"It takes two to make an accident." - F. Scott Fitzgerald.For the record, I'm not a fan of the Great Gatsby. While this literary classic had genius moments, I thought it lacked a defined plot and it certainly head-hopped point-of-view too often for my tastes.
But that has nothing to do with the price of tea in China, or with the rules of engagement concerning this contest.
In addition to the 1k word limit, we can use the quote as an opening/closing line, or simply to draw inspiration from it, then we link up as we usually do. Out of the WoE community who participates, one story will be selected by the editors and another story will be selected by a vote of participants. The two selected stories will be featured in Precipice, volume 3, theme yet to be announced.
So I would like to offer the following as my entry.
Gone the Sun
The trumpet sounded. Taps haunted the living. The flag was folded with military precision and the captain walked the triangle of starry cloth to an elder woman clad in black. She sat expressionless in a row of crying adults as she received the colors with gloved hands.
Melissa kept her distance, knowing she wasn’t welcome, especially now that her future husband was gone. His mother said the vilest things at the engagement party. Zach promised that it didn’t matter, that his mother’s opinions were base and ugly, but she would eventually come around. And none of it would change how he felt about her.
There was no benefit for Melissa. The Marine Corps didn’t consider her as next of kin. It was the cruelest trick of fate, to dangle the possibility of forever before her eyes, only to rip it away two weeks before the wedding.
Afghanistan couldn’t kill him, though it tried. The heat during the day, the cold during the night, the rabble with a penchant for locking their own in suicide cages, all of it and he still managed to come home well-adjusted and strong. Zach was supposed to be safe in the States. Gunfire disturbed the silence. Melissa forced a breath through her tired lungs, wiped a tear from her cheek, and counted. Seven rifles times three rounds equaled twenty-one.
And it was over.
The shadow clad family and friends wore their grief like a shroud and dropped ruby roses after the rosewood casket lowering into the ground. Her vantage point grew stale, yet she remained, numbness returning to her veins. Melissa watched Zach’s mother rise and depart in a sea of supporting arms. She sucked in another breath and whispered her silent argument to the sun for another hour with Zach. Just one more hour, she begged.
“You’re Melissa, right?”
She lowered her head, preparing for the avalanche of ill-will from a tongue under the employ of her would-be-mother-in-law. “I am.”
“I’m Bricker.” He sounded nervous. “Well, my name is Anthony Brickman, but everyone calls me Bricker.”
The name was familiar. She looked up and caught a pair of melancholy eyes, gray like an ocean of storms. “Zach’s…cousin.”
“Yeah.” He flinched. Something was troubling him.
“Nice to meet you. Zach told me a lot about you. I’m sorry for your loss.”
“You’re sorry for my loss?” He gave a humorless laugh. “No wonder he loved you. You were too good for him, you know.”
“You’re wrong.” Her tongue was sharper than she wanted it to be. “He was bloody perfect.”
“He was a better man than me, that’s for sure.” Bricker sniffed and looked away. “It’s my fault you know. My fault he’s gone.”
“That doesn’t make sense. It was an accident.”
“I know it’s not my fault in that respect. But I’m the reason he was there at all. He wouldn’t have been on that bridge if not for me.” His weight shifted on his crutches. “You know that’s enough reason for Aunt Addie to cut me out.”
His tears drew more tears of her own from hiding and fished anger from her soul. “Zach’s mother, she blames you?”
“Can’t say I blame her for that. I mean, I blame myself too, so it’s only natural.”
“It’s not fair that Zach’s gone. I’ve begged every deity in history for a glimpse of what we could’ve had together.” Melissa shook her head. “But you didn’t make that accident happen. And he is the only one gone because the two of you together worked to get everyone out. Time just ran out for him. Time just ran out for us both.”
He was quiet for a long time, which was okay. She needed to process what she had just said. As her emotions tugged at her thoughts like taffy, she watched the Cat scoop earth into Zach’s final resting place. Zach saved thirty-two people that day, twenty-eight of them children, completely emptying the bus before the fire consumed him. Pointing fingers at anyone seemed petty in comparison.
“Look, Bricker,” she reached out and touched his arm. “Zach isn’t the sort – wasn’t the sort – to stand by and watch children perish. The others on that bridge were too busy catching the wreck on their smartphones. But you and Zach…I don’t want Zach to be gone, I want so bad to have my wedding and to live happily after. All those parents though, they all get to wrap their arms around their babies for one more hour. Why on earth would I ever wish this pain on them? No, you did good, Bricker. You both did.”
“It should have been me.” His voice crackled and sputtered. “Zach had so much more to contribute to this world. Can you ever forgive me?”
Melissa wiped the waterfall from her eyes and tried to smile. “There’s nothing to forgive. But if you need to hear the words, I forgive you and I hope someday you can say it to yourself.”
His crutches clattered to the ground. Strong and sudden, his arms engulfed her in a cocoon of a hug. They stood clinging to each other’s warmth in the shadow of Zach’s grave-site. “I’m so sorry, so very sorry,” he repeated like a child over a broken toy.
She began to overheat, feeling sweat bead at the nape of her neck. She kept the hug as long as she dared before giving him a gentle push. “I don’t want to keep you. I know the family is having a small reception at your aunt’s house. But I’m hoping…”
His gray eyes locked her gaze. “Hoping what?”
“Your aunt isn’t the type to be forgiving, no matter how wrong she is, and it’s going to take a long time before she’s willing to budge. Would you like to grab a cup of coffee with me? Maybe some lunch? I’d very much like not to be alone right now.”
He nodded. “I’d like that, too.”