This story is one of the November Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
She starts walking backwards.
“Don’t even try it!”
The water’s now brushing only her ankles, and she feels the ruggedness of the rocks under her feet.
“Clay, please I…”
The words get stuck in her throat while she steps on something sharp that causes her to fall backwards on her butt. Before she realizes what happened, wrinkled, freezing hands are stroking her upper arms.
“You okay?” Clay’s eyes are worried as they wait for an answer, but the lifted corners of his lips give away his bemusement. Lori sighs in relief, noticing that the slimy creature he was holding has left his hand.
“Definitely feeling better than my butt does.” She turns her head to face him and gives him a flat look. He just chuckles loudly, like he always does, and she must tell herself to ignore the warmth that’s spreading in her chest as she looks away.
“Are you regretting coming to the lake with me?” Clay asks whilst drying himself off with the towel he brought from home, but she’s barely listening. Indeed, she’s now holding a shiny, rectangular object made out of some expensive-looking metal. It looks like a pendant attached to a chain, and its surface is uneven and encrusted with mud. Lori can’t help but wonder for how many years it must have been buried in the depths of the lake.
“What’s that?” Clay’s now sitting next to her, and she keeps on studying the object.
“I suppose it’s the evil thing that made me trip.” In that moment, she notices a tiny button on its right side, and the second she presses it, a click sound is heard. The locket opens like a book.
Before their eyes, there is now a very old picture, looking a bit faded but apparently untouched by the erosive power of water. It represents two people, probably a couple. The woman in the front strikes because of her pure and majestic beauty, long dark hair, and deep piercing eyes. Her gaze almost takes Lori’s breath away. By her side, a short, chubby man stands smiling at the camera, and he seems to be the happiest man who ever lived.
“I know who they are,” Clay states, and then leans back, hands behind his head, eyes pointing towards the grey-blue sky. She suddenly feels the need to rest her head on his chest, and so she does. She used to think he was way too skinny, but after those 7 months spent with him, she has come to realize that it’s a family issue — in fact both his parents and siblings are just like him. Sometimes, when she hugs him, she can almost feel the shape of his bones under the thin layer of skin covering his body. But there’s also a spot right in between his neck and his left shoulder which is actually soft and comfy, and makes her feel safe whenever she leans on it.
He goes on talking while she wraps herself in the towel and starts playing with the locket in her hands.
“They were the last royal couple that lived in that castle.” He points with his chin to the run-down and haunted-looking building on top of a hill. “The tale says that he was desperately in love with this girl, but since he wasn’t that good-looking she kept on rejecting him. Eventually, being a prince with quite a lot of charisma, he got what he wanted and married her.” She tilts her head up to look at him, hands still, eager to listen to the end of the story. “Well, the time passed, and she somehow saw past his looks and learnt to love him for who he really was.”
Lori sits up straight, her eyes fixed on his. She senses sadness in those dark green gems of his. Her left hand slowly reaches for his face. Her fingers run through his forehead, then they carefully trace a line between his eyebrows, descending from his hooked nose to his bony cheeks, finally finding their way to his dry lips and resting there. She can imagine what he’s thinking right now; at this point she has come familiar with his tendency to deprecate himself. He believes he’s not attractive enough to be loved.
If only he knew how beautiful he appears to her. And how he’s already loved.
And if only she knew that he invented all the story. No happy endings. No prince-wins-the-princess-over. Just two young adults and an arranged marriage, in which love is not included.
But it’s time that turns unfortunate truths into intriguing fairy tales. And it’s time again that turns the most insignificant stone into the most valuable diamond in someone’s eyes.