Playing with the Boys

This is the second assignment that I turned in for my fiction writing class. I met with my writing professor Friday afternoon to discuss this piece. She liked it–at least the characters. She gave me some very helpful suggestions on how to make it better and expand it. She also wants me to finish it…I started it in high school as a novel, and Leslie (my professor) thinks I should keep going. In fact, she wants me to work on an outline of where the story is going so we can discuss it next week. (I earned extra work from my professor–that’s a good sign, right?)

* * *

Petey Marshall crouched behind home plate, twisting her feet to grind her cleats further into the red clay. By this last inning of the baseball game, dirt streaked the denim shorts and yellow t-shirt that she wore. A fine layer of the same dust coated her arms and legs, and her face was already warm and pink from the morning sun. She reached her right hand up to pull her blond ponytail through the straps of the catcher’s mask, the only piece of equipment she donned besides her glove and cleats. She’d only conceded on wearing the mask because the boys wouldn’t let her play otherwise.

Petey fixed her gaze on the pitcher. Throwing her fingers into the dirt, she signaled for a curveball. Their team only needed one out, and Jake, the batter, who was playing with them for the first time, wasn’t yet familiar with Cody’s pitches. Yes, the curveball might work.

Cody nodded almost imperceptibly and scraped his foot along the rubber on the pitcher’s mound. Petey grinned, anticipating the third strike that would result in a win for her side. She positioned her glove behind the plate, Cody wound up and released the pitch, and Jake swung . . . and connected, sending the baseball flying toward right field.

Jake chucked the bat to the side and sprinted toward first base, while Petey leaped up and ripped off her mask.

“Evan, get the ball! What are you waiting for?” she bellowed toward her cousin, who had been playing a shallow right field. How many times had she warned him about that? He was now running toward the back wall after the baseball, and Jake was halfway to second base.

Petey watched as Justin, who had been poised to run on second base, darted past her and crossed home plate. If Jake scored, the game would be tied. Petey felt the competitive tension rise within her. “Come on, Evan!”

Evan finally caught up to the ball. He threw it to his brother Ethan, the second baseman, who twisted around to find Petey, positioned on the baseline halfway between third and home. Jake had just rounded third base, and then Petey had the ball in her glove. She wrapped her right hand securely around the ball and lunged toward Jake. Surprise flickered across his face as he pulled back, trying to return to third base. Petey launched herself at him, pushing the baseball into his back as they both fell into the dirt, landing just a few feet shy of third base.

“Out!” cried Ian, the third baseman.

Petey heard Ethan yell a triumphant “Yes!” as he ran toward them. Petey smiled serenely before finally dropping the baseball still clutched tightly in her hand. Ethan appeared in her view, stretching a hand down to Petey. She grasped his hand and scrambled up.

Petey turned and looked down at Jake, who was kneeling on the ground examining his left elbow, which was covered in dirt and blood. “Oh, dude, are you okay?” Petey asked.

Jake grinned wryly and stood up. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he replied, brushing dirt off the knees of his battered blue jeans. “But when we skidded to a stop, my elbow hit the ground first.”

“Justin, go grab my first aid kit, will you?” Petey demanded as she leaned closer to examine Jake’s scraped elbow. She tossed her glove to the ground, then stepped closer to Jake, placing her hands lightly on his left arm, examining the scrape.

“She has a first aid kit?” Jake asked.

Ethan shrugged. “You get used to it. She breaks us, then patches us up again. She’s sadistic that way.”

“Shut up, Ethan,” Petey muttered.

Justin jogged back to the group, the first aid kit already open. Accustomed to this procedure, Justin had several alcohol swabs in hand.

Petey wiped her hands on a towl from the first aid kit, and then tugged on a pair of rubber gloves. She then took the swabs from Justin and looked up at Jake. “Is this okay? It’s probably gonna hurt worse than when I collided with you.”

Jake held Petey’s gaze. “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

Petey began cleaning dirt out of the scrape. Jake winced, but didn’t pull away, and soon, his elbow was wrapped in gauze and tape.

“There you go.” Petey stepped back and replaced the unused supplies in the first aid kit. “Make sure you clean it out again when you get home, but it should be fine. Trust me. Happens all the time.”

“So what are you? Florence Nightingale during the week and Johnny Bench on the weekends?” Jake asked as the few remaining players turned back toward the dugout.

Petey swung the first aid kit from her fingertips as she walked into the dugout. “Not quite. I am in nursing school though.” After Petey plopped down onto the warped bench, she uncapped a bottle of water, poured it over a clean white towel, and gingerly wiped the dust off her sunburned face. The bench groaned and shifted as someone sat down beside her. Petey opened her eyes, expecting to find Ethan. Instead, Jake had joined her.

“I had a lot of fun today,” he remarked. “I’m glad Ethan invited me. Even if you did attack me.”

“Hey, I really wanted to win.”

“You’re such a good sport,” Jake teased.

“Of course I am.” Petey grinned. “Unless I lose. Then you’re just going down, Jake.”

“I’ll be sure to keep that in mind for next time.”

Petey focused on the red dirt that she was rubbing off her forearm before speaking. “Does that mean you’ll be back to play next week?”

“Yeah, I think so.” He paused. “I mean, if that’s okay. It seems you’re sort of the team captain here, so maybe I should have asked you first,” he teased.

“Yeah, I am sort of the team captain, and I don’t mind if you come back.”

“Good. That settles it.” He clapped his hands against his knees before standing. “I guess I’ll be going then. And I’ll see you next week.”

“Okay. Bye, Jake. Oh . . . and it was nice to meet you.”

He turned back to gaze at her and smiled. “It was nice to meet you, as well. Even if you did injure me on our first day as friends.”

Petey blushed. “I am sorry about that. But I had to make a first impression somehow, right?”

“Right. Bye, Petey.”

“Bye,” she called as he walked out of the dugout.

Petey turned to pack her equipment back into her duffel bag and didn’t notice as Jake stopped to whisper to Evan, “So is there any chance that Petey is single?”

“Dude, seriously? Yes, she is.” He clapped a hand around Jake’s shoulder.

Jake chuckled and walked to the chain link fence around the dugout. “Hey, Petey?”

Petey turned around. “Yeah, Jake?”

“The Greenville Drive have a home game tonight. Any chance you can stand some more baseball today? Do you want to go with me?”

Petey walked to the fence and stared at Jake. The last time she’d been to a Drive game had been with her ex-boyfriend Mike. She pushed away the thought and glanced at Ethan, who was nodding his head, encouraging her. “Yeah, I think I could do that.”

“Perfect. The game starts at seven. Why don’t I pick you up around six?”

“Sure.” She quickly gave him direction to her house, and then bit her lip before hesitantly asking. “Jake, is this a date?”

He smiled, wrapped his fingers in the chain link fence and leaned closer to her. “Yes, it is. Is that okay?”

“Yeah. I just wanted to be sure.”

Jake stepped back from the fence. “I’ll see you tonight, Petey.”

“Okay,” she replied and watched him walk to his car. He just asked me out, she thought. I was not expecting that. He’s really cute, though. She smiled to herself and turned back to the dugout. Ethan and Evan were the only two guys left in the dugout.

Ethan wrapped his arm around Petey’s shoulder and pulled her close. “So, Petey, is that the first time you’ve injured someone and gotten a date out of it?”

Petey place her hands against his chest and shoved, and Ethan stumbled backward into the dugout bench, laughing. When she sat down beside him and leaned back against the fence, closing her eyes, Ethan continued. “Have a good time tonight, Petey. I’ve known Jake for awhile now. You’ll have fun.”

“Thanks, Ethan.” As he stood up, she opened her eyes and grabbed the edge of his t-shirt. “Hey, did you invite him here because you’re matchmaking?” She narrowed her eyes at him, knowing what he and his twin brother were capable of.

Ethan pulled away from her grasp. “Perhaps.” He picked up his bag from the floor and followed Evan out of the dugout and to their truck.

Petey watched her cousins drive away, then turned back to gaze across the baseball field. The tall grass in the outfield waved gently in the wind, and the sun shone brightly on the red infield. Her gaze moved over to third base, and she replayed the last few moments of the game in her mind.

I tagged him out, made his team lose, and injured him, and he stil asked me out, she thought. “He likes me,” she murmured quietly and gazed out over the field once more.

Meet Virginia

This is the third assignment I’ll be turning in for my fiction writing class. It’s my favorite so far and the longest. Enjoy!

* * *

The sun slipped beneath the horizon, and twilight arrived in the garden outside the one-story house where seven-year-old Nathan Clarke and his mother, Camille, lived. On this autumn evening in late October, a few remaining dying leaves clung to the tree branches, and fallen leaves coated the ground. A stiff wind blew suddenly, ruffling the blossoms of the carnations and mums. One dark red leaf swirled down, landing directly on the pointed tip of a garden gnome statue. The leaf balanced precariously for a moment before continuing its journey to the ground.

Suddenly, the sound of tiny feet walking through the leaves could be heard in the once-quiet garden. Occasionally, the rhythmic shuffling was broken by a crisp sound, as if the owner of those feet were taking particular care to step on a delightfully crunchy leaf. As yet another breeze stirred up the leaves, a whisper, carried with the wind, floated through the garden. “Awake, magical creatures of the night!” the voice quietly called out.

These words brought life into the garden. The gnomes, who kept silent watch during the daytime, suddenly awoke. Smoke curled up from Belvedere’s pipe as he sat atop a mushroom-shaped stool in a bed of foliage. A few feet down the garden path, another gnome, Jehosophat, bent his head to dig through the brown sack he held in his left hand. Each night, Jehosophat collected objects from the flower beds in the garden. His sack was full of buttons, coins, bits of fabric, and other treasures, mostly items that fell out of Nathan Clarke’s pockets when he was playing during the day.

A third gnome appeared from behind an oak tree, carrying a large black book. Here was Brimley, the one who had called the other gnomes to life, the first to awaken every night, the gnome who enjoyed stepping on crunch leaves. During the day, Brimley sat beside the wooden swing where Nathan Clarke loved to play. Each evening when the sky grew dark, however, these magical gnomes came to life and roamed around the garden, finding adventures and treasures, quoting poetry, and occasionally making mischief. The gnomes developed a routine each night that had never been discovered by Nathan Clarke and his mother.

On this particular evening, things began normally. After Brimley had spoken the words to awake his fellow gnomes, he skipped down the little stone path towards Belvedere, who had a hard time waking each night.

“Wake up, Belvie! Darkness has returned to our fair garden. Now hop off your toadstool, and let’s gather the others!” Brimley scurried along the path, reaching out a hand to assist Belvedere, whose short, little legs made it difficult to leap from the mushroom. Once Belvedere had hopped to the ground, the two gnomes hurried to Jehosophat, who was still plundering through his sack.

Brimley opened his mouth to speak again, but his words were halted when a window near the corner of the house slid open. Out rolled Bernard, a tiny gnome no taller than two inches. He rolled off the window sill into a pile of leaves, then leaped up and started running quickly towards the three larger gnomes.

“Jumpin’ Jehosophat!” he cried. “What have you got there?”

Jehosophat finally pulled his head out of the bag. His hand followed, clutching a gold arcade token. “Look at this coin I found after you left last night, Bernard!”

Jehosophat handed his little friend the token. Bernard grasped it, but it was too heavy and fell to the ground, pulling the tiny gnome down with it.

Jehosophat gasped. “Oh, I’m sorry, Bernard! Here, let me help you up.” The taller gnome lifted the token and Bernard from the ground. He perched Bernard on his shoulder and held up the token for the smaller gnome to investigate.

“Beautiful! Have you found anything else, Josie?” Bernard asked eagerly.

“Yes. Have a look at this!” Jehosophat reached into his bag once more, as Bernard held onto the larger gnome’s ear to keep from sliding off his shoulder. When Jehosophat pulled out his hand, he was clutching a small brown button, just like the ones the three larger gnomes wore on their clothing.

When Brimley spotted the button that Bernard was examining, he gasped. “Are any of you missing a button?”

All of the gnomes, including Bernard, who didn’t even wear buttons, looked down at their tunics. Then they looked back at Brimley.

“If none of you is missing a button, then where did it come from?” asked Belvedere.

Silence fell as the gnomes comtemplated this question. Finally, Brimley spoke the inevitable conclusion: “There must be another gnome!”

“Another one?” Belvedere lamented. “We don’t need anyone else!”

“Relax, Belvie,” Brimley soothed. “You were new once, remember? We must find him and welcome him!” Brimley, as the first gnome to arrive in Nathan Clarke’s garden, felt that it was his duty to greet each gnome that appeared in the garden. “Let the search begin!”

“Oh, goody!” Bernard began hopping up and down on Jehosophat’s shoulder. “This is the first time I’ve gotten to greet a new gnome!”

“That’s the spirit!” Brimley stated, pumping his small fist in the air. “We know he isn’t in the front garden, so let’s start on the side. This way, everyone!” Brimley pushed past Belvedere and marched resolutely down the path toward the side of the house. Belvedere and Jehosophat, with Bernard riding on his shoulder, followed.

Before Brimley had led the group of gnomes very far, however, he was horrified to hear a moan and the grating sound of wood moving against wood. He swiveled around, colliding with Belvedere, and fervently murmured, “What was that?”

Bernard and Jehosophat stopped their quiet conversation and listened intently, as well. Brimley scanned the garden and the small house before resting his gaze upon the window from which Bernard had emerged. Horrified, he watched as Nathan Clarke’s small hands slowly worked the window up. “Quickly! Stiffen!” Brimley ordered.

The gnomes aligned themselves next to the cement spacers on the garden path and mimicked their daytime postures. Brimley held his breathe as Nathan Clarke finally opened the window wide enough to stick his head through. The young boy rested his chin on the window sill and dangled his arms against the side of the house as he stared wistfully out into the garden. When he spotted the gnomes, he jerked his head upward, banging it against the window. “Ouch!”

“Nathan?” his mother’s voice inquired from within the house. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, Mom!” Nathan pulled his head back inside. “I just hit my head on the window!” The boy paused, glancing back at the gnomes. “Can I go play outside?”

Through the window, Brimley could see that Camille Clarke had appeared in her son’s doorway. “Just for a few minutes, and you must stay in the garden,” she instructed. “And be sure to come back inside when I call you.”

“I will, Mom,” Nathan said as he dashed past his mother towards the front door of the house.

Brimley heard the hardwood floors creaking as Camille crossed the bedroom. Placing her hands on the window, she forced it closed without even glancing outside. Brimley shuddered. Their secret was safe from Camille, but Nathan Clarke was, at that moment, swinging open the front door of the house and stepping onto the front porch.

Brimley trembled, nearly losing his grip on the poetry book tucked beneath his left arm, and watched the boy bound down the front steps. Nathan Clarke slowed his steps as he approached the group, and when he reached them, he settled down onto one of the stones and curled his legs beneath him.

Brimley tried to maintain a vacant stare, but Nathan Clarke focused his penetrating, intelligent eyes on the gnome, and Brimley reluctantly turned his eyes to meet the boy’s gaze. Unsurprised, Nathan Clarke grinned and reached out to inspect Brimley’s book.

“What are you reading?” he asked quietly.

“It’s poetry, kid,” Belvedere responded before Brimley could speak. “You read poetry?”

Nathan Clarke slowly shook his head. “No. My mom does, though.” Closing the tiny book and handing it back to Brimley, he continued. “I didn’t know all of you were alive.”

“What do you mean, ‘all of you’?” Brimley asked hesitantly. “Did you know some of us were alive?”

“Of course. Bernard leaves the window open when he leaves. I’ve seen him come back when he things I’m asleep.”

Belvedere glared at the tiny gnome who huddled behind Jehosophat’s ear. “You should have been more careful,” he muttered.

“I’m sorry,” Bernard whimpered. “He’s just a kid! I didn’t think he’d notice!”

“No, no, it’s okay.” Nathan Clarke plucked Bernard off Jehosophat’s shoulder and held him up to his face to quietly reassure him. “I won’t tell anyone. Even my mom. I promise!”

“I believe him, friends,” Jehosophat continued. “Hey, maybe he can help us find . . . “

“Wait a second,” Belvedere interrupted gruffly. “How do we know he can be trusted?”

“You’re always so suspicious, Belvie. Bernard’s been sneaking out for months now! If Nathan Clarke were going to tell someone our secret, don’t you think he would have done so already?” Jehosophat gestured toward the boy, shaking his treasure bag in the process.

Nathan Clarke nodded emphatically, while Belvedere merely gave a “harrumph” and puffed his pipe.

“What is it you’re trying to find?” Nathan asked. “Maybe I can help.”

Bernard trotted over to where Jehosophat stood and tugged on the edge of the larger gnome’s tunic. “Show him the button, Josie.”

Jehosophat set his sack on the ground and held out his left fist, which still held the button. “We found this. It’s just like ours, but none of us have lost any. We think a new gnome has arrived in your garden. Do you know?”

“Of course,” Nathan Clarke responded. “I always help Mom pick out the gnomes. I helped name all of you, you know.” The boy gestured to the gnomes surrounding him. “We put the new gnome next to the little pool beside the house yesterday.”

Belvedere grunted. “Only been here one day, and he’s already lost a button?”

Brimley ignored Belvedere’s grumblings and turned to Nathan Clarke. “Can you show us?”

Brimley nodded emphatically, and the gnomes all quietly shuffled through the foliage beside the path where the boy walked. Their alert gazes scanned the house and garden for any sign of Camille Clarke, and all were prepared to dive into the bushes in case she appeared. The little company safely crossed the small, wooden bridge connecting the side garden to the one in front, and even Belvedere seemed to relax knowing they were no longer in direct view of the front porch.

Nathan Clarke marched over to the reflecting pool in the center of the side garden and knelt down beside it. “The gnome sat right here earlier today. I wonder where it is now?”

Brimley walked to the edge of the pond and peered down at his reflection and the leaves scattered across the surface of the water. “If I were a gnome in this part of the garden,” he speculated, “where would I go at night?” Brimley glanced around and spotted a cement bench nearby. He had taken one step in that direction when Camile’s voice rang through the garden.

“Nathan! Time to come in! Nathan!”

The boy gasped and jumped up. “I better go, guys. Good luck finding the new gnome!”

Brimley called out before Nathan had reached the bridge. “Nathan Clarke!”

The child turned. “Yes?”

“You mustn’t tell your mother, all right? Keep this a secret!”

He nodded solemnly. “I’ll keep it a secret. I promise. Can I come see you again tomorrow night?”

Brimley glanced at the others. Jehosophat and Bernard nodded emphatically, but Belvedere merely grunted and shrugged his concession. “Of course you can.”

Nathan Clarke grinned. “Good night, then!” He ran around the stone path back to the porch, and the gnomes were once again alone in the garden.

Brimley turned to the others. “Let’s go check that bench.” As Brimley led the way, he suddenly heard the faint sound of a flute playing. When he neared the bench, the music grew slightly louder, and Brimley spotted tiny feet clad in brown leather slipper sticking out from beneath it.

“I knew you’d find me eventually,” a mellifluous voice floated out.

The unexpectedly soft voice surprised Brimley, who came to a sudden stop a few feet away from the bench.

“You knew we were here?” he questioned.

“Of course. I saw you pillaging last night in the front garden.”

“We weren’t pillaging,” Jehosophat stated defensively. “Just searching for lost treasures.”

The gnome chuckled. “Whatever. I watched you from far away. I even saw you find my button and knew you would eventually figure out I was here.”

Brimley shook his head. “Okay, then. Will you at least come out, so we can introduce ourselves properly?”

The feet disappeared as the gnome pulled them back in before emerging from the bench on hands and knees. When the gnome stood, Brimley stared in shocked silence. The clothing and hat were the usual garb of a garden gnome, but instead of the traditional dark blues, reds, and greens, this gnome wore chocolate brown pants and a lavender tunic, which was missing one button. A light pink, pointed hat sat atop a mass of blonde curls, and the gnome’s blue eyes sparkled. Held tightly in the gnome’s right hand was a small, silver flute.

Brimley and Bernard could only gape at the new arrival. Jehosophat dropped his bad with a loud clunk, and the hand that clutched Belvedere’s pipe fell limply at his side.

“But you’re, you’re . . . ” Brimley stuttered.

She smirked. “Hi, boys. My name is Virginia.”

Learning to Breathe

I’m taking an advanced tutorial fiction writing class during the month of January. We have to produce somewhere between 15 and 60 pages of fiction writing. It’s intimidating, and I’m overthinking it and stressing myself out about it. But I did manage to find something to turn in for my first assignment. I wrote it back in the spring, so I pulled it out, made a few revisions, extended the ending, and turned it in. We’ll see what my professor thinks on Friday. But for now, I’ve decided to include it on my blog, since I did start this blog promising myself I would write more.

***

Marion finally decided that Jeremy wasn’t showing up. He’d promised to be here before 7:00, and the clock on the microwave read 9:54. Three hours late . . . again. And not answering his cell phone.

She picked up her purse from the dining room table and dug around until she withdrew a set of car keys. As she stormed through the living room towards the front door, she called over her shoulder to her roommate, “I’m going for a drive. If he actually shows up, tell him whatever you want.” She slammed the door shut behind her before she could hear Carmen’s response. Carmen thought she should dump Jeremy. Marion was finally close to agreeing.

Marion pulled her car out of the driveway and turned north to head out of town. One of the advantages of living in a small town surrounded by farmland was that plenty of lonely highways stretched across the landscape. Marion often drove for miles without passing another car. Marion often drove for miles after Jeremy stood her up.

As the houses and street lights grew farther and farther apart, Marion turned the volume of the radio up. She was not in the mood for ridiculous pop music, so she reached up to the visor to pull out the CD in the first slot. Switchfoot’s Learning to Breathe. The one she always listened to when she drove at night. She turned the volume up as loud as she dared. Marion firmly believed that, one day, she would be able to drown out her thoughts. So far, it was a failed experiment.

Marion drove seemingly on auto-pilot as she let the music fill up the empty spaces and she contemplated how she was going to break up with Jeremy. A boyfriend who was perpetually late or absent was bad enough. When that same boyfriend forgot his plans to take her out to dinner on her twenty-fifth birthday, he was no longer worth her time.

When Marion reached a stop sign on the highway, she flipped on her blinker and turned left. Three miles down the road, she turned down a back road that led to an old Methodist church where her great-great-grandparents were buried. As she braked to turn onto the dirt road that would through the cemetery, the headlights of her car swept across old, crumbling gravestones. She pulled to a stop beside the little white church and turned the ignition off, leaving the headlights on. Without the music and the sound of the car’s engine, Marion was surrounded by an unearthly silence that sent shivers down her spine.

She sat still for several moments before finally switching the headlights off, too. Leaving the keys in the ignition, she stepped out of the car and walked around to the front. Lifting her right foot up to the bumper, she hoisted herself onto the hood of the car. Perched next to the hood ornament, she rested her elbows on her knees and her chin in her hands and felt as dead and lifeless on the inside as the scene that stretched out before her.

One street light cast a surreal orange glow over the cemetery and the side of the church. Dim moonlight filtered through the overcast sky, casting an eerie glow over the tombstones that stretched out in straight lines across the grass. Some of the stones were tall and proud, others stout. Most were faded and crumbling, worn by time and the elements. Many were clustered with tombstones of other family members, and a few boasted flower arrangements at the base of the stone. Most, however, were unadorned, as few family members were left to tend the graves. Entire lineages were buried here.

Marion just barely remembered her grandparents, who themselves barely remembered the ancestors buried here. This place, tucked away from any well-traveled road, seemed to be the land that time forgot. Church services had not been held in the old white building for forty years. Only one or two elderly residents were buried in the cemetery each year. While the church was kept painted, and the grass cut regularly, very few visitors set foot on the property. Marion actually found herself there every few weeks, mostly on nights similar to tonight. But never had she encountered anyone else, even during the daytime.

As a child, she had visited with her grandparents, who had come to put flowers on the graves of their grandparents. The place had both fascinated and terrified her. She enjoyed climbing the steps to the front of the church to touch the old doors that kept history locked inside. As she grew a little older–and a little braver–she asked her grandfather to hoist her up to peer into the side windows. The dusty pews and pulpit seemed lonely and desolate, and Marion thought it sad that no one was allowed inside anymore. The cemetery itself scared her, too. She had always clutched her grandmother’s hand tightly as they walked through the rows of tombstones. She listened quietly as her grandmother told stories about the family members buried there. Marion loved the stories.

On this night, however, the stories seemed more haunting than historical. Marion very easily imagined that the ghosts would soon rise up and begin walking towards her. The thought alone was almost enough to send her flying back to the driver’s seat and heading back to civilization.

The thought of Jeremy kept her there, however. Marion had a decision to make, and she knew the relationship had to end. Jeremy was undependable. He was always late. He never appreciated anything she did, whether it was cooking dinner or buying him a spectacular gift for his birthday last month.

Marion and Jeremy had grown up together. They’d been best friends in elementary school, and they’d dated in high school until Jeremy left for college five hours away. When he’d come back to town a year and a half before, however, he was single again. Marion had been dating him ever since.

As she gazed across the darkened cemetery, Marion realized that her relationship had run its course. She was only dating Jeremy because he was all she’d ever known. During the years when they’d been apart, Marion had never had a serious relationship, and she’d always wished for Jeremy to return. When he did, she was sure they would get married. Now, she wondered if she even loved him at all. Marion knew that Jeremy was safe and comfortable. Like her nighttime visits to this church, he was routine.

As Marion finally admitted these thoughts to herself, the anger drained out of her, only to be replaced by a weariness that made her heart sink. Tears coursed down her cheeks, and she buried her face in her hands. At twenty-five, she was stuck in a complacent, average life, and in a few more generations, she would be as forgotten as those buried nearby. As resistant to change as she had always been, she knew that it was finally unavoidable.

Marion lifted her head as she heard a vehicle turn onto the dirt road. She recognized the familiar sound of the diesel engine, so when the truck pulled up beside her car and Jeremy stepped out, Marion was not surprised. Of course he would come here. Even if Carmen made up some elaborate story, Jeremy would have figured it out, since Marion always came here.

Jeremy silently walked over to the car and slid onto the hood. He didn’t touch her, didn’t try to make excuses. He knew.

Marion stared straight ahead, avoiding looking at him. Finally, she sighed, and with a new resolve, clearly stated, “I guess you know it’s over.”

His deep voice was quiet and sincere. “I know. I’m really sorry, Marion.”

Marion turned her head slightly to look at him. “I actually do believe that. But it’s not enough anymore, Jeremy. It I mattered more to you, you would remember me before it’s too late.”

Jeremy sighed. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

Marion reached out her hand to grasp his one last time. He tightly entwined his fingers with hers and squeezed before speaking again. “I loved you, you know.”

Marion caught his use of the past tense and recognized the truth of his statement. “I loved you, too.” Fresh tears slid down her cheeks.

Jeremy slid off the car hood and stood in front of her. Placing his hands around her face, he leaned in and gently kissed her. “Goodbye, Marion.”

Marion closed her eyes and leaned into him briefly before he pulled away. “Goodbye, Jeremy.” Marion sat still and listened as he pulled away, leaving her alone yet again. She marveled as she listened to the sound of her own breathing penetrating the silence around her. Jeremy was gone, but life would continue without him. Marion breathed in deeply one final time before jumping off the car and sliding behind the steering wheel. Before she turned back onto the dark road, her headlights beamed over the tombstones as Marion left the cemetery, driving back home.