Coming of Age Fiction Romance

Our home was on the edge of town when I was growing up. We lived in a new project home in a new development, but our backyard faced bushland. Our manicured garden was hemmed in by a six-foot pailing timber fence which marked the bleeding edge of the modern urban sprawl. Beyond was pristine bushland. My haven of mystery. This is where I would go to meet my friends and where we would get up to all sorts of adventures.

One of our favourite places to go was the old Blackberry house. We coined this because of the tremendous blackberry vine which had almost consumed half of the old house. It was located in a thick part of the forest at the end of gradual salient. It had been long forgotten by the world, despite it being but a short few miles from the nearest road.

We stumbled upon it one sunny spring day while we were out adventuring and adopted it immediately as our official clubhouse. Don't let me give you the impression that it was some shack lost in the forest. This was a mansion which belonged to a long-forgotten gilded age. The massive front doors framed with colourful leadlights opened into a grand foyer richly adorned with carvings and intricate tiles with wide winding stairs symmetrically rising on either side. Portraits of austere characters and paintings depicting gothic scenes hung in various states of decay on ornate timber panelled walls. Everything was sheathed in a thick layer of dust. Overhead, cobwebs hung from the impressively high ceilings and spanned the impossible chasm. While none of us saw one of them, we all secretly dreaded an unexpected encounter with the massive spiders that must call them home. We had laid claim to the foyer and the adjoining lounge room with the massive fireplace as our own.

That discovery marked the most magical summer of my youth. There were seven of us in all. Me, Tim and his sister Sandra who lived next door, then there was Melissa, Sandra’s best friend and her younger sister Cordelia. Their mother had died of cancer recently so we were all a little careful around them. And lastly John and his younger sister Jasmine. John was my best friend from kindergarten. They lived on the other side of the forest now and went to a different middle school. Cordelia could have been pegged as the odd one out. Perhaps because she was just that one year too young for the rest of us, but her tenacity to be in our troupe, and her tomboyish devil-may-care attitude, made up for it.

I think we finally admitted there was something mysterious about the house when Cordelia discovered the locket. It was a manish piece of jewellery, finished with fine detail in thoroughly tarnished silver with a thick, equally blackened chain. Her sharp eyes picked it out from the dust and weeds that had sprouted around the skirting boards under the window in our lounge. We had not even noticed her find at first. She just sat at the far end of our grand table, head down, fiddling with something till she managed to get it open. That is when she announced her find. 

We all crowded around her to behold the faded sepia photograph of the beautiful young woman trapped within. She was impeccably dressed in a lacey dress whose collar rose up her slender neck to her very cheekbones. Her countenance was majestic yet haunting. I felt there was a story desperate to escape, hidden behind her eyes. Cordelia placed the chain over her head and hid the locket behind her flannel shirt and we moved on to other things.

A few days later Melissa called me on the telephone and told me that we needed to meet at the clubhouse. There was an odd urgency to her summon. We all met that afternoon at the old Blackberry house. Cordelia solemnly told us a story that made our hair stand. The morning of the first school day after her discovery, her class was introduced to their new English teacher. Cordelia said she froze solid when the young lady entered the room.

“It is exactly her. Unmistakable. The woman in my locket”, Cordelia insisted.

“Impossible, probably just a coincidence” I dismissed.

We looked at her with our own shades of doubt, but then I looked at Melissa and her eyes dispelled all my doubts.

Cordelia continued, “She walked into the room with that look of grace, just like this”. She had the locket open on the table. “Then when she finally introduced herself to us, she gave me the most powerful stare. She looked right into my soul. I am sure!”

The mystery of Cordelia’s new English teacher gave us all the creeps. We were all relieved it was not our English teacher. I think it was the first time I saw Cordelia shaken like that.

The mystery surrounding the house deepened for me when I went alone one evening, just before dusk. Armed with a flashlight, I began to explore the upper rooms.

Before I go on with my story, I need to admit something first. I can’t say exactly when it started, but I had begun to look at John’s sister, Jasmine in a new way. Her lanky frame had begun to fill out into budding womanhood in the most alluring manner. Her long ginger hair, lightly freckled cheeks and those piercing green eyes began to haunt me.

So, as I explored those upper rooms, I found a study. Thousands of mouldy books lined the walls, and an imposing baroque writing desk occupied centre stage, containing many ornate drawers, of which only a few would open. While I tugged on one of them, its handle rotated in my hand, and a sharp snap released something underneath. A hidden drawer containing many handwritten papers had been opened. I browsed through them and found one with a poem which caught my eye. As I read the first lines, my heart began to pound.

In gardens of enchantment, where petals softly sigh,

I found a precious flower, 'neath the azure sky,

Her eyes, a verdant meadow, where emerald dreams lie,

Jasmine, my heart's desire, beneath the moon's lullaby.

The words made me choke up, and I could feel my eyes fill with tears. I felt both embarrassed and moved by a powerful cocktail of emotions. A welling force I could not comprehend or fight back. Now, looking back, I know what it was. It was my very first brush with real romantic love.

It was getting late and I needed to get home, so I stuffed the page into my pocket and left.

The summer vacations were almost upon us and our worlds became bogged down in the annual ritual of finals. Finally, the last week began. That week bulged with exams and climaxed for me with a three-hour history test on Friday morning. It was a similar story for all of us, so we all agreed to meet at the old Blackberry house after it was all over on Friday afternoon to celebrate.

The sun was out and the promise of a long hot summer was in the air. Our little gathering was a gay affair. Sandra and Tim’s mother had baked a cake for us, and I managed to get hold of some soft drinks. We found a small folding garden table which completed our garden party in the shadow of the huge oak tree that dominated the forecourt. We laughed and recounted the tribulations of the last weeks.

This is when John began to recall a story that made the hair on my neck stand.

“I have to tell you guys something kind of creepy, but in a good way, I think.” He began in a sombre tone.

“A few weeks ago I was looking around in that huge cupboard sort of thing in our lounge.” we all knew what it was and nodded, “and I found this fountain pen.”

He fished it out of his bag and placed it on the table.

“It's magic,” he added. We all gasped in amazement at his pronouncement.

“How?” I wanted to say more, but this is all I could break the thick silence with.

“I had placed the pen in my pencil case and kind of forgot about it till this Monday which started with a three-hour English test. The test I was most scared of. When our teacher said 'begin', I opened my case and this pen was right on top. I took it out, opened it and began to write.” John paused. I could see he was struggling to find the words to keep going.

“The bell at the end of the test snapped me out of some kind of trance. My pages were filled with my handwriting, but I cannot remember writing any of it!”... “And that's how all my exams went. I can’t remember any of them” he ended, still with that unbelieving look.

“But check this out…” he said as he opened the cap to the fountain pen. He had a piece of paper out and tried writing but nothing appeared.

“It’s empty. Bone dry!” he unscrewed the back to prove it.

“And the best part. Mrs Renie, my English teacher, caught me in the hall yesterday and congratulated me on my exam!” he added with incredulity.

We were all in a state of wonder and I think, a bit of envy too, but something was darkening this wondrous discovery. Even John admitted that he had no idea how well it went, reluctant to believe the glowing comment from his teacher. But one thing was clear, we all agreed there was something special about our Blackberry house.

As that perfect summer lazily dragged on, we claimed a bit more space inside from our shy eight-legged friends and even scythed out a clearing around the front verandah for our regular garden parties. We pitied the others that were relegated to ‘hanging out at the mall’, while we lived the charmed life in the manor house. When it got too hot, we would cool off at the abandoned quarry where a large pool had collected.

Perhaps perfect was not the right word when it came to me. I was suffering from a huge crush on Jasmine which I had no idea how to deal with. My thoughts were so tangled around her that it was difficult to concentrate on anything else. Each time I would see her, my tongue would get tied up, and a mysterious clumsiness would befall me.

We decided to come and camp out one weekend at the Blackberry house. We meticulously planned it all out. Food, drinks, paper plates, tents, torches, folding chairs and even Tim’s new boombox along with a box full of tapes.

I even brought an axe along so we could build a bonfire.

Sandra and Melissa were entranced by these magical discoveries and searched for their own magical items, but it wasn't working out for them.

“Maybe the thing has to find you”, I offered when they finally joined us around the fire, secretly recalling how I was virtually led by some hidden force to the desk in that secret drawer in the study upstairs. My retort to the girls triggered a long discussion about the true nature of the house and the things inside that stretched well into the night. We ventured wild speculations about ghosts and even aliens.

Two things I remember like yesterday from that night. First was the way Jasmine's eyes glistened like smouldering emeralds in the firelight, and her ginger tresses glowed like strands of gold. Telling her how I feel, felt like the most dangerous thing I could do. The prospect of rejection loomed larger than any dire fate I could imagine. So this brings me to the second thing that night. It was only with extreme hesitation and trepidation that I finally gathered enough courage to stand, feign needing to relieve myself, then secretly slipping an envelope containing a rewriting of the poem I had found, into her tent.

Returning to the fireside, a huge weight seemed to be lifted from me. I had cast my dice. Now my fate was in the hands of a higher power, perhaps the Blackberry house itself.

As if a long lingering unpleasant task had finally been completed, the next day I rose with a spring in my step. My adoration for Jasmine could almost have been a fever dream, now thankfully over, that is until I saw her. Her glance as she said good morning to me, almost made my knees buckle. Throughout the day I noticed her repeatedly in a huddle with Sandra and Melissa, and I could not shake a deep shame each time they would laugh together, sure it was at my expense. This is worse than before, wishing I had never found that damn poem. Wishing I could just wink out of existence.

About a week later. My mother returned from the letterbox with an envelope with JAMES written on it. I ran off to my room with the envelope. My heart was thumping in my chest as I tore at the seal. I found a single sheet of paper, in neat handwriting were the following words:

Amidst those gardens, James, your gaze, a tranquil stream,

Reflects the love you spoke, in moonlight's gentle gleam,

In verdant meadows, 'neath the stars agleam,

Our love, a timeless bloom, like a cherished dream.

In the space below was a red lipstick kiss. The very paper carried a delicate scent of perfume that I recall her wearing. I lay on my bed in some kind of blissful swirl, unsure of anything else in my life except those beautiful words.

My euphoria was interrupted when Dad answered the telephone and called out, “It’s for you James”

“Hello,” I said into the receiver.

“James, Jasmine has gone mad!... ouch, that hurt!”

“What?” I say, but I could hear that he and Jasmine were having some fight about something.

“She just hit me. Jasmine I mean!” John said as I could hear her whispering harshly at him.

“What's going on?” I ventured.

“I'm not sure now. She wanted me to tell you something, ouch! I mean ask you, ouch, no tell you. Ouch, stop it!” After some muffled retorts, John finally said, “Here’s Jasmine, I don't want to play messenger anymore.” The muffled sounds hinted at a fight over the receiver which ended with Jasmine's voice.

“Ahh, Hi James,... how are you?” Jasmine tried hard to make a clean break from the harsh tone she had used on her brother just seconds ago.

“Um,... I’m, ah… good! And you?” the knot in my throat returned. A net full of butterflies had just escaped into my stomach and my lunch was in danger of making a reappearance.

“James, hang on a sec”

“Ok” I said with relief.

I could hear the muffled sounds of her dragging the phone to someplace better, or probably out of earshot of John.

A few more seconds later, “Are you there?” she said in a whisper.


“Uh,... can we meet somewhere?” My heart leapt out of my chest, and my butterflies began to riot.

“Ahh,... now?”

“Um,... sorry. I’ve called at a bad time haven’t I?” a note of despondency took the brightness out of her tone.

“No, er,... not at all. I mean I am not busy. Um,... yeah. I can meet you, I guess” I stammered out.

“Oh great! Can we meet at the house in half an hour?” A new flush made my skin tingle with apprehension and excitement.

“Sure” I hung up the phone without even saying goodbye. Raced back to my room, grabbed my pack and set off to the makeshift gate in our back fence.

As I came out of the bushes, I could see Jasmine was already standing there on the top step of the porch with a folded piece of paper in her hand. I approached her with my heart pounding in my throat.

“Your poem was the most beautiful thing I have ever read. I read it over and over again in bed every night, and sleep with it under my pillow”

“Um… thanks” is all I could blather, before she hugged me with all her strength.

When we finally released each other, I took out her fresh letter from my pocket, “And when I got yours, I was so excited I almost puked.” She began laughing and we both fell into hysterical giggles holding each other's hands.

The laughter broke the tension and then she looked at me solemnly and said, “I have an admission to make. I did not write the poem. I found it. In here.” pointing to the door of the house. “Or perhaps it found me.”

A wave of relief overcame me. “Oh, me too. I mean I also found this poem here. Upstairs. It was waiting for me in a secret drawer in a table in an upstairs study. When I read it, I don’t know what came over me but I knew it was meant for you” I said.

“When?” she asked

“Oh this happened before our exams.” I could see this resolving something in her, like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle falling into place.

She broke the silence with, “It's magic. I mean real magic. James. Do you feel it? I feel it. Cordelia too. She met the teacher she needed in her life right now, and John with his exam pen, and the poems,… and us.”

I was afraid to speak in case it broke this amazing moment. She gave my hands a squeeze and gazed into my eyes with those glittering green eyes. I squeezed her back and slowly leaned down, and we gently kissed for the first time.

September 24, 2023 16:19

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Lynel Black
16:39 Oct 01, 2023

This was one of those marathon sessions where a story is written almost complete in one sitting. I had little idea where it was going when I started, but it all came together with satisfaction in the end. I am most comfortable as a horror/thriller writer, so this kind of young romance is somewhat new to me. I'm glad you enjoyed it.


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Rose Lind
22:58 Sep 30, 2023

Good story written to Prompt. There's so much that could be played with this in future stories. I watched a subtitled middle eastern film on kids who visited a haunted mansion. The child grew into a sceptical professor tormented by the girl ghost he fell in love with. Later the story developed from ghosts to middle eastern myth of jinns and desert monsters. I would wonder if only the ghost Hunters saw Cordelia as the photo? Sometimes a trick is played with the mind by a caniving spirit. Automatic writing that was a good bend in the story.


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