Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: Got a Secret . . . Can You Keep It? (Part Thirty)
The day was sunny and mild with just the hint of a cool breeze rustling through the trees. Ciel stood in a clearing with her eyes closed and lifted her face to the sky, seeking the warmth of the sun. She breathed deeply, her pulse racing.
“Penny for your deep ones.”
A giggle bubbled out of Ciel as she spun to face Jason. “Don't sneak up on me like that!”
Jason pulled Ciel into his arms, lifting her off the ground in the process. He rubbed his nose against hers and planted a quick kiss on her lips. “How is it sneaking if you're expecting me, silly?”
Excitement shot through Ciel's veins. Today was a monumental day, and she had a wonderful, supportive boyfriend who stood by her no matter what. Ignoring Jason's question, Ciel looped her arms around his neck and dug her fingers into his wavy hair, tugging playfully. “Was that supposed to be a kiss?”
Jason laughed. “Is that your way of asking for more of this?” He leaned in and nibbled at Ciel's lips until she parted them and kissed him back.
They lost themselves in one another until Joanie burst onto the scene. “Hey, Ci! Stop playing tonsil hockey.” She grinned at the two of them as they pulled apart, both blushing. “Hey, Jay!”
Jason nodded and cleared his throat. “Jo.”
The three of them plopped down on a log and started chattering about their plans. Today was graduation. The threads of comfort and familiarity were disintegrating, bringing on an unfamiliar cocktail of exhilaration and dread as they poised on the precipice of adult life.
Janice hurried along the sidewalk and onto the winding path to Jacoby Park. She was late meeting her friends. She slipped a shaking hand into her pocket and closed her fingers around the box, her steps faltering. She leaned her forehead against the rough bark of a tree and scrunched her eyes closed, seeing shadows from the past.
That morning, a small package addressed to Janice had been delivered to the house. It came directly from Baubles & Pretties, and she assumed it was from a relative who couldn't make it to the graduation. She sat on her bed, opened the glossy black box, pushed aside teal tissue paper with B&P printed over and over in black lettering, and lifted out a diamond-encrusted, white-gold bangle bracelet and a set of delicate diamond earrings. Janice ghosted an index finger over the elegant curve of the bracelet, admiring the way it gleamed. She dug around beneath the tissue paper and found a small sealed envelope and ripped it open, curious who'd sent such an expensive gift.
My dearest Janice,
I'm probably the last person you expected to hear from, but I couldn't let this day go by unacknowledged. You're a woman now, about to embark on a new life.
I'll never find the words to express how sorry I am for so many things, so I won't even try. Just know that my love for you was—is—real. I had to let you go, to give you the space to become your own person and the chance to heal from unimaginable pain and betrayal. I trust that you've done all of this and more.
Where I live now, it's sunny and warm year-round. I walk the beach often, listening to the hiss of the surf, and sometimes I hear your laughter in the crash of the waves or see your alabaster skin inside a shell. Every day and night I think of you.
I'm too selfish to hold my feelings close to my heart as I should. You're of age now and can make your choice. Will you choose me? Will you join me here? I'm including my phone number. Please use it.
All my love,
Janice's hands started shaking. Forget all the therapy, the rebuilding she'd done with her dad and Lara, and her ever-growing sense of self. She'd even forgiven Aunt MJ, who'd been remanded to a facility for the criminally insane. For the first time in over a year, Janice curled up inside her closet and cried her eyes out.
Janice bumped her head against the tree trunk and took a deep breath. A monumental decision such as this could only be shared with one person. She pushed off the tree and into a full-out run.
When Janice came upon Ciel, Joanie, and Jason, she was a sweaty mess and having a hard time catching her breath. The three of them were laughing over something, but as soon as Ciel saw Janice's face, she was up off the log, the smile slipping from her face.
“What's wrong?” Ciel rushed up to Janice and pulled her into a hug.
Joanie seemed concerned; she'd made peace with Janice and even called her friend now. Jason stood, ever protective of Ciel, but gave her the space she needed.
Janice had no more tears, but her eyes were red-rimmed from her earlier bout in the closet. She hugged Ciel close and whispered in her ear, “He sent me a gift.”
Ciel knew immediately whom Janice was talking about. “No!”
“Yeah. A letter, too.”
“What did he send?”
Janice pulled back and looked to Jason and Joanie. “Would you guys mind if Ciel and I take some time alone?”
“Sure.” Jason nodded.
All eyes focused on Joanie, the one most likely to object. She waved a hand and pushed her glasses up with a finger. “'Course! I hope everything's okay.”
Janice led Ciel away, and they climbed the steep path to their special place. Spring had awakened green leaves, stickers, and moss, making the climb a bit of a challenge—especially since it had been so long since they'd visited there.
Once they settled on a boulder inside the damp cave, Janice brought out the fancy black box and handed it to Ciel.
“Whoa! This is some expensive shit.” Ciel glanced up at Janice, who stared hard at her feet.
Ciel opened the letter, muttering as she read. “Love my ass . . . gave her space so you wouldn't go to jail . . . beach, huh? . . . What the—” Ciel's fingers dug painfully into Janice's arm. “Janice, please tell me you don't believe . . . you aren't going to . . .”
Janice pulled away and turned her back on Ciel, curling into a ball. “I've made my decision, Ci. This is really hard, and I need you on my side, to help me do this. I can't talk to my parents—not about this. You've been with me through all of it. I need you now.”
Ciel felt her pulse thrumming against her neck and temples. She drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Jan, I'm here. Whatever you decide, I'll always be here.”
The four friends sat with their classmates in a sea of green robes. They whooped and clapped until their voices were hoarse and their hands hurt as the principal called each name. In unison, three hundred and twenty-three caps rose into the deep blue sky and rained down on the graduates of Jacoby High.
Friends and family hugged and kissed and congratulated. Tears dried. Plans were made to meet at parties after obligatory family dinners. The graduates reveled in a special high that comes only once in a lifetime.
After extricating themselves from their clinging parents, Janice and Ciel held each other close. The two of them knew something nobody else in the world knew. A bracelet, earrings, and the ashes of a letter lay buried in the back of a cave. Their secret.
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Sarah Aisling hails from the East Coast of the US and loves living by the ocean with her incredibly indulgent husband and precocious daughter. She’s currently editing her upcoming novel, The Weight of Roses. When Sarah isn’t being enslaved by her characters, she can be found with her nose in a book, obsessing over nail polish or anything leopard, biking, hiking, camping, and spending time with friends and family. Twitter: @SarahAisling Facebook