A Warm Blanket - a YA Short Story by C.L. Stegall
A Warm Blanket – a YA Short Story by C.L. Stegall

 

Innocence Lost

Two friends. One night. An incredible secret.

After Kit’s birthday party, she invites Josh to meet her at a rundown house where she reveals a secret that changes both of their lives.

Josh and Kit will be bound forever. Yet, forever never lasts.

A coming-of-age tale that will linger long after the last word is read.

 

 

A WARM BLANKET

 

Crooked octopus arms of electricity dances across the black and purple sky. From the cliff, I watch the vicious sea. Its crashing, whispering voice calls out to the hopeless and suicidal. Of all the things I may be, suicidal is not one of them. Nor am I particularly hopeless. Although, I’ve had a long and painful day. These days come. Once in a while I will feel myself slip into that old encasement, out of which I had to fight so hard for so long.

Walking closer to the edge, exhilaration in contention with my exasperation. I am alive and terrified. Confused and excited. The sky lights up. A resounding boom shakes my soul and a spray of water erupts from far down the cliff. The lightning strikes mere yards from the shore. The hair on my arms tingle as the excess electricity and the smell of ozone permeates the air around me. My heart pounds.

Time drops away like the edge of the cliff upon which I stand, and I remember.

* * * * *

Kit was a year old than I. She knew things I didn’t, and wasn’t at all hesitant in insuring that I was aware of this fact. She was a strong girl, raised in a family with four brothers. In those situations one cannot help but learn early on how to stand up for oneself. This was a good thing, as my favorite pastime was seeing how much I could irritate her. I sometimes wondered if that was why she picked on me the way she did, turnabout being fair play and all. It wasn’t until her sixteenth birthday that I found out the truth.

Kit invited me to her sweet sixteen birthday party, which I thought was unusual since it was her girl friends and a few older boys. Aside from that was the fact that I was, to my knowledge, her fearless nemesis. Still, my mom had said it would be impolite if I didn’t go, if only for a little while. So, I gave in.

It was the end of innocence for me.

Kit’s mom had prepared a great party. She stayed in the shadows, making sure that things didn’t get out of hand. She would never be aware of how ineffective she had in fact been that day. She was bringing in more plates from the kitchen when she caught my eye. I must have looked pretty uncomfortable, standing there in the corner the way I was. She walked over and smiled at me.

“Is everything okay, Josh?” she asked. “You don’t look as if you’re enjoying yourself.” She placed a hand on my shoulder. I stared out at the ten or fifteen other kids.

“I have no idea why I’m here.” It was a simple statement, but it seemed to carry more weight for Kit’s mother. Her smile faded and a look of concern clouded her face.

“But, you’ve known Kit since you were born. She wouldn’t have invited you, Josh, if she didn’t want you here. Right?”

“But, why?” I wondered aloud. I realized who I was speaking to and clambered to recover. “I mean it’s not like we really have anything in common. You know? I figured she would just want her friends around.”

“But, you’re her friend, too, Josh. You do realize that, don’t you?” She was being kind, I knew, but I accepted her concern for what it was. Pity.

“Yeah, I guess.” I smiled up at her. “I won’t stay too long, anyway. I’ll just tease her a little and then leave.” Her mother broke into a nice grin.

“That’s more like it!” She squeezed my shoulder a little and then strolled off into the kitchen.

I caught Kit’s eye across the room, as she was laughing with one of her friends—Gloria something or other. When our eyes met, she excused herself from her friends and made her way over to me. I waited for her to say something mean to me. I would wait a lot longer than expected.

“So?” she smiled. “Are you enjoying the party? You haven’t wished me a happy birthday, yet.” She said this last without a hint of anger or disappointment. It was little more than a fact she was relaying. I waited for the punch line.

“Uh, happy birthday?” I knew it sounded less than half-hearted, but I was still expecting her to punch me on the shoulder or something. She laughed. I freaked. What was going on? “Are you okay, Kit?” I asked, not knowing what else to say. She leaned forward and whispered to me.

“Meet me on the corner of Hammershaw and Birch. Tonight. Ten thirty. Okay? I have something to show you.” I couldn’t do anything except nod. My curiosity was now at astronomical levels. Kit and I had sort of made a career out of getting on each other’s nerves, being angry at one another for one reason or other. Now, she was being nice to me and I couldn’t understand why. And, what secret thing did she have that she would share with me, of all people?

Kit walked away and a few minutes later I left the party, confused and anxious. I didn’t have a single clue about what might happen that night.

* * * * *

Standing on the cliff, the sky alight with lightning and the ocean whispering threats of solace, a chill runs up my spine. Kit. She was so much more than I had ever imagined she was. She had had a strange power over me my whole life, edging me to either anger or exhilaration at any given moment. Which of those moments would I give anything to have back?

* * * * *

At nine-thirty that night I met Kit on the corner, as instructed. In all actuality, it was a last minute decision that I had gone. I hadn’t planned on going. Then, around ten fifteen, something made me change my mind and throw caution to the wind. For all I knew, she had an elaborate practical joke lined up for me. Wouldn’t that make for an excellent birthday present? I made my way to her.

“I’m glad you decided to come.” She had on a light blue sweater with small sunflowers on the front. Her light brown hair was waving in the cool, night breeze. I had worn a jacket and was glad of it. It was growing cold for late October and there was a definite chill in the air. Kit didn’t look cold at all, though.

“So, what’s up?” I asked with caution in my voice. “You’re not setting me up for some prank, are you?” No sense in not being honest.

“I understand why you’d think that.” There was a slight sadness in her voice. “And, I’m sorry for that.” She paused a moment. “No. I’m not here to trick you. I’m here to trust you. Can I do that? Can I trust you?” Her voice held a certain tone that made me wonder if she didn’t already have the answer.

“Yeah,” I replied. “Sure you can. What’s going on, Kit? Seriously.”

“Seriously?” She repeated. But, the query wasn’t directed at me. She was staring off into the distant, blue-black sky. For a moment she stood there, biting at her bottom lip, lost in her own thoughts. Finally, she looked back at me, took my hand, and said, “Let’s go.”

“Where?”

“Some place safe.” She led me down Hammershaw and then onto Wilkinson. We turned down Frank Street, right beside the three-story, dilapidated estate of the long-dead Irene Capshaw. I was more than wary when Kit began to lead me toward the old house. I hesitated.

“Come on. Don’t be scared.”

“I’m not scared,” I argued. “I don’t know about this. What’s in there that you have to show me?” She looked up at the old house and then back to where I stood awaiting an answer.

“Me,” she explained, and she walked inside.

* * * * *

Somewhere out on the horizon, beyond this stretch of the sea, is another world. I sit down on the edge of the cliff, hugging my knees. I stare out into the distance. I long so for that world. A world apart and separate from the one I have known. There’s a swelling of my heart at the memory of Kit and that night. There’s confusion and sadness and a love in me that is overwhelming. The tears roll down my face, dried by the salty sea air. Rain is coming. I feel it.

* * * * *

I found Kit in a room on the second floor, where she had lit a candle I assumed she’d brought with her. She was sitting in a chair, her arms around herself. I thought she looked cold, so I offered her my jacket. She refused, saying that she was fine.

“You don’t look fine,” I responded, my voice low and thoughtful.

“I’m not fine to you?” She asked the question with a different inflection and I knew what she meant. This confused me even more. “Don’t you think I’m pretty, Josh?” My heart was pounding in my chest. This was taking a direction for which I was quite unprepared.

“Uh, sure. Yeah. I guess,” I stammered. “Why? Are you sure you’re okay?” My hands were sweaty, even in the coolness of the air.

“We’ve known each other forever, haven’t we?”

“Since I was born, yeah.”

“And, even before that. Don’t you think?” She had lost me.

“Huh?” I asked, not understanding what she meant.

“I think we’ve known each other for a very long time, Josh. I really do.” She stood from her seat and began to pace back and forth. I sat down on one of the old chairs, across from her. “Have we ever not argued?” At this familiar territory, I relaxed a little. I even smiled.

“Nope.”

“Why do you think that is?”

“Shoot, I don’t know. Just the way we are, I guess. We’ve always argued. And, irritated each other. Hey, it’s what we do.” I shrugged with a smile. Kit stopped pacing and then came to kneel in front of me.

“Do you feel it, though?” she asked, taking me by surprise.

“Feel what?” What I felt was far too warm for the weather, that’s what I felt. The jacket I was wearing felt heavy and uncomfortable.

“Here,” she said, placing her index finger to my chest. “Inside. Do you feel the pull towards me?”

“Okay, Kit. You’re officially freaking me out. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” But, I did.

“Do you remember when I went away to my grandparents’ last summer?” I nodded. “Did you miss me?” There was a glint in her eye, a curve to her mouth that I had not noticed before. I was definitely too warm. I began to take my jacket off. Placing it on the back of the chair, I looked back at Kit and could find no words. She asked again. “Did you miss me?”

“Well…yeah. I mean there wasn’t anyone else around to annoy.” But, the last few words were not quite truthful. I felt the lie in my mouth and it left a bad taste, like ash. My breathing was quicker and I felt her hand on mine.

“Really?” she asked. “You wanted to annoy me?” Her hand wrapped around mine. “Is that all?”

“Kit…” I was beginning to feel strange. Swallowing hard against the sudden dryness in my mouth, I searched for some way of out of the situation. “We shouldn’t be here. What if someone saw us come in?”

“It’s okay, Josh. I know how you feel.” She stood up and, her hand around mine, pulling me up with her. We stood there for a long moment. I was only an inch taller than her, so our eyes were almost level. I saw the look in her deep green eyes and it made my heart skip a beat. There was something there, something like…hunger. It was sudden. I was scared to death. I began to tremble. I noticed that she was trembling, too. I suppose it was out of instinct that I wrapped my arms around her—I thought—to keep her warm.

“I need you, Josh. I need you around me. I need to know you’re there. Because when you’re not, it’s like there’s something missing in me. Do you understand?”

“Yes.” I did understand. I felt it, too, deep down and I understood.

“You’re my best friend. Did you know that?” I could feel sudden warmth on my shoulder. She was crying.

“But,” I began, “What about all your other friends? Gloria and all the girls?”

“They aren’t true friends. They aren’t you.” She pulled away and looked at me, her eyes moist and glistening from the tears. “I still have something to show you.” She stepped back and walked to the middle of the room, about eight or nine feet away. “You’re the only one who can know. You’re the only one.”

I waited for a moment, uncertain of what it was that she might want to show me. The night had already brought enough revelations that I felt as though someone had sucked all the energy from my body. I felt weak. Fragile.

“Fragile,” she said. I looked up at her and she smiled through her tears. She felt like I did. But, there was so much more to what was going on. I could feel it, from somewhere inside. Somehow this night was taking on the feeling of myth and mystery.

“Myth and mystery.” Her words carried with them an electrical charge. They came to me softly, but the force of the realization was almost too much. At first, I couldn’t comprehend what was going on. I thought to myself, this can’t be happening.

“But, it is, Josh.” Her smile was sad. She appeared to have as much confusion of emotion within her as I did and that confusion glowed from her. I realized at that mom how beautiful Kit was. With her long brown hair and bright green eyes, her soft touch and warm smile. She seemed like an angel to me at that moment. She began to walk toward me.

“Thank you,” she said. “Try to hear them, Josh. Try to hear.” I had no idea what she meant, but the clear fact that she could hear my thoughts provoked me into making a half-hearted attempt.

I felt her hand in mine, once again, and the glow of her melted into me. I closed my eyes and… you, you know? I always have. The words drifted into my mind like music. I strained for more. I love you, you know? I always have. My breath caught in my throat and I coughed, violently.

Her arm around me, I sat into the chair as if gravity had tripled. Kit waited until I had finished my coughing, tears filling my eyes, and then kissed me gently on the cheek. This is amazing, I thought.

I know, she thought. And, I heard her!

How long have you been able to do this? I thought.

Since last summer. Her lips were definitely not moving. We were face to face, only inches apart. I was at my grandparents’ and I just had this strong feeling of missing you and all your annoying words and pranks. She now wore a huge, glorious smile. Then, I could see you, in my mind. I could hear your thoughts. I thought I was dreaming at first, but then my grandmother walked into the room and I realized that I was wide-awake. I tried again, later that night and I…felt you…missing me. It was strange. After all, we’d always been close to each other. Nothing like that had ever happened,though. Even when we were at each other’s throats. Now, I was several hundred miles away and it was like you had never been closer to me. And, I had never cared about anyone so much.

Why didn’t you try and… I don’t know… ‘think’ to me, then? I felt the strange closeness that she was talking about. It was strong, intimate and comforting. I felt as if a warm blanket lay over me.

I tried. But, it was only one way at the time. I kept practicing. Listening in on your thoughts and emotions. She looked down at the floor for a moment, embarrassed. I’m sorry. But, I had to be sure I wasn’t imagining it all. And, the more I heard and felt from you, the more I realized how much…

“How much I love you,” I answered, aloud. She nodded, the tears coming again. It was sudden and wonderful, our lips meeting in the softest of kisses.

* * * * *

With the rain falling upon my face, my tears slipped away as if they never existed. The cliffs don’t seem so high, as I remember Kit and that night. We met our destiny there in that old run down mansion. We felt as if the world were ours. What could we not achieve? Where could we not go? We felt a part of each other, then, as if somehow our souls had intertwined along with our thoughts.

* * * * *

The next few days were like a crazy dream. We shared our thoughts with one another. On occasion we would play tricks on our parents or friends, teasing them with hints of what we were capable of. Yet, the secret was ours and we kept it safe.

Time seemed to play no part in our world any longer. Every moment, we were inextricably connected to each other. It was almost like a drug, the closeness, the intimacy of sharing thoughts and emotions and dreams like that. We laughed and loved more than we ever thought possible. Right up until…

I felt it happen.

The moment came, tearing through me like a hundred pound blade, shaking me right down to the core of my soul. It left me unable to speak for weeks. I felt her. I heard her scream as if I was right there when the car struck her. I screamed, too. Her thoughts. Her final thoughts swept through me. The terrible pain of all that was being taken from us both.

Don’t forget me, Josh. Please don’t forget me. I love you.

* * * * *

The sky finally grows dark. The lightning ceases and the shapes of the darkened clouds fade into the pitch of the night storm. I stand and stare out at the shadow of the sea, stepping nearer to the cliff’s edge. Five years ago, today.

I try not to think about the day I lost her, but I fight to remember all I can—every detail—of that night. The night where everything I thought I knew was stripped away. In its place, an incredible feeling I had never even known existed, but which enveloped us both. To cherish and remember that night and those feelings, holding them to me like a warm blanket, is all I desire.

In the darkest of nights, there is still the light from that night. The glow of Kit’s soul as it engulfed me and opened my heart to the possibilities.

We found in each other a great power, coupled with a simple, perfect love. If one grew out of the other, we will never know. What we do know is that there is something worth waiting for. And the sea will have to waste its vicious whispers on someone else this stormy night. For my love waits for me on the other side… and I will arrive there soon enough.

 

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

—From Hamlet, Prince of Denmark – 1601 – Act I. – Scene 5. – Rows: 166-167

 

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