“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.
“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 “phoenix” Red 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. 🙂