Copyright © 2016 by Alice Rachel
Edited by Krista Venero from Mountains Wanted Publishing
All right reserved. No part of this short story may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any way or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods without written permission by the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, or incidents resembling events, locales, or persons, living or dead, are coincidental. They originated from the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously.
Willow’s short story starts when she meets Chi for the first time.
“Willow, please come downstairs, sweetie.”
I close my drawing pad, leave my desk, and run down the stairs two steps at a time. Mom is waiting for me in the living room, and Mrs. Richards is there as well. I stop in my tracks and look at the boy standing by her side. Stevie! Stevie is here!
I run into his arms and pull him into a hug. He makes a small sound as if I’ve crushed his chest, but I don’t let go. His back stiffens a bit, and then he relaxes against me. He pats my shoulder, and I kiss his cheek a couple of times, holding him more tightly.
Mom clears her throat behind me, and I pull away. I had forgotten; Stephen doesn’t want his parents to know about us. I step back and flash him an apologetic look. His eyes are shining as though he’s laughing at me. I smile at him, and his lips rise into a lopsided grin.
“I’m glad you’re so enthusiastic about meeting Chi,” Mrs. Richards tells me.
Chi? I take a step back. I stare at him, and my heart breaks. I glance at Mom. She knows I thought the boy was Stephen. The sadness in her eyes tells me she might be reconsidering her decision. Maybe she won’t ask me to marry Chi after all. Maybe she’ll let me date Stephen instead. Hope fills my heart.
“Willow, would you like to spend some time with Chi? I have to talk with Mrs. Richards.”
My heart aches. I don’t want to spend time with Chi.
I nod anyway.
Mrs. Richards casts me a sidelong glance. I don’t like the way she’s looking at me. There’s something mean about her that I’d never noticed before.
Chi is still smiling at me though. He finds me very funny, apparently. He winks, and I blush all over my face. My behavior was indecent; I’m embarrassed, even if Chi seems to find my attitude amusing.
“You can take him to your room,” Mom adds.
I flush harder. No boy has ever come to my room. No boy except Stevie. To be honest, Stevie wasn’t exactly allowed to visit my room. I just gave him permission without asking my parents. And now Chi is going to see my room too, and it will no longer be a place for just Stevie and me.
I lower my head and sigh. Then I grin at Chi and try not to show my disappointment as I turn around and he follows me upstairs.
When we enter my room, he stands at the entrance and doesn’t move. He’s as uncomfortable as I am, I guess.
“Do you want to sit down?” I ask without looking at him.
He comes in to sit on the edge of my bed, and he clears his throat while looking at the door that’s still wide open. I close it, and he rubs his neck. But he doesn’t say anything. He just studies the decorations in my room.
“Well, this isn’t awkward or uncomfortable or anything,” he says with a nervous laugh. “We don’t have to go through with this if you don’t want to hang out and stuff.”
“No, it’s okay.”
I avert my eyes. I can’t look at him; it’s too painful. He looks exactly like Stephen.
“Do you want to get out of here?” he asks. “You seem to enjoy nature. I mean, those flowers on your walls, you picked them yourself, right?”
He points at the dried flowers I’ve framed and hung all over my room.
I nod, and he smiles.
“We can go outside if you want,” I reply.
“Yes, let’s do that.”
He stands up and extends his hand to me. I look at his fingers and then his face. Maybe I can fool myself and pretend he’s Stephen. I take his hand and follow him downstairs, and then out of the house, all the way into the woods.
“Mom, I don’t want to date Chi.”
Mom looks at me as though I’ve ripped her heart out. “I know, sweetie.”
We’ve had this conversation many times already. I don’t want to give up. I’m trying to wear her down.
She sighs and walks to me, grabbing my shoulders while looking me in the eyes, her face only inches from mine.
“Willow, you need to be reasonable. I know you love Stephen. But Stephen is a normal boy. He goes to school like regular kids. He has a whole future in front of him. He can become someone in this world.”
I swallow hard and blink.
“It’s too dangerous for you to be together, sweetie. Stephen could slip and talk about you. If the authorities ever found you, you know what they’d do. We can’t risk that. If they found out that Stephen’s been dating you without advising them of your existence, they would kill him for his treason, too.”
Mom has told me that many times before. That’s why I’ve agreed to be with Chi. I don’t want Stephen to die because of me. Because I’m an illegal, and I’m not supposed to exist. Stephen deserves better than someone like me dragging him down.
“Chi is like you, sweetie. Being together doesn’t put either of you in any more danger. He can help you, and you can help him. I don’t want you to end up alone when your dad and I are gone. We won’t live forever. I want you to have someone to care for you. Do you understand?”
I nod and try to smile when she pats my shoulder. After a while, I leave her and run to my room, where I close the door and let myself drop on my bed. I smiled for Mom’s sake, but my heart is broken. I wish Stephen had been born second. I wish he were the Unwanted. Then we could be together and everything would be fine. But it’s selfish to think that way. After all, I do want Stephen to have a normal life.
Stephen comes to our meeting spot every day. Even though he knows I won’t be here, he still comes. And every day, I climb this tree long before he arrives so I can look at him. I hide high up in the air and sit on a branch where he can’t see me. Even if he looks up, he won’t be able to spot me. I wait, and he arrives right on time every day.
Stephen is here at last, and I can finally spend time with him, without anyone ever finding out. His dark eyes scan the area, looking for me. His face always turns from hopeful to forlorn when he realizes I’m not coming. And every day, my heart aches for him. But this is for the best. This is for his own good.
He asked me to run away, but I could never do that to him. I can’t believe he would leave it all behind—his family, his life—just to be with me. I love him too much to accept his sacrifice. I know he didn’t understand when I tried to explain all that to him. He’s not reasonable, so I have to be rational for the two of us.
He’s propped up against a tree facing mine. I can’t see his expression because his hair has dropped over his eyes, hiding his face. Eventually, he lifts his head and holds it up against the tree. I can finally catch a glimpse of him. His eyes are wide open and dark. His stunning features always strike me, all sharp and symmetrical. My Stevie is beautiful. I can never stop looking at him, even when he’s not aware of my presence. I run my eyes all over him. What I really want to do is touch him with my hands instead, and he doesn’t even know it. He’s just beautiful, but I can never have him. He can never be mine again, though I will always be his.
He seems upset today, angry even. His fists and jaw are clenched with obvious irritation. It’s odd. I’ve never seen him in a bad mood before. Stephen is always kind and gentle, never harsh, never livid like this. Something must have happened today to distress him. I want to comfort him. I want to hold him, but I know I can’t.
He closes his eyes, inhales and exhales deeply. I extend my hand to trace the lines of his face, my fingers stroking nothing but air. I wish I could touch him. I want to hold him and kiss him. Whatever is ailing him today, I want it to go away. His eyes open, and a tear rolls down his cheek. I’ve never seen him cry before, not once. It pains me to see him so sad.
I close my eyes and try to ignore my sorrow. I can’t reveal my presence. Though I want nothing more, I can’t let him know I’m here. He pushes himself off the tree with his foot and walks away. I know he’s disappointed. I know he was waiting for me.
When he’s gone, I climb down, my eyes stinging from tears. I never meant to hurt him, but I have to stay away, for his own good. I have to believe it. I have to trust this is for his own protection and that I’ve made the right choice.
I spend a lot of time with Chi every day. He’s really sweet and kind, but he’s not Stevie. I often look at him. I try to pretend that Chi is Stevie, but it doesn’t work. They may look identical, but they are too different for me to fool myself.
Chi and I often walk through the woods to look for food for our families. Though his father has taught him how to hunt, Chi never kills any animals when I’m around. He helps me collect the flowers and weeds my mom has asked me to bring home.
I catch him grabbing some bays, and I run to his side. I slap his hand, hard. “No, you can’t eat those!”
The bays fall to the ground.
“Why not?” he asks.
“Because they are poisonous. You’ll die.”
“How do you know? It’s not like you’ve tried them before, have you?” he teases me.
“Just don’t eat them!”
“What am I allowed to eat, then?”
I look around and notice an elderberry bush. “Here, you can eat these.”
He grasps a few berries hanging higher up in the shrub. I told him not to take those at the bottom; sometimes animals do their business on the lower branches.
He brings the fruit to his lips, tilts his head back, drops some in his mouth, and chews. He makes a face.
“Ewww, what are those, Will? They’re gross.”
He still swallows them all though. He grimaces each time, and I giggle while handing him some more. He takes them and gives me a doubtful look.
“You’re just trying to kill me,” he says. “Death by poor taste.”
“Are you saying I have bad taste?”
“I dunno. You’re feeding me these things. It’s gotta say something about you, Will,” he replies with a crooked smile.
I laugh. “Why are you eating them, then?”
“Because you gave them to me. It’d be rude to reject such a kind present.”
He grins, grabs my hand, and pulls me to him. My body touches his, and he wraps his arms around me.
“May I kiss you?” he asks.
My breath hitches. Spending time with Chi as friends is one thing, but kissing him means betraying Stephen for good.
But I don’t have a choice. I nod.
He holds me closer, and I close my eyes. His lips touch mine.
I’m kissing Stevie. This is Stevie. I’m just kissing Stevie.
His mouth presses against mine. His kiss is tender. He’s not Stevie. My heart breaks. Stephen always kisses me as if he can’t breathe if he’s not touching me. Chi kisses me delicately, sweetly. It’s just not the same.
Chi pulls away and studies my reaction, so I give him a faint smile and pretend I like being with him.
“Can we drop by the place I showed you last time?” I ask. “I want to leave some elderberries there.”
“Still feeding the animals?” Chi asks. “Can’t they just pick the fruit from the bushes?”
I shrug. These berries are not for the animals; they are for Stephen. But Chi doesn’t know that.
“Fine, I’ll help,” he adds.
He picks up a few elderberries and drops them in the cloth I’ve brought with me.
“Why do they need a cloth though? And why do you leave the fruit in that tree hole every time?” Chi is always curious about everything. “Can’t they eat it off the ground?”
I hide a smile. I don’t want Stephen to eat fruit off the ground like a beast.
“It’s just how it needs to be. Doing things this way prevents the animals from fighting over the food,” I lie.
Chi shrugs, leans in, and kisses my cheek. “You’ve gotta be the cutest girl I know.”
I giggle. I’m sure I’m the only girl he knows.
We walk through the woods and head to the tree. Chi reaches into the hole, pulls out some fruit, and looks at me.
“It’s a waste, Will. The animals didn’t eat the fruit you left here! Just a bunch of ants taking the stuff away.”
My heart drops. Stephen hasn’t come here once since I started leaving food for him again. He probably thinks I don’t love him anymore. I blink back my tears and shrug.
“Ants are allowed to eat too, Chi.”
Maybe if I keep on bringing food here, Stephen will find it at some point. Then he’ll know I didn’t forget about him.
Chi and I have been together for months now. I’ve tried to grow feelings for him, but it’s not working. I already know I will never love him like I love Stephen. I can’t. I don’t think Chi is in love with me either. He’s always nice to me, but I can tell he doesn’t care for me as deeply as Stephen does.
Every day, I have to give Chi something only meant for Stephen, something that belongs to Stephen only. But Chi doesn’t know that, and it’s too late now to tell him. It would only break his heart; he never meant to cause Stephen any pain. And I’ve hurt enough people already. I can’t bear the thought of upsetting Chi as well, not when I could never be with Stephen anyway.
I look at the sketch of Stephen that I’ve been working on all week, and I imagine I’m back with him. He’s spinning me around and…
Someone knocks on my bedroom door.
“Yes, come in.” I close my drawing pad quickly to hide the draft from view. I don’t want Mom to see me drawing Stephen. I’ve stopped begging her to let me be with him. I pretend to be happy because I know my sadness is hard on her.
The door opens, and Lila comes in.
“Oh, it’s you,” I say and open my pad again.
She closes the door behind her and comes to stand behind my back. When she notices my drawing, she sighs.
“You’re still in love with him?” she asks.
I don’t answer. I will always love Stephen.
Lila rubs my back and leans forward to rest her chin on my shoulder.
“He’s handsome, isn’t he?” she says.
I nod and smile.
“I haven’t seen him in a while,” she adds.
Her words sadden me. I want Stephen to be happy. Maybe Lila could make him happy. I tell myself that every day. I try to convince myself that I want him to finally let go and live his life.
“He doesn’t talk to me anymore,” she says. “He told me he won’t date me.”
Lila doesn’t sound sad about it though. She knows no matter what I say, it would hurt me to see her with Stephen. Even if I want him to be happy, I can’t lie; I want him to be happy with me.
“He talked about you,” she says. “In fact, you’re all he talked about.” She stands up straight. “Stephen really loves you, Willow. He needs you more than Chi does. We only get one life, little sis. Make sure to live yours to the fullest. Always remember, surviving isn’t living.”
She pats me on the shoulder and steps out.
I stare at the door for a very long time.
Chi and I have been going to the barn every day this past week to feed the chickens. I call my favorite hen as soon as we walk in. She knows her name. She looks at me, tilts her head to the side, and comes running. I crouch so as to pet her head and caress the feathers of her wings as well, and she shows her approval.
Chi looks at me and smiles. “Can you do that with all of them or just this one?”
“They all know their names,” I say. “Some of them don’t like to be touched though.”
I stand up, take Chi’s hand, and lead him farther into the barn.
“This is Leo. He hates it when I grab him, and he’ll pinch you too if you try.”
“I’m not scared of a chicken,” Chi replies.
“He’s not just a chicken. He’s a rooster, and he’ll use his beak to make you bleed. He has tasted my blood before, and he liked it.”
Chi laughs at that. “He’s a vampire rooster.”
I look at him, confused.
“You know…He’s a rooster and he’s a vampire,” he says. “A vampire, you know, like Dracula…”
“What about Bunnicula?” he asks.
I stare at him and blink.
He smiles at me. “Never mind. I’ll bring you the book someday.”
He pulls me to him and kisses my cheek, then my neck, then my ear. I giggle, and he clears his throat while looking at me.
He averts his eyes and blushes. His entire face has turned red. “Uh, do you…? You know, would you like us to do something else?”
“Like what?” I ask.
“Well, uh, you know…” He lets go of me, takes a few steps back, and scratches the back of his head. “I was wondering if you would like us to take the next step.”
I blink at him. I don’t understand.
He sighs. “I feel like such an idiot.”
“No, no, it’s just…I don’t know what you’re saying.”
He clears his throat again. “Well, I wanted to know if you had ever considered doing more, you know, more than kissing.”
I blink at him.
“We don’t have to if you don’t want to. It’s just, if we are to be husband and wife and all that. I didn’t know if you wanted to try. I mean, I’ve never done it before, but…”
My heart skips a beat. Chi wants us to take our relationship to another level. I don’t want to. I don’t want to do it with him. I was saving myself for Stevie.
Chi must have read my feelings right through my eyes because he says, “I…I am so sorry, Will. Just forget about it. We don’t need to do anything. Just forget I said anything.”
“No.” I shake my head. He’s right. If we are to spend our lives together, we might as well go all the way now. “I want to. I just don’t know how.”
Chi chuckles. “Well, that makes two of us.”
Chi lied; he totally knew how. At least, he knew a lot more than I did. He was gentle, too. The whole thing was awkward though, and it hurt. The following day, he asked if I wanted to do it again, and I enjoyed his touch better the second time. But my heart is in agony. Now, there is no going back. I’ve betrayed the one person I love. It’s too late, and I can never be with Stephen after what I did. I haven’t gone back to our meeting spot. I just can’t look at him. The resplendent sight of him is something I no longer deserve to revel in.
I spend more time with Chi instead. We tell our parents we’re going to the barn to take care of the chickens, but what we do there is something totally different. I care for Chi very deeply, but I cry at night, every night, over what I did, over what I have to do. I hope Stephen never finds out. But I know Chi will tell him eventually. Maybe he already has. I hope not. I know Stephen will hurt when Chi tells him we’ve slept together.
I look at Chi; he’s lying on his back. He pulls me against his chest and kisses my hairline. We’re snuggling on the sheet covering the hay, and I’ve wrapped my legs around his.
“Did it hurt this time?” he asks.
I shake my head. “No, it only did the first time.”
The part of me that’s hurting isn’t something Chi can fix. My eyes well up, but I blink back the tears. Chi can never find out; he can never know about Stephen and me.
I couldn’t stay away from Stephen much longer. I missed him too much over the time I tried not to come here. I don’t think I can do this. I don’t think I can spend my life with Chi, away from Stephen. I’ve tried. I’ve tried so hard.
I miss the contact of him against me. I miss his lips over mine. I miss how sweet and caring he is. I miss the sound of his voice when he laughs. I miss his smile—a sight that has become so rare since I left him.
I wait and he finally comes like he does every day. Stephen looks at me and blinks a few times as if he can’t believe I’m actually here. I run to him and hold him tight, so tight. His sweater smells like him—clean with a hint of cinnamon. I clutch his sleeves and rub my nose against his chest, inhaling as deeply as I can.
“Stevie.” I say his name and he looks down at me, his dark eyes in pain.
“Why are you here?” he asks. “I’ve been waiting for you. You never came. Why are you here today?”
My heart squeezes tightly.
“Chi told me about what you did together,” he says. His voice can barely hide his heartbreak, and I can’t keep the tears inside. I never wanted this. I never meant to hurt him. The sadness in him is so vibrant, I can feel it as if it were my own.
“Did you want to do it? I mean, with him?” he asks.
No. No, Stephen. I didn’t want to do it with him. I wanted to do it with you, always with you, only with you. I look at him, and he averts his eyes. His disappointment tears my heart apart.
He keeps asking me questions, questions I don’t want to answer because the answers will only hurt him even more. And then, he kisses me. Something wet drops on my skin. He’s crying. Stephen is crying, and it’s all my fault.
Whatever he wants, I will give it to him. He tells me he wants us to run away, and I can’t deny him. I can deny him no more. I want him. He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and I will love him, always. I am his, always. I nod and agree to meet him again tomorrow.
After tomorrow, it’ll be him and me only. I think about Mom and Dad and how I’m about to betray them. My heart aches. I don’t want to leave this way, but it’s the only solution. Maybe if Stephen and I hide well enough, the authorities will never find us. Maybe we can be safe. Maybe we can be together for real this time.
He seems so desperate to get away from here. Why is he willing to leave everything behind, I don’t know, but I will follow him anywhere he wants to go. I nod again, and he kisses me one last time. His lips brush mine, soft and sweet at first, then both hard and tender.
“I love you, Stevie,” I whisper against him. “Please, please, forgive me.”
He presses his forehead against mine, with his hands cupping my face.
“There is nothing you need to be forgiven for, sweetheart. I know why you did it. I understand. We’ll just forget about it all and move on together.” He kisses my hair and holds me against his chest. “I love you.”
He steps back and lets me go, our fingers now the only parts touching.
“I will see you tomorrow,” he adds and walks away.
I’m torn by sudden apprehension. I can’t shake this feeling away, this fear of never seeing Stephen again. I watch him leave, and though I know he will come back, this feels like our last farewell.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alice Rachel grew up in France before moving to the United States to live with her husband. When she doesn’t write, Alice teaches French.
She also spends hours reading all kinds of books (Young Adult, New Adult, Mystery, Horror, Romance, History, Graphic Novels…There probably isn’t a genre she doesn’t like). Alice enjoys going to the movies too, as well as visiting museums with her hubby, drawing, and taking care of her guinea pigs.
Alice loves to interact with her readers (and so do her characters), so send her a tweet. She also likes to chat through her website at www.alicerachelwrites.com as well as on Instagram, GoodReads, and Facebook. Her drawings can be found at www.society6.com/alicerachel.