A Laugh in the Darkness By: Becca Sperry

He kicked aside a bit of gravel and watched as it danced from under the shade of the trees to the spots of shining sun that reflected off the old road. He used to take this walk with Stephen, everyday to school and back. But the passing of time seemed to change all that.

'Stephen had a problem', he thought, 'He'd never tell anyone though, not even me, his own brother. Maybe if I'd said something sooner, maybe then he'd still be here.'

The wind blew through his straw-colored hair, and he remembered the first time he'd looked into the eyes of his brother and seen his masked life. The words were posted on Stephen's forehead like a red stamp:

'I'm a drunk, just like my mother.' That's the way he saw everyone's most guarded thought: right where they'd never want it to be.

He seen it all, from his father's: 'I'm afraid of my wife, sometimes I leave just to get away from her', to the lady at the country house next door: 'I'm in love with one of my 10 cats, and I rented this place just to be alone with him.'

They all seemed to blur. Sometimes he'd even forget they hadn't told him, but he'd never say anything about it, not that he ever said a word at all though, to anyone.

The wind began to pick up a bit more and he ran into it, challenging it with every inch of strength in his gangly 16 year old limbs. He wanted to fight to find his brother, alive and well, no glass scars on his forehead, or tree branch through his heart. In his mind, it was not the wind he came up against, it was the pure essence of time and regret. It was all the bouquets of sweet regret, weighing upon his shoulders and blossoming into his ears so that their wonderfully bitter fragrance spread their meaning: if he had told someone what lay beneath Stephen's mask then maybe, he would've never found his brother's flesh embracing metal and earth.

The breeze shifted and so did his thoughts. Then, he saw Louisa. She was no perfection. No dazzling beauty, but for reasons other than those within his broken heart, he had to be with her.

Her hair was dark as the rural night sky, and her eyes spoke of the many books she had thumbed through, all alone on warm summer nights. They'd been born in the same week and grown like cornstalks in the same grassy fields, but they'd never spoken a word…until a month ago.

It's funny to think that it was their school that brought them together; they both detested every aspect of it. Their teacher had decided to put them in pairs to write papers about each others lives. The assignment intentions were so obvious, it seemed they were almost guaranteed to fail. But somehow, in that gap where they were supposed to form two double-spaced pages of factual knowledge, they grew a bond.

He'd looked across the room to where she sat, eyes fixed on her paper, already in silent concentration. Pushing his way through all the moving bodies, somehow he found the empty seat beside her. He kept his head down then, as if in shame, but really in fear. Fear of daring to look into the eyes of a stranger and stealing a valuable without ever really being a thief.

But then, he'd looked at her. As he saw them, the words in seep black script above the brow, and shrieking pain went through the center of his heart, as if it were ripped apart all over again.

He stumbled backward, but he hardly felt the tile floor, his t-shirt the only layer between skin and floor. A few classmates rushed over, and the boy who kissed a lucky duck's foot before every football game helped him up.

He thought his feet would never stabilize, that he'd never being able to look her in those clear blue mirrors again. Or maybe they weren't mirrors, but simply windows, the people behind them seeing much more of you than you wanted them to see.

But despite that fact that he would never stare at her again, he got up and green eyes met windows once again. She'd stared back; her warm smile seemed so much more friendly than her thoughts, without question, he decided he was bound to her. Through a simple glance, every aspect of his being was tied to her with rope of kings, the twine of a secret.

At first, she'd hardly said a word. She simply slid a piece of notebook paper across the old desk. On it seamless letters formed simple questions. In he own hand, she held her own copy, just as beautiful and just as precise.

He'd look at it for a moment, trapped in the extremity of the second. Then, with bottom lip under tooth, he began to write:

Basics:

Name: Turner Jennings

Age: 16

Favorite food: Barbeque Brisket Sandwich (like my pa makes on the weekend's that he's off).

Favorite class: no class

Deeper:

Deepest fear: My pa'll leave and never come back

Deepest want: no one will ever know what I want

Deepest hope: no one will see me die

Last Wish: some will laugh at my funeral

Looking him straight in eye she took his deepest hopes, wants and fears in her hand, and in his own he began to grasp her's:

Basics:

Name: Louisa Rhodes

Age: 15

Favorite food: pecan pie on Thanksgiving

Favorite class: English

Deeper:

Deepest fear: I'll always be alone

Deepest want: To feel like there's some one beside me in the world

Deepest hope: I will never hurt my family deeply

Last Wish: I wish to die knowing I loved and was loved.

She glanced over the paper, then, brow furrowed she asked, "…. 'laugh at your funeral'…?"Slightly taken aback by the notion, she studied him for the answer.

"You'd want someone to disrespect your death as a last wish?"

The intensity of her speech struck him, but somehow, even under the pressure of her gaze, his jaw loosened and he smiled.

"No one seems happy now, the least I could do is ask for some happiness when I die."

She leaned into the desk to speak, but only silent words came, like lost angels into the sky, fleeting from human contact.

At the end of class they'd left each other, but their thoughts continued to overlap. Their lives were now intertwined, she held his joy, and he held her unspoken thought.

As he came out of his thoughts of her, he met the old stone bridge of his childhood and many years before. The sky above it was like the water below, thick and mud-like, churning with impending tragedies.

A clap of thunder hit and he began to run again…faster, faster, until he bent over his front step, panting at the solid ground. For a second he believed he was safe, until he heard it, not a storm, a something that could soak him deeper in tears of fear than nature.

The noise was in the house, a bubbling laugh turned sour. With out warning to his heart, the door flew open.

"Wur is your pa…bu-oy? I …bee-en…waitin', an' I-ee ai-int see-een 'em no wur."

"No ma, I hadn't seen him. Maybe a business trip?"

"Aw-w it ain't no binn-ess tri-ip he jus' gone. O-h well…"

That night, even the thunder couldn't mask the sound of his screams, tearing through parched lips. Tears ran down his cheeks as he ran blindly into the rain.

The feeling in his legs was lost by the time he got to the old bridge. He could hear the creek below whispering in the night. Its voice reached to him, grabbing heart, asking to pull him in. Following the quiet words he reached to stand at the top of the old stone rail. He looked down into the water, praying that there wasn't enough current to carry him down stream. He suspended one of his drenched legs, making way for the leap..

"Stop…please…" The small voice somehow overpowered the rain. The dark angel, lacking only her wings stepped forward, his dear Louisa.

"Please don't." She whispered, but somehow, he heard her. It all flashed through his head, more like photographs than a moving picture: his mom's addiction, his dad's absence, his brother's death…and her…her death. He could like with it all, or rather, with out it all, if he didn't leave now he'd have to live without her, he'd have to lose her. He had so much to gain, why was everything always taken away?

"I can't watch all of this pain…this loss, "he screamed, wet veins rising from his tightened neck.

"Ma hurts herself everyday…it hurts more than when she hurts me. Stephen's dead, like that's big news…but the scars'll never go away. One day, maybe soon….pa'll leave, like he's always planned. An' by then, everyone will know about you, 'cause you'll be gone. You won't tell no one about it…that illness you know you got. But you know they'll take you away, those angels that could never match you perfectly flawed beauty. I love you Louisa…not the love of grade school, but I see your tears and your flaws…and I love you. I don't know how. But I do."

Even through the flying bursts of water, and the looming night, he could see the look on her face. She was white, like a half-opened rose, petrified, but beautiful.

She stood there, frozen in the mud. Then suddenly without warning, she blossomed into the radiance of a smile. He could see her joy, sparkling on raindrops and shining through those falling pieces of heaven. He couldn't leave her, could he?

With the light and the sound of all past wars, both God's yell and his light struck through the storm. The brightness of the lightening left sight without use and the thunder left ears without the possibility to hear.

She looked to the ledge, certain he'd be standing there, drenched to the bone and brimming with newly confessed love. She thought of what would happen when they left the stone marker, how she might tell him how much she cared. But as the night cleared to pure darkness, no one stood on the bridge, no one but the lost boy's angel of the night.

Once again she became stiff, but with no bright side of this shock, other than the lightening, she remained transfixed on the spot where he once stood. For what seemed to be an hour she stayed and let her tears mix with the ones from above. All at once both stopped, and she looked at the moon as it crept behind the quilt of the clouds. She put her head down in his memory and left with only his thoughts. She didn't know how she had come to be there that night, but she came to the realization, that she had come to watch him die. She had no fear now, when she reached the house where she lived, with a smile that was unexplainable, she spread word of her death.

A week later, she wore a dress the color of daffodils and a smile that could outshine the sun. No veil covered her face. She walked to the cemetery and stood amongst those dressed in raven's colors. She looked to the people and frowned at their discomfort, then, she looked to heaven, where he waited, and laughed.