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Always Watching

By Kelly BelmontPublished 4 months ago 4 min read
Runner-Up in The Aquarium Challenge
Photo by Jéan Béller on Unsplash

Elias stares at the ground as he walks. He always has. Everyone tells him not to. Not only is it bad for his posture, but it's dangerous. He is constantly running into people and things. Just now, he would have walked into traffic if a car hadn't honked at him. I'd like to say I would have grabbed him before that happened, but I know I can't do that. I can't get that close, no matter how much I want to.

I follow him as he skirts through families and school groups heading for the entrance. He doesn’t approach the ticket window. Instead, he opens an app on his phone and allows the employee to scan it. This wasn’t spur of the moment, I realize as I jealously eye the bouquet in his other hand. Yes, this was planned out well in advance.

I should have guessed by how he was dressed. He'd traded his normal cargo shorts and graphic tee for khakis and a button-down. He still hadn't brushed his hair. The cool breeze of a Georgia spring had tousled his curls just how I like them. I want nothing more than to run my fingers through the wild mess, but that’s impossible.

I have to quicken my pace to keep up as he moves through the exhibits. His legs are so much longer than mine, even if I were walking right next to him it’d be hard to match his stride. I cast a glance at the signs above. We’ve bypassed some of the more popular attractions. The underwater tunnel, the dolphin show, the otter experience. We pass all of them. I try to stay as close as I can so I don’t lose him. A large display ahead tells me exactly where we’re going. Predators of the Deep. Floor-to-ceiling viewing windows. Five different species. The largest collection of sharks in North America.

Elias had wanted to be a Marine Biologist when he was little. Sharks had always been his favorite. On a school trip in 5th grade, he’d spent the whole afternoon telling me about sharks. I went home that night and memorized as many shark facts as I could just so I’d have something to talk to him about. It wasn’t long before I’d convinced everyone I loved sharks just as much as he did. It was easy to fake when he was so excited about them.

Today, though, that excitement is missing. As he watches them swim, I watch his face. It's cold and emotionless. A blue shimmer danced across pale skin. An occasional shadow is cast as another shark glides by. I can't remember ever seeing him this detached. Finally, he moves away from the tank and crosses to a bench in the viewing gallery. Just as I wish I could move out of the shadows and take the empty seat next to him; he places the bouquet there. The flowers. I’d been so busy watching him I’d forgotten about them. My palm itches at the sight. I’ve never wanted anything as badly as I want those flowers right now.

Elias turns and keeps his attention on the tank, his hand eventually leaving the bouquet. Maybe if I'm quick and quiet, I can take them without him noticing. The flow of visitors to this exhibit is light but steady. If I'm careful I can get right behind him. It takes some work. Shift left with this group. Duck behind this family. Avoid being run over by a stroller. Finally, I'm right behind him. I'm so close I can smell his shampoo. My hand shakes as I reach for the flowers.

Suddenly, Elias stands up and I dive behind a group of teenagers. My heart is pounding in my head, I watch as Elias wipes tears on his shirt sleeve. His hand doesn't move toward the bouquet. Instead, he turns leaving it on the bench as he walks away.

As the exhibit clears, I move towards the bench and sit down. I finally get a good look at the flowers: purple calla lilies, my favorite. My hand trembles as I reach for them. I hold my breath. I’m going to get a bouquet from Elias. They’re going to be mine.

I feel a fuzzy, static feeling as my fingertips pass through the bundle of green stems. It feels like my hand has fallen asleep. No matter how I try, I can’t pick up the flowers. Thick tears roll down my face as I curl up on the bench. The flowers are right in front of my face. I can smell their perfume. I can see the subtle fade of the petals as they reach the stem. I can clearly read Elias' tiny print on the card. "Miss you," it says. But I can't pick them up. I can't even touch them. Five years in a row, and I still can't touch them.

Short Story

About the Creator

Kelly Belmont

I have been writing for more than 20 years. Fantasy, Mystery, Romance, Children's, YA, Adult. I've dabbled in a bit of everything. My daily life is spent as a wife and training coordinator for a finacial institution.

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