Today we are featuring Inklings Book Contest 2018 finalist, Sophia Bertoldo! Sophia finished 9th grade this past school year. The story she submitted is called “Green Eyes.”  One of our judges said, “I loved how Sophia used description to slow down the pacing during the climax, drawing out Dylan’s reveal in moment-to-moment description. The charged, lyrical moment helped me feel the tension and suspense along with the main character.” Enjoy!


 

There they were. Right in front of me. Sparkling from the sun, as deep as the oceans. Staring straight at me. Engulfing me into his world, into his story. A single droplet leaked beyond and fell ever so gently to the ground.

That night was the worst night I have ever lived. The sun had set and a blanket of darkness laid over our small town. We stood arm’s length apart, staring into each other’s eyes.

“Don’t do this,” he said, pleading. He stepped forward and suddenly I was lost in his eyes. My train of thought gone, along with any sense I had left. I pulled away and turned my head.

“I have to do this. It’s not fair to me. It’s not fair to you. But it has to be done.”

He starts to walk away. I pull his arm back so he is facing me again. I fit my hand into his.

“Dylan, I love you.” I see his eyes watering, his mouth trembling. “I just. I have to let you go.” I take a breath. “I have to let us go.”

And then he turned and walked away, down the path lined with tall oak trees and park benches. Past the play structure we played on as kids. Away from all the memories. I stood there until I realized it was time to go. I had to walk away. I continued in my direction, opposite from him. I turned around one more time. And he had done the same. And there we were.

A shadow lingered behind him. And then a second. Then a third. Each one bigger than the next. And then all at once, they came into the light. Three tall, muscular bodies stood there, casting long shadows over Dylan. I pointed behind him but he didn’t move. All at once they sprung on him. Dylan wasn’t even close to matching their height. They put a bag around his head and tied his limbs together. And then I was running. Running down the path. Past the trees, wind flying through my hair. I had no second thoughts. I needed to save him. They stuffed him into the backseat of an old dusty car and drove off before I could meet them. I raced after the car and tried to make out the license plate, but it was too dark. The car drove out of sight as I became out of breath. I pulled out my phone and called 9-1-1 immediately.

“Thank you, ma’am, we will send search cars now.” And then my body gave out and I laid on the rocky ground, playing that night over and over again.

***

I’m walking through a dark forest. The only light is the beam from my flashlight. I can’t find a way out. Everywhere I look, trees tower over me. The flashlight flickers quickly and then goes out. A quick gasp escapes my mouth. I stand still, as still as a statue, and turn my head. I can barely make out the trees. Until something moves.

“Calm down, Madison. It’s okay. That was nothing,” I say to myself, trying to get rid of the nerves. Then I hear something else moving behind me. I quickly turn around. I crouch down on my knees as if becoming small could possibly save me. Then, within the timber, two pairs of hands grab my arms and legs and then I’m in my bed. Panting. Beads of sweat on my forehead. My heart beating relentlessly. I stare around my room. Everything else feels normal. My picturesque bedroom is still as neat as can be. A window seat with two lavender pillows laying atop a light blue cushion. A tall bookshelf with medals and trophies above stacks and stacks of books stands next to my desk. A crisp stack of papers sits next to my desktop computer. On the other side stands a full-length mirror and closet, with pictures lining the wall in between. I shrug back under, into the safety and comfort of my sheets, and close my eyes.

***

As soon as I open my eyes, the light comes in through the side window and greets me. Welcomes me to another day. Another day Dylan could be lost. Tortured. Dead. Sick. The possibilities are endless.

“Madison. You up?” I turn over and put my face in my pillow. The door swings wide open and in walks my mother. She sits delicately on the edge of my bed.

“Honey. It’s been a week since the, uh,” she takes a long pause, “Incident.” She exhales deeply. “Maybe you should get up today. Get some things done.”

“Mama, I already put up missing flyers. The police are aware of the situation, they have search cars patrolling anywhere within a 45-mile radius of our town. I don’t have anything to ‘get done.’”

“Mads. You are seventeen. I’m sure there are plenty of things a teenager would want to do. How about you call up Erica. Or Lacey. Maybe you could go shopping? Get some lunch?”

“I don’t feel like going out.” I feel the tears coming. Rushing to my eyes. Wanting to come out. To fall down my face and leave my cheeks blotchy.

“Maybe you could have them come here. You’re scaring me. That’s all. You used to be so… happy. You did so many things. You were my ‘busy-busy girl.’”

“Well, things are different now.” I sniffled a little.

“Oh, sweetie. I know. Things like this are hard. But you need to learn how to grow with them, instead of letting them pull you down too.” She patted me on the back and left.

I cry into the pillow until I feel completely empty.

That afternoon, I decide to try something else. Maybe my mama is right. Maybe I can do something. I stare at myself in the mirror. Who is this girl? I wonder. A face intact with sadness, droopy eyes, greasy brown hair with blonde streaks that I pulled into a bun resting atop my head. Who am I anymore?

With Dylan missing, so is a piece of me.

I pull into Dylan’s driveway. The tall, eerie trees provide shade over the house, and the brick walkway into the house has a layer of dust painted over it. I balk at the front door, memories flooding into my head. The feeling of being safe returns. Comes back for a brief visit. I remember what it felt like to have his arms wrapped around me, his chin resting on my head. I close my eyes and take a breath, and when I open them again the feeling of being secure has left.

I knock gently on his door. Seconds later, his mom greets me. A fake smile painted across her face.

“Madison! How nice to see you.” She opens the door wide enough that I can see the living room. Papers cover the coffee table in a mess of worry, different from how it usually looks. Clean and crisp. I look her up and down. Nothing about her is okay. Her hair’s a mess, much like mine. She looks as if she hasn’t showered in days, and tears stain her face. So much of her reminds me of Dylan. Her nose. He definitely has her nose. And her dimples.

I look her in the eye and tell her it’s okay to cry. Because for a mother to lose her child, that must be the hardest thing anyone could ever go through. And as if we are in sync, we fall into each other’s arms and cry. Because we both understand what it’s like to lose someone you love.  

A couple minutes later, we manage to move inside. I see some photo albums sprawled on the kitchen counter and begin to look through them.

“Dylan was always so photogenic,” she says to me, looking over my shoulder.

“Mrs. Carter, what if he isn’t gone? What if he is still out there?” I look at her with hopeful eyes, even though I know what’s coming next.

“Oh, honey, did I not tell you about the police’s conjecture?”

At this, I stand up, my back straight like I am being measured at the doctor’s office, my little toes wiggling anxiously opposite my heel that’s backed as far as possible up against the wall. I shake my head ever so slightly, and the hope that was buried deep inside me is beginning to rise, to flow through my closed-off mind and liven it up. She looks at me and puts a hand on my shoulder, tipping her head to the side.

“They said the chances of him being found now are so slim. It’s already been a week. They gave us a ten percent chance of finding him.”

My heart sank more than I thought humanly possible. It felt as if a huge weight had been tossed into my stomach, sinking farther and farther with each breath I take.

“But, but you aren’t gonna stop. I mean, the police are still out there? We can still find him,” I stuttered out, breathing heavily and blinking profusely to stop the tears.

“Yes, I mean, I hope so, but there’s always a chance we don’t. I can’t be the one to get your hopes up. Not when I know how bad it feels to have those hopes brought back to reality.” She gives me a tight squeeze and walks out of the room.

***

After bidding Mrs. Carter goodbye, I walk home, dragging my feet to take their next step. With every step I take, more of the sun is hiding behind the tall oak trees. By the time I reach the old Victorian I call home, the moon is the only source of light besides the flickering bulb on our porch. I shuffle my key from my pocket and the tall door opens.

“Madison. Where have you been?” My mama opens the door wide, her spotless outfit tight around her curves. “We have been waiting for you to sit down for dinner.”

“Sorry Mama, I had to get something at Dylan’s.”

Mama comes behind me and undoes my bun. She runs her fingers through my hair.

“Leave your hair down, hon. Looks more put together that way.” She gives me a fake smile and walks into the kitchen.

“You know going over to that boy’s house isn’t going to change anything. He isn’t going to just magically appear in his room like you think.” She snaps her fingers and the maid walks in. “Claressa, will you set the table now? Madison has finally decided to show up.”

“Mama, I didn’t think he was. But what if there is something someone can do? I don’t… I don’t see why everyone has given up. What if he is waiting?”

“Waiting where, sweetie? I know this is hard for you. I do. But the quicker you face the facts, the quicker you can get over this. Now come on. Dinner’s ready.”

Dinner is silent, except for the scratching of forks against plates. A raspy voice breaks the awkward silence that has become dinner.

“I invited Lacey over tomorrow. I figured you two could do something fun. Watch a movie, get your nails done, go shopping, whatever you teenage girls do nowadays.” She shares a quick wink with me and turns back to her plate.

I sit and look at my untouched pork rillette.

“Thank you Claressa.” I stand and leave my crumpled napkin in my chair and stomp upstairs. I sit on the floor of my closet, hugging my knees. I shuffle through my keepsake box and pull out a sweatshirt. I shove it over my head and pull the drawstrings to the hood tight. It smells just like him.

***

The morning comes quicker than expected, and anxiety floods through my body. Today is a remembrance for Dylan, a time for people to share stories and raise awareness about his kidnapping. It’s being held at our school and all of the grades are expected to come. I was asked to speak along with his parents and some of his best friends. At first, I felt honored to share about someone so special, but then I began to feel so much pressure upon what I had to say. Like, if I have a good speech, Dylan will magically appear again. I know I have to go, so I muster up all the courage I can and drive off to the school.

The inside of the gymnasium is packed full, the stuffy air is making it hard to take deep breaths. All sound is muffled and all eyes are staring at me. I stand in the middle of the basketball court, my feet on top of the cartoon tiger that is our mascot. My hands tremble at the mic and I struggle to find my voice. The voice I used to have such a personal connection with, but now it’s as if it’s not even a part of me anymore. I look around. Pictures of Dylan line the walls, his snarky half-smile plastered across his long face. The lights dim and the audience slowly focuses their attention towards me. I close my eyes and imagine him cheering me on, smiling and clapping, giving me a pep talk and telling me everything is going to be okay. It’s all I want to do, to tell him that right now. But I pull it together and begin.

“Thank you for coming. To share your stories about Dylan and to raise hope that he comes home.” I continue on, talking about my favorite experiences and how he shaped me as a person and I finally close it out with, “Being with Dylan was like being with no other.” I put the microphone back on the stand and shake as the crowd applauds. I walk outside feeling the most vulnerable I have ever been and watching student after student walk to the center of the floor. All of them feeling so tied to someone so lost.

***

“Mads! Come on! Get up!” A cold hand grabs my ankle and pulls my sluggish body onto the carpet.

“Lacey. I… Lacey.” I wrap my arms around her and cry into her shoulder. When I pull away she pats my leg.

“It’s okay to be sad. But at some point, you need to get over it.”

“But I can’t,” I stammer. “I love him.”

“But Mads, you were going to leave him anyway. Isn’t that the whole reason you were there?”        

“By making me apply early to college and taking the SATs so soon, my parents completely annihilated my social life. They made me quit my sports teams and after-school activities. They even said no more studying with friends. And then, of course, they said I had to break up with Dylan. He knew it was coming too. We had talked about how strict my parents were becoming all of a sudden. But he didn’t care. He thought that if I really loved him I would make it work.” I look to Lacey. “But Lacey, he was right. And if I hadn’t listened to my parents he would still be here. I never wanted him to leave me. I was just doing what I thought was right.”

“Oh, Madison. I’m really sorry. That’s not what your mom told me.”

“Of course it’s not. She doesn’t want to admit that. But she knows it’s true. I can tell. She’s gotten even more uptight since it happened. Lacey, I don’t know what to do. Everything I did, he was there to hold me up. To make sure I was okay when things were going rough. He was always there for me. And now here it is. My fault that he’s dead or being tortured. My fault he’s gone from the only life he ever knew.”

“Madison. Look at me.”

I gape at her long face, her buoyant curls bouncing just below her belly button.

“How many times have these words been going through your head?”

“Every second.”

She shakes her finger in my face. “Let’s go do something. Anything.”

“I’m sorry, Lacey, but I really just want to be alone right now.”

“Are you sure? I mean, your mom said—”

“I know what she said. But please, I just want to be here alone.”

She closes the door, and I hear the front door close following quiet footsteps and two voices murmuring.

***

“I’m leaving. Be back before curfew.”

I swing the front door shut, the indents of oak feeling rough on my fingers. My keys jingle in my hand and I swing a duffle bag from my shoulder into the back seat of my Honda Civic. The wheel fits perfectly in my hand as I realize I can go anywhere. I can go for miles and miles, the days moving quickly, sunrise to sunset again and again. I didn’t realize how much freedom I had obtained until now. I realize that every tie holding me down to this city has been lifted. The sun glints off the side mirror and the clouds create a circle around the ever luminescent sun. I begin to think of all the things Dylan would say. We could run away to a small town in the country by a river. We could go visit his best friend in Missouri. The possibilities are endless. I turn to the passenger seat. And there he is. Vast green eyes staring deep into mine as if there was no end. His bright smile outshining everything else. His brown hair falling just above his eyebrows. And then all at once, he disappears. His eyes, his pale face, his freckles. Until all at once, he’s gone. And then so am I. Driving away. Driving anywhere. Anywhere but here. I need to get away. I need to restart. I need to find myself.

The wheat field stretches tall and wide. It seems as if it can go on for miles and miles. It’s funny how I feel so free when really I’m only forty miles away. Forty miles away from my hometown. The place I took my first steps and made my first friends. The place I learned to love and to live. The only place I had ever known. Guilt washes over me. How can I leave? How could I do that to my parents? How could I do that after everything they’ve done for me? As I ponder this, I pull over and walk through the field. The sun sets and hides between the tall oak trees. The sun glistens through my hair and shines on my face. I tread through the tall grass until I’m completely surrounded. I sit down, laying my head in my hands. A breeze blows across the field, the grasses bending one after another like dominoes. I look off into the horizon, a green speck floating above a patch of wheat. A silhouette of a head and broad shoulders appears. It bobs up and down, coming closer and closer with every breath I take. The green speck becomes two big eyes. My heart begins to race. Faster and faster the closer it gets. And the closer it gets the more I begin to recognize it. I close my eyes hard.

“Stop it Madison. You are imagining this. Stop it before you get hurt again.” I hear my mother’s voice spitting out these words. I ignore it and begin to stand. Before I can contain myself, I’m running through the field. As fast as the wind. The trees a blur of green, the sky darkening.

“Dylan!” I scream. I stop and turn around. I turn around again. And again. I’m alone. Standing in the middle of nowhere. Screaming for someone that is not even here. I sit on a stump and begin to cry. A stiff arm rests upon my shoulder and a muffled voice follows.

“Madison?”

I turn around and connect with his eyes.

“Dylan?” I whisper. I cup his head in my hands. “Is it—”

“Yes. It’s me.” He scoops me up and twirls me around. His lips graze against mine and when he pulls away I remember who I am. Who I’ve left behind.

“I thought you were… gone,” I say shakily, resting my hand in his.

“I used a nail I found in the back of the trunk to pick it open and rolled out of the car. I’ve been stuck in the middle of this stupid maze of wheat. I haven’t seen any other people, haven’t even heard anybody for the past two days.” A streak of blood lines under his eyelid and a bruise takes up his left shoulder. Dust lines his forehead and his shirt is ripped at the sleeve. But his eyes remain the same. Bright green and vast like the ocean.

“I’m so…” I pause. I stare into his vast green eyes. I never thought I would ever see those great green eyes and be captured into his mind again. I never thought I would ever feel alive again.

“I’m so sorry. I should have followed my heart. Not what I was told. I love you, Dylan.”

And we walk off into the sunset, hand in hand.

 


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