It is a wet night in the city. Rain drips from the sky through the trees onto slick sidewalks and streets, runs down the steep inclines of black roofs and darkens brick walls.
Although it is right downtown, the residential neighbourhood is still at this hour and the roads are empty. Overhead, a street lamp lends an orange glow to the area, and the bright house lights on the perimeter somehow fade into the dimness of night.
Out of nowhere, a tall teenaged boy whizzes through the quiet intersection on his black bike, cutting through the calm. The old maple on the corner throws its shadow across his path but he does not slow his pace. And then he is gone.
It is late, just after midnight. Michael has been across the river at the university. He knows he stayed too late and now he is rushing home. Excuses run through his head but he knows he will have to face the music.
His breath comes quickly now as he cycles through the night. He couldn’t bear to leave any earlier, and that is the truth. He had stayed until one by one, the lights went out, and everyone left for home.
Just six hours ago, it had been a normal Wednesday. He had left for class, intending to stop by the library to do some research for his project, and then he was coming home to help with things around the house – dinner and cleaning up and helping his siblings with their homework.
He did go to class, and he did go to the library. But, as the afternoon was drawing on and the October sunset’s afterglow began to fade from the windows, he had caught sight of something between the stacks that made his heart hammer and his breath catch.
A girl in a white dress and simple, beige flat shoes, her long, dark hair hanging straight to her shoulders, moved distantly down the row between the books, and then disappeared around the corner. “Melinda,” he whispered. He was sure he had seen her.
“It couldn’t be,” he thought, starting to follow her blindly, as if pulled by some invisible force.
He had grown up with Melinda back in the prairies, before his family had moved east to the city. They had been inseparable as kids, riding their bikes out the lone road past town and into a nothingness that stretched flat for an eternity. When they were about 13, they started holding hands, going to the movie theatre, shyly calling each other something more than friends.
And then came the crushing, unbelievable news that his family was moving away. Far away.
They had said goodbye, had promised to write. And for a while they did, but then she had stopped and he had heard no more. Until tonight.
He rounded the corner at the end of the stack and there she was, as calm as could be, waiting for him, a smile on her face, a book open in her hand. She looked the same as she had two years ago, when they had said goodbye.
“Melinda,” he repeated, looking into her eyes. She just smiled and took his hand. He left his books behind and followed her out into the night as clouds began to gather thickly overhead. They climbed onto the wall outside the library and there they stayed for hours, talking as the weather gathered strength overhead.
They talked about their childhood, the games they had played, the changing light on the blowing prairie grasses, his studies and his life in the city. Melinda never explained what had happened, why she had stopped writing, and he never thought to ask, so wrapped up was he in the magic of her presence.
It was she who finally said it was time to go, as she stood up and brushed out her white dress.
“Will I see you again?” Michael asked. “How long will you be in town?”
Melinda only shook her head, her dark curtain of hair swaying back and forth.
“I can’t say.”
The first raindrops began to fall then, breaking the spell. Michael realized it was late, very late. The library was dark and the last staff member was locking the front door.
“Well, is there a number where I can reach you?” He asked desperately, thinking that he really needed to get going, but not wanting to leave without some way of finding her again.
Wordlessly, she hugged him, then stepped back, smiled a sad smile and whispered “goodbye” before she turned to walk away.
Michael stood there for some time, watching the space between the trees where she had disappeared, feeling as though she had slipped away from him again. The rain was falling hard now and he was drenched.
Feeling perplexed at her mysterious departure, he walked to his bike, unlocked it and headed home, gathering speed as he went, his head clearing somewhat as he prepared to explain himself to his folks.
He whizzed through a quiet intersection, past a large maple, momentarily blinded by the orange glow of a streetlamp, before plunging again into the darkness. He could see his house now, a block away. The lights were still on downstairs.
He pushed his bike around to the shed at the side of the house, locking it up inside, and then climbed the front stairs to open the door.
His mother sat in her large, burgundy chair, reading a book by the light of a lamp. She looked up, raising her eyebrow in a question.
“I’m sorry Mom,” he began. “You know I’m not normally late like this but you won’t believe who I met in the library: Melinda!” he finished in nervous excitement, not waiting for her to guess.
“I was worried,” his mother began. “At first, I thought something might have happened to you but when I didn’t get an urgent call, I assumed you were tied up in some other way. I know you are normally very reliable.”
“But next time,” she continued, “please call to let me know what is going on. And, Michael, there is no need to make up fantastical stories to explain your lateness.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t call, Mom, you’re absolutely right about that, but this isn’t a story. It’s real. I really met Melinda. We sat on the wall of the library for hours talking until it started to rain.” He left out the part about her disappearing mysteriously into the night, without leaving her number.
“Oh Michael,” his mother sighed, rising to face him and holding his shoulders firmly but gently in her hands, “Michael, Melinda was killed in a farming accident six months ago, back home. Her mother wrote to me and I just didn’t know how to tell you.”
Michael’s heart skipped as he searched his mother’s eyes, hoping to find something there that would tell him this wasn’t true. He walked over to the chair she had been sitting in and slumped down into it, landing sideways, his eyes staring straight ahead.
“Impossible,” he thought. But he knew it was the truth.
This story came to me as I watched a young man cycle through our intersection late one evening. I was just writing it down this morning and found it fit perfectly with today’s Daily Prompt: Tell us a story — fiction or non-fiction — with a twist we can’t see coming.
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