Last year, I decided to make a summer project consisting of a collection of short stories titled Between the Lines. Each of these stories had a message or theme I ‘hid’ behind the words only to be revealed at the end. This was my personal favorite of the four, an edgy mystery I wrote a few months prior to the project and reworked later on. I hope you enjoy!
— J. L. Willow
Before, After and Forever
He would see her standing near the art room window. Never speaking, never moving. She would be staring at something he could never see. Her red hair swept over one shoulder, the color a stark contrast to her black gown. She always wore dark colors and he personally thought they suited her. Her skin was pale and smooth, making her appear as a porcelain doll. She had wide eyes, filled with emotions that he couldn’t decipher. They pierced through the room like car headlights through the night.
During passing time, he would see her in the hallways. Others would sweep past without giving her a second glance, but he did. He would always pause, looking deep into her eyes.
She would never respond. She only stared back, and sometimes he thought he saw a flicker of recognition thread her expression. As quickly as it would come it would be gone, as if it never had been. And the boy would turn away, focusing on placing one foot in front of the other.
She always found a way to sneak into his thoughts. A crimson leaf would instantly be connected to a lock of her hair. A black pair of heels spotted in a shop window would look beautiful on her feet. A pale shade of gloss would seem flawless on her lips.
It was Saturday and he was home from school. The morning light shone bright and airy through the windows. Subconsciously, he changed into a crisp white shirt with dark pants.
He swept his hair back with a comb before stepping slowly down the flight of stairs.
Although it was silent in the kitchen, he could feel his parent’s presence inside. He left through the front door without speaking a word to them. They never cared where he went.
When was the last time his parents exchanged words with him? He couldn’t remember.
It was silent for the first few moments; but as he listened, Nature began whispering to him. Bird call echoing from miles away reached his waiting ears. Trees rustled their leaves in his passing. A car sprayed up gravel that pelted his shins. Whispers of wind dashed across his cheek.
Lyrics leapt to his mind, but he couldn’t place them to a song.
They say the wind is everyone that you’ve ever loved. . .
He hadn’t realized he’d started walking until he had reached the end of the driveway. Without a hesitation, he turned left and began to follow the road on a slight incline.
. . . grazing their lips upon your cheeks.
Feet slapping the pavement, he added to the chorus that surrounded him. His eyes were down, head lowered. It was safer that way. For a single moment, a whiff of burnt rubber caught in his nostrils, but it quickly passed.
The pavement eventually turned to thick grass, and his pace slowed as he neared the entrance.
He swept past the obstacles stuck into the ground with eased practice. This was a path oft traveled by him.
His feet eventually stopped moving. He had arrived. He knelt, and felt twigs poking into his knees like shattered glass. Eyes down, he breathed in harmony with Nature. He forced words past his throat, knowing they needed to be said.
“It’s funny,” he said without a lick of humor in his voice. He felt the tremors in his tone, but did nothing to calm them. “How the driver always survives when the passenger is the innocent.”
No one responded. Not that he expected anyone to. His eyes stayed fixed to the stems of flowers long since wilted that littered the ground before him.
“You’ve made your point.” His throat closed, and he coughed, attempting to clear it. “Not a drop has passed my lips, nor will it ever again.” He bit his lip hard enough to draw blood, the copper taste coating his tongue. “Do you truly believe I will ever forget you? Could ever forget my first love?”
He raised his eyes to the grave before him. He read the inscription, even though he knew it by heart.
Rosalee Markom. Loving daughter. June 7, 1997 – January 1, 2016. Forever in our hearts.
“Please,” he said and felt liquid running down his face. “Let me move on.” He lifted his eyes to where he knew she would be. Their eyes met. She stood just behind her grave, red hair still despite the breeze. “Please.”
She stared at him, eyes unblinking.