Third Time’s a Charm
by Stacy Bennett
Joel’s fingers curled around the small box in the pocket of his baggy shorts. The sun was hot and his sweaty fingers stuck to the wrapping paper a little. Sweat ran down his back and trickled along the sides of his face. Not all of it was from the heat.
It was Abby Swanson’s birthday party. He watched her ponytail bounce through the crowd, her brown hair tied up in a yellow ribbon so large it shaded her neck. You’d think a bow like that would look corny, but not on Abby. Tendrils of hair escaped the bow, curling in the heat.
The present had been wrapped three times now. The first time he had wrapped it in Christmas kitten paper. But he was too nervous to give it to her and hadn’t even said hello to her the whole week before winter break.
For Valentine’s Day, he had torn off the kitten paper, wrapping it up in red hearts. Again, he chickened out, spending most of Valentine’s Day in the boys’ room retching. He was the most miserable cowardly boy in the whole middle school. Now, the box was covered with colored balloons. Mom said third time’s a charm.
Inside was a delicate silver fairy necklace inset with colored gems. Abby liked fairies. As least, he thought she did. After all, what girl didn’t like fairies?
When Abby started opening presents, her green eyes sought him out. His mouth dried up; his heart pounded. The thought of handing the box to her in front of everyone left him weak in the knees. He seriously thought he would puke. In a panic, he headed for the gate. Abby appeared at his elbow as his sweaty hands struggled with the latch, putting her hand on his arm. She asked him to stay for cake but he couldn’t. He wanted to tell her that he liked her but he was certain she could never like him back because of what a coward he was. Embarrassed, he left without a word.
At dinner, his parents were upset. Something in the news had scared them. They kept talking about the “end of the world.” But he was too busy thinking about Abby to worry about it. Today, he had been so close.
That night, he unwrapped the necklace and held it in his hands. He prayed that he’d wake up with the guts to walk over and hand Abby the necklace. Then Mom popped her head in to say goodnight, something she hadn’t done since he was very little. She sure was freaked.
Joel woke unusually early. A strange glow from the window drew his gaze. His heart froze at the mushroom cloud blooming in the distance. The world was completely silent, but not for long. In his last seconds, he found his courage but there was no time now to run to her door, to kiss his sweet Abby before the end. Heartbroken, his fingers crushed the fragile wings still in his hand.
This was originally written for Emmie Mear‘s End of the World Flash Fiction Contest back in 2012. If you don’t know her, pop on over to her blog. The little birdies tell me big things are brewing at her end of the ‘net.
Photo credit: Bradford Exchange online catalog: http://bit.ly/bChSmB