The rosy-cheeked, brown haired girl sighed as yet another boy passed her by on the frozen pond, causing her to slip and fall down for the fiftieth time that day. The boy glanced back once and smirked, as another child skated up next to him and clapped his back, laughing at the young girl's plight.
The cold ice bit into her hands and knees as the girl clumsily pushed herself up, dusting herself off and frowning as she spotted a rip in her new purple jacket. Her mother would be so angry with her . . .
She sighed once more and clumsily wobbled towards the snow on the frozen bank of the pond. She was the new girl in Cleaves Mills, and as such she was relegated to the sorry position of town nerd. The other children viewed her as an outsider, teasing her constantly. At the elementary school she now attended the other girls would giggle, whispering to one another behind their hands whenever they saw her, as the boys just smirked knowingly.
She was so lonely.
The little girl plopped down into the snow, frustrated with her attempts at fitting in. She only wanted a single chance to belong, but children are often cruel and refused to grant her even that wish. She held her head in her hands with her elbows on her knees, blowing a stray lock of fine brown hair out of her eyes.
She missed her old home, where the golden sun shone bright and the sky was clear for most of the year. Since she moved to Cleaves Mills it seemed as if all it ever did was rain or snow, forcing her to stay indoors and watch the other children through the windows as they skated freely. Since she had just turned six, she had gotten a new pair of skates for her birthday. Today was supposed to be her first day of skating. Instead she was forced to stick to the sidelines as usual, watching the other children have their fun, gamboling and roughhousing with each other freely in the crisp New England weather.
As she stared silently at the snow-covered ground, two battered blue skates appeared, blocking her view of the crushed snow.
"Hello," a boyish voice said.
She looked up, and was stunned to see a boy of about her age smiling sympathetically at her. His face was flushed from skating and golden hair shielded his eyes from view.
"Hello," she responded, shyly ducking her head. No one had ever bothered to talk to her before. She was uncertain what to do.
The boy sensed her nervousness and continued, "My name is Johnny. Johnny Smith, from that house over there. The big one that way," he pointed, " I've lived there forever."
The girl squinted up at Johnny as he carelessly brushed his hair away from his face, revealing two friendly azure eyes that seemed to twinkle at her encouragingly.
"I'm Sarah Bracknell," the girl said shyly. "I just moved here. Yesterday was my birthday and my grandma gave me these new skates . . . but I don't know how to use them . . . " she broke off, embarrassed at her outburst.
Johnny seemed to understand and reached out for Sarah's hand, pulling her gently to her feet. "Good thing I ran into you," he said cheerfully, " Cuz I'm the best skater this side of town!" Johnny grinned roguishly, showing a gap between his front teeth.
Sarah gazed wondrously at the blond haired sprite who had grasped her hand, blushing slightly. The sun had returned to her.
The two children held hands and skated slowly off towards the center of the icy pond, with Johnny supporting Sarah every step of the way.
The Daisy follows soft the Sun --
And when his golden walk is done --
Sits shyly at his feet --
He -- waking -- finds the flower there --
Wherefore -- Marauder -- art thou here?
Because, Sir, love is sweet!
We are the Flower -- Thou the Sun!
Forgive us, if as days decline --
We nearer steal to Thee!
Enamored of the parting West --
The peace -- the flight -- the Amethyst --
- Emily Dickenson
Twenty years later . . .
Sarah laughed along with her music students as they watched Johnny's antics up in the trees. The students smiled knowingly as they turned to one another, enjoying the light that lit up Miss Bracknell's eyes every time she looked at the science teacher. All of the students of Cleaves Mills High knew what was going on between the two teachers, and Mr. Smith and Miss Bracknell never said anything to discourage such knowledge.
Sarah smiled fondly as she watched the principal's attempts to get Johnny and his class out of the tree. Ever since she had met Johnny, she felt warm every time her eyes caught his. She was no longer the shy girl she once was so long ago, but calmer and steadier thanks to Johnny's influence. Also much more outgoing, she thought as she remembered the many pranks they had pulled on their friends and teachers back in high school.
The bell rang, interrupting Sarah's sun-gazing as her students quickly packed up and filed out of the classroom. Sarah could hear them giggling about love struck teachers all the way down the hall. Silently she glided around the classroom, picking up the loose papers and music books that lay scattered about the room. These kids never pick up after themselves, she irately mused to herself as she came upon a crumpled piece of yellowed paper lying next to the garbage bin. She could barely make out the letters M s B ack ll emblazoned in orange marker on the front of the sheet. The music teacher was about to throw the paper into the bin when a sudden urge of curiosity overcame her.
Sarah glanced around to make sure that no one was watching her. The classroom was empty save for herself. She cursed her foolishness for a moment, biting her lip before hurriedly unfolding the crumpled paper and glancing through its contents.
Hello, my dear Mrs. Bracknell, the note read in barely legible script. If you are reading this then you are very nosey indeed. Remember to watch your back, since curiosity killed the -
Letting out a shrill shriek as a pair of hands suddenly clutched at her shoulders, Sarah spun around, abruptly dropping the note. The person who had so startled her wore a sheepish grin on his face.
"Guess you found my note, huh?" he said, still grinning.
"Johnny!" she yelled, half laughing and panting to catch her breath, "You almost gave me a heart-attack!" Sarah threw a mock punch at Johnny's chest, however Johnny evaded it, catching Sarah's hand and drawing her closer to him in a swift movement, pressing his lips to hers.
Caught off guard, Sarah could only sigh contently and lean in to deepen the kiss. Her lips wrapped softly around Johnny's as the world seemed to still and all that mattered was the here and now.
A sudden rustling of clothes and clearing of a throat caused Johnny to break off the kiss, opening his eyes as he became aware of the sounds of applause and raucous cheering from all around him. He unwillingly separated himself from Sarah's embrace as he gazed about him, running a hand through his tousled blond hair. The couple was unknowingly surrounded by a group of 5th period music students who had entered the classroom only to find their teacher in a rather compromising position.
Sarah felt her cheeks heat up as she blushed, grinning embarrassedly. Johnny, ever the showman, merely grabbed her hand and bowed with a flourish, his eyes seeming to glow with delight as he winked at her. He flashed her a pleased grin as she followed in suit, bowing down in a curtsey as she held on to the hem of an imaginary gown. Johnny and Sarah linked hands as they waltzed out of the classroom to the continued clapping of Sarah's students.
"I'll be back in just a minute," Sarah said over her shoulder, "In the meantime start the warm up exercises on page fifty-nine of your textbooks." She followed Johnny outside, the upcoming lesson being the last thing on her mind at the moment.
They stepped out of the swinging doors of Cleaves Mill High, blinking as their eyes adjusted to the brightness of the sun above them. Sarah squinted up at Johnny as the light seemed to make his golden locks more brilliant.
"So are we still on for tonight, good sir?" she asked, batting her eyes up at him coquettishly.
"But of course milady," Johnny said, attempting a bad British accent and striking a dignified pose. Sarah merely laughed at his antics and shook her head. "My next period is free, so I'm stopping by the house to pick up a few things. I want tonight to be the best night of our lives," he said, suddenly feeling shy.
Sarah smiled reassuringly as she took Johnnys face into her hands. His blue eyes seemed unsure for once. "Johnny, every night that I am with you is the best night of my life," she said, drawing him into a quick kiss, "and tonight is no exception."
Johnny broke off the kiss, saying "You'd better go back to your class. I'm sure the music kids have seen enough of our show for today," he grinned as he gave her one last peck on the cheek and headed out towards his car. "Tonight will be the best night ever!!!" he whooped as he waved at her from the parking lot. Sarah merely smiled.
Neither of them knew how wrong they were, or of the disaster that very night would bring.
The rising moon has hid the stars;
Her level rays, like golden bars,
Lie on the landscape green,
With shadows brown between.
And silver white the river gleams,
As if Diana, in her dreams,
Had dropt her silver bow
Upon the meadows low.
On such a tranquil night as this,
She woke Endymion with a kiss,
When, sleeping in the grove,
He dreamed not of her love.
Like Dian's kiss, unasked, unsought,
Love gives itself, but is not bought;
Nor voice, nor sound betrays
Its deep, impassioned gaze.
It comes,--the beautiful, the free,
The crown of all humanity,--
In silence and alone
To seek the elected one.
It lifts the boughs, whose shadows deep
Are Life's oblivion, the soul's sleep,
And kisses the closed eyes
Of him, who slumbering lies.
O weary hearts! O slumbering eyes!
O drooping souls, whose destinies
Are fraught with fear and pain,
Ye shall be loved again!
No one is so accursed by fate,
No one so utterly desolate,
But some heart, though unknown,
Responds unto his own.
Responds,--as if with unseen wings,
An angel touched its quivering strings;
And whispers, in its song,
"'Where hast thou stayed so long?"
- Endymion by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Five years after that fateful night, Sarah Bracknell gazed into the warm chocolate eyes of Walter Bannerman, her own eyes swimming with unshed tears. Nevertheless she held Walt's gaze steadily, even though the meaning of his words seemed to flow past her, as if she was caught in some kind of inexorable current.
"Sweetie, you know I would never ever do anything to hurt you," Walt said as he held her hands, "and I don't like seeing you hurting either. It hurts me. You've got to stop coming here. Seeing him. It's not doing any good for either one of you. This has got to end here."
Sarah felt Walt's worried eyes stare into her own as he clutched at her hand, but she was too numb to feel anything. The strong current had suddenly become a whirlpool of emotions, and she felt trapped .
Walt sighed as he saw the trapped look in Sarah's glazed eyes. "Say goodbye to him one last time. Remember Sarah, that was all in the past. We have to look ahead to our future, to J.J.'s future."
Sarah nodded and smiled brokenly as he held her and kissed the top of her mouse brown hair. Then she disentangled herself and went in search of the person for whom she had been coming to the hospital every week for the past five years.
Walt stood alone in the sterile hospital corridor, watching Sarah's back as she walked away. He never wanted to view that sight ever again. "I hope I'm doing the right thing," he sighed, "for both our sakes."
Meanwhile, Sarah sat at the bedside of an unmoving form. She held its limp hand. It's just a bundle, she thought, trying to convince herself. Just a shell. Not the real thing. None of this is real. Her Johnny was as vibrant as the sun, glowing and grinning and joking with her happily-
Sarah ran a hand through Johnny's lackluster hair. It was as limp as his hand and lifeless, no longer as golden as his personality. This body was now a mere shadow of what her Johnny used to be.
For the last couple of years Sarah had taken to telling Johnny of her life without him. With Walt. She had heard that coma patients could hear what was going on in the outside world, but one part of her hoped that this wasn't true. This part of her was the part that cried at the thought of what she had to say to Johnny.
A tear slipped past her eyelashes as she spoke. "Johnny, I've told you how wonderful Walt has been. To me - to J.J. He lifted my spirits when I thought that I couldn't be any lower. He's made me happy. I am happy," she defended herself, almost wishing that Johnny was awake to attack her decision and tell her how silly she was while flashing his trademark grin that simply oozed the Smith charm. But now that would never happen she thought.
"I wish you could meet Walt," she continued, "He's an amazing person. I don't know what other man would have stayed with a woman with so much-" her voice broke. "He's been wonderful. And unfortunately, he's usually right. It is time for me to move on." Sarah took a deep breath. "We're getting married next month. It's time. J.J. needs a father and I - I need a husband. So I guess this is it, Johnny. " With those words, Sarah stood up, and kissed Johnny's forehead, a single tear traversing its way down her cheek and onto Johnny's.
"Goodbye," Sarah said as she walked out without turning back, blinking back her tears. She didn't start to sob until she had reached Walt's reassuring, comforting embrace in the corridor. Sarah had learned a bitter lesson. If one followed the sun too closely, they were likely to get burned.
However, if she had looked back, she might have seen what thousands of dollars of hospital machinery had missed. A single twitch of Johnny's hand where Sarah had held him.