Today I'm treating you to a scene from a book I wrote years ago that no one has ever read nor have I even done so much as edited...
Perhaps one day I'll revisit the trilogy this comes from, but, for now, enjoy!
"Don't worry," Marley reassures. "You don't have to join us, but, if you want to, you know where to find us."
"Thank you," I say quietly. I accuse myself and take a long walk after this, fumbling with a paper lantern in my hands. There’s a sun painted on the lantern. Ignacio said that he and Marley made that one for me special. It just gets more and more surprising how much they care for me, especially Marley. They are so unnecessarily kind that it hurts. I don't deserve that kind of compassion.
The sun is starting to set and people are making their way to the river. I watch them patiently for a long time. I envy their relationships, their free consciences, their happiness. Some of it rubs off on me, but all in all, it just makes me feel lonely. I follow them for a while before branching off and walking among the trees, alone and hidden.
From my spot in the woods, I watch the festivities. Right now, everyone is gathered together and talking near the river’s edge. Charlotte and Declan are near the front of the line, there seems to be no particular order to who gets to float their lantern as long as Ignacio and Marley go first. Declan takes Charlotte's hand and kisses her forehead gingerly. She always looks happiest by his side, and the same goes for him.
Suddenly, the air grows quiet as Ignacio and Marley hold one side of their lantern and lift it high above their heads with bright smiles upon their faces, glowing from the lanterns flame. "Thank you for joining us. This has been a tradition passed down for many, many generations, and one that I intend to keep for many generations more. Today, we thank each other for family, friendship, and hard work. We thankthe earth for our harvest." There is some cheering, for they have harvested quite a lot this year. "And I thank you for your understanding and unwavering loyalty to our long-awaited revolt against Roteuren. I believe in each and everyone one of you whether you’re fighting alongside Marley and I, or if you're staying in the camp and fighting your own battle, big or small. This won't be easy, but this harvest has been a needed sign that we can do this!" More cheering erupts for the crowd. "This upcoming year will be more difficult than any of us have ever faced, but the outcome will be beautiful as so many of you will grow from boy to man, from girl to woman, from frightened to courageous. Let our wishes come true on this night, and may you all have a blessed end of the year." Marley and Ignacio kiss each other quickly on the lips before kneeling to the ground humbly and letting the lantern slip off their fingers and onto the cool river. The villagers applaud and quickly light their lanterns. Soon, the river is lit with numerous lanterns. My breath catches in my lungs at the sight. In the precious water are brilliant reflections of the water lanterns and their mysteriously tame glow.
I see Jarek in the distance, watching from afar like me. He catches my eye and smiles. I gesture for him to join me, but he shakes his head no and disappears. Taking a deep breath, I take a step out hesitantly and caress the soft paper as a gentle smile finds its place on my lips.
Families gather around each other and embrace as they contently watch their lanterns travel slowly, gracefully, along the river. My eyes wander to two black figures that I soon recognize as Guinevere and Khalon. They put their lanterns in one at a time and happily watch them travel a few feet down. Guinevere stands, whispers something I cannot hear to Khalon, and prances off to join the others. Khalon remains kneeling for quite some time watching the lanterns. He shakes his head and begins his journey back to camp.
Once the coast is clear, I spring out from the safety of the trees and scavenge for one last match. I find one quickly and sprint towards the largest grouping of lanterns far down the river. I slink my foot one at a time into the chilled waters. My legs, discouraged by the endless flow, move sluggishly, yet felicitously as I wade into the midst of the glowing paper wonderland. After struggling to light the match, I let the fire devour the flammable substance that allows the lantern to glow.
My lantern’s transition from my careful fingers onto the smooth water is easy and effortless. I would make a wish, but I don't know what I would wish for. Wishes still seem a little silly, I think to myself with a gentle chuckle. I wade there for several long moments with my eyes glued on the one white lantern amongst the festively colored ones. Once it begins to vanish, I close my eyes and simply breathe. I kneel in the water and let my arms rise to float, feeling the lanterns quietly brush against my wet skin.
I don’t think as I do this. I don't think about how wet and possibly ruined my clothes are right now. I feel. I let my body become one with the water as I lean back and float like the lanterns, though, unfortunately, I lack the mystical glow. My eyes flutter open slowly and I watch the lanterns drift by me. I'm at peace with absolutely everything in the world.
The last lantern does not take long to reach me. I dig my toes into the soft mud at the bottom of the river, ignoring the tender licks of the weeds, and watch the lanterns leave me. I want to go with them. Follow them and their inspiring gleam. I'm drawn to them; something pushes me to join them. But then again, perhaps it's only the water’s current. I laugh quietly under my breath and tilt my head up to gaze at the stars. How beautiful.
I stay there for the longest time. And soon, the far stars and the brilliant crescent moon are my only means of light. I could go if I wanted to. I could leave with the lanterns and explore what had been sealed off from me. I want to. I desperately desire to chase after those lanterns and travel alongside them on a journey that was most likely not the best idea, but one I know would be filled with excitement and beauty. Sighing, I gaze up at the stars once more, close my eyes, and take a deep breath.
“You’ll catch a cold.” A voice informs from the shore.
My eyes snap open at the sound. Khalon.
“Then a cold I will catch.”
“Whatever you say,” he jogs over to me and reaches out with his hand, “here, let me help you out.”
I grin mischievously and take his hand. The second he begins to pull me up, I get a wicked idea and tug at his arm as hard as I possibly can, throwing him into the cool brook behind me. He screams a gut-wrenching scream before he plummets beneath the waters which pulls giggles out of me. He doesn’t come out for quite some time, and I find myself worrying more than I ever have. I start to call out his name which, of course, is foolish; I seriously doubt he’d be able to hear me. I put my face only inches from the water’s surface and search for something that doesn’t belong, but it finds me first.
A head bursts out from the protection of the water, an inch or two away from me, grins, and wraps its strong arms around my waist. I am under the water in a matter of seconds. We wrestle for a while as I fight for a chance to breathe. My head surfaces and I gasp for air as Khalon joins me above and laughs hysterically.
In fury and horror, I glare at him, but can't keep the expression for long. He seems so light-hearted and happy as he chuckles; I can’t help but join him in the merriment. Once our laughter dies down, he grows incredibly close. I'm reminded of our nights on the roof. I'm reminded of freedom.
My hand finds his. I know what's happening and I can't seem to fight it. My fingers travel from his hand, up his arm, strong and wet and cold, to his jaw line. I trace the features of his face, something I haven't done in far too long. My eyes find his. Brown and sweet, the light in his eyes shining, his eyes gaze at me with so much love, a word I fear to use around him now, but one that demands the spotlight during this moment.
He freezes only inches away from my face. His lips are so close that the world seems to shiver. Then he goes for it, drowning me in his warmth. The kiss starts off slow, hesitant yet sure all the same. He tastes like candy, making me smile. I wrap my arms around his neck and stand a little taller. I forgot how tall he is. As the moment lingers, the kiss becomes more passionate. His lips seem confident and excited as they move alongside mine. My stomach is doing flips and my mind is in so much pain, fighting a fierce inner battle. I forget everything I've worked so hard to deny as his strong hands pull tightly at my waist. Old thoughts and emotions revisit me, thoughts and feelings I believed I never cared to remember. But as he kissed me, I was a girl again. My responsibilities fled, common sense ran to the hills, and I forgot who I was trying so hard to love again—Luke. Feeling more alive and happy than I've felt for years, I put everything I have into one last kiss before pulling away, gasping as I lose my balance and fall into the waters.
Khalon smiles and tries to help me up, but I shake my head no and scramble away from him. Confusion floods his expression, and I don't blame him.
"I'm sorry," I repeat over and over as I get to my feet and back out of the water. "I don't know what came over me. This can't happen, I'm just, I-I'm so sorry."