This story is one of the August Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
You hold Lilia’s hand as you stroll towards the sand, the sea. Her small palm is sweaty against yours, and you breath in the salt-sprayed wind and take in the lonesome ocean.
“Are you okay?” your daughter asks in a shy voice. “You look gloomy.”
You sit in the sand before answering. “It’s nothing, Lily. Just… the island, I guess.”
“You didn’t want to come?”
You ruffle the child’s golden locks. “Darn, Lily, no.”
“It—” you stammer. “It reminds me of a friend, long gone.”
Your eyes wander into the sea. “Doesn’t matter.”
“Yes, it does!”
“Come on, Pa,” she pats your hand. “Tell me about her.”
“Him,” you exhale. “Alright,” you sit up straighter. “Once upon a time,” Lilia smiles, “an argument with gran Darling came to yelling.”
“Yes,” you chuckle. “I was about your age—nowhere as calm, though. I grabbed my satchel, patted my pockets, saw that I had about five dollars, and decided I would be alright on my own.”
“I know,” you grin. “Gran’s house used to be two streets away from Neverland’s Hotel.”
“By the store?”
“Yes, but that wasn’t there back then.”
You rub your palms on your lap before continuing, afraid of the emotions telling the story—after a good sum of years—bring you. “I yelled I would never come back. She said ‘alright’ and watched me march out the front door. She knew I’d come back; even when I didn’t. Anyway, I marched down the street and entered the forest—”
“More like a jungle.”
“Romanticize!” You laugh. “Till I got deep enough, then simply sat on the ground till I fell asleep.”
She scoffs. “And then?”
“I woke up to someone nudging me on the side and what I would say was a…” fairy, “yellow butterfly saying that I oughtn’t be there for long.”
“We exchanged names, a handshake, and automatically bonded, somehow—let me stay for as long as I needed, he said. He still had room for one more.”
“Another lost boy, as he called them. Other carefree youths, all in an overpopulated hut.”
“Sounds bizarre,” the kid raises a brow.
“Oh, but it wasn’t, really,” you say with a wistful look at those faded trees. “It wasn’t.”
“Did you like it there?”
You loved it there. “It was alright.” It was magical. “It was like having a really good dream, you know?” Your voice threatens to break.
“Exactly.” You stand up. “Let’s go, now. Gran Wendy wants us to get some onions for dinner.”
“Okay,” Lilia says and holds your hand all the way to the general store by the hotel. You open the door for her—she bolts for the onions. You distract yourself with a soda.
“Good.” You smile and pay for them and your drink before reaching to open the door. But someone else opens it first; recognizes you before you do—same bright green eyes, chestnut hair, livid freckles. But he now wears a tailor-made gray suit. And it looks odd on him. And he is…
“Just in time,” he grins.
You smile and shrug. “What are you up to this time?”
His voice is soft. “Meeting Tinker. It’s been a while.”
“Who’s Tinker?” Lilia interrupts.
“A f—” he begins, but you cut him off.
“A butterfly, love. His… pet.”
“Oh,” Lilia steps outside.
Your friend sets his jaw. “This is how things are now, huh? Pretend it was never real?” A beat. “Forget the heartbreak? What h—?”
“Time happened.” You look at your shoes—flush. “I’m no longer lost,” you breathe out.
Your friend balls a fist by his side and tips his head upwards, forcing you to meet the green eyes that once were your shelter; your home.
“Nice seeing you again, Alexander. You’ve… grown.” He shakes your hand. Tears prick your eyes, but you don’t spill them; take the warmth of his hand to memory.
“You too, Pan,” you say. Lilia takes your hand.
Pan studies her with glassy eyes. “Take care… Al, I—”
You turn away.
The heartbreak returns.
The magic fades.