NEVER GONE - PROLOGUE
He was leaving me. On our one-year anniversary too. Not that it was his fault, but I still couldn’t help but blame him. He could have fought harder. Could have fought for us. But he didn’t, and he wouldn’t.
I met Atlas Horne when his family moved in across the street from us. I was seven and he was nine. While the other boys picked on me, he never joined in. No. Instead, Atlas got in many fights over me. He protected me. Took care of me. He smiled whenever I was near. He teased and tickled me whenever he had a chance. There wasn’t a day that went by where he didn’t try to touch me in some way. Whether it was just pushing a strand of hair behind my ear or wiping a smudge of dirt off my cheek. I craved his touches. It got to the point where I would go out of my way to make sure he did.
“Those two are going to get married one day,” his mama would say.
But now, nine years later, he was moving. All because his father got a job across the country. “Flight and all expenses paid”, his dad had boasted on more than one occasion.
I knew he meant well but he never saw the pieces that fell from my heart each time he said those words. He never saw the mess I had become, all because he was taking his son away from me.
We had known about the move for the past few months. We lived every day like it was our last. We lost our virginity to each other because of it, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. He was my first and I wanted him to be my last.
“You’re so young, Atlas,” his mom had said one evening after supper when she didn’t think I was listening. “You’ll find someone else.”
So much for her thinking that we would get married one day.
Maybe she was right, but it didn’t mean that I liked hearing her say it any less.
Letting out a huff, I gripped the chains of the swing I was sitting on and began to move. Kicking from the ground, I let the wind whip around me. If only it could take me away. Somewhere far from here where I didn’t actually have to say goodbye. At all.
My chest tightened, a sob lodging its way into my throat. Ignoring him, I swung harder.
I took a chance and glanced down at Atlas.
His hands were shoved into the pockets of his blue jeans. His brown hair that fell just below his ears, was messy and unkempt. But what I noticed most was the sheer look of pain hidden in his charcoal gray eyes.
I stopped kicking my legs back and forth, letting the swing slow to a stop.
He stepped in front of me, grabbing onto the chains and slid his hands down slowly past each link until they were covering mine. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t,” I finally said, tears pricking the back of my eyes.
“Hey.” He knelt at my feet, taking my hands in his. “I am sorry I have to leave but we can still talk on the phone.”
I scoffed. “That’s not the same thing and you know it.”
He frowned. “I’ll see you during the summers.”
I pushed him back and stood from the swing. “No, you won’t. Face it, Atlas. You’ll meet someone. You’ll get married and have babies and I’ll be stuck in this town for the rest of my life.”
“Marley, you know that’s not true.” He came up behind me, wrapping his arms around my shoulders. “I wish I had more time. I wish I could show you how much you mean to me.”
I love you was on the tip of my tongue, but as much as I wanted to say those words to him, I couldn’t. Not when he was leaving. Not when I would probably never see him again. Not when he would outgrow me.
Atlas spun me around, pinched my chin and forced me to look up at him. He gave me a small smile.
I reached up, running my fingers along the side of his face, across his lips and down the bridge of his crooked nose. It had broken when he got in a fight for protecting me against a bully. I couldn’t even remember what the bully did to set Atlas off.
“I’ll miss you,” I whispered.
“I’ll miss you too.” He leaned down, pressing his forehead against mine. “We will see each other again. I promise you that, Marley.”
I wanted to believe him. I wished I could, but both of us knew that if we did see each other again, it would be a long time from now and we would be changed people. Maybe we would change so much that we wouldn’t be attracted to each other anymore. Or we would be married to other people. Or we just wouldn’t connect.
Atlas placed a soft peck on my forehead before pulling me against him. “No matter how long I’m gone for, it won’t be forever.”
A sob escaped me. No matter how much I didn’t want to cry, I couldn’t stop my body from shaking with agony. My one true love, my first love, my everything, was leaving. And I wasn’t sure if I would ever get him back.