Contest #147 shortlist ⭐️

20 comments

Teens & Young Adult Romance Gay

When he leaves, he'll take pieces of me with him: a battle scar above his left brow, a silver chain I gave him on his birthday, a button pin with the sunny state flag of New Mexico. It looks more like a flower, una flor, he said with a grin before pocketing the token from my nightstand.  


The empty seat between us holds my backpack, a bucket of popcorn, a half-empty bottle of water, and strands of licorice —it also fools everyone, raises a cloak in our vicinity: don't mind us, we're just two friends watching a movie. See?


The credits roll like a slot machine —I didn't catch the film's ending when both characters can be seen together at a snow-covered beach in Montauk, running over white dunes, after a cinematic twist of fate. If I'm being honest, I couldn't have cared less about the movie, how a couple's relationship disintegrates. 


She sounds like someone who's off their meds! I recall him once saying with his arm branching out towards the TV screen. And he's got no game.


I laughed. True. I let my eyes linger on the blue tips across his head and wondered if he had ever noticed how we were also like magnets. But that's what makes them interesting.


He smiled, reflecting the light from the television across his bridge of teeth. Yeah, I guess I can't say I disagree. 


The cushioned seats complain as people stand and make their way down the aisles, moving about like shadows in the darkened room. They speak in hushed tones and faint giggles, "Careful, not to trip, babe," a woman says while looking back at a man I presume to be her date.  


His gaze follows them; varsity jersey and jeans, a flowery dress, and shoulder-length curls —they look well-matched, of a similar brand, and nothing like the couple in the movie. 


I want to tell him that a crewcut and a moss green uniform don't do him justice, that I'll miss his black hair, the blue streaks worked into quills whenever he applies gel, the ear studs, and the labret ring running through his bottom lip. I can't picture him holding a gun, trekking along tall grass and thick woodlands, a phantom among the trees.


He looks so young. He is.


It seems like only yesterday he spoke of making music for a living. Stretched across my bed, strumming his guitar, he sang: saw the silver stars in your eyes, lost myself in your sight. 


That's beautiful, I acknowledged. I swear, I don't know how you come up with that stuff —I convinced myself he was singing about us; how he saw me.


You think so? Thanks, he replied, looking caught off-guard by my comment —he's never liked an audience. Head bowed with his eyes to the guitar's strings, he continued playing, filling my room with music, building what I had hoped to be another timeless memory.


Of all the ways I had ever seen him, no matter how he refracts himself, it's in the subtle, honest motions where I notice his glimmer in the hardened rut, a perfect moment in a web of supercuts. 


You're incredible. You know that, right?


Why don't you tell me how you really feel? he teased.


I propped myself up on the bed and sat beside him, brought my lips to his ear, and told him no secret. 


Do you really mean that?


I do. I did —I still do.


I wonder what he'll remember about me, about us, while he's half the world away in service to our country.


The overhead lights wash over the room. Chairs go from scalloped tombstones to plush red seats; the screening shifts back to our reality. 


He draws himself back and turns his attention to me. 


*


I adjust to the brightness, register the fully formed figures and shapes around me, and notice the weight of your caramel eyes.  


"D—Do you want to leave?" Your voice sounds so much louder in the emptiness, wavers only slightly. 


"I don't know. Do you want to?" I note how your brows knit and regret asking you such a dumb question literally a second later. "I mean no. Maybe we should stay a bit."


"And do what exactly?"


This is hard, I think to myself. Why does this have to be so hard?


"Take it easy, I guess. You know, enjoy the moment?" I say while offering you a closed grin —the one I use when I have no idea of what the fuck I'm doing, the one you've grown immune to after a few years.  


You don't provide a ready response, no sigh or umm, I use this to my benefit. 


"What are you doing?" You ask the moment I lift from my seat. 


"What do you think?" I say in return after crossing the spread of cold buttered popcorn and Twizzlers while stepping over your feet. Is it funny or rather pathetic that I still feel nervous around you?


I let out an exaggerated heave —you don't laugh at my forced, theatric maneuver— the moment I sit down beside you. If you want me to stop, all you have to do is say so.


"Are you —"


"What?" I fire. 


"Sure about this."


I quickly sweep the room. "The location's all clear, sir," I say in an attempt to steal a laugh.  


You twist, then turn your head back and around, vigil like an owl.  


"It's fine," I say. "At this point, who cares if anyone saw us?" 


The words gush out of me. 


"I mean, I don't care if anyone sees us."


You say nothing. 


"Is that a problem? I can go back, all the way there," I say, arrowing the spot exactly two seats away, "if you want."


You shake your head, and I feel some relief. "Okay, then."


"It doesn't have to be like this," or "I'm sorry," feel like terrible ways to start the conversation. I take a moment to look at you: sweet lips like nectarines, tan skin, widow's peak, and scratchy pricks on your cheeks and chin.


You writhe; adjust yourself on the seat. 


"Have I ever told —" You stop fidgeting, and the words go dry in my mouth. Maybe this really is too much for the both of us. 


"Told me what?"


How much you mean to me. "How happy I am that we've met. Like, how you've helped me and made me better." 


You let out a small smile —the first one of the night— and tease, "Tell me how you really feel." 


That I never want to leave.


I remember last summer when you borrowed the car from your folks, and we went out to the desert. Blanket over the sand, we mapped out the stars before tracing our geography with wandering hands and hungry mouths. 


I've written at least a hundred songs, stuffed a shoebox with several scraps of lyrics, and feverish chords, about that single tender night. If I were to give you them now, would you listen? Would you sing about me?


I thumb the scar over my brow. You still haven't forgiven yourself for not noticing that speed bump on the road, have you? If I could, I'd never say these words —keeping them to myself strips them of their power— the war is in another country, not between us. 


So what if your folks caught us? Do they honestly think sending you away will straighten you up?


My hands tremble; the silence between us speaks louder than words. 


"I'll never forget you. You know that right?" you say before I have the chance to. 


I nod. "I won't either."


Part of me wants to run away, and the other stay here forever. 


"I —"


Murmurs and steps trickle in from the backdoors. Your hand flies to your backpack in a single swift motion. "Maybe we should get out of here."


"No," I say before you have the chance to grab the bag and get up. "I think we should stay." 


"But the movie's going to start soon." 


"Good," I answer, throwing my arm across the chair's backrest. "We can watch it again. Together." 


"Are you sure?" 


"Yeah," I fire while leaning closer to you, "I don't ever want to leave."


May 26, 2022 13:37

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20 comments

K. Antonio
13:45 May 26, 2022

First time that I'm putting out a short story with two POV's, so I hope it comes across clearly. I did try to switch up the narrative voice and used two different first-person singular forms to write the story. Not gonna lie, writing a romance is always a bit nerve-wracking for me, but I hope it comes off as something tender/bittersweet. Feel free to comment and share your opinions. Thanks for reading!

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Shea West
17:29 May 26, 2022

There is a popular contemporary writer who had her marriage come to an end after being married for some 20+ years, and what she wrote about it was so striking and it made me think of your opening line: When he leaves, he'll take pieces of me with him: a battle scar above his left brow, a silver chain I gave him on his birthday, a button pin with the sunny state flag of New Mexico. She said:“I have 12 gorgeous 100-year-old pecan trees. I had them all trimmed last week to restore their canopy and give them their next 100 years. I watched th...

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Zelda C. Thorne
21:21 Jun 01, 2022

Awww tender and bittersweet are definitely the words for this. I could feel the angst, the teenage uncertainty and frustration. The details gave it depth. I was reading it thinking, Oh just kiss him already! Good luck! 🙂

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Riel Rosehill
08:11 May 28, 2022

K! I'm late to the party - I used your story as my reward cookie this week, because I really wanted to read, so I wouldn't let myself to look at it until I posted mine, LOL. But it was the best reward cookie! (Can we get more??) I loved this so much! My favourites were the "Tell me how you really feel." lines, especially the second time, when it equals "tell me you love me." Ugh, love that stuff! I think that worked really well with the 2 POVs - which, I always think is tricky thing to pull off within a short story. I yet to gather the cour...

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Alex Sultan
18:53 May 27, 2022

Hi friend - I hope you are well. I enjoyed reading this story. I like you how you wrote it, with all the stylistic choices. The use of italics for dialogue and thoughts were nice. 'I fire' instead of 'I say' was clever. I also like the beginning a lot, specifcally the first three paragraphs - I think it opens really strong. 'The credits roll like a slot machine' was my favourite line.

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Aeris Walker
18:56 May 31, 2022

I like how you semlessly wove in backstory and the events of the near future for these characters. It felt very natural, like flowing thoughts. I especially liked this line--so good: "I can't picture him holding a gun, trekking along tall grass and thick woodlands, a phantom among the trees." I think you captured that feeling everyone has when a friend or loved one voices their plans to join the military--they seem so young, so unprepared for the risks. Well done.

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Kelsey H
09:13 May 30, 2022

I just love the interaction between these two characters, all the emotion and memories and the feeling of what is between them being something so intense and private. It took me a second to work out what you had done with the POV switch but I really liked it, the change in feeling it gave to it though they are both reflecting on their relationship. I always love these character study type pieces. I really loved this line: I propped myself up on the bed and sat beside him, brought my lips to his ear, and told him no secret.

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Jay Mc Kenzie
07:31 May 30, 2022

K! This is a tender, sweet story with some weighty issues behind it. I can see this as a scene in a film itself. The opening line is lovely. This is great too: Chairs go from scalloped tombstones to plush red seats; the screening shifts back to our reality.  I love this image: Blanket over the sand, we mapped out the stars before tracing our geography with wandering hands and hungry mouths. Lovely!

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J.C. Lovero
17:28 May 28, 2022

Hi K! Finally getting around to reading this (like Ri Ri, I needed to finish some writerly goals before rewarding myself with my Reedsy TBR list lol). Opening line was gorgeous. You pack in so much history in that first paragraph. Such efficient use of short story real estate, and we instantly get a feeling of these two heroes. What I love about this story is that you took us everywhere these characters have been, all while sitting in a movie theater, just having a simple (and nervous) conversation. Nice job building tension here between ...

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Amanda Lieser
04:06 Jun 17, 2022

Oh my gosh! What an incredible piece! I gobbled it up faster than popcorn at the movies! :) I really loved the two different points of view and I love how you captured the feeling of someone leaving to serve with honor and someone who has to watch the person they love go. My favorite details was the one contrasting the character’s hairstyles. I thought that was a super great kernel of awesomeness. Ok, I’m done with the puns and all in all, I can’t sing enough praises of this story. It was so beautiful. Congratulations on getting shortlisted!

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Kevin Broccoli
16:17 Jun 08, 2022

Great job! I really enjoyed the two POV approach. I love that you tried a genre you don't normally write in (romance is tough for me too) because I think you brought your own style to it and I really enjoyed the read.

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Chris Morris
19:45 Jun 04, 2022

Beautifully done. I was a bit confused about the change to third person at first but then understood it was the other character. Probably just me though! A worthy place on the shortlist, well done.

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L. Maddison
22:31 Jun 03, 2022

Hi K., Tender/bittersweet, and also sensual. Details like the TV reflecting on the bridge of his teeth, nectarine lips, tracing our geography, just beautiful words. Chairs going from scalloped tombstones to plush red seats- I love how this honours aspects of their relationship and the reality. There was so much potential for this relationship but it feels like the odds against it were just too much from the start. If this is romance I want more of it.

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Shea West
15:00 Jun 03, 2022

Obviously. Winner.

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Suma Jayachandar
05:58 May 28, 2022

This piece captures the nuances of furtive love with an uncertain future in all its exquisite details. Bitter-sweet. When he leaves, he'll take pieces of me with him- was enough to tug at my heartstrings and keep them tightly on hold till the end. Brilliant!

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03:17 May 27, 2022

Great stuff as always, K. I think the two POVs and the he/you switchup work well. You have an incredible ability to capture the microemotions in a slice of life like this. For me the first half is probably stronger than the second, but that also might be because there's more description and less dialogue. At the same time, the quick back-and-forth between them feels believable, especially in such an awkward and emotional situation. Tbh I was a bit confused about the spatial situation - do they start off with one seat between them, then PO...

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K. Antonio
03:30 May 27, 2022

Hello, Shuvayon, thanks for the nice comment. Playing around with 2 POV's was a challenge, but I'm glad it worked out. I did purposefully keep the second POV a bit more dialogue forward to set it apart from the more flowery and descriptive POV in the first scene. Definitely a risk, but we'll see how it fairs. Yes, they start off with one seat between them and then the MC from the second POV walks over to the other side. The MC from the POV makes a grab for the bag out of being startled. He follows the movement with "Maybe we should get ou...

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03:44 May 27, 2022

No worries mate. I see what you mean, and the change you made definitely makes it clearer! There might still be a typo in there - when you say ""No," I say before you have a chance grab the bag and get up" - is it missing the word "to"?

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K. Antonio
03:48 May 27, 2022

Lol, you're an angel! I changed it so quickly that I committed a mistake in the process.

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Ace Quinnton
19:17 May 26, 2022

Memories are the most precious when it comes to these characters. Pleasant, quaint, and the lovey-dovey jitters you'd get around the one you feel affection to. The moment I started reading this story, I knew I'd be hooked on it. You are an amazing writer when it comes to emotions and characters. I can't wait to see what you write next. If you could spare some time to read this story I wrote (with this very prompt) I would appreciate it very much. The link to the story I made: https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/lkjp8i/

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