Delays and Dangerous Ends

Submitted into Contest #234 in response to: Write a story about someone who wishes they could turn back time.... view prompt


Drama Sad Teens & Young Adult

Dear Rose, 

You and time have lots in common. Time spurns me, yet it is kind to the stars. It sends us their light across an infinite expanse of dark nothingness, mocking me with the possibility of seeing something that’s already long gone. 

Do you ever read these letters? Or are they also victims of time, left to fade and yellow until all that remains is a dusty silhouette of us?

I am writing to you on the patio. None of our old stars are visible tonight. It was only when you came over and sat in the wicker chair beside me, bundled in your white bathrobe with the hood pulled up and searching the sky with such awe, that I ever saw any stars. The sky sparkled for you, Rose. But tonight it’s cloud cover for miles. 

But I turn my face toward that gloomy landscape and there, just south of where Venus usually glows, a lone plane bumbles across the midnight canvas. It twinkles, brighter than any star on its descent. I imagine you’re on it. I track its celestial glow slowly growing as it falls through the clouds.

I see the day we met.

Do you remember? 

Middle school. You were twelve, and your mother had just gifted you a pair of gold turtle earrings for your birthday over the summer. You wore them to school every day, even at gym with that oversized t-shirt. Andy teased you about them, called you Turtle Girl. You matched his taunts with barbs of your own, and I fed off the glee that I felt watching you stand up for yourself. Because you were often alone and quiet, and I don’t think the loneliness bothered you as much as the looks the other kids gave you. Looks of confusion, maybe even fear. 

After all, who could possibly comprehend at that age that being in the middle of a loud group can be one of the loneliest places to be? That when you are longing for someone specific no amount of company or depth of love can replace the one whose voice you crave to hear, whose face you would turn time to see.

You didn’t see me at first, but you heard me. I was the music in your ears, raging against the order. I was the whisper over your shoulder, inviting you to look up, to dream. I was the nagging little feeling that there had to be something more to life than work and homework. I begged time for a glimpse of you… 

I tried to avoid you. I tiptoed around you as an addict does their poison, teetering on the edge of a choice. I knew that if I went to you I would never want to go from you. I felt that if I knew you, my life, my heart would be irrevocably and unequivocally yours. Yours to hold, yours to lose, yours to love… until the last glimmer of time flickered out. 

You found me. Well, your friends found me. You circled, as I had so carefully avoided you. It was eighth grade, advanced algebra. At first you laughed at me. I don’t hold it against you. In a world where everyone is obsessed with appearances I was not the image of romance. I was the quiet kid in the corner reading an obscure manga. You asked to join me. You invited me to lunch with you. I still feel the caress of your fingers along my skin, tentative and curious. Reading me, analyzing me. Trying to figure out if I was something you wanted in your life. Maybe you didn’t know how much change would follow that moment, but you felt, as I, that you were standing on the edge of something vast. 

You claimed me as one of yours. You rewrote me into a masterpiece, one of your own desire. I became what you needed me to be, a hand to hold when your father’s rage made you quiver, a constant companion through dark times. A friend.

Do you remember when you overheard me telling Johnny at the bus stop I liked you? You shouted that I knew nothing about you and then ignored me for a week. 

And still you sucked me into your sphere of gravity, unable to let me go.

Time pushes the clouds north-west with a wind that hollows me out. I look down at my hands. Our hands were soft and unmarred when we held them together, waiting for the bus at the corner. Time has made my hands rough and etched with grooves. It has been more cruel to yours.

Above me, the shy stars peek out. 

You always had a cruel streak. It’s part of what drew me to you. A secret strength that lit you from within. Even now I crave every drop of your anger, your malice. I would spend eternity at the receiving end of your cold silence if it gave you more time. But remembering you is the only time I feel anything. 

Still I walk beneath the stars, looking for a glimpse of you from a million years gone, searching for the light that conveys your forgiveness. Time answers with more cloud cover. 

I see us in high school, huddled together in your bedroom giggling at your laptop screen. 

High school was my favorite time with you. You were on the swim team. Two hours every day after school and bright early mornings on Saturday. The pungent scent of chlorine still makes me smile. I envied the water, that it got to caress you with every stroke, that it felt your breath on its wavering surface and held you in its cool embrace. I would have gladly given up every human comfort to be the towel whose fibers hugged you, to dry and warm you. 

Then track in the spring, and theater club, honors classes. I tried to hide my jealousy of the hobbies you gave your time to. I wanted all your hours, down to the zeptosecond. But you were filling your schedule with after school activities to delay, even for one more hour, going home. 

You weren’t avoiding me. You were avoiding him. 

But your father lost hist job, and then lost another. Alcohol was fuel to the shame and unrest that raged in him. Your mother took a third job, nights and weekends to feed you and your sister. And on those nights it was just you and the one man who had the power to extinguish your light. 

Most nights you thought he won. 

But to me, your light never went out. Because every verbal blow from him was the breath that gave oxygen to your inner flame.

We stayed friends. You watched me, waited for me. But I had not the words to tell you what you needed to hear. You had always been beautiful to me, but it wasn’t until we turned seventeen that I truly understood how perfect you were. But it was a bittersweet joy because I knew then you were too good for me. 

Do you remember that summer—our summer? When you listened to OneRepublic on repeat while blogging about your life, your interests, sending story after story of who you were out into the universe, begging for validation. You never needed it, but if there was one moment you earned my complete respect, it was the morning your mother and sister woke you after their walk. 

As your eyes fluttered open you heard snippets of conversation about a kitten. “How tiny, how hungry.”

“Alone in the woods across from the school.” 

I think your sneakers were on before you even changed out of your jammies. 

“No, Rose, we are not getting another cat. I’m not going down that road again,” your mother said. Her word was law.

You did hesitate then, your hand on the knob of the door. This was your first true act of open rebellion. It was your first act as a young adult waking up to the power and independence that grew in your heart, nourished by the same flame that protected you on your darkest nights. You looked to me then, and I wonder if you heard it. The sound of my heart fracturing into a thousand, million pieces. Because you had made up your mind about the cat. I knew that. But still you wanted a second opinion. My opinion. 

We went together to find the kitten, and we carried him home and faced your mother, hand in hand. Oh, don’t you feel it now? We were so young and full of that restless feeling of possibility. That bone-deep knowledge that anything could be out there, if only we had the passion to go and find it. Because we had everything before us, and time most of all. Your mother’s weak complaints were no match for that. 

The kitten got a bath, and some food, and became Charlie.

Charlie, who was curled in the crook of your knees on the bed when you asked me if it was possible to love a cat that belonged to the wild world.

Charlie, who blinked slowly at you as I responded, “Maybe, if the cat loves you too.”

Charlie, who wandered room to room crying out for you for weeks after the accident. 

The clouds part, revealing the ghostly pale face of the moon. Around it a wispy veil drips down. Even the moon can show its face, yet I search for a different celestial light.

My gaze hooks on a distant sparkle. It moves too slowly to be a plane. A satellite perhaps. And I see it. 

College. You fell in with a new group of friends, and you shone among them. Like the sun around which we humble planets orbit, your gravity field was strong, yet relentless. You pulled them close, and they fed on your warmth like Earth does. I watched from a distance, lingering just on the outskirts. The rays of your golden light barely fed me, so singular in shadow I shivered. And I relished it. It was a place of safety, where I never had to fear losing you, because you weren’t mine to lose. That’s what I told myself.

That’s what I told myself. 

Andy was at school with us. “You changed,” he said. And he had, too. The trollop had grown into a champion discuss thrower, broad shouldered and confident. He said the words you’d waited to hear from me. He whispered them in your ear as he held you under the sheets. He texted those words to you in class. He probably thought them even as he was driving home from the other girl’s house.

I want to blame Andy. I want to make the light leave his eyes with my own two hands, for what he did to you. But you and I both know, Rose, we had outgrown our friendship long before you gave yourself to him. 

It was raining the night I truly lost you. 

Your father came home early. You suspected he’d lost another job, but you made yourself scarce. Anything in this line of sight was subject to criticism and violence. You did your homework as you heard him open the liquor cabinet. You played cards to distract your little sister as you heard him pour drink after drink. It was the silent dark of night when you heard the moaning. 

Scared, you crept downstairs and found him lying in a pile of his own bile. Breathing. Half a bottle of Advil and vodka, a cheap attempt at snuffing out his existence. You hurried your sister back to the safety of your room and you knelt, screaming to the sky, begging for someone—anyone—to save you. In the great world of possibilities, one that made you tremble with terror was that you would be alone, like your father, for ever. Cursed to solitude and misery for the rest of time.

I don’t know how long after it was that you called me. I listened. I told you to call your mom. I offered to be there with you. But you only wanted to hear three words from me. Three words I dared not say. 

Your father survived, but his retribution was two-fold. He blamed your mother, he blamed you. “I almost died, and where were you?” How could the one man who was supposed to love you unconditionally not understand the trauma he caused you? 

It was far too late, but I finally understood why. Why you needed to hear the words. Why we could no longer just be friends. 

But time struck again. Rain turned to ice. It was Christmas break. I called you. I asked if you wanted to go see a movie. That was your happy place.

“There’s something I need to tell you,” I said. 

The car struck you while you were coming to me. You lay broken on the ice-crusted asphalt still waiting to hear three words from me. Three stupid little words that didn’t even need saying.

Because you knew, Rose. You knew. It was in the way I carried your bag on one shoulder, mine on the other. It was in every inside joke we shared. It was the way I dropped everything to listen when you cried. It was the vision of you and me among the infinite stars, the surety of knowing you and I would be together for time eternal. 


My Rose. 

I’d turn back time. 

To share a few more minutes, I’d give you mine.

For I am a weak and wretched thing you left behind, cursed to seek you in our section of sky.

In the vast universe, are you the relentless ticking of the clock, the constant scrape of seconds slipping through my grasp? Or are you the echo of a future never realized, haunting me with what could have been? Are you the sun casting shadows on my passing days, just as the words we left unsaid entombed every moment we shared in a shadowy grave?

They say love can be one-sided, but friendships cannot. Then what was I to you? What were you to me? Because I hid like a coward behind time, delaying, afraid speak the truth I tried to hide.

The fear that you thought you were alone, in death as in life. That’s why I sit here and wait for a plane that’s never landing. For the glimpse of a distant star whose light will never reach me from beyond the vast darkness. For time to unravel and bring me back to you. 

I should have said it after your father locked you in your room, when you cried out for a friend.

I should have told you when we graduated your dream school.

I should have made you know without a shadow of a doubt that, Rose, time has brought me to twice the age you were when you left me.

But if there’s one thing I ever believed in, it is you.

And how much I love you. 

January 27, 2024 02:13

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