This story is by Jonmarcus Burnette and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The moment we step outside, a strong gust of wind hits me in the face bringing the delightful smells of warm pastries from the nearby bakery and colorful leaves that twirl around our feet.
“Here,” Casper says quickly sliding off his jacket and handing it to me. I look back at him to see his goofy brown eyes and his crooked smile before noticing little goosebumps form along his muscular arms.
I awkwardly take it from him hoping he doesn’t notice the sudden pink flush in my cheeks. “Thanks…”
We had just come from our last errand at the local bookstore in our town center with several new stories to read for our long plane ride later tonight. He places our items in my bag, offering to carry it for me. “It doesn’t feel real,” I say watching the city workers happily display autumn decorations around town square like they’ve done every year since we were kids. “I thought I would never miss this place after being stuck here for 18 years, but now I have a bittersweet feeling.”
Casper’s a head taller than me and places his chin on top of my head as we wait for the crosswalk to signal our right-of-way. I can feel his comforting warmth on my back and feel the vibrations when he speaks bringing a smile to my face. “I know what you mean. I still don’t believe that in less than 48 hours, we’ll be in London attending one of the most prestigious art schools in the world. Life is unpredictable.”
His hand accidentally brushes against mine as we walk sending chills down my spine as I suppress the urge to interlock my fingers with his. Instead, I focus on the many sounds coming from the fall festival with many colorful tents hosting a variety of carnival games and delicious foods for purchase.
He takes me through the hay maze, confidently leading the way to several dead ends before we carve and smash pumpkins in the pumpkin patch. Casper even had his face painted like an adorable black cat only for it to fade away when he bobbed for apples.
Our last stop was for drinks at the corner shop. We sit on the the patio overlooking the town in all it’s beauty as the sky begins to change colors in an array of bright oranges and light purples. I hold my steaming cup of coffee near my face in hopes of warming up in this chilly air, watching Casper completely engrossed in a sketch that he randomly started on a napkin. I tried to sneak glances, but he cleverly turned his body just enough to block my view. I can’t help but laugh to myself before checking my phone. It’s 7:10 and our flight leaves at midnight.
I thought I would be overwhelmed with excitement but instead all I feel is crippling anxiety. I’m terrified to move across the world away from everything that is comfortable to me. I only agreed to enter this art contest because Casper begged me for three days straight. The excitement on his face when I finally agreed and the smell of freshly opened paint as we got to work will forever be stained in my memory. I only said yes because I was afraid. Afraid that if I didn’t enter and Casper won without me I would be separated from him. Our friendship would come to an end and the hope of being more than friends, vanishing before my eyes. It scared me even more when the news came that we were one of ten teams to win the scholarship. This is a huge step in our lives, especially for our future careers, and the only thing keeping me sane is the fact that we’ll be doing this together. That I will always have him and he will always have me.
Shortly after the street lights flicker on, Casper finally reveals his masterpiece with a smug grin awaiting my approval. He hands it to me and I gasp, covering my shocked expression. Even on a fragile napkin he drew a picture of me looking off into the distance, coffee in hand with Big Ben in the background. I was taken aback at every detail from the way he drew my hair blowing in the breeze to the birds soaring through the sky. I slowly look up with a smile on my face only to see he is suddenly stricken with fear before he quickly lunges toward me.
I’m flung to the ground. The shattering sound of metal being crushed mixed with loud tire squeals pierces my ears. Adrenaline starts pumping through my veins as I look up from the ground to see a car has smashed straight through the iron railing of the patio and under all the wreckage is Casper, lifeless on the ground. I push myself up in an instant, ignoring my own pain, rushing to his side.
“Casper! No, no, no!” He’s bleeding and unconscious. I place his head in my lap holding him before fumbling for my phone to call 911. “Casper, open your eyes for me! It’s going to be okay! ” Within minutes, I hear ambulance sirens. People start to gather around watching in horror as I do my best to apply pressure to his wounds, my hands stained with his warm blood. “Stay with me! Please, I need you!”
They wouldn’t let me see him for hours, my parents and I sitting anxiously in the waiting room when Casper’s mother finally comes down to get me. I rushed through the elevator doors and raced to room 15D. It was propped open and I stepped in breathing heavily with puffy, watery eyes. “Casper…” I whisper as I walk up to his bed. He was asleep when I came in, barely able to open his eyes at my touch. It takes him awhile to realize who I am but a small smile forms.
“Lailah, I’m so sorry,” he says slowly as if it hurts to speak.
“Casper,” is all I can say before my voice is drowned out by more tears.
“Texting and driving,” an angry voice says to me. I turn around startled to see his dad sitting in the chairs against the wall. I look at him like he’s not real. I didn’t even notice him when I walked in. “The person who hit Casper was texting and driving,” his father says. I hear the disbelief in his voice. “And what were the consequences? Both his legs are broken, fractured disks in his spine, skin burns and a concussion. He’s lucky though. No internal bleeding or punctures and is expected to make a full recovery but will need physical therapy after.”
Warm tears stream down my cheeks seeing the pain on his face. Feeling his pain as it only intensifies mine.
I turn to see his mother and my parents waiting in the hallway and she motions for him to come. She looks at me than at Casper. I don’t move. I barely register him leaving and the door shutting before it’s just the sound of medical equipment filling the dreadful silence.
The feel of Casper’s hand in mine pulls me back to reality. He doesn’t say anything at first just interlocks his fingers with mine. “Please don’t worry. I’m going to be fine,” he says taking his time between each word.
I push the hair out of his face, still streaked of poorly washed off black facepaint, and kneel down by his side placing his hand against my cheek. I never want to let go.
“Promise me you’ll learn as much as you can in London,” he says his voice still a strangled whisper.
Hearing those words shoot anger through me as I look at him only making me want to cry more. “You’re crazy if you think I’m still going without you, especially in the state that you’re in.”
“Lailah it’s been our dream since we were kids. You would be crazy to pass up this once in a lifetime opportunity,” he says with a smirk.
“This isn’t debatable Casper. I’m not going. End of story.”
“Lailah, please go. Not for me, for us.”
I barely made it to my flight on time, curled up in my seat, regretting ever leaving his side. I should’ve told him how I really feel. How I truly feel about him. But I was too afraid. I’m already homesick without him as I reach inside my bag, searching for my headphones when my hand stumbles upon a small box with a bow on it. I stare at it in confusion before tearing away the wrapping paper. Inside is a necklace along with a note. It’s from Casper.
My heart suddenly skips a beat. I quickly stand up from my seat grabbing my bag when the loud hum of engines intensifies. I’m thrown back at the sudden gain in speed as the plane takes off.