"Bittersweet" is one of the November Writing Challenge entries that was chosen to be a featured story.
The leaves outside, so crisp with rich tones of gold, maroon, and hazel, marked the beginning of leaving behind all I knew, the start of something new. I was sitting in my bedroom, packing the remains of my existence in boxes for a college thousands of miles away. Suddenly, I spotted my treasure chest beneath the bed, which contained birthday cards from every birthday since I was five, old scratched CDs, polaroids of my past, pictures of my present.
I slowly opened the chest, and my stomach tipped as I saw not only these aforementioned objects, but also three items of substantial value attracting the most of my attention amidst the chaos within.
The coin that had begun it all, the insignificant penny with an all too significant memory that warmed my brittle fingers.
“Diana!” a shout from behind me, the hurried pace of footsteps. “Diana, stop!”
“What?” I spun around quickly, my messenger bag unintentionally hitting him in the arm. The boy who had sat behind me in math class for the past month and had never said two words to me. The boy who didn’t look a day over seventeen and yet had the grace of someone much older than himself.
He gestured to the penny in his hand, a shy smile creeping at his lips.
I raised my eyebrows, smiling back. “You chased me down for a penny, Elijah?”
Elijah blushed furiously as he ducked away, his dark hair falling into his eyes. “It’s yours, after all.”
The playing card still held the scent of the light cologne of his shirt and the mint tea he made with gentle hands. His easygoing laugh filled my ears from the reminiscent days of outsmarting him at his own game.
“Eli, I feel like you’re letting me win,” I tease, taking a sip of tea. “No one can be this bad at poker.”
“Diana, you’re just too good for me,” he smiles, gathering the cards and shuffling them again. “How about we play something more my speed?”
“That’s getting a little too crazy,” Eli shakes his head seriously, which makes me laugh. “How about UNO?”
“You’re on,” I wiggle my eyebrows at him.
The petals of the rose were close to becoming dust and joining the leaves outside. I brought it up to my nose, but any lingering of pleasant scent had vanished since Elijah too had disappeared all those months ago.
“You’re telling me that ending our relationship is the only way for me to be happy?” I tried not to yell or scream or break his heart like he was destroying mine.
“This is for the best,” Elijah tried to calm me down. He was always so gentle, logical, reasonable. Like the soldier he was about to become. “I don’t want to hurt you more.”
It was in this moment I hated him. I loathed him for leaving me behind, I despised his shiny black boots, I wanted to burn his brand-new uniform that hid his familiar scent and everything I loved about him. This boy, this man who stood in front of me was a stranger.
“Just go, Elijah,” I demanded, fighting back the tears. “Please don’t bother returning.”
“I would do anything to take it back,” I whispered, closing it with a final slap.
Suddenly, I heard a deafening knock on the door, and a desperate call. “Diana?”
Confused, I closed my box of treasures, rushed downstairs with my heart drumming in my fingertips. Surprised, I opened the door, the scent of mint and boy rushing back.
My soldier boy come home.