I have wanted to blog more and struggled with what I wanted my new content to contain. While brainstorming about the coming month the idea of writing prompts was born. As authors, we have all seen and participated in a given writing prompt and they can be a lot of fun. My goal is to publish a small work based off a prompt once a week and my desire is for you to join in. Use the same prompt and share your work with me.
And off we go…
I met him again by chance, Noah Gray. I had taken my younger brothers to get pizza, Noah waited on our table. He explained to me we went to high school together but rarely had the same classes. I vaguely remember him.
“You didn’t have hair in high school, did you?” I study his face, the piercing blue eyes I remember, the rest feels like a mystery.
He laughs, “I used to shave it, then I dated a girl who told me to stop doing that. She’s gone, but I’m keeping the hair.”
“That’s an excellent choice. I’m sorry I didn’t remember you right off. These are my brothers, Flynn and Breccan.” Flynn ignores Noah and I’s conversation, typical for him, he’s not spoken to me since before the funeral. Breccan sticks his hand out.
“Nice to meet you,” he smiles behind his freckles.
Noah shakes his hand, “Nice to meet you, too. What can I get for you guys?”
We ordered pizza and sodas that night, played a few games in the arcade and left. I haven’t given Noah a second thought. When do I have time? Taking care of my younger siblings consumes most of my time, thoughts, and all my energy. Nathaniel keeps talking to me about grief, how I need to mourn, feel real feelings about what happened. I insist I am ok, I just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Penelope grieves enough for all of us. Who would have thought she would have taken it as hard as she had? It baffles me. I don’t have time to hold her hand through her grief though, I tell myself it isn’t my job, my job is my brothers now. Even the one who will probably never speak to me again. He has a point. It is my fault after all.
The drugstore on the corner of Kingsway and Third is my first and only job. It is the local stop by for the school kids when school lets out. They grab sodas, candy, chips, screw around for a few minutes and leave. The elderly couple who run the store was always kind to them and I took to them in my young teen years. I don’t have grandparents of my own and their age intrigued me in a way it intimidates my peers. When I turned fifteen Mr. Tom offered me a job stocking shelves. Four years later, and I still stocked shelves, run the register, help with the window displays, and do anything they ask of me. It is those shelves I am stocking when Noah Gray turns back up.
“Hey Quinn,” he says.
I’m kneeling, stocking boxes of laundry detergent on the bottom shelf, I look up at him. “Oh, hey you,” I shove the box onto the shelf and stand up. “What brings you in here? Need help finding something?”
“Nope. I found exactly what I was looking for.”
His eyes seem to pierce into my inner thoughts.
“Are you free tomorrow night? I thought we could grab dinner and talk.”
My mind races, not with thoughts of my brothers, with thoughts of Nathaniel, my best friend. I tamp them down, silly thoughts for this moment. “My brothers, I take care of them… since…” I can’t get the words out.
“I know, since the accident. They seem to be doing really well. I think you’re doing a great job with them. I promise not to keep you out late. We could even hang out at your house after dinner. Keep an eye on them.”
I wipe my hands on my black apron. “I don’t know…”
“Quinn, you need to take care of yourself too, you know?”
I do know. It’s the same type of thing Nathaniel keeps hounding me about. That I can’t keep living this way. Taking care of them, getting them to school, feeding them, going to work, figuring out how to pay bills, and live a domesticated life. It’s not what most nineteen-year-olds sign up for, but here I am.
“You’re right, one night out won’t hurt anyone, right?”
“I’m hoping it’ll do the opposite.”
I smile, a real smile, it feels a little odd on my face, “Yeah.”
It was the start of something new. It felt like the beginning of spring, fresh, warm, full of anticipation. The way my heart would skip a beat when my phone rang, or I would catch a glimpse of him walking up to the store, the smell of him on the couch with me. They overtook my senses and left me wanting more. By early winter I couldn’t remember a time without Noah there, helping me, helping the boys. I would have crashed and burned at the pace I was going. He came in and turned it upside down, no, he turned it right side up. He began to heal the hurts; the open wounds were now bandaged and healing because of his care.
Christmas Eve. We took the boys to a church service. We had always been the family that went on Christmas and Easter and sporadically throughout the year. After the funeral we stopped all together. It feels right though, to go on Christmas Eve, light the candles and sing Silent Night. I feel stronger. The grief doesn’t feel as close, the hurt a small numb ache, not a rollercoaster of emotion. In this moment I know things will change in the morning, everything is going to be different. Noah helps me get the boys to bed, they are excited for Christmas morning, presents, Aunt Casi coming over. It takes hours before they are finally asleep, and we go to bed ourselves.
“I don’t want to go to sleep,” I tell him, lying back on my pillow, him next to me on the bed.
“You have to sleep sometime,” he assures me, wrapping his arms around my torso, nestling his chin into my neck. His breathing is steady, warm, comforting. “No better time than the present. Why don’t you want to sleep?”
“Because when I wake you won’t be with me.”
He makes a noise of agreement. “Yes. But isn’t that the point? It’s time for you to go back.”
I let my eyelids grow heavy and start to fall. “Going back is harder than staying.”
“Reality is always harder than fantasy.”
My eyes close, the darkness becoming complete. His breath still on my neck lulls me to sleep. My body drifts, falling slowly down into the warmth of a real sleep, first in my chest, then through my limbs, and finally to my brain. The warmth like a warmed blanket wrapping around me. I give into it. The light of the sunrise breaks into the darkness behind my eyes. Before I open them, I can feel the tears, hot, angry, full of bitterness and regret. I let them open, to the empty spot in my bed next to me, the spot he never slept in, the space he never once occupied. I let the tears fall freely for the boy who had never existed.