Michela Walters’s Picture Choice: Both
Title: Hidden Amongst the Ruins
Wiping an errant tear away, Jill turned to her oldest friend and asked Peter if he wanted to take a walk. She needed to get away from all the grief and condolences that should have made her feel comforted in the wake of her mother’s death. Instead she felt stifled, choked with the painful memories of childhood. Stepping out into the cool spring evening, she took a much needed breath of crisp air.
Sliding a comforting arm around her, Peter walked beside her in silence. He always knew when Jill needed reassurance and when she just needed a shoulder to lean on. Today, she’d been swarmed with people from her past, all wanting to get a glimpse of the woman she’d become. None of them really knew her or her family, at least not who they really were behind closed doors. They’d only seen the picture perfect facade her mother had carefully constructed, not the cutting words and harsh punishments. After her father had died, her mother had become a brutal tyrant in the house while appearing to be the doting mother to everyone on the outside.
No, no one really understood Jill’s rush to leave Chippewa Falls. The quiet village was filled with generations of people, who once they came, never left. High school sweethearts got married and had babies, who then got married and had their own children.
But not Jill. Once high school was finished, she left the small town behind and never looked back. Which included leaving behind her best friend. She hadn’t seen him in almost ten years, but their reunion yesterday at the airport made it clear that no time had passed on their friendship. Peter was essentially the same person he was all those years ago. The one that could get her to not take herself so seriously and the same one who dared her to push herself further than she would have ever imagined.
He was the one to encourage her to attend Yale’s school of drama when people in town thought her desire to create beautiful costumes was a silly hobby and not something she’d ever be able to make money from. He was the one who called her up out of the blue the day she received her Tony nomination to congratulate her. Not her mother, but her best friend. A friend she sometimes longed for in the dark of night, lonely and wishing for a love that could never be.
She missed his friendship more than anything in the world, but he had been taking care of his dad’s hardware store since he got out of college and couldn’t get away to visit. She on the other hand had vowed to never return. Of course her mother would have a say in that too, dying unexpectedly of a heart attack. Being the only child, Jill needed to make the necessary arrangements for a woman she hadn’t even spoken to since her college graduation. Jill had moved to New York the very next day, never telling her mother where she’d moved to. The only reason she was here now was because Peter had begged her to return, if for nothing else than to spend a few days with him, and to give the town the burial it was expecting.
Wandering down the sidewalk Jill blurted, “Do you remember our secret hideout?” Suddenly longing to visit the place where they would go to escape her mother’s violent episodes.
Turning to face her, Peter nodded his head, astonished that she even recalled the place. “I do, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to find it.” They hadn’t been there since they’d gotten caught by his dad who’d told them they’d both get the switch if they returned to the crumbling site. Of course his father was more concerned for their safety than the fact that his thirteen year old son was sneaking off into the woods with a girl.
Peter grabbed her hand and tugged her in the opposite direction they’d been going in, his mind reaching into its depths to recall how to get there. They walked together, each lost in their own thoughts about the place that brought them so much comfort in their youth when Jill stopped abruptly.
“There.” She pointed towards the old Gas and Go sign that swung on the rusted post. “Remember, we had to walk through the field in the back.” She was rushing now, towing Peter behind her while reciting the directions she used when she was young. “We need to take a right at the willow tree that was split by lightning.” Turning to face Peter, she breathlessly added, “Remember? It used to scare the crap out of me. It always reminded me of some demon crawling out of the ground.” Jill laughed, feeling alive and revitalized for the first time since returning to the tiny hamlet.
Peter kept up easily with Jill’s hurried steps, his memory returning more and more the closer they got to the old rundown church. Of course he remembered that old willow tree. She would cling to his chest in fear, making him carry her past it until it was out of sight. The thought of her doing that now, caused his pulse to quicken, and his mind to go to a decidedly more adult place.
Strolling along beside her now, his mind stilled, quietly wondering why he’d never tried to kiss her. She was the person who he called when he needed advice, who he turned to when he felt lost and alone, yet all this time, he’d never wanted to kiss her like he did right now.
After the short walk, they both stood in awe of the magnificent structure that lay before them.
“How did I not realize how beautiful this was?” she asked, letting go of Peter’s hand, leaving him feeling empty in its absence. Jill lazily dragged her fingertips over the crumbling stone, walking along the perimeter, admiring the flowers that pushed themselves through the tiniest of cracks and crevices. Amazed at their perseverance in finding what little sunlight radiated down through the ruins.
Peter hung back, watching her as she moved gracefully around the fallen rocks, entering the hallowed site. She’d grown into such a remarkable woman, he felt the urge to tell her, fearing she may never come back again.
Coming up behind her, Peter wrapped his arms protectively around the girl who’d always owned him. “This place isn’t nearly as beautiful as the woman you’ve become,” he whispered, nuzzling her neck affectionately - a move she was comfortable with. They were always touching and hugging when they were in high school, driving the people they were dating insane, never understanding their tight platonic bond. “I’m so proud of you,” he continued, and allowed his lips to press a gentle kiss into the side of her cheek, wishing she’d turn around and see him for the man that he’d grown into. As much as he valued their longstanding friendship, he felt the urge to swing her around and kiss the ever-living crap out of her, consequences be damned.
“Have you ever wondered why we never dated?” Peter asked instead of following through with his body’s desire.
Turning around in his arms, she ran her fingertips across his cheek, cupping it gently into her palm. “You’re so much better than a date. You’re the only person I’ve loved my entire life. Why would I mess that up now? After all this time?” Jill’s voice sounded wistful, but it was like a sucker punch into Peter’s gut. He smiled sadly down at his best friend, realizing that they would never be more, and he would have to push aside this new found attraction to her.
“You’re right. We are better than that,” he replied, knowing he was lying through his teeth, but had lost all courage to tell her so.
Standing side by side they stayed inside their old hideout until the sun began to set, both lost in thought over a love that would never be. Neither knowing the other would move heaven and earth to be with them. A love unrequited would continue to be so.
Michela Walters is a wife, mother and book enthusiast. She is currently attempting her hand at writing her first romantic fiction novella. You can read her other stories on her blog: michelawalters.wordpress.com