1K Story Challenge: Burdens

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Hey everyone!  This is a short story I've written for Kellyn Roth's 1K Contest.  If you want to enter, check out the details and deadline HERE. And congratulations for hitting 1K followers, Kellyn!!

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Burdens

(c) 2018 by Michaela Bush
            "Mind if I sit?" 
            Kelsey looked up to see the owner of the thickly-muffled voice.  A young man stood in front of the bus stop bench she was on.  All she could see of him were his twinkling eyes; their color indecipherable in the dark winter night.  The rest of him was layered in scarves, hats, and gloves.  He shrugged his shoulders up to his ears as a stiff breeze hit him. 
            "Sure," she gestured vaguely at the spot beside her, then scooted over to make room.  She leaned against the glass side, trying to get as far away from the stranger as possible.  She just wanted to be alone tonight. 

            Actually, that was wrong.  She didn't want to be alone, but it felt like so many things had gone wrong in her life that she deserved it.  And here she was, waiting two hours for the next bus on Christmas Eve because she'd been a few minutes late for the six o'clock one.  I've even screwed that up, she thought.  She grabbed a thick lock of curly black hair and clumsily twisted it around her frozen fingers. 

            The stranger beside her cleared his throat.  "The name's Clyde."
            She snorted without even thinking.  Scrambling to cover it up, she stammered, "Sorry.  That's...an original name."
            The stranger chuckled.  "No, it's fine.  You just seem about a thousand miles away right now, and I thought I could probably shock you out of whatever you're thinking about."

            Kelsey felt her lips shift into a cracked sort of grin – her lips were so chapped they were probably bleeding, too.  "Well, mission accomplished, I guess.  Good one."

            A few cars passed by, their headlights flashing and temporarily blinding them.  Slush on the cold asphalt splashed lazily beneath the tires.  The wind picked up again, silently grasping Kelsey's already chilled torso and digging into it.  She shivered slightly and yanked her thin coat tighter around her.  She sniffled from the cold.
 
            Silence. 

            A few minutes later, the stranger piped up.  "So...where are you headed on this silent night?"
            "South 6th street," she said.   "You?"
            "Uh...home to my parents,"  he seemed confused by her answer.  "Any plans for tonight?"
            "Going somewhere to defrost my fingers," she answered vaguely. 
            "You're a tough nut to crack, you know," he observed.  "Street smarts, I suppose."
            Kelsey hummed in agreement.  No way was she going to blurt her life story to some nosy freak sitting at a bus stop. 

            A sudden rush of traffic passed by, pushing even colder air into the three-sided glass shelter.  She tucked her chin towards her chest and squeezed her eyes shut.  She should've just paid her rent last month instead of bailing her deadbeat roommate out of jail.  The drug charges were bad enough that the girl should've just stayed in the cell.  And today, she'd just been arrested again.  Kelsey snorted as she thought about it.  Seems like a pretty sweet deal.  She gets a warm place to sleep and three square meals.  What do I have?  

            The stranger's hand nudged Kelsey's shoulder.  She jerked back, sucking in a deep, frozen breath in surprise.  When she whirled around to look at him, he was holding out a spare set of gloves. 
            "I always keep an extra pair," he explained.  She nodded and put them on hurriedly, though her fingers trembled.  Whether it was from the cold or from fear, she didn't know.
            "Thanks," she cleared her throat and welcomed the burning that indicated her fingers still had feeling in them after all. 

            "The bus should be coming in fifteen minutes or so," the stranger observed, looking at his watch.  Kelsey's heart tripped as a car swept by and she caught a glimpse of the watch.  It looked so much like her brother's...but that had been years ago.  At least four.  The last time she'd seen him had been just before he left for the Navy at the age of eighteen.  After her brother had left, she'd had no reason to stay with her adoptive family.  Sixteen-year-old Kelsey had run away from home.  The family hadn't done anything wrong...it was just in her blood to run.  That fact of life had been driven into her skull by all the beatings she'd taken by her drunk dad.  Her brother had tried to protect her, but...why bother?

            She felt a hot lump rise in her throat thanks to the onslaught of memories.  This wasn't the first time she'd been homeless; she'd make it.  But part of her didn't want to.  Part of her just wanted to lay down on the salted sidewalk and never wake up.    

            The stranger cleared his throat again, and spoke up with his scarf-muffled voice.  "I can practically hear you thinking over there.  Again.  Pensive, huh?"
            "Hmm," she shrugged her shoulders.  "I guess." 
            "First Peter five-seven."
            "What?"  Kelsey's eyebrows furrowed.  When the stranger repeated it, she blinked a few times.  1 Peter 5:7.  A Bible verse.  Great, now I'll get a sermon, too...she thought to herself.  It wasn't that she didn't believe...not exactly.  It just felt like she'd reached the limits of all forgiveness and didn't want to think about that either.  When was the last time she'd been in a church or even prayed?
            "'Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you.  He shall never permit the righteous to be moved,'" the stranger recited. 
            "You have to be righteous first," Kelsey muttered.  "I don't think I fit the bill."
            "Doesn't mean you can't start."

            Kelsey shook her head, letting her messy hair fall into her eyes.  "My brother always talked about that.  That verse, rather.  And that's a pretty touchy subject for me, so I'd prefer it if you just shut up."

            The stranger did. 

            There was no way God would ever forgive her for messing up her entire life.  Sure, she hadn't done any of the things that her roommate had – taking and dealing drugs were the least offensive acts – but she'd still lived with it; she'd let it happen.  And she'd lost her Bible sometime when she was sixteen and on her own. 

            She hated the stranger for making her think about it – all the ways she was probably destined for a lifetime of suffering and an eternity after that.  Hot anger worked through her torso, and she practically welcomed it – it was warmth, after all. 

            It doesn't have to be this way.  Kelsey looked around, almost expecting the random thought to have been spoken by the stranger or someone else.  But the man was just sitting there silently, and no one else was insane enough to be outside in the cold.  She sniffled and wondered at the whisper of a thought.  Maybe this was some communication, some idea planted by God – that she could always start turning her life around for the better. 

            She took in a deep breath, surprised at how reasonable that idea sounded.  Well, God, if You're still there – if that was You...show me that I can.  Even if I just have a warm place to sleep tonight.  She surprised herself by praying. 

            The stranger cleared his throat, and his leg started bouncing so hard it jarred the bench.  "I said I was going home to my parents.  My parents are Ben and Elissa Howards."

            It would've hurt less if Kelsey had actually been gut-punched by the stranger.  She gaped at the man.  The Howards.  My adoptive parents.  The ones who loved me...the ones I abandoned.  She swallowed hard as she heard the bus approaching.  The headlights caught his face and she finally looked at him in the light.  Mischievous blue eyes glinted at her, and she suddenly reached over and ripped the scarf away from his face. 

            "Luke," she said breathlessly.  Questions flooded her head, but she couldn't say a word for the lump in her throat.  Her brother grabbed her into a tight hug.  

            "I'm home for good.  I came home a few months ago and the Howards said you still hadn't come home.  They told me when you ran away. You remember Kev?  He's in the police force and he told me he had seen you awhile back," he explained quickly.  Too quickly for Kelsey, because she still couldn't believe any of it.   Luke chuckled as he tried to pry her arms from around him.  "Come on, we can't miss this bus!"

            He took her by the arm and led her onto the warm bus.  As he did, he explained that he was going to take her home.  The Howards had her old bedroom ready and were ecstatic.
            She balked.  "No.  Luke, I can't.  I...I really messed up–"
            "How bad?"  Luke asked.  His eyes flickered with concern.  "Kev told me you'd bailed out a druggie."
            "No...not like that.  I never took any."
            "I mean...that's kind of hard to believe, but how did you mess up if you didn't?" 
            "I hurt them, Luke.  I know I did because they tried to contact me and I threw my cell phone away and they were even on the news begging for me to come home–" she sobbed.  "They have to be angry with me."
            "Kels, I've been with them since I got back.  They just want you home.  You should've seen Mom's face when I said you'd been found.  But...before I get their hopes up, I want you to tell me everything.  If you're in any trouble–"
            "I'm not.  I'm homeless now, but...I'm not in any kind of trouble you're thinking about."   She swallowed and then spilled the whole story.  Why she'd left her family, when she advertised for a roommate to help pay rent and how she'd learned, way too late, that she was sharing an apartment with a dealer, how she'd messed up by helping her roommate out...everything.  To his credit, Luke stayed silent the whole time, his arm around her shoulders.  She welcomed the warmth. 

            He was quiet for a long time before speaking up again.  "Kelsey, you're an idiot.  Sorry – but you are.  I know our biological parents really messed you up, but didn't you ever see how much our adoptive ones loved you?  Truly, honestly, loved you?"
            She squeezed her eyes shut.  "I always felt like I didn't deserve it.  Or like the shoe was going to drop sometime."
            "Well, knock it off – ya dingbat," he teased.  "They understand.  But now it's all up to you – whether you accept that love or not.  And I'm not just talking about the Howards, you know."
            It's up to me to accept their love...it's up to me to accept God's love, too.  She finally took a deep breath.  Maybe she could repair all that was broken.  Her tight chest finally unfurled, and she buried her face into her brother's broad shoulder, suddenly feeling the urge to laugh as she thought of something. 

            She'd have that warm place to sleep tonight, too.