1- Is it too late to enter?
2- Is there a certain feel you'd like? For example, a sad goodbye story or a happy goodbye story.
3- What happens if I'm a little over/under the limit? (Like by a few words.)
Quote me to respond, please. It makes it easier and quicker to get my answers.
I would've quoted this even without the ask for it (:
1- It's not even close to being too late to enter smile
2- It's which ever you feel you want to write. Either will be sufficient and accepted.
3- I'd prefer if it was EXACTLY 5000 words, simply because it's a rule and I don't want to be making exceptions for individuals. nothing personal, but part of the challenge is to make it 5000 words to a dot.
Story Title: Hello, I love you
Author Notes: homg. I hope this fits. I wrote it over 3ish days, so I hope it's understandable. There was a format to it, but I don't know how well it's going to transfer over.
“Hello, I love you.” This is how you picked up the phone, the day I called you to tell you goodbye. I paused, breath caught in my throat. I had expected a simple ‘Hello’. Perhaps even a boyish ‘Hey’. Not this, not now. My fingers twitched, the pad of my thumb caressed the red letters of the ‘off’ button.
“Hello?” You sounded so innocent, so gentle and sweet. My thumb depressed as the lump in my throat grew heavier. Dial tone. I scrubbed at my scalp, stared at the floor, and cried.
“Hello. I love you.” The first day I missed school, you called. I picked up the phone without looking at the caller i.d. and heard your voice. It was rough, laced with the chest cold you were getting over. I didn’t reply. You sighed, said a soft ‘bye’ and hung up. It was the first time we’d had contact in a month.
The second week in a row without my presence at school, you showed up at my door. A cardboard box in the shape of a heart, shiny and red. Chocolates, my favorite. The cheap store brand that left that odd taste in the back of your throat. A bottle of the only ginger ale I would drink, three red roses and a poem you read to me as you stood outside on the step. The neighbor stared at you wide eyed. The ever-popular football captain, reciting handwritten prose to the geekiest of the geeks. The kid that won a trophy at a robot fighting competition, that put the town on the news for his discovery of a new flower on the banks of the nearby river. The same one your friends used to chuck me in.
You gave me the roses and the soda. Balanced the box of chocolates on the railing. Folded up the poem, shoved it in your back pocket. You rocked for a moment on the cement stoop. Heel to toe. Heel to toe. Stared up at me through windswept dreads.
I stared back, too tired to speak. Too tired to think. Did you really just read me a poem? What kind of poem was it? A love poem? How scandalous. You smiled your crooked smile, rubbed at the back of your neck, then left.
For a long time, you didn’t call, or visit. I was part relieved, part upset. I missed you and your big hands. The way our skin contrasted when we held hands—mine pasty white, yours warm and dark. I missed your voice rumbling through the phone as you told me about your day—the way you repeated things more than twice patiently when I was distracted. I missed the shoulder rubs, the sweet kisses, the candy and the roses. I missed the quiet weekends when we had nothing better to do than build a fort out of sheets in the living room and watch movies. We would always get bored and end up with you playing guitar to me while we sat back to back and watched the movies play on mute.
The warm summer days bled quickly into crisp fall days. The fall dance rolled around. You called and asked my mother if I was going to be there. I hadn’t been coming to school for weeks, everyone thought I had died, or run away; finally done with the bullying and less than intelligent students. She said no, wished you a good weekend and ran to her room to cry.
The night of the dance, I sat on the cold tile floor of my bathroom and became best friends with the toilet as my stomach rebelled against life and attempted to eject itself through my mouth. I brought my alarm clock, and sat there with it, listening to the local student run radio station. They played all the songs that were played at the dance, and made witty comments as the students came and went.
They talked about you a lot. How you showed up alone, fancied up in a tux, your dreads fresh, your teeth whiter than ever. They said you hadn’t come with anyone. I was happier about that than I wanted to admit to even myself.
I watched the hours tick by, wondered what you were thinking as you sat alone at your group’s table, watching everyone dancing and having a good time. I know you sat there and didn’t dance, because the kids running the radio said so. They wondered why you were so distant. You nursed a ginger ale the entire night, watched the girls dance, and the boy’s wiggle around awkwardly.
Near the end, as I dozed against the cold porcelain of the toilet seat, it was announced that you had been crowned Fall King. A random junior was named Fall Queen. You accepted the crown silently, and let the girl take up both speeches time slots with a rather boring, drawn out speech about how amazing she was.
I woke up at 3:30am when you picked me up. You were like an oven compared to the cool tiles I had been sitting on for the past dozen or so hours. You didn’t say anything, just scooped me up, carried me to bed and curled me up on the mattress, with my knees to my chest- just the way I like it. You brought honeyed warm water, a metal bowl, my alarm clock, and your guitar a little while later.
For the next two hours, you sat in my bed against the wall and played me the sweetest lullabies I’d ever heard. I rested my head on your thigh and slept better than I had all year. When I woke up, you were still there, still playing guitar. Mindlessly now, though. Your fancy black slacks were wrinkled, your dress shirt unbuttoned, starched cuffs folded up to your elbows. The shiny black shoes and perfect tuxedo jacket were slung across my desk chair, the laces of the shoes tied most unruly together.
You didn’t say anything, didn’t touch me, or move. I knew, though, that you were upset and worried. You had a million questions, I could nearly feel them bubbling through your skin. My mother came in, her face pale and weary. She was holding the phone, your parents were worried about you, you hadn’t called to tell them where you were going.
When you moved away to put on your shoes, I thought I was going to die right then and there. I missed your warmth, your scent, the strength I could feel in the tenseness of your muscles. You hunched over and put on those uncomfortable looking shoes. Buttoned your shirt and stood.
It felt like the first time we’d made love, in this very room. This very bed. Even the sheets were the same. You looked down at me, one of those ‘I’m remembering’ smiles on your face. You leaned down, kissed my forehead and pulled the blankets higher around my shoulders. When you got to the door, you looked over your shoulder, a bright smile on your face again. “I love you.” You said. Didn’t wait for a reply, just stepped out the door, through the hall, down the stairs. I strained to hear the gentle goodbye you gave to my exhausted mother. I ached as your shoes tapped across the wood floor, as the aging front door creaked open and whispered close.
Winter was long, and hard. I wasn’t home very often, but mother was. She would bring me things you had brought her. The knit hat I’d made you in Home Ec. A picture frame from your metal work class. The soccer ball you’d won from an indoor soccer championship. Slips of paper torn from notebooks, poster boards, flyers. All kinds of colors, weights, textures. All printed with the exact same thing in your small, precise script. ‘Hello, I love you.’ They were always wedged into the presents mother brought me. I think you didn’t want her to see them.
She saw them anyway.
The corkboard in my room was covered in them, a delicate roll of tape barely holding each of them to the board. I didn’t want to ruin any aspect of them with the tacks I should have used. The women that came to help mother were always very careful around the board. I liked the soft smiles that bloomed
It was spring, finally. Winter had been like death itself, cold claws clinging to the warming earth in frosty morning chills, and frozen crops. It was time for new life, new growth. Our small town hosted many a parade; I didn’t go to any of them, except one. Mother wanted to, she said that we needed to ‘watch that old friend’ of mine ‘ride the Fall King’s float with his pretty Fall Queen’ because ‘maybe this time the King and Queen’s relationship would go farther than a simple hand hold and cheek-kiss at the end of the parade.’ She always did have foolish ideas.
I watched your float glide down the road, listened to the children squealing at the vibrant colors and the candy being tossed into the crowd. The brisk breeze reddened your already pinked cheeks. Public events were never all that enjoyable for you. Too many people wanting the football captain to be ‘heroic and almighty’ as you would say. The girl beside you was pretty. Awkwardly so.
I observed and counted the millions of ways she would make you uncomfortable, when I heard my mother’s disappointed gasp from beside me. I glanced over at her. She was staring at me with wide eyes, one hand placed against the rounded o’ of her mouth. I frowned, glanced back towards the procession, only to catch your eyes.
Smooth and dark as chocolate, their usual warmth was infused with shock and sadness. I felt the chill of the mid-morning quite suddenly. The lime green pom-pom of my favorite hand knit hat suddenly bobbed into the corner of my vision. A tall man was wading through the crowd, a little boy seated upon his shoulders. The two of them weaved towards the front of the crowd, the little boy squealing, his one free hand tangled in his father’s hair. Clearly the child wanted some of the candy tossed from the floats. One small, chubby hand pointed towards the road, the other clutched possessively at my stolen hat.
My hands rose to my head. I could feel the strangeness without having to see it. Clumps of my thick, golden locks had been falling out since the summer. The hard winter had merely progressed the situation. I tugged on the spare hat I always kept in my coat pocket for times like these, and quickly left for the safety, and comfort of home.
Mother cried for days about it, constantly asking for forgiveness. I ignored her. All I really wanted was a warm summer day, you, and your hands carding through my hair, telling me how gorgeous and soft it was.
For a long time after that, my thoughts kept going back to that green hat. I wanted that vibrant lime green hat back. It had been yours, once upon a time. Your grandmother had made it and given it to you, but you never wore it in public, said it would do your reputation bad. The first winter we’d been more than simple friends, we got caught on the public bus during a white out.
We were feeling adventurous, giddy from our newfound love. We left the relative safety of the bus and wandered around our small town, marveling at the silent streets, the café’s and stores bursting at the seams as people hid within the building’s warmth. You picked a bench in the center of town. One we would never have gone to together, had it not been a white out. You pulled the hat out of your pocket and pulled it down around my ears. Told me that you wouldn’t have me dying of a chill on such a beautiful day.
We held hands and watched the snow fall.
My cousin called us a few days after the parade. School was back in session, and apparently so were the rumors. People were not only shocked that I was alive, but also shocked that I had lost so much hair. Some people guessed it was cancer. Some said it was a disease. My favorites were the ones that said I had purposely shaved patches off to make a statement. What that statement might have been, who knows. She told me you had beaten up one of your fellow jocks, because he had said I looked better like that than I had when my hair had been its usual golden messy mop.
People were curious about that too. They all thought that you wouldn’t have even known my name. Funny, I used to think at times that all you did know was my name. You would write it endlessly, adding your last name, or odd swirls and girlish hearts. I used to tease you about it. Now, I missed it. All I had left of those days were dusty notebooks, the rainbow of ‘Hello, I love you’, and memories. Which sounds cheesy, but it was starting to seem like all I did lately was think about the past.
I heard that’s what we do, though, dying people. Think back on the past, things we would change. At least I admit it, that I’m dying. The kid that gets the treatments at the same as I do refuses to. He keeps saying that he’ll go into remission again. He looks worse than I do. Sometimes I guess that means I know what is going to happen…what is happening.
Summer has come around again. There haven’t been a lot of contact attempts from you, but I understand why. College essays and forms to fill out, and all. It hurts to think about you going off to school somewhere, even though we used to talk about it all the time. Correction; I used to talk about it all the time. You would just sit there and smile.
“Harvard!” I’d say.
“Okay.” You’d reply.
“Berkeley!” I’d shout.
“Alright.” You’d reply.
I did ask you, once, what you wanted to do. You admitted to not being as smart as I. That distracted us for a while. The comment kept wiggling about at the back of my head throughout the long moments of teasing and tickling I was bestowing upon you, so I made you talk about it more.
You said you were interested in art, in finding a way to help people. That you liked active sports and hiking—you knew nearly all the local hiking places like the back of your hand—or better yet, like the back of mine. You told me about writing songs. The way words wrapped around your brain and squeezed until you wrote them out. Your worst handwriting only appeared when you were writing poetry or lyrics. You told me about music, the way you listened to it and felt it soul deep. The beat of drums in your gut, the thrum of guitars echoing in your ears. The way the vocals made your throat ache with want to join in. You even liked classical music, and the way it made your heart soar. I liked that the most. Especially when you told me even Bach didn’t make you feel the way I did with just one look.
Every time we talked about school, you got me so wrapped up in sweet words and tangled imagery that I’d lose focus. I would remember, later, that you hadn’t given me a straight answer, just that you would always follow me. I always accepted it, but now…now it makes me fret, I sat in my room for half the semester worrying about what you were doing, where you were applying to—if you were applying anywhere.
Your mother called the first day of summer. I was expecting it to be you, so I didn’t say anything. I waited for my ‘Hello, I love you.’ Instead, there was a long, awkward pause. She cleared her throat and told me unsteadily that you wouldn’t be around for much of the summer. That your family was hosting a goodbye party the next week. Mother and I were invited. I didn’t say anything, too shocked to reply. She coughed delicately, and hung up. I wrote the information on a post-it per reflex, and left it on the kitchen table.
Where were you going? Why? When? Questions mixed and mingled in my mind until I grew dizzy and had to sit down. Life stayed that way until the day of the party.
It was a ridiculous morning. I got sick three times, another large patch of bare scalp was revealed, and my pale chicken legs could barely support my weight. Still, I insisted that we go. I wanted to see you, I wanted to demand answers.
Mother and I hobbled out to the car, my knees knocking together, her fingers leaving little fingerprint bruises on my arms.
It didn’t take long to get to your house. The party was already in full swing, cars filled the driveway and the sides of the streets. All the windows and doors were flung open, and people filled nearly every nook and cranny. Mother almost turned around, but then we saw the sign. It was car shaped, on the front lawn. Neon pink, and black it read our last name in your beautiful print. It was awkward, pulling into the spot, mother constantly leaning out her window to politely ask someone to move. The moment our tires were over the black spray painted lines; your little sister popped her head through mother’s window and grinned.
“You’re here!” She didn’t say anything else, just skipped over to my side of the car, opened the door, unbuckled me, pulled me enthusiastically from the car, and dragged me off into the crowd. I looked back once, to see mother standing behind her open car door, one arm propped on the roof of the car, the other over her mouth. She was laughing. The sight made me happy. She hadn’t laughed in a long time.
I started to pay attention to the paper plates and cups the people were holding. They were all different, but festive. ‘Happy Graduation’ ‘Congratulations’ ‘Good luck!’ and the pink and yellow ‘Happy Birthday Girl’ from your sister’s birthday last year. Banners saying the same things—except the happy birthday—were strung up wherever there was room above heads. I stopped noticing the different pops of color as your voice washed over my senses.
Warm, deep, and just as soulful as it was the last time I heard it. Shivers wriggled down my spine as you crooned my name. I swayed slightly, one ear cocked forwards as your littlest sister pulled me closer and closer to your sweet voice. You were singing the lullaby you had made for me the night of the fall dance. The one you had made up on the spot, the one you had perfected over the long hours sitting up in the dark with my head in your lap. I was wondering why you were sharing it with your family, friends and awkwardly random people I didn’t know, when I caught sight of you.
Your dreads had gotten longer, but no less neat. You would always be a fuzzy headed child. You wore a dark green tank top and cameo pants tucked into tall dark boots laced up tightly. I knew instantly what you’d decided to do. From the way your mother’s lips trembled, and your father’s shoulders were tensed. From the way you hunched over your guitar, as if you were singing solely to it, and a few hundred people weren’t milling about in your home.
It was like you had some inner detecting system honed on me. The second I was behind the second layer of people surrounding you, you looked up. Our eyes met. Dull blue, rich chocolate brown. You smiled, said “Hello, I love you.” And continued to sing. Both of your parents, on either side of you, looked up. Their expressions didn’t change. They didn’t move. Simply glazed over me and settled back on you.
Your little sister, the sweetheart that she is, wrapped her skinny little chocolate arms around my weak, paper white forearm and leaned against me. I nearly fell over, my body already barely able to keep me standing. Somehow, I managed to stay upright, managed to let my fingers play through her millions of tight braids. Managed to smile almost as brightly as she did.
I felt alive again, in the crowd of people I didn’t know. Your voice, you love, for my ears only; now that I had made it there. An ache was building in my chest, though. One that had nothing to do with months of hospitals stays, and years of sickness. No, this ache in particular was heartache.
I knew what you were planning. Why everyone other than your family looked so pleased and excited.
I had never expected this of you. I was abruptly thrust back into life, but only felt like crawling back to that near-death state I had been wallowing in the past few months.
My mother’s perfume draped around your sister and I moments before she did. Wildflowers and sunshine, her arms wrapping around my shoulders acted as the anchor I needed to pull myself back down to earth. You were here, right in front of me. Playing my song. Loving me. You had been for years.
It was my turn.
I left that night without saying a word to you. After you finished playing for everyone, you were dragged away by one of your various sports teams. I would bet my last dollar it was to gossip about your future. After all, in this town, going into any branch of the military was like announcing you were suddenly a billionaire and wanted to share the greenbacks. As it got cooler, and the sun lowered, I felt your eyes upon me. Warmer, heavier, the intensity rising with each passing hour until the moment my mother wrapped her purple shawl around my shivering shoulders and directed me to the car.
Midnight rolled around. I was lined along the edge of the low bed, my new favorite position. Perfect for clinging to the mattress with minimal movement needed to retrieve the bucket that had made itself a permanent fixture inches away. I heard your feet quietly scrambling for the solid marble ledge of my window. You dropped onto the narrow ledge, finally, and popped open my window. In no time at all, your jacket was discarded, sneakers kicked towards my door. You slid under the covers with me, your chilled skin quickly warming as you pulled me away from my safe edge and red bucket, back against your chest.
“Hello.” You breathed into the back of my now bare scalp. “I love you.” You wrapped an arm around my stomach, too tightly. I pulled at your hands where they met just below my ribs. You didn’t say anything, just loosened your embrace. I had taken to extreme nausea late at night, and wanted to be prepared. I think, somehow, you knew. Maybe it was the way I felt you counting my ribs, your fingers dipping and rising as you felt your way up my body, to the sharp jut of my jaw. Maybe it was the disappointed way you sighed when you found you could palm your elbows whilst still giving me plenty of room in the circle of your arms. Either way, we were both happy you had arrived. We both knew it wasn’t a sneaky arrival, mother had always known in the past when you came for midnight visits. She never said anything, but there was always more than enough breakfast in the morning for four people. She wouldn’t even comment when the pans would appear empty and cleaned on the rack later with no left over’s in sight.
“You’re upset.” You said softly. Some of the first words you’d spoken to me in many a month.
“No.” I felt your brows draw together. Felt the tension drain out of your limbs. Felt your lips as they formed words against my smooth skin.
“Okay. I love you.”
Morning arrived with a bang. I flung myself up and out of your embrace, leaned halfway across the bed and began to retch. You made it just in time, your body hovering hairs breadth over mine, one hand wrapped around the edge of the bucket, the other gently caressing my arm. When it was over, you didn’t say anything, just cuddled me back into the warm spot we’d made in the night against the wall.
When you left, it was for the last time. I could see it in your eyes. Had felt it in the way you trembled against me silently as the sun began to peep over the mountains in the distance at 5 in the morning, when you should have been sleeping. We walked downstairs, hand in hand. You with your glorious dreads, dark skin, and party clothes from the previous afternoon. Me with my bald head, protruding bones, papery skin and rumpled pajamas.
Mother said nothing. Simply smiled and filled the plate that had already been waiting next to the stove.
A large black bag sat as a painful reminder next to the door. You avoided it like the plague. Mother did too. I simply stared. It felt like I was staring down something worse than death. Something that would take you away for weeks. Months. Years. Something that would show you that there were better things in the world, that there were people that would say ‘I love you’ back.
We ate breakfast like nothing was wrong. Curled up on the couch and watched cartoons for hours. Listened to mother sing to herself as she did the laundry. It was like the old days, except this time there were stark, painful reminders of what had changed in the red buckets scattered throughout the house, and the new darkness in your eyes.
We heard the crunching of the gravel driveway at the same time. Your head shot up from where it had been leaning against mine. Your arms turned to steel around my waist. Mother stepped out of the laundry room, her features set grimly.
She opened the door. Your father stood there, a stark black suit encasing his army strong body, a large black SUV parked behind him. He spoke politely to my mother for a moment, his dark eyes trained on the two of us. An awkward silence fell. You squeezed me gently, dropped the most publicly visible kiss you’d ever given me on my cheek, just to the left of my lips, and stood. It took a moment for us to unwind, so tangled we had been in blankets and one another.
Your father coughed into his fist. I stood as well. We joined our parents at the door. I could see your siblings crowded in the sleek car, your mother silently, stoically crying in the front seat.
You hugged my mother, kissed her cheek and promised to call. She laughed and patted you on the chest. Said something about you being a good boy. I wasn’t listening. I was building plans upon plans in my head. Plans to run away with you to Canada. Plans to pick up that massive black bag and burn it. Plans to cut off one of your limbs so you couldn’t leave.
You shot a look at me as you turned to pick up your bag. It said ‘please, stop. It’ll just hurt more.’ so, I accepted it. I took in the fact that you were moving 9 hours away—and then further—wrapped it up in my arms and squeezed until it made a tiny ball of horror, and shoved it away. My form of acceptance.
I could tell you didn’t like it, but the clock was ticking and you and your father needed to get back to base.
Your father turned stiffly and marched down the steps. Your family rolled down the windows of the car to wave at my mother. She smiled as sweetly as she could and blew them kisses. Without you around, there wouldn’t be much need for them to be in contact with us. We wouldn’t sugar coat it. Without you, we were nothing.
You switched your bag to your other hand and reached out. Wrapped your big hand around the back of my neck and pulled me close. I came willingly. I saw your father frowning disapprovingly from the driver’s side door out of the corner of my eye. Saw your sisters giggling and pointing, your brothers sighing exasperatedly. Saw you blink long and slow, just watching me. Giving me time to think.
Without warning, I threw my arms around your neck and clung, a full three inches off the ground as you straightened.
“I love you. I love you.” You whispered in breathlessly. I smiled and kissed your forehead. Your eyebrows. Your cheeks. Your lips.
“I know.” I said. “I know.” You pulled away and locked gazes with me.
“No.” you said. “I love you.”
“Yes.” I breathed back. “Goodbye. I love you.”
We parted. You turned your back, walked away, and got in the car. It didn’t matter though, we both knew. You loved me, and I loved you.
That fact was what easily got us through the months of my isolated sickness, and what would get us through the years of your service.
There wasn’t much contact, but when it was made, there wasn’t much said. Simple words over long distances to help ease us through. ‘Hello.’ ‘Goodbye’ and “I love you.”