as he'd imagined.
He's going to marry her, he decides. Marry her, and live in a big house on a hill with a chair out the front where he can sit with his sketchbook and a set of swings in the yard for their children. He'll be an artist and she'll be a teacher, and all the schoolchildren will love her just as he does.
A gust of cool wind blows by as she pulls back and stands straight again. He lets out a little chuckle as a orange-red leaf catches in her hair, raising a hand to pluck it out before letting his pencil flow across the page once more.
Only a few weeks later he doesn't understand why she left, where she went. But the news, the reports of war are getting worse, and there are bigger things to worry about.
A few months later, his parents tell him they're moving to America. And that's that.
Time passes. He remembers the kiss, the day, and the girl, and he wonders if she'll be alright. But he's growing up now, there's no time to think about first crushes. Not when the world is in uproar over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
His father talks him into enlisting. Times still aren't good, it's always a noble cause defending the people. Heaven knows someone needs to do it after all that's happened. It's not like he's got any other skills for after high school.
On the morning he's planning to go to the recruitment office, he wakes up slumped at his desk, fingers still clutching the pen he was using to fill in his forms. The window is open from the previous night, and a slight morning breeze wafts a handful of loose debris from the yellow tree outside in onto the bare floorboards. He puts down the pen.
He throws the forms into the trash and tells his parents he's moving out. The next week he enrols himself in an art college.
It's decades later that he walks past a window and sees the book that hits him like a punch in the gut. He buys it, despite barely having enough for rent, takes it home and doesn't try to stop the tears when they come.
He digs out the bundle of papers from the old storage boxes he never saw the point of unpacking, useless piles of junk from his childhood that he holds onto who knows why, and pulls out a torn page from the very bottom of the pile. Folded with it is a thin, pressed, no-longer-gold leaf.
They say there are some things in life that stick with you no matter where you go, how many years pass you by. Things that shape you without you even realising. There are always the curious ones who ask him what it was like to live in the thick of it during the war, and he tells them.
But he doesn't tell them about the house on the hill, or the swings, or that bright autumn day.
He still lets himself dream, every now and then. Some people may shake their heads and mutter about letting go, leaving fantasy behind, but really it's the other way around. Because he knows its not real, and that's why he can't forget.
But sometimes, somewhere, in some other pane of reality, he imagines it coming true.
"What's your last name?" He gestures to the slate-grey lines criss-crossing the waxy paper. "So I can write a caption, just like in a gallery, see?"
And she smiles that beautiful smile of hers that he'll remember as long as he lives.
"It's Frank," she says, reaching forward to write it for him. "Here. Anne Frank."