Today we are featuring Inklings Book Contest 2018 finalist, Katherine Yang! Katherine finished 5th grade this past school year. The story she submitted is called “Bittersweet.” Katherine said, “Life is full of happiness, sadness, and unexpected things. What I like best about my story are the up-and-down of feelings caused by different unexpected events.” Enjoy!
My fluffy jacket hugs me in a warm embrace as I rub my numb hands together and breathe in the fresh air of evergreens. Sticking my head in the door and pulling on the mittens I had received for Christmas, I call to my mom, “I’m going out to skate at the rink. Is that alright?” Holding my breath and crossing my fingers, I hope for an “Okay.”
“Sure,” my mom says, “but did you finish your math homework? I heard that a few students were getting emails from the teacher. Also, make sure you finish shoveling the walkway. The neighbors will think we’re crazy if we don’t shovel it out soon.”
Groaning, I head for the old shovel leaning against the wall. Outside, I grunt as I dig my shovel into the many layers of snow. My breath makes puffs of smoke as I stomp across the lawn, and my boots crunch into the powdery snow. Finishing the tedious job of shoveling the walkway, I head into the house to grab my hardly-used ice skates. Trudging through the dirty brown snow of the streets, I spy a familiar boy wearing a thin brown sweatshirt walking on the other side of the road to the ice rink. Jogging across the snow-covered road, I plaster a smile on my face and introduce myself.
“Hi, I’m Maria. I live on the other block. Aren’t we neighbors?”
Looking up, the boy blushes, smiles and says, “I’m Jason, and yes, I do think we’re neighbors. Are you heading for the ice rink? I can walk you there. Anyways, I’m heading there, too.”
I smile, and reply, “Yes! And,” I lower my voice, “Can you teach me to skate? This is only my second time coming here.”
Chuckling, Jason grins mischievously and says, “Sure. I just finished my high school applications, so I have all the time you need.”
As we enter the cool ice rink, I rapidly pull on my shiny skates and clumsily tie up the laces. Jason, on the other hand, pulls out his graying, much-used skates and expertly ties his laces into a triple knot. I awkwardly stumble to the rink and find that he is already there, waiting for me.
“Catch me if you can!” he yells.
“You wish,” I mumble as I step gingerly onto the ice. Before I glide twice, my skates slip away from me and I fall onto my bottom. The embarrassment hurts more than my bottom.
I know I can do this, so I get up right away and begin my very controlled movements in order to avoid falling. After a few minutes, I gain confidence and begin chasing Jason. All of a sudden, I find myself gliding onto the rough ice. Keeping my eye on the elusive boy, I finally grab his scarf, causing him to spin and fall. We laugh hysterically as I pull him up from his bottom, and we both glide like experts around the rink. He teaches me how to balance on one foot, and even do a half-spin. Jason performs his skating routine, which took him months to learn. At the end, all the spectators at the rink applaud, with me in the front, whistling, yelling, and clapping all at the same time…
Gripping my polished, black violin case, I walk into the orchestra room as a river flows downstream. At orchestra practice, I enjoy talking to my music friends even though they are much older than I am. Looking around, I notice an unfamiliar blob of brown hair, bouncing around in the cello section. I come closer, and notice that “blob” isn’t a blob at all: it’s Jason’s hair!
“When did Jason join the orchestra?” I think. Nearing the cello section, I take advantage of the seating arrangement to ask Jason why he joined.
“Jason! When did you join the orchestra? I never knew you played cello!”
“Um… I joined a few weeks ago. I heard the orchestra was playing the Corelli Concerto, which is my favorite– and I was interested– so I auditioned and was accepted.”
Noticing my eyes on his book, he brightens up and says, “Oh! This is The Giver. In this book, there is a world where people live with no music or color—and everything is planned perfectly for each citizen in the community. Imagine that!” Sighing, he says, “You know, sometimes I feel my life is all planned.”
“Not including meeting with me,” I say cheerfully.
After orchestra, I walk home with Jason while reading over his shoulder. “Do you want to come to my house? We could play music— My mom always welcomes my friends to play music at home.”
We played around with the music, sang the songs that had lyrics to them, mourned over the sad songs, and broke into childish laughter when seeing each other’s sad expressions. Before Jason left, he played his favorite cello solo—”The Swan.” I played the piano accompaniment. The gentle repeated piano notes painted a serene peaceful view with lake and forest; the slow, deep sound of cello sang of an elegant swan paddling across the water.
“This sounds so beautiful with piano!” Jason said happily. “I often feel so lonely when I play it by myself…”
Jason runs up to me at the lockers.
“Are you mad at me?” he yells, almost shouting to make himself heard over the clanging of locker doors and the dull roar of students. “I’m sorry.”
Trying to hide my tears, I walk faster, my jeans rubbing against each other, causing my legs to tire. I don’t stop.
I kept thinking, “Why would he do this to me? Why? Why was he doing this? Didn’t he know I wouldn’t be happy?” His proud voice repeats over and over again in my head.
“I applied the top prep school in New England: Andover and St. Paul. I just received the offers from both schools! Which one do you think I should go?”
At that time, my brain feels nothing but one thing: betrayal. His excited voice—a voice that wasn’t remembering me—repeats over and over again in my head as I stop at the gym. I couldn’t go further without him catching up. Turning around, I meet him face to face and realize he is also crying.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I really am.”
“It’s all right. It’s just like… disappointing,” I say. “I have a headache. But let’s play some music again after the orchestra rehearsal tomorrow.”
I rush back home. After spending a couple hours pounding on the piano, I felt some relief even though the delicious dinner tasted like nothing for me tonight.
“Mom, why do people leave home for prep school?” I ask my mom.
“Silly girl, they provide the best education in those schools. It’s very expensive and only the top students can get in. I wish your father could make more money so you could have those opportunities, too.”
“Really? I don’t want to leave the family,” I say gloomily.
“Mom? Is it possible to move to New England?”
“Honey, you know that’s not possible. Your father has work here, and you know how much our family loves this house. It’s just not possible.”
An awkward silence breaks between us as I look down at my feet. My mom breaks the silence.
“Honey, is it the boy? The one that comes to our house almost every other day to practice the orchestra music with you?”
I remain silent.
“Maria, remember the talk we had a few years ago? No boys until college?”
I look up at my mom and slightly nod.
“Now, you’re still very young. Don’t let boys take over your life. I love you and just remember that. I love you.” She abruptly changes the subject. “Please go buy me the groceries, sweetie. Though I’m really busy, I don’t want the family to starve.”
I walk down the street with a list of shopping items written in my mom’s scribbly handwriting.
Her voice repeats in my head. “Honey, you know that’s not possible. Your father has work here, and you know how much our family loves our house. It’s just not possible.” My soul felt two opposing forces: I had to stay; Jason had to leave. My father couldn’t leave because he had work; Jason couldn’t stay because his fate was set. And my mother didn’t want me to care about Jason. I knew it didn’t make sense, yet I had forgiven Jason and insisted that he should leave.
If he left, the gossips and bullies in the school would stop calling us “couples” and “besties.” Great. We were, after all, just very good friends, and not quite a couple. However, after Jason leaves, they’ll call me a “lone wolf” or a “widow.” Oh, who cares about the gossips and bullies! Frowning, I think that thinking about gossips and bullies hardly makes the situation any better. At least it was a bit better than having the bullies rub in the fact that we were different genders. Also, I think of my mother. When I was about ten years old, I remembered her telling me about how I shouldn’t think of boys until I was in college—they would sway my career too much and put another weight into my mind.
I try to think on the bright side. With Jason leaving, I can spend more time with my family, spend more time on things I enjoy, such as music and art. I could spend time with my sister, Joan. Thinking of Joan made me think of the past when Joan and I would spend hours in the store, smiling foolishly at strangers and plucking boxes of cereal off the shelves. I remembered when I would cock my ear to the side to hear the satisfying rip of a plastic bag ripping from its roll, and the times when we would play hide and seek, only to be scolded later for being too loud, running, and being reckless. I walk out of the store with a smile on my face.
“You know what? You should really actually go to Andover. Your parents want you to, and it’s the best for you,” I say one day to Jason after orchestral rehearsal.
“I know you don’t want me to go,” he responds, looking down. “I know how it feels. You don’t have to say it. It’s all right. Let’s start from bar… 53.”
The music flows around Jason’s bedroom like ribbons of light bursting through clouds as the strings on our instruments vibrate like leaves shaking in the autumn wind. Smiling as I close my eyes, I finish the last note.
“Let’s take the last recording of this song before you leave for New England,” I suggest.
Again, the music flows around the room, but this time, more heavily. Perhaps it was because of the thought that Jason would be leaving in four days. At the end, the last note rings like the bell that rings at the end of mass. Pressing the “done” button, I sigh and start packing my violin.
Suddenly, Jason blurts out, “Why are you so sad? I’ve rejected the offer just for you.”
Taken by surprise, I half whisper, half shout, “Really? That’s great! I mean, I’m really glad you were sent an invitation, but don’t change your mind on account of me!”
Jason points to the snow-covered mountains in the distance.
“You know, that’s a great subject to paint. How about you come tomorrow, and we can paint it together?” Of course, I agreed. I never knew he liked to paint.
“Hello? Anybody home?” I knock on the frozen door as I pull my knit cap onto my ears. Even now, in March, the weather is still freezing. As Jason opens the door, I slide into the room and see a canvas with paint brushes already set up, facing the mountains Jason had mentioned yesterday. I pick up the big brush and dip it into the blue paint.
While sweeping the brush across the page, I say, “Now that you’re not going to New England, what shall we do this summer?”
“Actually, I’ve already thought of some plans,” Jason says. Smiling, he pulls out a sheet of binder paper and reads off a list of activities, including the regular going to the park, practicing duets, reading classics, listening to concerts, and going to the skating rink. He also read off some expensive and strange activities I had never done: going to the county fair, going on a canoe ride, going to the art exhibition, and much more.
I take one glance at it, and conclude, “This is great! I can’t wait to actually do all of this!” Pulling my paintbrush across the page, I paint the mountains with big, broad sweeps. I layer the paint over each layer, making a terrific blend of blue. I glance over at Jason, but see that he is not painting the mountains; instead, he is painting me! I see him painting my colorful, brown hair with streaks of blonde in it with a small brush and see him paint my hazel eyes with a dab of a smaller brush. Blushing as he glances at me, I see a backpack and trees surrounding me. He was painting the mountains, only from a different perspective. I smile knowingly and return to my drawing.
When I enter the house, my Mom embraces me in a warm hug. “Guess what? Your father was promoted, and now we’re moving to New England in six months! Your dream has come true!”
My mind blanked.
And then, “The Swan” melody in the cello solo started to play in my mind. The solitary beautiful melody repeated again and again until it was slowly joined by a tender peaceful piano accompaniment. Melancholy turned to harmony.
“We will be fine,” I said to myself.
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