Last week, I couldn’t get over how horrible my short story was. I mean, it really, really sucked. So, instead of writing a new, crappy short story, I revised last weeks for the two hours I would have committed to writing a different one. Here is the revised version. I like it MUCH better, but there could be more love for it in the future. ❤
The Waiting Sunset
When Helena was young, she made friends with a boy named Waylon. One day, she decided she loved him while eating a carambola. She felt an older boy who knew about strange fruit, marine biology, and details of death and cared enough to share it with her deserved her affection, no matter that he was a ghost.
Helena wasn’t sure how to tell Waylon, so she hid it away for the whole of fourteen months. There was nothing spectacular about the night she told him she wanted to spend the rest of all of her moments with him. They lay on her bed, his feet to her shoulders and hers to his, laughing about how someone pelted Helena’s geometry teacher with a paint ball during third period, but the teacher couldn’t identify the culprit through the newspaper he was reading when it happened. Waylon laughed because, if he had been alive, he would have thrown the paint ball. Helena laughed because she could appreciate the act but would never have done it. When the humor died Waylon’s hand soothed his hair and landed cold on her ankle. His thumb moved back and forth. Chills spread over Helena’s body, and urged her to tell him this was how she wanted the rest of her life to be. Waylon stared at her for long, agonizing seconds before he told her, “Don’t wait up for me. I have some things to do.” He crossed over the blankets, kissed her cheek, and vanished.
Six and a half years later, Helena has managed to convince herself that Waylon was a dream—a magical, complicated dream that life just couldn’t quite match. She graduated college with honors and works as a marine biologist’s assistant gathering killer whale excretions and seal vomit. She racks up hundreds of volunteer hours at the crisis hotline and fosters stray cats until permanent homes are found for them. She even dates a bit. The current boy wonder is a pastor’s son who is planning to be a pastor himself. Helena isn’t unhappy or happy. She just is.
Today, Helena celebrates her birthday. At the bus stop, arms hugging her waist, she closes her eyes and allows herself this small indulgence; she remembers Waylon. It’s the only day of the year she lets herself think about him because he has a tendency to take over her everything if she’s not careful. Helena doesn’t dwell on his shoulders or eyes or smile, although those things are memorable, but what she revels in is the way he made her feel. So important. So alive. So complete. She’s proud of what she has built for her life, but, Helena has to admit, all of the respectable things that she throws herself into have yet to replicate fourteen months of rightness. Day-to-day this doesn’t bother her, but on one’s birthday a person should be self-aware, so it does today.
When the good feelings of the past spawn a strange present feeling, unexplainable and unquenchable, Helena doesn’t want to remember anymore. Her lids rise and she raises her head to see a figure coming toward her. He has a small, distinguishing limp to his walk. The bus stop, the sidewalk, the sun, the breeze—all her surroundings shift and blur, while his lines sharpen. Helena’s knows her memory housed Waylon perfectly, not forgetting a freckle or scar, and that exact image stands before her with his crooked, joking grin, while she waits for the punch-line.
“I told you not to wait up.” Waylon reaches out his hand.
It’s an urge, a necessity, to take his hand. Even after all these years, he is magic and power and need, and Helena wants to orbit him like the moon to earth. After such a long, painful absence, she doesn’t resist. When she touches his hand, the wind tornadoes around them, lifting them off the ground, and places them, more softly than she expected, on a worn path leading to a cliff.
Helena feels herself fade, reduced to a watermark. The best of Helena is within her, and she lets that self out with each step she takes toward the edge. Beyond the cliff a sunset silhouettes the tall grass while causing the clouds and the water that reflected the sky to look more heavenly with its golds, purples, and whites.
Waylon only notices Helena.
Since his death, she was what kept him from total condemnation every time the temptation came to end it all again. After Waylon died the way he did, he found himself stuck here on earth, fighting the feelings he felt when took his life. Every. Single. Day. It was a special kind of hell, darker and more isolated than anything he felt while he lived. But that’s what hell wanted him to feel, so when it presented respite from the pain, he would take it, no matter the cost. And he almost did. But who was to say that if he did there would be peace this time?
He met Helena a week after his death. He leaned against a light pole, crying. She asked if there was something she could do for him, something to make him smile, and she offered up her cream cheese Danish with a crescent moon shape bitten out of the side, so Waylon knew Helena knew how good it tasted and was willing to let him have it anyway. Ghosts don’t eat, but the gesture got Waylon through another day.
Helena was the only one Waylon found who could see him, but she was also the only one who saw who he was on the inside, too. She didn’t stop the desolation brewing inside him, but she distracted it, and as the friendship grew, she made him step back and face it. All the while, the demons came at his darkest moments shaped like the people he loved from his previous life, declaring their disappointment, pushing him to bargain the rest of forever for numbness from the pain. He almost did once or twice. But in the end, there was Helena. Helena, who knew everything but would not leave Waylon to suffer in solitude.
Waylon pulls her to a stop and strokes her cheek. “I missed the way your mouth twitches when you are just about to figure out the answer to a question.”
Helena touches her lips, embarrassed, but he moves her hand and holds it to his still chest.
“I’m no longer…” The word alive isn’t audible. It doesn’t have to be.
Waylon shakes his head. “I’m so sorry.”
“Are you here…” to stay.
“No.” but then he smiles and says, “And neither are you.”
Helena grasps his shirt, pulling him closer. “I can’t go back now.”
Waylon breathes deeply. “You have no idea how much that means to me.”
“I hope as much as it means to me.”
The sun sinks lower and Helena tenses from fear of something impending.
“You have to choose. The cliff or the land.”
Her voice climbs as high as her disbelief. “Jump from the cliff?”
“Have some faith, Lena.” Waylon’s smile is a dare. “You don’t have to jump. You could turn around and walk that way.” Waylon pointed to an expanse of land that blurred the harder you tried to focus. “I can guide you through either gate, but I can only stay on the side of the one I chose.”
“And which one did you choose?”
“I can’t answer that.” He shifts feet. “That’s cheating.”
“When have you ever followed rules?” Helena asks, memories softening her face.
“Since they were the only way we could have a chance to really be together, even,” he places his hands on her shoulders, “if it’s a small one.”
Helena closes the distance between them in a glorious hug. “Can we just…be for a while?” Just in case.
Waylon shuts his eyes for a moment, lifts his chin upward, and then nods his head. The air around them freezes, leaves dancing in the wind hang lifeless around them, the sun stops its decent. Everything is a statue but Waylon and Helena. “He’ll stop this world for a while, but when it begins again and the dark closes in, you have to choose.”
Helena tucks her hands deep in her pockets. “Okay. Who is He?”
“I can’t answer that, either,” Waylon says as he sits in the still grass.
She raises her head toward the coloring clouds and says, “Well, thank you, He,” before lowering herself beside him.
She thinks about asking why—why did he leave, why didn’t he love her enough to stay, why didn’t he say goodbye. But that would be a waste of time, so she tells him how—how much she missed him, how he made her whole, how she wished she had more memories to pull from than the year and two months granted, how she managed to live a life she was pleased with, though she wished it was with him.
Waylon doesn’t offer an explanation. Where he went. What he had to do to get here. He just talks about what he thought of her boyfriend, what Helena deserved, how important she is to him, how she saved him, and what he wanted to do to her for the rest of their existence. Helena blushes and curls into Waylon’s lap and they kiss until they can no longer distinguish individual blades of grass and the leaves, suspended in the air, fall to the ground. The sun is sinking again.
Waylon brushes the dirt from her shirt. “It’s time.”
“I know.” Helena crumples her face. Waylon’s expression lightens and he lifts Helena, spinning around and around. She laughs whole-hearted, and she gives Waylon her potential last kiss. She can’t worry about what decision he made. Helena knows that the only way she will be happy with herself is if she decides on her own merit, but she prays Waylon will walk with her through the gate she chooses.
Helena unfolds and reveals a level of peace she had experienced only briefly in her earthly life. “I was happiest when I took a risk to be with you, no matter the outcome of that moment.” Helena looks toward the cliff. “Maybe choosing the risky path here would lead to the same.” She looks to the sky. “Do you hear that, He?” She yells. “I choose the cliff.”
Waylon walks her to the edge hand-in-hand. They face each other in silence. Helena nods and they both push their weight over the edge.
On the way down to the water speckled with the fading sun she hears Waylon’s voice. “Good choice.”