You are sixteen years-old when the weather forecast for the day is wrong. 

Before, you’ve never cared about if the local meteorologists get it wrong - they can’t always be right all the time, can they? - but you’ve never noticed how much you have to lose, either. In the end, it’s not that much, but it’s everything to you and your older brother. 

You still have a few days before the weather forecast is wrong though, a few more days to hold onto everything. Today, the weather forecast hadn’t been wrong, far from it, in fact. It’s perfect outside, just like the lady with the bright red dress had promised you earlier that morning from the television. The sky is as blue as the walls in your bedroom that your brother helped you to paint. You can taste the sunlight on your tongue, and it’s as sweet as the hope that crystalizes like sugar in your mouth. 

It’s something you’ve never had before for yourself. 

You are sixteen years-old and you still have a few days before the weather forecast is wrong, and you're in Kyoto with the boy you’ve loved since you were fifteen, instead of your brother who's only twelve blocks away. He looks like he wants to cut a hole in the sky and walk right through it. You think to yourself, I wouldn’t mind following him.

(He doesn’t know that you love him yet, and he won’t, not for a while).

Almost as if he can hear your thoughts, the boy turns to face you with a grin that could split the mountainsides that surround the city he lives in. You double over in laughter when you realize he has ice cream smeared all over his face, and he only makes it worse when he tries to wipe it away with the sleeve of his shirt.

Hey, don’t tease me, he says after you hand him napkins you once took from a McDonald’s restaurant that you happen to have in your backpack. It was good ice cream, all right? 

You wouldn’t know, because you didn’t have any, but you believe him with all of your heart, and you wonder if they’ll have ice cream up in the sky for him. 

You are sixteen years-old when the boy you love offers to walk you to the train station. You accept, and you hold his hand, even though your palms are sweaty, even though you know it’ll make your parents worry. You’re not sure when you’ll be able to see him again, but you tell yourself at least it’s something for you to look forward to. 

You leave him with nothing but a promise to call him later and an unimpressed look when he blows you a kiss through the train window, but you grab onto it as quickly as you can once his back is turned, like catching a firefly. You put on your headphones as the train begins its departure. Every song you play reminds you of him, and maybe you should be a little worried, but you're not.  

You are sixteen years-old and the weather forecast was not wrong today, and you can’t look anywhere else except forward. 

A few days later, the weather forecast promises more clear skies and a bright sun for the following day. It’s a Monday night, and you're sitting up in your room, struggling through your English studies. Your brother is away at university, and your parents are downstairs sleeping. Their bags are packed. There’s gas in the car.

You are not worried about the weather forecast though, because you have an impossible English assignment to finish. It won’t matter in a few weeks when school ends, but it doesn’t stop you from burning the night away. Your phone beeps intermittently; your best friend is just as confused as you are and English has never been his strong suit, so the two of you struggle together, knowing you’ll regret this later in the morning. 

You are sixteen years-old, and your biggest concern is not the weather forecast for tomorrow or your parent’s planned trip to Kyoto to go visit your brother (you never did visit him yourself). It’s the English homework you have to light yourself on fire to finish because you haven’t learned how to just let go of things yet.

Sleep comes easy that night for you.

You won’t be getting that much sleep for a while after tomorrow. 

You are sixteen years-old when you realize that the weather forecast is wrong. You realize it as soon as you wake up to the sound of shrapnel hitting the roof and it becomes even more apparent to you when you see how grey the sky is, like washed-out pavement on the highway.

Your parents have already left, so your good-bye from them comes in the form of a quickly written note left on the counter. You barely give it a glance before you start to rummage through the hall closet for an umbrella with a protein bar dangling out of the corner of your mouth. 

You don’t even offer it a second look as you walk right out the front door and into the pouring rain. Your socks are drenched by the time you get to school.

You are sixteen years-old, and your mother and father leave you a good-bye in the form of a note, and you never get to say good-bye at all. 

You are sixteen years-old when you learn about all of the things you have to lose. 

You’re sitting in your classroom, eating lunch, and your best friend is stealing the small pieces of fruit you have packed because he’s already eaten all of his food and he’s still hungry, but you don’t mind. Another friend of yours from the class next door is nervously doodling stars and hearts on the palm of your right hand with her purple pen as she rants about the girl she likes, but you don’t mind. 

What you do mind is the fact that your parents haven’t answered any of your texts, but you’re not worried. Yet. 

You’re not worried, until a teacher you don’t recognize walks into the classroom and whispers your name loudly to the teacher at the front of the room, and you're wondering what’s wrong, until you remember the weather forecast. That’s what wrong, that’s what wrong, that’s what- 

You are sixteen years-old when you realize you never got to say good-bye. When you receive the news that you desperately wish could be as false as the promise of clear skies from last night. When you become aware of all the things you have to lose, only it’s too late. 

When the weather forecast is wrong and your parents never make it to Kyoto because it had been raining that day when it wasn't supposed to. When they'd been driving too fast.

You are sixteen years-old when you attend your first funeral. 

It’s a quiet affair, and you're aware that your clothes are too small and scratchy, but you don’t tell your brother because he already has enough on his proverbial plate to worry about.

(They don’t teach you how to plan a funeral for your parents in university). 

Your best friend stands next to you, and you think about how he cried more than you did during the service. 

It’s going to be okay, he tells you with a voice cut from the edges of the Milky Way. It’ll be okay. 

You don’t know where all of your tears went. Maybe you spent them all up on your pet hamster that died when you were in elementary school. Maybe you wasted them all in one night when it occurred to you that the boy you’ve loved since you were fifteen - the boy who lives in Kyoto - might never love you back. 

Your brother doesn’t say anything to you. Not when you ask him about the weather for that day during breakfast - it’s suddenly become very important to you - and not even when you try to convince him to not drop out of university for your sake on the car ride home. 

I’ll be okay, you tell him, and your voice sounds like a lie. I’m going to be okay. 

(It’s not okay. You’re not going to be okay for a while).

The police officer tells you that based on your parent’s autopsy, they wouldn’t have felt any pain. They didn’t feel any pain, and neither do you. Your apathy reaches cold, new heights and you don’t even blink an eye when you find your brother crying over faded photographs at the foot of your parent’s bed.

You feel nothing, so your brother takes on the burden of feeling everything when he leaves.

When you return to school, people skate around you like the edge of an ice rink, and the question of whether you should even be there follows you everywhere you go. You need to be there though, you decide, because it’s better to light yourself on fire than forgetting how to stay warm. 

Your brother forgets how to stay warm after he leaves once more for university, and the road to Kyoto becomes paved with grief. 

Your best friend reminds you to drink plenty of water, and your friend with the purple pen teaches you how to make breakfast for yourself, and she doesn’t look too disappointed in you when you manage to burn all of the toast.

Even the people you’ve usually kept at a distance grab you by the hand and pull you closer. They look you right in the eye and ask, hey, are you okay? You want to look away, but you must not look away, so you don’t, and they don’t either. 

The boy you’ve loved since you were fifteen calls you in the dead of the night after your first day back at school. You answer, and all of the tears you couldn’t find at the funeral make their way back to you as you talk and talk into the early hours of the morning. Everything comes spilling out, and you’re showing too much teeth and too much skin, but he doesn’t run away. 

The boy you’ve loved since you were fifteen does not run away, even though he lives far away in Kyoto - the place where your brother lives, the place your parents never reached - even though he could easily disappear into the city’s maze of ancient temples and cracked sidewalks, even though he looks like he wants to cut a hole in the sky and walk right through it. 

He doesn’t run away, you whisper to yourself the next day when you’re too tired to properly function and your house seems too big for just one person, and all you can do is look backwards at the memories you have of your parents. He doesn’t run away.

You are seventeen years-old when you start to feel things again. They come in bits and pieces, and it’s mostly grief that you feel, but at least it’s something. Slowly, it becomes less suffocating over time, though sometimes it’ll sneak up on you, like when you’re standing in line at the grocery store and the man in front of you is wearing a similar jacket to one your father used to wear, or when you’re chopping up carrots in the kitchen by yourself while following a recipe your mother had promised to teach you one day, or when it looks like rain and all the blue walls in your bedroom come tumbling down. 

(One day, you decide to paint them white). 

You haven’t heard from your brother in a while, and you try to imagine the kind of life he lives in Kyoto, and you think it’s probably not that different from your own.

(You hope it’s different from your own). 

You don’t get much sleep, and from your bedroom window one night, you can see birds gathering outside on the telephone wire across the street, and it reminds you of the feeling of hope you once held on the tip of your tongue like a secret.

Hope is the thing with feathers, the poem you had to read for English says. That perches in the soul. 

You’ve become a stranger to the version of yourself that didn’t know what loss is, and suddenly, English assignments don’t carry the same weight of importance as they once did. 

Grief becomes a part of you, but not all of you. 

Hope isn’t the only thing that sits perched in your soul. There is your best friend, who still likes to dip his french fries into his chocolate milkshakes at McDonald's and throw his straw wrappers at you. There is your other friend, the girl with the purple pen, who bakes you a cake with strawberry frosting for your birthday. There’s your skinhead upperclassman, who does his best to embarrass you whenever he sees you in the hallway at school. There are the two boys in the class at the end of the hallway that you’ve known since middle school, who go on morning runs together and sometimes invite you along, and sometimes, you accept. 

Most importantly, there’s the boy who you’ve loved since you were fifteen. He’s started university (in Kyoto) and you don’t get to see him as much as you’d like (you haven’t gone to visit him since that day with the ice cream) and you’re wondering if maybe the tears weren’t wasted after all, until he takes the time to spell it out for you. 

You are seventeen years-old and the boy you’ve loved since you were fifteen is walking by your side in your hometown, far away from Kyoto, and his shadows are leaping right out of him. You walk down the streets you know by heart, and you’re thinking about how unfamiliar they all must seem to him. 

You’re standing in front of your house that’s too big for just one person and the boy you’ve loved since you were fifteen asks in a quiet voice, can I kiss you?

Two years ago, you would've pushed him away, back into his corner in Kyoto where dreams are made of sea glass and where older siblings go to university, but this time, you don’t. 

You answer his question wordlessly - it's the first time you've ever kissed someone - and you allow the feeling of hope to become a part of yourself once again, too. 

(Through your tears, you make the decision to let Kyoto become a part of you, too). 

You are seventeen years-old when your brother closes the distance between the two of you; it's much bigger than twelve blocks.

An apology hangs in the air between you two one night, and with one fluid movement, you pick it up with your hands and tell him about your plans to go to the university he just recently graduated from, and he tells you about how he’s going to move back into the house you were left all alone in. 

I guess we’re switching places then, huh, he says lamely, and you resist the urge to roll your eyes. 

He promises to help you move into your dorm, and he tells you about the coffee maker he’ll let you borrow and the trunk full of clothes that don’t fit him anymore. 

You remember to keep looking forward, but you also decide to bring your parent’s coffee mugs that haven’t been used in a while, and you don’t change the sheets on their bed as much anymore, and soon your house starts to feel less big to you.  

You keep your grief at a distance, until it becomes acceptance.

You are seventeen years-old when the road to Kyoto becomes paved with hope instead of grief, and soon your looking forward to a two-bedroom university dorm room with a roommate who watches terrible American romantic comedies and flaps his arms around when he’s excited, a dorm room you soon realize is only two blocks away from the apartment that belongs to the boy you’ve loved since you were fifteen. 

You’re looking forward to exploring the city, and riding your bicycle everywhere. You look forward to visits from your best friend, and the wedding of the girl with the purple pen that takes place in Tokyo. You look forward to early morning runs (you never used to be a morning person) and days spent in the school’s library, pouring over your history notes but not for too long, because you’ve learned how to let things go and you don’t set yourself on fire as much anymore, and you look forward to long phone calls from your brother.

You look forward to eventually moving into the apartment of the boy you’ve loved since you were fifteen in your second year of university, and you look forward to meeting all of his perpetually stressed out friends. You look forward to late nights spent talking over endless cups of coffee and tea, and to holding his hand in the street. 

You pay more attention to the weather forecast, but you still look forward and forward, until the roads to and from Kyoto stretch out far in front of you, and all you can see is hope, laid out in every direction.

Hope is a thing with feathers, reads the poem you had to read for an English assignment a long time ago. That perches in the soul

And it makes you want to fly.

June 23, 2020 21:54

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Isa Gonzales
06:12 Jul 18, 2020

I'm so incredibly at awe with the way you write! After your win, I binge-read all 5 of your stories. Damn your talent, dude!


Courtney Stuart
10:56 Jul 18, 2020

thank you so much! 😊


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16:46 Jul 17, 2020

This is such a beautiful story! I enjoyed reading this! Thank you for writing this! :))


Courtney Stuart
16:50 Jul 17, 2020

thank you so much!


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Kelechi Nwokoma
17:14 Jun 27, 2020

Haha. I picked this story to read first because it started with, "You are sixteen years old," which I am. Once I read it, I was so touched. Your story was full of love, loss, and hope -- it's really beautiful. I was so touched by the weight this piece carried. What was the inspiration for this story, may I ask?


Courtney Stuart
17:30 Jun 27, 2020

thank you so much for your kind comment! :D as far as inspiration goes, i was really inspired by the poem 'Hope is the thing with feathers', written by emily dickinson, as featured in the story. i have it taped up on my wall, and i kind of just looked over at it and was like, 'oh. that's what i want to write about'. i have also been listening to a lot of phoebe bridgers lately because she recently released a new album, 'punisher', so i listened to her song 'kyoto' a lot when i was writing this, even though the lyrics have almost nothing ...


Kelechi Nwokoma
20:38 Jun 27, 2020

That's so cool. I love poetry, too, but I've not really had the opportunity to explore my creative juices there. It's really great your story was inspired by poetry, because I loved it so much. Keep it up!


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Conan Helsley
16:44 Jul 31, 2020

This was a little slow and bumpy at first, but then it really got good, you smoothed out and it became a beautiful ride. I love the way you write. I really have never seen anything like it. I've always said that I wish I could just sit and talk to Taylor Swift about her songwriting, and to do the same with Stephen King. Now I can say that about you. I'm so glad we can communicate, even in this brief and disconnected way. I really hope you become a successful author, assuming you want that, because the world needs to hear your voice.


Courtney Stuart
01:10 Aug 01, 2020

thank you so much for your kind words! i really appreciate them! 😊 i’m also glad to hear you liked this story - this one is very dear to me!


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