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Coming of Age Drama Science Fiction

Jack lugged the picnic basket up the path toward the overlook.

He called back to Melody, his girlfriend, “Hurry, Jill! The sun’ll be setting…”

“Jack, please don’t call me Jill. How many times…?” Melody sighed.  

They found level ground. Jack spread the blanket, placed the basket and stepped over to look at the valley lit by the late summer sun. Leaves would soon turn. Melody stepped beside him and took his hand. They caught their breath while enjoying the view.

“What a magnificent day.”

“I’m sorry it’s our last together. The perfect end to a perfect summer.”

Melody squeezed his hand. “You all packed?”

Jack nodded. “Driving out first thing. You?”

“The flight leaves early. I’ll be in Santa Cruz before dinner.”

He kissed her. She responded but did not linger. She sat to unpack the basket.

Jack shook his fist at the setting sun. “Stop! Stop this madness, you!”

Melody smirked as she uncorked the bottle of wine she’d pilfered from her parents. Pouring a little into paper cups, she raised one in a toast.

“To the future, new beginnings, and to you, Jack.”

He took his cup.

With a constricted voice, “To the future, and to you.” They touched cups and drank. Jack released a satisfied gasp. “I love the sound of paper cups tapping…”

They laughed while unwrapping sandwiches. Jack murmured with pleasure at the feast before them.

“I’m gonna miss you…”

Melody put her sandwich down. “Me too.”

“Why do you have to go so far?”

“Don’t Jack. You’re leaving too. Starting our lives.”

“I like the one I have. But California? It’s impossible.”

“So, we’re bi-coastal. No big deal. Call me. Write a note.”

“You want me to stay in touch?”

“Of course. We’re not divorced. Think broadening our horizons. Exclusivity doesn’t work from thousands of miles away. But you’re still my friend, silly.”

“Ahh… ‘Just friends.’ Every guy’s favorite euphemism for…”

“Come on, Jack. We agreed. You’ll be so busy meeting people. Classes… Not fair to either of us.”

“You’re right. Of course. And I don’t want to hold you back… ”

Jack refilled his cup and stared into it. He offered it to the sun and drank.

Turning to Melody, he said, “So, your classes all lined up?”

“Of course. Mainly general, intro stuff at first. Get my feet wet. Gonna do some modern dance…”

She stood and did a twirl, arched her back and lunged forward into an attitude with her leg raised. Jack hopped up. Knowing nothing beyond freeform rock ‘n roll, he snapped his fingers and shuffled rhythmically. He took her hand. She leaned in, cradled in his arms. Jack held her for an exquisite moment. Neither wanted to break.

Melody eased away and smiled. “Thanks. That was nice.”

“We’re one of those timeless couples, Mel. We’ve a great future before us.”

She returned to the blanket. “Ah yes, the future. When is sunset?”

“About an hour.”

Golden light brightened their faces. She poured more wine.

Melody refocused. “Long term, I’ve got my eye on this new program. They’re training people to assist mermaids to return to their native culture. Of course, that will come later. Got to get through all the intro courses and such. May have to get a law degree.”

“Lawyers… Sad that to restore their souls, you’d have to sell your own.”

“As they say, ‘know your enemy.’”

“Know thyself.”

“A big part of leaving is my dad. Such a control freak. He doesn’t understand. Wants to keep me his little girl forever.”

“Reverse Pygmalion.”

“What?”

“You know, the old story about the sculptor who falls in love with a statue, his creation. He loves her so much, the gods take pity and bring her to life.” She looked expectantly. “Your Dad wants his statue on a pedestal forever. Static. Never growing or changing.”

Melody thought. “Maybe… Anyway, I’m rarin’ to go.” She sipped more wine. “More?”

Jack shook his head. She stopped the bottle with the cork.

Turning to him, she said, “What about you? A PhD in video gaming? Graffiti as fine art?”

“You know me. Party a few semesters. Ace the courses. No worries. Bide my time. Suss things out. I’m a good sport, but by no stretch an athlete. Maybe join a frat house. Watch tons of football.”

“So, you’ll just skate for a year?”

“Not a year. But I’ve got time before committing. Who knows? Maybe pursue the culinary arts. Become a chef. Can’t see grooming myself for some tie wearing corporate job, chained to a cubicle for nine hours a day.”

Melody laughed.

Jack continued. “I’m told I should take business courses.”

“I hate business.”

“But everything is business. There’s always a business aspect.” He bowed and reached out to her. “Here’s the contract you asked for, Miss Melody. I put the ‘Hustle’ clause in, as requested. Sign here…”

“The Hustle isn’t modern dance.”

“You don’t think someone needs to sell tickets to pay the dancers? Or fuel the boat transporting your mermaids out to wherever…? Their island?”

Melody pretended to stifle a yawn. Jack laughed and offered his hand.

“Let’s watch the sunset. I cherish these last moments.” He helped her up. They held hands while walking to the promontory. Melody rested her head on his shoulder.

The sun neared the horizon behind stratified clouds. They thought silently about the next day, leaving their hometown and embarking on new adventures. New lives. They couldn’t wait.

He said, “We are one of the great love stories, Mel. Historians will mark this day.”

“How so?”

“We’ll realize we miss each other. Whatever it takes, I’ll find you again.”

“Seriously? You think that?”

“I know it.”

She squeezed his hand. “Don’t misunderstand, Jack. Stay in touch. I like you. Still want to know you. But being exclusive, at a distance, isn’t fair to...”

“I know. You’re right. Can’t believe this is it.”

“You always called this our ‘endless summer.’”

“And now the end credits are rolling.”

Melody fought the urge to look at her watch. The sun was taking forever.

Jack fidgeted with the keys in his pocket. He stopped when he heard their jingle betraying his impatience. He urged the sun to get on with it. ‘Almost there. You can do it.

The sun looked almost liquid hovering above the horizon. The clouds glowed as if aflame.

Jack said, “Have you heard of the green flash? When the sun sets over water, just as it disappears it flashes green.”

“At our cabin one summer, I watched every night. Never saw it.”

The sun seemed to plummet. Streaks of light shone across the sky. Birds twittered in the still air as evening turned to twilight. No sounds rose from the town.

Melody pulled away, “I should pack things up. We want to get back before dark.”                                           

Jack said, “Wait. It’ll only be a minute.” She sighed and returned to his embrace.

Cool air washed over them. They both tensed.

“What’s happening? Is it higher now than a minute ago?”

Jack checked his watch. “It’s late. Sunset was supposed to be at seven-thirty. It’s seven-forty.”

“I don’t get it. Look… It’s rising.”

“Impossible. An optical illusion.”

Melody tapped into the search engine on her phone. The sun rose above distant clouds.

“This is crazy.”

“You’re right. It’s higher now. What’s it say?”

“Some nonsense. A rift in the space/time continuum… wait… the magnetic poles reversed…? It makes no sense! What are they talking about? They don’t know doodly…” She suppressed a scream.

“So, is time reversing? Are we in the same day?  Revisiting the past? Do we throw out our calendars? What’s going on?”

“The hell… I don’t know, Jack. Your words aren’t running backwards. But sunset just became sunrise.”

“What’s this mean? Is this tomorrow? Are we late? Did we fall asleep?”

“Need to get online. Does anyone know? We need to go…”

“Are flights cancelled? School may be on hold.” He touched her. “Are we still together?”

Melody busied herself throwing stuff into the basket. She repeated ‘I don’t know,’ under her breath until it sounded like a mantra.

 Jack mumbled about regaining his stock boy job at the market.

She stood and they faced each other. Mixed emotions streamed and mingled. Words failed them.

The sun gained altitude. The air warmed.

They struggled to mask their disappointment. They should be kissing good-bye now. Everything had changed. And nothing was changing.

The day got brighter.

Jack held her close. “We’ll get through this. Don’t be afraid.” She nodded but believed nothing anymore.

Hoping he was joking, Jack said, “Uhm, if you’re free, want to go to the beach?”

Her heart sank. She blurted, “No! I want to go. To fly away!” She pushed the basket into his hands. “I planned everything. Everything!”

They walked down the path. He reached for her hand, but Melody pulled away.

It was early, but not a new day.

September 07, 2023 14:31

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8 comments

Mary Bendickson
21:17 Sep 08, 2023

Well, what are you supposed to think/feel when the sun rises in the west?

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John K Adams
21:56 Sep 08, 2023

It would be off-putting to me...

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Sean McDonnell
17:08 Sep 07, 2023

I like what you've done with this story. You've made me root for both of the characters, even though their desires are somewhat at odds. I think my favorite line is the closer. Wraps it up well!

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John K Adams
17:23 Sep 07, 2023

Thanks, Sean. It was a challenging prompt, so unrealistic but allowing to tap into true emotions. I'm glad it worked for you.

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Amanda Lieser
13:42 Sep 22, 2023

Hi John! I loved that this piece was dialogue focused. I always admire a writer who can drop us in the action, but give us enough back story to really understand it all. This story was beautifully tragic, but I don’t think it was ever meant to be. Although this love story is life changing for both characters, I don’t think it was enough for her. Who knows, maybe there’s a sequel where they reunite in their eighties and re discover love having lived their own lives. Nice work!!

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John K Adams
14:05 Sep 22, 2023

Thank you, Amanda, for your generous comments on so many of my stories. Your optimism is admirable. The number of sequels you request tells me I left you wanting more. I aim for brevity, and the word limits enforce that. But sequels are not out of the question. I struggled with the prompt, being inherently unrealistic. I'm glad you read it and liked it. Thanks!

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Delbert Griffith
14:57 Sep 08, 2023

Whoa! Cool last line, John. Nailed it! Love the tale, the premise, and I especially liked the Pygmalion reference. And in reverse! The kid's a smart one, yes? The girl really resents what's happening, but the guy doesn't. He's in love, certainly, and the girl's in love with a freedom that may or not make her free. The "business" discussion pointed that out. Nice touch, BTW. The parting of a couple to pursue their own ends is shown in their starkly different dreams. Very nice, my friend. Parting isn't necessarily such sweet sorrow, yes? Ni...

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John K Adams
23:17 Sep 08, 2023

Whoa! Thanks, Delbert for the stellar comments! With encouragement like that, I'll have to write two stories per week. It is such a pleasure for a reader to 'get' my intentions in a story and then let me know. Thanks. I wanted to write all my life. And now I am. It is so rewarding to get comments like this from you and others. Thanks!

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