Waiting

Submitted into Contest #202 in response to: Write a story about lifelong best friends.... view prompt

5 comments

Friendship

This story contains themes or mentions of suicide or self harm.

It’s calm and clean. A memory tugs at Tom’s soul: I’ve been here before.


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“Welcome back!” Said a voice behind Tom.


The world begins to materialize from clouds. It’s not one color, but is color, you can feel it around you. Tom is suddenly standing on something solid and obscured by fog. A cat glides towards him; plumes of fog swirl upwards with each of their steps. 


“Hello, cat?” Said Tom, walking slowly towards it. 


“I’m not a cat, silly. I’m Peter!” The cat's voice was smooth like molasses, and held a southern twang.


“What’s up with the accent?” 


“Something I’m just trying on,” said Peter, a Cheshire grin stretched on his feline face.


That was a good enough reason for Tom. 


“So, what am I doing here?” Asked Tom, as he motioned around him; he suddenly noticed a large golden wrought iron gate looming above them. Peter padded to him and purred on his legs. 


“Here, we wait,” said Peter, as he winded himself around Tom’s knees.


“For what?” 


Peter looked up at him and Tom noticed his reflection in Peter’s jade colored eyes. Tom hastily looked down at his tan forearms and un-marked skin. He was young again. 


“For those that came before and left sooner, and those that came after and left later.” 


“Oh.”


This worried Tom. For he had not a single person in his life he thought would visit. No children, no siblings, parents gone and uninterested, most friends deserted. When he thought back on his life, he knew he lived it fine, but to say it plainly, Tom was alone.


“I don’t think anyone is coming.” Said Tom in the soft silence. 


Peter continued purring and staring up at Tom, an indescribable expression on his face. 


“We’ll see.” Peter said plainly. 


Tom could wait there forever. Something about the place felt familiar. If he listened closely, he could hear music — not like any music he’d heard prior — but it was definitely music to his ears. Tom closed his eyes. 


“Ah, here we are.” 


Tom opened his eyes. From the fog, a figure emerged. Tall and lanky, with sandy hair that fell in loose waves down his shoulders. Their face was plastered with a lopsided grin.


“Jack?”


“Hi Tom!” 


Tom stared back at his childhood friend— who was not a child anymore. They clasped hands and jumped around like two school boys. 


“I haven't seen you since you moved,” said Tom, hugging his old pal close to his heart. “It’s been ages, decades— maybe 5 decades?” 


“Longer for me pal,” said Jack, "I lived a long life. I was sad to hear how short yours was.”


Tom shrugged, “That’s okay. I missed you. I’m sorry I never wrote.” He looked down at Jack's feet, “ where's your wheelchair?”


“I don’t need it here!” Jack expressed exuberantly.  


Moments passed where they stood together, holding hands. 


Then Jack spoke up, “you were such a good friend. You treated me kindly when others just saw a wheelchair.” 


“I know,” said Tom, “and you were my friend too. You taught me to fly among the stars in a sandbox, and how to be a pirate on a playground slide.” Tom felt wetness in his eyes, the place shined even brighter. 


“You going through?” Asked Jack, pointing to the gate behind him with his thumb.


Tom felt Peter rubbing against his legs, and looked down to see the cat staring back up at him, 


“Not yet.”


“Okay, see you on the other side!” And Jack saluted Peter and yelled “All aboard comrades, the pirate express awaits!” and loped over to the gate, disappearing into the fog. 


Tom turned back around and shook his head in delight, to his surprise, two other figures walked towards him. These two he did not recognize. A woman in scrubs, and a man in a rainbow jacket. These two perplexed him. The women spoke first. 


“Aye, lad, you don’t remember me, eh? Well I remember you. I remember you sittin’ by your mum,” Tom began to realize who she was, “how you washed her body so gently. You’d think I'd seen it all, being an nurse for 40 years, but your tenderness, thawed my stone heart, it did.” She gave a low chuckle. “Your mother was something else too, rude as a bat, sorta like my mum.” 


Tom stood there watching the women for a while, then asked “Why did you want to see me?”


“Because lad, it was you who showed me forgive my own mother— see the hurt she faced—she wasn't perfect. God knows…” 


Peter meowed slightly.


“...But she tried— so I tried, and surprisingly, she was alright in the end. I’m just happy I gave her a chance. I wanted to say thanks.”


“Thanks for what though?”


She didn’t answer, just gave his cheek a pinch with her large weathered hands, and walked towards the gate, humming a low folk tune. 


Tom turned his head back to the other stranger. 


“You’ve never seen my face before either," said the man, “but you changed everything for me.”


“How?” Tom asked, very confused now. 


“It was the day my life began. I was walking home from my flat. The day was beautiful but my mind was dark. I was thinking of bridges and hard water. Then, I went to the park, thinking it was my last time, and sat next to a man painting the fountain. I watched as he added something to that picture. That little addition brought me hope and it was that spark of hope which caused me to walk home and call my parents.” The man wiped a tear streaming down, it was the color of a rainbow. “They’ve always loved me, for me. I’m going to see them now again.”


Tom thought back to his art. He had made a lot of art, some of the pieces were successful, but most hung in his attic collecting webs. It then dawned on him. 


“Ah, the two men in top hat—, kissing in the fountain?” 


“Yes.”


“I didn't even notice you next to me,” said Tom lightly. 


“I know, thank you, truly.” And the man bowed once and walked backwards towards the gate, vanishing like the women. 


Peter now spoke to Tom. 


“Many are surprised by the random ripples they send throughout the universe. You should be proud Tom, those are meaningful ripples.”


Tom nodded in agreement. 


From the corner of his eye, he caught movement; two others approached. This time, he knew right away who one of them was. 


“Vanessa,” he said in a whispered hush. He bounded to her and pulled her close. She smelled the same: violets at dusk, somehow warm, somehow cool. When they pulled apart, both smiles gleamed. 


“Tom, I…I know how hard it was for you. It was very hard for me too. I never lost my love for you though.” She cupped his cheek.


“Neither did I. But I understand why we,” he gestured to their hearts, “didn’t work out.” 


She looked down and laughed, “it was still beautiful.” 


“Yes.” He drank her in for what seemed an eternity. 


Then she moved to the side, revealing a young man. The young man was familiar to Tom in the same way an organ is familiar to you. You’ve never seen them, but they are always there, keeping you alive without acknowledgment. 


Tom gasped.


“My son?” and he pulled him into his chest. The young man molded to every crevice of his body like a puzzle piece finally returned to its box. 


Tom spoke in his hair, the same kind as his own. “I’m so sorry,” his choked sobs falling lightly on the boy’s head.. 


“No dad, don’t be. I never left this place, and there is truly no better Place.” 


Tom knew this to be true.


“I don’t want to leave you,” he quietly said, “I have so much to tell you.” 


“You will, dad. I’ll be waiting,” and his son, who he had just met, walked through the gates with Vanessa following in his wake. 


Tom couldn't meet Peter's eyes, he wiped the liquid soul that streamed down his face with the back of his hands.


“We….we were so young, and it wasn't the time, and it…”


Peter interrupted him, “I know,” and continued to purr next to Tom, rubbing his head against Tom’s knees, “he loves you.” 


“And I love him.” Tom responded, through a cracked voice. 


It was a very long time until another person walked through the mist. 


This person was a woman whose lines of wisdom smiled back at Tom.


“Ophelia!” 


They greeted each other like old pals, thumping each other on the back and laughing lightly. 


“How are you?” Tom asked, marveling at the strong women she had become. 


“Wonderful Tom.” She looked him up and down, “I wanted to personally thank you.”


“Why? You were always so tenacious! I knew you’d be going places.”


She laughed and stared back at him with clouded eyes that had seen great grandchild take their first wobbly steps.


“You never talked down to me, especially when I first started working. You showed me kindness and reminded me of what was important. You were the best mentor.” 


Tom shrugged with a small smile.


“I became CEO, you know.” 


Tom was amazed but not surprised. 


“I changed a lot of things, one being the vacation policy and the parental leave policy. You gave me the courage to do that — so thank you.”


Tom shook his head in amazement and gave her one last hug. She walked through the gates confidently. 


Tom noticed his surroundings were becoming more golden, as if a sunset was happening behind the mist. He felt a warmth in his heart like he’d never before. However, he knew he was still waiting for someone. Peter finally spoke. 


“Your last guest is on its way.”


Peter scanned his surroundings, and then, from straight ahead, he saw him.


“He cannot tell you how you made him feel, but he can show you.”


Tom fell to his knees. From the fog, a shaggy body emerged and collided into his outstretched arms. His good ‘ole boy. Tom’s reason to wake up, to walk outside. His good ole boy is as healthy as can be with his tail wagging wildly and tongue lolling lazily. He woofed once, and licked his face. 


At the moment of contact, Tom saw. 


He saw himself, as his dog saw him. The immeasurable moments together on the couch. Tom absentmindedly scratched his ear. The time they are together in the woods, eating supper in their yellow kitchen, cuddling under the blankets during a thunderstorm. And the last moment, where Tom held his best friend's paw, and looked into his eyes, as he took his last sleep. The love that his dog felt for Tom was uncontainable in his human heart. It burst through every pore of his body and shone through his skin. Tom glowed. He looked over at Peter, with his dog in his arms.


“I thought you meant only humans?”


“I never said that.”


Tom then knew he was ready to pass through. He had his best friend next to him, and countless others waiting. 







June 09, 2023 19:05

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5 comments

Mary Bendickson
19:05 Jun 18, 2023

This is a touching story. I am into touching more than any other genre but they don't offer that one. A welcome to Reedsy is in order. Thanks for liking my story.

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Theresa Amante
16:52 Jun 19, 2023

Thank you Mary!

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Mary Bendickson
17:08 Jun 19, 2023

Thanks for the like and follow.

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Tom Skye
18:40 Jun 18, 2023

This was touching to read, thank you. Very dreamlike for most of it, but kept me intrigued the whole time. Thanks for share. Good work

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Theresa Amante
16:52 Jun 19, 2023

Thank you Chris!

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