The following short story, “Remembering Apple Blossoms,” is the winning entry for the 14-18 age category in HOME’s First Annual Short Story Contest.
I’d met Abigail at a ladies tea party. She was a quiet, sweet young woman, a year or so younger than my twenty-two years but with an air of a woman rather older. She was there with her stepsister Lillian, and the two of them seemed inseparable. I’d gone to visit her a week later and she was lying in the orchard, while the apple blossoms drifted down onto her auburn hair and green dress. A young man was sitting beside her, reading aloud from a worn, blue book. He rested it on his knee as I approached, and looked faintly indignant at the intrusion. Abigail sat up and he reached out a hand to steady her. Her face broke into a cheery smile and she waved me over. “Hello, Mia. What brings you out here?” “Your stepfather said you were out here. I came to visit, but you already have company. I’ll come back later?” She glanced at the young man with an odd twinkle in her eye. “If you can call him company. No, sweetie, stay. We don’t mind, do we, Nathan?” Nate smiled faintly. “If you want her, I am perfectly happy to share you with her.” There was sadness in his eyes as he rose and spread out the blanket, to make room for me. Abigail waved me down next to her and Nathan began to read again. It was from a book of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tales, which I was familiar with, but I had never met such a good reader as Nathan. After several stories he stopped and laid the book aside. Without a word he gathered Abigail up and carried her towards the house. I hastily followed, wondering the whole time what the problem was. He kicked open the kitchen door and laid her on a couch that sprawled against one wall in that spacious room. He disappeared through one of four doorways, and I sat on the floor to look at Abigail. Her smile as her eyes met mine was much weaker than the first, and she coughed slightly. Nathan rushed back into the room, followed closely by Laurel, another stepsister, and Lillian. Nathan beckoned me away and these two girls began fussing over Abigail. Nathan’s hand rested on my shoulder, and each time Abigail coughed it tightened, until I was afraid I would have a bruise. Finally Lillian stepped back, her shoulders trembling, and wiped sweat from her forehead. Nathan looked at her desperately, and she nodded slightly. He relaxed and patted my shoulder, then went to Abigail’s side and kissed her gently. She smiled up at him and brushed a tear from his cheek, then lay back and closed her eyes. Laurel took my hand and pulled me into the living room, poured me a glass of water from a pitcher, and sat beside me on the sofa. “I am sorry about that. It must be rather distressing to you, since you don’t know what’s happening. Would you like me to tell you?” 11