This story is by Lindsay Morrison and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
People always say that the brightest stars burn the fastest. I thought they were wrong but you proved them right.
I still remember the first time I saw you, all the way back in kindergarten. Your mum dropped you off at the front gate in a tidy yellow dress with strappy shoes. blonde hair tucked in cute pigtails and adorned with ribbons. She should have known better. You went home with your hair like a bird’s nest, your dress caked in mud and your flashy shoes missing. When you returned the next day in overalls, you had the most satisfying smirk on your face, like a cat being caught laying on the table after being told many times that she couldn’t.
If it wasn’t for the incident at the milkshake place in fourth grade, you might never have noticed me. The way you stood up to the boy who knocked my milkshake into me left me stunned, but not stunned enough to grab you and carry you out of there before you could start to throw punches at three significantly larger boys.
‘I could’ve taken them,’ you told me once we were out of range.
‘I know.’ You made me feel tongue-tied.
‘Hey, I know you! You’re Cam, the guy who likes to read the Avenger comics in maths class. You must be really smart if you don’t have to listen to boring old Mrs Jenkins. Boy, does she put me to sleep. I’m Holly, by the way.’
‘I know,’ I said again, and I took the outstretched hand.
From that day on, we became close friends. It was a friendship that no one but us seemed to understand. Our parents and all our school acquaintances seemed to find it weird, but it made perfect sense to us. We completed each other. You were there to fill in the empty spaces with incessant talking while I struggled to form words. I was there to keep you out of trouble and calm you down before you could start a fight. You helped me to get out of my room and encouraged me to try physical things like sports, despite the medical bill such endeavours produced. I helped to expand your world through literature and media, showing you the unique experiences that books and movies and comics could create.
It was almost inevitable that we would draw even closer as the years passed, our friendship developing into something deeper. I’d struggled with the confidence necessary to ask you, but you were always braver than me. You asked me to be your date to the formal, and made it obvious that this wasn’t going to be a temporary date. It was the easiest thing I’ve ever said yes to.
We were so good at communicating with each other, always on the same page as to what we wanted to eat, what movie we were going to watch, whether that dress was black and blue or white and gold, that we never had a disagreement about anything. So it came as a shock to me when you told me you weren’t going to university. It had never occurred to me before then that you might have different life plans to me. I’d always assumed that we would go to university together, get jobs, settle back down in our home town and raise a family. We’d never discuss doing anything different. You never told me you wanted anything different.
‘Why didn’t you tell me?’
‘Why didn’t you ask me?’
You wouldn’t look at me when you told me of your plans to leave. You said you felt trapped in our hometown, like a bird in a cage that could see the sky but couldn’t quite reach it. You wanted adventure not responsibility. Freedom, not security.
You wanted to travel, to experience the new worlds I’d shown you in my books and movies. You wanted to climb mountains, dive oceans, soar the winds. You wanted to devour new tastes, hear enchanting songs, walk hidden paths. The road called to you louder than I ever could and you called back.
You pleaded with me to understand, to see how this is what you wanted, what you needed. The life I had envisioned was a cage to you, a luxurious, safe cage, but one nonetheless. You told me that this didn’t have to be the end for us, that I could come with you and experience this new world together. But we both knew that it was impossible. I was the safe one, the dependable one, the one who hated surprises. You were the spontaneous one, the adventurous one, the one willing to try anything, no matter the consequences.
And so I sat back and watched as you booked a plane ticket, sold everything you owned and packed your bags. I tried to be excited for you as you described how you were going to climb Machu Picchu, dive the Great Blue Hole and ride a scooter in Mexico. And I tried not to be anxious for you when you told me you hadn’t booked anything other than that first plane ticket.
When the day came, I drove you to the airport, stood beside you as you checked in your bag and scanned the board to find your flight. And when it was finally time to say goodbye, I held you as tight as I could and told you I loved you.
Then you walked away. My last sight of you was when you turned to look back at me at the departure gates, your hand raised. Your bright starry eyes and wide smile told me that as much as it hurt to let you go, it was the right decision.
My life seemed duller without you. I went to university and started studying, working a part time job to afford living. My life consisted solely of studying during the day and working at night. I had neither time nor will to do anything else.
Your postcards and text messages were the sole joy in my life, like you had been before. I fervently scrolled through your social media feed, soaking in the pictures you took and devouring the adventures you survived. I pinned every postcard you sent me on my wall and screenshot all your pictures to print. By seeing your posts, it was like I was experiencing it all with you, being by your side as you rafted down rivers and let monkeys climb on your shoulders. I tasted the gelato with you and smelled the incense from that temple.
And when we found time to video call each other, I marveled at how much you changed. Your skin grew more tanned, you wore more bangles on your wrists and your hair was pulled back in bandannas. But most striking was your smile. You looked happier than you’d ever been with me, and I tried to not let that hurt me. But it did.
It was years before we met in person again. I’d long graduated from university and had got a job back home, working the standard nine to five hours. It wasn’t exciting work, but it paid the bills comfortably.
I’d just been looking at your recent posts from your treks in the Malaysian jungles when there was a knock on my door. Seeing you standing there, bag over shoulder and smile on your face was like a dream.
You regaled me with stories of your travels for the next week, from the highs of chasing waterfalls, to the lows of having your passport stolen. Your stories made me wonder and shudder, impressed and disgusted me, but ultimately made me see how truly different we were. Those weeks we shared then were some of my happiest as I heaped all my love and affection on you, but I could feel you drawing away from me again. The road was calling you back, and like before, you couldn’t resist.
Letting you go again was no easier the second time, but it came with the added bitterness that it would be the last time I saw you. Less than six months later, the rope you were using as a safety line to rock climb snapped and you fell. And your light was extinguished.
All your followers on social media bewailed your loss, saying that you were a life taken too soon, that you had so much to live for, that you were too young. But they didn’t know you like I did. You never intended to grow old, to stop adventuring. You never feared death; you feared not living.
So now, as I sit in the airport terminal with my one-way ticket held tightly in hand, I think of you and what you taught me. Life is too short to be safe, it isn’t enough to just be alive. I have to live and live well.
And so, my beautiful star, I will try. For you.