Monday, March 28, 2011

Spring Hiatus

A few days ago, the three of us had a conversation that went something like this:

Natalie: Y'all! OMG Y'ALL! *spazzes* *incoherent babblings* *thud*

Lacey: Um, hey, it's okay, Natalie. Deep breaths. *pets*

Valerie: o_O Don't touch her, Lacey. Might be contagious.

And after many rounds of emails we all decided that what I was trying to say was something we all agreed with - time for a break! The three of us need a little time to focus on our other writings for a while, so for the month of April, we won't be posting new stories here.

We know a month is a long time to wait, so while we're out, we're leaving you with a few of our favorites listed below. We'll be back in May, revived, refreshed and ready to get tangled again.

Lacey's Favorite - WHAT WISHES ARE MADE OF

Valerie's Favorite - FAMILIAR UNKNOWN

Natalie's Favorite - I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU

Thank you all for reading and we'll see you in May!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Hunter's Moon (Part 3 of 3)

One of the others, a dusty roan with a wide forehead and a mouth that I think must always be happy, sticks the butt of a spear into the earth beside Raelin. Without thinking, I reach out my hand and take it.

“I am that beast who would steal your betrothed!” I take three steps away from the centaurs. Aaron’s eyes are wide as the moon. “I am a daughter of Epona and I accept your challenge.”


As soon as the unexpected words fall from my lips, I know they are truth. Raelin’s sash has given me strength, certainty. It is his world in which I belong. It is his people that I now call my own.

Raelin breathes in sharply and I hope that it is with pride, but I cannot turn to look. I must keep my eyes on Aaron, must show him I am as serious as the hunter’s moon is red tonight.

“Eva?” Aaron says, and with that one word his face slips from man to boy, full of confusion, and an emotion I’d hoped not to see. Hurt.

But his happiness is not my responsibility. He will heal if only he will go, and I intend to make him do just that. I thrust the spear into the ground beside me. “This is the life I want and I will fight for it.”

“You would die for it? For these… creatures?” Aaron asks.

I hold his eyes with my own so that he might see my honesty. “I would. And would you die to save your wounded pride?”

He looks beyond me, at all of the centaurs who stand silent, watching. Even the ravens have stilled their wings in wait for his reply.

I know the moment he decides. I feel the faint vibrations as something inside him breaks. I have stolen from him a piece of his honor. Even when he returns to the village and tells of my abduction, he will know the truth. He stepped down. He was not chosen.

The small part of me that cares for him in friendship aches. It would be too much to bear were I not certain this was best for us both.

Aaron returns his gaze to me. His face hardened, as though we are mere strangers meeting in the woods. “Very well. I do not wish to have a wife so unstable she would think it wise to run off into the wilds with a herd of beasts.”

The centaurs grumble at this but I move quickly. “Thank you, Aaron,” I say and reach for him. He steps back, not allowing me a proper goodbye.

“Come Eva,” Raelin calls, and my name in his voice is like music.

I cannot hide my joy even as Aaron watches, his brows sinking into a frown.

“Leave this boy to his musings,” Raelin says to the centaurs gathered around. “He has lost much tonight.”

Aaron straightens his shoulders and juts his jaw at Raelin. “I am no more boy than you, and I have lost nothing of worth here.”

Raelin remains calm, nodding with a restraint I would not expect in the face of such insults. He knows what has been taken from Aaron this night, and the respect he shows stirs a small storm in my chest. I have made the right choice.

I reach for Raelin’s outstretched hand.

“Not a boy?” Says the one who threw down the spear. His mouth twists into a smirk. “You can’t even hold on to your betrothed.”

Raelin’s gentle smile for me shifts into a mask of anger. My step falters until I realize the look is not for me, but for something over my shoulder.

A frenzy of motion erupts around me. Hooves pound toward me and screeching crows dive into the fray as I turn to look. At first I don’t recognize the face. Aaron is so full of rage he’s become someone else. I am hypnotized by his eyes. I cannot look away. Time slows as he lunges forward.

There is a burst of fiery pain in my side and then I am lifted. For a moment all I can see is red, and I think it must be the moon. I have flown high enough to be encompassed in its beautiful light.

“Eva.” Raelin’s voice comes from so far away. I wish he could be with me here on the moon. We could stay forever.

“Eva, can you hear me?”

The concern in his voice clears the moonlight away and I see his beautiful face surrounded by a halo of red light. My tongue feels thick when I speak. “Yes, my prince?”

His lips break into a smile, but his eyes glisten with tears. “Hold on my love. We will be home soon. My mother, she will know how to save you.”

The treetops are a blur above his head, and I realize he is holding me in his arms and we are galloping through the forest. My betrothed. His shoulders and chest are smeared with red. I reach up to touch his cheek and when I drop my hand his face is red too.

“There is no need,” I say, and curl myself into him. “I am already saved.”

***
Photo by Black Holes and Astrostuff.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hunter's Moon (Part 2 of 3)

“Eva, no!” A voice interrupts this perfect moment. The centaurs flock around their prince, arrows drawn on the imposter. “Eva, please.”

My body seizes. I know this voice. It is a voice that does not sound like the songs of birds. A voice that I do not long to hear. It is a voice I do not love.

The voice of my betrothed.

When I turn and find him standing there, pale and stubborn against the tall grass, irritation thrashes in my belly, familiar and frenzied. It’s the same feeling I’ve had for him since the day my brother told me we were to wed, but this time it dances with something else.

I take one step toward him and no more. “Aaron, you must return to the village.”

“I won’t.” Without moving, he has narrowed the distance between us.

There is a difference in the way he speaks and I think I have just seen him transform from child to man. All the pieces of him are the same, but they are somehow more solid than before. Though he has not yet grown a hair on his chin nor slain his first boar, I think it would be difficult to call him boy ever again.

“You must.” I do not hesitate. My words fly from my lips like arrows. “This is my choosing.”

“And this is mine.” He shifts and I see that he holds a spear at his side. The granite tip burns beneath the moonlight and I know what it is that spins in my belly, an awkward and eager partner to my impatience. It is fear.

Behind me, the centaurs have grown uneasy. I hear their hooves tearing open the earth and stamping it shut again. I am afraid they will soon lose their patience.

I fill my fist with Raelin’s green sash and raise it before me. “I do not choose you, Aaron. I never will. I am sorry for your pain, but it will pass if you will only go.”

His face pinches together and he shakes his head once sharply. His hair spills forward, dusky and wild, the only part of him I ever came to love. “You are bespelled, Eva. I will not leave you in the clutches of these beasts.”

The growls that crawl around me are not quite human. I hold my hands out as if to catch them and feel the rumble of them between my fingers.

“We do not bespell our wives.” The voice flies over my head. I only know it is not Raelin’s. “We have no need.”

“Because you would steal them from their beds, instead like the cowards you are? Poor, defenseless girls?”

My tongue trips over the insults, unable to pick one to rebuke, but Raelin is faster than I and his voice opens over the valley like sunlight. “You are brave to stand at the mouth of so many arrows and speak your truth, but you must recognize your defeat before it is eternal.”

The warning is a courtesy not given to many who confront the centaurs. But I can see it alone is not enough. His fingers are tight and anxious on the spear.

“Aaron, please,” I say hoping he will hear me. “My mind is clear. Lend me the honor our friendship deserves and believe me.”

The space between us grows heavy with silence. I do not know what Aaron will do now. I hope he will choose to leave, to accept my decision as final and return to the village to tell the tale of my abduction. It is always a tale of abduction, though I am certain I cannot be the first to seek the centaurs out.

All around us, the crows are impatient. They fuss and clatter their beaks at us or the moon for disturbing their peace, but the line of Aaron’s shoulders is persistent. He raises his spear.

“It is my right to challenge the beast who would steal my betrothed.” I see no trace of the person I’ve known. This Aaron, this man, is proud and fierce and unrelenting. “Put down your arrows and face me.”

I turn and press my palm against Raelin’s chest. He does not try to escape me and his eyes are hard and regretful. Already he mourns the life he will take from this field.

One of the others, a dusty roan with a wide forehead and a mouth that I think must always be happy, sticks the butt of a spear into the earth beside Raelin. Without thinking, I reach out my hand and take it.

“I am that beast who would steal your betrothed!” I take three steps away from the centaurs. Aaron’s eyes are wide as the moon. “I am a daughter of Epona and I accept your challenge.”

****
Part 3 by Valerie will be up on Friday!

Photo by Black Holes and Astrostuff.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hunter's Moon (Part 1 of 3)

Every villager knows to lock up his daughters when the centaurs ride, lest they be taken as brides. But tonight the hunter’s moon hangs low in the sky, and my shutters swing open with ease.

Their hooves are thunder upon the earth, their cries like the songs of birds. They ride together as one, not man nor beast, but something beautiful and whole. I’ve seen them only once before, when I was a girl. They ride through the villages every ten years, a blink in time for them, but an agonizing wait for me.

There is one I have longed to see return. They call him Raelin, son of Rudiobus their king. I remember seeing him then; his body, long and lean, mane as black as the ravens that lead them, and eyes as haunting as the moon. Raelin was young then, too young for a bride. Until now.

The fennel seeds sprinkled in my hair are fragrant, a favorite of all the centaurs. I weave meadowsweet in my braid, adding a touch of femininity. Only strong young women are chosen, and the ravens have kept watch over the villages with the most promising girls. I’ve made sure to be seen in the forest with my bow.

My brother sleeps soundly next to his wife. He does not need me any longer, nor I him. The time has come for me to choose my own path, and I choose the centaurs. I choose Raelin, and I pray to the gods that he will choose me.

I slip out the open window, heading toward the forest. The village is silent and dark. The cobblestone streets, illuminated beneath the low red moon, lead me away from my past and toward an uncertain but beautiful future. When the sun rises and Raelin sheds his horse body to walk as a man, I will be his bride, a goddess among gods. A daughter of Epona.

The earth begins to quake beneath my moccasins and a murder of crows cover the night sky like a thousand arrows.

It is not long before I hear them, their voices as beautiful as I remember. The beat of my heart matches that of their hooves. I’ve already said goodbye to my village. Now I belong to the forest.

They burst through the trees, the eldest of them first, in a mass of browns, blacks, and grays. These centaurs are not looking for brides. They’re following the crows, leading the way for the younger men, for Raelin.

I find him easily, a clear, sharp image among the swarming colors and dust clouds left behind. While the others thunder through the village, Raelin walks calmly behind. He is a true prince. I bow to him, not submissive or subservient, but respectful. His presence commands it.

Raelin’s head tilts as he studies me with no expression on his face. It is only then that my confidence falters. Have I not impressed him? Has he not come for my hand? I pull my shoulders back and draw a breath.

Raelin smiles, an expression so serene and still so full of power. He exudes power, and I find I like this about him. His suntanned skin, reddened by the moon, is criss-crossed with pale scars, but his horse body is flawless, sleek, and shining. He wears nothing but a forest green sash that hangs at his human waistline.

Raelin gestures for me to approach him. I can feel the eyes of the circle of centaurs upon my shoulders, but I pay them no mind. Raelin reaches out a hand to grasp a strand of hair that has fallen loose from my braid. He lifts it to his face and breathes in, closing his eyes and smiling.

I want to smile too, but I’m afraid that I will lose my composure and ruin this moment. So afraid that Raelin will not find me worthy. I know if he does not, if he leaves here tonight without me, I will remain in my village. But my heart is not here. My heart is in the forest with the centaurs.

Raelin removes his sash and my body goes rigid as he reaches for me, draping it across my shoulders. It smells of him; evergreen, mountain air, and that sweet earthy musk that only horses possess. He holds out his hand. “Come. Daughter of Epona.”

I reach for his hand, but he drops it, his eyes fierce and focused beyond me.

“Eva, no!” A voice interrupts this perfect moment. The centaurs flock around their prince, arrows drawn on the imposter. “Eva, please.”

My body seizes. I know this voice. It is a voice that does not sound like the songs of birds. A voice that I do not long to hear. It is a voice I do not love.

The voice of my betrothed.

****
Come back Wednesday for Part 2 by Natalie!

Photo by Black Holes and Astrostuff.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Underwater Breathing (Part 3 of 3)


I had to find Lorelei. I had to try to talk to her again. It didn’t matter if she was with Cody, because it was my life that she’d saved. Because I could hear her song. But Mom told me school was canceled because something bad had happened.

Cody Detwiller drowned in Willow Lake.


I didn’t know I had the capacity for sympathetic feelings where Cody was concerned. I’d only ever hated the guy, so it was strange and awkward to think kind thoughts about him. He might have been an ass of epic proportions, but he didn’t deserve die. At least, not like that.

The news ran the story on an infinite loop that day. I kept flipping the TV on just to see if they mentioned a girl, but it was the same thing over and over again. Pictures of Cody looking like the wholesome, mild-mannered, home-grown boy he wasn’t, home video of him swimming like a fearless shark, a few shots of the treacherous lake flashing blue and red, and then Channel Seven reporter Cherise McMannis promising details for services and the like as soon as she had them. The words she used echoed my own feelings on the subject: shocking, unbelievable, tragic. And then, scrolling across the bottom, ‘police suspect foul play.’

There wasn’t a good reason to think Lorelei had been at the lake when Cody drowned, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that she was somehow connected. What if she were in trouble and no one was looking for her?

First chance I got, I broke out of the house and raced to the lake. I was halfway there before I realized I was speeding, but with all the cops suspecting foul play on behalf of Cody, all the usual speed traps were empty. I didn’t worry with slowing down. Now that I was on the road, all I could think about were the many things Cody might have done to Lorelei, which only made the road seem that much longer.

By the time the turn off to the lake appeared, my hands were sweaty on the wheel and I was going double the limit. I eased off the gas and turned onto the dusty road that circled the lake. The first parking lot was already clogged with half the cars in town. It was the lot for the main pier and already it was covered in flowers and candles and who knows what else. Must have been where they found his body, but it’s not where I was heading.

The road slid in and out of tall clusters of elm and maple trees, all of them glowing yellow-green in the late afternoon sun. I lowered my window and drove as slowly as I could bear, watching the shoreline through the tree trunks for any sign of her.

I didn’t see her, though. I heard her.

Her mournful melody teased its way through the wind to me. I stopped the car, pulled off to the side where there was just enough room to park and left it there to follow that song down to the shore.

I found her in the water. She stood with her back to me, the bottom of her skirt pillowed on top of the water around her thighs, her pale green hair distressed and reaching out like budding leaves. The light was playful on the little waves around her and she held her hands out as if she wanted to touch the water, but didn’t.

“Summer?” My feet sank in the wet sand. “Lorelei, I mean. Are you okay?”

Her fingers fluttered and I saw a shiver trip over her shoulders. She didn’t speak though, only stared out over the water.

“Did – did Cody hurt you?” I took another step. Water sloshed up over the toe of my sneaker, soaking my foot.

She made a sound that might have been laughter, but was probably a cry and wrapped her arms around herself. I took another step soaking both feet and saw her flinch, so I stopped and waited for some other sign of what I should do.

None came and the water was becoming more and more choppy as if a boat had passed and sent its wake crashing toward us. But there were no boats on the water today, only a few sad flowers and the sinking billows of Lorelei’s skirt as the lake slowly tugged them down and held them under.

“I know who you are.” I said as waves licked at my ankles. “I’ve been waiting for you for – for years.” And when she didn’t turn, I added, “Summer.”

“No.” She said in a voice so full of voice I almost didn’t recognize it as hers. “I can’t do this anymore.”

She turned toward me and that melody was suddenly loud and full in my head. I took three more steps until my jeans were soaked and the lake was getting way too friendly with my crotch. I didn’t care. All I cared about was staying with Summer. I let her music pull me closer until I was near enough to touch her.

“I never should have saved you.” Her eyes were sad, but also something else I couldn’t peg. “You’re a distraction and have been nothing but trouble.”

She regarded me in a distant way, like I were a bug or gum on the bottom of her shoe. And I knew. “You killed him.”

“You make me want to be something other than what I am.” It was an accusation. The melody climbed even higher and I wanted to give her the world.

“I’m sorry.” I said and meant it.

“I’m sorry, too, Ryan.”

Her eyes were full of tears when she pressed her mouth to mine and flooded my lungs with water.


******
Thanks for reading! Check back on Monday for a new Tangle started by Lacey!
photo via della stock

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Underwater Breathing (Part 2 of 3)

I searched out the source until I spotted a flash of bright green. The closer I got to her, the louder the song became, but the pounding of my heart threatened to drown it out. She had her back to me, as she arranged books in her locker.

Summer? I said, using the voice she’d shown me in my head.

All the books in her hands crashed to the floor.

*******
She bent to collect them and I crouched to help her. “Summer?” I said again, thinking maybe she couldn’t hear me now that she wasn’t underwater.

“I’m sorry, my name is Lorelei.” She snatched her Biology book from my hands and pushed past me down the hall.

I didn’t see her again until lunch. Her green hair and pale skin was a beacon in the cafeteria painted in the school colors, blue and gold. The melody played softer now, sadder than before, but still definitely there in the creases of my mind.

I paid for my lunch and slid into the bench seat beside her at her empty table. “Sum—Lorelei? Hey. I’m Ryan.” How do you tell a girl you think she’s the mermaid who saved your life, and not sound crazy? How do you tell her you hear her song inside your head?

“Hi.” She smiled at me and even though I knew it was fake it was the most beautiful smile I’d ever seen. She picked at the fish sticks on her tray like she couldn’t figure out what they were, or maybe she was disgusted by them.

“The fish sticks are pretty bad. Try this.” She stared at the hoagie I put on her tray. “There’s no meat in it. Strictly veg.”

She smiled again and this time it was real. “Thanks.” She studied my face until her smile fell forming a tiny frown on her pale lips. The song changed too. The melody shifted into something more real, like words that were just out of reach. “Listen, Ryan, it isn’t safe for—”

“Sup, loser?” Cody Detwiller dropped into the seat on Lorelei’s other side and four of his friends sat opposite us, all with heaping trays of fish sticks and tater tots. “This homo isn’t bothering you, is he, Pretty Girl?”

“I’m fine, thanks,” she said. “Ryan, thank you for the sandwich.” Lorelei gathered her bag and took off leaving me and my sandwich behind.

“You sure know how to impress a girl, Gallagher,” Cody said, snorting and shoving fish sticks down his gullet.

She’s not just a girl, I thought, hoping she could hear me.

Her song played in my mind all afternoon making it easy to know where she was. But every time I saw her--at her locker, at the water fountain, going into the girl’s bathroom--she was surrounded by guys. Usually Cody and company.

I had to get her alone. I had to get her to talk to me, to remember. To admit that she was the girl I saw in the lake. But when the last bell rang and I rushed out into the hallway, the only sound I heard over the rising voices as more people filed out of classrooms, were squeaking sneakers and slamming lockers. She was gone.

Lorelei didn’t come to school at all the next day. Neither did Cody Detwiller.

Somehow I just knew he’d gotten to her. Cody was like that. He could talk to girls, any girl. He was just one of those guys. I’d really thought Lorelei wasn’t one of those girls.

I got up late for school the day after and ran into my mom in the kitchen. She wanted to talk, but I needed to go. I had to find Lorelei. I had to try to talk to her again. It didn’t matter if she was with Cody, because it was my life that she’d saved. Because I could hear her song. But Mom told me school was cancelled because something bad had happened.

Cody Detwiller drowned in Willow Lake.



******
Come back Friday for Natalie's conclusion!

photo via della stock

Monday, March 14, 2011

Underwater Breathing (Part 1 of 3)

I almost drowned when I was ten. It was out on Willow Lake. Cody Detwiller was daring everyone to jump off the end of the old dock to see who could jump the farthest.

We weren’t supposed to be out that far. The lake was deep and there were no lifeguards, but we always watched the big kids out there with their stereo and their cooler of stuff we were pretty sure wasn’t just pop, and that day they were gone, so we figured it was ours for the taking. Everyone was stoked but me.

I couldn’t swim, but I could fake it pretty good. We mostly stayed in the shallows at the lake, or floated around in inner tubes. I was okay as long as I didn’t drift out to far. When that happened, I would try to ignore the pounding in my chest, and take deep breaths like my dad taught me. I learned to wear a mask of calm, to deflect with humor, but the truth was I was terrified. And I hated it.

So when Cody announced that anyone who didn’t jump was a girl, I jumped. And then, I panicked.

Fear, real fear, is paralyzing. I knew I needed to move my arms, or kick, but in my mind I was already drowning even though I still had a chest full of air. In my mind I was dead as soon as the water covered my head.

I watched the sunlight dim as I sank. I thought, I hate Cody Detwiller. I felt the slick rocks and rough sand when I hit bottom. My lungs burned and as my thoughts became a jumble, and the world grew dark, I heard a song. It seemed somehow solid, moving straight at me with force in the midst of all that liquid. The voice was so beautiful and sad I thought maybe it was the angels, coming to take me.

Hands gripped my head and I looked up into the face of a girl about my age, with hair the color of seaweed streaming behind her. She was smiling at me, and even though her mouth was closed, I was sure the melody was coming from her.

Don’t be afraid. The words echoed inside my head, soft and high. Her mouth still hadn’t moved, but I knew it was her voice I’d heard. And just like that, I wasn’t scared anymore. She leaned forward and pressed her mouth to mine. In that moment, I forgot everything. There was just me, the music, and the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen kissing me.

When she pulled away, I reached for her and she giggled, the sound tinkled like bells inside my head. You have to swim now Ryan, it won’t last long.

Why? I thought back to her, my fear of the water already a distant memory. I want to stay with you.

She shook her head. You don’t belong here.

What’s your name?

My name can't be said with your language.

I didn’t understand. Does it have a meaning?

She thought it over. If I tell you do you promise to go?

Okay. I nodded my head, careful not to let her hear the thought that I'd be right back.

It’s Summer. Now, please, go! You’re running out of time and I can’t save you again. She pointed up with her hand, her eyes pleading with me. Kick.

She turned and swam away, flicking a tail as green as her hair behind her. I watched her until she was gone and it was only then that I realized I could breathe.

I kicked my way to the surface where a frantic crowd waited. Strong arms pulled me to shore, and the next thing I saw was my dad’s worried face. “I want to take swimming lessons,” I told him, and then I passed out.

As soon as my parents let me go near the lake again, I spent hours out there diving as deep as I could, waiting, calling to her, but she never came.

I pretty much chalked it up as an oxygen-deprived hallucination until today, when whispers started going around about a strange new girl with bright green hair and skin so pale it was like she’d never seen the sun.

I was in the hallway outside the gym when I heard it. The song that saved me all those years ago. It pushed it’s way to me through the crowd, over the chattering voices, inside my head.

I searched out the source until I spotted a flash of bright green. The closer I got to her, the louder the song became, but the pounding of my heart threatened to drown it out. She had her back to me, as she arranged books in her locker.

Summer? I said, using the voice she’d shown me in my head.

All the books in her hands crashed to the floor.


*****
Come back Wednesday for part two from Lacey!

photo via della stock

Friday, March 11, 2011

Worth (Part 3 of 3)

I turned the page and was stopped short by a sudden burst of color. A green so bright against the Manila paper it seemed to float above it. My favorite shade. The drawing was unfinished, but I could tell that the two people in it were me and Fiona.

And this time things were very different.


If it weren’t for what had happened earlier, I would’ve called Porter a pervert. What kind of freak draws pictures of other people making out? But the more I stared at the half-finished faces, the more I hoped what he drew was somehow a glimpse into the future.

On the paper, my fingers grazed Fiona’s cheek, my thumb just near the corner of her mouth. It was a touch I’d imagined so many times, but it never felt like a possibility, especially now with the throbbing reminder of her fist in my face.

I slapped the ice pack over the lump on my cheek and fell back into bed with Porter’s sketch pad, flipping between the picture of Fiona punching me, and the green one. How many days had passed since he drew that picture before she hit me? There was no date on that one, but the picture of me about to make my lame apology was dated two days earlier.

I flipped back through all of the drawings, trying to remember if I’d witnessed any of the other scenes play out. Nothing stood out to me, except that they were all in pencil, black and white.

So why draw me and Fiona, the one thing he probably didn’t want to happen, in green? I didn’t have an answer for that, but I knew I wanted this drawing to be finished. Now.

I was no where near as good as Porter, but I fleshed out the scene with a green colored pencil. Shading Fiona’s brow the way I’d seen it in his other drawings was the hardest part. I’d never actually seen her like that, so open, but staring at the two of us made me want to more than ever. And at whatever cost. I would prove my worth to her. I would make that kiss happen, with or without Porter’s sketch pad.

The next afternoon, after the last bell rang, I waited for Fiona by her locker. I’d already tried to apologize to Porter and all it did was set me two steps back. She was the one I needed to see.

Fiona came rushing down the hall with books clutched to her chest and a scowl pinching her face. When she saw me leaning against her locker she froze, rolled her eyes, and turned around.

“Fiona, wait!”

“What do you want?” She spun around so fast I nearly crashed into her. My mouth hung open, the words on my tongue evaporating at the sight of the tears on her cheeks. She swiped at them, a tiny frown creasing her mouth in just the way I knew it would.

“Get a life, Ryan.”

I couldn’t chase her. I was too busy digging Porter’s sketch pad out of my bag to find the date at the bottom of the page. He’d drawn that picture just two days before.

There was no indication of where, when, or how the kiss would happen from the sketch. So all that next day I was on edge, looking over my shoulder for Fiona, perfecting my best smile and tossing around apologies and excuses in my head. My phone buzzed in my pocket and for a second I hoped it was her, but Fiona didn’t have my number. It was a text from Amy.

Ryan, need to see you in my office.

How did she expect me to treat her like an authority if she was sending me texts with little x’s and o’s at the bottom? I shoved the phone in my pocket, stared down the hall for Fiona one more time before I headed to the nurse.

I knocked twice on the cracked door. “Am—Miss Kensington?”

“She’s not here.”

I swung the door open to see Fiona sitting on one of the beds that I usually took my naps on when Amy was the only one here.

“Ah, hey, Fiona.”

“Ryan.”

I closed the door behind me and took a seat across from her on the other bed. “Are you sick?”

“No. Miss Kensington asked me to meet her here.”

“Me too.” All the things I’d wanted to say to her vanished. Blurting out an apology to Lindsay didn’t work out so well and I really didn’t want to be reunited with Fiona’s fist. A girl like Fiona needed to be dealt with carefully. She wasn’t fragile, not at all, but she needed to be approached a certain way. Lindsay’s sketches and ten years of warning glares taught me that.

“Listen, Fiona. About the other day, I—”

“Where did you get that?” She yanked my backpack. The corner of Lindsay’s sketch pad was sticking out of the zipper.

“It’s not—I mean, he left it in class.”

“So you took it? What did you do to him? Did you draw something?” She flipped through the pages, looking for what, I didn’t know. “If he didn’t give it to you, you can’t draw—”

“Ryan. Fiona. Thank you for meeting me,” Amy said smiling, oblivious to Fiona’s panicked look. The clipboard she held to her chest had an oversized sheet of green notebook paper hanging off the edges. I lifted up on my seat trying to catch a glimpse of what was written on it as she passed, but I didn’t see anything.

“Is everything okay, Miss Kensington?” Fiona asked. “Is this about Lindsay? Is he okay?” She glared at me.

“Lindsay?” She shushed me and I slouched back. What about Lindsay?

“No. At least I don’t think so. This is about the two of you and this.” Amy flipped the clipboard around. In the center of the page was another drawing, one I recognized as Lindsay Porter’s.

Fiona gasped, and judging by Amy’s face, my reaction probably wasn’t much different. The drawing was of me with a pencil in one hand and Fiona’s fingers entwined in the other, and Porter flying above our heads with butterfly wings. The expression on his face made the drawing even creepier. He was smiling.

“Either of you guys want to tell me what this is about? I mean,” Amy turned the picture around and I felt myself relax a little, “it’s not the two of you dismembering him and that’s a pencil in your hand, not a gun, but I still don’t think Principal Llewellyn would be pleased. You both know the no tolerance stance this school has on bullying.” She looked right at me, probably remembering my last visit in here.

I shook my head. “No. Lin—”

“Lindsay is my best friend, Miss Kensington.” Fiona stared down into the sketchpad, keeping the cover angled up so I couldn’t see what she was looking at, but whatever it was it seemed to calm her down. “I don’t know what that drawing is supposed to mean, but it’s not what it looks like.”

Amy studied us both. “Okay. I won’t report it. But whatever might be going on, stop. Okay, Ryan?”

“Uh, yeah. Whatever.”

Amy walked off taking the notebook paper with her. I half wished she’d dropped it so I could figure out what the hell it meant. Wanting to get out of there as fast as possible before Fiona grilled me, I jumped up to leave, and flinched when she grabbed my arm.

“Ryan, wait.”

“Look, I don’t know—” Fiona put her mouth on mine. Instinctively my hand went up to brush her cheek. When she pulled away I stared at her for a minute before I could ask, “What was that for?”

“Because you drew this.” She pointed to a picture in the sketch pad, one I toyed with after I finished the green on. One of Fiona the way I saw her, fierce and beautiful in the way that no other girl could be. And beside her right where he belonged, I drew Lindsay, faithful and understanding. The way I wish I could be.

“So what?” My words were defensive, but I wasn’t sure why.

Fiona smiled and handed me the sketch pad. “It’s yours now.”


****
Thanks for reading! We come back on Monday with a brand new short started by Valerie!

Image courtesy of swan-t via Flickr Creative Commons

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Worth (Part 2 of 3)

Her eyes were full as rain clouds as she stalked toward me, all wide and fierce. I noticed the green stone in her ring as it moved toward me lightening fast and as her fist crashed against my cheek, I wondered if I made the same face Porter had drawn.

And knew that I had.


Without so much as a word, Fiona turned her back on me, linked her arm through Lindsey’s, and the two of them walked off like they were some old married couple taking a stroll through the park.

When the shock finally wore off, I slipped back into the classroom and grabbed the offending sketch pad, along with my own, before I went to the nurse’s office for an ice pack. Mr. Spitz was so absorbed in his own drawing, I don’t think he even noticed either of us left.

Amy, I mean, Miss Kensington, the nurse’s aide, wasn’t happy when I refused to tell her who hit me. “Ryan, you know the school has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to bullying,” she said, and the way she tipped her head, like I was some little kid instead of just four years younger made the whole thing worse.

“Don’t tell my brother, okay?”

She tilted her head even more and her voice softened. “Ryan…”

Great, she thought I was some scared loser. “I mean it. Just because you’re his girlfriend doesn’t mean you can tell him about my private medical stuff.”

No one needed to know I’d made an ass of myself, again. At least this time when Fiona hit me we weren’t surrounded by half the class. That didn’t make it any less humiliating, though.

I spent the night switching back and forth between staring at the same page of Crime and Punishment, to staring at Linds... crap, Porter’s, unopened sketch pad. Both were unintelligible to me. How could Porter draw something that hadn’t happened? Did he see the future? Or did he make it? My head spun with the circular logic. If he did make it happen, why would he wait ten years to get back at me?

Porter’s sketch pad taunted me from its spot on my dresser. I’d cleared a spot and carefully placed it there as soon as I got home. I didn’t want to piss it off, if it had, like, feelings or something. Just like in drawing class, I felt like I was being watched. Like somehow Fiona knew what I was doing right now and she was narrowing her eyes in disgust.

I wanted to know what secrets the sketch pad held inside its pages, but I was afraid. It was the memory of Porter’s sketches of Fiona’s face that finally made me pick it up. She smiled at Porter, laughed when he said something funny, listened earnestly when he talked, her chin resting on one open hand. It was pathetic, I know, but I wanted to see those faces looking at me.

I half-expected the pad to shock me or something when I set it on the bed and reached to flip open the cover. Nothing happened, but a current buzzed through me anyway. So many pages full of Fiona. So many different emotions and expressions that I had never seen on her face. It was like she was unfolding right in front of me. Opening up and sharing all of her secrets. I must’ve stared at the picture of her – head turned slightly away, hand brushing at tears slipping from her eye, a tiny frown of frustration or annoyance on her face – for ten minutes straight.

I was seeing the real Fiona. Not soft and fragile, she could never be that, but honest, emotional, something other than hostile.

Porter had captured her perfectly. She wasn’t pretty like the girls who always wear makeup and dresses and their hair down, but she had this energy around her all the time, this power in her eyes that made her beautiful in a way those other girls could never compete with.

The more I looked at that drawing, the more I hated Porter.

I flipped through the pages until I got to the one of Fiona clocking me and then I hesitated again. If there was more, did I want to see it? Maybe it was better I didn’t know, since seeing myself getting punched did nothing but get me punched. Not to mention, my whole plan to apologize so Fiona would stop thinking I was worthless got completely shot to hell.

What did it matter? It wasn’t like she was ever going to stop hating me now. I turned the page and was stopped short by a sudden burst of color. A green so bright against the Manila paper it seemed to float above it. My favorite shade. The drawing was unfinished, but I could tell that the two people in it were me and Fiona.

And this time things were very different.

*****
Come back Friday to see Lacey's part 3!

Image courtesy of swan-t via Flickr Creative Commons.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Worth (Part 1 of 3)

I know the exact moment I fell in love with Fiona Gray. It wasn’t my finest moment and it wasn’t hers, but only because I think she’s probably had so many finer moments since then.

Halloween, kindergarten, recess and I kicked dirt over Lindsey Porter’s shoes not only because he had a girl’s name, which I didn’t like, but also because he wore no costume and I liked that even less.

He sat with his back against a long, hollow tube we’d crawl through and pretend it was a cave or a sewer. No one wanted to ruin their costumes, so it was empty that day and Lindsey sat against it with his brown hoodie bunched up around him.

“Hey, Lindsey,” I said, taunting loudly enough that everyone who wanted to laugh could hear. “What are you supposed to be? A piece of dirt or a piece of shit?”

Fiona came out of nowhere and shoved me square in the chest. I fell right down in the rubber chips and sat there like a crab all angry and confused and balanced on all fours. She stood over me and I remember she seemed impossibly tall and her sweater was my favorite color of green.

She didn’t say anything because Ms. Elliot, who only saw Fiona push me and not the part before, called her into the classroom. But she didn’t have to say anything. Her face said it all and by the time I’d climbed out of the rubber chips I was in love.

I think Lindsey probably was, too, because he watched her as much as I did after that. It didn’t bother me because I didn’t think you could be in love with something you knew was weaker than you. But there was no denying they had a connection. A quiet one and a distant one, but it was more than I had.

The only time Fiona ever looked at me was if it happened by accident and involved the perfect and rare alignment of certain stars. Even then, it took a split second for her to recall that moment in the playground when we were six years old. Her eyes would narrow and then move on. A barely there half-glare was all I was worth.

I wanted to be worth more.

It occurred to me sometime in the 8th grade that I should probably start by apologizing. And by the 10th grade, I figured that apology should go to Lindsey. So that’s what I did.

Halloween seemed appropriate for the gesture. We were in the same drawing class, so finding him was easy. Sitting next to him was also easy, but talking was not.

I flipped to a clean sheet in my sketch pad, propped it on the easel in front of me and started in on the collection of still life items on the table nearest us. I picked a funky looking vase because it was green. Beside me, Lindsey picked at the corner of his own pad while his knee bounced rapidly.

“Hey, Lindsey.” I tried to sound casual, like we spoke regularly or even ever.

His knee became still. “Porter.” He answered, defensive and I couldn’t help but feel like I had some part in his un-naming. It wasn’t a good feeling.

“Porter, then. Hey, Porter.” I tried again and wished I’d had the foresight to do a little research on apologies. I didn’t know what the first words should be.

“Yeah.” He said still picking at the corner of his closed sketch pad. “Hey, Ryan.”

I outlined the shape of the vase in light pencil, looking for the places I would use to anchor my lines and what might be the focal point while I tossed around apology-sounding phrases in my mind. I decided I wouldn’t start with “I’m sorry I called you a piece of shit in kindergarten.” It just didn’t sound sincere in my head and if it didn’t sound sincere unspoken, I was sure adding my voice to it would only make it worse. I needed something else and quick because Porter was looking like he was ready to bolt.

“Um,” I said to ease into the conversation. “So, I wanted to say that I’m really sorry I was such a douche to you, you know, before.”

If it’s possible, he got even stiller. Only his eyes moved cautiously toward me. “You mean in kindergarten?”

He said it like there was no way it could be true, but he got it on the first guess, so I figured his incredulity was more or less a show. “Yeah, then. I wanted to say I’m sorry.”

He looked at me. Even turned his shoulders partway like I was actually sitting there trying to have a conversation. “That was forever ago. We were just kids. Forget about it.”

I couldn’t tell if he was accepting my apology or not, which probably meant that he wasn’t. His knee started bouncing again and Mr. Spitz tapped Porter on the shoulder and pointed to his closed pad. The meaning was obvious and I found I was immensely curious to see what lay beneath the cover.

Reluctantly, Porter flipped the book open and hurried to find the first clean page. The reason was obvious. Pages filled with a face, Fiona’s face fluttered through the air. One after another, she smiled and frowned and glowered at me and each one was better than the last.

“Shit,” I said and Porter slouched forward in defeat. “You’re a little obsessed.” He flipped faster and I saw something else. I wasn’t ready for it. Not even a little bit and I sputtered. “Was that me? Go back.”

He hesitated but made the right choice and flipped the page back to the one with my face on it. But it wasn’t just that it was my face. It was my face twenty minutes ago when I was deciding to come sit by Porter and make good with the past. There was no chance that it wasn’t because he’d even drawn himself in the distance.

There was no way he was that fast, but there was also no way he could have known what I was planning to do today. The date scrawled across the bottom of the page confirmed he’d done it two days ago.

He slumped back in his chair, which I took as an invitation. Flipping the page, I found my face again, but this time she was in it, too, and not in a way that I liked. It made my stomach feel like it was full of sand.

I turned to accuse him, to ask him what the hell he was up to, but he was already through the door. I followed, unable to shake the feeling I was being watched or stalked or otherwise invaded.

“Hey, freak!” I called after him rounding a corner in time to see Fiona gifting him with a perfect smile. It soured on me and I choked.

Her eyes were full as rain clouds as she stalked toward me, all wide and fierce. I noticed the green stone in her ring as it moved toward me lightening fast and as her fist crashed against my cheek, I wondered if I made the same face Porter had drawn.

And knew that I had.

* * *
Valerie is up on Wednesday with Part 2.  Come back and check it out!

Image courtesy of swan-t via Flickr Creative Commons.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Untouchable

Me and Jeremy spent most of that summer down by the railroad bridge, jumping off the edge and plunging twenty feet into the water. The river was so clean you could see the trunk of a fallen tree all the way at the bottom of the deepest part.

I’d tried to swim down and touch it, but it was so deep, my lungs burned and my head pounded until I finally turned around and came back to the surface.

“That trunk is probably twenty feet around,” Jeremy said, skipping a rounded river rock across the surface of the water. “Where do you think it came from?” We both stared at the riverbank all around, but couldn’t find anywhere that looked like it was missing a tree.

“It’s probably been down there longer than the railroad bridge has been here,” I said, leaning back in the water and watching my toes bob. “I bet they cut it down to lay the tracks.”

“Maybe. Or maybe it fell from somewhere else.”

“What do you mean ‘somewhere else’?”

“I dunno. Maybe like another universe or something.”

“That’s dumb.”

Jeremy shrugged and skipped another rock. I swam to him, pulled myself out of the water and lay back in the grass. Green sunlight fell through the tree tops in clumps that warmed my damp skin.

“I’m gonna do it one day,” he said. “I’m gonna touch it.

“It’s too far. Nobody can swim that deep.” I felt Jeremy’s eyes on me but I kept gazing up at the bits of sky between the branches.

“You don’t think I can do anything.”

“That’s not true.”

“If I did it, what would you give me?”

I sat up. “If you did it--” Jeremy smashed his lips against mine, hard, awkward, and sloppy. When he pulled away, I asked, “What was that?”

Jeremy smiled. “When I do it, I want a kiss. A real one.”

“Then why’d you kiss me like that?”

“Cause I wanted to make sure it was worth it.”

***

I rode on the back of Jeremy’s four-wheeler, my arms wrapped tight around his waist. He stopped and hit the kill-switch turning the engine off, about half a football field before we got to the bridge. The woods were quiet, like they should be, but it felt weird after having the growl of the engine vibrating beneath me.

“Why’d you stop?” I asked. Jeremy didn’t answer and I followed his gaze to a muddy puddle in the middle of the trail. Something bright orange floated in the center.

Jeremy got off and I slid into his seat. He squatted next to the puddle, took a stick and poked the orange thing, making it bob like a buoy in the muddy brown water. One glossy round eye surfaced and Jeremy pushed it back down until the whole thing was just a blur of color down below.

“It’s a fish,” he said, but I’d already realized it. “It’s dead.”

“How did it get there?”

He shrugged. “Guess it swam here and then the creek dried up some and it got stuck.”

Watching him poke the fish, the way it floated up and sank back down, made my stomach pinch. “Let’s just go to the bridge. I wanna go swimming.”

Jeremy looked up at me. “Want me to touch it?”

“Gross. No. C’mon.”

“It’s not alive anymore. It’s just a body.”

“It’s gross. Leave it alone.”

He pushed it down and watched it float back up one more time before climbing back onto the quad.

***

Jeremy called me a few days later. “Meet me at the bridge,” he said. I rode my bike as far as I could until the trail turned too rocky to pedal, and I shoved my bike into the trees, half jogging the rest of the way. Jeremy sat on the bridge in just his shorts and ratty sneakers that he wore outside. His mama wouldn’t let him wear his “good shoes” down to the bridge.

“Hey,” I huffed, clutching the stitch in my side and trying to ignore the burn in my shins. I hadn’t ridden my bike much that summer and I regretted it.

“Hey.” Jeremy held a railroad spike, reddish-brown and flaky from years of laying out in the weather, discarded.

When I caught my breath I sat down beside him, setting my flip-flops next to me so they wouldn’t fall off into the river. The sun beat down on my shoulders and made the tar on the tracks look wet. The smell of it mixed with rust and iron was a comfort, as much a part of summer as Jeremy.

“What did you wanna meet for?” He didn’t look like he wanted to go swimming, and I didn’t see a fishing pole or a tackle box.

Jeremy dropped the spike down into the river. We both stared after it as it descended toward the tree so far down that we couldn’t follow it all the way. “Just had to get out, you know?” His voice sounded deflated, tired, and sad. When he looked at me I saw a darkening bruise on his cheek.

I didn’t ask him anything else. Sometimes I wish I had.

***

It rained the next day, but the day after that it was hot as the dickens again and I raced down to the river to wait for Jeremy. I sat down on the smooth rocks that lined the bank on both sides, letting my bare feet bake on their sun-warmed surface. Watching the water skippers swirl around in tiny circles made me wonder if they ever got dizzy.

Jeremy came walking through the trees with his hands in the pockets of his cut-off shorts and a frown pinching his face. He didn’t say anything, just sat down beside me. After a long time he said, “I’m gonna prove that I can do it.”

“Do what?”

“Swim down to the tree.”

“Yeah, okay.” I nudged him with my shoulder.

“I’m gonna do it. Right now.”

“Don’t be dumb. You can’t—” He leaned in so fast our foreheads bumped and then his teeth hit mine in another messy kiss. I pushed him back. “You know, if you did do it, I wouldn’t kiss you now.”

He smirked, but it kind of looked sad, and started toward the water.

“What are you doing, Jeremy?” He wasn’t wearing his outside sneakers. He was wearing his good shoes. “Your mama’s gonna kill you if you get those wet.”

Jeremy didn’t stop, didn’t hesitate. He walked right into the river up to his knees, his waist. Then he turned around to face me. “Be my girlfriend.” His bottom half wiggled the way things sometimes do underwater, making it look like it didn’t belong to his top half.

“What?”

He shook his head, walking backward deeper into the water. “If I touch the tree, will you be my girlfriend?”

“Sure.” There was no way he’d be able to do it, but part of me kind of liked the idea of being someone’s girlfriend. Jeremy’s girlfriend.

He smiled at me in a way I’d never seen him smile, like he was really, really happy for the first time ever, and he dove into the water. He kept going, and going, until I knew his lungs must have been on fire, but he didn’t come back up. I'd never seen him so determined.

And then he just stopped swimming.

“Jeremy?”

He didn’t sink like the railroad spike had, but he didn’t float back up like the fish either. The crystal clear water made his hair fan out around his face. His skin looked paler under water than it had been above. All I could think about was that fish. It's not alive anymore. It's just a body.

The smell of tar and iron laid heavily on my tongue, the feel of Jeremy’s wet lips still on mine. Everything was so normal and so summer. It seemed impossible that he wasn’t there anymore, not in the real way that he should’ve been.

Jeremy was as unreal and untouchable as the tree at the bottom of the river.


***
We come back on Monday with an all new tangle started by Natalie!

Photo by L.J. Boldyrev

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Like This

It is like this.

The boy walks by in that way the cute ones have. You know, half-loping, half-strutting. Head high, eyes all around. Not sure if they’re the watcher or the watched, but not really concerned. Either one must be good, because life is good.

His life, anyway.

And she sits, breath half-held, half-swallowed. Frozen in that state of “casual” – the one that always looks forced. Cursing herself for being so obvious. Cursing him for not noticing.

Why are they all so oblivious?
She wonders, absently striking a pose of disheartened fury. If there is such a thing. She probably just invented it now – her awkwardness always creating something unheard of. She is beautiful that way, but doesn’t know it. A blessing and a curse, or maybe just the way it has to be.

He smiles, crooked teeth and all. So imperfect he cannot be improved upon. It is unfair she thinks, that two odds make an even, and two evens make an even, but the odd that is her is made up of incomplete parts. She is all halves and quarters – unfinished despite so many pieces. Too many to figure out what’s missing.

No, she thinks and boldly points at him inside her mind. He’s missing.

As if he felt her imaginary finger, he turns. Eyes that seem to know so much more about life than she ever will scan the room, pausing with effect on hers for the briefest of moments, but a moment, still.

An old love song she learned in Spanish class, “Contigo En La Distancia” floats through her mind and she thinks (always thinking) yes. That’s it. Someday, somewhere, they will come together. The imperfect perfect and the just imperfect. He will fill her empty spaces. Put her together like the jigsaw puzzle she believes she is.

Yes, she thinks again, and remembers to breathe. The gasp rises from her sharply, pushing its way to the ceiling. The place where dreams sit waiting. Where, if you can reach, you can pluck them down and turn them into a tangible thing.

She watches the flawed boy continue on his way. The blandest of scenery in the journey that is his life. He tilts his head back, staring into the dreamspace with a faraway look, and all at once she understands. She knows what she must do to make her dream reality. For the first time in an eternity, she smiles even though no one is watching.

It's simple (she thinks, and feels her heart flutter).

She must learn to fly.

*****
Come back Friday for an all new short by Lacey!

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