This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
“Goodbye,” she said.
Of course, it wasn’t the first time, but it would be the last.
Her first goodbye had been a playful means of shirking that awkward pause that precedes every first kiss.
She had hovered in front of him, the two of them poised like a young girl’s dolls forced into an amorous position.
Their lips parted.
But they did not kiss.
She jerked her head away, giggling.
Their first date was spent in a graveyard.
He had hoped they would be far enough away from the intrusion of the light-posts. Those manufactured suns, numerous and sallow, that buzzed like perturbed hornets. Their dim glow deprived God’s rapturous domain of its precious emptiness, and on their first date he did not want the meteor shower robbed of its due glory.
But, it seemed more light-posts went up every day.
He sat by her side, and their hands settled in the dew between their thighs, with an anonymous tombstone set against their backs.
Together, they waited.
To some the meteor shower was mere ice-dust, rock shorn from bigger rock, and its many pieces had been sent hurtling not by quarreling angels, but indifferent gravity wells. But he knew better.
They were particles from paradise.
No, they didn’t risk the fringe of the forbidden prairie on their first date for a clumsy dance of physics. They were here for the splintering of Heaven.
Their hands trembled in the dew. His pinky edged nearer to her thumb.
A distant six weeks and six days later, he hung like a reluctant scarecrow, with only a few minutes left in his brief and flittering life. He wasn’t ready yet to remember that first goodbye, the one in the graveyard, so sweet and so infuriating. He decided instead to recall her second goodbye, one not quite so astringent.
They were in her father’s garden. She sprinted through the oscillating sprinkler at midnight. He stood by, watching, uninvolved. His inhibitions kept him dry.
She laughed carelessly, utterly soaked, and shook the heavy globules from her strawberry tresses.
He tried to chuckle, to show her that he wasn’t altogether square, but the suggestion of glee clogged in his throat. He choked.
“C’mon,” she nagged. “Run!”
“But,” he protested. “I’ll get wet.”
“That’s the general idea–silly!”
He shut his eyes and ran.
“Tsch-tsch-tsch,” shot the sprinkler’s staccato.
“Aahh!” he screamed, once safely on the other side.
He stood before her with his hair slashed over his eyes, covering both cheeks. “What happened?” he asked.
She answered with another laugh and parted his hair and robbed him of his isolation.
They stared at one another.
“Should we try it, I wonder?” she suddenly asked him.
He thought she meant kissing. Smooching. Maybe even necking. Honestly, he didn’t even know if there was a difference.
“What?” he asked and swallowed.
She pulled on his wrist, walking backwards toward the pumpkins.
“I’ve never dated a boy for more than seven weeks,” she said, dragging him along the rutted row. “And I think we should try it.”
“Oh, that’s what you mean,” he said, not a little relieved, but also confused.
She let go of him. He stood shivering next to a commodious squash.
“Why not? I mean, why haven’t you dated anyone for more than seven weeks?”
“Oh,” she shrugged.
He watched her shoulders rise and fall, much like the curved, jeweled back of a fabled loch serpent.
“I just get sooo borrrrrr-d,” she said.
He couldn’t speak. He couldn’t move. He felt boring every day of his short life.
She smiled. “Pick me up tomorrow.”
“All right,” he answered, stretching his lips toward her nearest cheek.
“Goodbye,” she said, and she was gone.
He relaxed and wriggled his lips in the empty air.
The next day he hoped to postpone her boredom by telling her jokes, since he noticed the obvious: she enjoyed laughing.
But her half-hearted guffaws and polite grins swiftly curtailed this tactic, and he sought other means of engaging her. One of these was to commission her music talents. So he asked her to write him a song.
A week later he took her to meet his parents, admittedly sooner than he would have liked, but anything to prevent the onset of tedium.
He explained to his mother, “She’s writing a song for me. A saucy little jazz number. She’ll sing it, too.”
“For one of your plays?” his mother asked, looking her son’s muse up and down.
“That’s right!” he answered with ambition.
“But wouldn’t that make it a musical?” cautioned his father.
“Well, no,” he answered. “Not necessarily.”
He looked askance at his darling, tender princess of the glen; he could smell freesias in her hair.
She misinterpreted the look of longing as a prompt, and quickly said, “Shall I sing what I have so far?” She didn’t wait for an answer, and launched right into the first verse. Spreading her arms and spinning in a lazy loop, she warbled about steam engines and thunderstorms.
He smiled at her.
“That’s–different,” declared his parents in tandem. Then: “A little too saucy for a girl your age,” commented his mother.
He started to sweat as he registered his parents’ disapproval. He heard an indignant groan beside him.
Moments later they stood outside his door, and the scowl on her face warned him not to try, but it was too late. A gawky pursing of his lips revealed his intent, even as his arms went limp by his side and he stood well outside kissing-range.
“Goodbye,” she said, and she swiftly went home.
The streak of memory hurried on, even as it renewed that embarrassment, and he discovered a vision of her bobbing in the river beside him. They were holding hands under the water, where even they could not see.
But her enraged father and his trumpet of a scream quickly interrupted that sentimental triumph.
“Getoutofthewaterrr!” came his atonal blast.
They were so frightened by the disembodied voice wafting over the riverbank that they did the exact opposite. They dove under the maple-colored surface, and submerged themselves beneath its fluid fold.
Their unclasped hands found each other again; twenty fingers joined, lattice-like, as the delicate current asserted its gentle influence.
“Brr sah eh tur!” her father demanded again, his trumpet now more like a busted tuba, separated as it was from their ears by the river.
Of course, drifting in the sensual clutches of the water, he did not want to obey; no, he wanted to kiss her while still inside the limbo of the river’s privacy.
His lips swam toward hers.
But her eyes were popping and she had to come up for air.
They both splashed out of the river and when they did, they found her father posed akimbo over them. His eyes, weighted heavily by paternal obligations, narrowed into disapproving slits.
As they climbed out of the brown wash that lapped against the crumbly earth, the chilled flesh of her thigh brushed against his knee.
The brevity of the thrill taunted him.
“You could be eaten alive!” her father shouted.
When her shoulder passed him, he darted for a simple peck, but her father yanked his daughter out of her suitor’s reach.
“Goodbye,” she said. And her father led her away.
On, on, on his memory coursed, disinclined to pursue the disappointment that followed, but eager to relish every moment with her, despite the flashes of stress in their all-too fleeting love affair. No moment seemed right. Each kiss missed its mark. His heart shrank over the duration of five weeks.
He paid a surprise visit to her music academy. He played hooky from work and took the long way around the lake. Its rippling sheen mirrored the indigo moon in the third hour of that evening. Would she run to him, he wondered? Would the surprise send her mouth into laughter and her body spontaneously into his arms? Their lips would meet. And it would be bliss.
The signature tinkling of piano keys, roused to dissonance under amateur fingers, led him to the school’s audition hall.
It was as though he had discovered a secret tribute to Bacchus. The seizure-like abandon of the students frightened him a little. He hid among the stalks of fungi that littered the hall’s entrance, where he recoiled from the absence of decorum.
Was his lady-love a participant in this coarse display? Yes, yes she was.
The piano player threw his head back and called to her, and she pranced over to him, weaving her lithe body between the dancers and throwing her arms over the pianist’s shoulders. She started to sing. It was his song. His saucy little jazz number. The students were frolicking in fits, seemingly drunk on her harmony. He didn’t admit it then; but now, suspended with only a few breaths keeping him from God, he confessed.
Jealousy had furrowed his brow. Envy had pouted his lips.
He stepped out from behind the fungi.
The piano died. An uneasy silence befell the revelers. They turned and glared at him, the invader.
She went up to him and insisted, “What are you doing here?”
Her forthrightness deflated his prepared challenge.
“I just wanted to see you–” he answered instead, gobbling the tender meats of his jealousy.
“Well, I–” she started, looking over at her friends. Then she turned her back on them, not as a show of allegiance to him, but to shield her friends from the interloper. “I really shouldn’t–” she began again.
He understood. Aborted sentences would continue to seed: their unborn suggestions all the same. He should leave.
His cheeks turned cherry red.
She relaxed, now knowing that she would not be forced to make her demand.
“Just wanted to say hi,” he squeaked.
She gave him a tentative embrace. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He didn’t dream of kissing her.
“Goodbye,” she said.
He went home, thinking he had murdered their dalliance. How long had it been? Four full weeks? Five weeks and a few days? Who was counting.
He looked at the calendar on his wall. Yellow boxes marked each day after their first date. Six weeks and four days. Each day cloistered with a yellow smear around its edges. He picked up a dandelion from a small pile beside his bed and rubbed it on the calendar, marking the fifth day of what would be the sixth week. He sighed, and fell back onto his bed made of magnolia petals. Next to the dandelions sat a stack of poems. Poems he had written for her. Poems he would never give her. That laughter he could do without.
The next day she was hiding behind the rhubarb.
She leapt out, startling him with a poor imitation of a lion’s roar. She knocked him over, straddled him, and tickled him into the dirt. She giggled feverishly as she worked her fingers under his armpits and over his belly.
He remained mute as she blinded him with affection, the abundance of her mirth making up for his shortcomings. Her laughter dovetailed into a song about snowcapped mountains and golden apples. A song he had never heard.
Her brown eyes beckoned.
He lifted his head off the dirt, but she pulled her lips away, lest he interrupt the song, and with a lyric of sunshine, the melody found its zenith.
He had to smile.
“That’s a new song,” she declared, poking him in the chest.
“Yup, a new one just for you.”
“I decided after I sang the other song, the first one, to my friends, well–you deserved a new one.”
“Yup. You really surprised me last night,” she scolded, propping her elbows on his chest.
“Oh?” he asked, taking a deep breath just to feel her weight upon him.
“Yeah. Maybe someday you could join us. If–” she paused, “–if you make it past seven weeks. This is the sixth day of the sixth week, you know.” She dismounted and then stood back and casually leaned against the rhubarb.
“Oh?” he asked, looking around the garden. “Is it?” his voice cracked.
He went to her, puckering for a kiss, but she rumpled his hair to dissuade his yearning. It was easy comedy.
Her mood back-flipped. She looked at him earnestly with terror-stricken eyes.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“We need to go past the forbidden prairie,” she declared. “Tonight.”
“But–but that’s dangerous–” he contended.
“C’mon!” She took his hands. “We survived the river. And we already went as far as the graveyard. We need to reach the other side of the forbidden prairie. Right where they live. See them. See them and–”
He gritted his teeth, fearing what she would say next.
“See them and–taunt them!”
“No, we mustn’t!” he shouted.
“You know you want to.”
“Please,” she insisted. “Don’t be borrrrring.”
He stammered another excuse.
“I’ll kiss you,” she offered.
His heart stopped.
“No, silly. After.”
His heart resumed, but he only had enough strength to nod his consent.
“Good. Meet me at the prairie at nine. Goodbye,” she said.
Now, hanging in the gossamer grasp of his despair, he wondered: did he dare hazard to snatch that first goodbye, immaterial as it was, like a snowflake on the tongue?
It was the last goodbye to remember. But the first she had given him. He steadied himself. He instinctively knew, somehow, that if he remembered, it would cue his end.
So be it.
And so he remembered.
Not the name on the grave, no. But their hands poised so near in the dew, and their foreheads glistening from nervous perspiration. He remembered waiting; waiting for a signal that would never come.
Together they surveyed the blue-black infinity, and for their diligence they were rewarded: two stars fell. One star plummeted to symbolize her heart. Another cannoned for his. Then, the shower. The splintering of Heaven.
He laid his right hand over her left. He squeezed. A titan tear from God swallowed their hands: the dewdrop between them. Her skin, bluish in the night, quaked. In answer, goosebumps ran up along his arm.
He felt a thief.
She suddenly vaulted up into the air and his body surged to join her, determined to kiss her full on the lips.
She hovered, retreated, and giggled; but he only heard music.
“Goodbye,” she said.
It was the first time, but it wouldn’t be the last.
And now he was ready to die, and so he surrendered his memory to the present.
He told her, “One day you will say, ‘I knew a boy with that name once.’”
“I’m sorry,” she wept. “I’m so sorry.”
They had flown past the prairie, just as they planned. They had skirted one of the homes of the big folk, just as they planned. They had dared the impossible, the forbidden, the foolish. And they had been seen.
A young girl of eight or nine. She had chanced to glance out her bedroom window. Now she stared with wide eyes at the impossible pair humming in front of her, just on the other side of the summer screen. The girl called for her mommy. Not a scream of fear, but a cry of delight!
He wanted to flee, but his lady-love had other ideas.
“Now!” she called to him, flying around the back of the house. “We’ll laugh at them when they come outside!”
The porch light buzzed and spattered, on and off. The dark porch, enclosed by netting, suggested the foreboding entrance to the underworld.
“C’mon!” she called to him, zipping through a tear in the netting.
He hesitated. He heard an echo in his ears. “Don’t be borrrrring.”
He flew through the tear.
It was too dark to see the web.
Now he wondered, “What will she think when she holds someone else to her breast? Will the wondrous rhythm of her breathing stir him to staid poetry? Maybe he won’t keep those poems hidden. And will she tackle him as she once tackled me, tickling and surrendering to the innocence of her own affections–and will she write him a song? Will that song be about the mountains and apples and the sun?”
His legs were already numb, cocooned in the filament. “You–have–to leave,” he insisted, even as he noted the spider’s leg, seeing it twitch on the periphery of his vision.
That beady batch of arachnid eyes shone crimson in the night.
The sound of big folk running in the house quickened her pulse. She carefully navigated around him through the tear and, once outside the porch netting, pulled hard on his free hand. It was no use. He was caught. And that was the end of it.
“Leave,” he whispered.
The gentle beating of her wings lifted her up where she might reach him. She raised her lips to his. He shook his head no, afraid that she would fatally graze the deathtrap. She denied his caution.
And they kissed.
“Goodbye,” he murmured.
She backed away, ready to take hurried flight.
He blinked, and her beautiful, diaphanous, rainbow wings spread open.
“Goodbye,” she said.
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Sandra Estrada: I loved every minute of it and I thank my lucky stars that brought me to the story, it's been a whirlwind of emotions, plot twist after plot twist but I never got tired of them. Abby and Kade's story is a hard one to understand but once you're submerged in their story and love, you can't help but...
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