Note: Well, this was quite late, wasn't it? I've finally taken you all up on your update-when-you-want-to offer. Sorry. (EXAMS OWN ME!) So…I'm slacking on studying and writing this. Be grateful. Haha.

Chapter Eighteen: Good-bye

Light. Airy. Released. I couldn't think of a better way to describe my soul at that point if I tried. As if…I'd been choked, stifled, and then suddenly let free like rain from a storm cloud. It's sad, and it's cold, and there are flashes of lightning, but what would grow without rain? How can you be set free when you have nothing to release?

How can you love without ever knowing what love was?

It had been hours, but it felt like minutes; all those smiles, and those kind words, and congratulations had already fallen into the past. The vows had been made, the wedding cake eaten, the luggage packed, and the final songs sung. And there we were, standing on the dock, when suddenly all that happiness had already begun to fade.

I didn't know what to think. I was simply staring at the figures ready to leave the dock: a blushing bride, a grinning traveler, and an uncertain waitress, all carrying their own luggage with them for the journey ahead. All three carrying courage. All three scared, and yet happy all at the same time.

"Now remember, dear, write as often as you can, alright?" Lillia smiled as she brushed a stray hair from her daughter's face. "Oh, look at you. So beautiful. Your father would be so proud if he could see you now."

Popuri nodded, tears glimmering in her eyes. "I—I'm gonna miss you, Mama," she choked, throwing her arms around the startled woman. "I'll write you every day, okay? I promise."

"Oh, darling," her mother sighed, "you'll be far too busy to worry about a little old woman like me. I'd like it if you could, but—you have so much ahead. So much to look forward to. Popuri, you're an adult now. You can't be my baby girl forever."

"I…I love you, Mama," she whispered, pressing herself ever tighter against her mother. "I love you so much."

They stood like that for a while, mother and daughter locked in a final embrace. Who knew if that could be their last, if they could see each other again? What bravery it took, to risk leaving behind someone you love so much, never knowing if you would see their smiling face again.

What…courage.

"Do you think she'll be alright?"

I stiffened at the sound of Kai's voice beside me. Turning to him, I saw his gaze fixed ahead on his wife in her mother's arms. The wind was picking up as he spoke again, rising and rising until the sound of his voice merged with the breeze. "I feel almost guilty, taking her away from her family like this. Look at them, Claire. Look at how…" His voice trailed off, and closing his eyes, he sighed.

"She knows what she's doing, Kai," I answered, watching as well. "She's an adult. She's made her decision. And she's hurting now, but someday it won't hurt so much. Someday, she'll know what she did was right."

"You can't know that."

"She chose you for a reason, didn't she?" I answered, turning my head towards him. "She was brave enough to say yes to you. She knew what she was leaving behind, and she still said yes. You're…worth it, Kai. You're worth it."

He laughed, shaking his head. "I wish I was. I wish I didn't have to feel so guilty about doing the one thing that I know will make me happy."

"Then make her decision worth it." I bit my lip, and continued, "Care for her. Love her. Never take her for granted. Stay by her side, and never stop loving her. Never."

Kai stared at me, her gaze lingering over my resolute expression. Taking my hand in his own, his fingers wrapped themselves around mine tightly. "Thank you," he smiled, bringing my hand to his lips and letting them graze my skin. Little tremors of exhilaration shot throughout my body, and I found myself stunned speechless as he continued. "Thank you…for understanding. You're a good friend, Claire. I only wish I—that I had never taken our friendship for granted until now."

"You weren't the only one," I whispered back. "I'll miss you, Kai. I'll miss…seeing my best friend again."

"Best friend," Kai repeated with a grin, his grip loosening. "Yeah…best friend." His fingers were slowly untangled from mine, and my hands fell empty by my sides, groping for air. "Claire, I—" He opened his mouth to speak--but the cry of a young bride jerked him back to reality—to the dock, to the future lying ahead and away from the past that he had to leave behind.

A past…we both had to leave behind.

Ann leaned against the rail of the dock as Kai approached, her braid swaying in the wind. Unlike those beside her, she stared directly into the horizon, her eyes fixed on the road ahead. Her bag hung limply from her shoulder, and she tapped her foot impatiently. "I think it's about time, now. It's almost noon."

"It is, isn't it?" Elli murmured, Karen glaring at her side.

"Don't you get it?" the blonde snapped. "This is just a cry for attention, Elli—she's not really going anywhere."

"Is that so?" The red-head eased herself forward, hands on her hips as she glared at her accuser. "You might as well assume whatever you want, Karen. I won't be seeing you for a while, anyway. And hey, if I want attention, you're the one giving it to me, aren't you?"

The shopkeeper's daughter snorted. "I just can't believe how dumb you are. You really think Cliff will take you back? That he hasn't already moved on with some other dumb girl?"

"Karen--!" Elli warned, but Ann brought up her hand in protest.

"You know, Karen, I was about to ask you the same thing," Ann answered, flicking back her braid decidedly. "You've waited here every night for a whole year. You've stayed glued to this dock like it's some kind of lifeline—you're so close to leaving, but you'd rather wait for the arrival. Well I, for one, am tired of waiting. I want answers, Karen--answers this dock can't give me. And I hate myself for wasting a whole year wondering what those answers are, when I could have just stood up and looked for them!"

"Listen, Ann, I get it—"

"No, you don't, Karen!" Ann shouted, arousing the attention of the previously idling townsfolk. "Look at yourself! Give yourself a long, hard look, and tell me whether or not this is the life you want! Do you really think Jack loves you? Do you really think he's coming back? Do you?"

"You know I do, Ann--"

"Then prove it." The tomboy pointed towards the vessel, her eyes fixed on Karen's stubborn expression. "Get on this boat. Go see him, and find out for yourself whether or not you're living a lie. Get on this boat right now, Karen. Because…I think you have the right to know."

Karen paused, glancing at the circle of murmuring villagers closing round her. Pinpricks of sweat appeared on her brow, and backing away, she shook her head, shouting, "I don't need to do anything! He promised me, damn it—I don't need to prove anything! He'll come--!"

"When, Karen?" Ann asked softly. "When is he coming?"

"I--!" Her voice began to waver, no longer laced with confidence. Emerald eyes glancing furtively from face to face of those about her, she cleared her throat, and replied, "I—I don't know."

"But you don't want to find out."

The accusation unopposed, Karen turned desperately to any excuse she could somehow produce. But the words died on her lips. "…You just…you don't…it's not…"

"I see." Ann's hand closed into a fist and fell down by her side. Blue eyes scrutinizing the trembling girl, Ann spoke. "Well, for your sake, I hope he does come. It's a damn shame that a girl like you has to suffer like this. A damn, damn shame."

"I don't want your pity--!"

"Then don't take it."

"All aboard! All aboard!" Zack's voice rang out, interrupting the silence that had fallen between the two. Ann shifted the weight of the bag on her shoulder, and averting her gaze from the blonde, turned to Elli instead. "When I come back, I want to see a little kid running around the Clinic, Elli. And I'll definitely need you to send pictures."

The nurse smiled weakly, her husband coming to her side. "Don't worry," she replied. "I won't forget to send them. But you'll have to come back and see our child, of course."

"Preferably with Cliff," the doctor added. "Be sure to tell him we all say hello."

"Believe me," Ann grinned, "I plan to tell him everything and then some."

I watched as the red-head took her steps onto the boat--determined, purposeful steps with no fear of what lay ahead. The next to board was Kai, extending his hand for his wife to follow him. Popuri reluctantly left her mother's arms, but before she took Kai's hand, flung herself onto an unassuming Rick.

"I'll miss you, too, Ricky," she exclaimed, squeezing him tightly. "I'll miss you so much, and I'll miss having you to boss me around and tell me when I'm being a baby! I'm going to miss it so, so, so much!"

Rick's startled expression softened, and holding her tight, he replied, "I'll miss you, too, Popuri. Take care of yourself."

"I'll make sure she will," Kai nodded, leaning on the edge of the boat. "Don't worry, Rick. She's in good hands."

The poultry farmer eyed him quizzically, and stated, "Maybe you're right. Maybe she is in good hands. But be sure to bring her back in one piece, Kai. I want to see her next summer."

"And who knows?" Elli beamed. "Maybe she'll be the one with child next year."

"Well, we'll see about that," Kai laughed, Popuri blushing. Fidgeting with her bouquet, the bride glanced about at the villagers one last time as she boarded the boat—and as her eyes landed on me, a smile broke across her lips and she waved to me furiously. Hesitantly, I waved back, suddenly feeling very shy for no reason at all.

"See you next year!" she called as the boat took off, her hand waving frantically. "We'll be back next summer!"

There were cheers, shouts, and even a few tears on Lillia's part. The vessel slowly pushed its way through the oncoming waves, sending the water spraying in all directions. The wind tossed about the folds of the bride's gown and carried the bouquet as she tossed it over the side of the boat. It soared through the air before finding itself in an unsuspecting Mary's hands.

The boat slowly faded into the distance, until all that could be seen was a tiny dot in the distance. And even so, I kept on watching until that dot disappeared into the yawning mouth of the sea.

"She left…"

I turned in surprise to see that another villager hadn't left the shore yet. The blonde was standing on the dock, her eyes widening in disbelief. "She…she actually…left."

The wind tossed about her hair, and her legs seemed nailed to the ground. Laughing nervously, Karen continued, "She left…she left…but she's coming back. She has to. There's no way she meant it—there's no way he'd take her back—these things don't happen. They don't. You wait for your promise to be fulfilled. You wait because you trust him. But you never knew that, Ann. You never trusted him, did you? That's why you have to find him yourself—because you know he'll never come back otherwise. I don't need to…I don't…I didn't have to come on that ship… Jack is coming on his own, isn't he? He promised, and I trust his promise. He's…coming back. He has to. You're both coming back. You're a liar, Ann. He promised, and he's coming back. Come back…damn it, come back!"

The laughter turned into a fit of sobs, and Karen stood on the dock, shaking her head as tears made their way down her cheeks. "Come back…don't leave me here. Don't leave me here, damn it! I don't want to be the only one waiting…I don't want to wait anymore…damn it, come back! Turn that boat around! Come back, Ann—take me with you! I want to see him again! I want—I want to stop waiting—I want—damn it, Ann!"

A hand made its way onto my shoulder, and I heard someone whisper, "Let's go now, Claire. She…needs to be alone now."

I turned around, and seeing Rick, nodded. Turning our backs on the crying girl, I tried to shut out her cries from my mind. That sound—that outcry of grief and regret and longing—I didn't want to hear it. I…was almost scared to.

"What did you think of the wedding?" I asked Rick instead, clearing my throat.

"It was a nice ceremony," was his reply as he kept walking forward. "And you?"

"Me?"

"What did you think?"

I shrugged, glancing at the Inn as we passed it by. "Yeah…it was nice, I guess. Those two—they're so happy together. I really hope it works out for them."

"It will," Rick nodded. "If they work at it, they can make it work. I didn't think so before, but now…"

"Now?" I insisted as a long pause made its way into the conversation.

"I've changed my mind," he stated simply. He cast me a quick glance, then said, "You know, Claire—you kept saying you were the selfish one. That you didn't want Popuri and Kai to get married because you selfishly wanted him for yourself." He sighed, and stared straight ahead. "The truth is, I was selfish, too."

He stopped walking, and I paused as well, watching as he tried to collect his thoughts. "She's my little sister. I've always had her here with me—Popuri, my mother, and I. In the beginning, there was my father, too. My father…he's gone, and I highly doubt he's ever coming back. My mother hasn't been the same, either; she waits, and dreams, and hopes he'll come back. He hasn't yet, Claire. Then there was Karen—my best friend, and the one person who could somehow make taking my father's place bearable for me. But Jack came, and now that he's left, Karen's gone. At least, the Karen I knew is gone. And then in comes Kai, after the one person I have left--the one person who never changed. I…hated him for that. Selfishly, I hated him, because he wanted all I had left. I wasn't willing to give my little sister up. I wasn't ready…to see her change, like Karen and my mother had."

"When you put it like that," I smiled softly, "it doesn't sound as selfish as you think. There's nothing wrong with an older brother wanting to protect his little sister."

"True," Rick admitted. "But there is something wrong with not wanting her to be happy."

"So I guess…in the end…we were both selfish, huh?" I stated, crossing my arms.

"No," Rick disagreed, shaking his head. "I think what I saw you do today—letting him go—was the most unselfish thing you could have done."

A pink color spread its way across my cheeks, and I replied, "It's only fair to say that you did the same thing with Popuri. We both let them go."

He laughed quietly. "Yeah, I guess so."

The wind began to pick up again, and my hair swirled about me as Rick's was swayed by the breeze as well. The silk of my dress brushed up against my legs, and I brought my arms tighter around myself in an effort to maintain my warmth. The day was fading, and all the colors of a sunset were beginning to be painted onto the canvas of the sky—starting with a passionate scarlet and followed by a spread of violet coupled with pink. Rick and I both stared upward as the miracle of twilight took place, and I whispered, "Rick? Can you…promise me something?"

"Promise you what, Claire?" he asked, gazing at me from behind large round spectacles.

"…Promise me you won't change," I murmured. "Promise you won't…leave here."

Staring at me thoughtfully, a tiny grin made its way across his lips, and he answered, "Only if you promise, too."

"It's a promise, then."

We had stopped walking at the crossroads—where our paths diverged towards my farm and Rick's. Reluctantly, I stared down my road, and Rick did likewise with his own.

"Hey, Claire," Rick began, clearing his throat. "If you need anything, you know you can come ask me for help. Since Popuri used to help you and all--"

"I know," I nodded. "And if you need help around the Poultry Farm, like someone to help with Lillia or the chickens—"

"I'll call you," he assured me.

Unspoken good-byes were exchanged with fleeting smiles, and I began down my road. My neglected pineapple plants came into view, withering on their stems. I paused and gave them a long hard look—then brought out my watering can and began to slowly water them one by one.

And sometimes, it's hard—to go back and water everything you've forgotten to grow for so long. It's easy to forget what you've left behind, that so much still needs to be mended. It's easy to let all the good times, the good friends, and the good choices pale in comparison to the bad. What's hard is to let go of all the hard times, the lost friends, and the wrong choices that are dragging you down into the tide.

It might take five years to overcome it. It might take more. It might take just one brief moment of clarity to teach you to leave everything behind and sail off into your future. You might never stop waiting on the dock for that moment to come.

But I, for one, refuse to wait there any longer.

Someday, the pain of all those years will fade. I know it will. And in some ways, it already has. I don't pretend that I'll never miss him, because that's a lie. But I do believe that it's time to move on—to pull myself out of the tide.

I passed by the Supermarket the other day. Karen was sitting there at the counter, idly waiting for her shift to end. Catching my eye, she allowed me a brief smile and a wave, and I waved back. But she wasn't what I was staring at.

A tiny nook on the side of the room stood bare, layered with dust. I stared at it curiously, trying to remember what it was that had occupied it the year before—something important, I knew, but I couldn't put my finger down on what.

"There's a rumor going around," a familiar voice said from behind, "that someone bought the blue feather from the shop. Any guesses?"

And I know, I know, that not everyone gets their happy ending. Not everyone can be pulled free from the tide. And I know that the road ahead won't be perfect, and it won't be easy, and it's not the road I always dreamed of taking.

But I'm ready to face that new road. I'm ready, for the first time in my life, to trust someone completely without holding back. I...I'm going to try to have that kind of courage.

Because I am done waiting. And I know that it's time to move on.

The End


I'm sorry if the end was rushed, I truly am. I worked for hours and hours, and I couldn't make it better than this. If you didn't catch the note in the description, the blue feather incident happened a year after Kai and Popuri's wedding.

Thank you to each of my reviewers: I owe each and everyone of you for inspiring me to do better and to grow as a writer. Thank you so much.

Thank you to those who read and did not review: Each time I look at the Stats page, I can't help but smile.

There will be no sequel, but this ties in with a few of my old oneshots, most notably "All That Remains" and "The Departure," along with a smattering of "Rose Petals."

Again, thank you for reading, and I really, really hope the ending didn't let you down. (I almost dedicated a whole chapter nineteen to the final few paragraphs, but it always came out short and choppy and awful.) But I'll miss writing this story, and I hope you all enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Thank you all. So, so much.

--Scarlet