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Mon Oct 18, 2010 11:42 am

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The sun’s reflection off the tracks caught Ellie’s eye, and she realized she better get home because dinner would be ready soon. She didn’t know why she always gravitated to the old railroad bridge anyway. Maybe she just liked feeling connected to another place or another time. Maybe she was hoping he would be there today... but he’s never there so why is she always still so stupid? Maybe she was hoping that a train would come and barrel over her as she stared at that beam of light on that beam of steel beneath her feet. But that would never work out. Ellie Jacobs could never let anything be her fault.


Three months earlier, Ellie sat cross-legged on the hood of Nathan’s rusty Mustang. He had bought it from a hoarder down the street who finally remembered it was lying dormant in his yard under a moldy pool cover. Ellie hated it: the musty smell and the spring that always caught her shorts when she sat next to him, but Nathan fell in love with the car the minute he laid eyes on it. A 1966 antique bronze colored Mustang--and while it was actually antique now and the bronze had turned to rust, he didn't care. It had the wood panel interior and a big old bench seat that was almost certainly rare for even the oldest ponies. He could picture himself with one hand on the wheel and the other across Ellie’s shoulder as they cruised up Route 23 to get to where the city lights couldn’t reach.

And there they sat, Ellie posing as an ornament on his hood, staring up at all the stars. “I wish I could see this many stars at home,” she spoke out loud to no one in particular. Nathan hummed some kind of non-response and walked back to the trunk. “I got you something,” he said, and her eyes shot straight to his. “I’m only seventeen, you know,” she said. “Don't make me run away with you”. He returned to her side and leaned against the hood with his back to Ellie, trying not to give it away. “Oh, well I’ll just take this back then, if you want to play hard to get,” he joked, and flashed the cheesy grin that stopped her heart when she first saw it over a random shoulder in History class last Fall. “Okay, okay, just show me what it is!” Ellie finally gave in. He swiveled on his heels to face her and put out his hand, showing off a crumpled envelope with her name written on it so tiny she could barely read it. He thought that was so funny all the time. “You wrote me a letter?” she asked, half excited, half disappointed. “Open it,” he reassured her, and she took it from his hand. Ellie slid her finger under the seal and ripped it open as too many thoughts sped through her mind. But inside was just a bright, clean penny and a note. “Heads or Tails” was all it said.

"You're such a tease, Nate," Ellie cried, trying to decide whether she was angry at him or just confused. "Well? Heads or tails?" Nathan replied calmly, and Ellie sighed "Heads" as she tossed the penny in the air. He reached out and grabbed it before she had a chance to see it land, and when he dropped it in her open palm she saw that it was different. "Be Honest Ellie" was written on the backside of the coin in sharpie. She guessed his knack for writing tiny actually helped for once. "Oh, you said 'heads'" Nathan chuckled and flipped the penny over. This side said "FOREVER?" Ellie breathed "Of course" and closed her eyes to get a kiss, but Nathan took the hand out of his worn jean jacket pocket and slipped a ring on Ellie's finger just to spite her. They spent the night laid out on rust, whispering to each other, and counting each and every star that they could see.


"I hate you, Nathan Ridgeler," Ellie cried as she sat down on the tracks. "You left me here alone. I thought we said forever." And she thought she'd sit forever, pondering, avoiding real life, but the wind picked up so much she had to walk just to keep the feeling in her toes. She knew it was such a bad idea to be wasting all this time here that she almost thought she heard her mother's voice calling her to dinner. No doubt, her mom was loud, but even that booming voice couldn't carry all the way down here. And maybe that's why Ellie liked it. She could be alone with just her memories.

Ellie walked on, and was drawn to that sunbeam on the tracks; an affliction that she had for all her life. Her memories were filled with thoughts of sunlit shapes through windows. She never really knew what or when they were, but they always left her longing for all the warmth that she remembered. A sudden flash of Nathan's warm hands as he slipped the ring onto her finger. And then the fear that gripped her when she touched them for the last time, cold and empty with a rosary tucked where her hand should be.

Tears welled up in her eyes as she neared the strange reflection. Today she'd let herself reach it, she decided. She couldn't be so close and still avoid the truth. There was a penny flattened out across the tracks, and she ignored the roaring whistles that screamed at her from behind as she read the word "FOREVER" etched on the faceless Honest Abe.



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