I really enjoyed this story. It was a pleasant surprise. I felt it was moving. I felt the emotions change and knew what would come. Thank you very much. This is the first I have read and enjoyed.
|As I was walking down the winding path, thinking to myself as oft I do alone, a thought occurred to me as I spotted a crystal clear lake just off the path. It struck me, how peaceful and serene it was here. I paused in mid-stride to really look out over the water, enjoying the stillness of it reflecting the sun perfectly as it shone down from behind the fluffy white clouds. The sense of inner peace I'd found here was incredible. It was as though the world outside this place no longer existed.
While becoming increasingly lost in the maze of thoughts swirling through my head, I could faintly hear footsteps nearby. Uneven, unsteady footsteps--some softly padding on the soft grass, others pounding hard on the dirt path, never spaced out quite the same as a normal stride.
I looked up to see a curious fellow hidden beneath an oversized hooded sweatshirt, almost as though he was hiding from something...or maybe someone. He seemed a bit tense and extremely agitated as he moved, stumbling in such a way that it would have been rather easy to mistake him for a drunk man were it not for the lack of the distinct odor of alcohol on his breath.
He seemed quite out of place in this perfect world I had found. He looked like something that didn't belong in such a place, but that only served to remind me of why I came this far.
It was a struggle to coax out a simple hello from him, let alone his name as I introduced myself against the demands of the little voice in my head to walk away and leave him be. Somewhere inside of me, though, I felt the need to stay.
At some point during the fruitless attempts to hold a conversation, I noticed how he was beginning to relax a bit. I wondered if the peaceful serenity of this place had broken through his shell as it had broken through mine, but then it seemed there was still something missing.
Suddenly, for some unknown reason, he felt compelled to tell me why he was here, what he tried so desperately every day to escape from only to be pulled back at the end of the day to another long, sleepless night of screaming and fighting.
I sat there, fully engaged in the one-sided conversation, although I wondered why he would continue when I could see the pain in his eyes and hear it in his voice. Somehow, we found ourselves standing at the lake's edge. It was like our feet had carried us there without us having any recollection of moving at all.
I listened again as he continued, becoming more and more comfortable the farther into the story he got. Then, there was a long pause. I noticed from the corner of my eye that he'd caught a glimpse of his reflection in the still, clear water and was staring at himself as though he was looking at a stranger for the first time. He had a look in his eyes hinting that he barely recognized the face in the water that was staring so hauntingly back at him.
After the long pause, he slowly lifted his head and began to speak again in a shaky whisper as the tears he'd been fighting so hard to hold back welled up and spilled over. As he drew his story to a close, I looked up and saw that the sky had become the beautiful orange and pink colors of sunset. We knew that, though reluctant to admit it, it was time to part ways, but we both knew we would meet up again.
I made my way home, unable to keep the hurt I'd developed for the troubled young man hidden from my eyes. I knew he was heading back to another sleepless night and it made me think...my own life wasn't as messed up as I had thought.
As the days came and went, I found myself returning to that perfectly serene setting in hopes of meeting my new, strange friend. I eventually came upon the very same place I had first met him. My feet rested upon the same place in the soft, green grass as I stared down into the sparkling clear water as I'd done every day since then.
It had been a week since I'd last seen him and I couldn't help replaying that day over and over in my mind as I felt a tear slip down my cheek and land with a tiny, noiseless splash in the still water. I could not get his story out of my head as I stood there.
I stayed very briefly this time. Something felt out of place, but I couldn't figure out what it could have been. I found myself heading home then, no longer feeling the peace I had felt just moments before. My mind had become clouded with an overwhelming sense of worry and I felt myself walking faster and faster. I eased into a slow jog, then a steady run until my feet pounded the path in a dead sprint home. There on the doorstep, just like every other day, lay the daily newspaper.
As I picked it up and glanced, a headline stood out and struck me. With shaking hands, I opened to the page and my tears stained the paper with every word I read until it was all blurred together and the paper was soaked through. I didn't need to see the rest, I'd heard this story before.
The paper slipped from my shaking hands and hit the floor with a soft thud as I forced myself to move and sit down before my legs could give way beneath me. I heard his voice ringing in my ears, thinking about that first day and the unspoken promise to meet again by that perfect little lake. In a way, he was still somewhat of a stranger to me and I found it hard to believe, but then I knew it wasn't a lie. I became so numb and lost that the rest of the day slipped by unnoticed.
Finally, as the setting sun shone in through the window to bathe my skin in its warmth, I found it within me somewhere, somehow to push myself up and move unsteadily to the door. I opened it only long enough to retrieve the mail that had been left for me earlier that afternoon. I lifted the flap of the small vertical box that hung on the wall just around the frame of the door, half expecting to find heaps of junk mail for the recycling bin, but inside I only found one envelope with my name on it. Curiously, I opened the envelope and pulled out one small, folded sheet of paper to read what were likely his last six words, "Thank you for being my friend."
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