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The Alternative: Chapters 1-5

Author's note: These five chapters have proved to be EXTREMELY difficult to write, and I hope my work has paid...  Show full author's note »
Author's note: These five chapters have proved to be EXTREMELY difficult to write, and I hope my work has paid off. The real reason I'm posting this on TeenInk, however, is that I believe my work hasn't paid off, and I need to know if it has.

This is only the first five chapters of the book, so obviously it will feel a little incomplete, but that's all I've written so far; I'm too unsure about it to continue. Here are the main questions about my writing I'd like you guys to answer:

Is it all too much? Is the writing trying too hard to be wistful and emotional? Should I tone it down a bit?

Are you guys invested in everything that's going on? Do you think the story is engaging or just boring?

If you could read this and give me some feedback, that would be much appreciated! I REALLY want to keep working on this story, and it's really difficult to do so without knowing what other people think about it...  « Hide author's note
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Chapter Two

The door swung open, and Nathaniel Blackbourne beheld his visitor. It was midday; the chittering of robins and sparrows could be heard close by, and the world seemed to sigh blissfully as a gentle breeze sifted through the fledgling leaves above. Savannah was in the kitchen, her stiff, robotic hands fixing lunch. The buoyant light that streamed in through the windows betrayed the heartache that had plagued Blackbourne Manor ever since—
Nathaniel paused.
There the man stood on the veranda, staring at him in breathless anticipation. He seemed familiar. Nathaniel studied the man at his doorstep, his mouth opening slightly, a nagging sense of recollection flooding his brain. The man was tall, clad in a dark green plaid shirt and debonair denim jeans. Short, neatly trimmed auburn hair rested atop his head, just above a bright, handsome face that emanated familiarity. The young man suddenly turned away in embarrassment, his pale green eyes shifting nervously. An audible gulp escaped his esophagus. Worry was suffocating him. Remembrance was suffocating Nathaniel.
Sam looked up and grimaced. A precipitous silence hung between the two.
“It can’t be you….”
Sam looked at Nathaniel as if he were looking over the edge of a cliff. Nathaniel looked at Sam as if he were looking over the edge of a knife. A cloud seemed to drift in front of the sun, shutting out all light, drowning Sam in Nathaniel’s vengeful shadow. He took a step back.
“Dear God. It is you.”
Every fiber in Sam’s body commanded him to leave. He began to tremble as if he were caught in the middle of a ferocious blizzard. He could not take this. Guilt. Regret. Loathing. Claire—
“You son of a bi.tch.”
Nathaniel tried to slam the door shut, only to feel Sam’s hand catch the door in mid-swing. In a rush of anger, Nathaniel lunged forward and sent Sam stumbling backward onto the porch. The floorboards squealed beneath his feet.
“You stupid, cold-hearted, worthless son of a bi.tch!”
Savannah turned from the kitchen, her mouth agape.
Sam was shocked. “No…Mr. Blackbourne, wait!”
The door closed with an earth-shattering bang just as Sam flew to approach it once more. A desperate reach for the doorknob was preceded by the harsh clicking of a lock. It was useless. He shook the knob like a madman. He pounded on the door like a rabid hound. Nothing worked.
“Mr. Blackbourne, please!”
No one answered.
No one came to meet him. He heard a tense conversation coming from further inside. Nathaniel was enraged. Savannah was astonished. Sam was unwelcome.
He did not leave. He stood in front of the door, renegade optimism gluing him to the spot. He clung to a false hope that Claire’s parents would allow him entry. He clung like a beggar to a coin. He clung like a fish to a hook. He clung until he saw Nathaniel’s murderous gaze in one of the distant windows, and then he let go. Unconsciously he put a hand up to his sternum, half expecting that deadly protuberance to return; for in that moment, the Alternative became a forgotten fantasy, a myth, a lie. Death was reality, and it was something Nathaniel wished upon Sam passionately. Nathaniel knew it was impossible to hide. Sam knew he didn’t care.
Quickly and wordlessly, Sam retreated from the veranda, resentment stirring within him. He descended the porch steps and stopped on the genesis of the cobblestone walkway. All was quiet within Blackbourne Manor. When he looked back at the window, all he saw were indolent chiffon drapes rippling and swaying behind the glass. Sam stood there perpetually, fighting the insatiable urge to scream.
Nathaniel Blackbourne had never liked Sam. Sam had never liked Nathaniel. The old man’s hatred for Sam had not stemmed from the incident—the reason Sam had run away from Summerfall (although the incident had certainly made it stronger). Instead, it had always been there, provoked by some thoughtless distrust, some nameless discrimination against the boy who loved his daughter. However, it was no mere discrimination anymore; it had evolved into something stronger, something much more dangerous.
Sam heard the click of a lock once again. He turned away from the window to see Savannah now standing in the front doorway, her eyes filled with a bemusing mix of contrition and contempt. She looked happier to see Sam than her husband had been, although that certainly did not mean she was happy to see him. The damage had been done, and even if her face did not show it, she was angry.
“Mrs. Blackbourne.” Sam hurried up the porch steps once more and approached the front door, addressing Savannah with as much politeness as he could muster. “Hello.”
“What are you doing here, Sam?” The woman’s voice stung.
Sam paused before answering. “I…I wanted—”
“Claire’s not here,” Savannah claimed intuitively.
“…Where is she, then?”
“Apologizing won’t do any good, you know.” Savannah’s tone was dour and unwelcoming. It reminded Sam of the mournful sight of lifeless trees in the dead of winter. “What you did to her….She hasn’t forgotten. She remembers you all too well.”
Parish’s words. Sam looked down at his feet apprehensively.
“Do you have any idea about the gravity of your decision that you made ten years ago?” Her voice was becoming more agitated, more angry, more vindictive—an echo of her husband. “Do you have any idea how much pain your selfish actions have put my family through? You betrayed her, Sam. You betrayed her right after she was—”
“Shut up!” Sam cried, his voice threatening to shatter. “Please, just stop talking….”
Savannah’s face remained cold and wrathful. She waited for Sam to compose himself before continuing. “Sam…I know you feel guilty about all this. And I’ll be honest….In the ten years you have been gone, I have been praying you would not come back. I guess you could say it was for my sake…but it was also for yours. Part of me didn’t want to see the man who broke my daughter’s heart for a lecherous…streetwalker!”
Sam flew into defense. “Look, Sandy is not a—”
“Sam, let me finish!” Savannah’s outburst immediately silenced Sam, who eyed her with reluctant compliance. She resumed. “I kept telling myself I never wanted to see you again for that reason. You are adulterous and treacherous, and you broke Claire’s heart for a wh.ore. Apparently it wasn’t enough that she showed signs of…a…an illness.” Sam winced in agony. “You just had to make it worse…for all of us.”
A complicated amalgamation of emotions took over Sam at that moment. He had always tried to forget about Claire…about her condition. His woebegone eyes locked onto some unseen point in the distance, far away from the woman. He could not look at her. Her harsh, draconian wisdom made him seethe with anger.
Savannah inhaled and exhaled desolately before speaking again. “But…it wasn’t just hatred. I mean…I hated you, and for that reason, I never wanted you to come back, but…I sympathized with you as well. I knew that if you decided to come back…you would not find forgiveness. There is nothing for you here. Please, Sam…I don’t like you. But I don’t want you to go to Claire thinking she’ll reconcile with you and have your heart be broken just as hers was. She’s been through a lot, Sam. Nathaniel has been through a lot. I have been through a lot. You’ll find no forgiveness here. Just turn around…and go back the way you came.”
Savannah had expected her words to have an effect. Had Sam listened, they surely would have, but Sam, headstrong and doubtful, had heard only stringent blather. He would not be swayed. He would not accept the fact that he had traveled this far to a place he had hoped never to see again only to see his efforts become fruitless. He would find Claire, and he would apologize. It didn’t matter that he had betrayed her. It didn’t matter that her parents advised against it. Sam thought of Peach—
No. She will not meet the same fate.
“I’m sorry,” Sam enunciated angrily. “But I have to see Claire.”
“Sam, you—”
“I have to see Claire.”
Savannah’s entire body seemed to sink in defeat. She drove a frail, bony hand through her platinum hair and refused to meet Sam’s gaze. Her eyes were that of a forlorn phantom.
“Will you tell me where she is?”
She did not respond.
“Mrs. Blackbourne…please. You have to understand. I have only good intentions. I want to make everything right again.”
Savannah sighed heavily. “Sam…that’s what worries me.” She stopped for a moment. Finally, she looked up and met Sam’s eyes with her own. Sam saw her irises, painted a melancholy aquamarine. Claire’s eyes.
A grin played onto her aged, broken lips. “You remember the woods, don’t you, Sam?”

The woods were easy to get lost in. That was why the boys loved them.
Almost every evening, the children would escape their hostile households (much to the indifference of Sam’s careless parents, while Jimmy’s would always throw a fit) and get lost in the forest, having only the dying candlelight of the sunset and their own crudely drawn, wholly inaccurate “maps” showing them the way back to civilization. Sam and Jimmy would romp around the forest for hours on end climbing the highest tree branches, somersaulting down the steepest hills, enjoying the time they spent away from the world, away from their persecutors. This was the only time they could ever be free, the only time they could let their effervescent imaginations control their destinies. This was the only time they could ever be truly happy.
Occasionally they would risk being caught by Mr. Blackbourne, whose venomous attitude always exploded whenever he caught rambunctious youths in the sprawling woodland behind his mansion, but his presence was always apparent thanks to his heavy, lumbering footsteps and his valetudinarian wheezing. Evading his patrol was always quiet, effortless, and often entertaining. The boys never worried about him.
The sun had just begun its vermillion descent on a placid autumn afternoon when Sam and Jimmy snuck over to Blackbourne Manor, their footsteps nearly soundless on the cobblestone walkway. They ducked once they reached the porch; Sam crawled to a nearby window and peered inside. The old man was in another room, his back to the glass. He was sitting in a luxurious corduroy armchair, intently watching the sprightly mundanity of a news broadcast on a grainy television screen. His wife was nowhere to be seen.
The veranda surrounded the entire house. Sam and Jimmy hurried around to the other side and found another wooden staircase leading downward to a stepping stone walkway overtaken by greenery. Beyond that was a splendidly steep hill, and at the bottom of this hill stood in unrivaled glory a mammoth oak tree that was without a doubt the largest tree in Summerfall, its labyrinthine, serpentine branches transforming into stunning watercolors of fulvous beauty that bore a remarkable resemblance to fire. Sam and Jimmy called it the Gatekeeper, the mythical guardian of the woodland, the product of their restless imaginations. Just beyond its massive trunk, the forest lay, waiting.
This night in the forest was no different than all the others. The boys traveled deep into the wondrous twilight, giving names to the inky shadows cast by the sunset, and the fading golden lights within the leaves. They played tag and hide-and-seek in the darkening wilderness; they conducted contests to see who could climb the highest in the tallest tree; they turned their backs on their schoolboy selves, obedient and submissive, and embraced their freedom; it was here that they were at their apotheosis. It was here that they were happy.
After the last pinpricks of light had disappeared under the horizon and the forest had all but vanished in a shroud of shadow, Sam and Jimmy found a sturdy trunk and sat under it, their reserves of youthful energy now depleted. They would listen to the creatures of the night, the soprano chirping of crickets and the sonorous croaking of frogs, and they would watch the evanescent radiance of fireflies in the distance, the cares and worries of their everyday lives nonexistent. The night’s enchanting wonder was all they knew. In this moment, they wished it could be all they would ever know.
Jimmy stared upward, above the tree branches, at the iridescent glitter of the stars, at the undiscovered universes littered throughout the blackness, at the worlds within worlds within worlds. “Hey, Sam?”
“Do you remember how to get back?”
Sam said this nonchalantly. Jimmy understood. The night always instilled within him a subtle sense of foreboding, but he was a timid boy; this was normal. Admiring Sam’s stolid disposition, Jimmy merely adjusted his metal-rimmed glasses and was once again entranced by the shimmering night sky. He sighed in fascination. There was nothing to fear.
“Look out! It’s Mr. Blackbourne!”
Jimmy scrambled upward in a galvanic frenzy only to trip over his own feet. He landed in a wild heap on the forest floor, shouting in terror-stricken surprise. Then he stopped. He could hear Sam’s giggling nearby.
Sam’s giddy guffawing prevented him from answering immediately. When he did finally respond, he had to answer between mutinous chuckles.
“I…I knew you were scared of him! I just knew it!”
Jimmy blinked sheepishly. “N-no, I’m not….”
Sam’s laughter abated and he yawned, boredom replacing his comedic glee. “It’s okay, Jimmy. I can’t think of a reason you would have to not be scared of that crazy geezer.”
Jimmy hoisted himself up from the dirt and reclaimed his position beside Sam. He vigorously punched his friend in the shoulder before sitting back down.
“I said I’m not scared of him,” Jimmy remarked. “I was just afraid we would get caught out here. Mr. Blackbourne hates it when he finds kids snooping around in the forest.”
Sam turned to face his companion, a playful gleam of treachery flickering in his eyes. “Yes…yes, he does…but to what extent that it what cause him to—”
“No! Not another one of your stories!”
In the past, when the boys had made their daily escapades to the forest as the sun fell below the horizon, Sam had always told Jimmy stories. They were scary stories, spine-chilling stories, stories of ghosts, ghouls, beasts, killers. None of them were true. Many of them, if not all of them, had been about Mr. Blackbourne. Whether it was the tale of the skeletons discovered in the man’s bedroom closet; or the tale of the strange disappearances of children who came to his house on Halloween expecting truffles and lollipops; or the tale of the Gnasher, the most horrifying one of all, detailing a gruesome torture device concealed in the man’s basement that is better left untold; many of these stories revolved around the fictional barbarism of Mr. Blackbourne. Jimmy hated them.
Sam snickered mischievously. “Come on, don’t be a—”
“I don’t want to hear it, Sam!”
Jimmy folded his arms and shifted his caustic gaze to the dirt beside him. Sam gave him a stubborn look of disappointment, which he soon shrugged away with juvenile insouciance.
“Suit yourself.” He sighed. “I guess we’ll just sit here…alone in the darkness…with nothing to talk about…bored out of our minds. Yep. Sounds like fun.”
Jimmy was still sulking like an angry toddler in the timeout chair. “We can still talk. In fact, I want to talk. I just don’t want to hear another one of your dumb stories.”
“You act like we have other things to talk about.”
Jimmy was quiet for a moment, and Sam noticed that his blue eyes had softened. His petulant bitterness was gone. In its place was something that was alien to Sam: sadness. He turned away from his friend, debating whether or not to console him or dismiss his despondency as more of the same. He could not hide it in his face, and therefore he had to turn away; he was uninterested.
“You’re right,” Jimmy murmured. “We don’t have anything else to talk about.” He shifted uncomfortably on the ground and took a deep breath. “So…let’s hear it. What brilliant stories do you have to tell me about Mr. Blackbourne?”
Sam rolled his eyes and shot an unmannerly glower in his friend’s direction. “All right, Jimmy, what happened this time? Did your parents snap at you again, or something?”
Jimmy nodded slowly. “I don’t understand, Sam. It’s like they wish I had never been born. I mean, I know they really do love me, but…it’s times like this where I just can’t tell….”
Sam shook his head. “Jimmy, get a grip. My parents yell at me all the time. Do you see me crying about it?” No response came from Jimmy. None was needed. “Your parents are just strict; mine are….Well, mine are way worse. That’s why we came to the woods tonight, and that’s why we come to the woods every night: to forget about our stupid, selfish, crazy parents.” Sam paused before letting cant spray from his mouth once more. “Stop being such a baby. You’re afraid of all those authoritative adults in your life. Why can’t you be more like me?”
Jimmy gaped at Sam, his lips quivering and his face racked with pain. “…Like you…?”
“Yeah. Like me. Whenever I see you, you’re always depressed. You always cower in fear whenever there’s an adult around. You need to stand up for yourself. Get a grip and live your life, you know?”
Jimmy’s reply was delayed and nearly inaudible. “Sure.”
“You don’t understand, Jimmy. You’re lucky to have a friend like me.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know.” The sarcasm was palpable.
Sam’s brain groped for something else to say, something that would clarify his message, something that would actually speak to Jimmy. Nothing came to mind. He glanced over at his friend, whose eyes had shifted once again to the sparkling night sky. Sam stared forward, an expression of awe materializing on his face as he scrutinized the ebony limbo of the night, its sovereignty only broken by the occasional starbursts of fireflies. For a brief moment of otherworldly equanimity, the woods acquired their own place in time, exclusive to the tall, slender trees and their patrons, Sam and Jimmy. The darkness seemed to twist and swirl around them; the fireflies’ sporadic explosions of light in the distance seemed to take on their own form of existence, and Sam and Jimmy’s imaginations soared in that moment. This was why they came each night. The forest offered things that no farcical cartoon or plastic toy could give, things that only one’s own mind could invoke. The forest was freedom.
Sam and Jimmy stayed in the forest for several more minutes, their minds oblivious to the punishments their parents would have in store for them later—or, possibly, that was only the case for Sam. Jimmy, although he denied its obviousness, was the more sensitive, more perceptive individual. He thought about his problems. He dwelled upon them.
As Jimmy rested his head against the tree trunk, his mind trapped on the border of restlessness and rest, Sam continued to look off into the distance, his pupils transfixed on the fireflies and their fervid luminosity. Why couldn’t life be like this? Why couldn’t children be free to live by their own rules, away from controlling, domineering parents? Why did life offer so much and give so little? Why…?
A ring of light played at the corner of Sam’s vision. The boy jumped in surprise, ready to bolt away from Mr. Blackbourne’s kid-clobbering clutches, but he found there was nothing to fear. He looked off into the trees and found that it was just a firefly…a very large, very bright firefly…that had not yet extinguished. The light was still there, and it was getting closer. Sam came to his senses. The light was shining in the boys’ direction. Perhaps they did have something to fear.
“That’s not a firefly,” Sam mumbled bluntly. He immediately grabbed his best friend’s arm and sharply pulled him to his feet.
“H-hey…Sam, what’s wrong with you?!”
Sam said nothing. He only extended his forefinger in the direction of the approaching light. Jimmy’s eyes widened in fear.
“Is that…?”
“I don’t know. Hide.”
Sam and Jimmy both cowered behind the tree just as the shadows began to melt away into the surrounding wilderness. Sam found himself peeking through the space between a steeply rising branch and the trunk, trying to identify the invader of their solitude. As the light grew closer, Sam began to hear footsteps. Light footsteps. A child’s footsteps.
Sam looked to Jimmy, who mouthed, “Mr. Blackbourne?”
Sam mouthed back, “I don’t think so.” Relief could be seen on Jimmy’s face, but it was only temporary. They still had no idea who this was.
The crack of a twig.
Sam immediately turned to look back through the space and carefully examined the figure. They were close enough now that he could see their features, and his eyes narrowed slightly in confusion. It was not anyone he knew. It was not anyone Jimmy knew. It was not anyone either of them had seen before.
It was a girl. She was carrying a lantern and wearing a delicate white frock emblazoned with blossoming flowers. Her pale, muted skin bore a resemblance to that of a ghost, but Sam was unafraid, for this was undoubtedly a gentle spirit. Jimmy slowly stood up behind Sam and looked over his shoulder, one foot planted far behind him in case a quick escape was in order. The girl’s face remained hidden behind the nebulous glow of the lantern, her flaxen hair flowing out far past her shoulders. Sam looked on, spellbound.
The girl stopped. Sam was baffled for a moment, until Jimmy whispered the words both the boys had dreaded hearing.
“She sees us.”
Sam rose out from behind the tree, making his presence known. Jimmy turned to run, but, knowing that his friend would stay put, remained hidden behind the tree, and waited.
Nothing happened for the longest time. Sam had been rendered mute, his voice purloined by his curiosity. What was this lone girl doing in the middle of the woods at night?
She lowered her lantern, and Sam saw the face—the gorgeous, diamond face—that he would pursue until the end of his days.
Another light appeared further back, and the girl whirled around in fright. Sam recognized the cold, flinty voice instantly.
“Crap, it’s Mr. Blackbourne!”
“Run!” Jimmy exclaimed.
Jimmy started to run deeper into the forest, but found himself stopping dead in his tracks. Sam plowed straight into him soon after. Both the boys fell to the ground clumsily.
“Jimmy, what the heck are you doing!”
“We have to go that way!” Jimmy pointed towards Blackbourne Manor, towards the mysterious girl, towards the nearing flashlight of Mr. Blackbourne.
“That’s the way out of the forest!”
Sam turned to find Mr. Blackbourne’s towering silhouette drawing steadily closer, rising over the smooth contour that the girl had traveled across to find the boys. He was coming.
“Wait a minute….” Sam trailed off.
The girl.
The footsteps were growing louder. The beam of light was growing brighter, larger, closer. Jimmy was paralyzed. Sam tugged on his friend’s arm once more and they hid, burying themselves in the obscure pall of sundown. The old man came over the hill just as the two boys disappeared from view.
The girl merely stood there. She did nothing.
“What is she doing?” Sam hissed in Jimmy’s ear.
Jimmy did not respond. He was petrified.
Sam quickly rose to observe what was happening, careful to maintain his camouflage. The girl was not doing anything. Her back was to the tree, looking blankly at Mr. Blackbourne, whose face looked just as severe as it always was—whether he was watching television, eating, sleeping, working…or scolding those unlucky enough to be caught wandering the woods at night. Sam could not bear to be impotent while this helpless girl awaited a chastising, at the hands of Mr. Blackbourne no less. But he remained hidden in the darkness, watching on in terror.
Mr. Blackbourne took his final steps. He was only ten feet away from the girl. Nine. Seven. Five. He stopped.
Jimmy covered his mouth, muffling his respiration. Sam continued to look on, bracing himself for the worst.
It didn’t come.
“Claire, what are you doing out here?”
The girl resisted a glance back at the tree, back at the boys. She blinked diffidently. “I like the woods, Daddy.”
Mr. Blackbourne sighed, and the tension in Sam’s body receded. “Claire, it’s dark out and it’s almost midnight. Come on, I think it’s time to go back to the house.”
There was no friction between them, and both Sam and Jimmy knew why. It made sense to Jimmy, but Sam refused to accept it. Uncertainty had always surrounded Mr. Blackbourne’s ancient life, and, being the foolish young boy that he was, Sam had always regarded it with superstition. Because of this, he would never accept that Mr. Blackbourne was anything more than a roguish hermit. He would never accept that he had a daughter.
Sam watched peevishly as Claire and Mr. Blackbourne began their trip back home. He and Jimmy were only able to hear fragments of the following conversation as they departed.
“So, baby, how was school? I didn’t even get the chance to ask you because you just immediately went into the woods the moment you got home.”
“It was fine….The sunset really is beautiful here.”
The pair slowly faded away in the distance, their voices resonating through the trees, the glow of her lantern and his flashlight mingling with the blackness to give the forest ahead a persistent gray luster, a luster that Sam and Jimmy followed back to Blackbourne Manor. They were a safe distance behind the old man and his daughter. They could now speak.
They did not say a word until the Gatekeeper was in view. Beyond its wide trunk and winding branches, the mansion was visible, and the figures of Mr. Blackbourne and his daughter could be seen climbing up the hill and onto its palatial veranda.
The boys stopped for a moment as they reached the forest’s exit, standing just behind the Gatekeeper’s great bole. The expression on Sam’s face showed his complete confusion; one of his principal notions about Nathaniel Blackbourne had just been violated. His adamance had been challenged. For the moment, he preferred not to think about that; his mind flew to the girl.
“Have you ever seen her before?”
Sam looked at Jimmy. “The girl?”
“Yeah. She looked a little familiar to me.”
“No, I’ve never seen her before. I don’t think she goes to our school, because I don’t remember anyone like her in the hallway.”
“Well, it’s not like you have photographic memory, or something.”
“Trust me, Jimmy…I would have remembered her if I had seen her.”
Jimmy was quiet for a moment. Then he continued speaking. “I see her sometimes during lunch…and she sits in my science class. She’s always alone. She doesn’t seem to mind, though.” Another pause. “I think about sitting with her sometimes, but I always chicken out.” After one more brief lapse, Jimmy repeated glumly: “I always chicken out.”
In the lull that followed, both Sam and Jimmy looked wistfully up the hill at Blackbourne Manor. Two people could be seen in an upstairs window, one a stout older man, the other a fragile little girl. The man gently kissed her forehead as she somnolently settled herself under her bedsheets. He left her bedside, and the light perished.
“Wow,” Jimmy breathed. “I didn’t think he even understood what a kid was. Turns out he had a kid of his own all along.”
“He doesn’t understand.”
Jimmy turned to Sam, surprise parting his lips. “What do you mean? He has a daughter that he clearly cares about.”
“Just because he has a daughter doesn’t mean he understands her,” Sam explained. “No parent truly understands their kids.” In response to Jimmy’s repulsion, Sam continued: “Jimmy, come on. Do you think your parents understand you? Kids need to be free. We don’t need parents to watch over us. Hell, my parents hardly watch over me anyway.”
Jimmy looked at Sam with farouche defiance. “Look, I know my parents yell at me a lot, but I know they still love me.”
Sam smiled a stilted smile. “Jimmy…if there were, say, a famine…and you had this massive supply of food stored in your house for your entire family…you would be the first thing they would eat. It’s not meant to disgust you or anything; it’s the truth.”
“Sam, that doesn’t even make any sense!”
“It makes perfect sense.”
“No, it doesn’t!”
“Jimmy, more people means more mouths to feed. You understand now?”
Jimmy understood the concept; what he did not understand was his friend’s unnecessarily drastic philosophy. “Sam…why do you think like that? Is it because of your parents and….”
The boy trailed off when he saw Sam’s expression suddenly turn several shades darker. He gritted his teeth and shot Jimmy a vicious stare that was enough to silence the shy boy for weeks. The serenity of the night was broken by a soundless cacophony of emotions, and Jimmy slunk into the shadow of the Gatekeeper’s trunk. Sam’s eyes did not stray from his friend.
A long, unbearable pause. Such discord hung between the two boys at this moment that one would wonder if their friendship had been irrevocably destroyed—if they could ever do anything together again. Of course, they could, and this was only another of countless discrepancies; this happened every time Sam was forced to deal with the reality of his parents, the parents he had always had, but at the same time, had never seen before. It always took a toll on Sam whenever he pondered it; it was even worse when Jimmy mentioned it.
Jimmy nodded submissively, like a schoolboy. “Sorry.”
Sam nodded back, clemency circulating in his myrtle green irises, replacing the acidity that had previously resided within them. “It’s all right.” He shifted his gaze forward and began to scale the hill. “Just remember that’s a…touchy subject.”
“I don’t see how I could forget,” Jimmy proclaimed with relief, following Sam up the hill. “I still have faith in my parents, though. I know they’re mean sometimes…but I know they love me. Maybe they just don’t have time to truly show it.”
“Lucky you.”
“Maybe your parents love you, too.”
A long, heavy sigh escaped Sam’s mouth. He was incredibly annoyed. “You know, I really hope you’re not being an optimist, because optimists all have one thing in common: they’re all dumber than cows.”
“And pessimists are dumber than sloths.”
Sam whirled around to face Jimmy. “What?”
Jimmy nodded. “Yep. You know, you might think it’s really cool that sloths can hang from trees and everything, but they’re so stupid they sometimes fall to their deaths because they grab onto their own arm thinking it’s a branch.”
Sam chuckled at this morbidly funny thought. “Okay, Mr. Know-It-All.”
“So much for being dumber than a cow, huh?”
“Yeah, whatever….”
Their parents’ acrimony nothing more than a distant ordeal buried in the back of their brains, the boys climbed to the top of the hill and made their way around the veranda back to the cobblestone walkway, and from there traveled away from Blackbourne Manor, away from the woods. Before leaving, Sam turned to see the mansion one last time, yearning etched all across his face. Some of the forest’s majesty had rooted itself within his brain, suffusing his thoughts, his mind, his imagination….
He thought only about the girl.
When he slipped into his bed after arriving home, the girl’s face pervaded throughout his dreams. He saw her everywhere. He saw her in Jimmy’s science class; he saw her at lunch; he saw her walking in the woods; and everywhere she went, it was always the same: she was alone, forsaken, friendless, and did not care in the least. She seemed content. This maddened Sam, for he could not bear to see her alone. This was not some insane obsession—
This was love.
Sam smiled in the dark of his bedroom. “Claire,” he intoned. He imagined the forest during the height of spring, with flowers and lavender trees flourishing, their dazzling colors demanding attention, and the leaflets of birches and aspens swelling like plumes of cumulus about to burst. None of those things mattered; the girl had stolen their majesty. He saw her basking in the sun, her electric eyes watching the tree branches sway in the wind. He saw her smile as her hair twirled around her, and he saw her close her eyes in benediction.
He saw her diamond face.
Love. This was love.
“Claire….That’s a nice name.”
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real_saxman said...
Aug. 24, 2014 at 4:57 pm
Great story. You not only have a rich vocabulary, but you also use it in such a way that fully dipicts your scenes. I know, by reading around, that others have trouble accomplishing that. Furthermore, your dialogue is fluid and well written. I'm also glad to see that you added swear words at appropriate times. I know that some writters tend to stay away from them, but when writting dialogue, it's not a bad idea. No one has a perfectly clean mouth and using swear words helps the character... (more »)
kingofwriters replied...
Aug. 24, 2014 at 7:00 pm
Thank you so much for the detailed feedback, and I'm really glad you didn't shy away from brutal honesty! And you're right; I do have a tendency to be really long-winded with my writing. I mean, I can never hope to be the next Ernest Hemingway, but I can at least try to make my sentences and paragraphs shorter and more direct, and I definitely need to worry less about making the story poetic and beautiful, because that's undoubtedly part of the problem. Thanks again for the feedb... (more »)

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