written from #3 of The Mysteries of Harris Burdick
with thanks to wgosline
Jessalyn was climbing on the big rocks.
“You aren’t worried you’ll spoil your dress?” Stephen asked.
“Naw. well—” Arms out, she navigated the spine of a granite boulder. “Dad started to say something, and then Rajni said it was fine.”
“So they’re just getting married at your house? This afternoon, no church, no nothing?”
“Yup. Just the man from city hall and us.”
Stephen considered the rocks at his feet. “Are you even going out to dinner?”
“Nope. We’re just having a thing and then we’re cooking chicken vindaloop. Raj is just wearing pants but she said I could wear the dress since it was so pretty.”
Stephen found a chip of rose quartz and pocketed it. “So… they don’t have any guests?”
“Her parents are still in Boston. I tried to tell them about you but they said it was just family.”
Stephen let his shoulder lift and drop. Boston. Boston. Boston would take Jessalyn, and there would be no more afternoons on the rocks. He blew on a twig until it grew wings and darted away.
Jessalyn stood, hands linked at her front, looking out over the water.
“You wanna make a log fly?”
Stephen shook his head.
“I don’t feel it.”
This morning he had woke before the dawn and rolled over to look out the window. He could see a corner of Jessalyn’s house, the white clapboard and the blue shingles, and the elm where her tire swing swung from. He felt if he looked hard enough, he could melt the walls see-through, and then she could look back. But she was probably asleep, everyone was asleep but him.
Jessalyn’s mouth worked, turning down a little at the corners. She was thinking.
Excitedly, she turned to him. “How about you make two of me! Then one of me can go to Boston, and one of me can stay here with you!”
But even as he thought what a wonderful idea it was, Stephen realized he wouldn’t be able to do it.
Gramma had said it best: “Stephen, you’ve got the hands of a wizard but the heart of a 73-year-old tax lawyer.”
Stephen had magic in his fingers but he was too practical to implement things on his own. How could you levitate the bed when you knew very well that solid objects obeyed gravity?
Jessalyn ground her heel into the rock.
“You know my uncle told me something,” she said. She picked up a smooth, flat rock and held it out to him. “if you can skip a rock all the way out to the end of the world, you’ll never be separated from the people you love.”
He studied her. “Is that really true?”
“Sure it is. C’mon—” she dumped the rock in his hand.
Stephen stood at the edge of the water and hefted the rock. Feeling the weight, the balance, finding the right place to grip it. He sighted along the horizon, where the water became a dark blue line, and took a shot.
The rock took three skips and sank.
“Darn.” Jessalyn shaded her eyes with her hands. “I guess you need practice.”
Stephen stared at his empty hand.
“Nevermind, here’s a better one.”
She dropped a bit of limestone with a white line of quartz cutting through the center into his waiting hand.
Stephen took his time making the shot. Conditions had to be perfect.
Fifteen great skips. Gramma had taught him how to skip, and she was the best around. But then a bass breached the water, mouth open for a mosquito, and swallowed the rock.
“Mulligan,” Jessalyn said faithfully.
Stephen asked, “how many rocks do I have to skip? If I skip a thousand and only one gets through, does it count?”
“You just need three rocks.” Jessalyn sounded so solemn and calm that he really did believe it. “even if just one gets through, you’ll get your wish.”
“I thought it was about not being separated.”
“If that’s your wish.” Jessalyn looked behind them, at the houses. “it’s getting close. I wish I could stay out here all day.”
Stephen didn’t dare hope. “Can you?”
“No. first they have to get married and then we have to eat.” Jessalyn’s tone plumped with excitement. “Then she’s gonna show me how to do my hair!”
“Wow,” Stephen said, “neat.”
He stared out to the river, she at their houses.
“When I’m gone, I’m sure you’ll do lots of cool things. Maybe you’ll make the mountain into a sleeping dragon. Or…” she craned her head to look at the sand. Ants were making a tidy black line by her feet.
“Maybe,” Stephen said.
She didn’t get it. No one did. Stephen was blessed with everything except imagination. He needed other people to make it work, because his head was too firmly lodged in reality.
A brown silhouette detached from the white house. Her call did not carry all the way to them, but they could both unmistakably see the figure waving.
“I gotta go,” Jessalyn said mournfully. She looked to Stephen, as if awaiting a cue. Stephen lifted a hand, didn’t quite wave, and dropped it. Jessalyn skipped back up the rocks, climbing like an experienced mountaineer. Stephen waited for the last one, and then struck. Jessalyn leapt down and drifted, ankles together, skirt billowing out like a dandelion puff. She looked back and laughed. Her hair blew like brown snakes around her face. Stephen left it a few seconds more, smiling broadly, before he returned her feet to earth. Jessalyn walked just as fast as before, racing to throw herself into a new life.
Stephen combed the shore. There were too many that were almost right, but unbalanced, or smooth except for one point. It had to be perfect.
There was a shiny black one, black and round like a UFO. Stephen looked at it in his hand, wished magic into it.
Please, he thought, please, for me. Just this once.
He sighted along the horizon. The rock felt good on his palm.
He turned his ammo over and over in his hand. Planted his feet, squared his hips, and sighted.
Jessa, Jessa, Jessa, please.
He threw with all his might, but the third stone came skipping back.