Is it true? I ask him.Is what true? His eyes are the color of honey. These are the eyes I remember from my dreams.That you still love me, I say, breathless. I need to know.Alex nods. He reaches out and touches my face—barely skimming my cheekbone and brushing away a bit of my hair. It’s true.But . . . I’ve changed, I say. And you’ve changed.That’s true too, he says quietly. I look at the scar on his face, stretching from his left eye to his jawline and something hitches in my chest.So what now? I ask him. The light is too bright; the day feels as though it’s merging into dream.Do you love me? Alex asks. And I could cry; I could press my face into his chest and breathe in and pretend that nothing has changed, that everything will be perfect and whole and healed again.But I can’t. I know I can’t.I never stopped. I look away from him. I look at Grace and the high grass littered with the wounded and the dead. I think of Julian and his clear blue eyes, his patience and goodness. I think of all the fighting we’ve done and all the fighting we have yet to do. I take a deep breath. But it’s more complicated than that.Alex reaches out and places his hands on my shoulders. I’m not going to run away again, he says.I don’t want you to, I tell him.His fingers find my cheek and I rest for a second against his palm, letting the pain of the past few months flow out of me, letting him turn my head toward his. Then he bends down and kisses me: light and perfect, his lips just barely meeting mine, a kiss that promises renewal.
Lauren Oliver
For JennAt 12 years old I started bleeding with the moonand beating up boys who dreamed of becoming astronauts.I fought with my knuckles white as stars,and left bruises the shape of Salem.There are things we know by heart,and things we don't. At 13 my friend Jen tried to teach me how to blow rings of smoke.I'd watch the nicotine rising from her lips like halos,but I could never make dying beautiful.The sky didn't fill with colors the night I convinced myselfveins are kite strings you can only cut free.I suppose I love this life,in spite of my clenched fist.I open my palm and my lifelines look like branches from an Aspen tree,and there are songbirds perched on the tips of my fingers,and I wonder if Beethoven held his breaththe first time his fingers touched the keysthe same way a soldier holds his breaththe first time his finger clicks the trigger.We all have different reasons for forgetting to breathe.But my lungs rememberthe day my mother took my hand and placed it on her bellyand told me the symphony beneath was my baby sister's heartbeat.And I knew life would tremblelike the first tear on a prison guard's hardened cheek,like a prayer on a dying man's lips,like a vet holding a full bottle of whisky like an empty gun in a war zone…just take me just take meSometimes the scales themselves weigh far too much,the heaviness of forever balancing blue sky with red blood.We were all born on days when too many people died in terrible ways,but you still have to call it a birthday.You still have to fall for the prettiest girl on the playground at recessand hope she knows you can hit a baseballfurther than any boy in the whole third gradeand I've been running for homethrough the windpipe of a man who singswhile his hands playing washboard with a spoonon a street corner in New Orleanswhere every boarded up window is still painted with the wordsWe're Coming Backlike a promise to the oceanthat we will always keep moving towards the music,the way Basquait slept in a cardboard box to be closer to the rain.Beauty, catch me on your tongue. Thunder, clap us open.The pupils in our eyes were not born to hide beneath their desks.Tonight lay us down to rest in the Arizona desert,then wake us washing the feet of pregnant womenwho climbed across the border with their bellies aimed towards the sun.I know a thousand things louder than a soldier's gun.I know the heartbeat of his mother.Don't cover your ears, Love.Don't cover your ears, Life.There is a boy writing poems in Central Parkand as he writes he movesand his bones become the bars of Mandela's jail cell stretching apart,and there are men playing chess in the December coldwho can't tell if the breath rising from the boardis their opponents or their own,and there's a woman on the stairwell of the subwayswearing she can hear Niagara Falls from her rooftop in Brooklyn,and I am remembering how Niagara Falls is a city overrunwith strip malls and traffic and vendorsand one incredibly brave river that makes it all worth it. Ya.I am not the type to mistake a streetlight for the moon.I know our wounds are deep as the Atlantic.But every ocean has a shorelineand every shoreline has a tidethat is constantly returningto wake the songbirds in our hands, to wake the music in our bones,to place one fearless kiss on the mouth of that brave riverthat has to run through the center of our heartsto find its way home.
Andrea Gibson
Jenks and I stood there like statues watching him twitch, his eyes rolling up in his head. He clutched at his clothes pulling the wooden pole they hung from down on top of him. Slowly his right hand came scrambling out away from his body to clutch at my left leg. Without thinking I shoved my crucifix at him and he pulled his hand back with a hiss, shielding his face again. As quickly as I could, I dug my tubes of Holy Water out of my coat pocket and emptied them on his head. He shrieked again and clawed at his face. Jenks followed suit, pouring his two vials on Skorzeny's body and legs. Skorzeny started to foam and bubble before our eyes.I was paralyzed. I couldn't quite believe what was happening. Those books hadn't described any of this. I was feeling dizzy and sick. The shrieks turned to groans and a gurgling deep in his throat. He pulled his hands away from his face and it looked like the disintegrating Portrait of Dorian Gray. I looked over to Jenks who had an odd expression on his face.I looked over to Jenks who had on odd expression on his face. He motioned to me and reached for my left hand which, I noticed, was still clutching the airline hag with the stake and hammer in it. I dropped it and he grabbed it off the floor, moving over to the smoking form still squirming in the closet which smelled even more foul than before and oozing a greenish yellow pus from the crumpled clothing on his scarecrow frame.Jenks looked back at me and handed me the stake and hammer. 'Go ahead. This was your idea. Finish it.' I declined, turning away.Jenks spun me around violently and thrust the stake into my left hand. He pushed me toward what was left of Skorzeny and forced me to my knees. He forced my hand toward Skorzeny, positioning the stake over the man's chest. Then he stuck the hammer in my right hand.'Do it, you gutless sonofabitch. Finish it... now!' And he stepped away.I looked at him and back at Skorzeny. Then I gave one vicious swing and hit the stake dead center. The thing made a gurgling grunt, like a pig snuffling for food and started to regurgitate a blackish fluid from its mouth. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and hit the stake three more times. Then I fell back and threw up.When I looked back, Skorzeny's hands, or what was left of them, clutched at the stake trying to pull it out. Suddenly, he emitted a kind of moaning, sucking sound, gagged and more bile-colored liquid flecked with black and red came coiling up in a viscous rope like some evil worm from his mouth. And he stopped moving, his hands still clutching the stake.Then a sort of gaseous mist started to rise from his body and it was so much worse than the original smell that I pushed Jenks aside and ran from the house. I ran all the way to a patrol car where I slumped against the left front wheel as Jenks slowly strolled toward me. He walked past me, ignoring me and opened his trunk, taking out a couple of small gas cans and headed back to the house. I wasn't paying much attention until he left the house again and I saw it was aflame.
Jeff Rice