Barlow Jackson didn't know how to stop Pet's tears. All he could do was continue to hold her until the tears ended.
Breaking up was so very hard to do.
Especially when the breakup involved lifelong childhood sweethearts, two kids who had grown up together as next-door neighbors. As little tykes, they splashed in the same mud puddles. In first grade they walked hand-in-hand to their school bus stop. In middle school Barlow protected her from bullies, and she had given him his first kiss. Then, in high school, she had given him everything else and they became inseparable.
Pet wanted to keep in touch. They could call or text each other every day, but Barlow was pragmatic and understood the reality of the situation. After tonight, they would slowly drift apart, and there existed the very real possibility they would never see each other again. Saying those words out loud was what had led to Pet's tears.
"Don't even think like that. We were meant to end up together," she had said before collapsing into his embrace and sobbing.
Pet would be starting university in the fall. Barlow knew she would accomplish great things in her life. She was intelligent, yet down-to-Earth and beautiful. He was proud of her.
Barlow was just a C student who had a crappy home life. His future was doubtful at best. Their paths were about to diverge, their destinies no longer compatible. If he were selfish, he could ask her to marry him, but he loved her too much to hold her back. Pet needed to be set free.
It wasn't easy though. He hurt too. She was going far away, so he also needed to leave Perry County behind and get away from everything that would remind him of her. Except Barlow knew he could never forget her, his Pet, his best friend and lover.
To counter Pet leaving for university, he had enlisted in the Marines and was Parris Island bound. Who knew what would happen to him if he ever saw combat?
Pet pulled from his embrace and stared into his eyes. He admired, probably for the last time, the light dusting of freckles across her cheeks, the way her nose crinkled when she laughed, her hair the color of corn silk, and her scent.
Her nose started to run from all the crying, and in that instant, Barlow recalled with fondness seeing her often that way as a little girl.
His heart felt as if it would shatter, but he kept a brave face. For her.
Using his shirt tail, he wiped her nose. She emitted a nervous giggle. "You take such good care of me. Who's going to do that now?"
He dropped his gaze. Time to go, because he wouldn't be able to hold it together much longer. "It's late. I have an early flight."
Pet said nothing. She wiped her eyes.
He embraced her one final time. When they separated, he kissed her forehead, turned, and walked off her parent's porch.
Neither of them said goodbye.
Half past midnight and Barlow decided to walk home on the footpath along the Juniata River. He could've taken the road, it being a shorter route. His house and Pet's were the last two located at the end of the rural road, so privacy wasn't an issue. He just needed to be alone to decompress from their farewell.
The full moon guided his way, the August night warm. After finding the forest-lined foot path, he walked slowly, not wanting to trip over the numerous tree roots looming as obstacles. The smell of pines and the gurgling river current usually calmed him, but he was too distraught tonight.
In the distance, Barlow made out the hazy outline of an old weeping willow tree that served as a landmark. The township road made a sharp turn just on the other side of the willow. He got to the tree and stopped, having second thoughts.
YOU ARE READING
Ripples in the NightMystery / Thriller
High school graduation and an unsolved murder rip apart childhood sweethearts Barlow and Pet. Ten years pass and they get a second chance to rekindle their romance. When they team up to solve the murder, the killer resurfaces bent on parting them ag...