by: Tyler Womack
“I’m putting you in the story only so you’ll feel the stakes the way I do. Because here’s the truth: This is how I’ve felt since I told you I love you.” A short story rife with heartache and yearning…
You hold a small, flat, kidney-shaped stone between your thumb and forefinger and fling it sideways with a snap of your wrist. You hope for five skips, possibly six, maybe even seven; perfect circles spreading out in a line, each smaller than the one before. But this time the stone goes eight, nine, then ten skips. Some magical conspiracy of physics, hydrology and atmospherics sends it spinning onward, faster. Fifteen skips. Twenty. Then, it’s cleared the pond entirely.
The stone hits a flagstone on the far bank and ricochets into the air, like a bullet. It snaps right through the green glass window of a small, three-story building on the other side of the pond, and you can vaguely hear it ricochet against objects inside.
You start to run around the pond, hoping that the damage is minimal. It was just a stone, you think. But as you’re running, you hear the sound of equipment, crashing over. Then the high-pressure hiss of gas spilling out, following by the FWOOMF and crackle of flames igniting. The fire alarm goes off, and it blares dully through the windows as you round the pond. You step up on the yellow gravel pathway as smoke begins to build up behind the glass. You can see it faintly as it seeps out of the hole made by the determined stone. You hear raised voices and high-pitched screams, competing with the whooping alarm.
The building’s back entrance is locked, so you run around it, wondering whether you can undo whatever destruction you’ve caused. You get to the front and you realize it’s a hospital. The building’s sign is a dead giveaway, which reads Children’s Cancer Clinic. Then you notice the children, who are being led outside by nurses and orderlies. You run toward the doors to help, but by then the firefighters have arrived, and they’re asking you to step aside. An elderly nurse is being assisted out of the smoky entrance by an orderly, and she collapses mere feet away from you. Up at the front door, gurneys come squealing out, each holding a small child. A young, blue-eyed girl in an oxygen mask points right at you, and you look around to see if anyone notices.
Then the firefighters are asking everyone to please move backward, because the fire is still uncontained. You help the elderly nurse hobble another thirty yards and turn to see flames licking upward from the building’s roof. The firefighters are making a valiant effort, but they can’t seem to prevail. Wailing ambulances charge toward the building’s entrance, skidding around fallen debris. Somewhere, a man is weeping.
Police officers with small notebooks are talking to people nearby. A news van has arrived, and a reporter is saying that a projectile was fired into one of the building’s laboratories. Some are calling it a hate crime. There’s a dull ache along the back of your shoulders, and a buzzing behind your eyes. Your stomach is filled with ash, and you think it’s only a matter of time until the authorities turn their focus on you.
This is, of course, an allegory. I’m putting you in the story only so you’ll feel the stakes the way I do. Because here’s the truth:
This is how I’ve felt since I told you I love you.
I know you’re going to call me melodramatic for telling you this. You’ve got such an easygoing way about you. Like we simply whiled away those countless afternoons, gorging on the warmth of these last few teenage days. Casting so many looks, oblivious of the currents. Of the wind.
There was more than one stone thrown these past few months. There were things I said to you: on the phone, at the swimming pool, at parties. “You have exceptional taste in music” and “I’m happy to see you,” and “You’re way cooler than her anyway.” At the pool, I said “You look like the cat that ate the canary,” and — pleased with yourself — you wore that look all the way to the snow cone stand. Your blue eyes, sparkling.
So when I told you I loved you last week, walking you to your car under that starlit pool of inky black, how was I to know it would spin out of control?
And now you won’t return my calls, and neither will Bianca. I guess sisters gotta take sides. Which is what this is: Lines have been drawn.
Lindsay said she saw you and Scott fighting at the Side Bar. I wish I could say I’m sorry about that, but I think he’s wrong for you. I think he’s always been wrong for you. I’m half-afraid that this thing will make the two of you stronger: You always wanted to prove yourself, and I can see you, at this moment, crossing your heart and swearing that you won’t hang out with me ever again. Because Scott means too much. And maybe he does, but I never saw it.
George disinvited me from his band’s show at the Parlor. He said he didn’t want drama. Were you suddenly planning to attend? And now nobody is visiting the Sunday Funday chat group we started. Did Bianca tell them to stop? Did you? Yesterday evening, I went to Thunderbird and none of our barista friends had time to talk. No comped drinks or anything. So I went for a walk.
I walked around Cherrywood and I thought about you. About how three small words could skip so many times, could summon forth so many circles, and could shatter our sacred space. I watched lightning bugs signal through the overgrown yards of Lafayette Avenue, and I charted the busy paths of loose calico house cats. Alone as the moon, stomach full of ash, I scanned the roadside gutters for small, flat stones. I felt, keenly, the ache across my shoulders.
I guess I should be mad at you for abandoning me. But the truth is that I’d fight tooth and nail for you, if only you’d let me.