Of Love and Slapping
In the spirit of the very first prompt, which turned into a short story, which brought us together, which eventually led to Mended, we selected yet another random dialogue prompt and crafted this short story in the same way as our very first. We hope you enjoy Larkin and Isaac as much as we did!
Knee-high grass brushed softly against Larkin’s legs. Shoving her hands deep in her pockets, she strolled in the direction of the trees lining the other side of the massive meadow through which she walked. Wildflowers bent their heads as she passed and the wind blew softly.
For a moment, a picture flashed in her mind. Sandy blonde hair ruffled by a summer breeze; laughing green eyes; a smirking, teasing smile--all the features combined in a face that she would never see again. Unbidden tears welled up and she bit her lip, closing her eyes. “Why did you have to go on that trip?” she whispered. “Why couldn’t you have stayed home?”
She shook her head, trying to get rid of the voice. Would she always be able to hear him as if he was right there?
She froze. That was just her imagination. . .wasn’t it? Goosebumps crept up her arms, and the hair on the back of her neck rose. Steeling herself, she turned.
The face jumped out of her memory and into reality. There he stood, hands in his pockets, hair plastered around his face, grinning at her.
Larkin gasped, stumbling back, her hand flying to her mouth. “I-Isaac?" Her heart thudded in her chest and the pounding was deafening in her ears. It couldn't be! "Hold on. You died.”
“Yeah, well-” Isaac glanced briefly at his soaked clothing, “It didn’t stick.”
Didn’t stick? That’s all he could say? It didn’t stick? A sudden, swift wave of anger coursed through her and her fists balled. “You--you--” The words wouldn’t come. She stopped, her mouth scrunching up and her eyes blazing. With one swift movement she stepped forward and slapped him. “You!” Her voice was choked.
“Hey!” Isaac moved back with furrowed eyebrows. “What was that for? I thought you’d be glad I didn’t die!”
Oh no. Did I just slap him? I just slapped him. Larkin’s eyes grew wide and she fell back a couple steps. Then her face crumpled and she turned, putting a hand over her face and hunching her shoulders. Shock, relief, frustration, and joy all swept over her and she tried to catch her breath. “Isaac.” Saying his name almost made her lose all grip on her fragile emotions. She’d never expected to say his name to him again.
“I thought you--died.” A few breaths that sounded traitorously like sobs escaped her.
“Yeah.” Isaac stepped into her side vision, rubbing a hand over his offended cheek. “Sorry to disappoint.”
She spun on him, glaring, her lips trembling. “Isaac! Don’t you dare--” All the emotions she’d been trying to keep pent up exploded and she burst into tears, wiping her hands furiously over her cheeks. Stop crying, you silly girl! Stop that right now. The tears wouldn’t obey and kept spilling like a deluge over her cheeks.
Isaac raised his hands defensively. “Don’t dare what? You’re the one who slapped me for being alive!”
Larkin struggled to find the words to express her feelings, even while she unsuccessfully kept trying to choke back her sobs. “Don’t you ever--make me think--you’ve d-died--again. You have n-no idea what it was like to l-live for--a month thinking my b-best friend was g-gone forever.”
Isaac sighed, spreading his hands out in front of him. “Look, Larkin. I didn’t mean to make you think I died. It just kind of. . .happened. And I’m sorry it took so long for me to get back. I wasn’t expecting bus fare to be so expensive.” He glared at the ground.
“You c-could have called!” Larkin swiped long strands of red hair away from her face. “D-didn’t you think about what we m-might feel like? Hearing you d-died in that plane crash? And now you show up and all you c-can say is the bus fare was expensive!” Her voice had risen to a yell, and she realized suddenly that her hands were shaking.
Isaac threw up his hands. “Well, it was! Do you know how many dishes I washed to get 273 dollars worth of bus tickets?”
“Dishes!” she sobbed, in a rage, tears streaming down her face. “Dishes? Who cares how many dishes it took. You. Were. Alive. And you didn’t tell me!” She paused for a second after the outburst, then slumped to the ground and put her head on her knees. Dishes! All he could talk about was dishes! The fact that it was such an Isaac-like thing to focus on only made her cry harder. Her stomach twisted into a thousand knots.
Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Isaac look down at his hands, rough and dry. . .probably from all those dishes. Then he knelt beside her and put one on her shoulder.
“Hey, Larkin…” His voice was hesitant and soft. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t call. I didn’t...I didn’t think to. I was so focused on getting back. Every spare penny I made, I spent on travel, and every spare minute I had was working to get another penny. I’m sorry.”
Larkin lifted her head a little to look at him, then glanced at his hand on her shoulder. The reality of him washed over her once again. For a moment she just sat, then suddenly she hugged him tightly, still crying like a baby. He was solid and very wet. But he was alive. Gloriously alive.
“I’m sorry! Really, Isaac.” She spoke against his shoulder. “I shouldn’t have slapped you. It’s just. . .you’re alive. . .you’re alive. . .Isaac, I. . .I was so scared. I thought I’d never see you again. A-and I couldn’t imagine l-life without you. Y-you’ve always been there, and when you weren’t. . .” Her voice trailed off. “I didn’t know what to do.”
Isaac hesitated for a moment, as if he expected her to turn on him again. Slowly, he patted her back. “It’s okay.” There was a smile in his voice. “I mean, hey, of all the people I could be slapped by in this world, I’m actually glad it’s you… finally.”
Finally? She sat back, scrubbing at her eyes, and sniffed. “You’ve been wanting me to slap you?” Taking one more gulping breath, a hint of a smile tugged at her lips. “I’ll do it again if you like.”
“Uh, no, that’s all right.” He pulled away and winced. “Let me rephrase that. I don’t want to be slapped, but if I do get slapped, I’d like it to be you, because that means I’m with you and I actually really missed you.” Isaac frowned as if the thought had just suddenly formulated in his mind and rolled off his tongue at roughly the same moment and it stunned him.
Like the blooming of a rose, Larkin felt color washing over her face. Then she grinned, feeling as if she was recovering her normal sensibilities. “I’m glad you’re back with me too.” She pushed to her feet and glanced down at the ground, shoving a pebble around with her toe. “I really missed you--a lot.” She blinked quickly for a moment. “Anyway. Do you want to go get coffee and tell me what happened?”
“I, uh, normally would love to do that, but I’ve worked at so many cafes on my way back, I can’t stand the smell of coffee anymore.” He kicked the pebble she’d dislodged back at her.
“Oh.” She shoved her hands in her pockets. So much for recovering her sensibilities. Get yourself together, Larkin! She just stood here, trying to process, feeling jittery, excited, unbelieving, upset, and overwhelmed with happiness all at once. He was alive. He was actually alive! Feeling incredibly foolish, she stumbled for words. “Is there. . .uh, anyplace or anything you’re not sick of?”
Isaac seemed to ponder this for a moment, then a smug smile passed his face, as if a thought occurred to him that made him very proud. He became very serious before he made his statement. “Anywhere that you are.” The smug smile returned. He looked incredibly pleased with himself for that answer.
She blushed again and crossed her arms. “You’ve come back a flirt, Isaac Crestfield. I’m being serious.”
Isaac's eyebrows shot up. “I’m being serious too!”
“Oh?” Her mouth dropped open and then she snapped it shut. Her eyes narrowed as she briefly glared at him. “You just came home from a month ‘dead’ and you think you can just play with my. . .” Her voice trailed off as she saw the sincerity in his face. “Oh. Y-you are serious.” She twisted her fingers together. “I-I think I’m a little confused.”
Isaac grew quiet and glanced down. “I really missed you a lot, Larkin.”
“Me too,” she murmured to the ground. “That is, I didn’t miss me. I mean, I couldn’t, ‘cause I was here, right? At least I hope I was. But I wished you were too. And you weren’t. So I missed you. Obviously.” She winced inside at the jumble of words that had just poured forth. I must sound like such an idiot. She swallowed. “Y-you scared me. . .thinking I was never going to see you again. Please don’t do that again. Ever.”
Rubbing the back of his neck, Isaac grinned sheepishly. “I’ll do my best. First measure of precaution being, ‘never get on a plane again.’”
“Good idea.” She grinned weakly, then took a deep breath and set her chin, squaring her shoulders. “Stay here. Don’t go off doing crazy things.” Feeling a bit of her normal ease coming back, she moved to his side and linked arms with him. A smile tugged at Isaac’s lips, and she wondered if he was thinking the same thing she was: that this was just like old times. They had been in this place a hundred thousand times, with sunsets just like the one that blazed above them painting the sky. Leisurely, they began to walk across the clearing. Larkin made sure to keep enough distance between them so that Isaac’s dripping clothes wouldn’t get her soaked. “How did you get wet?”
“I fell in a river. On my way here.” He grabbed the bottom of his shirt and began wringing out the excess water.
She stifled a giggle. “Oh, Isaac. Of course you did. You always had a knack for. . . falling into things.” They walked in silence a few moments before she broke it again. “Have you told your family you’re alive yet?”
“Not yet,” he admitted. “I wanted to tell you first.” He straightened a little as they walked and looked out over the field toward the treeline.
She looked at the sky. “Really? Me first? Why? I mean, your mom probably won’t be too happy about that.” A soft laugh escaped her. “She might slap you too.”
“Yeah, well I’m glad I told you first. Now I know. And believe me, with the power in her arm. . .I’ll be sure to duck.” Isaac dodged a large rock in his path, momentarily pulling from their linked arms.
Larkin burst out laughing. “I’d never willingly cross your mom.” She continued to stride alongside him, breathing deeply of the fresh smell of pine trees and spring dirt. A few strands of her long, fiery hair flew around in the wind and she tucked them behind her ear. “I’ve never seen her cry so much as she did when--the news came. Your sister too.” She shook her head. “When they see you now. . . .”
“Yeah, I should probably go tell them.” He smiled. “By the way, how was my funeral?”
“Well, you’re morbid.” Her mouth twisted in a crooked grin. “It was. . .sad. We had a memorial service and we sang your favorite hymn. Talked about you. Told our favorites stories about your life. Shared what you’d done in our lives. Ate your favorite food.” She hooked her thumbs in the pockets of her jeans, swallowing back the emotions that rose at the memory. “It was. . .nothing I ever want to do again. But everyone was really supportive.”
“Man, I wish I could’ve been there. Sounds like I would’ve really enjoyed it.” He winked at her. “Everyone cried a lot, right?” Isaac smirked.
“You’re awful, joking about it!” She folded her arms and frowned. “Yes, everyone cried. Sobbed. Mourned. I think I lost 50% of all the water in my body. Your mom probably lost 75%.”
“Good, good. You think we can stop by the store on the way home and I’ll buy everyone a complimentary water bottle?” Isaac stepped aside, dodging out of her reach as if he expected her to slap him again.
She followed his path and elbowed him hard in the side. “Ha. Very funny.” Then she paused. “Wait a second. I think Jeremy is working down at the supermarket today.” She smirked. “You could go scare the life out of him.”
A mischievous grin spread across Isaac’s face. “Oh, he is so going to regret that prank at the lake.” He rubbed his hands together. “But, uh, hey...Larkin...before we go, I have something I need to ask you.”
She cocked her head. “Yeah? What is it?”
Isaac flushed, seeming very uncomfortable all of sudden. “Uh...did you get your hair cut?”
Her eyebrows shot up and her hand went to her hair. “No? It’s--the same.” She glanced at him again.
“Oh, well, it looks really nice.” Isaac stopped and picked up a twig on the ground, snapping it in his fingers. “That wasn’t the question I wanted to ask actually. What I wanted to ask was...uh….”
“As long as you don’t ask to go on a plane again.” She laughed a little, feeling her heart rising in her throat. Why was he stalling like that?
He laughed too, but it came out nervous and sounded more like choking than a laugh.
Larkin patted him on the back, her eyes wide and alarmed. “Isaac. . .please, are you all right? You didn’t. . .do anything to yourself while you were away?”
“I did plenty to myself while I was gone. . .but-” he rushed to finish, “-that wasn’t what I was going to ask either. I was going to ask if. . .if. . .you, uh, ever switched to using that toothpaste for sensitive teeth. . .I know it was bothering you a lot, the other kind. . .and I was just curious if you ever ended up switching.” Isaac’s cheeks turned crimson.
What on earth? Larkin folded her arms and narrowed her eyes, annoyance now bubbling in her chest. “Spit it out, Isaac. You’re hedging. Good grief, you never would be nervous to ask me about toothpaste. What on earth is wrong with you?”
“Nothing’s wrong with me! In fact, everything’s right for once in a good long month and I don’t know how to deal with it!”
“You can’t deal with being alive? And at home?” Larkin rubbed her forehead. “What on. . . .”
“I can’t handle being with you, okay?” Isaac frowned, seeming to ponder the connotation of what he had just said.
The words hit her like a blow to the chest. Her face crumpled and her eyebrows drew together as her breath caught in a little gasp. “Y-you can’t? I-I. . .if you c-can’t then. . . .” She turned away a little. “Why didn’t you just tell me to go away?”
“No, no, no.” Isaac clenched his fists and growled a little. “Not like that. At all. I meant, I’m just so happy to be with you after all this time. Yeah, I missed my mom and sister and stuff, but when my hands were prunes from washing so many dishes, I wasn’t thinking about them. I was thinking about you.”
“Y-you were?” She turned back, her blue eyes wide and full of a mix of anticipation, confusion, and gladness. “That--that’s really sweet of you.”
Isaac rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah, I try every now and then.”
Larkin shook her head. “More often than not it doesn’t work.” She took a deep breath, trying to be rid of the confusion of the conversation. “But that’s ok. I like you whether you’re sweet or not.” She flushed and bit her lip. “I mean. . .obviously. You are my best friend after all.”
Isaac ran a hand through his sandy blond hair. “You’re my best friend too, Larkin. And. . .what I was really wondering. . .was. . .if I might be able. . .I mean, if your dad says it’s okay and all, for me to start courting you?” He bit his lip and couldn’t seem to bring his eyes up to meet hers.
“Wait, what? You--me--I mean. . . You mean you. . .” Larkin caught her breath and covered her mouth with her hands, her face blooming into a smile and her eyes sparkling. Me. . .courting you. . . As the words ran through her head, she realized that, as unexpected as they were, they were just the ones she’d been wanting to hear. She blushed again as she dropped her hands, then ran them through her hair. “Oh, Isaac.” Her voice was a whisper. “Are you really sure. . .I mean yes. Of course.” She smiled a little wider in an intensely happy, shocked, dreamy sort of way. “I--I didn’t know you. . .felt like that.”
“Trust me, I have never been more sure of anything in my entire life. I had a solid month to think about it!”
She gave a little laugh and put her hands behind her head, looking up at the sky. “Isaac. . .I--I don’t know what to say! I. . .never dreamed. . . .” She shook her head, a smile still tugging at the corners of her mouth. “First you’re alive and now you want to court me? I have no idea how to react right now.”
“Just. . .don’t slap me, okay?” He took a step away, grinning. “Anything but slapping is fine with me.”
She burst into a laugh, then held out a hand. “All right. I won’t. Truce?”
“Truce.” While Isaac seemed ready to accept such an agreement, he hesitated shaking her hand, shooting her a teasing smile.
She glanced back, her eyes crinkling. “What? You don’t believe I won’t slap you?”
“Not particularly.” He nearly shook her hand before pulling it back and smacking it to his forehead. “Oh man, I just thought of something.”
Isaac shook his head and laughed, offering his arm to her, which she took with a smile and a small contented sigh.
“What do you think your dad will say to having a dead potential son-in-law?”
Larkin gave a mysterious smile. “I suppose you’ll find out, won’t you--that is, unless you get killed again by your family after they find out you’re alive.” She cocked an eyebrow at him. “I’ve never been walked home by a dead man before. You’ll be famous someday. The man who died twice. You know, Isaac, I wouldn’t expect that from anyone else. But you? Somehow, in the end, I’m not surprised.”
“Why thank you. And next time I die, I’ll give you a little more notice when I’m coming back.”
Larkin gave him one incredulous look. Then without preamble, but softly of course. . .
She slapped him.