This story is by D.A. Steen and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Have you ever met the person you know you’re supposed to be with? It was like that with Ella and me. From the first moment I saw her, I had the feeling that my life had just changed.
We met in a writing contest—of all things. Paired as judges. My agent warned me my partner could be someone far away.
She lived, as it turned out, far across the world, in Norway.
“Can we Skype?” she wrote. “I don’t see how we can discuss these stories through email.”
I caught my breath when I first saw her. She was strikingly pretty—with long blue hair that fell around her shoulders and smooth slender fingers she held in a graceful dance in her lap.
We talked for hours that night, discussing the contest stories and sharing the stories of our lives. She was a delight to talk to, with a quick mind and wit, and a gentle, easy way about her. Her laugh was a melody. And I loved the way her face lit up and became animated when she spoke of things she felt passionate about.
Over the days and weeks, we grew closer and more comfortable with each other. One night we were laughing, playing around, and being silly, and I forgot myself and said, “You’re so weird, Ella Andersen. And strange and funny, and almost as crazy as I am. Where have you been all my life?”
“Looking for you,” she blurted out and then gasped as if she couldn’t believe she’d just said it.
We stared at each other for the longest time. Then Ella blushed and turned away. That was the moment our friendship turned into something more.
But as late summer stretched into fall, we both admitted to a growing trepidation—knowing the contest was about to be over.
“I don’t want this to end,” I admitted. And Ella knew I wasn’t just talking about the contest.
Her eyes welled up. “Sometimes I imagine you in Alabama, lying in your backyard at night, staring up at the stars and pondering the universe. And I close my eyes and wish more than anything I was lying there next to you.”
She watched me, searching my face.
I think Ella had decided this was our moment. I wasn’t going to let her down.
“We are the same, you and I, such similar creatures. So strange it would take a writing contest to bring our two souls together from halfway around the world.”
“Why couldn’t you have found me sooner?” she said.
It was the way she said it. Like it hurt her to do so.
“I need to tell you something,” she said. “If I had known you were out there, I would have waited. People don’t always get married because they’ve found the love of their life. Sometimes they get married because they haven’t. Maybe they’re afraid life will pass them by while they’re waiting for someone who might never come.”
Ella nodded with tears in her eyes.
For three more days we carried on, somehow, Skyping and judging the last of the stories—wondering if this was the end of ours.
For as much as love can exist across oceans, and in secret, ours had blossomed and bloomed. But now the petals were falling, and with Autumn, the changing of seasons brought a defined chill. The leaves turned from yellow to brown and fell in the wind. And when the contest was over, we did what was right, and said our goodbyes. What else could we do?
* * *
A year passed. I spent many a long night searching for something that wasn’t there, driving long distances across the country, always arriving to find the same emptiness as the last place I’d left. I was a ghost in my own life.
Then, one day, the phone rang. It was Ella.
“It’s over,” she said. “Will you come see me?”
Forty-eight hours later I landed in Oslo. Ella threw her arms around me and held her head against my chest. “I can hear your heart beating,” she said. “I was afraid I’d made you up. But now you’re here. And you’re real.”
It took us a day to drive up to the Scandinavian mountains to her grandmother’s cabin. Ella said she’d been living there the past few months. She’d even brought up her mare, a Norwegian Trotter she called, Blesa.
As I drove, the leaves shone in a golden sheen across the mountain tops. A year ago, the beginning of Autumn had heralded the end of Ella and me, but now it brought a new start.
At the foot of the mountain, we passed a little cottage. An elderly man with a Scottish cap waved from the back yard. Through the kitchen window, a silver-haired lady looked up and waved. Ella and I both waved back.
“That’s Edward and Aubrey Sorensen,” she said. “They’ve been married sixty years. Every Wednesday I run into town and pick up groceries for them.”
We spent the next three days taking long walks through the forests, talking, cooking for each other, and lying in bed. I even tried to ride Blesa once. But she just ignored me, looked bored, and I swear that ol’ horse yawned at me. Ella stood back watching and laughed and laughed.
On Sunday, the weather changed. The clouds grew gray and heavy. Ella began shoring up the cabin and placed extra hay in the stall for Blesa. I tried to help, but I was getting in her way, so I set about making spaghetti sauce for supper.
It was late when we sat down to eat.
“This is delicious,” Ella said and leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.
Outside, the pretty snow had become a blizzard. I could feel an uneasiness from Ella.
“Can we go lie in the bed together,” she said. “Pretend that we’re in your backyard under the warm Alabama sky, staring up at the stars?”
In bed, Ella curled up next to me and held her head against my chest just like she’d done three days before.
“Am I still real?” I looked down and Ella had tears in her eyes.
“Yes,” she said. “You are absolutely real.”
* * *
I guess I dozed off. When I awoke the wind was whipping against the cabin. It sounded like a tornado, but I knew they didn’t have those up here. Despite the wind, I could hear Blesa out in the barn raising all kinds of ruckus.
Ella was up, putting on her winter gear.
“What is it?”
“It’s Blesa. She’s kicking her stall. I’ve got to go calm her down before she hurts herself.”
“I’ll go with you.”
“No,” Ella said. “I have to do this by myself. The storm is awful bad. Just stay here. I’ll be back soon.”
She started for the door, but turned, and walked back, staring into my eyes.
“We are the same, you and I,” she said. “Such similar creatures. I love you.”
She kissed me and walked out the door.
Ten minutes later, she hadn’t returned. I was pacing. I didn’t hear Blesa anymore. I was sure Ella was out there with her, calming her down.
But after 25 minutes, I’d had enough.
Though I was ill-prepared for such weather, I hurriedly draped myself in a big coat I’d found in the closet. I couldn’t even see the barn for the blowing snow. I might as well have been snow blind. I put my gloveless hand on the doorknob, took a deep breath, and walked straight out into hell.
I stumbled to the barn and found the doors busted out from within. Inside, no Blesa. And no Ella.
I ran into the storm and yelled Ella’s name, over and over. I circled the homestead, but the blizzard was too much. I needed help.
The sun had started to rise and I could just see the road in the blowing snow.
I trudged down the mountain and finally reached the Sorenson’s place. Edward answered the door and pulled me inside.
“Good God, man! You look as if you’re half frozen to death.”
He sat me down on their sofa.
“Please help! It’s Ella. She’s missing. She went to the barn to calm Blesa. Now she’s gone. We’ve got to find her!”
Edward looked to Aubrey. A look of serious concern passed between them.
“Mr., I don’t know how to tell you this. But, Ella died. A year ago.”
I went numb. “That’s not possible.”
“It was a terrible storm. Lasted two full days,” he said.
“No.” I whispered.
Aubrey spoke up. “Hikers found her this spring when the thaw set in. She was on the far side of the mountain, curled up like a baby.” Aubrey let out a little cry. “She froze to death. She just fell asleep and never woke up.”