KISS

 

A Terry Thorne story

 

By Jo

 

 

Terry Thorne was thirteen, as was Kady Simmons. Her father raised horses on a ranch just over the hill from Thorneton, in rural New South Wales. Their mothers were friends and the two of them had played together ever since they could remember. Neither had any siblings and as the

area where they lived was sparsely populated, there weren't any other children around for them

to play with. The school they both attended was fifteen miles away and most of the other students lived closer to that. When school was on break, as it was now, each was the other's only companion.  They were used to that, though, and for them it was simply the way things were, the

way things had always been.

 

It was, however, not the way things would always be. Terry was turning fourteen in the autumn and his father had decided he wanted more for his son than the small, rural school that was all

that was available if he continued living at home. He'd chosen a top-notch academy for the boy

in Brisbane and he'd be leaving for it in four weeks.

 

"It's not as far as Sydney, Kady," he said as they sat on the large, flat rock that jutted out over the stream that ran through the eucalyptus on the right side of the Thorne's white house.

 

"It's not over the hill, either," Kady replied, staring down at the ripples in the passing, dark

water. 

 

She turned to look at him. He'd really begun to grow in the last year. For a long time he'd been

the same height she was, but now he'd spurted past her by a good six inches. The rounded face

of his boyhood had gone all angular and lean. His sandy brown hair still wanted to flop down

over part of his forehead and his eyes, they were still the same, green with amber flecks that

laughed at her, knew all her secrets, looked troubled now.

 

"I know," he sighed, "I can't quite imagine what it will be like...not to see you every day."

 

Kady's eyes stung and she turned her gaze back to the water. "Me, either," she murmured

under her breath.

 

"Let's not think about that now," he coaxed. "Let's go up on Mount Olympus and look at

the clouds like we used to."

 

Mount Olympus was the name they'd grandly given to the steep, smooth green hill that rose

up behind Thorneton, Terry's house. He held out his hand and she took it, rising to her feet

and running beside him around to the back of the house and up the slope where they lay on

their backs and stared up at the vault of blue and its current offering of puffy white clouds.

 

 

"Is that one a lion cub or a lamb?" Kady asked, twirling a long, slender stalk of grass with its seedhead in her fingers.

 

"Hard to tell," he replied, studying it with great seriousness. "Could be either."

 

"There's something really odd about that," she mused, "that it could be when they're both so

different."

 

 

That's a dog, though," Terry said, pointing to a different section of clouds. "Definitely gotta be a dog."

 

Kady laughed. "You're right about that one."

 

She'd been on her back but rolled over onto her stomach, propping herself on her elbows, her

short blonde curls blowing back from her face as she munched on the tender end of the grass

stalk.

 

They stayed there for an hour, laughing, discussing clouds, remembering shared things, then

Terry pointed to some low, dark clouds that had started looming over the horizon. "You'd best

get home, Kady, before the rains start. Looks like quite a blow coming."

 

 

Kady stayed where she was, watching the dark clouds rise up till they began to cover the sun.

 

"Kady...?" Terry was worried about her getting soaked. He hadn't used to worry about things

like that concerning her. They just got wet together and laughed but lately he found himself

feeling more protective of her.

 

"That one," Kady pointed to the cloud hiding part of the sun, "is definitely a lion. There's

nothing lamb-like about it at all." She frowned at it. It was going to block the sun, was going

to make her have to leave Terry and go home.

 

"It's a serious cloud, Kady," he said, his voice dropping into that deeper register it now so

often did, "and you really need to get home."

 

"I don't want to go," she said, sitting up and turning her back on the lion.

 

"We have four weeks."

 

She folded her arms on her knees and put her head down on them. "I don't want to hear that."

 

He touched her arm and she lifted her head, tears sparkling in her dark blue eyes. He thought

how pretty she was. He hadn't noticed until just a few months ago how pretty she, indeed, was.

 

"I'll come home for holidays. It's not like I won't ever be here."

 

"You won't be here, Terry, not like this!"  She sprang to her feet and began to run down the

path on the far side of the slope that led to her own house.

 

Terry stood at the top, watching her, making sure she got safely down. She was running so fast

he thought she might trip.

 

When she got to the edge of the eucalypts that marked the beginning of her yard, she stopped

and turned, looking back at the hilltop, surprised to find him still standing there. The wind

bringing the storm had come up and was blowing his hair, whipping the blue short-sleeved

shirt he was wearing unbuttoned over his white tee almost straight out behind him. He raised

a hand high, acknowledging that he knew she was looking back at him.

 

The wind came up more fiercely and she put out a hand to hold onto a eucalypt, bracing herself,

not wanting to turn away until he did. But he stood there, still watching her, trying to deal with

the strange new feelings the sight of her had begun to engender in him. Then the first wave of

rain began to fall. She was partially sheltered by the thick trees, but he stood on the bare hilltop,

instantly soaked, and she finally knew that he would stand there until she was gone. Absently,

her fingertips went to her mouth, then she whispered, "Terry," into the wind, turned, and ran

for her back door.

 

Her father had come in from the stables just before the storm hit and when she walked into the

kitchen, turned from the open refrigerator, a cold beer in his hand.

 

"You were with Terry," he said, making it a statement.

 

"On the hill, yes, Pa. Storm surprised me, I guess."

 

Ralph Simmons closed the door and walked toward his daughter, setting the beer on the

counter as he passed. He pushed a wet, clinging curl back from her forehead. "Best take

a warm shower, Sweetpea," he suggested.

 

"I'm not cold."

 

He touched her little nose. "Warm shower, dry clothes."

 

She smiled, her lips together, at the love she saw in his eyes, and nodded her head.

 

His finger moved from her nose to the left corner of her lips. "There it is," he grinned, "that

first kiss...just waiting there for you to grow up."

 

"Oh, Pa!" she laughed then turned and headed for the stairs.

 

There had been days in past years that had crept by slowly, filled with hours that took their

time. The four weeks, though, did as she had expected they would. They flew with minutes

substituting for hours, seconds for minutes. It wasn't fair how quickly they passed. Now there

was one day left, only one. Terry's parents were driving him to Brisbane first thing the next

morning.

 

They were sitting on the flat rock and she watched his hands as he skipped a series of small,

flat stones on the surface of the water. He was very good at it, much better than she was,

and with each toss, his stones skipped multiple times.

 

"I'm packed," he said, his eyes following the path of the last stone. He said that because he

wanted to let her know he didn't have to go inside and do that yet, that the rest of the day

could be spent with her.

 

She was glad, but she didn't say anything, just leaned forward and trailed the fingers of her

right hand in the stream, staring at her distorted reflection in the ripples. That's how she felt

today, distorted. Nothing would be the same, not ever again.

 

"Remember," he said, tipping his head back toward the side porch of his house, "how we

used to play pirates there?"

 

"I'll never forget it, Terry." Her voice was barely audible. "I'll never forget any of it."

 

"And our Arabian Nights cave?" he added. That was a small indentation near where the

hill sloped down to the stream.  "And all the books we read aloud?"

 

He was her childhood, plain and simple. All of it, every bit, was rolled up in him. They were

perched now, both of them, on the edge of some vague new passage of life that was changing

them, changing them more than either of them was really aware. And here, now, right at the

brink of that, they would be separated. Deliberately she held two eucalypt leaves in her hand,

let them fall one atop the other into the stream. Her eyes narrowed as she watched them float

along together for a few inches then the current took the one on the left and shot it rapidly

down the center of the water while an eddy captured the other and sent it behind a barricade

of small twigs where it simply turned in several small circles, then came to rest partway up

on a damp rock. They were like that she knew, him and her, and in the morning they'd be

dropped into some vastly larger stream and all of it would be over, all the endless days of

togetherness would find their ending. Silent tears began to make their way down her cheeks

and she put her hands over her face.

 

"No," Terry said gently, "not like this."  He moved her hands away but she still sat there, her

eyes closed, tears brimming through her lashes.  He ran a forefinger down her cheek, which

both tickled a little and made her feel something strange deep inside. Opening her eyes, she

smiled at him, her lashes starred with wetness and he knew that in all his almost fourteen

years, he'd never seen anything quite so beautiful. When she smiled, there was always the

tiniest dimple at the very left corner of her mouth and his fingertip found it, lingering there.

 

Instantly she thought of what her father always said, about what waited there for her to grow

up.  She blinked and looked at Terry's face, only inches from hers, his eyes down as they studied

her dimple. Without even beginning to understand the how or the why of it, she suddenly leaned

toward him, pressing her warm, soft lips into his. It was not something she'd ever thought of

doing before because Terry was, well, Terry, her best friend, her companion. Suddenly he was

more and as she wordlessly felt the more of him, it was the most natural thing for her to do. She

understood somehow without putting it into clear thought that today their childhood had rolled

itself up like a scroll and would be laid aside, so she blessed it, blessed all that it had been, had

meant to them both, with a kiss, with their very first kiss, putting a seal on it so that as it rested

on a shelf somewhere, the kiss would connect it to all that came after.

 

Terry sat on the vinyl chair in the waiting room, looking up from time to time to see if the doctor

was leaving room 4 in the ICU. He kept unfolding and refolding the letter in his hands. He knew by heart what it said. It was from Kady's granddaughter and had somehow found him in London, where he'd been living for the last ten years. Lifting his head, he looked out the window to his right. Sydney. How long since he'd been in Sydney? Fifteen, twenty years? Today was his 84th birthday. Eighty-four. Where had it all gone, all the years?

 

Shaking his head, he looked back at the letter. Kady. Kady Simmons. Well, now Kady Harper.

The letter was from Eileen Harper McCrory. When he'd received it, no wonder he hadn't

recognized the return address, but the fact it had come from Australia had caught his attention.

Eileen was asking if he were the Terrence Thorne who had lived at Thorneton in NSW some

seventy years ago and known a neighbor named Kady Simmons. Kady. Kady Simmons.

 

He smiled to himself, remembering. He'd gone to the academy in Brisbane, coming home for

a scattering of breaks before he'd graduated and gone off to university. Then he hadn't come

home so much. By the time he joined the army, it had been six years since he'd last seen Kady.

Then came the SAS, then Luthan Risk, and he was just always on the go. He'd married briefly,

unsuccessfully, had Henry, Henry who'd died forty years ago in a test pilot crash. Terry sighed,

rubbing a hand back and forth across his short, neatly-trimmed silver beard.

 

Evidently Kady and her granddaughter were very close and Kady had shared with her about

her childhood in New South Wales, about Terry. He knew she'd gone to college in Sydney, had

married a man she met there, but he'd lost track of her many, many years ago, what with all his

own movings around. Eileen explained that Jack, Kady's husband, had died from cancer some

twenty years ago and that Kady had been living alone until two weeks ago when she took a

tumble down a long flight of steps and had broken both hips as well as damaged several internal organs. Now she'd developed sepsis in the hospital and wasn't responding well at all to treatment. Eileen felt like her grandmother was going to die and she wondered if Terry would consider coming to visit her as soon as possible.

 

In London, Terry had sat in his recliner a long, long time, reading and rereading Eileen's words.

What had Kady said, after all these years, that would make her granddaughter so convinced it

would be a good thing if he came half way round the world to see her? He looked around his

condo. What was there holding him back? He'd been alone almost all his life and as he thought

back over it, the time he'd felt least alone was when he'd been with Kady.

 

So here he was, waiting for the doctor's permission to go in to see her. She'd been, what, nineteen that last time? He was only two months older than she was, so she, too, was almost

eighty-four. He made a little sound down in his throat, thinking of how much people change in

so many years. Would she even recognize him, know who he was? She'd been so right back then

when she'd said that everything would be different when he went away. Everything, all of it, did

change. He'd gotten caught up in studies, in sports, then in the military. What had she gotten

caught up in? Had she?

 

He was so lost in thought that he failed to notice the doctor leave room 4 until he felt a light

hand on his shoulder. "Mr. Thorne?"

 

Jerked out of his musings, Terry looked up. "Dr. Freeburg?"

 

"You can go in now. Try not to stay too long. She tires quickly."

 

"How...how is she?"

 

"Not good, I'm afraid. Not good at all."  He inhaled deeply. "Best go on in and see her."

 

Terry folded the letter, sticking it inside the breast pocket of his navy suitcoat. He walked down

the hallway to the mostly glass door and paused, closing his eyes, wanting to find what he had

seen when they watched clouds together atop Mount Olympus. He knew he wouldn't. That girl

was gone, so he steeled himself for what he would find.

 

Opening the door, he stepped into the small room with all its beeping machinery, wires, and

tubes. "Oh...God," he sighed, closing his eyes quickly, then opening them just as fast, plastering

a bright smile on his face.

 

But her head was turned away from him and all he could see was a fluff of white hair on the

pillow. The railings were up on both sides of her bed and he went to the closest one, curling

his fingers over its top rail, willing strength into himself for what he'd be facing.

 

"Kady?" he said, standing ramrod straight.

 

Slowly she turned her head, blinking her eyes as she looked up at him.

 

His lips parted. She had that almost transparent beauty some old, fading women were gifted

with. To him she looked like a lovely, pale pink rose that had been left out of water on the

tabletop, its petals becoming limp, but its loveliness delicately lingering.

 

"Oh, Kady!" he said again, looking after so long into her blue eyes.

 

Eileen had not told her grandmother she'd written Terry. She was too afraid she either wouldn't

find him, or he'd be dead, or not interested in coming. Kady looked up at the still-handsome

elderly gentleman gazing down at her, brilliantly silver hair waving down over his ears to

his darker silver beard.  Those were not familiar to her, but the eyes, the green eyes with flecks

of amber. She knew those eyes.

 

"Ter...Terry?"

 

"Yes, Kady, it's me, Terry."

 

"How? Why?" 

 

He saw the tears brim quickly, instantly taking him back to her face as they'd sat beside the

stream that last day before he left. "Shhh!" he murmured, stroking her hair. "I'm here. That's

all that matters, my Kady, that I'm here."

 

"Oh...Terry!" The tears began to course down her cheeks, not round, firm cheeks as before,

but with delicate skin over obvious cheekbones.

 

"No," he said, wiping with his thumb, "not like this."

 

"That...that's what you said...before."

 

"Before?"

 

"By the stream. You said...."

 

"I remember."

 

"I never forgot it, Terry, never forgot any of it."

 

He knew he laid most of it somewhere on some dusty shelf, but as he looked in her eyes, it was

all flooding back to him, fresh as though it had been last week. "The book, the Arabian cave...

Mount Olympus."

 

She tried to lift her left hand, wanting to touch his there on the bedrail, but didn't have the

strength. He saw her motion and, uncurling his fingers, moved his right hand, encircling hers,

careful with her IV line.

 

"All my life...."

 

"What, Kady?"

 

"You. All my life."

 

"You married, had a family, right?"

 

She nodded. "But you...always...on the Mount." Her chin was trembling. "The wind in your

hair."

 

"You mean the storm? That day we got caught in the rain?"

 

"You had your hand up...watching."

 

His eyes suddenly stung. Where had he stored them, all those moments from the past? He knew

they had to have been stored somewhere for now they were out, playing across his inner vision,

making his eyes have to blink rapidly. How had he let them slide, let them be buried? He felt

his heart swelling in his chest as he gazed at her, so changed yet still so familiar. His Kady. A whole life lived and with such value lying right here, not a part of most of it. He lifted his face

to the ceiling, squeezing his eyes tightly shut.

 

"Pirates," she whispered and he looked down again. "On your porch."

 

"You were a very good swordswoman," he smiled.

 

"Don't."

 

"Don't what, KadyLuv?"

 

"Don't waste...regrets...don't."

 

"It's hard not to. I...."

 

"You lived your life, my Terry. I've lived mine. Now I think...."

 

"You think what?"

 

"I think I'll go sit on some cloud and wait."

 

"Will...would...for me? Would you wait for me? I don't deserve...."

 

"You deserve it all. Don't you know that, my darling? Don't you know how much...."

 

"I think I'm beginning to, my Kady. But it's too...."

 

"Shhhh!" she said, smiling up at him, her lips closed, the dimple still there on the left.

 

He touched it. "Your father, he always said that...."

 

"He did. And I gave it to you. That first one, the best of all of them."

 

His fingers moved to his own lips, rubbing them lightly. "The sweetest, yes, the most wonderful

of all." It flooded through him how startled he'd been when she'd leaned forward and touched

her lips to his. It had been a moment of such grand purity and he knew that in the seventy years

since, he'd never been kissed so utterly beautifully.

 

He leaned way over the railing, his lips finding hers, something in him soaring and breaking

apart at the same time because it was there again, just as before, the grand purity of it. Her

lips still against his, she murmured, "I love you, Terry Thorne," then all the machines went

crazy with shrill, wailing sounds and he jerked upright. Her eyes had closed. The door burst

open behind him as several medical personnel rushed in.

 

He backed into a corner, holding his breath. Dr. Freeburg stepped away from the bed, shaking

his head. "Time of death...," he began, but Terry didn't hear him. He walked blindly out into

the hall and back to the waiting room, leaning his forehead against the large windowpane and

closing his eyes.

 

Kady had done it and she'd done it for him, given him her first and her last. This time he'd not

forget the treasure of that. Opening his eyes, he looked over the treetops, lifting his gaze to a

mound of clouds with the sun thinly blocked behind it. He made a low sound, and as a tear

made its way down to be lost in his beard, he smiled. It was them, him and Kady, sitting on

Mount Olympus, looking at the clouds.

 

"Wait for me, Kady," he whispered. "Please...wait for me."

 

 

THE END

 

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