A couple years ago, I started a project called October for National Novel Writing Month. It was a novel, and a very personal one. Really more of a personal exploration than a story to actually publish. I still don’t know whether I’ll ever finish it or do anything with it, but I decided to share a snippet in honor of the current month.
We ate heartily, the summer air making even the cold, dry turkey sandwiches taste good somehow. Afterward, Tobi had pulled out her granola squares, and Jax his Swedish Fish, and they’d had a fight over which one I should eat, while I’d laughed uproarously over their ridiculousness. I’d gone with Tobi’s squares at last, and Jax had pretended to pout until Tobi and I were both holding our sides with laughter. Then we’d just talked for awhile, and we ended up laying on our backs in the grass looking up at the clouds.
“I like to make shapes in them,” Tobi said after we’d laid silently for awhile. “See pictures, I mean.”
“It’s silly, isn’t it?” she said, turning her head to look at me.
“Of course not! It’s nice. I like to do it, too.”
Jax said nothing, but just stared up at the sky thoughtfully.
“Do you see any pictures now?” I asked.
Tobi put her hands under her neck and watched carefully. I looked at her instead of the clouds, watching the one eye that I could see change and brighten as her thoughts did.
At last she put one hand up and pointed. “There. A dragon. For you, Em.”
I smiled. A dragon. I fingered my dragon necklace.
Jax looked. “I don’t see it.”
“I don’t either,” I admitted.
“Jax fought it and scared it away,” Tobi grinned.
I rolled my head over to glance at Jax, and found that his smile could be described more as warm than as a grin. I furrowed my brow a little.
He put his arm up and pointed. “A donut.”
I laughed out loud, and Tobi chuckled. “That’s Jax. Always thinking of food. Just like a man.”
We laughed, and fell silent again, just watching, and thinking.
“What do you see, Em?” she asked at last.
I looked for a little while, watching the shifting, white fluff surrounded by the still sea of blue. “I don’t know,” I said at last. “Nothing, I guess.”
“Nothing at all?”
I looked harder. Looked from one cloud to another. Watched them change.
At last I pointed. “There. A bird.”
Tobi peered, sitting up ever so slightly. Then she smiled and dropped down again. “I see it.”
“I think I kinda do,” Jax agreed.
We watched for a bit longer, then Tobi spoke, slowly, quietly. “They’re always changing. Always moving…. and then they always go away.”
The cloud came back over my heart again, a dark, thin one, not a happy fluffy one like those we were looking at.
I could barely hear Jax swallow beside me.
There was another silence, then Tobi went on. “They always change. They always go away. It rains… and then they’re gone. People are sortof like that, too.”
I should have been the one to scold her for such thoughts, but I had no words. Jax, however, raised himself on one elbow and looked at her, his face the most serious I’d ever seen it. “Don’t say that, October. People aren’t like clouds. Sometimes they change, sometimes they go away, but they don’t always. Promise.”
I turned my head to look at her and saw a single tear running down her cheek. I reached over and brushed it away with my fingers. She smiled.
“We’re not leaving,” I said.
She turned her head away. “They always say that.”
A pain pierced my heart. I had nothing to say. I looked over at Jax for help. He sat up.
“October, just because some people betray you… well, it just…” He sighed. “It doesn’t mean they always will. I promise.”
She still didn’t look at us. But I could hear the tears in her voice. “You don’t know everything. You don’t know how… hard it can be.”
“We love you,” I insisted.
Another silence, where we both continued looking at her. Then she whispered, “Please don’t leave.”
Jax stood up, walked over next to her, and sat down beside her. Then he reached down, lifted her by the shoulders, and held her close.
I watched as she laid her head on his shoulder and wrapped her arms around him, looking very small somehow next to him. He held her tightly, looking at me over her shoulder, his eyes showing great pain and pleading me to help.
I sat up and crept the couple feet to them and put my arms around her, too, my fingers just meeting Jax’s shoulders on the other side of her. And there we sat, silently, not counting the time.