Continuing with my series, The Right Age for Young Readers, here is another short YA story to consider. As before, I invite comments about the ideal age range for content like this, introducing serious current events. I will base a follow-up post on these comments early next week.
In the meantime, be sure to catch my guest-post on Cow Pasture Chronicles, questioning why loud voices get all the attention.
By K. Alan
“It isn’t a problem,” my mother kept telling me. “It’s an opportunity for us all: not just your father.”
Easy for her to say. The last time she’d left a friend forever, the wooly mammoths had only just frozen over. My friends were different; they were here now. Alex was here.
Mother pulled off her irritating routine of trying to pretend that she knew how I felt. “You’re getting to know Alex,” she commented, folding a sheet, “and that’s a shame. He really is a nice boy.”
“He’s a sizzler,” I pouted. “I’ll never meet anyone like him, never, ever again.”
Infuriatingly, this made her smile. She fought it, but even behind the sheet, I could see the creases of age and gloom crinkling away from around her eyes. “He’s a nice boy,” she repeated, folding the discussion into her pile of linens.
Normally, having my mother brand a boyfriend a ‘nice boy’ would have been enough to sanitize the passion right out of me, but Alex really sizzled. He had sizzled in school, he sizzled in the uniform he wore to work, and he would sizzle, especially, singing to me through our window. We had a neighbor—Mr. Franco—who didn’t quite agree at three in the morning, but even his threatening shouts couldn’t douse the flame that burned from my boyfriend, Alex.
My boyfriend. Not anymore. We moved, just like my mother and father wanted. It was always what they wanted; they never thought about how I felt. The only time I had with Alex now was FaceTime. His only serenades came through YouTube. Our entire relationship was starting to depend on SnapChat and Wi-Fi, and other words with two capital letters.
On the ninth morning, Skype sang that I had a call. My heart lifted, but it didn’t stay aloft for long.
Alex was saying terrible things.
“Alex,” I was shouting at his image, “I miss you!”
“It’s me, Amira,” he was shouting back. “I can see… but the networks are…”
“What is it?” Alex was in his uniform, so he must have been working, but I could only see rocks behind him. “Do you miss me too?” I asked, needing to hear that he did.
That wasn’t the question he answered, though. “It is good that… Hungary, now, Amira… father was smart.”
“No, Alex,” I pleaded, unable to bear the rejection. “Don’t say that. It’s terrible that I’m in Hungary, and I miss you so much. When I’m older—”
His voice interrupted me in broken pieces, each stabbing like a shard. “…fight… terrible… defend…”
That was the moment I gathered my pride, and gave him an ultimatum. “Alex, if you’re ending things, just say so.”
Still, he ignored me, but his voice sizzled as the connection cleared a little. “…was the Free Syrian Army… attacked Aleppo. We were deployed… in their control.”
That was when Alex stopped moving, and I saw the rocks behind him more clearly. Only they weren’t rocks: they were pieces of buildings. Other boys, uniformed like Alex, were dragging charred bodies from them.
“Tell your parents,” he finally said, as if he were in the room, “Mr. Franco is dead. …glad they took you out of Syria, Amira.”
Then, the nice boyfriend who still burns in my mind said his last words to me.
“I’m glad you’re safe.”
– What is the “Right Age” for these Words from K. Alan?