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Grade
8

Let’s play a game, she whispers.

            He looks over at her.

            Why?

            She laughs. She’s still hazy. Her long hair is tangled in small knots as it dances on her forehead.

            Why do we need a reason? She asks.

            He sighs. He takes a sip from the bottle he’s opened. He swallows hard.

            Come on, she says.

            He smiles at her.

            It was never a game.

            But that’s a lie.

            It was never a game to other people. To other people, it was just storytelling. To other, people it was just icebreakers.

            But it was a game to them, and maybe that’s all that mattered.

            He sets the bottle down on a shaky side table. The lamp flickers at the slightest movement.

            If you could go anywhere, where would you go?

            She laughs this one off. He’s asked her this question too many times.

            Paris, she replies. A cliché.

            Where would you go?

            She watches him look up at the beige and dusty ceiling.

            Nowhere. I would want to live here forever.

            Why?

            He shrugs.

            Because I like it here.

            But there you’ll never see the world from here, she argues.

            The world isn’t all pretty. At least here is okay.

            She knows that he’s lying. She knows him well enough to know that he’s guarding himself. She wants to push harder.

            She doesn’t say anything.

            She nods silently, pretending to understand.

            He considers telling her for a second, but it the end, he doesn’t.

           

 

                                                                                               

            When you’re fourteen you believe that the world is hopeful. The world revolves around you, no matter how much you fail to admit it.

            He was fourteen and naïve, buying candy from the store after his first paycheck as a waiter. He was in love with a girl at the time. He had a job.

            Everything was how it should’ve been.

            Two dollars of candy, another bar chipped in by his favorite cashier. The musty green walls of the supermarket, the doors that creak when you pushed.

            But that’s how stories always begin. They always begin like any other day.

            Someone screamed. Maybe it was at him, warning him, or maybe it was just a cry for help.

            He looked up.

            One.

            Two.

            Three.

            And it was over. He heard it end it three seconds.

            He should’ve gone over. He should’ve called someone. Maybe he could’ve saved him.

            Instead, he ran back home, crying.

            Four weeks later, he moved out of town.

            He never went to the police station to be a witness.

            He never went to the boy’s funeral.

            Never knew his name.

            Time stops for nobody, and life shows no mercy.

 

           

 

            If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

            To feed all the people in the world.

            That’s not a superpower, she replies.

            He shrugs. It is in my book.

            She hates that he does that. She hates how he bends the rules like that. He looks over and laughs at her face that frowns. She shoves him lightly.

            You?

            For a moment, she considers lying to him.

            She tells him the truth.

            Invisibility.

           

           

 

            She was eight when her mother left.

            She didn’t understand at the time how someone could just leave and walk out of your life. How you couldn’t expect to see them again.

            Her mother was wild. She stuck pens in her braids and danced to any song that came on the radio. She drank and painted for hours and hours. Her mother took them out of school sometimes, because school was unnecessary and they needed to be children a little longer.

            Her mother argued.

            She argued with her father until late at night when they should’ve been asleep.

            She argued with the cashier about the cost of cashew bars.

            She argued with teachers who told her that education was important.

            But she was their mother. And it was her job to stay.

            Instead, she left on a sparkling blue day. One where they would’ve gone to the pond and thrown bread at the ducks. One where she would’ve bought ice cream.

            But it wasn’t her job.

            It wasn’t her job to be a mother, it wasn’t her job to be a wife, it wasn’t her job to be theirs. It wasn’t her job to come to their soccer games. It wasn’t her job to watch their school plays.

            She asked her dad why she’d left.

            He said it was because she cared.

            But how could a woman care when she’s left everything she knows behind?

            She cared because she thought about what was best for the people she cared the most about and realized she wasn’t in that dream.

            And just like that, she was gone.

            People think that wanting invisibility is a sign of weakness, a sign of a coward.

            Her mother didn’t leave because she wanted to.

            She did it for everyone but herself.

            Because she cared.

            Because she loved.

 

 

 

            He hands her the bottle. She takes a sip. She lets it burn in her throat. She takes two more small sips.

            She hands it back.

            Next.

            Regrets?

            She looks over at him.

            You go first.

            I have a couple.

            He hides his thoughts. He has too many regrets to count. Some people say they live with no regrets. Those people lie. Everyone is broken, everyone has guilt.

            You?

            A lot, she replies. It pains her to say that. She takes the bottle back again, sipping it once more.

            He doesn’t push her to say anything else because he knows her well enough to understand. Instead, they sit on a hard bed, covered with dust, a dim lamp lighting the room. The scent of mildew fills the motel room. They go back and forth with the bottle until they run out. They don’t open a second bottle.

            They don’t ask any more questions.

            The bask in the silence, listening to a cricket hum from the outside. They stare out at the white and soulless moon.

            She falls back onto the bed. Puffs of dust come out the bed.

            She looks up at him.

            Tell me a story.

            He smiles softly at her.

            That’s not a question.

            She smiles back.

            Tell me a story.

            Please.

           

           

 

            When he was younger, he’d punched a kid in school.

            The kid he punched was a jerk. He’d pushed kids around and stole their things. He threw woodchips at a girl’s hair. He threw chewed up gum at people.

            But you’re supposed to outgrow these things.

            But he never changed.

            In the end, the kid screamed words about his uncle. And that’s when he punched him.

            The uncle who’d been a father to him. The uncle who loved so unconditionally, the uncle who cooked a fabulous barbeque, the uncle who could only see kindness, the uncle he looked up to the most.

            In the end, he got suspended.

            Because the kid who got punched was the “victim”.

            He went home that day early. They weren’t supposed to be home early, they should’ve been at work.

            But before he got to the door, it swung open.

            He stood there next to his husband.

            They’d been crying, their eyes puffy and red.

            They hugged him.

            They were all crying.

            They told him how much they loved him, how much they cared for him. They told him never to do that for them, that they could take care of themselves as grown adults.

            No, you can’t, he whispered, and they all laughed.

            Because it was funny.

            Because it hurt.

            They cooked barbeque that night and ate ice cream. They cried more. They sang songs that had been popular twenty years ago. They watched family movies that seemed like an eternity ago.

            And when night fell, his uncle tucked him in like he was five again.

            Please don’t do that again, his uncle whispered.

            He called you a-

            His uncle stopped him.

            You need to grow up and be happy. Grow up, be successful, be happy. Show that bastard who you are.

            He nodded at his uncle.

            His uncle nodded back, smiling.

            Sweet dreams, he’d whispered.

            Like a father.

            It’s hard to define what it is to love someone.

            It meant that you cared for them.

            It meant that you would come home early for them.

            But at the very top, it meant that you wanted them to be happy, you wanted them to rise with no problems, you wanted them to never feel pain.

            Even if that meant that you would get hurt.

 

           

 

            Her eyes are shut. A strand of brown hair rests on her forehead.

            Is it my turn? She asks quietly.

            He smiles at her.

            Tell me a story.

            Please.

           

           

 

            When she was younger, she and her sister used to sneak out of the house.

            They found a small nook in a forest next to a highway, where they would sit and tell secrets for hours. They sat there until the sky began to turn dark when the fireflies would begin to come out and fill the skies.

            They loved each other in ways that only a sibling could know.

            Sometimes they would pretend to stay there overnight. They would bring potato chips and sodas for dinner. They would bring books to read under the light polluted sky. They would always get scared before the moon rose, always running back home to sleep.

            They’d forgotten their food halfway to the woods, on one afternoon.

             She’d promised her sister that she’d be right back.

            She was gone for a minute.

            Two.

            Three.

            She’d had sprinted back to the road where they’d split.

            She was gone.

            For the next four hours, she searched.

            She checked the woods several times. Every road where she could’ve wandered off.

            She wondered if her sister got hit on the highway. If someone had taken her.

            In the end, she returned home long after dark, sister-less.

            That was the first night she’d ever stayed up past midnight, as she eavesdropped on her father calling people, searching.

            The next morning, they’d found her. An elderly couple had found her alone in the park. They asked her where she was from, only, her sister never knew their address.

            When she came home, they ran towards each other, sobbing.

            You never know how much you need someone until they’re gone.

            They stayed in their shared room together for hours, talking about secrets and stories, and what their lives were like for the brief moments that they were split.

            It’s hard to define what it is to love someone.

            It meant that you trusted them.

            It meant that you cared for them so much that you couldn’t bear the idea of a life without them.

            It meant that they were your everything.

 

           

 

            When she opens her eyes, she sees him looking at her.

            The game is over.

            They see the pain and sadness and the glimmer of joy in the others eye. They see the sorrow and secrets each of them hides.

            They both know that life is unbearable, the amount of suffering and regret that comes with having one. But there are the small and beautiful things in life.

            The moments.

            The moments are why we live.

            The moments make the pain all worth it.

 

 

State
MI
Zip Code
48105