The Only Violet Stone

A Short Story by Melissa F. Kaelin
About 7,000 Words

Taylor burst through the door and into the September night, running from the four-story house to her car. The mustard haze from downtown lit up a grey shelf cloud, as it moved ominously over the inner suburbs of Cincinnati.

“Forget her,” Taylor said. She slammed the car door shut and winced as she heard the heavy metal crack against her eardrums. A 1968 Rambler painted olive green with a white hardtop, the car was a borrowed piece of the life she’d tried to leave behind.

As she put the Rambler into gear, she felt the shift of the vehicle against her lower back. The transmission had a tendency to stick, but at least it was an automatic.

Taylor backed the green boat out of the driveway, watching as a misting rain brought out the shine of the surface below the tires. Her sister had just redone the pavement last summer, even though her driveway had shone then too – an impervious black surface gleaming without a scratch.

It was this obsession that was part of her problem. A compulsive attempt to control everything had spread from housewares to human minds, transforming Taylor’s sister into someone she could barely tolerate. Maybe that’s why they fought each time she visited. Maybe that’s why she took so much comfort in living so far away.

Lightning cut the darkness in thick yellow lines, casting flashes of blinding light onto the street at sharp angles. Taylor thrust the car into drive, and bounced in the bucket seats as the antique clunked over the curb. A few drops hit the windshield, quickly turning into sheets of rain, as she raced toward the airport.

Speeding through something akin to a flash flood, Taylor puzzled through a rush of emotions. She didn’t want to be here, but she wasn’t ready to go back to Denver. No amount of time in Cinci could ever shore up the past.

Orange and blue runway lights smeared into streaks in the rearview mirror, and Taylor screeched to a halt on balding tires, to take a ticket from the parking kiosk. She swerved into a diagonal space, grabbed her carry-on bag from the otherwise empty car, and locked up the Rambler. Nearly chucking the keys over the ledge of the open-air parking garage, she decided mailing them back with a letter would make more of a statement.

She clenched the keys against her palm, and jogged toward the airport. She could hardly see through her glasses, as she was battered by waves of rain.

Standing in line at the ticket counter, Taylor was a mess. She’d angrily tossed her short bob of ginger hair every five minutes, and she kept rubbing the circles under her eyes, pushing the blue frame of her glasses so hard against her skin it left a mark.

Behind her, the airport was lined with people aimlessly leaning against the wall. In front of her, nine travelers waited eagerly in line.

A pale man carrying a large, cased instrument on his back turned to face her. He stood well over six feet and wore black gauges the size of quarters on his ears. “Do you know the –”

Taylor looked up at the musician, who fell silent. She winced as she thought about the pain produced by the gaping hole in his earlobes.

His expression faltered with his voice – an instant reaction to her appearance.

“Time?” she said. Ruffling her hair again, Taylor tried to lighten her expression. She didn’t mean to be off-putting, even if she was.

“Last flight out,” he said. “Do you know the last flight out?”

“If I knew, I’d race you to the gate.” She offered a smile. “Think there’s one person in this airport who really wants to be here?”

“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s impossible to get a seat.”

“How long have you been in line?” she asked, genuinely curious. She didn’t know when the red eye left, but whatever time the departure, she was determined to be on it.

“Not as long as you’ve been in the rain.”

“Right,” she said, her voice dripping with shame. Taylor looked down at her clothes, which were drenched from the downpour. For the first time, she noticed how her dark jeans stuck to her curvy skin, the denim heavy with water. It was the same with her shirt, a gathered scoop neck the shade of crimson, and the folds bunched up at the top of her breasts.

Taylor was only a few years out of college, and the man in front of her couldn’t be much older. His head was shaved, but his face was sculpted and his skin looked youthful. He was so much taller than her that she couldn’t tell the color of his eyes. At a glance, they looked dark enough they might have no color at all.

“I never asked for rain,” said Taylor.

The line slowly moved, and the musician took a step forward. When Taylor stepped in behind him, he glanced back again. His expression softened, and he held out his hand. “I’m Jon.”

“Taylor.” She shook his hand, her baby soft skin squeezing the tighter grip. “Nice to meet you. That is, if you’re not from Ohio.”

“No, I’m from Boston,” Jon said. “You live here?”

“I did once,” she said, turning her eyes to the dirt-smudged tile floor. “It’s easy to live somewhere once. Before you watch everything slip out of reach.”

Jon looked down at her, watching as she slid her fingers into her hair and held them there, on top of her head.

Taylor couldn’t look him in the eye. She didn’t dare. She could barely trust loved ones with her emotions, let alone a complete stranger. Her fiancé was waiting for her to return to Colorado, holding down the fort with the cat in their rented one-bedroom.

Taylor was no stranger to airports. She had traveled across the continental U.S. on business for the convention center. The trips never lasted more than a few days, and they were booked back-to-back with meetings and no time for leisure. She was always the fastest through the security checkpoint, and she had gotten taking her shoes off down to an art. She often traveled alone, but never before had companionship taken on so much appeal.

In the moment, she would have done anything to experience the depth of human emotion. Instead, she imagined her sister’s uninspired profile. Shifty shoulders. A motionless stare. Lips turned down at the edges.

It had been five months since Taylor had last found time to visit, flying in from Denver for what amounted to a long weekend. Her job had a demanding schedule, and the visits hurt so much she often used her paid time off on her friends, preferring the comforts of the west to ‘The Heart of It All.’ After all this time, her younger sister’s parting words still made her fume. “It’s not just a fork. We use the same silver every year.”

Taylor adjusted her focus, and concentrated on getting through the line. It was getting late, but there might still be enough time to catch the last flight out to Denver. Eight people waited ahead of her.

“So, you play music,” she said.

Jon, who still seemed curious about her comment, visually shook it off with an odd nod. “Cello,” he replied.

“Nice.” It was then Taylor realized Jon was a few feet taller than his instrument case – the bold black curves standing between them. “Do you play professionally?”

“For the thrill,” he said. “Just one string, and I can feel the sound move deep within me.”

“I used to play,” she said.

“Cello?”

“No, but I played in high school band.” Taylor’s face felt heavy again, her eyes sinking into her cheeks, as she pictured her instrument sitting in her childhood home. The French horn had been her father’s, but it had been auctioned off a month before she came back to Cincinnati. “I’m sure I wasn’t very good.”

“Don’t say that,” he said.

A voice came over the loud speaker, announcing the last call for a departing plane. “Passengers Levi, Humes, and Andersen, this is the last call for 451 departing for St. Louis.”

Taylor feigned a smile for Jon, but she looked anxiously around the airport.

A large woman with a knitted shawl leaned against the wall, flanked by a fat purse and two teenage kids lying on balled up sweatshirts. The woman’s eyes were sunken into her caramel cheeks, and she cast a weary stare across the lobby, looking at nothing in particular. Farther down the wall, a thin man with a wrinkled face rested his pale head on his luggage, dozing just beneath a departures panel.

The stranded masses were a side effect of the heavy rains that had soaked the region, causing flooding in the low-lying neighborhoods of Cincinnati and Louisville, all the way down to Tennessee. Flights had been delayed or canceled for days, some due to the weather and others due to the mass re-routing of planes across the country.

Taylor had been glad for the rain at first. She’d arrived from Denver four days ago, emerging from a late heat wave into the supple, cleansing showers of the Midwest. It’d felt so good to be back, to reunite with family and strengthen old bonds, she’d wished for a month-long vacation. Then, the outpouring gave way to drowning. As flood victims in the Appalachian foothills tried to save their homes, Taylor tried to salvage what she could from the soppy mess of her family life.

The loud speaker sounded again, this time with air travel news. “Attention: The 9:55 departure to Boston has been delayed. The plane will now depart at 7:35 a.m. Monday.”

Jon glanced at Taylor, and she reached up to touch his shoulder. She didn’t know why he was traveling, but he looked disappointed. He smiled weakly, then he shrugged his shoulders.

“Will you have to spend the night in the airport?” Taylor asked.

“There are worse things.”

Jon stepped out of the line, without going too far, and claimed a spot against the wall. He was still within easy speaking distance of Taylor, and she was glad he didn’t leave. Instead of sitting down with the others, he put down the bold, black case. He got out his cello, and balanced it in front of him on the airport floor.

Taylor’s eyes lit up as she watched Jon tenderly handle the instrument, and her chest expanded when she realized he was about to play.

Without making any eye contact, Jon held his instrument in place. He lifted his bow and moved it slowly against a single string. The sound started small. It grew gradually to become louder and fuller, the deep voice vibrating as it moved from the center of the cello to the world outside the instrument. By playing just one string, Jon turned every head in the ticketing lobby. He looked at Taylor, who was struck by the beauty of the string, and their eyes locked.

For a moment, they were both exposed.

Jon bent his head down in a gentle gesture, then he slid the bow across the cello, drawing out a full, vibrant chord. His eyelids lifted for an instant, just long enough to catch Taylor’s reaction, and he began to perform an entire song.

The vibrations stirred Taylor from the inside. At first, she felt hungry. But this wasn’t just any hunger. Although she’d skipped dinner, giving up anything to get away from her sister and her husband, she didn’t need food. She needed something more. The empty sensation started as a rumble in her stomach, then spread to her chest, expanding into every limb.

As the music spilled into her, it shook her body. It shook a void she never knew existed.

Weak with the recognition, Taylor concentrated on the strings of Jon’s cello. Her eyes became tender and moist, letting in more light. She watched as Jon, using his thin, angular fingers, teased the bow in a rocking motion below the tip.

Taylor tried to identify the tune in her mind, never once making eye contact with Jon. It was easy, because he didn’t look up. His attention turned fully to his instrument, as he built the volume in a captivating crescendo.

Up and down the airport hallway, people searched for the music. Travellers who were haggard and strung out put down their smartphones and stopped to listen. A teenage boy with a mohawk started recording the cellist from where he stood on the opposite wall.

Classical music wasn’t part of Taylor’s world, and although she searched her memory for any hint of familiarity, she didn’t recognize the song. She glanced at the faces of the bystanders, watching as the somber melody softened their frowns into resigned contentment. She wondered if Jon had created the music just for them.

By the time he finished – drawing one last evocative chord out of the cello – she was the only one in the airport lobby with sadness in her smile.

To Taylor, the music sang of the richness of life, the way warm relationships lifted people up and made them whole. When the last chord echoed down the halls of the airport, she envisioned the richness being drained away.

“You write that?” she asked.

“You didn’t like it,” Jon said, searching her eyes. “I could play something else. Something more traditional.”

Taylor pushed her fingers through her hair. “There’s no time.”

The line had moved steadily while he played, and only one person stood in front of her. She glanced quickly at Jon, not sure what to make of their meeting. Then two ticket counters opened up.

“Next.” An attendant urged her to come forward.

“I have to – ”

“Go,” he said.

“Miss?” The woman spoke again, trying to drag Taylor’s attention away from him. Her voice whined with impatience. “May I help you?”

“I’m supposed to fly to Denver in the morning, but I need to leave sooner,” Taylor said. “Tonight. I’ll take any flight you have.”

The attendant keyed her request into the computer. “I don’t have anything to Denver.”

“But you must,” Taylor said, pushing up her glasses. “There were at least two flights tonight. I remember seeing that when I bought my ticket.”

“As you can see, we’re a little overbooked.”

“Please,” Taylor said, remembering the storm outside. The last thing she wanted was to be stranded in the floodwaters when they covered her hometown. “Is there anything you can do?”

“Well,” she paused, with a look of irritation. She keyed something else into the computer. “If you’re willing to take a connection through Dallas…”

Taylor didn’t hesitate. “Yes.”

“You need to hurry. It departs in 20 minutes.”

As soon as it was printed, Taylor grabbed the ticket. “Thanks.”

She waved to Jon with her whole arm, and jogged toward the security checkpoint. She slinked into the shortest line, and with a dozen people ahead of her, began taking off her shoes. She held the ticket in between her lips, as she pulled off one of her boots and set it on the tile, so she could remove the other.

Then she heard a stirring stanza fill the room.

Although the cellist was far away, the music reminded her at once of everything she wanted to be, and everything she never wanted to be. She shuddered, and her hands began to tremble. The hunger returned.

Taylor grabbed her boot from the airport floor and pushed her way back through the security line. She dashed toward the exits, passing Jon on the way. She paused for an instant, and he stared at her from behind his instrument, surprise registering on his face.

“I had a ticket out of here,” she said, wrinkling her forehead and brushing her hair back. Somehow, she thought Jon had something to do with it. Like he’d changed her mind.

“You don’t sound convinced.”

“About what?”

“That it’s what you came for.”

“Of course it is. You saw me waiting in line,” Taylor said. “But they want to send me halfway across the country, just for a connection. Three hours in Dallas-Fort Worth? I don’t think so.”

She lifted her arm again, by way of goodbye, this time for real.

Taylor liked Jon. Behind his rough exterior, there was a sensitivity about him. It became transparent when he played music, drawing serenades out of the strings of his cello. He had smart eyes – the kind that shined in five different shades of color – and he seemed to give shape to music the moment his fingers came into contact with the bow. But Taylor had to turn back.

Too much had been left untouched. Too much left unsaid. Storming out on her given family may have been the natural move, but in doing so, she’d made it too easy on them. She’d risked a lot to be here, something they would never understand.

With her carry-on bag slung over her shoulder, Taylor walked back out to the parking garage, where she found that ridiculous Rambler.

Good thing she had the key.

.               .               .

 

Taylor’s hands shook violently.

She drove the hardtop down a pothole-carved road, on the forgotten edge of the city. She turned the wrong way up a one-way street, ignoring the traffic pattern the way people had for decades. Pulling into the driveway, she parked the borrowed car in its rightful spot. She watched through the headlights, as sheets of rain beat against the walls of a craftsman home.

The house was vacant. It stood on an urban hill, flanked by foreclosures. A gaudy red yard sign blocked the view of the wooden door and its gleaming pane of hexagon glass. The shallow deck was stripped of furniture – the wicker table, the old stone goose, the rocking chair. Not a single light shone on the property.

For sale.

The simple notion grated on Taylor, as she thought about all that’d transpired since the spring. It was no secret that her father’s years were limited, but no one could have known her two brothers would die in the car too. With no one left to return home, the craftsman at 118 Lewis Street was forsaken. No one but her sister even had the courage to look inside.

Taylor got out of the sedan and heaved the door closed, pushing against the wind as it sprayed rain on the interior. She stormed past the two-car garage, getting soaked in a deluge of tainted memories. Her heart beat ten times faster than her boots on the cement. The cold water stung her face.

She trudged into the sopping wet lawn, grabbed the yard sign, and chucked it angrily at the blue siding of the house. The heavy sign crashed against the trim, knocking down the gutters, and bouncing back at Taylor, where it splashed into the sludge at her feet. The sale had been thrust upon their family, not an act of intention so much as a rushed attempt to get rid of the vacant lot.

Mud stained the denim up to her knees, and Taylor jerked backward. She stared stone-faced at the scene before her, eyelashes dripping with rain. At a loss of what to think or feel, she looked up into the soaked city light and raised her voice.

“What did I do to deserve this?”

Doubtful there was anyone to hear, Taylor looked back down at the house. She trudged through the submerged grass, and stepped onto the deck, where planks of wood were weak from termites. She tried the doorknob, and finding it locked, looked behind the metal mailbox on the wall.

The hidden nail hung empty.

As Taylor turned to face the street, lightning cracked through the sky. The thunder that followed cut deep into her chest, reminding her how lonely she was in Cincinnati. Even for all the cramped aging streets, it could have been a ghost town.

Her eyes moistened to mirror the surging rain, but she jumped off the deck and ran through the downpour, crossing in front of the Rambler to the far side of the garage. That door was always open.

Taylor burst into the garage, beside herself with shock at the stark contrast.

The flimsy white door groaned, as it led from the sopping wet world outside to a dust-laden shed of damaged goods. Gasping as she wiped a spider web from her cheek, Taylor quickly flipped the switch.

Under the flickering light of a single bulb, bold colors echoed through the room – each one coated in dust. A 1972 AMC Javelin, painted neon orange, faced the garage door, and it stood next to a 1965 Marlin, its fins bright red. Life-sized decals lined the walls, boasting advertising slogans on a patriotic palette of red, white, and blue.

It was a vintage dream. A collector’s haven. Her father’s vault.

Blinking until her eyes dried, Taylor eased slowly through the narrow passageways. An open toolbox dropped from a ledge, pushed by her elbow. The high pitch of metal rang and echoed, as screwdrivers and vice grips scattered across the garage floor. The claws of a tiny critter scampered into the back, and Taylor turned to look. She didn’t see anything, but she brushed her hand through her hair, wondering if the house was infested.

She moved toward a workbench, where old relics were draped in cobwebs and smut. As she bent down to blow off the dust, her jacket caught on a nail. She jumped, tearing the fabric and glancing anxiously behind her.

The air was thick with particles, both real and imagined. The wavering light hinted at something intangible. There was unrest in this place.

Conjuring up the chords from the cellist to steady herself, Taylor took a deep breath of the stale air. She leaned down to the workbench and examined the relics one by one. The music served its purpose, lending her a solemn strength, but the melody in her mind quickly subsided.

Taylor focused on the hodge-podge of trinkets that’d been left to collect dust. She picked up a flat piece of scrap metal and turned it over, finding nothing of interest. Then she pushed the spare bolts and nuts to one side.

Mixed in was a golden ring. She picked up the ring and slid it onto the tip of her index finger, studying the engraved pattern. It was her father’s wedding band. Like so many things, he often neglected the ring, leaving it on the workbench for days even after he was done tinkering with an engine.

As the raindrops dried on her neck, Taylor began to shiver. She wasn’t sure if she was shaking out of cold or out of fear. She rifled through the rest of the items haphazardly, until she found, underneath it all, a letter she had written to her dad.

Taylor’s lips parted.

Tenderly, she opened the letter. She moved her eyes rapidly over the lines, as she tried to gather what message he had saved from her adolescence. Like a taunt from beyond the grave, her youthful demands echoed from a different point of view. She read each sentence slowly, imagining the pen as it formed the words.

Why weren’t you there for me when I needed you most?

Taylor closed her hand over her mouth, as she remembered the brazen things she’d told her father that July.

Working constantly and spending her weekends with friends, she’d taken to writing her dad letters on occasion – most of them inked with the utopian dreams of unblemished youth. The pages out of a 16-year-old’s life usually spoke of relationships, stories of a camp counselor, or plans for college and beyond. But that summer, Taylor and her father had a falling out. She’d run off with a man six years her elder, who took advantage of her audacious spirit. Her father, once he learned of their indiscretions, had never forgiven her.

The crack in the relationship only widened with time, as Taylor realized that she had never really belonged in her family. She turned the loose-leaf paper over to read the back, the sound of rain on the ceiling adding a percussive beat.

I don’t understand what happened to us.

Like floating particles in a sunbeam, the words seemed to rise off the page.

Taylor thought for a minute she could hear them, spoken from somewhere in the room. She pushed the paper down on the workbench, holding it there with her palm. She twisted her body, gazing into the corners of the space. Then she whispered.

“Dad?”

Her call to her father was more like a call to herself. The words inked into the paper filled her with shame and regret. Taylor had long given up on finding love in her family. She had moved over 1,000 miles away, which to her parents, was an impassable chasm.

One day, she would stop trying to show them what they were missing. She would let the divide stand, a line drawn in the city streets somewhere between Cinci and Denver.

The family dynamic became so toxic – even before their untimely death – that her own fiancé had demanded she cut them off. Taylor had railed against him at first, but the truth was gradually beginning to set in.

There was no love here. Not anymore.

Eager to get out of the garage, Taylor picked up the letter one last time. The flickering light played at her nerves, and she heard the scampering of more tiny claws. But she finished reading her own writing. To the last line.

It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean anything.

.               .               .

Taylor pushed to the other side of the garage, and tried the door to the house. She could see her childhood home through the square window, but she was locked out.

She searched her memory for hidden spots where she might find a key. As she scraped at cubbies on the wall, she found nothing. Thunder stuck outside, and a flash of lightning lit up the garage. Something mechanical groaned near the back wall.

Taylor panicked. She grabbed a crowbar off the shelves, and thrust it against the glass window. The glass shattered into pieces, just as thunder clapped above the house.

Taylor dropped the crowbar and reached her arm through the broken glass, unlocking the door from the inside. Without thinking, she pulled her hand back through. She winced as the shards gouged her arm.

Inside the house, Taylor felt light-headed. The dust had agitated her eyes, and hunger pangs reminded her of the emptiness in her belly. From the streetlights, the trees outside cast violently moving shadows onto the mixed-use carpet.

Overwhelmed by the scent of tobacco and lavender potpourri, Taylor leaned against the wall in the vestibule. She slid down until she could touch the carpet with her fingertips. Still in the dark, she clutched her bleeding arm and closed her eyes. She didn’t know why she had come. Only that she wanted to find the two violet stones.

Quivering, Taylor stood up in the dark room.

As her eyes adjusted, she got the vague sense that the place had been ransacked – treasures claimed and heirlooms rifled through. What was left, the unwanted refuse from years past, had been dropped and abandoned on the floor. She reached her good arm out to turn on the light.

Instantly, she wished she hadn’t.

In the room where she played as a child, the shelves were emptied and the cabinets flung bare. The random items that littered the floor sat beside large trash bags, waiting to be discarded. Like scratched asphalt or a tarnished silver spoon, the vacant craftsman home had been given over to the control of her sister, who had rarely set foot in the house as an adult.

Taylor’s eyes welled up, as she stepped tenderly over the rejected items. The dollhouse her father built. The jewelry box her mother gave her. Two Pinewood Derby cars carved and painted to race regulations.

Taylor rushed to the side of the room, grabbing every empty trash bag and tucking them under her arm as she went. She tripped over something hard and tall, and thumped to the ground beside the memory, the crinkled bags billowing into a black cloud in front of her face. She reached for her glasses, which had fallen beside her, and flattened the black to the floor.

The carpet reeked of cheap lavender, transporting Taylor to the days when she’d slept in this home. Even more transporting was the bronze statue before her.

At 12 inches tall, it was her brother’s trophy – the one he received for Best of Show in the model rocket competition. She remembered the 12-year-old’s raised eyebrow, as he grinned at her from the stage at the Ohio State Fair. They’d built the model rocket together. Then he entered it into state competition, taking all in the solid fuel rocket category.

Taylor got to her feet, kicked the billowing bags, and grabbed the trophy off the floor. This wasn’t garbage. The only garbage was the idiot who thought he could throw away her brother’s proudest moment. Who was he to pass judgment? What did he do to the rejected creations? Where did he toss the trashed victories?

The violet stones.

Taylor’s mouth tightened as she jogged deeper into the house, running down the dark hallway, to the room her brothers shared growing up. It was unthinkable that they died so young, but they still had a legacy to leave behind.

As she passed through the house, Taylor noticed the emptiness, the dust-covered void in each room. She panicked, dropping the foot-tall trophy somewhere between the back coat closet and the bathroom door.

When she reached her brothers’ bedroom, she gasped. The room was stripped bare. The bed was gone. The trophy case was gone. The dresser. The nightstands. The lamps. Everything gone.

Immersed in the darkness, Taylor shuddered. She let out a yelp when she heard the storm pick up outside. Thunder boomed just as lightning flashed – showing the empty bedroom in a stark white light.

In the harsh light, Taylor saw a pile of items that’d spilled out of the closet. She brushed her fingers through her hair and got down on her knees, trying to see what was spared in the dark. She moved her hand through the cold odds and ends, mostly small trinkets that had been left behind. Then she bit her lip.

Taylor pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and shined the blue-tinted screen down onto the pile. In the eerie light, she could see the pocket-sized stowaways. There were pencils, crayons, marbles and string. A Swiss army knife. A few PEZ dispensers. A pack of chewing gum, half-eaten. A digital wristwatch.

Taylor looked closer. She boosted the brightness on the device.

“Please,” she whispered, near to tears. “It has to be here somewhere.”

She pushed her hand through the pile, wincing as each new touch of metal, plastic or cloth brought back a different memory. She spread the items out and tried to sort them visually.

Then she reached her hand into the closet, hoping to discover more.

Finally, her thumb brushed past something firm and jagged. She grasped it with her palm and held it tightly. She skimmed the pile with her other hand, until she found the match. Taylor had been tense for so long, she’d nearly forgotten to breath. But with one in each fist, she sat up and leaned against the bedroom wall. She took a deep breath.

Taylor could almost feel her pupils expand, as she held up her fists and opened her palms under the storm-lit night. When lightning streaked across the sky outside, her eyes focused on the two quarter-sized amethysts.

Two violet stones gleamed in the darkness, their jagged edges pure white.

At once, a torrent of memories flooded through Taylor’s mind. These stones, they meant something. They were a promise. They were a symbol of an older sister’s strength for her younger brother. Two sisters. Two brothers.

Holding the stones delicately, Taylor pressed them both against her lips. She closed her eyes.

A playful breeze blew across the Ohio River, on a beautiful day in May. It stirred the sunlight that burst through the Aspens and the Elm trees, softening the view of the riverbank. Fresh cut grass and flowering trees scented the normally stale Cincinnati air. A few fluffy clouds dotted the afternoon sky, and the river reflected a shade of baby blue.

The boys chased each other down the riverbank, shooting wads of paper at each other with makeshift slingshots. They stumbled and laughed. Then they turned around, waiting for their sisters to catch up with them.

The four had set out on Cinci that morning, visiting the zoo, the botanical gardens and Union Terminal. They’d gone to the Hard Rock Café for lunch, squeezing in every stop they could. Then they went to the rock shop, a few miles outside of the city, so the boys could check out the new store.

When Taylor had found the amethysts that afternoon, she was enchanted. The stones represented inner strength, peace, and protection. She told Jamie what she’d learned, and they decided to surprise the boys with their very own violet rocks. They waited until they returned to the riverbank.

“Guys, come here,” Taylor called. “I’ve got something I want to show you.”

“What is it?”

The bolder of the two came running down the riverbank, where he jumped on a rock ledge and stood taller than his sisters. His brother, stalling, came strutting up behind him.

“Open your hands,” Taylor said.

“Why?”

“Listen to your sister,” Jamie said.

“Just because! Open your hands.”

The boys exchanged glances, one a few inches taller and a few curls shaggier than the other, and they cautiously held out open palms.

“A rock!”

“Not just any rock,” said Taylor. “This rock is special.”

“What is it?”

“An amethyst. An amulet of protection and strength.”

“Can we keep it?”

“Always,” Taylor said. “It’s a promise. That we’ll always be there for you. Right, Jamie?”

“That’s right.”

“It’s our secret stone.”

Leaning against the bedroom wall in the dark, the stones came to life in Taylor’s palms. They warmed from the touch of her lips, their jagged edges reminding her that some things in life were still natural. Some things held intrinsic value.

She lowered the stones and smiled, as she remembered the way her brothers’ eyes had lit up that day. They beamed, as if they had been made members of some secret club or granted some secret power. They accepted the amulets and carried them proudly. Two Cincinnati string beans nearing the end of their youth, they even walked a little taller.

A loud holler sounded from the hallway.

“Hello?”

Confused, Taylor tried to snap out of her reverie. She whispered. “What the –”

“Is somebody here?” The woman called. It was Jamie’s voice.

Taylor moved to get on her feet, but she struggled as marbles and pencils rolled beneath her boots. She held tightly the two violet stones.

“I heard that,” the woman said. “Is somebody here? Show yourself.”

On her feet, Taylor turned around in the dark. She brushed her fingers through her hair. She had no idea why Jamie would come to the house in the middle of the night, but she didn’t want to alarm her.

“Is somebody back there?” Jamie’s voice, filled with fear and contempt, called out one more time. She was closer to the bedroom now.

“It’s me,” Taylor replied.

Jamie went silent. She turned the corner, and shined a flashlight into the bedroom.

“Taylor?”

Taylor squinted as Jamie shined the flashlight right into her eyes. “I was just leaving,” she said.

“What are you doing here?” Jamie asked, appalled. “I thought you were flying home.”

“So did I…”

“I thought maybe you dropped off the car and called a cab,” she said. “How did you get into the house?”

Taylor winced, reminded that she bloodied her arm on the window between the house and the garage. She touched the fingers of the other hand near the wound, holding her arm below the elbow.

“What happened here? Was there a burglar?” Jamie was aghast. She shot an accusatory look at her older sister, two years apart, demanding an explanation. “Taylor.”

“No –”

“Your arm!” Jamie gasped. “Did you call for help?”

“It’ll be fine,” Taylor said. “Besides, I didn’t think you’d be here.”

Jamie looked away.

Taylor perceived something in the air. Something unsaid floated between them, veiled by the sound of sheets of rain. She watched as her sister glanced toward the rocking chair, lain carefully with a book and a silk-edged blanket. The blanket had belonged to one of the boys, but the Precious Moments doll was new.

“There’s just one thing I wanted,” Taylor said.

“The estate sale is over,” said Jamie. “We’re getting ready for the auction. We have so much work to do, you can’t just come in here and take stuff without telling me.”

“You know me better than that,” Taylor said. She spoke in a soft but firm voice. Then she gestured toward the doll in the rocking chair. “Besides, it’s not like I’m adding anything new.”

Her sister’s eyes darted across the room. Jamie turned her back on the rocking chair, putting the scene of a bedtime story behind her, and she faced Taylor fully.

“Let’s not do this right now,” Jamie said. She fidgeted and gazed at the doorway, ashamed at having been caught there alone.

“I’m not asking for much.”

“Can we talk about this stuff in the daylight, please?”

“Stuff? This is more than just stuff,” Taylor said. She’d had it with her sister’s constant need to control the house and the contents inside. “You can’t just throw everything away. Not everything in life is disposable.”

“We have to throw things away,” Jamie said, throwing her hands up in exasperation. “What other option do we have?”

“This house just isn’t good enough for you anymore, is it?”

The question caught Jamie off guard. For a brief moment, a silence fell over the sisters. They stared at each other while the thunderstorm gained strength outside the windows.

Taylor thought for a moment, wondering if she’d been mistaken. “Or do you come here more often than I think?”

“It’s too late for this,” Jamie said. “I’m going home.”

Jamie turned away from Taylor and rushed down the hallway, headed toward the front door. Taylor tightened her grip on the stones, and followed her sister until they emerged onto the porch outside. Sheets of rain drenched them both, as the storm raged on.

Jamie hurried through the front yard, making strides toward her SUV, and Taylor chased close behind.

“What about the stones?” Taylor asked, lifting her pained voice into the chilly night.

Jamie turned around in the center of the soaked lawn. “The what?”

“Don’t you remember? Or have you already forgotten?” Taylor held out her palms, watching her sister’s eyes bulge under the reflection of the streetlights. “The amethysts. That day on the riverbank.”

“What about it?” Jamie’s voice was steeped in defensiveness.

“That day, we made a promise to the boys.”

Jamie grabbed one of the amulets out of Taylor’s hand.

Taylor watched, her eyes wide, hoping her sister would reach into the past and retrieve some part of her gentler, former self. While the sisters stood there, this time exposed to the elements, the heavy rain gave way to hail.

“This?”

Taylor bent her head slightly to study her sister’s expression in the mustard-lit night. Mixing in with the rain, quarter-sized hail spit down from the sky.

“This is just a rock,” Jamie said. She flipped the stone onto the ground. Then she shrugged. “It’s time to move on.”

Taylor’s heart sank. She glared at her sister, who returned an icy gaze, if only for a second. Jamie hustled toward her SUV, getting in and slamming the door shut. She turned on the car and pulled out of the dilapidated driveway, speeding away down the street.

Standing alone in front of the abandoned craftsman, Taylor’s eyes welled up with tears. They slipped down her already soaked cheeks.

Taylor dropped to the ground and slid her hands over the muddy grass, grasping at pools of submerged earth. Hailstones scattered across the yard. Taylor picked up one hailstone after another, the ice melting against her skin. She crawled through the puddles, searching for the lost amethyst.

The storm didn’t let up. Soon, hail the size of golf balls started pelting the sunken lawn.

“Damn it!” Taylor shouted, chucking an ice cluster at the road.

Feeling the sting of the hail against her scalp, Taylor got off the ground. She jogged to the porch, which was slightly shielded from the rain. She sat on the weak wooden planks and leaned her head against the old house.

Aside from sniffling in the cold, Taylor grew quiet and still.

She held one amethyst tightly in her closed fist, afraid to loosen her grip. She closed her eyes. She pressed the amulet against her chest, remembering what life was like with her brothers. A sensation of warmth moved through her. It awakened her, flooding her mind with rich memories.

The fullness of the moment transported Taylor back to the ticket line. A single chord vibrated inside her. The music of Jon’s cello filled her mind, reciting a familiar melody. The deep sound of the strings shook her chest, moving her to a physical cramp that defied words. The empty sensation returned.

Taylor looked out into the storm. She lifted the amethyst so that it was level with her eyes. Then she turned over the marbled stone, noticing the opaque quality of the pure white edge. She peered into the base, watching the translucent purple as it glimmered against the streetlights.

Taylor remembered the light that glinted in her brothers’ eyes that day on the riverbank. All of a sudden, she could feel their touch and see their smiles. She could hear the boys’ laughter as they raced along the river. A change came over her.

Even though so much had been lost, her brothers’ amulet captured the light in the darkness. In the palm of her hand, Taylor held a vivid, shared memory. Like a secret power, their energy flowed into her. It started in her stomach, then it spread to her chest and expanded into every limb. She would carry this with her forever.

The only violet stone.

.               .               .

About the Author »

© Copyright 2016 by Melissa F. Kaelin

For more updates about my writing, follow @mfkaelin on Twitter or Melissa F. Kaelin Art on Facebook.

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