A flash fiction story by Kasy Pertab.
I was never one for making friends, but somehow I made an exception that fall. School had just started, and I wasn’t too happy about that. I guess immature teenagers who walked around acting like they owned the school wasn’t really my thing. The only exciting part about my mornings was watching Aunt Millie struggle to gather burnt toast and expired milk for me whenever she bothered to wake up. I guess being a role model wasn’t really her thing either. But then again, it must be difficult having to look after an anti-social sixteen year old that your sister left for you who came with the expense of the funeral bills. I was a package deal—but even so, Johnny Walker was the only person in her life who she really cared for. I didn’t mind it though, in fact I pretty much got used to it after a while.
While living in a small town like this, there wasn’t much to do. That was one of the worst parts about living here; nothing exciting happened. It’s the same thing every day. Walking to the bus stop every morning, I would see the same rusty cars parked in their homes, the same mail man making his rounds, the same wandering cat that sits in the town’s oak tree, and the same pot holes in the streets that no one bothers to fix. Nothing ever seemed to change, and yet, there was something different about that day. Maybe it was the delicate emerald-coloured leaves that were now changing into crisp auburn slices, or the newly arrived scent of pine cones in the wind. When I arrived at the bus stop, I realized that the change was neither of those things. It turned out that my lonesome standing area had now been vacated by a small wide-eyed girl and a lanky boy with charcoal hair.
I knew just who they were; Aunt Millie had told me about them in one of her rare sober phases. They were the son and daughter of the Waters family that just moved in a few houses down from mine, and they were utterly and uncomfortably out of place. The girl—her dress swinging in the wind—was holding onto the boy’s hand. As the brother saw me approaching, his hand clenched tighter around hers. Something about this boy excited me. There was an air of mystery around him and it made me want to know more. Maybe it was the sense of protectiveness or his secluded demeanor. Either way, I did something I would never even think of doing—I talked to him. Instead of cringing the way I expected him to, he responded with kind and gentle words. His name was Damien, I discovered, and I was almost certain that I saw his grip loosen up the more we spoke. His sister, Emma, was even more excited to talk to me—it was if she hadn’t spoken to anyone in a long time.
It wasn’t until I got on the bus that I realized Damien sat there with empty hands and shoulders—there was no sight of a backpack or textbook. This remained the same when I got back on the bus in the afternoon, and continued this way for a few more days. When I asked him why he wasn’t going to high school with the rest of the adolescent twelfth graders, he simply laughed and walked back home. For some reason he liked my vocabulary of snarky remarks, and for some reason I liked his smile. People around here never smiled much, just moaned and groaned whenever they had the energy.
One day after school, Damien offered Aunt Millie and I to come over for dinner with his family. It was abrupt and out of the blue, but it was also comforting. When I went back home to inform her of the invitation, I found Aunt Millie asleep on the couch with one of her soap operas blaring on the television. I left her in her usual habitat and decided to venture to the Waters’ house alone. I was scared and frustrated, but a part of me knew that everything was going to be okay. Maybe that was the part of me that was anxious to be around Damien. I was never sure why I was so anxious, since he was just a boy that I only met a couple weeks ago.
That night at the Waters’ house was the best night of my life. The family was kind to me in ways I never thought was possible, especially since they brought out a piece of me that had been hidden for a very long time—my smile. The best part of the evening was the ridiculous amount of leaf-raking that Damien and I did together. I didn’t understand why we did this, especially since he chose to create a bigger mess by jumping in the lumpy piles after we had just finished. I remember his dark scruffy hair flopping around as he threw himself into the leaves, and the way the smile on his face grew wider the more confused I looked. He then chose to yank my arm, pulling me into one of the giant piles. This confused me even more.
“Why are you doing this? You’re making a mess! Why are you jumping around like that?” I questioned him.
His laughter vanished as his sea blue eyes glared into mine. His gentle smile then formed once again as he responded,
It was as simple as that. No explanations, no more questions, nothing. I had realized then that this was why I became so interested in him in the first place; he was different. But soon I began to realize that the more I got to know him, the more different he became.
I hated the changes I started to see in Damien; they were terribly uncomfortable. I began to notice how grotesque his voice was becoming when he spoke to me, and the way the ocean in his eyes was now disappearing. Emma also complained of the sluggish pace he walked at, which I also tried my best not to notice. Each day, his sun kissed skin tone refined into a ghostly sheen. His smile—that radiant, glowing smile—was now a dreary frown. I wasn’t sure what was happening, and every time I asked, neither of the two would answer.
On the last day of fall, I felt a frosty breeze bristle through my spine. The weather had changed, and so did everything else around me. Except I didn’t notice it—the only thing I had noticed was Emma standing at the bus stop by herself. I remember hearing the echoing sound of a crack, and I wasn’t sure if it was the tree branches beginning to freeze or the muscle inside my chest freezing along with it. Things had changed, but so did I.
“Everything is going to be okay Emma, I promise,” I said to her, as I carefully gripped her delicate little hand.
She smiled, gripping my hand even tighter and said, “I know.”