“Adam, wait!” I tried to snatch the paper back.
He smirked as he looked down at the page. His eyes widened as he read, and his smile disappeared. Adam clenched the paper in his fist, and I withdrew.
“I can explain I-”
He interrupted me by taking me in his arms. “Never believe a word you wrote on this paper, do you hear me?”
“You’re not useless, you’re not a burden, and you’re never alone. Do you understand me?”
Tears welled in my eyes. “Yes, I do.” I took the paper back from him. “This time is was an exercise I wanted to try, writing all this down. I was going to tear it up later.”
He stiffened and bowed his head. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have taken it.”
“No, it’s okay. I’m glad you know.” I took his hand, and we both sunk onto the couch.
“Do you really believe all that?”
“Sometimes I do.” I uncrumpled the page, scanning the words again. “Sometimes I feel like I’m trapped in my own mind, and I wanna escape it all.”
He shook his head. “No, not escape, fight.” Adam squeezed my hand. “And you’ll have me to help you now, right?”
A few drops fell when I nodded. “Right.”
He dried my tears, stood up, and offered his hand. “Come with me.”
I took it, and he led me down the hall to his room. He opened the door and uncovered the painting of the candle that’d burned him when he revealed his ability.
He took the paper from my hand. “Let’s see if this works.”
I caught his wrist before he could touch the paper to the canvas. He held my hand there, and we fed the paper to the flame together. As the flame devoured more of the page, sparks etched out each heavy word.
The burden of each word withered and burned away by the fire of our will. Ghosts of smoke held their place for moments longer before the trails twisted and drifted into oblivion, leaving nothing but the ashen memories at the base of the candle.
“Thank you, Adam, for everything.”
“That’s my line. Where would I be without you?” He kissed my forehead. “You’re everything to me, and you never have to be alone again, okay?”
I smiled and pressed my lips to his. “Okay.”
“Good, now close your eyes.”
“You’ve got secrets now?”
I felt him leave my side and return a moment later, and he placed a box in my hand. “I think you’ll forgive this one.”
My eyes glanced down at the small silver box and back up at him. He nodded, and I opened it to reveal a necklace with a feather pendant. He stepped behind me to clasp it, and the feather fell above my heart.
“Am I forgiven?”
“On one condition, you can’t be mad at me.”
He raised his eyebrows, and I gestured for him to wait. I ran to my room across the hall and retrieved a matching box. When I reappeared with it, Adam’s eyes widened. I pressed it into his hand before he could say anything, and he opened it to reveal the same necklace.
“I got it for you after we tested the feather painting.” I helped him with the clasp. “There’s more underneath the lining.”
He lifted the liner from the box and plucked a note from the bottom. He unfolded it, and his eyes flickered over the words.
Let your burdens be light as a feather and your passions be effortless as its journey through the wind.
“Beautiful.” He embraced me once more and his lips pecked my cheek.
When he released me, he grinned and turned so he could rummage through his supplies.
He found some tape and stuck my note to the corner of a blank canvas. “Inspiration.” He glanced at the clock and froze. “Shit, we’re gonna be late!”
My head whipped around to read 9:15 off the clock, and we sped into action, running to the living room to throw on our shoes and coats.
I grabbed the keys off the end table and ran out. “Lock the door!”
He twisted it and followed behind me as I slid into the driver’s seat. He rounded the passenger’s side and jumped in, slamming the door as I pulled out of the driveway.
“No land speed records, just get us to the center in time, alright?” He buckled his seatbelt as I drove.
“We’ll get there in one piece, Adam, don’t worry.”
Green lights permitted us easy passing through traffic as I pushed the speed limit. I cursed stop signs as I forced the car to slow to a pause before continuing on. We turned the corner into the lot and found the first open spot.
“We’re a minute early. Lucky day!” Adam grinned as he slid out, opening the truck to grab his supplies.
I grabbed my bag and shoved the door closed. We jogged through the lot, keeping an eye for vehicles on their way own. When we reached the door, we kissed each other and separated, walking down either hallway. I reached room 107 and pushed the door open to a dozen wide-eyed little faces staring up at me.
“Hello, Miss Ellie!” The greeting came in a chorus.
“Good morning, I’m so sorry I’m a little late, but we’ll get started right away.”
The children took their seats, and I shuffled to the front of the room. All at once each child began their chatter.
“I know you’ll like my story, Miss Ellie. It’s about a knight who slays a dragon!”
“Mine’s about a princess with a magic garden!”
“My story has scary clowns that ruin Halloween!”
I settled in my chair and gestured for their silence. “We’ll try to get to everyone who wants to share. Then you’ll all give your stories to me and we’ll start our next activity. Sound good?”
They nodded and starting raising their hands to be picked first.
“Logan, let’s start with you.”
The boy stood at his desk and began his tale of a brave knight who’d fought his way through a dragon’s den, so he could reach the princess trapped inside. Just as he saw her, however, the injured dragon reappeared and attacked the knight, ridding him of his sword. The princess reached the weapon now close to her and heaved it at the dragon, piercing its heart and killing it. Logan emphasized the amount of blood with flowing gestures and sound effects. When he finished, he sat down and waited.
“I thought you said the knight killed the dragon!”
“Yeah, no fair! How come the girl got to kill it?” Voices spoke from behind Logan.
“I couldn’t give the best part away, could I? I wanted to surprise you!”
“Clever thinking with a twist at the end, Logan. You have an excellent story!”
The remarks quieted after I complimented him, and other students raised their hands to move onto their stories.
Ashley told her story of the princess who discovered magic in her garden. Her plants continued to grow, even when it wouldn’t rain for days. Her family urged her to keep the garden a secret, otherwise, villagers might steal the precious crops. When drought took hold of the kingdom, the princess’ family insisted she keep the crops for everyone inside the castle. She agreed, but snuck out late at night, harvesting seeds from the plants and giving them to the farmers. When the king caught word of this, he was furious with his daughter and threatened to kill the new crops himself. She reasoned this helped the kingdom and its people, but the king wanted the power to remain in the family. The princess begged for her father’s mercy, sacrificing her enchanted garden to save theirs. She watched as her father slashed her beloved garden. When the villagers heard of her deed, they portioned parts of their fields to her, giving her flowers and crops in secret in return for all she’d done for her people.
The others groaned at the mention of the evil king and applauded the princess for her selfless acts.
“Great job, Ashley! A perfect lesson.” I checked the time. “It looks like we only have time for one more.”
A chorus of “aww” swept the room.
I nodded to Tyler. “You said your story has a Halloween theme, right?”
He nodded, and I motioned for him to read. Tyler described the Legend of the Clown curse, where every Halloween, bullies would turn into frightening clowns with sharp teeth and bloodied faces. They roam about town smashing decorations and scaring others with their horrendous appearances. Children hid in their homes, stashing what candy they had in the deepest corners of their rooms, hoping to wait the night out. When the clowns sought him out, he pleaded with them, insisting they’d done enough harm. Their only response had been the word “candy”, which everyone had refused them as punishment. The boy went up to his room and grabbed the bag from his closet, meeting the cursed bullies on the porch. He portioned the candy out, leaving none for himself. The clowns stared at him, and their bloody, make-up covered faces began to change. The curse lifted and the bullies returned to normal. Instead of taking the candy for themselves, they split their portions with the boy, opting to enjoy the sweets together.
“That’s dumb! Why didn’t he keep the candy?”
“He wanted to stop the cursed boys from ruining everyone else’s holiday, right?”
Tyler nodded and sat down.
“All three of the stories we’ve heard today have something in common: lessons. As your homework for next time, I want you all to think about the lessons each story taught you and write those down.”
The children packed up their folders and notebooks, leaving their stories on their desks when I dismissed them. I gathered their papers and packed up, switching the lights off and locking the door behind me. I met Adam near the front door, watching as the children flooded out to meet their parents.
“How’d your class go?” A supervisor waved me over from the welcome desk.
“It went better than I could’ve hoped. I have some brilliant young minds.”
“I’m glad to hear that. You know, the children love seeing you both. Have you considered a full-time position?”
I bowed my head. “I’m not sure I’m qualified.”
Adam came up behind me. “Qualified for what?”
The supervisor smiled at him. “A full-time position here at the center. The children love having you both to teach them.”
“What do you think, El?”
“Listen, how about I let you think it over and you can give me your answer when you’re ready, okay.” The supervisor smiled at us before she headed toward the other teachers to help them prepare for the afternoon.
Adam and I wandered to the car, placing our materials in the trunk before getting in the front. I pulled out of the lot and gripped the wheel as I drove home.
Adam placed his hand on mine. “What’s wrong?”
“What if I’m not good enough to handle this?”
“None of that now, you heard what she said. The children love having you around.”
“But Adam, what if they get sick of me?” I shut the car off when I pulled up to the house.
“Never gonna happen, trust me.” Adam took my hand as we walked inside. “Come on, you can help me think of ideas for my new painting.” He winked as he walked me down the hall.
“Hang on, let me toss these on my bed.”
I took his coat and slipped mine off, opening the door to my room. I threw them on the foot of the bed and picked up a hair tie from the nightstand, tying my hair back into a loose ponytail.
“Hang on, I’m coming!” I fumbled with the tie to twist it and thread my hair through so it would stay.
I bolted into Adam’s room. “What’s wrong?”
He pointed to a canvas. “Look.”
I stepped beside him and gasped. The canvas with my note attached displayed a feather shaped to complete an infinity sign as the words from the paper had woven their way through, twirling about the canvas in my own handwriting.
“Looks like you didn’t need me after all.”
“I didn’t do that. I couldn’t have.” Adam stared at me then touched the canvas. “I can’t believe it’s real.”
He led my hand to the canvas, watching as the words rippled and bent to my touch, only to right themselves again when I moved away.
“I don’t understand. All this from one little note?”
“A beautiful piece of art. Now you have a painting to go with it.”
I glanced at Adam. “You’re the artist. I just-”
“Have a wonderful way with words.” Adam found some spare notebooks in his pile of supplies. “Now, get going!”
I raised my eyebrows. “What are you talking about?”
“If a note can do that, then imagine what a full piece could do!”
I stepped back. “Adam, I can’t! What if-”
“Ah-ah, I’ll help you, remember?” He sat me down on the floor in front of another blank canvas. “One word at a time.”