An accident. A mistake. I struggle to find the difference. And so, what does that make an accidental mistake? Is it redundant, or does it take on a new meaning? As I'm about to give you a chance to discern for yourself… I suppose I'll leave it to you. Because by accidental mistake,
I love you.
A bent elder unfolds the letter, flattens it to a journal page, and then paper clips it in place. Below it, he writes:
Number forty-two, to Atkin Arthur.
Too Shakespearean for him to take notice.
With the letter stowed, he reaches for another envelope.
As I was coerced into writing this, I'm just going to be blunt. I think we're a good match. Take me to prom. There's no telling the magic we could create.
His gnarled fingers tremble as he draws a thumb along each crease in the letter. It's fastened parallel to the other, and inked with a similar subtitle:
Number forty-three, to Bryan Ghort.
Bryan isn't interested in the cliché.
And so his pattern continues.
I’ve become fond of you. I don’t know how. I don’t know why. And I kind of hate it. But I thought I should let you know.
He sighs as he turns the page in his journal.
Number forty-four, to Helen Barton.
The stack he now pulls from is down to three. They're weighty, likely stuffed with glitter or candy. But he has no qualms. He tears into them without worry.
Until the last.
It's addressed to Karina in cursive. The envelope is twisted like it's been wrung between frantic hands. And it hints of a masculine musk, sandalwood, or vanilla. But most curious of all, a name is written on the opening fold: Cadman.
The boy’s finally written his first letter.
The thick paper unfolds in his wrinkled hands, delicate but strong. With the letter is a silver charm, an anchor. And scrawled along the page are only three words.
You ground me.
It's an exemplary expression of affection. In over sixty years, nothing else could compare. The simple words, but the resounding message. He stumbles from his seat, letter still in hand.
This one's deliverable.
Tucking the charm back into place, along with the fold, he houses this heartfelt letter in his sweater pocket. It crinkles in protest—prodding, bending, stabbing—before settling.
Those wrinkled hands tighten around the handle of a pushing cart, resting the journal on top. He eases the cart through the door into a bleak hallway. Once colorful posters peel from the walls, mangled and drawn-on. Lockers groan where they rest, leaning away from the bricks that have always supported them; children pulling free from protective parents. And the smell of sweat, of cologne, of perfume.
If the state of his workplace bothers him, it's not evident.
You ground me.
He smiles at the words.
You ground 𝐦𝐞.
𝐘𝐨𝐮 ground me.
You 𝐠𝐫𝐨𝐮𝐧𝐝 me.
Perfect semblance to sanity.
𝐘𝐨𝐮 𝐠𝐫𝐨𝐮𝐧𝐝 𝐦𝐞!
The cry of a lover.
He shuffles to the end of the hallway where two doors meet in the middle. One leads to the lunchroom and one to the library.
Of course, the latter.
Resting his cart along the wall, he enters the library. Aside from the librarian, two students sit three tables apart.
"Did you need something?" the librarian wonders, straightening her blouse. There's still a hint of maroon on her cheeks, and her bun met a wild end below her shoulders.
The gym teacher and the librarian were recent. Their letters were acceptable. And he had delivered them each with care.
"Just a moment to speak with Karina." At the mention of her name, Karina glances up at him.
"Of course." The librarian notices her bun and hurries to repin it under her desk. Young love.
“Did I receive a letter?” Karina wonders, almost hopeful. These are the moments he lives for. He loves the glow in their eyes, the excitement in their voices. He wants to bring an endless smile to their otherwise highschool-induced frown. And even if it doesn’t last, for that moment, it’s beautiful.
He lifts the letter from his pocket, pressing it down on the table before her.
“Cadman,” she reads aloud. “I can’t believe he sent me a letter!”
His smile falters, his gaze wandering a few tables over. The other student—Evelyn—is watching them, her eyes wide in anticipation. She has yet to receive or send a letter. Perhaps she wants to know what it’s like, or perhaps her friendship with Karina is enough to be curious.
But he blocks her view.
“You ground me,” she continues aloud, dangling the anchor at eye-level.
Those lovely words.
“Here.” Karina tears a note free from her spiral, writes a majestic reply, and then folds it. Notebook paper. Red ink. No envelope. No true expression. He’s almost offended, but he says nothing. Slipping the letter from her polished fingers, he tucks it into his sweater pocket.
Her focus returns to the anchor.
“Have a wonderful day,” the librarian calls to him. Apparently, he’s dismissed. Straightening his shoulders as best he can, he hobbles back to the hallway. Usually, he would wait to open her letter and digest it fully from the safety of his closet. But this one is urgent. His palsied fingers retrieve it from his pocket. The bits of ripped paper fall as he handles it. And the red ink is visible even through the layers of fold.
This is an affront.
Written in bold letters is one single word.
He refolds the note. Instead of his pocket, he pulls open his journal. He paperclips it folded, hiding the message from himself. And in angry, furious cursive, he writes:
Number forty-seven, to Cadman Burke.
To insult such a kind boy. To hurt a sensitive. To treat him with such utter disrespect.
Inhaling, the elder tries to calm his nerves. He flips back to the first page of his journal and stares down at letter one.
Be with me.
And beneath it.
Number one, to Curtis McAvoy.
Much too forward.
And so his rounds begin.
This time he notices the peeling posters. He hears the groaning lockers and covers his nose for the smell.
How can he deliver such a dreadful letter? How could Karina write such a letter?
“Did he answer?”
He turns to the voice and finds Klause standing behind him. At almost five feet, Klause is taller than the old man. Klause’s expression immediately falls. He knows his letter wasn’t sent. But, that’s why the old man comes back to them.
“Let’s work on a letter together,” he suggests, forcing the grimace from his lips. “I don’t think Curtis will respond well to such an aggressive approach. He’s a romantic.”
“I—I suppose not,” Klause whispers, clutching his books to his chest. “It’s just something I read in—in…”
“Of course,” the elder replies. He rests a hand on Klause’s shoulder. “Are you at lunch?” Klause nods. The old man always times it so well. But Cadman and Karina are still occupying his mind. There have been rejections before, but nothing so harsh nor cruel.
He sits with Klause at an outdoor lunch table. The sun is beautiful, a perfect muse for a romantic letter. Unclipping Klause’s letter from his journal, the old man eases it into Klause’s nervous hands.
“Keep it simple, keep it short.”
“But...a softer tone,” the old man explains. Klause ponders, tapping his pencil on the page. For as cute a boy as he is, his sense of romance seems to be twisted. He writes several statements down, before erasing them:
You and me. Let’s be more than friends. I’m dying to be with you.
It’s hard not to laugh.
“Why not just, ‘I like you’?” the elder wonders. That sends the blood to Klause’s cheeks. He shakes his head.
“I could never,” he insists.
“Never what?” Curtis lowers himself into the seat across from them. And without hesitation, pulls the letter from Klause’s hands. “A love letter? Who are you writing to?! Be with me. I never knew you had a demanding side.” Curtis laughs.
And the work is done.
The old man stands from his seat, leaving the two boys to their teasing. He has almost fifty other letters to return to, but he’s stuck on only the one.
Still, he opens his journal to letter two.
I’m still looking for something more,
But as the years endure,
And we’re both still single.
I think it’s about time, you and I mingle.
Number two, to Mr. Lam.
She’s just giving up.
For a literature teacher, he had experienced more from Ms. Henley. However, the talented are often the ones who disappoint. With both hands on his cart, he makes his way to her classroom. Though lunchtime is every students’—and teachers’—chance to be out of class, Ms. Henley never seems to leave.
He gives a gentle knock on her door frame.
“Oh.” She rushes to stand and meet him. There’s mayonnaise on her cheek and her blouse is untied at the neck. But honestly, she could be no more beautiful. This messy side of a usually tight-laced woman is the perfect attractor for a man like Mr. Lam. “Come in!”
He enters her classroom, clasps the door shut behind him, and carries his journal to her table. And they sit opposite.
“Rejected again?” She sighs. “My last letter was so...flowery. I thought a sillier approach might do.”
“No rejection,” he explains. “Your letter...Ms. Henley, you’re a wonderful and confident woman. And your letter reflected that of a dejected and desperate woman. I couldn’t possibly deliver it to him. It was your third letter. By now, I expect he’s expecting another letter. If you don’t send one, perhaps that will flare his interest. And if it doesn’t, perhaps he’s not the one to pursue.”
Ms. Henley glances down at her lap. She smoothes the grey pencil skirt that passes her knees and tugs at the untied ribbon of her blouse. And then presses her spectacles back up her nose. “Am I too bland?”
“I haven’t a knack for this, I—”
“—You don’t need to force it.” He reaches for her hand, placing it between his own. “There’s nothing wrong with a loosened ribbon.” He gives a subtle gesture to her blouse.
“I suppose not,” she agrees. But even so, she pulls both ends into a bow once more. “Loosened but not open.”
“Right.” He stands from his seat. “If you choose to write another letter, write it with strong intention.”
“Because no one fawns over a mediocre attempt.” She nods. “Thank you.” He dismisses her gratitude, returning to the door. But she won’t let him off so easily. She pulls the door open for him and beckons him into the hallway.
A chivalrous dear.
So he returns to his journal. Entry three. He prepares to reread the letter but pauses. After speaking to Ms. Henley, he’s almost more focused on Cadman and Karina than before. Rejection letters. While Mr. Lam was consistent in his rejection, he was certainly colorful, poetic, charming. He wrote words that laid her to rest, instead of tainting the very air she breathes.
It isn’t a crime to return them out of order.
And he knows just where to find Cadman.
He walks back down the hallways, now crowded with students. They’re swapping food, sharing stories, and meandering in corners they shouldn’t be. But that’s not his job. So he continues onto the other side of the school, where Cadman spends every lunch hour.
Leaving his cart against the wall, the elder pushes through the exit door. Now he can hear the squeak of sneakers, the bounce of a ball, and the clatter of a chain net. Cadman’s nothing if not routine. It’s another reason to admire the boy.
“My letter didn’t pass, did it?” Cadman claps a basketball to his chest before leaning his forehead to it. “I knew it wouldn’t, but I still went with it.”
“No, it passed,” the old man murmurs. Cadman’s gaze whips to meet his.
The old man’s journal is practically burning holes in his hands. But he’s undecided on how to handle the situation.
“So she read it?”
“Yes. I thought the two of you weren’t acquainted.”
“We’re not. Why?”
“She seemed to know you,” the old man explains. Cadman furrows his brow. He opens his mouth to answer but thinks better of it. Instead, he tucks his basketball under his arm and turns to stare at the hoop.
“Did she answer?” he finally asks.
This is his moment to decide. Rubbing his thumb along the cover of his journal, the old man meets Cadman’s desperate gaze.
And he lies.
“I’m sorry. She has no intention to.”
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The elder is such a good character! I mean he's nosey and judgemental but at the same time so kind, gentle, and good at his job, whatever exactly that may be. You gave just enough details for me to imagine everything, like the characters and the setting, but you still have this gift of keeping everything somewhat ambiguous, like a dream. My favorite part was probably the end, where he spared the boy's feelings. I only found one mistake: "For a literature teacher, he had experienced more from Ms. Henley." You probably meant to say expect...
Thank you so much!!! I'm glad you enjoyed the old man :). I wanted him to feel real, not too nice, not too creepy. A good mix, haha! And dream-like is exactly the tone I was looking for, so that's a win in my book! It actually wasn't a mistake, it was intentional ;). But I appreciate the keen reading eye!! Thanks again!! I'm glad you enjoyed it :)!
Ohh, I think it's quite impressive how you manage to balance very dream-like writing with a grounded description of everything. I could picture it all, but there was definitely something off about it. I really did enjoy it!
Thank you, thank you!! :)
Oh my goodness. The creativity here is just unreal! I love how you leave it just ambiguous enough to let the reader imagine and creative on their own, if that makes sense. Just the idea of letters "passing," of an older man being "in charge" (not sure if that's the right phrase) of the letters.... just wonderful. I could seriously see this becoming a novel or novella. Also, I love the part that starts with "You ground me" and then bolds each different word, creating a new meaning, I love doing that with sentences. :) The only things I ...
After reading your alien Santa story, I had this burst of ideas. I was like...what if Santa Claus and Cupid were smashed together into one? And thus, this old man was born. It's also loosely based on this book called "the Book Woman." She rides around and has different interactions with different people and you get this glimpse of their lives and what they're going through and the tension of the story is in some interactions being better than others. So, I thought, hey, that sounds like a funny story to try. THANK YOU FOR THOSE FIXES. Yo...
I LOVE IT. Santa Cupid :D Just so creative!! I want to meet this guy lolol. Also, adding "The Book Woman" to my read list, if it's anything like this story then I'm so excited to read!!! If I could just stop reading Harry Potter over and over again... This is seriously one of my favorites on Reedsy, it just feels so visceral you know??? Like my favorite stories are the ones that I can see happening as short stories... another idea if you're not making this into a novel: MAKE IT INTO A SCRIPT AND SEND TO HOLLYWOOD AMIRITE??
If you've ever seen that Christmas movie Klaus, I got some inspiration from that, too! I love that movie. Haha, it's a pretty interesting book! I could totally see you rereading Harry Potter over and over again xD! They read so fast, it's almost hard to put them down. They just go. And go. And go until you're at the end and you can't remember how or why. HAHA!!! If only I were that good at writing screenplays. I don't know HOW MANY classes I took for screenwriting... but it's just not engrained in me. I've thought about practicing one...
What a wonderful truly bizarre scenario. I found the postman well intentioned but extremely creepy. It was as if someone had gifted him a power over everyone. A power that doesn't or maybe never will have any rhyme or reason. I loved how dutiful he was to his purpose.
Just think of Santa Claus, and you'll understand where I got his creepy, all-powerful, and ominous job from ;). Hahaha
I almost said santa-like in my first comment. But Santa has always been very creepy if you get away from the Coke Cola rhetoric.
Agreed. Santa is the creepiest of holiday creeps. At least my letterman doesn't come into your house unannounced! xDD
No Everytime I see him he keeps blowing that infernal horn.
Hahaha, I just laughed so hard! That darn infernal horn...
Wow, Molly! This story was so awesome, and I could tell it was very well thought out. I loved the old man! I thought he was very kind. The creativity here is AMAZING! I was reading it and I thought "This is so brilliant, and still so simple." It reminded me of William Goldberg: "The greatest ideas are the simplest." Anyways. I also liked how the man gave such kind and thoughtful advice to the students and teachers, and how he spared the boy's feelings at the end. Honestly, the old man reminded me of Santa; was this your intention? This is o...
Thank you so very much!! I'm glad you enjoyed it :). It was definitely my intention to have him comparable to Santa, as I like to call this story: Santa-Cupid. But if you've seen the movie "Klaus" then you'd see my inspiration from that film, too! I'm glad I was able to bring that comparison across!
This is a winner right here, my favorite story by far:). I love your writing style and the elder, while a bit nosey, was an enjoyable character who became more enjoyable as the story continued. If you have time i hope you can give some tips and pointers on my stuff I definitely need them haha.🐫
Thank you so much :)! I'm glad you enjoyed this story, and yes. The elder is definitely a bit creepy ;P. Sure, I'd be glad to read some of your work :)!
Your characters feel so real! How do you do it?
Haha! I'm not sure...I am an expert people watcher? Maybe that has something to do with it ;)
Wow, absolutely amazing. It’s people like you who make me want to be a better writer.
Well shucks, that's about as kind a compliment as I could receive! Thank you so much!
Wonderful. This makes for the best thing I've read in about a month. Thank you and keep writing!
Well geez, thank you! That's some high praise! I really appreciate you stopping through, and I'm glad you enjoyed the story :)!
Consider me blown away by this one. This story has everything I've come to look forward to in reading your stories, Molly. Just love it! Again, I have nothing to suggest doing differently or keeping in mind for future stories. The world-building is compelling, and the characters are all so interesting. The elder is like Cupid meets the Crypt Keeper in all the best ways. I love his heart, and I adore the line, "He dismissed her gratitude." What a great way to tell us so much of his role and personality! The sheer volume of example notes...
I will consider you blown away! Haha! Thank you, again! :) You know, it's actually funny, but I meant for the good letter to be ironically not amazing ;). I wanted to show that our old man wasn't judging letters on whether they were well written or not, but in fact, on whether or not he thought it would catch the attention of the recipient. And I also was using that to show that he's not perfect. He often got it wrong. But everyone still loved him because he was helping them. I mean, don't get me wrong, I think the words "you ground me" ...
Oh, man! I totally see where you're coming from. I didn't think that through nearly well enough. You got me! But I still love it! I know what you mean about trying to branch into some other genres. I have a couple ideas "percolating," but they haven't come forward yet.
Haha! That's okay. I meant for it to be a bit deeper meaning: one that you'd actually have to stop and puzzle through xD! Oooh, what genres are you thinking on? I'm very curious to know! I just finished a Space Opera, the first one ever... We'll see if I have any merit in the genre, haha!
I've been thinking about comedy, but intentional funny is tough! A few other ideas aren't really well-formed enough to even speculate on, though...
Agreed! Sometimes the comedy is just there! But trying to make a comedy piece feels like forcing comedy out of nowhere, haha. That's always frustrating to me!
THIS IS AMAZING!! Oh my god, I love your creativity in every story, and this one most certainly doesn't disappoint, far from it actually. I love the Santa Cupid idea. And the way the elder carries the journal around, helping people hand their letters out... How poetic! I wouldn't be surprised if this wins, or at the very least, gets shortlisted!!
Well, thank you! You've really flattered me here, gosh! I'm glad it took so well! I honestly didn't know what I was writing until it was done, so, I guess that worked in my favor xD!
Someone explain to me why Reedsy doesn't do strikethrough? ARGH...I made little x's to represent it...:( Edit: oh my word, I'm daft. I found it!