The book found a secure place within his bag, and it would accompany him for the duration of his walk home. Classes had come to an end, and he passed through the familiar corridors for the final time, believing he had received the most thorough education any boy should expect. Finding the main door held open by a green painted wedge, he exited the school to find everything shrouded in shadow. The sun was beginning to sink below the trees; John prepared to walk in twilight.
A biting breeze tumbled down the steep hill before him. Having no pockets to protect his hands, they moved through the frigid air as reluctant martyrs, and only John could appreciate their necessary sacrifice. Another victim of the cold, his ears, turned red with warm blood. He began to regret his choice to ignore Lady Wisdom. She had warned him to prepare for the chill.
John began his lone ascension with a strong determination to reach the top before sunset. The view would be beautiful, if only he could reach it in time. Thoughts of natural majesty disappeared when a young couple entered his field of vision. They were holding hands. The boy stood on the inside, and the girl stood close to the street. John heard their passionate banter, for they were proclaiming everlasting vows for all to hear.
“I knew from the moment we met that you were meant for me,” he said.
“You’re more than I could ever hope for. More than the most perfect dream I could conjure. I’ll love you forever,” she said. They kissed, and nearly tripped.
“How did you know I was the one sweetheart?” He asked.
“It’s more than knowing. I feel it. I’ve felt it all along,” she replied.
“You’re so beautiful! I can hardly hold myself back. I’d do anything for you. You know that right?” He said.
John became aware of their rapid slowing. They walked slower and slower after every step. He had to pass them if there was a chance of seeing the sunset. Besides, this sort of talk did not settle well with him. Never had he been in love. But was this love?
His decision to pass turned into a requirement when they finally stopped moving. John passed them on the right and heard more of their exchange as he marched onward.
“How much do you love me?” She asked.
“You know I love you more than anything.” He said.
“Will it be like this forever? This feeling?”
“As long as we love each other.”
The sun stops for no man. Fortunately for John, he did not consider himself a man. There were men much younger than him, and boys much older. If anyone ever asked him why he felt this way, he would respond with, “I just don’t feel like a man. There’s something missing still.” If a man could stop the sun, freeze frame a beautiful sunset just for himself, he would cover half of the world in darkness. One mans dawn is another mans twilight, and that is the way of all things.
The sinking sun vanished behind an immense dark cloud, and a frigid blast of air nearly forced John to the ground. On the opposite side of the street an elderly man named Charlie walked alone. He wore an old gray cap with a red feather stuck to the side. His eyes stared off into the dark horizon as he shuffled, ungracefully kicking pebbles. John’s heart sank to watch the withered man, because he understood the sadness which plagued his heart. Charlie had been married for fifty-seven years to his wife Helen. When John was a boy she always commented on his smile.
“Your smile just warms my heart child. You’re going to be a good man.” Years passed, and John grew into a teenager. He stopped visiting the old couple, except to rake leaves in the fall. Helen continued to comment on his smile, and insisted that he was growing into a fine young man. John always felt guilty for a short time, but quickly forgot about them when life became busy. This pattern continued until the fall of the previous year. When John knocked on their door, she answered holding a self made blue mitten, but did not know him.
“What do you want? Who are you?” John did not understand until Charlie sat him down and revealed that Helen had developed Alzheimer’s.
“She only knits. She’s made a scarf and some mittens. She knits as if it were the most important thing in the world.”
Helen died in the winter of that year. John would never forget the sight of Charlie crying over his wife at the funeral. When the time came for John to pay his respects, he looked upon the woman, and spoke softly.
“We’ll all smile again someday.”
John began to cross the street in order to talk with Charlie, but stopped when a small boy came running down the hill. He held a pair of blue mittens, and a blue scarf. The old man looked back at the child and smiled big. It warmed John’s heart.
“Grandpa, grandpa! Where you going? Mom said to wear grandma’s mittens.” Charlie leaned forward and hugged his grandson. He slid the mittens onto his wrinkled, cold hands, and wrapped the scarf around his wrinkled, cold neck. The moment they turned to walk back up the hill, the frigid breeze subsided and the sun shone clearer than ever, as if it knew its time were short.
For a few seconds John watched them, but when the sinking sun popped back into his conscious he grabbed the straps of his book bag and stormed the remainder of the hill. The book weighed him down quite a bit. He began to wish he did not have to carry the book, but that was foolishness. The book was dear to him, and more important than a million sunsets.
John was yards from the top, when a catastrophe befell him. He had removed his hands from the straps of the bag so that he could swing his arms back and forth in order to gain some stability and momentum. Unfortunately, the movement of his arms caused the strap on his left shoulder to slip off. The heavy bag swung to the right and caught John off balance. His head fell toward the sharp corner of the sidewalk. Miraculously, the bag fell on that spot and created a cushioned barrier between stone and skull.
Believing he was alone, John gathered himself for the final steps of his journey. After what seemed like a lifetime, he had reached the top of the hill. Dropping his bag to the side, he turned to view the sunset. In the midst of the visual feast, a mysterious and enchanting female voice spoke from behind.
“I’ve never seen something so beautiful.” This startled John. He saw no woman near the top of the hill. It was as if she came out of nowhere. When she spoke, it was as if she spoke directly to his soul. Searching for the source of the sound, John found something far superior in beauty than any sunset. He knew this girl. “Do you agree John? Isn’t it the most beautiful sight you’ve ever seen?”
“I saw you trip. Are you ok?” She asked.
“My book saved me,” John said. He unzipped his bag and showed her.
“I’ve read most of it.”
“I didn’t once see you coming up the hill. Where did you come from Elizabeth?”
“I was near you the whole time John. I passed that arguing couple a minute after you did. I also saw Charlie walking with his grandson, Tim I think is his name.”
“But I looked behind me and you weren’t there,” John said.
“Oh, I know a path in the woods. It’s quite nice. That’s how I came up behind you,” Elizabeth said. “The colors are fading on the horizon.”
John turned to see the once awe inspiring sunset fade into darkness. Natural beauty cannot last forever.
“Can I have that book for a second John? I’m curious to see how it ends,” she said. Their hands touched for the briefest of moments during the exchange. “Your hands are freezing.”
“I’m ok. Besides, home is close.”
“I have some mittens. I made them myself so don’t laugh!” Elizabeth opened her bag and pulled out a pair of green mittens. She held them out for John to take. “Don’t be a martyr John. And don’t feel like any less of a man because I’m not wearing any.” She said it all with a smile, a smile that warmed his heart.
“Ha! Thank you, but you wear them. Chivalry isn’t dead yet.”
“But with no more dragons to slay, what ever is a knight to do?”
“Freeze in the dark, while the women find warmth I suppose,” John said.
“So be it.” She grabbed his hand. John felt as if his heart would stop. Warmth poured into his body. “Will you walk me home sir?” He smiled big.
“I’d love to Miss Elizabeth.” They walked hand in hand until reaching her doorstep.
“I gave you back the book before seeing how it ends. Tell me John, how does it end?” She asked.
“Good triumphs over evil. The boy becomes a man. They get married, and everything is as it should be.”
“I like that ending.”
“Me too Elizabeth.”
“Thank you for walking me home. I’d walk you home, but then you’d walk me home, and then we’d be in the same spot.”
“I’ll be fine. It’s not far,” John said.
“You’ll be more than fine. A man like you,” she said.
“I’m not a man.” She put her hands on her hips and tilted her head to the side. John knew exactly what that gaze meant. He smiled, looked up at the stars, and then turned to go home.
The next morning he awoke to the sunrise, and to a new feeling. For the first time in his life, John felt like a man. In no time at all, John prepared himself for a new day. As he went to turn the handle of his front door, he noticed the book lying open on the floor. He picked it up and read the last sentence.
“Sunrise to sunset, sunset to sunrise, they lived for each other and loved for all time.” He closed the book and opened his door to a new morning.