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A snapshot in time

It was supposed to be a simple hello. Late afternoon, he was standing on the field of the Sunken Garden in UP Diliman, tall and dark and strong. I called his name, and he turned to me, giving that little half-smile that older guys seem to do so well. Not that he was that much older, though sometimes it felt like more than five years stood between us. Among our group of college friends from our hometown, he was the kuya and I, being a naïve freshman newly arrived in the city, was treated like everyone’s little sister.

But that afternoon, none of the others were there, and he stood alone under the windy sky. I walked towards him, meaning to give a warm hello, chat a little, maybe ask if our other friends were going to show up. But something changed as I came closer. The wind playing with my dress and tossing my hair as I walked, the afternoon light falling on his shoulders as he waited for me to approach, even the smell of newly mown grass made every step seem breathtaking. Significant.

He stretched out his arm, and I put my hand in his when I was near enough. He pulled me closer, slowly, and I lifted my face up to touch my cheek to his. It was just a friendly gesture, nothing more, a customary hello that I’d given to countless others.  But there was…something. A thrill, a current. Like for a moment we had stepped into a story, where we were different people in a different time.

Then we said hello, and the spell broke. Our friends came, we played frisbee, normality returned. In a movie, perhaps it would’ve been the start of a lovestory, with a soundtrack by Jason Mraz. But this was real life. We settled back into our roles, though sometimes I would look at him and wonder if that moment really happened. If he felt it, too, if he remembered. Because that memory stayed with me, and whenever his name pops up in my newsfeed, I remember him not as an old college friend, but as a man standing tall under the windswept sky, reaching out his hand to a girl.

As time went by, I realized that it wasn’t really about him, or me, or the two of us together. That memory had power because it reminded me that there are stories beneath our ordinary lives—possibilities—and now and then we’ll get a glimpse, but we still have to choose which ones we want to live. I had a glimpse of something and chose to leave it behind, but I don’t think it’s either happy or sad. It just is.

This post was a response the “face to face” Red Writing Hood prompt from Write on Edge.

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To my future husband, about a secret longing

By the time you read this knowing it’s for you, you already have my heart, along with the promise that it is yours to keep for the rest of our lives. Now there’s something I need to tell you, a seldom-spoken truth about the heart I gave that hopefully won’t change your mind.

I need you to pursue me.

There. Writing it, I sort of cringe in front of my computer. I try to find words that are less needy, less emotional, less vulnerable. It sounds so…unfeminist. But as much as I believe in a woman’s worth apart from a man’s opinion, there it is, the bare, unvarnished truth of my heart: I need you not just to love me, but to long for me.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not merely being longed for that I crave. There have been other pursuits in the past, other promises that I haven’t accepted because I was waiting for you to show up. But when you came…I stopped running. It’s  kind of ironic that the man I cannot turn away from is the one whose pursuit I most desire.

May I tell you something else? Sometimes, I don’t really believe I deserve it. On the darkest days, I wonder if you can ever look at me and see someone you would seek to the ends of the earth, someone worth fighting for, someone captivating and absolutely irreplaceable. And I’m very much afraid that if the answer is no,  or a devastatingly careless shrug, my love for you and my self-doubt would conspire to make me accept it. I would make excuses on your behalf, clinging to the assurance you gave while you were still trying to win me, convincing myself that it’s enough. I would dismiss my need as overly romantic and unreasonable, all the while quietly wondering if you’re only staying because I ask so little of you. And day by day, my heart would gradually shrink, drying up and shriveling on the part that your yearning used to fill.

So please. When we are spending our lives together, never stop wanting me.

Miss me when I’m gone. Really miss me.

Listen when I talk, even if it doesn’t seem important to you, even when it’s hard to understand. That’s how I’ll know you’re still discovering me, that you’re still interested, and not indifferent.

Don’t let me be the only one who asks for quality time. Your time, those moments when we can just delight in each other, is the “I love you” I most understand.

Kiss me like you mean it. Let’s promise never to let ourselves get out of practice.

I want our bed to eventually sag in the middle, because that’s where we always end up, instinctively drawing close even in our sleep. There’s nothing sadder in a marriage, I think, than a bed where the occupants never cross the boundary between his side and hers.

Whatever you do, just tell me. Tell me in a way that feels more than just a habit. Tell me with your voice and your eyes and your hands.  Tell me with the way you seek my gaze across a crowd. Tell me with the way you touch me when we wake up. Tell me you want me, desire me, that you would choose me again if we both lived twice.

Because there’s one last thing I want to confess, my darling: that’s exactly how I feel about you. You see, I’ve been longing for you all my life. Even before we met, even when my faith wavered that you would come, I’ve been longing for you. And the truth is, love, I simply don’t know how to stop.

*****

Just like last weekInspiration Monday has again given me exactly the push I needed to get out what I wanted to write. This week, the prompts I heeded were “you only live twice” and “single but taken”.  Thanks, InMon!

Haunted

I walked slowly through the ancient, abandoned insane asylum, thoroughly unnerved, skin crawling with chills that had nothing to do with the weather. Something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong.

Birds were singing. They hopped in patches of afternoon sunlight filtering in through the broken windows, pecking here and there at blades of grass growing out of cracks in the floor. Lizards darted along the crumbling walls, and butterflies (for heaven’s sake, freaking butterflies) fluttered among flowering vines that crept in from outdoors. The place was vibrant with life reclaiming the ruins.

That’s what was wrong. This place was haunted. At least, it was supposed to be. It belonged to the centuries-old dead,  those who’d been locked away here due to plots and conspiracies by their enemies. The truly insane who died had passed on. The unjustly imprisoned remained, their cold anger banishing all warmth from the moldering halls, their dark memories shrouding the windows from persistent sunlight. I didn’t know why they tolerated me coming here so often; I only knew why I came. This was the only place I could go where the outside world matched how I felt inside since Jonathan and our baby died.

Now the bright cheerfulness pervading the decrepit old building felt alien, glaring, even obscene. A bee buzzed by my cheek and I shrieked and jumped a foot, considerably more startled than when I first felt ghostly fingers touching my hair. I leaned against the wall, calming my furiously pounding heart, but the sun-warmed stone touching my skin freaked me out more than clammy, dripping walls ever did. What was going on here? What the hell was going on?

“Are you alright?”

I whirled towards the sound, fright mingling with relief that there was someone here, someone who might have answers.

“I heard you scream, so I came to see if you were alright.” The voice belonged to a man standing at the end of the hallway. Leather boots, torn jeans, dirty white shirt unbuttoned to partially reveal a solid chest. His eyes were ageless, and extraordinarily beautiful.

“Where are the ghosts?” I asked him, ignoring his concern.

“They left,” he replied. If he was surprised by my question, I couldn’t hear it in his tone.

“They left? Why?”

“I guess I scared them,” he answered, with an almost imperceptible lift at the corner of his mouth. Almost, but not quite.

“You scared them,” I deadpanned, despite the fact that my heartbeat was still in overdrive. “What could scare a ghost?”

“A wizard who could grant them another life.”

In my surprise, only the first part of his reply registered. I looked at him standing ten feet away, completely ordinary except for those remarkable eyes. “A  wizard. Right.” My disbelief couldn’t be more obvious.

At this, he chuckled and shook his head slightly, then started to amble towards me. “So let me get this straight. You believe in ghosts, but not in wizards?”

“I’ve seen ghosts,” I shot back.

He stopped about four feet away, holding out his arms at his sides. “Well, now you’re seeing a wizard, Melissa.”

The strangeness of the day, the drastic changes in my hideout, and the fact that this stranger knew my name choked any reply that I might have made to that.  Fear lodged in my throat so securely that I couldn’t make a sound.

“It just comes with the territory,” he offered gently, never moving from his spot, his watchful eyes marking my shock. “I mean you no harm.”

“Say you really are a wizard,” I said, struggling to swallow my fright just to get answers. “Why would you harm the spirits who were trapped here? And why is everything suddenly so different?”

He looked around at the sun-dappled, vine-tangled hallway. “It’s different because once their influence dissipated, nature started making up for lost time. But I didn’t harm your ghosts, Melissa, nor did I want to. I came here two nights ago because I was injured from a fight with two rivals who ambushed me nearby,” he explained, gesturing to the brown stains on his shirt, which I now realized were dried blood. “I defeated them, and I was able to close my wounds, but I needed a place to regain my strength. So I came here.”

“That doesn’t explain anything,” I interjected, my bravado rising again. “Even if any of it were true in the first place.”

“It’s all true,” he assured me, but instead of offense, I saw a hint of admiration at my determined recovery. “I’m powerful enough to grant a spirit in limbo a second chance at life. I’ve done it before, twice, for very good reasons. No one else can do that, and I guess it made me quite notorious in the supernatural world, so when I came here, the ghosts fled.”

“But why would they do that?” I cried, my heart starting to swell with unbearable desire, with anguished need. “Why would anyone miss a second chance at life?” If it were true, if he could do it, if it were in any way possible…my child, my beautiful child, and Jonathan, just to hold him close once again—

“Melissa,” he interrupted my frantic, half-formed thoughts. His voice was gentle, yet inexorable as rain as he doused my faint, flickering hope, “I can’t bring your family back. They’re no longer in limbo. They’ve moved on.”

Did I say my hope was faint? Yet when it was finally snuffed, there was a resounding crash, like a burned out house collapsing to the ground, burying me in ashes and burning, excruciating sorrow. It finally caught up with me here in my last escape, and I buckled under its weight, deaf to all else but the keening, animal sound of grief echoing against the walls. Dimly, I realized that it was my own throat making that horrible wailing, that I was finally weeping for what I had lost, releasing the flood of tears and racking sobs that I had kept firmly dammed for so long. I love them, I love them so much. I needed them, but I would never get them back. I would never get my family back, and I just wanted the agony to kill me.

But I didn’t die. After a long while, the tears were drained, and so was the last of my strength. I found myself lying on  the floor, curled up tightly with my back to the wall and my arms wound around my knees. The wizard—I realized that I didn’t know what else to call him—was sitting beside me, leaning against the wall and silently watching twilight fall through the window. That was all I registered before I gave in to the bone-deep exhaustion and fell asleep.

When I woke up, it was night time. There was no disorientation, just a returning awareness of grief and tiredness that not even the deepest sleep could ease. I gingerly sat up and took stock of my surroundings. The moon was out and there were some fireflies, but most of the light in the hospital hallway came from the little yellow fireball that my companion was tossing from hand to hand, much like my cousin Ted does with his favorite baseball. He looked at me and smiled, then casually waved a tall glass of water and a neatly wrapped sandwich into existence on the floor beside me. Still too tired to comment on this proof that he really was a wizard, I gratefully reached for the food and ate quietly.

When I was done, I leaned back against the wall beside him and stretched out my legs. “So you really are a wizard,” I remarked, just to break the silence. I winced at the hoarseness of my voice.

“Yep,” was all that he said.

“I still don’t understand why the ghosts ran away from you. I mean, they’re in limbo, so you could have helped them.”

“Can’t you really think of a reason?” he prodded, turning to me with an inscrutable look on his face.

“No,” I replied, genuinely puzzled but also glad for this tiny, momentary distraction from the barbed ache wrapped around my heart, piercing my lungs with every breath.

“Most ghosts don’t really want to live,” he explained. “They’ve gotten used to where they are. They haven’t accepted their deaths enough to move on, even after centuries. But life, with all its uncertainties, also terrifies them. Even being confronted with the choice to live again, the responsibility of having to say yes or no to that option, upsets them. So when they saw me coming, they fled.”

I was beginning to understand. I’d been a bit of a ghost myself, haunting this hospital, escaping the world. Only it wasn’t my own death that I was rebelling against. “Are they gone forever?”

“No,” he responded, shaking his head. “They’ll come back when I leave. Then all of this,” he gestured to the fireflies flickering among the vines on the opposite wall, “will go back to how it was.”

“Oh,” was all I could think of to say. The fireflies were really pretty, and I realized that I didn’t want them gone.

He smiled at my tone, a quiet smile, full of compassion. “You won’t be able to come back here, Melissa.”

“Why not?” I asked, but somehow I already sensed the answer.

“You’re no longer like them, not since you started facing your loss today. You’re now entering reality once again, rejoining the land of the living. They won’t let you back in. But you no longer need this place, anyway.”

“Living hurts,” I whispered, my voice cracking and tears, never too far away now, rushing back into my eyes. “It hurts so damned much.”

“I know,” he murmured. Then he released his fireball to float in front of us and slowly, gently reached out to draw me closer. With utmost care he rested my head on his shoulder and put his arm around me, then added, “but not always. It won’t always hurt.”

With that promise, he pressed a kiss on my temple, a simple kindness, a blessing to go with the uncomplicated comfort of his warmth. We sat there inside the ruined old building, the fireball, the moon and the fireflies blurring through my tears, dancing points of light in the darkness of my first night back in the land of the living. This time, I didn’t close my eyes.

*****

This was written for Inspiration Monday, in response to the prompt “now entering reality”. However, it started as a dream that pretty much was like the beginning of this post, where she walks around to find all the ghosts gone, and I woke up wondering, what could frighten the dead? This was a way to answer that question. Sorry it got so long, and thanks for reading!

I feel like there should be fireworks, really.

My favorite thing
about the way
you look at me, babe
is that now and then
I catch it
that little hint of wonder
and a bit of disbelief, too
that you found me
that I’m real
we’re real
and I’m yours.

I want to run to the mirror
and check
if there’s something there
something changed
something special
that makes you look at me
just like that
like I’m precious.
and utterly unique.
and you’ll never
never ever
let me go.
What is it, babe?
There must be something.

But nothing’s different.
Still the same old
chin and cheeks and nose
familiar and ordinary.
But wait—
Wait
My smile is new.
It’s changed
like I’ve won the lottery
without buying a ticket
(imagine that!)
and in my eyes,
that same disbelief
that same giddy wonder
that you found me.
You finally found me.
My darling
my sweetest love
I could spend my whole life
just looking at you.

*****

I wrote this for Carry On Tuesday, in response to the These are a few of my favourite things prompt taken from one of my most favorite movies, The Sound  of Music. The challenge is open all week. Join us!

Goodbye Girl

“Why are you giving me a feather?” she asked.

“Not just any feather, that’s a phoenix feather.” When she laughed, he hastened to explain. “It’s disguised like it’s from a boring old chicken, but that’s a phoenix feather, trust me.”

“Okay,” she agreed easily. Her imagination was capable. Besides, it was the first conversation they’d had in weeks, and she wanted to keep talking. She missed him. The razor-sharp loss of their easy friendship pierced her chest, but she ignored it. “Why are you giving me a phoenix feather?”

“Because I’m letting you walk away from me.”

Just like that, the tears in her throat rushed into her eyes. She knew it, had known that it would come to this, but had childishly kept wishing they could go back to the way they’d been for four years: high school friends, misfits fitting in perfectly together. Then he admitted his love, asking her to stay in the town she’d wanted to escape all her life.

His apology was in the hand brushing her tears away. The first touch between them in three weeks, five days, and 18 hours. Since when had she started counting the times he touched her?

“You know I’m in love with you,” he said gently. “But I’m no longer asking you to stay, or holding you back. I’m letting you go. We’ll let each other go.  Completely.”

“But…but,” she was really crying now,  sobbing like a child, knowing she was being hideously unfair, but too stricken to stop. “I don’t want to lose you. I don’t, Jay, I can’t. Please….”

He gripped her hand, crushing the feather, betraying how she was tearing him apart. But dammit, she loved him, too. She loved him, enough to hurt them both, but not enough to stay. The selfishness of it silenced her, while a dim, pathetic part of her mind registered his hands touching hers. That’s twice today.

“That’s where this phoenix feather comes in,” he soothed, smoothing it out on her palm. “You’ll return someday, or maybe I’ll find you. When the things we want no longer stand between us, we’ll start again.”

“A new beginning from the ashes?” It should’ve been corny, but she couldn’t laugh.

“Yes. Someday.”

“Don’t hate me.” Her greatest fear slipped out, and the look on his face told her he heard.

Oh, baby. Never,” he cried, pulling her close. “We have someday,” he promised, but the only important thing was that he was finally holding her, and his arms were tight, so tight that it was suddenly alright, it was perfect, but just for a moment, just enough to remember until someday. So she held on, carefully holding the feather, and believed him.

I wrote this in response to the “phoenixRed Writing Hood prompt from Write on Edge. It’s my first time to join this challenge, and the prompt was just too perfect to resist. This is a fictionalized account following the 450-word limit, but there really was a boy, a promise, and a feather that even now is tucked inside my wallet. It’s been almost ten years, and the promise has been kept, perhaps not in the manner of a Hollywood happy ending, but it’s our story, and we like our ever after the way it turned out. 🙂

Succinctly Yours – All things change

No one else believed Atlantis would rise.

The transition found him waiting, vindicated but alone, even at the end.

Would that change, now?

How low can you go? I’m at 136 characters, 4 fewer than the maximum 140 (you can also go for 140 words instead). It’s microfiction fun, where you write the short-but-sweet stories based on an image  prompt. There’s also a word prompt (this week, it’s transition), if you want more challenge. I used to do this at Stony River, but the  site’s down. Happily, I discovered a nice community of microfictioneers hosted at Grandma’s Goulash. Join the fun!

It feels like it’s been standing there forever, watching over the world.

There’s this tree on top of a hill beside a road in a small town, and I miss it.

I was there only once, with a bunch of friends, but at odd moments during that windy, cloudy afternoon of laughing and picnicking and mad scrambling to get up on the branches, I sometimes felt like the tree and I were alone.

It reminded me of a place where I was happy as a child. Another hilltop, another small town, with friends I haven’t seen in a while, and one I never will again. But it wasn’t just nostalgia that drew me to that place. It was the tree itself.

It was beautiful. Standing on the horizon, it kept its solitary vigil over the hill and the road and the village, and the sea beyond it, keeping steady through the wind and rain and burning sun.  The world changed from dark to light and cold to warmth, yet still it stood. Constant, immovable, strong.

I want to be like that. I want to be steadfast and strong and constant, reaching higher while growing deeper as well. Sometimes, I feel like I’m too much at the mercy of the seasons, too small and fragile to do anything during the storms other than hide and hope I’m still here when it’s over. Too afraid. That’s not how  I want to live. That’s not how I’m meant to live.

It’s been windy and cloudy this past couple of days, and my thoughts are on that hilltop. I miss that tree.

I wonder if trees miss people, too.