This is one of the February Writing Challenge entries that was chosen to be a featured story.
Scarlett was perhaps the most terrifying person that Ben had ever met. She stood at her locker, red scarf wrapped loosely around her neck, as she packed her oversized backpack with large textbooks. He breathed a sigh of relief as her wide eyes stared ahead, directly ahead. With one look, those eyes could pierce his soul.
He was in love with her. He knew this like he knew that the sky was blue and that the sun would come up the next morning. It was undeniable and complete.
“Stop looking at me like that,” Scarlett whispered as he approached her. She didn’t take her eyes off the inside of her locker.
“Like what?” Ben asked. Scarlett’s head tilted up slightly to peek at his face again before looking back down.
“Like you can’t stop thinking about me,” she replied venomously.
“Well you’re right. I can’t,” Ben told her. “Isn’t that normally what girls want from their boyfriends?”
“I don’t care about what other girls want,” Scarlett said. Her eyes, downturned and wild with desperation, flicked nervously from him to her hands. “I am going to hurt you, Ben.”
He stared at her, allowing the silence between them to swell before shrugging.
“I don’t mind.”
Ben was early to pick her up as usual, talking to her mom in the foyer, while Scarlett buried her hairless head in her pillow. Her body was waging war against itself, slowly tearing her to pieces as she watched helplessly. The sound of Ben walking upstairs to her bedroom in time to the beating of her heart made her tilt her head towards the door.
“Hey, you ready?” he asked as he opened the door slowly. Scarlett shoved her face back down into the softness of her bed.
“Does it look like I’m ready?” she muttered. Her medications made her feel constantly nauseas, and the butterflies that accompanied Ben’s presence only made matters worse.
“You look like you were born ready,” he whispered to her, resting one of his hands gently on her lower back.
“Why don’t we just stay here?” she groaned. She knew if she pushed hard enough he wouldn’t object. Cancer is perhaps the best argument anyone could have come up with.
“Because it’s Valentine’s Day and you’ve been sitting in this house for the past week, Scarlett,” he replied. The dark purple bags under his eyes made her heart ache. She might be the one who was dying, but Ben was the one who looked like the life was being sucked out of him.
“I hate when people stare,” she murmured. The tips of Ben’s smile turned upward.
“Let them stare. They’ll never be able to see what they are looking for,” he answered, sliding his hand up her spine towards her neck, sending repetitive waves of electricity to her brain.
“And what’s that?” she asked. Her voice was small, like that of a child’s.
“A reason or an answer to their questions. But we don’t owe them anything. Let them keep on wondering,” he told her. A steady smile spread across her face as she lets the swells of happiness spread across her shores.
She grabbed her red scarf from her bedside table and wrapped it around her head, tying it tightly in a bow around the back of her neck. Her eyes glanced at him with light energy brewing behind them, like liquid gold.
“Okay, let’s go,” she prompted. A smirk perked up her ghostly skin, contrasting against her red scarf.
Ben took her hand and held on for his life.
“At least it’s a beautiful day,” Ben’s mother says. The sun blinds Ben as he let the sick rotting feeling in his stomach consume him. He wishes that he could evaporate, not die, simply dissipate quietly into the energy of the universe.
Ben does not reply as they fall in quietly behind the rest of the mourners. Scarlett’s tombstone is simple, which he knows she would have enjoyed, for it gives no answers. All those who needed to know already did. Everyone else could be simply left to wonder.
“You were so good for her, Ben,” Scarlett’s mother says through heartbreaking sobs. “I know she isn’t easy to love. But she needed it more than anyone.”
He feels the fabric of her red scarf through his pocket, running his hands over it, absorbing the comfort. Later that night when he lay in bed, the cotton material lay folded neatly on his chest. It was the color of Scarlett’s cheeks after hours outside in the cold, the blood that she coughed into tissues in the morning and the roses he had bought her. It hurt like everything inside of him was on fire, melting slowly into red, searing magma. And he wouldn’t have traded it for anything.