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“I have a gift for you.” She turns, looks at him, the face she knows so well. He’s smiling at her one of his secret, soft smiles, not the stilted kind he usually has on. She feels light on her feet, a child’s excitement warming her veins, and she wants to leap into his arms, but she stops herself. There is a small box wrapped in plain tissue paper the color of new grass, pale dewy green. She reaches her hand for it, but he shakes his head, and puts the hand with the box just out of reach. She giggles, her voice high-pitched, girly, still young. She lunges for the box, her bare feet expertly navigating around the sharper of the pebbles around the ancient oak tree Adrian is circling. He’s wearing his work shoes, black, shiny, and she hears the crunch crunch crunch of his each step as he moves graceful, dancer-like away from her. He doesn’t say anything, but the smile is still on, and his eyes, the brighter shade of her own, have light in them. The game amuses him, and she’s glad. She’d missed this. This–her favorite–smile, the amused light in his too-pretty eyes, the lightness on his feet, even with all the crunching his shoes are doing. She wants to hold on to it for as long as she can, and she has a feeling she wouldn’t have very long.
“It’s just a silly little thing I’d picked up on the way, Jess,” he says, and throws her the box. She catches it easily, shakes it next to her head. There is a muted clanking sound coming from it, but she can’t place it. She flips it upside down, but it all looks the same, covered in paper. It feels very light. Too light to be what she’d been wishing for but knew he wasn’t ready to give her. She lifts it to her nose and sniffs it, and Adrian laughs, a full-on laugh, throaty and roiling.
“Well, go ahead and open it already,” he says, the laughter still in his voice. And she does. The box under all that green is a dark velvety blue, so dark it’s almost black even in the bright morning light. She touches the softness of it, finds the latch. She lets out a surprised gasp and sits down right there, on the grass, not caring that her pants will likely be stained green afterwards. There is a pair of delicate filigreed earrings in rose gold, a brilliant rendering of a pair of orb-weavers, complete with almost transparent threads of the web. Her sister’s earrings. The one she’d not seen since her birthday over two years ago. The one she’d never once told Adrian about, because she didn’t want him to do what her other boyfriends did once they knew. They pitied her, and when the pity got too much for her, they’d be angry at her for it, as if she’d somehow asked for their bloody pity in the first place. But always, always they’d left. Or she’d made them. Until Adrian. Because she’d never told him.
“Hey,” he says, all the laughter gone from his voice, “I thought you’d be pleased…. You always say you like these little guys, because they make the prettiest webs. What’s wrong?” She feels him crouch next to her, but she doesn’t look at him. She can’t tear her eyes away from her sisters’ earrings. And she feels the wetness on her cheeks, but she doesn’t want to drop the box, doesn’t want to move at all. She barely dares breathe or blink, as if the soft box with the ghost of her sister in it wouldn’t be there if she had.
And finally, when the waiting and the silence are too much, she tells him, because somehow she knows she must. And he doesn’t say a word. And she doesn’t look at him, because she doesn’t want to see the pity in his eyes, and she knows it will be there, as it always is. She tells him how happy Ally was the last time she saw her. She’d drank a bit too much, but she was a good drunk, a joyful, singing and laughing and dancing through the hallways drunk, and how that night she was extra happy because she’d finally met someone she really liked, only it was too soon to tell anybody about him, because she didn’t want to jinx it. Ally was like that.
But she was so excited about him, everybody could tell something wonderful was there, the way her whole face changed, turning wistful. Chemistry seminar. That’s how she met him, because she was waiting for Mr Gunner to finish his lecture, standing in the hallway, leaning on the door, and he, this most beautiful man was running, all graceful and long limbed, but in that loose way athletes had, and he saw her and stopped. And how they’d been together every night and most of their days since and she just felt it, knew it in her heart how right they were together. And she’d told them that they’d already made plans for her to bring him home on Thanksgiving, so everybody could meet him then. Only, of course, she wasn’t there on Thanksgiving. She wasn’t there ever again. Not even what was left of her, not one tiny bone…. Not anything for them to bury, to cry over. To cover with asters, Ally’s favorites.
She is full on sobbing now, and she doesn’t care. She feels a small measure of relief at having finally told him. Her fingers feel tingly, probably from squeezing the box so hard. She sets it gently on the grass, and she feels his hand squeeze around her arm. She forces herself to look at him, finally, only his face is strange, no pity in his eyes, but something she’d never seen before. He is looking at her so intensely she squirms, instinctively pulling on her arm, but he only squeezes his fingers tighter around her flesh. She looks at her hands, and the tips of her fingers are bright red, swollen. There is something wrong with her fingers, she thinks, but it’s a strangely dim thought, as if it’s not really her fingers she is feeling the swelling of, the burning veiled, almost pleasant.
She watches, as if through the fog, as he reaches inside his jacket pocket.
He leans closer to her face. “I have a gift for you….”
This was written for Scribes & Scribblers contest, based on the prompt, loosely: the story had to begin with a sentence that was light and happy and end on the same sentence but with drastically different connotations.
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