A Short Story by LittleCelyBecause this short story was rather on the long side I split it into two parts. Part one can be read here.
Enjoy and don't forget to tell me what you think!
In a familiar seat from a thousand years ago Bracken let out a heart wrenching sigh as he buried his face in his hands. “What do I think I’m doing?” he whispered to himself before laying those same hands on his lap. The ring on his left took advantage of its new position by using the sun streaming in through the bus window to glare at Bracken for agreeing to this foolish meeting in the first place. It was the middle of the day, a cold and windy day. For the first time in his life he would arrive before Olive. He would be there several hours before she would even think to come. He wished he could have gone home to change out of his work clothes but Fil would have been there by then, taking care of the baby. And he was afraid he wouldn’t have been able to lie to him if he had asked why Bracken needed to head out again. Having ended work early he drove his car to a bus stop five minutes from the office and parked it around the corner. He wasn’t sure himself why he felt the need to travel there by bus. Maybe it was the time it would take the bus to arrive versus that of his car. He still hated the speed the bus drivers on this route felt obliged to keep, but at the same time decided that he deserved the punishment.
He wasn’t used to the bus being as crowded and noisy as it was. A group of teenagers near the back laughed and joked with each other and people jostled others as they got on and off. The bus driver, a plump, kind faced woman with sad eyes, had no opportunity to skip any stop. He was surprised his seat had been free at all. He’d never taken the bus at this time and that, combined with the cold, probably encouraged more people to seek refuge from the harsh wind that came with it.
Four stops to go and the kids at the back finally got up to leave. Bracken let out a sigh of relief. He had nothing against the kids but they were not doing his nerves any favors so he welcomed the silence that took their place. At the next stop (with three more to go), only two new passengers boarded the bus: a middle-aged woman who looked a decade older than himself and a man closer to his own age. The latter almost fell on his face as he tripped over his feet on the steps at the front of the bus and dropped his bus pass. His face went red almost instantly and he quickly picked up his pass, gripped it tightly in his hand and apologized quietly to the driver as he swiped the card over the appropriate machine. The driver turned to him and gave him a motherly smile of reassurance and a small shake of her head. He had nothing to be sorry about. The man passed by Bracken, a blush still visible on his cheeks as he looked for the first hole he could fall into and disappear. The driver’s gaze followed the man through her rearview mirror with her sad eyes that also held what Bracken recognized as a touch of, … longing? A kindred spirit then? Bracken wondered to himself.
If the blushing man from before hadn’t pressed the button signaling the bus driver, Bracken wouldn’t have noticed that it was the same stop he needed as well. He got up as quickly as he could and barely made it through the doors before they closed behind him. As the wind made its presence known, he lifted the collar of his coat to protect from its advances and watched as the man headed in the opposite direction Bracken had to take. He then turned and walked slowly to what was now just an empty parking lot with no ruins or announcements in sight. Time had caught up to the old outlet mall. If he had been in a hurry he might have walked right past it. Or he would have if the park weren’t as clearly visible in the distance as it was now. He silently berated himself once again as he continued his walk. You don’t have to go, he argued. You can still turn back. There’s still time. In fact he had over four hours before the appointed time they had agreed to meet. The next bus heading back should arrive in about forty-five minutes. He decided that he would just walk in the park so as to keep warm, he couldn’t go too far after all, and it was freezing.
Finding himself by the old swing set, now with no swings, he looked at the containers a few steps away. “It can’t hurt to just look,” he said to the playground. So he walked into the clearing and saw a woman sitting with her back to him facing the city view. The tall grass and wild flowers around her bowed low this way and that as her hair, the color of honey danced in a tangle of wind and curls around her head. He couldn’t leave now, no matter how much he willed himself to do so. He couldn’t see her face but he could sense her distress. Olly was sitting much to straight and staring far too hard, wearing only a light jacket against the unforgiving wind. He watched her hair danced, that beautiful messy nest that refused to be tamed and self-consciously ran his fingers through his own black hair streaked with a few premature strands of grey.
He took a few tentative steps forward. Bracken had always had heavy footsteps that he had never learned how to mute so he was sure that Olly had heard his approach, but she made no move to show that she did. Taking a few steps with a pause in between Bracken gave her plenty of time to make a move, but still reached her fairly quickly and soon found himself standing right behind her, close enough to nudge her with his brown dress shoe. He wasn’t prepared for this. He had meant to take a quick peek at this old haven and head home. Now he had no idea what was the proper thing to say to break the most awkward silence they had ever had. There was a chance she didn’t even know it was Bracken standing behind her right now.
Just as he was about to give up and turn around to leave her there after all, a particularly strong wind rushed through the meadow. Bracken saw how Olly gave a visible shudder and took her arms from around her knees and hugged herself tightly. He tore off his coat and crouched down behind her using it to protect her from the cold. Bracken rested his hands on her shoulders in an attempt to keep his balance but also to simply have a reason to touch her, even if it was through his thick winter coat. He was surprised how natural it still felt to hold her and wondered how he had ever thought he could simply leave without saying anything at all. But it was Olly who spoke first.
She raised her head to be able to look into Bracken’s eyes and as soon as she did he couldn’t help but let out a sharp gasp escape his mouth. The sound made her turn back towards the city and she hugged herself around the knees again. A fresh bruise was the only imperfection in the beautiful, now slightly lined face he hadn’t seen in so long. It broke his heart that that was what she needed him for. They stayed like that for a while in silence, Bracken with his hands on her shoulders, Olly staring ahead.
Olly felt how Bracken shifted behind her. He was starting to feel the cold. Or he was simply tired of crouching in what must be an uncomfortable position, even if he was using her shoulders for support. Is that how it is Bracken? Olly thought to herself, you help yourself while at the same time convinced it’s really me you’re helping?
“Stand up Bracken,” she said softly. Bracken hesitated only for a moment before using her shoulders to push himself up. As he stood up Olly turned herself to face him, still sitting down. Her bruise was now clearly visible and it seemed to distract and upset Bracken to the point that he started to fidget, swaying slightly from side to side and opening and closing a fist. Olly watched the band on his finger with her head tilted slightly to one side as Bracken argued silently with himself, trying to decide what to do.
In an instant he was kneeling in front of her and leaned in, lips barely brushing her skin, he kissed the ugly blemish by her eye. Olly let out a small sigh; brought his face towards hers again and kissed him in the same place he had kissed her. She then got up, leaving him on the ground. Looking toward him she gave him a sad smile as she pulled his coat on properly and said, “I’m keeping this.” She turned to leave. Positive he wouldn’t try to chase after her, she allowed the tears to flow. He had given her the strength she needed, but she still hurt. Good-bye Bracken.
“Dad,” the thirteen-year-old boy glanced from one father to the next, concern written all over his face. “We’re falling behind the other cars.”
“Bryon, it’s fine. Your father is just a little distracted. We should be there soon.” Fil knew this must be hard on his husband. It had been just as much of a shock to him when he had heard what had happened. Olive had been a school friend of theirs that had lived in Bracken’s old neighborhood. They’d recently gotten back in touch and she had looked great. She had been engaged to a wonderful woman who had a son Bryon’s age from a previous marriage. None of them could understand what had gone wrong. Holly seemed to really cherish her. Their son however, did have a point. Bracken was not only driving at a pace that normally made him want to scream, he kept glancing every now and then out the passenger’s side window, muttering what sounded like numbers under his breath. Fil wasn’t too concerned about being left behind by the rest of the funeral procession, but he was starting to worry about his husband who he couldn’t remember ever acting like this before.
“We lost them!” Bryon let out before he could stop himself. He managed to stay quiet for a full thirty seconds before adding, “do we even know where we have to go?” He seemed to be worried that without the line of cars leading the way we wouldn’t make it to the site.
“I know exactly where I’m going,” Bracken said firmly but quietly. Bryon never having seen his Dad this intense, kept his mouth shut for the rest of the drive.
True to his word, Bracken did know where he was going as he parked the car next to the others they had finally caught up with. They were in the parking lot of a large outdoor and garden wholesale store. The others in their party had already left their cars and were grouped together around Holly who was carrying a small box made of white marble, sealed on all sides. Fil never knew that there was a park in this area and just behind the wholesale store no less. Olive had asked for her remains to be left here?
The mourners headed into the park at a somber pace. Bryon had run off to stand with Will, Holly’s son. They had become fast friends in school and Fil thought that there might be something more than friendship brimming under the surface, but it seemed that they hadn’t caught on to that fact themselves just yet. He looked to find where his husband had wandered off to and spotted him walking with Holly, a protective hand barely touching her shoulder. He was staring straight ahead as if avoiding having to look down at the precious box Holly held in her hands. It was his kindness and willingness to help that Fil loved most about Bracken. Holly could never have done this by herself. It was a shame that Olive’s family, as religious as they were, refused to take part in all of this due to the form of her death. Bracken had been furious when he found out and Fil couldn’t blame him. It was shortsighted and a horrible way to let their daughter go. As he silently cursed the horrible old men that had raised their old friend, an unpleasant smell demanded his attention. They were heading towards two large dumpsters by an old playground. He wondered if they had suddenly taken a wrong turn.
They hadn’t of course; they had arrived at the highest point in the park. It was such a small space that they had to form a tight half circle directing themselves towards a small previously dug hole in the center. Laying above the tiny grave was a small plaque made of polished stone that had been fixed into the ground, marking the place as Olive’s and Olive’s alone. Yet Fil still couldn’t understand the choice of venue. The only pleasant thing about the place was the view. You could see the whole city down in the valley from so far up. However, everything else was nothing but a clump of weeds with overgrown grass and dandelions having their seeds scattered by an unpleasant breeze; a breeze contaminated by the foul odors exuding from the large dumpsters at their backs.
There you have it: The Meadow in the Park. If you have any constructive criticism on my writing I would greatly appreciate it. In fact critique it even if it's your first time reading any kind of short story at all! Please!