Waiting for Cullen
I gazed over the waters of the lake at the moonlight's shimmery reflection.
He said he would meet me here, at the lake in Shenkuu.
Overhead, thin wispy clouds drifted below the scattered stars.
I lay back against the tree and closed my eyes.
My mind flashed back to earlier that day,
Just that morning, I had opened the door to my Altadorian home and stepped out into the cool autumn breeze. I felt the warmth of the grass under my feet as I made my way to the mailbox.
I unlocked it and took out the mail. One envelope fell out of the stack and fluttered to the ground. It was made of brown, wrinkled paper. As I bent down to pick it up, I realized that it wasn't an envelope at all, but a painstakingly carefully wrapped corner of a paper bag. A withering strand of twine that looped around each of the corners barely held the package together.
I set the rest of my mail down and sat on the sidewalk.
I picked up the small brown package and carefully removed the twine. Wrapped inside the dirty paper was a folded letter, blue ink on yellow-white paper.
I scanned the letter, my eyes skipping over the words, anxious to find what the next sentence held.
The note read:
"Alyssa, I know I've been gone for a long time, and I understand if you don't want to listen to me. But I'm asking for your help. I didn't think myself through before, and now I need you to help me get myself back into who I am again.
I think you're the only one who still remembers.
PS—Meet me at the lake at midnight."
My heart jumped. My blood froze.
My vision blurred as I stumbled, attempting to stand up.
I leaned against the mailbox. The cool metal pressed against my forehead, slick with sweat.
My eyes opened just enough to see the letter fall from the clutch of my hand, twirling in spirals, plummeting to the ground.
Then my vision blacked out, and I fell.
Cullen disappeared seven years ago.
He was my best friend. I still have memories of us playing together in Neoschool. I still have plenty of pictures of us, him with his red Draik scales and me with my Island Kacheek flower.
Then there was that one day, that one afternoon after Neoschool had just let out. We were in second grade, and he was my best (and not to mention only) friend.
We were sitting under a tree behind the school, exchanging trading cards. That was our world back then, plain and simple—whoever had the most value of cards was better than the rest.
Just as we finished trading cards, he stood up.
"I have to go. I don't want to get home late again." He fished around in his pocket, then brought his hand back up. "I want you to have this."
He pressed a small object into my hand and quickly turned away.
As he ran off towards the direction of his home, I opened my fist. Inside was a handmade necklace: an imperfect seashell strung onto a wiry black cord. I flipped the shell over. On the other side was a name, engraved—Cullen.
I smiled to myself and hung it around my neck. There it stayed for many years.
The first day of sixth grade was one I will never forget. I didn't have any classes with Cullen, but I managed to catch up to him at lunch.
"Hey, Cullen!" I cheerfully greeted as I approached him. He was sitting alone at a table. Of course, he had saved the spots for me. Or so I thought.
But instead of smiling, or even making any indication that he acknowledged my presence at all, he got up and walked away. He set his lunch tray on another table.
So I followed him and, again, sat next to him. He turned to face the chair on his other side. I moved into that chair. He stood up again and walked clear out of the cafeteria, dumping the remains of his lunch into the trash can.
I barely caught the door as it swung shut. I slipped through just before it slammed. The light burned my eyes. As soon as I adjusted, I could see Cullen walking away towards the trees that marked the perimeter of our school.
"Cullen, you know that you can't go past..."
Suddenly, I stopped short as Cullen whirled around to face me.
"What do I care? Huh? Do you think you know who I am? Cause you know what? You can't know who I am. No matter how much you think you can or do, you can't. Just leave me alone. You can't help this situation. I'm different, you're still the same, and... I'm sorry, but I can't even relate to you." His voice rose. "I don't even know who I am anymore!"
With that he stormed off, straight into the trees.
He left me. He left me alone. I didn't have any other friends as close as he was. They were there, but they didn't know everything. They didn't know how much he meant to me. Worst of all, they didn't know that they just weren't and couldn't be everything he was. And I couldn't tell them that. So I pretended that nothing was wrong. I pretended to agree with them.
But that didn't do anything for me.
Cullen was still different. And he expressed that fact with the way he painted himself shadow. He knew I never liked shadow.
And no matter how many nights I spent sleepless, staring out the window, no matter how many lunch times I spent glancing at him eating alone, no matter how many times I wanted to help him, but couldn't...
I started to feel like I just didn't want to know him anymore.
And as the weeks slipped by, so did he. I wouldn't see him as often as I would, and there were some days where he just didn't show up in the cafeteria at all.
Eventually, I couldn't take it. I got rid of the only remaining part of our friendship—my necklace. I took it off and threw it as far as I could into the forgotten shore.
I still remember the tears that stung my eyes through the next weeks.
I tried—I really tried to help him, but every time I would see him, he would turn the other way. As the weeks turned to months, and the months turned to seasons, I found it harder and harder to help him. He depended on me. I was his best friend, who he always came to for help. He was supposed to need me to fix his problems.
But now... now that he didn't want me around anymore...
The truth became apparent to me.
It wasn't him that depended on me—it was me that depended on him.
And when I finally could see past the wall of guilt and shame I had built upon myself, he was gone.
Since then, he has faded from my life, disappeared from society just as he had disappeared from my thoughts.
I opened my eyes and gazed again at the night sky in Shenkuu. The clouds surged through the air with a directed movement. The wind that carried them chilled my arms. I rubbed my hands together for warmth.
The wind died down, and I pushed my hair out of my face. My fingers brushed past the bruise that had formed shortly after I had fainted at the mailbox.
I set my chin on my hand as I waited for Cullen to come.
He never did.
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