Wishes for Eternity
By: M.G. Knight
There was once an old couple who loved each other dearly. They had been together for six decades, and they were now facing the inevitable fate of all lovers: one of them was dying.
The two loved to sit outside in their garden. It was a delightful place, full of buzzing bees, blooming azaleas, red Alabaman dirt, and loose petals. It even had a plain wooden bench—Melanie’s favorite spot—and a small pond that she swore granted wishes. That was where they sat at present, holding hands and looking into the water.
“The pond’s magical because,” Melanie would say to her grandchildren. “When I was your age I wished with all my heart to find my one, true love. I threw a budding flower from the cherry tree onto its surface—and that wish came true.”
Her husband would scoff at this part, a playful gleam in his eyes. “Little did she know, she was being cursed for the rest of her mortal life.
Perhaps he had been right, but she could never think of him as a curse. Holding the wrinkled hand of her husband, Melanie smiled sadly. It had been sixty-three years, ages and ages to her grandchildren, but only a blink of an eye to Melanie. She regarded the reflections of earth and air and water shimmering upon the pond, playing with the sun just as they had that day, the day it had all began.
No. She would never take it back for all the world.
* * *
Sixty-three years ago, she had been staring at the reflections of earth and air and water shimmering upon the pond, contemplating if something was wrong with her; after all, she was sixteen and had yet to date anyone. She hardly noticed the way the blue catmint danced in the wind at the pond’s edges or the shaking blossoms of the cherry trees above her. Instead, she was staring so hard at the clear pool that she thought the water might bubble from the ferocity of her gaze. Only her reflection, young and frowning, looked back.
And then a whisper. “What are you looking at?”
The warm breath in her ear so terrified Melanie that she jumped to her feet, swung around to face the breather, and ended up head over heels in the pond. A tall silhouette laughed down at her as she sputtered for air, the smell of dirt and algae invading her delicate nostrils as the warm water soaked into her clothes. When she finally found her way back to shore, she was covered in algae, the beautiful dress her mother had made was ruined, and she was in a temper.
“Thomas Willard!” she cried, stomping toward him, looking—she was sure—like some irate pond monster. Thomas regarded her, laughing, his hands in the pockets of his vest.
“Nice day for a swim,” he said, a lazy smile on his lips. Impetuous lips, they were.
Melanie’s face contorted. For ten years, she had put up with his and her brother Jeffrey’s shenanigans, but these past twelve months had been almost unbearable. Constant teasing, her stuffed Teddy kidnapped, and now—her dress ruined! She was done. One-hundred and fifty percent done!
“No it is not a nice day for a swim, you’ve ruined my dress thank you, and I daresay you think it’s funny.” She had finally made it directly in front of him, dripping wet and glaring. Jeffrey’s face appeared in a first-floor window of the stone cottage behind Thomas, spotted her, and quickly ducked back down. She could hear laughter floating from the back door.
The twinkle in Thomas’s eye was threatening to blind her. “I believe this is yours?” He was holding her sun hat.
“Thank you very much,” Melanie snapped, snatching it up, stuffing it on top of her head, and lifting her nose. “And those shall be the last words you will ever hear from me.”
“Well at least they were kind ones.”
“Your nose is too big.”
Thomas’s eyebrow rose. “And yours is too small. If we had children they would have perfect noses.”
Melanie felt that heated, creeping sensation that meant she was turning a bright shade of red behind the algae. How dare he even think—!
Fuming, she pushed past him and into the safety of the house, where Jeffrey burst into uncontrolled snorts. “Oh, do shut up,” she said.
“Gone for a swim, kiddo?” Her father looked up from his newspaper to regard her, his mouth twitching with suppressed laughter.
She bit back a retort as Thomas slipped into the house after her, choosing instead to stomp up the stairs to her bedroom, where she would spend the next half hour drying off, picking algae from her hair, and trying to salvage her dress.
As she peeled off her attire, she could hear her father downstairs talking to Thomas. Something about going to a university. Her dad sounded pleased. She scoffed. He had always liked Thomas, but she had never understood why.
Susan arrived a few hours later. “I don’t see what all of the girls see in him.” Melanie’s impatient voice was accompanied with an even more impatient stomp. “He’s so bigheaded I’m surprised he doesn’t float away.”
She and Susan were sitting on Melanie’s bed, their feet dangling over the hardwood floor—next to the trigonometry homework they were supposed to be doing. Susan’s blonde hair and blue eyes shone in the sunlight slanting over the desk across from them. Compared to Susan, Melanie felt plain; she never did her nails, her hair was a lackluster brown, and her eyes were grey—just dull, simple grey. Her mother always said Susan’s looks would have made people wary fifteen years ago, but they certainly didn’t now; she had multiple boys chasing after her on a daily basis. Melanie had none.
“You’ve been talking about this all afternoon,” was Susan’s reply as she flipped through the pages of Life magazine. The front featured a photo of some soldiers, no doubt accompanied somewhere Melanie couldn’t see by a headline about the end of the war. “For goodness’ sake, can’t we do our homework? Mom will kill me if I fail another test.” Her friend dropped the magazine and poked hopefully at their textbooks with her toe.
“Maybe if he would just be less arrogant,” Melanie continued.
The mattress bounced as Susan let herself fall back onto the multicolored quilt. “Okay. If you were to go steady with a guy, what would he be like?”
Melanie put a finger to her lips. “Well, he would be taller than me. But not too tall. And he would have dark hair and green eyes and would open doors. And take me on walks and picnics. Oh! And he would have to —absolutely have to—bring me lilies.”
“The physical description sounds a lot like Thomas,” Susan muttered.
“It did not! I was thinking of Bruce.” The name was accompanied with a windy sigh, as if it was a breath of spring air escaping from her lips. Bruce Connolly was Madison High School’s quarterback. He had jet black hair, blue-green eyes, and was half a foot taller than Melanie—an accomplishment, since she had been cursed with the body of a pole. Bruce was perfect.
“Weeelll,” Susan shifted closer, something she did only when she had some juicy information. “The dance is coming up, and I hear he has an idea about who to take.”
“Probably Sarah Rollings.” Melanie wrinkled her nose; Sarah Rollings was the most popular—and stuck up—girl in school.
“No, they had a falling out. He’s been looking at someone way nicer. And prettier.”
Susan shook her head. “You’re hopeless. Haven’t you noticed he’s been talking to you a lot? He’s been looking at you, you ditz.”
The last word was cut off with a shriek as Melanie skyrocketed from the bed, her body buzzing with electricity. Bruce was going to ask her to the dance?
“Oh, Susan, you’re sure, you’re absolutely sure?”
“According to Emily Burns, yes.” Melanie shrieked again, jumping up and down, while Susan stuck her fingers in her ears. “I didn’t want to tell you until after our homework because I knew you’d have a cow, but it’s not like we’ve been working on it anyhow.”
“Susan! When is he going to ask me? The dance is in five days! What should I wear? What should I wear to school?” Susan closed the trigonometry book despairingly, and Melanie stopped her demented hops. “I’m sorry, Lu. We can talk about that later. Let’s do our homework. Come on.” She plopped onto the floor, her face hurting from the huge smile plastered on it.
Susan laughed. “Well, if I had known that would make you do homework . . .”
Mrs. Melanie Connolly. Melanie could practically see the name in ink as she pulled out her notebook.
Yes. It certainly had a ring to it.
* * *
It was Tuesday when Bruce asked her. He had been shooting looks at her all throughout chemistry, and she was pretty sure he had been admiring her poodle skirt in English. By the end of the day, she was a nervous wreck. When school let out, she practically ran out the door to begin the walk home, sparing only one glance back toward the brick school. Students mulled around the front steps like ants in front of a square anthill. She sighed; spring was her favorite time of year, and the Alabama landscape was blooming around her. Out here she could breathe.
“Hey! Mel!” Then again, maybe not. She froze as Bruce’ voice chased after her and there he was, wearing a white shirt under his leather coat—the fashionable outfit these days. His hair was slicked back, impervious to the wind that scattered freshly mown grass across the school’s sidewalk, and several of his football buddies were watching from the building’s entrance.
“So . . .” There was an awkward silence. “The dance is this Saturday.”
Melanie looked at him. Was she supposed to say something back? She decided to settle with the obvious. “Yes. Yes it is.”
“Well, you should go with me. I’ll pick you up at seven.”
The world was churning around her. Seven? Saturday? Was that his way of asking her out? Her heart was beating so fast she could barely think.
“Um, okay. Seven sounds fine.”
“Great. See you Saturday.” And that was it. He was back at the entrance, high-fiving his friends like he had just won a gold medal before disappearing into the school.
Melanie stood, dazed. Then it hit her: she was going to the dance with Bruce Connolly!
Books flew as she leaped into the air with arms outstretched, welcoming everything—everything—in. The sun. The smell of grass and growing things. The wind. The birds chirping.
“Bruce, huh? You do shoot for the big ones.”
The world stopped, narrowing until it was a collapsed hole. Her arms fell to her side. Thomas was leaning against a tree in the schoolyard watching her, his unruly hair ruffled by the wind. He blended in so naturally with the terrain that Melanie had to look twice to find him.
“What do you care if I go out with Bruce?” She turned away, stooping to pick her books up from the concrete. “He’s the nicest boy in school.”
“Oh my, you do have a lot to learn. No wonder Jeffrey is so protective.”
“What do you know?” Mel whirled around. He was so infuriating, talking like he was full of wisdom. He was only two years older than her!
Today he was in a grey vest with a loose tie and white undershirt, and his lips were missing their usual smile. “Just don’t trust everything you see. Okay, Mel? Your heart is much too beautiful to get crushed by someone like Bruce Connolly.”
And he was gone. Melanie watched his retreating form as he crossed the street, unsure why her chest felt so tight.
A beautiful heart . . . Had she heard him wrong? That must have been it.
As soon as Melanie arrived home she phoned Susan to tell her what had happened. But for some reason, she didn’t mention Thomas at all.
* * *
The next day, Melanie was gathering her books at the end of a long school day. Ever since English—her worst subject—she hadn’t been able to pay attention. They had an eight-page paper due Monday analyzing the end of Shakespeare’s play. She just didn’t understand it. Why on Earth would Romeo and Juliet commit suicide because the other had died? It made no sense. One-hundred and fifty percent no sense.
So she was already in a rather bad temper when she walked out of the stuffy classroom and into the crowded marble hallway. Signs and banners hung over the classroom doors, all announcing the theme for this Saturday’s dance. They didn’t cheer her up one bit: it was Shakespearean-based. Almost the entire female population of Madison High School had decided they were going as Juliet, but—with only three days left before the dance—Melanie had no idea who she would be. Certainly not a love-struck girl who kills herself over a man she’d just met.
That was when Bruce appeared to her right and grabbed her hand; warmth blazed in her cheeks.
“Ready for the dance?” he asked. “I can’t wait to see you as Juliet.”
Melanie felt her heart fall like a stone into her stomach. “Oh. Well, about that I haven’t deci—”
But she was rudely interrupted by Jack, Bruce’s friend. Jack was a bit of a bull, heavyweight and intimidating. He had blonde hair cut into a sailor’s crewcut and, like Bruce, usually dressed in jeans and a tee shirt. “Hey, there scooch. This dance is gonna be a bash. Who you going as?”
Bruce didn’t even look her way. “Romeo and Juliet.” He turned to her, a smile on his handsome face. Of course he thought they were going as Romeo and Juliet.
“Well . . .” Melanie hesitated. “I was thinking of going as someone else. Any ideas?”
Bruce scratched his head as they stopped at the high school entrance. “I don’t know . . . With Romeo, I can bring a sword. Is there anyone else I can bring a sword as?”
“I don’t know. I was going to read through some of Shakespeare’s other works tonight.”
Jack shared a look with Bruce and shrugged. “Romeo has a sword,” he said loyally.
Bruce laughed. “Well, Dolly, how about you go through those books and if you can’t decide we’ll just go as Romeo and Juliet.”
Melanie brightened. “Oh, Bruce, that would be wonderful. I’ll tell you what I decide tomorrow, okay?”
“Sure. I got football practice now. Sorry I can’t walk you home.” He leaned forward and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “See you tomorrow.” Melanie could smell his No. 89 cologne as he pulled away. She felt an exhilarated sense of joy. Of course Bruce wouldn’t mind going as someone else. He was much too wonderful to care what anybody else thought.
Giddy with joy, she headed toward the double doors. She had so much to do tonight: decide on a costume, finish her trigonometry, and that silly essay about Romeo and Juliet was due Monday. Her eyebrows knitted together as she ran through a list of Shakespeare’s plays she had gotten from the librarian, and she glanced up to find Thomas standing in front of the exit, looking at her intently. She felt heat flood to her face.
“You look irritated.” A vest again. Did he ever wear anything else?
“Quite the opposite. I’m very happy.”
Thomas’s eyebrow rose, but he opened the door for her politely, ignoring the way she turned her nose upward at the sight of him. He continued to follow her down the steps and onto the road.
Melanie found the silence unnerving. “Are you waiting for Jeffrey? He’s probably dawdling in the school.”
“Yes. We’re supposed to meet at your house tonight; some awful nonsense about a Romeo costume. I’d rather wait for him there than watch him flirt.”
“You don’t like Romeo?”
“I like the story. But there are more interesting characters of Shakespeare’s.”
They were walking down a lane lined with white fringe trees, Thomas with his hands in his pockets and Melanie with her books clasped to her chest.
She tried hard not to show too much interest. “Other characters? Like who?” But her attention was instantly taken by three orange flowers in the yard beside them. “Oooh, look!” She leaned forward to touch the petals.
Thomas smiled and gently released the books in her grasp. He held them easily at his side as he considered her. “You like lilies, I see.” Mel felt that irritating heat bloom in her cheeks again. “Well, there’s Macbeth, Hamlet, Benedick . . . A number of others. I especially enjoy Oberon’s character, although he is a bit of a narcissist.” Melanie raised her eyebrow, unwilling to ask who he was as they continued their stroll. Thomas laughed. “He’s the king of the fairies from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of Shakespeare’s comedies.”
“I see.” She didn’t, but it was one of the plays on her list. “And what is that play about?”
And so Thomas told her, all about how Oberon tricks proud Titania into falling in love with a donkey and how two couples get caught in the fun. Melanie was fascinated, and she hardly noticed when they turned down her own stone driveway. Her house was partially hidden by the oak trees in front of it, and the front door was closed. Her mother must be at the store, buying material for Melanie’s dress. Mel had told her to wait, but once Bethany Stonewall set her mind on something she was sure to do it—regardless of her daughter’s pleas.
“Let’s go around,” Melanie said, taking out her key. “Daddy’s at work yet, and it looks as if Mama is out. I only have a key for the back.”
Thomas nodded and they wound their way around the house and into the back garden, still discussing Shakespeare.
At the door, Melanie hesitated. Her parents wouldn’t like it if they knew she had been alone in the house with a boy.
Thomas seemed to read her mind. “I’ll wait out here for Jeffrey,” he said, handing over her books and striding to the bench by the pond. “It’s much too beautiful to be inside today.”
Much too beautiful. The phrase stirred a strange, tingly feeling in her as she thought of his comment the day before. Before she knew why, she had blurted out, “Are you going to the dance, then? This Saturday?”
Thomas glanced over his shoulder, and for the first time since she had known him Melanie recognized the way his strong jaw, high cheekbones, and piercing green eyes made his face quite striking. “Yes. Emily Burns asked me to go with her. She is adamant about being Juliet, so she may be disappointed in my own costume.”
A heavy, dark cloud surrounded her as she forced a smile. “Who are you going as?”
Melanie opened the door and walked into the shadowy kitchen, depositing her books on the counter. Emily Burns. The name echoed in her head in an annoying, sing-song voice.
An hour later, Mel’s mother returned home with several bags of cloth. She had gone a bit overboard on the shopping, she explained as she dropped the endless packages on Melanie’s bedroom floor and brought out the sewing machine. But there was plenty to work with.
By that time Melanie was well into A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and she had a good idea who she would be at Saturday’s dance.
* * *
It was Friday night, and Melanie was absolutely exhausted. Her nerves were frayed from walking home with Bruce, and her fingers hurt from sewing so much. But the dress—the dress! It was perfect. All iridescent shades of blue and purple, draping across the floor in an elegant display of craftsmanship. Her mother had helped her on the hard bits, and they had even fashioned a pair of brown wings (her mother had insisted on white, but Mel absolutely, one hundred percent refused) that would go on her back.
She knew she was in for a tough weekend. She would spend all of tomorrow afternoon preparing for the dance that evening, and Sunday she would have to write her entire paper.
She looked around her room. Bits of cloth, elastic, and feathers covered her floor, desk, and the bookshelf in the corner. The only thing untouched was the window seat; body aching, she dragged herself to it.
This particular window was Melanie’s favorite because it looked out over the garden, one of the most beautiful sights in Madison. The Stonewalls were especially proud of that garden, and her mother toiled over it daily, pulling out the weeds, encouraging seedlings to grow, and watering her thirsty plants. Ivy covered the walkways that wound around it, and it was full of every flower you could name—except lilies. Her mother had said when they planted the garden, she simply didn’t think of them. Melanie didn’t know how she could have forgotten.
But the garden was exquisite—even lily-less. As she watched from her window, the moonlight glittered across the pond at its center. Beautiful.
The next day, however, Melanie felt that nothing was beautiful. In fact, she felt as though she was going to be sick. She was pacing back and forth in the kitchen, routinely bumping into the hassock and dining room table while she stared anxiously at the phone on the counter. She hadn’t heard from Bruce, and regardless of her mother’s and Susan’s reassurances, she was sure he wasn’t going to show. But then the phone rang at five o’clock.
Melanie squealed as she hung up while Susan once more stuck her fingers in her ears. “He’s coming!” Mel yelled, skipping across the tiled floor. “He’s coming at seven!”
“Cool it,” Jeffrey spat from his bedroom down the hall. He was carrying his costume—complete with a fake sword, sheath, and mask. For once Mel thought her brother looked rather handsome, not like his usual brutish self. His brown hair was slicked back, and his grey eyes were cool. “I’m heading to Thomas’s. See you at the dance, sis.”
Melanie stopped skipping. “Right. I’ll see you there.” It was as if all the energy had been sucked out of her. She would see Thomas at the dance. And Emily Burns. Beautiful, auburn-haired Emily Burns. She hated the fact that she couldn’t hate her.
“What’s wrong?” Susan eyed her. “I thought you were excited.”
“Of course I am! I’m going to the dance with Bruce. Why wouldn’t I be excited?” The last part came more defensive than she had intended.
“Hmmm. Well, little old me is stuck going with Edgar, so I don’t want to hear any complaints.” Edgar was one of their few male friends, but Susan wasn’t unhappy about the prospect. After she had broken it off with Tyler three months ago, she had claimed she wasn’t interested in dating for a while. Her relationship with Edgar, she had explained, was platonic.
Two hours passed in a blur of shoes, dresses, make-up, and perfume. Melanie’s mother claimed that her house had turned into a brothel. “Clothes everywhere! And it stinks to high heaven!” she exclaimed as she ushered the two girls out the door. But Melanie knew she was pleased; Mama loved chaos in any form.
Her father, on the other hand, regarded the two girls over his glasses sternly as they sat on the garden bench. “I expect you home by eleven, young lady. And no nonsense with these boys.”
While Susan and Melanie were assuring him they would be perfect ladies, Bruce pulled into the stone driveway in his 1946 Dodge. When he got out of his car, Melanie’s heart fell.
“Hi. Like the getup,” he said, looking her up and down.
Susan’s eyebrow rose. “I thought you were going as Oberon and Titania?” she asked, eyeing his brown boots, dark pants, and tunic. “You seem like a Romeo to me.”
Bruce immediately looked sour. “I had already gotten my costume.”
Melanie glanced at Lu. She had her arms crossed and was surveying Bruce with a look of undisguised hostility. “It’s okay,” Melanie said, trying to shrug off her disappointment. “I mean, we’re going together, anyhow, so it doesn’t matter.”
Bruce smiled and led her to the car, where Edgar was untangling himself from his own belt. His long sandy hair was disheveled as he shot an irritated glance toward Susan, who giggled and went to untangle him.
“Thank you for letting me take Melanie out, sir.” Bruce shook hands with Mel’s father again. From her seat in the car, Melanie noticed the way her father’s lips grew into a thin line, a sure sign of disapproval. Her shoulders drooped. “Always good to see you, Mrs. Stonewall,” Bruce added to her mother, who was standing at the back door. And then they were off.
Melanie was shaking with nervousness as Bruce parked the car in front of the two-story high school. She kept glancing at Bruce’s lips. They looked hard and chapped.
“Catch up with you guys inside!” Bruce said to Susan and Edgar; he grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the entrance doors. Mel was able to squeeze in just before the doors closed, and she followed him down the hallway with an apologetic glance back toward Susan.
The gymnasium had transformed into a renaissance festival. Fake, miniature castles lined the walls, and sophomores dressed as jesters and fire breathers roamed the center. Students in frilly dresses and tunics were dancing wildly among them, and at the back of the room sat two glittering thrones. But Melanie’s eyes continued to return to the faces in the crowd, searching.
“Pretty good setup, eh?” Bruce said as they stood in the doorway, viewing it all. “There’s more outside, I guess. They have an entire fake garden.” He didn’t seem particularly interested.
“C’mon, Mel, let’s dance.” Bruce pulled Melanie onto the dance floor.
One hour later she was desperately wishing she could find Susan. Bruce seemed more interested in dancing than talking, and her feet had become terribly sore.
“I need a break,” she finally said when it was obvious he didn’t care how exhausted she was.
Bruce shrugged and escorted her outside the gym to the back of the high school, where other couples sat at the benches or walked the paths that wound around the shrubs and trees of the schoolyard. The bushes had been adorned with white lights, and fake flowers had been inserted here and there.
“Want to sit down?” Bruce asked. Mel nodded again, noting that most of the students out here were kissing.
Bruce led her to a bench apart from all the others, where they had some privacy. They sat quietly for a few minutes. “You like the dance?”
Melanie smiled. “The freshmen and sophomores did a fantastic job. It’s too bad the seniors will be leaving Tuesday.” She thought of Thomas, who was graduating. She hadn’t seen him all night.
“Yeah. Look, Mel, I really like you. A lot. So maybe we should go out.” It wasn’t a request, and the way he continually called her Mel instead of Melanie was starting to get on her nerves. But it was Bruce, the boy she’d had a crush on since she was in the eighth grade.
Why wouldn’t her mouth form the word yes?
Before she could say anything, he had pulled her close and his lips were covering hers. They were hard, and a million thoughts soared through her head as he forced her mouth wider and pulled her closer, his hands sliding down her neck and toward her chest.
Her breath was caught in her throat. This wasn’t how she had imagined her first kiss.
“Bruce!” She scooted away from him. “Not so fast. I—I’m sort of new to all of this.”
Bruce didn’t seem to mind. He shifted closer. “I can teach you,” he said in her ear, and his mouth was on hers again, and his hands were going in places she didn’t like.
Why wasn’t she thrilled? Instead, she was angry.
She firmly removed his hands, setting them in his lap. It was a good thing the teachers weren’t around. “Bruce, I’m not ready.”
“I am.” He pulled her closer again, ignoring the way she was pushing away from him.
“I said no!” The words burst from her mouth like an arrow, and Bruce pulled back. “I mean, why don’t we date first? We could go on a picnic.”
“Don’t you like me?” Bruce said petulantly, ignoring her request. “I’ve always thought you were cute. Since our freshman year. I just never thought you were interested.”
But that wasn’t right. Bruce had started dating Sarah Rollings that year, and they had been together for a year and a half. He had hardly noticed the girl in the corner that drew hearts with his initials in them.
“That’s when I saw you were beautiful,” Bruce continued, his face inching closer.
Beautiful. The word triggered something in Melanie’s memory, and at that moment she knew she could never love someone like Bruce. He didn’t open doors for her, he wasn’t interested in taking her on picnics or being honest. He wasn’t her Prince Charming.
Melanie stood up. “Sorry, Bruce,” she said, straightening her dress and pulling out the pins that had been holding her hair. “You’re just not the one for me.”
Bruce leaned back on the bench, his face warping. “I’m not the one for you? Talk about a fake out. Someone like you’d be lucky to have me.” Watching him there on the bench, Melanie could see past the cute face to the true identity beneath. She never wanted to be anything he could call his own.
“Thanks for taking me to the dance.” Smiling, she gave a sarcastic curtsey and walked away, surprised at her own daring. She rounded a bend, and there sat Thomas with Emily Burns.
His eyes lit up when he saw her, and a soft smile curved his lips as he took in her dress. He was in a long, leather coat with a collar that stood up. He had used something on his ears to make them look pointy and a pair of magnificent, black wings swept to the floor behind him. The character couldn’t be more obvious: Oberon.
Emily turned to see what he was gazing at and her mouth fell open. Melanie didn’t understand why. Emily looked gorgeous in her white gown, her hair pinned up in curls. In contrast, Melanie’s own hair was down, cascading untidily across her chest and back.
Emily glanced at Thomas, said something that made his smile falter for a moment, and disappeared into the gym.
They were silent as the noises of the evening floated across the gap between them. “With the glittering shrubs sparkling like fairies behind you,” Thomas finally said, breaking the silence, “you look like the epitome of Titania herself.” He smiled and rose to his feet. “Why Titania, may I ask?” Melanie noticed he wasn’t wearing a shirt underneath his coat. How he had managed to get away with that was a mystery. She tried hard not to look at his well-muscled chest.
Melanie grinned, tossing her hair loftily. “She’s proud and strong, even though her vanity leads to her embarrassment. But in the end, she ends up with the person she loves—even though he is somewhat of a germ.”
Thomas laughed. “Sounds like someone else I know.”
“Why Oberon, then?” Melanie asked, a teasing smile lighting up her face.
“Because,” Thomas answered, walking closer to her on the concrete path. “The woman he loved dated an ass. I thought it would be appropriate given the situation.” The music from the gym drifted their way, the beat impossibly slow compared to the drumming of her heart. Had Thomas just said he loved her? Was it possible to love someone you had never dated, someone you had known most of your life and had been picked on by and, and—
Thomas held out a hand. “Would you like to dance with me, Titania, Queen of the Fairies?”
Melanie felt a giggle almost bubble out of her chest as she reached out, her digits shaking slightly as his fingers intertwined with hers. It was so unlike dancing with Bruce that Melanie almost forgot she was dancing at all. It was slow, patient . . . tender.
When the song ended she looked up into the green eyes above hers, and it felt as though her heart was going to escape her chest. She could feel the warmth from Thomas’s body and she smelled grass and wind and flowers.
“I’ve got drinks.” Emily Burns reappeared beside them, and Melanie jumped backward. She had almost forgotten about her. Almost.
Emily handed Thomas a cup and turned to survey her. There was a challenge in those eyes that Melanie didn’t like, and the accusing stare made her feel ashamed. She shouldn’t have danced with Thomas.
And she should have realized it wasn’t possible to know someone all your life and love her in the next heartbeat. Thomas must have meant something else; she must have misunderstood.
Melanie quickly backed away. “I’ll see you at school,” she said, retreating toward the gym. The courage she had felt before vanished. She dashed back into the gymnasium, through the halls, and out the front door of Madison High School, wondering why her heart felt lighter and in pieces all at once.
* * *
On Monday morning, Melanie was late waking up.
“Aren’t you going to school today?” her mother asked.
Melanie slid lower in the kitchen chair. “I’m not feeling very well.”
A sigh. “I suppose I could call the school and tell them you’re sick. Just this once.” Her mother placed a pancake in front of her and headed for the telephone.
It was Monday, the last day the seniors would be in school. The last day Thomas would be in school. It was also when her essay was due, which she had tried writing for hours the night before. Who cared about Romeo and Juliet anyway? Maybe both of them had been suicidal to begin with.
Susan had phoned her several times Sunday, but Melanie hadn’t felt like talking. Melanie’s mother, on the other hand, had been a quiet, knowing presence since her daughter had walked home from the dance Saturday evening.
Melanie huffed and headed upstairs, where she spent the rest of the day in her room, lying on her bed and staring at the ceiling. At four o’clock, her mother came up. “Well, I’m off to your Aunt Samantha’s. Apparently, she tried baking a cake with horrid results, and the priest is stopping over for supper. Your father has to meet a client for dinner, and your brother is mooning over that new girlfriend of his, so you’re on your own.”
Her mother paused in the doorway. “You know that essay you keep having trouble with?” Melanie stirred. “Try to stop thinking with your head when you write it. Some things don’t require logic.” With that she was gone. Mel sat in bed, mulling over her words. Sighing, she watched her mother pull out of the driveway and several minutes later she was asleep.
When she woke up, the sun was setting in a golden display across the garden. She stretched, slipped into a clean dress, and headed to her usual spot in front of the pond.
The wind caressed her face as she looked into its rippling surface, admiring the colors of the sunset reflecting off it. She reached for a blossom from the cherry tree hanging beside her, plopped onto the bench, and closed her eyes.
I wish . . . She thought. But she wasn’t sure what she wished. The one thing she wanted she couldn’t have. It belonged to a prettier, smarter girl. She dropped the blossom onto the pond.
“Do you make wishes every time you do that?” said a voice behind her.
Thomas was standing next to her, looking at the cherry blossom as it drifted across the golden surface.
“Thomas!” Melanie jumped to her feet, her heart thrashing.
“Come with me,” he said, holding out his hand. Limbs trembling, Melanie took it. Thomas led her through the flowery paths and to the back corner of the garden. It was surrounded by shrubs and barred by a small iron gate. As she stepped past it, Melanie paused.
In the small square that used to have nothing but grass, lilies of all makes and colors bloomed around her, filling the air with their fragrance and the scent of freshly-turned earth. She reached out to touch a trumpet-shaped petal, surprise making her mind slow. “You did this?”
Thomas shrugged. “Your father might not be happy, but I couldn’t resist.”
She looked at him, trying hard not to gape. “But I thought—you and Emily—”
Thomas stepped closer, smiling. “She knew we weren’t meant to be as soon as I saw you at the dance. You were beautiful. You are beautiful.”
There it was again. That word.
As Thomas leaned forward and his soft, warm lips met her own, Melanie thought for the first time that maybe she was.
* * *
Now seventy-nine, Melanie sat holding Thomas’s hand as she threw a cherry blossom onto the pond’s surface, remembering those times. She had gotten an A on her essay. Two years later, she and Thomas had gotten married. Then they had two children with perfect noses.
How many times had she wished they could live forever, just the two of them? But he was fading from her, and the warm hand she had held for so many years was becoming cold.
“Melanie?” Thomas asked beside her. Melanie leaned closer, trying to give him some of her warmth. “No pulling a Juliet. You always thought it was silly anyhow.”
Melanie laughed, fighting back the tears that wanted to burst from her in a desperate storm. “Why would I bother doing such a thing for you?” she teased, bumping him gently.
Thomas smiled, looking at the cherry blossom in his own hand and knowing it would be his last wish. He dropped it into the water and closed his eyes.
Melanie stroked his hair as they sat there, the smell of lilies surrounding them and the sounds of evenings past like ghosts in their ears. As the sun set, Thomas Willard took his last breath.
The moon rose above them as Melanie continued to sit with her love, watching its graceful arc across the sky.
From her dress, she took out a small bottle and drank the contents.
The next morning, the police were dispatched to the house, where they found the bodies of Melanie and Thomas sitting on the pond’s bench, holding each other’s hands.
* * *
Melanie’s grandchildren never quit believing in the magic of that pond; the night their grandparents died, two cherry trees mysteriously sprouted in the lily garden. They were a beautiful sight. As the years passed and the trees grew, their branches intertwined like lovers in each other’s embrace, dancing together in the wind.