Dress warmly, the text read. So she had.
Kacey shivered slightly in her navy parka outside the winter carnival's Polar Maze, a snow-packed engineering achievement by the Darkwater Fire Department. At the entrance, two of Darkwater's firefighting finest sat in parkas, a donation-collecting gum boot on a card table in front of them.
What am I doing here, Kacey thought. Do I really think I can make things right?
"Hi!" One of the firefighters spoke up. "You look lost."
Kacey gave an embarrassed smile. "No, not lost. Waiting on a friend."
"You're not Kacey Brighton by any chance, are you?" the firefighter asked.
"Uhmmm- yes?" Kacey replied.
"We have something for you." The firefighter produced a slim package. "Your friend Sam asked us to give this to you," she said, holding out the package.
Surprised, Kacey accepted the parcel. "Thank you." She read the tag taped to the Santa wrap.
A little breathless, she separated tape from paper, careful not to tear anything. Inside she found a Hershey bar (no almonds), a five-dollar bill, and a note:
Fiver's for the boot
Enter the maze...
If you dare!
Kacey smiled; her first since coming home two days. Some things may have changed, but Sam's sense of humour hadn't. Still- the way things were left when she'd departed for university- things had changed. Kasey felt a too-familiar pang of guilt.
She slid the chocolate into her pocket and dropped the money into the boot. After reciprocating thank-you's with the firefighters, she entered the glittering labyrinth, heart heavy with trepidation.
The world fell into a surreal hush as Kacey wandered the crystalline maze; it was as if she'd stepped into the borderland between reality and dreams. She meandered through corridors and blind alleys, the labyrinth mirroring her own thoughts, and the damage she'd done.
Three and a half months. A heartbeat in the span of Kacey's eighteen years, yet a millennium since she'd last seen, or even spoken to Sam. Until tonight.
Kacey hadn't known what to expect when she came home for winter break. Her Mom- not Sam- had picked her up at the Darkwater Drugstore, which doubled as the Greyhound depot. Two days passed without a word from her childhood best friend. Two long, guilt-ridden days.
Then the text. Meet me at the Polar Maze at the carnival tonight. 7 PM. Dress warmly.
As if nothing had changed. As if Kacey had never abruptly kissed her best friend in the drugstore parking lot before mumbling "Sorry" in shame and horror at what she'd done, fleeing to the safety of a Greyhound, and in turn, the anonymity of a university campus.
The guilt had followed Kacey, nevertheless. It rode next to her on the trip to the coast and trailed her through dormitory halls and into lecture theatres. Sam had called- and texted. Kacey hadn't answered, afraid of Sam’s rebuke. Voicemails were erased, unlistened to; texts deleted, unread.
Eventually, Sam stopped calling.
And now, Kacey thought, here I am wandering a snowy labyrinth, preparing to say goodbye.
She turned a corner and stopped. At the end of the corridor stood a snowman dressed in firefighter's garb and wrapped in coloured lights, a sign reading Happy Holidays stuck to its front. On the brim of the snowman's helmet sat a small box wrapped in Santa paper. A box with her name on it. Taking it down, she unwrapped it carefully, revealing a box of graham crackers.
What are you up to, Sam?
Kacey contemplated what the gifts meant. Daring to let a little hope in her heart, she tucked the box into her parka and continued on. It was another ten minutes to the exit; a figure waited for her there.
Sam smiled, long dark hair spilling out of the hood of her hot pink parka, a sharp contrast to Kacey's own blonde curls.
Kacey's heart caught in her throat. Shame filled her- and desire. She struggled to suppress the latter.
They stood for a long moment, gazing at each other. Kacey broke the silence. "Sam, I am so sor-"
Sam stopped her. "Kacey, please. Don't be sorry. There's nothing to be sorry for."
"But I-" Kacey reached for the words. "I..."
"Kissed me?" Sam grinned. "You did. About time, too."
Kacey blinked, confused. "I- don't understand."
"Kace, I've wanted kiss you for years. Since sixth grade, in fact. You just...weren't ready. Yet. To be honest, I was about to give up. And then- that day you got on the bus..." Sam's cheeks turned extra rosy.
Kacey stopped. "Sam, I am so sorry. I- I ghosted you. I was so scared I'd made you mad or upset or- or I don't know-"
"Shut up and kiss me."
She did. They did. There was no hesitation. Not in the way their lips melted together, nor in the way their tongues danced.
After an electric eternity, they parted.
"I can't believe...it's been over three months..." Kacey said.
"Hey, I've been waiting for over eight years," Sam laughed. What was another three months?"
Kacey smiled sheepishly, then remembered the odd parcels she'd been collecting.
"Hey- what's with the graham crackers? And the Hershey bar?" She held the blue cracker box up.
"Those-" Sam announced, "-are to go with these." She reached into her parka and pulled out a bag of marshmallows. "Do you remember the first time we met?"
"Uhmm- yes," said Kacey. "Grade three. We were in the same class, but we didn't talk until- the winter carnival! We ended up sitting up beside each other at the Morelli's bonfire to watch the fireworks, and we made-"
"S'mores!" Sam and Kacey exclaimed together.
"I've got two seats reserved at the Morelli's bonfire, tonight. Great view of the fireworks. What do you say?"
Kacey beamed. "I say I can't think of any place I'd rather be.
The two wandered hand-in-hand across the carnival grounds, settling in at the Morelli's bonfire to watch fireworks and steal marshmallow kisses by firelight.
About the author
A dabbler in Flash Fiction, Coyote O'Reilly loves the challenge of writing stories in 1,000 words or less. Coyote also loves experimenting w/ different genres, from Romance and Romantic Comedy, to Science Fiction, Fantasy, and even horror.