Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hart's Ridge (Part 2 of 3)

I turn around to find scrawny Nate Beckstrom hunched over, one hand on his knees, the other clutching his asthma inhaler. He peers up at me through his longish red hair, and says the first words he’s ever spoken to me in my life. “Oh thank God, I thought I was too late.”

“Not yet.” I toss another rock over the ridge, turning my back to Nate.

He’s probably come to watch the curse go down. Since no one has ever seen it play out, it’s been the source of much friendly contention and about a thousand different ghost stories over the centuries. Anyone who could return to school with a first-hand account of the true story would be crowned king or emperor or god. I can’t really begrudge him that sort of fame.

I hear two short puffs and then a pause before Nate’s breathing becomes normal and closer than before. “I’ve been thinking about the curse,” he says from my right.

“Who hasn’t?” I toss another pebble and watch its hopeless descent. It’s paving the way for me, carving a small path through the air so I won’t get lost when the time comes.

“I don’t think it happens the way people say. I don’t think Jed and Cami were in love and I don’t think they killed each other. Have you ever held a shotgun, Cami? It’s not really the easiest way to commit suicide, but if the story is true then they found it in his hands. In his hands. And a hole straight through him. It doesn’t add up and I don’t think you should be out here.”

It’s difficult to picture Nate holding a shotgun in any way that looks real. I try it, but it’s like imagining a child wielding a broom or a sword, awkward and incomplete and in some small way adorable.

It’s less adorable when I imagine a bloody hole in his head.

“It doesn’t matter,” I say. “At least not for me, but you should get out of here.”

Quiet opens between us like the Red River below. Nate stands stone still, watching me through strands of red hair. He stands out against the dark pines behind him the contrast makes him seem older and not at all awkward.

“Don’t let them do this to you.” He doesn't plead. He says it like it’s something he’s said to me before. Only he hasn’t, because this is our first conversation of all time. “Don’t let them make you their sacrifice.”

Sacrifice? I don’t like the word, the idea, the implication, but it rattles uncomfortably in my mind. Sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice. Hart’s Ridge is cursed, I remind myself. This isn’t the sort of thing people would do willingly. The town is trapped and I am the only one who can free it. I’m not their sacrifice, I’m my own.

But I remember how my mother hugged me longer than usual last night before bed and how my windows opened soundlessly on the worst day of the year.

“Why are you here?” I step away from him, angrily dragging my foot through the dirt and pebbles. Dust rises between us, a thick distance in the morning sun.

“Because –“ He stops and I watch as he files straight past his first answer to the second. “Because I remember when you chased Cindy Dirks through the playground in the third grade for calling you the “curse maker” and how you used to fight this whole damn town for putting their own destiny on you. And I remember when you used to answer questions in class and wear bright colors and make eye contact and I just – just – “

Right at the end, his voice splinters high and low, but it doesn’t matter. I step forward, slipping my hands around his cheeks and press my lips to his.

For just a second, we are quiet and still, but then his hands settle on my waist and our kisses become quick and breathless.

When we pull away, I feel a smile on my face. I can’t remember the last time I smiled and that thought makes me laugh and laugh until I have kneel on the ground, my fingers pushing the pebbles apart. Nate kneels with me, his eyes narrowed with a hint of concern, but his mouth is a reflection of my own – a wide-open smile. Our breath moves together in little white clouds.

“You’re right, Nate.” I press my palms flat to the ground, steadying myself. “I’m not going to let this happen.”

He grins at me then and I’m half certain that if I did step off this cliff right now, I wouldn’t fall. I’d fly.

The sun glitters on the ground between us and I shuffle the pebbles around to find whatever it is the sun has. It’s half buried in the dirt, but I uncover it easily. As soon as I do, I wish I hadn’t. I wish I’d taken Nate’s hand and run while we had the chance.

“No,” he whispers, reaching for the small, silver locket in my hand. Beneath his touch, it separates leaving us each with half a heart and the beginning of the curse in our hands.

Come back Friday to see part three by Lacey!

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