I honestly didn’t think I’d win this last 1k Challenge. The competition was very stiff and the finish was so close. Out of 30 possible points I won with 28.45 and the second place winner had 28.25 so definitely a photo finish.
First, Last, and Always 1,000 words
The speedboat bounced along the choppy waters of Penobscot Bay. Standing at the wheel, the teenager with spiked hair widened his stance but didn’t slow down. Josie clutched the metal container against her chest afraid its contents would spill before she made it to the island.
Was it only a week ago she’d blocked the doorway, denying entry to the two Navy officers on her front stoop? As if not letting them in could somehow manipulate the truth, as if, like Schrödinger’s cat, Alan wouldn’t be dead if they didn’t speak the words. But those officers were on to her little game and outwitted her, guiding her to the couch before she could thwart their intentions.
“Bastard,” she muttered, looking at the urn cradled against her chest. Why had he left instructions that his remains were her responsibility? Hadn’t he hurt her enough when he was alive? Why reach beyond the grave?
The boat slowed and the kid maneuvered toward the pile of weathered wood that passed for a dock these days. He pulled earbuds down around his neck, Safe and Sound still blaring. “Uh, ma’am, are you sure this is where you wanted to go?”
Ma’am? When had thirty gotten old? Josie glanced up at the crumbling bricks. What salt air and harsh Maine winters had started, neglect was finishing. “Yeah, this is it.”
“This is private property, ya’know.”
She managed to stand without losing her grip on the precious package. “I know.”
“Well, it’s your funeral if they catch you.”
Unable to hold back, a bitter, choked laugh bubbled up from somewhere deep. “I’ll take my chances. I know the owners.”
The kid let the boat idle and jumped out to hold it steady so Josie could step off. He hopped back on and rammed the motor into gear.
He had the earbuds halfway up his head when she yelled out, “Don’t forget me. Be back before dark.”
The kid nodded and waved as he sped away.
At the end of the rickety dock she found the overgrown path to the pile of stones known as Robin’s Keep. Dragging in a deep breath, she swallowed around the lump that had been lodged in her throat for the past week.
The Keep, a small part of the large castle-like estate, had been “their” place. They’d held hands, kissed, plotted and dreamed in the now derelict building. Sharing a bottle of wine and a sleeping bag on her seventeenth birthday, they’d lost their virginity under the watchful eyes of Cassiopeia. With those five bright stars as her witness, she’d vowed to love Alan first, last and always.
But that was then. This was now. And “always” stretched before her.
She wiped her face on her sleeve. Why was she shedding tears for the man who yanked out her heart and stomped on it?
He’d even tried to make her feel guilty and petty for wanting more of his time, wanting more of him, of just wanting. The other wives had tried to warn her. Why hadn’t she listened? Alan was just like the rest of his SEAL team, an adrenalin junkie who, when he wasn’t training, was on secret missions—gone three hundred days a year. Wives and families got the leftovers after the Navy and Uncle Sam got through. Why hadn’t she left well enough alone? It wasn’t as if she knew what it was like to come first with anyone, ever. Why demand he choose?
She trudged up the steep hillside, clutching her burden while thoughts she couldn’t control swirled in her head. A stupid girl with stars in her eyes, she’d been fifteen when she’d fallen in love with her handsome chemistry lab partner. From there, they’d been study partners, dance partners and life partners. Up until the day he’d earned his “budweiser” pin by completing SEAL training. After that, his SEAL Team became his partner.
She pressed her free hand to her temple, hoping to ease the pounding. What happened, Alan? What got you killed and branded as a traitor?
Finally reaching her destination, she gazed up at the Keep, but it held no answers, only bittersweet memories. She avoided the building, heading instead to the cliff. The ocean breeze would carry the ashes out over the water.
She unscrewed the top. “Love you…first, last…always.”
“That’s what I was counting on.”
Josie froze. The metal urn clanged when it hit rock and bounced, spilling its contents into the dirt around her feet before the cover rolled to the edge of the cliff and disappeared. Forcing her gaze back up, she turned, but it was as if everything was happening to someone else, as if she no longer had control of her body.
Then blackness as deep as a starless sky.
Hallucinations, even grief-induced ones, didn’t have warm chests and strong arms, did they? She stirred and the arms tightened around her, cradling her.
Her eyes fluttered open. “How? What?”
“I’m so sorry, baby, but I had to keep you safe. You had to believe it was real.”
She struggled against his embrace. “How dare you! You gave up on us then let me think you were dead. Who does that?”
“It was the only way. I had to break off all contact. I can’t give details except I’d infiltrated a dangerous group and had to maintain cover.”
She tried to push him away but he held fast. “Why did you let me think you were dead?”
“I was betrayed by someone high up. If my Team hadn’t gotten me out I would’ve been dead. We had to play it out because we still don’t know who the traitor is.”
She punched his chest. “I thought you didn’t want me anymore.”
He pressed his lips to her forehead. “I’ll never stop wanting you. I’ll never stop loving you…first, last… always and I’ll prove it to you as soon as we solve mystery of who’s responsible for my death.”
“You and I. Partners forever.”