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In Between Moonlight and Memories

by Kelsey Syble Barcomb 4 months ago in Short Story · updated 4 months ago

That's Where You'll Find Her

PROLOGUE

There's a metaphorical place some people visit, but few ever live there. In the beginning of Jack's life, he only lurked. But after his girlfriend of five years left him without warning, Jack practically purchased land and built a home in the In Between.

Surviving on the cusp of love and hate, joy and sadness, commitment and chaos, the In Between was where Jack felt he belonged. Not even the warmth, brightness, and love from a new woman could change his mind.

For a long time, Jack saw only Abigail in his dreams; only thought of her when he wasn't distracted by his mundane routine or the various women he kept on rotation. In one memory, he was drunk with her in her college dorm, enthralled by her body and mind. In another, he was completely shattered as a cold-faced Abigail walked away, leaving him behind forever at the airport.

But now he is haunted by the images of a woman he met while in between. These days, he sees only Cassie dancing in her satin white dress by the lake in bright moonlight, and the brown paper box she left behind.

***

"When are you going to do something with your life?"

Jack ignored his father's drunken question as he hurried down the stairs of the home he'd lived in since birth. Without a glance, Jack passed the old man, who stood in their foyer holding a glass of Scotch with an expression of disapproval painted across his face.

"Don't wait up," Jack said as he always did. He lifted the Porsche keys from the hook by the door, then slipped outside into the humid night.

"You can't live off your trust fund forever, son!" his father bellowed from inside the house. Jack could still hear faint shouting even as he revved up his car.

Five minutes later, Jack was carefully parking his pristine white Porsche in the grass beside Cassie's dented, cherry-red Civic. At exactly 10 P.M., Cassie was on time as usual, sitting on a blanket by the lake in their spot. Just through the trees, Jack could see her with her knees pressed to her chest as she stared at the glistening water, dark hair tumbling down her back.

Cassie was gorgeous, tall and lean, and curvy in the hips. Yet Jack would never admit that sometimes he got off most on how devoted she was to him. Cassie could never say no to Jack, and they both knew it.

"Hi," Jack greeted her with a smirk.

Cassie looked up at him and smiled softly. The moonlight reflecting off the lake cast a spotlight across her face, and her emerald eyes sparkled. "Hey."

Jack lowered himself beside her, and then roughly grabbed her hair, kissing her before she could say anything else. She put a hand to his cheek and laid on her back, pulling Jack on top of her.

"Tell me you want me," Jack murmured at one point into her neck as he reached up to grab Cassie's hand, the one she'd placed on his cheek, and fiercely put it behind her back.

"I want you," Cassie replied breathlessly into his dark hair.

"Yeah?" Jack hovered over her for a moment, their eyes locked in lust. As usual, Cassie's eyes were filled with something much deeper. Jack pretended not to notice or care, but for once, he felt an ache in his chest.

***

"How's Skippy?"

Almost immediately after they'd finished, Jack reached into the back pocket of his jeans to pull out the joint he'd wrapped before driving to the lake. Cassie was still on her back, dazed. Jack slid into his boxers and then put on the remainder of his clothes. He tapped Cassie's shoulder and held the joint up. She opened her eyes, nodded at him, and then patted the grass, searching for the cotton black dress she'd worn earlier.

"Skippy's still kickin'," Cassie replied, knocking her bare shoulder against Jack's playfully. "When are you coming back to visit him?"

"I told you, you're too far away."

Cassie blinked at him, then pulled her dress over her head. She lived thirty minutes away, only ten minutes longer than the time it took for Jack to reach his best friend's townhouse.

Jack avoided her gaze as he pulled his lighter from another pocket. He turned to Cassie and pressed the joint to her lips. She breathed in, held for a moment just as he'd taught her, then turned to blow a cloud out into the darkness.

"You wouldn't have to come as often as you did before," Cassie said gently.

Jack rubbed his eyes, as if this stressed him. "We've talked about this."

"We have," she responded quietly.

Suddenly his phone buzzed. Jack glanced at the screen as he took a drag from the joint. A text from a friend simply said, "We still smoking tonight?"

"Hey," Cassie said suddenly in a brighter voice, "how's your book coming along?"

"It's not," Jack said. "I haven't been writing much lately."

"Oh, why not?" Cassie asked, sincerely concerned.

Jack shrugged, wishing she would stop looking at him. "Just haven't."

"I really think your story is special."

Jack glanced at his phone. It was now 11:05 P.M.

"Wanna dance?" Cassie asked excitedly.

Several months ago, they'd met at a bar in downtown Atlanta. Cassie had been drunk out of her mind, dancing sexily on the bar top with the female bartenders like they were filming a scene for Coyote Ugly. Jack and his friends were buzzed, having just started the night, but he couldn't take his eyes off her.

In the beginning, they'd spent every weekend dancing together to EDM in Cassie's apartment, while sharing their trauma and secrets. Cassie consoled Jack when he spoke of how trapped he felt by his parents' expectations, which differed vastly from his dreams. Jack held Cassie while she revealed how lonely and lost she truly was, with no family or friends to count on.

Cassie lived alone with her fluffy dog, Skippy, the only remnant she'd kept from her divorce. Although Jack and Cassie were both born and raised in Georgia, Jack grew up in a wealthy suburb of Atlanta where education and accomplishment were rewarded more than marriage. Cassie grew up in a tiny rural town hours from the city, where the culture was quite the opposite. She'd married in college at twenty, and divorced a year later. She no longer spoke to her parents, ex, or anyone from the town where she'd spent her childhood. Now she was twenty-seven, a year older than Jack. By day she worked in an accounting office in downtown Atlanta. By night she was an aspiring poet who danced at underground raves, on bar tops, and by the lake in moonlight.

Jack partied too hard at a college in California, and flunked out. He returned home to take classes at the local community college, but never graduated. At the insistence of his parents, he began working odd jobs for months at a time each, while claiming his dream to be a full-time author was the only job that mattered. Then one day, he met Abigail...

"No, I gotta get going." Jack stood up now, shaking off the memories of a ghost he'd rather forget.

Cassie remained seated on the blanket as Jack left her behind. She wasn't sure how long she sat there, staring at the moon's reflection in the lake as memories of the old Jack swirled in her head. Time seemed to morph and blur together. Hours later, she ended up at an underground rave on the outskirts of the city, dancing alone. Men approached, and while she let them buy her drinks, she made her escape each time they turned their backs.

She couldn't wander blindly again. Wandering had led her to Jack, after all.

***

Jack didn't text Cassie for two weeks. It had been their longest time apart since they'd met eight months ago. Cassie couldn't take it, and sent multiple frantic texts until he called.

Jack sighed when she answered. "We can't do this anymore."

"Why?" Cassie's voice broke.

Jack was silent for awhile before replying, "Tonight, our spot, same time. Be there."

Cassie arrived at 9:50 PM. She laid the blanket in the grass sloppily, every nerve ending in her body on fire. She paced around the lake impatiently, her white satin dress glowing under a perfectly full moon. Around 10:25 PM, she played music on her phone's speaker, and began twirling around the lake.

When Jack finally got there at 10:48 PM, he looked tired yet determined as he approached Cassie, who was still dancing by the water's edge. At first, he just stood there, watching her.

"Dance with me!" Cassie called out giddily, motioning for him to join.

Jack smiled faintly. He grabbed her outstretched hand, pulled her body into his, and swayed to the music with her for a few minutes before pressing his lips against hers urgently.

Cassie couldn't resist his spell; her desire for him pulsed through her veins. Together they slipped in between delusion and reality.

When it was over, he immediately got dressed and stood to leave, telling her this was the last time they'd ever see each other.

"Wait, we aren't going to talk about this?" Cassie cried out as she rose to her feet, still in her dress.

With his back turned on her, Jack sighed, as if she were a child. "If this were a healthy situation, you wouldn't be upset that I'm ending it."

"I tried to end it before, but you wouldn't let me," Cassie said in a low voice. "Remember? You said you knew it'd be good for me if it ended, but that you were selfish-"

"Cass...."

"-and you needed this. Well, what about me! I need this now!"

"It should just be a hookup."

"It is!" Cassie shouted.

"You're in love with me."

Tears poured down Cassie's cheeks. "No, I just need you to be my friend again. Why can't you just be my friend, Jack?"

Jack narrowed his eyes at her. "Friends are there for each other in their lowest moments. The truth is, if you called me in a moment of need, I would not do anything to help you. Is that what you wanted to hear, Cassie? That I've been keeping you around for sex? Did you want me to admit that I don't think you're worth the effort of friendship?"

Cassie took a step backwards, her bare feet skimming the water. "But we connected. I felt it. You cared about me. I-"

"Why are we still talking about this?" Jack shook his head, agitated. "BYE!"

Neither one of them moved. His face softened when he realized she was crying.

"It's just that I have to get to the gym..." he started to say.

Cassie pressed a hand to her cheek to wipe her tears before saying in a trembling voice, "You are a broken person."

Jack laughed. "Oh, am I? Well, you're completely crazy."

But for once, she was the one walking away, leaving Jack behind to drift in between moonlight and memories.

***

EPILOGUE

A few months later on a Tuesday morning, Jack came downstairs to find a brown paper box waiting for him on the table, its return label from New York. He didn't think much of it as he unwrapped the box and lifted the lid.

Inside was a piece of paper and a red lighter he'd left behind at Cassie's. In careful cursive, the paper read, "I'm sorry I couldn't be her. But thank you for letting me go, or I would have loved you forever."

He stared at her words for a long time, gripping the lighter painfully in his fist.

That night, when he closed his eyes, he expected to see Abigail in the airport. But now all he could see was a lake, a full moon, and a girl dancing in a white dress.

Short Story

Kelsey Syble Barcomb

A Southern born-and-raised writer now navigating her twenties in the Northeast. Visit me at kelseysyble.com and follow me on Instagram and Twitter: kelseysyble

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