Kyla Howell, Union County Vocational Technical School

 

     “Forever?” He questioned. 

     “Forever!” She promised. They sat there with their pinky’s interlocked. Newfound happiness bubbled inside of them as they stared at the promise rings they’d made of leaves and some old wires they’d found in the house. This was the best their eight-year-old selves could afford. Their legs swung as they sat on a branch looking out on Joe’s backyard.  

     Suddenly,  Angelina pushed Joe from the branch, screaming that he was infected with the zombie virus and running off. Giggling, Joel took off after her. Joel’s mother, Joanna, leaned her head against the patio door as she watched the kids. She often wondered what it was that made them so inseparable. They’d only moved into town three months ago, but it was as if they’d been friends for years.

***

     Joel kicked a small pebble, as Joanna and Joel arrived in front of a house decorated in red and white. Its pathway was adorned in clipped grass, lilacs, and orchids, most likely to take away from the fact their bright red stairs were slanted and the railing was shaky. The new neighbor, Angelina’s mother, Karol, was sickly, but beautiful. It was clear that she did her best to raise her daughter, despite the leukemia slowly overtaking her body. Joel’s mother greeted her neighbor with a gentle smile and looked down upon her son. Joel’s gaze was turned shly to the floor, and Joanna had to urge him to greet the pair before him. A small hello left his mouth, as he slowly looked up. His eyes analyzed Karol before stopping on something. She followed his gaze to where it was pinned and saw a small girl, Angelina, though he didn’t know her name then. She could not be more than eight years old—Joel’s age. Her brown eyes stared back with the same recognition that Joel’s held. Her brown hair was cut short and rested neatly upon her shoulder. She wore an old blue dress with the faint trace of the word ‘Love’ printed on it. Happiness was reflected in each of the children’s eyes as if they were―Karol chuckled, “If I didn’t know any better, I would think they were long-lost twins.” Joanna could not help but agree. If it were not for the familiar gray eyes Joel had inherited from his father, she would think they were siblings, as well. 

     “How about we let them go play while we talk? They look so excited to see each other.” 

     The kids wasted no time, scurrying off to someplace in the house. During the duration of their visit, she could faintly hear the sounds of giggling and running coming from the floorboards beneath her. She could not help, but let out a small grin as she nodded along to Karol talking about this new recipe she wanted to try. 

     Joanna’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of kids barreling towards her. Snatching them up, Joanna shouted, “I got you, you two boogers!” They let out a squeal, as laughter filled the yard. “It’s almost six o clock, I think it’s time for you guys to have dinner.” Joanna ushered them towards the dinner table. 

     “Carrots again mom?” Joel complained, looking down at his plate. 

     “Yes, and you guys are going to eat it all. I don’t want to see a single one left,” Joanna said, sternly pointing at them and getting weak nods in response. Once exiting the dining room, she overhead the children conspiring to get rid of their carrots. She rolled her eyes; they really do everything together, even if it is trouble. She screamed, “If you don’t eat your carrots, we are not going to watch a movie tonight!”  She heard small gasps before silence, then the sound of forks scraping against the plate filled the dining room. Joanna let out a quiet giggle. They are so alike and predictable. 

***

     Joel’s mother let out a small hum, as the sound of leaves echoed beneath her boot, Angelina’s mother close behind her. “Hey, do you remember how hard it was to get them to eat carrots?” 

     Karol let out a laugh, “Of course, I had to bargain with them in order to even get them near it!” 

     “Thankfully, they grew out of it,” Joanna sighed. A quiet yeah left Karol’s mouth as silence filled the air again. It was almost a ritual for them to come here every month, same time, same gift. Their pace slowed as their destination came into view. Angelina Terakins, 2007-2020;  Joel Karsin, 2007-2020. Joanna could not help but sigh every time she saw it. “They really were made for each other,” she whispered, but she knew Karol had heard it when the woman fell before her daughter's grave, sobbing. 

     The cold chill of October no longer fazed her. Karol was no longer shivering from cold but from pain. “Why Joanna, why did my baby have to die?” Karol cried out. 

     Joanna wished she had an answer; she wished she could explain why a driver was already drunk so early in the afternoon. She wished she could explain why Angelina had died only a month later of sudden heart failure when she had been in perfect health. But, Joanna had no answers. All she could do was pat Karol softly on the back before kneeling and placing the flowers before both of their gravestones. She stared at the promise rings laid before them. Their leaves were slowly rotting away, but the wires that bound them never withered or got rusty. They never moved either, no matter rain, snow, or shine. She leaned back as she looked at the darkening skies, “I guess it was forever, huh?”