Our Newest Contributor, Ella! Her story, "Thrive"
Hey guys, your old buddy Mike here giving his editor's 2 cents. I met Ella at a comic con here in Fredericksburg. She's a writer, too and I love finding young people who are as into writing as I am. She even came to visit me in Woodbridge on free comic book day!
She's a pretty good writer, too. AND she's still in grade school! Check out her story Thrive.
When you are born in a rich home, things that normal people consider too expensive or too gaudy look absolutely gorgeous to you. There is absolutely nothing you cannot get or a place you cannot go. You grow up having the idea in your head that you could get anything you every wanted just by asking or more often times begging for them. You get the ideas that you are higher above everyone around you, that you are more important, you deserve the best, and that you are special or perfect. You have this desire of longing that can never be filled. A determination that you need this money to survive to thrive, that you lose your hold on reality. That’s why most billionaires end up killing themselves because of one of two things: 1) their money is gone and they have nothing left to live for or 2) they finally see that just because you are rich doesn’t mean you are very important. I learned these truths years ago after my mother killed herself. After the funeral and that certain period of time you go through thinking that it was your fault or that you could have saved the person, we found her suicide note. For some reason, she decided to put it in my room between a wall and one of my many shelves of art supplies. I only found the crumpled piece of paper while I was having a melt down and started throwing my stuff all over the room. I remember sitting on my blue bed sheets wherever there was not stuff thrown on it, and read the letter.
My dearest Lauren,
I’m sorry that it had to end this way. My life just didn’t seem worth living anymore. The money, the fame, the ‘life’ that your father and I have set up just all of a sudden seemed fake. This life that we live is only a dream. Riches are not what we think they truly are, having money and popularity is just such a burden and I see that now. I am leaving you this note because out of all the people in this household, you have the strongest will to survive and pull through this and find the reality in this big fantasy. Every time I step into your room and I see all of the drawings that you have painted in the wall or that are drying on a canvas, I see the potential you have of creating something worthwhile. I look and see someone I could never return to or for that matter become. I see to free spirit in you, the determination to help others and the stubbornness you probably get from your father, but most of all I see the love that you have so never quench you little light. So my Honey Bee, find out that part of life I am missing and whatever you do, do not lose hope.
I Love you forever,
That’s when I opened my eyes. I was laying down on the plush bed on the yacht feelling the gentle sway of the boat beneath me as I laid there on my back. I was facing the ceiling and held my mother letter close to my chest, unconsciously rubbing slow circles on the old papery surface. For the past two years I have read this letter to myself. Every time I do a tear always manages to escape. Ever since finding her note, I have tried everything I could to figure out what it was she meant by ‘finding the part of life she was missing’. I went to numerous places to find the answer or at least part of it. I went to monasteries in the United States, to the Plum Village in France, to Dhalasia, India, to almost every sparsely populated isle or meditative hot spot I could find. But I could still never find what I was looking for.
However, even when my original intent proved unfruitful at each and every site, I did not leave without a new determination or skill to put under my belt. In the jungles, I learned to hunt and the practice of medicine using only the things around me. On the islands I learned to fish and care for nature, hoping to find a way through the many situations that I know that I will face as I try to find the answer my mother desperately wanted me to seek.
I moved my hands from the middle of the letter and used my right to grip it and my left to prop myself up. I gingerly placed the parchment I onto the nearby night stand and sat up more using the head board to support myself. Raising my hands to my face, I wiped the remaining tears from my cheeks and let out a shaky sigh. ‘Everything is gonna be okay.’ I’ve been telling myself this for what felt like years. And every time I say it I know in my heart that eventually it will be.
There was a gentle knock at the door and I turned my head in that direction, thinking as to who it might be when a quiet but masculine voice spoke through the thin wood.
“Lauren? You up?”
I mentally put a face to the voice. It was my brother Alec. He was tall and lean, but so were most nineteen year olds. He had a darker completion than most of the people in my family, but that was not really noticed. When anyone looked into his deep brown eyes, most would think that he was a very quiet and reserved man.
He is the exact opposite.
Most boys don’t talk as much and remain to themselves, but not Alec! He could talk up a storm when he needed to be quiet and go all kinds of quiet when we needed his opinion. For some reason he was just the, well, opposite of what you would expect from his 6’ 2” frame.
There was another rap on the door, taking me out of my stupor. “Lauren? Hello?”
I shook my head, then raised my hand to run my fingers through my long dark hair. “Yeah, come in.” The door swing in softly and in walked Alec. He had to duck under the door frame to avoid hitting his head. I smiled slightly as he walked over and plopped face first onto the bed, his weight making me jump and the bed creak in protest. He moaned into the cotton sheets before turning his head to face me.
“Hey. You were missed at breakfast this morning. Is everything okay?”
His brown eyes met mine and watched me. I nodded.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Just a little tired I guess.”
Alec snorted, then rolled over onto his back faced the ceiling. He placed his muscular arms behind his fuzzy head and sighed,” You always say that you’re okay when you are obviously not. I don’t understand why you have to be so difficult when all you gotta do is open up to someone.”
I leaned forward and ruffed his tight black curls on his brown head. “Why do you talk so much and ask so many questions?”
Alec looked at me from the corner of his eye, and made on exaggerated face. “At least I talk. You are always either in your room or in the world somewhere, eating grasshoppers or drinking lotus juice in the moonlight.”
I laughed, “You really think that’s all I do! I talk just not as much as you do, motor mouth!” Alec sat up putting a mock expression of hurt on his face, but he still couldn’t hid his smile.
“Wow! You actually said more than two sentences! And LAUGHED! Next it’s gonna start raining money and I’ll do the Irish Jig! Seriously though, if you actually talked more then I probably wouldn’t have to do all the talking.” Alec’s face softened. “Are you coming up for dinner? Because if you don’t I will personally sling you over my shoulder and carry you to the table.”
I rolled my eye and snorted before mumbling, “If you can pick me up.”
I looked back at Alec and saw the evil glint in his eyes. “Is that a challenge?”
I scooted off the bed and away from my brother with an expression that could kill.
“You. Wouldn’t. Dare.”
Alec got up and started toward me, a devilish smiled slid across his face and he lunged forward picking me up and slinging me over his shoulder like I was a doll. I squealed and felt his shoulders shake with laughter under my stomach. “Alec! Cut it out! Put me Down!”
This only had him laugh harder, his deep voice echoing throughout the room. “I asked if it was a challenge, you doubted me, and here we are.” He said swinging his right arm wildly and supporting me with his left. I pounded on his back to no avail as he laughed at my dismay. He turned toward the door and ducked again while maneuvering to make sure that he didn’t cause me to hit the door sill. I squealed and he ran up the stairs two at a time and open the door to the deck. As he walked, I could feel the sway of his hips. He was a lot stronger than I originally thought if is able to carry all 120 pounds of me. The sun had set hours ago and now the eerie glow of the moon illuminated the deck. As we passed I could see my reflection off the yacht’s windows, I looked at the girl staring back at me. She was thin and as Alec walked, her long dark hair swayed in time with his movements. Her eyes were a stormy grey and gave a lovely flash of color to her light brown skin. I blinked my eyes and she did as well, it’s hard to believe that that was actually me.
I looked away from my reflection and out onto the open sea. The dark waters drank in the moon’s white light. In the distance, a storm was brewing but it was a great while away and we would most likely pass it. I felt Alec’s muscles tense as he shifted me a bit on his shoulder and opened the door with his right hand. I squirmed, trying to get out of his grip. After all, I did NOT want to moon our father! We already have the one outside, so I highly doubt that he wanted to see two tonight. He chuckled at my useless struggle against his strong grip. He continued down a long hallway, making a left under the dim light of the lamps in the boat. There were several paintings adorning the walls within the chamber. Some of the paintings where ones I had done, like a sun rise I walked out on one morning after taking a refreshing shower. The early dusk still showed but the bright colors of the coming dawn seemed to be in a constant struggle for power with the sky. There was another picture on the far wall I painted of our father, he was standing at the bow, the wind blew through his salt and pepper hair as a hint of a smile touched his dark lips. The sun was setting filling the sky with a large display of oranges and yellows and reds. My family always loved my pictures, so whenever I had one that they truly loved they would even frame it one the walls.
We made another left, then a right turn before coming to a stop in front of a burgundy door. Now I actually punched my brother. Striking his back and kneeing him in the chest trying desperately to get free.
“ALEC! LET ME GO!!”
Alec was laughing harder than he had done all day most likely and moved forward a bit to prevent some of my plows from striking him.
“Oh my gosh,’ he wiped a tear from his eyes,’ I should have done this years ago!”
I screamed and felt his weight shift to open the door. I squealed and fought harder, but to no avail. Alec was still laughing when we entered the room. Someone cleared their throat, causing Alec to stop misstep and I went completely still on his shoulder. I heard a squeaky sound from the left corner, or Alec’s right, followed by faint footsteps. Alec straightened as a tall man came into my line of sight behind. He was like a said tall, but not as tall as Alec who had an inch or two to him. The man’s skin was a dark leather brown, which caused his gray eyes to shine. His face was angular with thick eyebrows, lips and a slightly wide nose. High cheek bones set his face with a delicate balance. He was actually kind of handsome to most women, but to me he was just my dad.
He smiled at me, a chuckle shaking his broad shoulders. “I see that Alec has got you in a bunch. It is good to see you Lauren, about time you actually came out of your room.”
I drank in the sound of his deep voice, only a father could have one like his. Full of patience and love, but one that can be stern when need be. I pouted and my father laughed a more, his smile growing wider. “Alec, put your sister down before she skins you.”
“Ahh, but dad do I have to?” he asked turning his head to show the pouty face he wore.
My father rolled his eyes and smirked,” Yes. Unless you don’t want me to help you when she is throwing things at you in the kitchen. Let’s see, what did she throw at you last time” My father raised a hand and stroked his short goatee in mock thought.
Alec grumbled, “A steak knife”
“And where did it almost end up?”
Alec shivered under me, “In my head.”
“Very good! You remember! Now put your sister down.” Dad winked at me and I couldn’t help but smile. Alec sighed as he bent his knees slightly and placed me on my feet. He stepped to the side quickly, but not before I punched his arm.
“Ow!” Alec winced ribbing his arm. “What was that for?”
“Picking me up and carrying my like a toddler across the entire freakin’ yacht!” I punched him again receiving another wince.
I smiled,” Just because I felt like it.”
My dad laughed and walked over to his seat at one of the three chairs around the table. Alec and I followed, then took our own seats. Once we sat down, my dad picked up a bell and rang it slightly. The shrill cry hurt my ears. Then the butlers and the chef stepped out all of whom were wearing white. As the soup was placed before us, the man who was serving me, knocked my spoon off the dish underneath the bowl. We both moved to get it, our hands touching. We looked up at each other, our eyes meeting. The boy, or man actually, was maybe a year or two older than me. He had bright green eyes that seemed to glow in the room’s dim lighting. His tanned skin was warm under my fingers and bits of his floppy brown hair fell into his eyes. I wanted so badly for this moment to last, but he looked away breaking the connection and muttered his apologies before picking up the spoon and walking away.
I sat up and watched him go and winced in sympathy as the head chef smacked him in the back of the head. The man disappeared behind the double doors, then reemerged a few moments later with a clean spoon in his hand. I took the spoon from him and as our hands touched I could have sworn I felt a small shock go through my system. Our eyes met again, but only briefly as he turned away and back up against the wall next to the entrance of the kitchen.
The chef straightened and cleared his throat loudly, gaining our attention. “Well, now that the disruption is over,” the chef turned his head around and glared at the waiter,” I will introduce you to this very delicious dish. Today’s menu is a true taste of summer!” The chef’s pale cheeks glowed an amazing shade of pink under the dim light. From the corner of my eye, I could see Alec trying his best not to laugh and my father barely concealing a smile that was slowly spreading across his lips. I looked back at the chef and a huge toothy grin was plastered onto his face. If I hadn’t known him for so long, I would have thought that he looked like the Joker! But, he had that jolly smile on his face that would make you almost want to do anything he says, even eat beets.
I looked up and meet his gaze again, he was looking directly at me now a worried expression adorned his face. “Ms. Lauren, are you alright?”
I nodded. And after he scanned my face again continued to explain the meal.
“After the main course is the Mediterranean strawberry salad, with almonds and a tangy raspberry vinaigrette! Once you are finished, we will move on to Ms. Lauren’s favorite course,’ he sent me his toothy smile,’ desert. Today we will have a double chocolate lava cake with homemade vanilla bean ice cream. I hope that you will all enjoy your meal and just give us a ring if anything is need!” Chef turned on his heels and strutted back into the kitchen, followed by the assistants. The one with green eyes turned back to look at me and gave me a small smile before closing the door softly behind him.
I smiled as he left and turned back around to pick up my fork and started eating my chicken cutlet, mash potatoes, and garden vegetables. When I was bringing my fork up to my mouth, I heard a snicker on the left. I looked up and meet a glowing Alec. I tried to glare at him, and that is when the dam of laughter broke. Once he started laughing, my dad did as well, his deep soothing chuckles filled the room will a light brighter than the candles themselves. When they both seemed to stop and catch their breath, the boys looked up at me. I tried to give them my best, dopey look and asked,” What?”
The frown lines on my dad’s brown face deepened as his smile grew. “You like him don’t you?”
I balked at the notion and apparently that made Alec start to laugh again.
“YOUR FACE!’ Alec was hiccupping between words,’ it…is…just…so...FAH-UN-NY!” Now he lost it. I rolled my eyes and looked at my dad for something. Support, help, anything! But guess what he did…he freakin’ laughed too! I sighed and watched as the two dark skinned males turned an interesting shade of purple from laughing so hard before returning to my food.
“This is gonna be a long dinner.” I mumbled as dad wiped his eyes and Alec giggled.
After dinner, we sat around in the living room of the yacht and talked for a bit. We were on our way to the island of Malta because my dad had some kind of business meeting with an administrator there. I, on the other hand, had other plans. I wanted to explore the island of Gozo, so we were discussing how we intended to make these separate journeys. Once we had these things planned out, I excused myself for bed and got up and left.
I walked the deck in relative silence until I made it to my cabin. Opening the door, I walked into the room and turned on the lights. I started toward the bed, then stopped. I wanted to take a shower, but a bath sounded good too. I stood there for a good minute debating on whether or not I wanted a shower or a bath, either or I would have hot water. Snapping out of my daze, I turned toward my bathroom maneuvering around the big queen size bed. I walked up to the bath tub and ran the water. I stripped down and eased into the seaming tub. I leaned over to turn off the water and laid back in the tub letting the hot water come up to my neck. I reached out for my lufa and cleaned myself, then wrong out the cloth and drained the water out of the bath tub.
After wrapping myself in a towel I stepped out and stood in front of the mirror. I brushed my teeth, combed my hair, and chanced into my pajamas of sweats and a tank top. I put the towel on the rack and left the bathroom. I walked over to my bed and plopped down on it, laying back on the pillow. I sat up and reached for my sketch pad on the nightstand. With my sketch book in hand, I turned back to the nightstand and grabbed a pencil with my right and flittered through the pages with my left. When I finally found a blank page, my pencil seemed to have a mind of its own and sketched aimlessly across the paper. When I finally looked at it, I could feel a smile creped across my lips. It was the waiter from earlier. His tanned skin looked odd in the cool gray of my 2B pencil, but nevertheless he looked rather handsome, but there was still something missing.
I stood up from my bed and walked the short distance to my desk. I looked into the small bail of color pencils for just the right color. When I found it, I went back over to the bed and sat cross legged on it. I took the color pencil and filled in the white void of his irises around the pupil. When I pulled the pencil away, the bright green eyes that greeted me looked back with such emotion that I could not really place. The faint trace of a smile played on his lips and his once neat brown hair was hanging loosely over his eyes. I did a scan of the picture to make sure I wasn’t missing anything then closed the pad. I turned to place it on my nightstand, then lowered myself even more onto the soft sheets until my head rested on the pillow.
I let the soft bedding envelope me, then raised my hands and clapped. Turning off the lights and leaving me to the utter silence of night.
Lauren awoke with a start at the sudden sound of running feet followed a series of loud booms and cracks vibrated throughout her room. She sat up in bed and quickly pulled on a pair of jeans and wrapped herself in a thin jacket. Going straight for the door, Lauren yanked the knob open and stepped out in the hall, nearly being trampled by the running servants and various other yacht attendants. When another boom racked the hallway that was when Lauren dashed out of her door and into the incoming collision of bodies. She kept up with the direction in which they were going in, but then realized that something was amiss. Everyone on the yacht seemed to be there in the hall, but where was Alec? Lauren turned around as best she could and headed in the opposite flow of traffic to reach her brother’s room at the farther end of the hall. She pushed and shoved, muttering her apologizes to everyone stomped foot or the people who fell down. She almost reached the door, her hands straining to reach the knob. When her fingers grasped the cool metal, she pulled herself closer to the door and turned the handle. Lauren peered into the dark room, her eyes adjusting easily to the dark room from the dimly lit hallway. Her eyes scanned the room cautiously until they found the rumpled bed, but no figure laid within the crisp sheets.
Lauren turned and nearly stumbled into something. Or more like someone in the hallway.
“Whoa, easy there! Wait, are you Ms. Lauren? Why are you here and not with the others on the main deck?!”
It took her a moment to realize that it was the chef assistant from earlier. His green eyes caught the flickering bulb lights in the dark hallway. Lauren gasped from the sudden start, but calmed herself as she felt his gentle hands behind her back and leading her to the deck. Once there, an onslaught of chilling rain and winds assaulted her. One of the yacht’s workers helped Lauren up the last few steps of the ladder and guided her toward one of the life boats on the edge of the yacht. She looked back in time to see the man step back in through the doorway, then watched in utter horror as a loud explosion echoed and the door flew off its hinges, causing people to scream and run in every direction to get away from the heat. Lauren ducked under the boat, which swayed fiercely from the storm, the cold rain beating her and stinging her face, while the wind baffled and tore at her clothes. All she wanted was to get off the God forsaken boat! Then as if to answer her question, something snapped and the life boat hung at an angle dangling from one rope.
Lauren screamed, but held on to the inner ropes tied within the boat.
Hearing her name, Lauren looked up from her position in the boat and saw her father’s worried face. He was holding out his hand to her, summoning her to grab on. “Lauren! Sweet heart, grab on!”
His hand stretched even farther and Lauren, still keeping one hand on the rope, reached for it. That was when the rope snapped, sending Lauren into the clutches of the cold dark ocean. Lauren screamed as she fell, her father’s hand still outstretched trying desperately to summon her back. She saw arms circle him pulling him back from the edge, his calls for her never ceasing. As the waves took Lauren out to sea, the final glimpses of the yacht glowed brightly of flames that licked the surface of the once white vessel. Lauren screamed once again only to be drowned out from the angry roar of the ocean.
When I came too, I knew that something was off. My bed didn’t fell soft and plush underneath my stomach, but hard, gritty, and very VERY hot. I jumped up and nearly stumbled when my feet touched to cold water. Everything was blurry and in an odd arrangement of colors. I blinked a few times to clear my vision before looking my carefully at my surroundings. All around me was golden sand and just a few feet away were banana, coconut, and other palm trees. I turned around and let the salty ocean water sweep over my feet. I looked all around me again, doing a full 360 to take everything in at once.
“Where am I?” I mumbled. I knew it was a stupid question, but honestly if you were in this kind of situation what would you do? I started walking to the edge of the trees and sat down on a rock in the shade. Looking skyward, I peered through the palm leaves to determine what time it was. Due to the sun’s location in the sky, it was probably about 9 or 10. “That’s good,’ I thought,’ I still have quite a bit of time.”
Sitting there I came up with a plan of action. First I needed a shelter and since there are plenty of palm trees and there leaves seemed to be a decent size that was covered. Next was food, I was about ten feet from the ocean here from my rock so that was covered, and there were plenty of fruit and various plants to I could identify as edible. The next big problem would be water. It would be very stupid to drink the sea water, so that would mean some exploring in a second. But since everything else was in order. I think I would do fine. I stood from the rock and looked down at my thoroughly soaked clothing. My jeans were tore to sheds, from what? I don’t even know, but my jacket was in fairly good shaped and underneath my shirt was okay too. I ripped my pants leaving the excess fabric to dry and took off my jacket. While those were drying, I climbed the nearest tree and started to drop down the palm leaves. Then I hoped down and landed on the rough vegetation. After several minutes of cursing and spiders flying and dying, I had a decent shelter up. I put the excess leaves on the bottom and threw in my jacket for bedding. Now it’s time to go exploring. I left my make shift camp and headed into the densely packed forest on the island.
It was about three by the time I got back. I had found a waterfall and there were several animals around when I made my weapon. Coming out between two palms, I walked along the beach. That’s when I saw a dark mass laying there in the heat of the sun. I froze. What was that?
As if answering my question, the mass moved and struggled to get further on the shore and away from the water. Then I ran, slipping and nearly falling on the sand. As I got closer, I could tell that the body was male, and due to his appearance needed help. And quickly. I fell to my knees at his side and the stench of burning flesh assaulted my nose. I turned to get a breath of fresh air before bring my attention back to him. The man was laying on his stomach, but the clothes on his back were black with char and soot. I gingerly pulled at the crumbling material and the figure groaned and tried to back away. I shushed him soothingly and tried to be more careful. It took a bit, but I finally got the shirt off and what I found underneath frightened me.
The skin on his back was badly burned and I could see several lumps, which were no doubt broken ribs. I gingerly peeled off some of the burnt skin, earning a pained yelp from him. He jolted and sat up, green eyes blazing.
It was him! The chef assistant. He had made it! I wanted to give him a hug, kiss, anything, but he eyes were tired and glazed over with pain. I crawled closer to him, and gently slide my arm around his back. He hissed and tried to flinch away, but I calmed him with my voice trying to get him to stay awake long enough to make sure he didn’t have a concussion. Once I had him on his feet, we walked to short distance to my shelter and helped him lie down on his stomach. He winced at the movement of laying down because it stretched the burned skin on his back and no doubt caused his ribs to shift. After he was settled, I ran back to the forest and grabbed some various herbs I knew would help and came back. He was using my jacket as a pillow and I couldn’t help but smile at seeing his face buried deep within it. I lowered myself next to him and placed the herbs in my mouth, chewed them, then placed them over his damaged skin. He yelped and attempted to sit up.
I pushed him back down, muttering apologizes and continued my work.
“Who are you?” his harsh voice caused me to wince. He had to have been in the smoke for a while. “I’m Lauren. Who are you?”
He winced again as I put some more of the herbs on his back. “Joseph. I’m glad you got to the boat, Ms. Lauren. I was worried you hadn’t made it.” He turned his head slightly and gazed at me, a small smile spread across his lips.
“Me too.” I finished the last bit of herbs and rubbed my aching jaw before going to the pile of bananas I had collected earlier. I plucked two from the stash and headed back to where Joseph lay. He sat up and grimaced. I tried to get him to lay back down, but the stubborn boy refused.
“What happened to me?” he asked, taking the banana while nodding his thanks.
“Apparently you were burned and suffered a few broken ribs, but you will be fine.”
His expression changed, but he remained in thought. “How long do you think we will be here?”
I looked toward the setting sun. “I don’t know.”
Joseph nodded his head and looked out toward the setting sun. I could tell he was thinking, but of what was uncertain in my mind. I looked out over the darkening waves, hoping to see something that I knew wasn’t there.
Days passed, then weeks. Joseph’s health grew gradually better and we did whatever was necessary to survive. We kept count of the days on the stone I had sat on when we were first shipwrecked. We were running out of room, but the marked stone had reached 127 days if I was correct.
Then one hot day, I looked out toward the horizon. Joseph’s now healed back was resting against one of the palm trees while was eating coconut flesh with a carved knife he made. I on the other hand, laid with my head in the crooked between his shoulder and neck, my back against his chest and arm. The sun was in the middle of the sky, signifying noon when I saw a faint glint of metal ing the distance steadily coming toward us. I squinted my eyes toward the silvery mass, when it hit me.
What else can move that fast and glow a bright silver? A helicopter!
I shot up, startling Joseph at the sudden movement and ran to the edge of the water, waving my hands in every way possible. Joseph quickly joined me in the awkward dance to attract the attention of the crew on board. Then he abandoned the water’s edge in favor of throwing some saplings on the fire and fanned them to make it smoke. That got the helicopter’s attention and it veered toward us.
Joseph came up to my side and took my hand in his. While we watched to plane get steadily closer, I reflected on my time here on the island. Not only had I survived, but I made a new companion and one that will be here for the rest of my life. I had major accomplishments in first aid, and faced many challenges and setbacks. But the most important thing I found was what my mother initially killed herself for…a true life. As the helicopter’s markings became more distinguishable I looked out over the crystal sea. We did this. We lived. We survived. But the most important thing we did, was thrive.