Flash Fiction: The Choice by Kayla Mathys


the choice by Kayla Mathys

For those of you who have been on this blogging journey with me from the beginning, you might recognize the opening lines of this story from In the Middle, one of the novels I was working on and posting here back in 2019. I’ve since finished that novel, renamed it, and rewritten it at least a half dozen times. As I’m currently working on formatting it for formal self-publication and planning to release it by the beginning of April, I wanted to share this flash fiction spin-off of it that I wrote for my creative writing class last semester (the class that finally made me realize I needed to stop writing the same story over and over and just let enough be enough already).

 I hope you enjoy it (and that it will encourage you to buy the book when it comes out!)

The Choice by Kayla Mathys

Today is my high school graduation and I haven’t spoken for a year. Not a word. It’s been quite an expensive silence too since my parents have been dragging me to the same, pricy therapist once a week to help me “cope with my grief” but I don’t feel sad. Not really. I just feel empty. Like no matter how many breaths I take, there won’t be enough air in my lungs to speak.

“It’s been one year since Brad’s death,” my therapist, Sheila, reminds me. As if I could forget. “How are you feeling, Sarah?”

Like I don’t want to be here, I think. But she only sees the same shrug of my shoulders I always give her when she asks me something I can’t answer with a shake or nod of my head–my only source of communication these days.

I know I’m not being entirely fair to Sheila, though. I can tell she’s done her best to make her office a welcoming and comforting place to be. The couch I’m sitting on is so comfortable, in fact, that it’s as if it has conformed to fit the specific shape of me, holding me in place just so. And considering how often I’ve found myself here this past year, it’s quite possible that’s the case.

There’s a candle burning somewhere in this room too, coating the atmosphere in the aromatic embrace of a sugar-cookie-scented haze. The walls are even painted an equally cheery and contemplative robin’s-egg blue, and on the wall in front of me, there’s a large painting of a shoreline at sunset, the sky a pink, lavender and orange swirl above the dark ocean blue broken by the occasional frothy white wave tips. Written in the sky with a glittering gold is the inspiration to Choose Peace.

Like it’s a choice.

“Do you still miss him?” Sheila asks.

Do I have any other choice? I think as I give her my standard nod. I watch her scribble something down on the notepad in her lap and imagine the words one year later, still no progress appearing in her neat, looping handwriting.

“Would you say your grief has gotten less intense than it was a year ago?”

This time there’s a slight pause before my shrug. She smiles kindly as she scribbles something else down in her notebook. Perhaps one year later, still no slight progress. Only I know it isn’t progress that gave me pause, but the struggle to silently explain how my grief has simply become a part of me now, like a second vital organ that has taken root in my chest, sitting heavy beneath my throat.

Brad was supposed to be the love of my life. 

Loving him had been easy–as automatic as breathing.

Of course, he was just a cootie-ridden boy a year older than me when we had first met. But as the only children within walking distance of each other in the most rural part of our small Texas town, we quickly bonded over tree fort building and games of make-believe.

I was thirteen when he became my first kiss. I remember I’d just had my braces put on and was feeling entirely self-conscious when I showed up for Brad’s weekly family movie night I’d been attending for years. Normally, I sat next to Brad on the couch so we could share a bowl of popcorn, but that night I made sure his mom sat between us, avoiding the chance of catching kernels in my teeth as well as any casual conversation that would showcase the intruding metal in my mouth.

When the movie ended, though, Brad insisted on walking me home. I hoped to get away with a simple goodbye at my front door, but he grabbed my hand before I could.

“Sarah,” Brad had said, “what’s wrong? You’ve been really quiet all night.”

I looked at the ground as I said, “I hate these stupid braces.”

His fingers grazed my chin, gently titling my face to meet his gaze. “I still think you’re perfect, you know.”

Later, we would argue over who initiated the first sweetly timid kiss that came next. He would swear it was me while I would be just as certain it was him. All we would be able to agree on was that it marked the beginning of our inevitable love story, a story neither of us could have imagined would end in tragedy.

Now, I stare at the painting on the wall above Sheila’s head until the words Choose Peace start to melt into the sky they’re written on.

“Well, Sarah,” Sheila says with a warm smile, “it looks like that’s all the time we have today. Maybe next week you’ll feel up to telling me how your graduation ceremony goes tonight. Congratulations, by the way.”

I scoff silently, knowing congratulations are far from necessary. Graduation is supposed to be an acknowledgement of all the hard work done in the past and a celebratory push into the promise of the future ahead. But all the promises of my future were broken into a pile of shattered glass, blood, and bone–later replaced by a single wooden cross on the side of the road.

As I drive home from the appointment, I stare at the bright golden light of the sunlight streaking across the sky. I can almost make out the glittering gold letters written within it.

Choose Peace. Choose Peace. Choose Peace.

The words follow me as I turn my eyes to the road. They’re echoing in my head, burning with light behind my eyelids.

I can’t stop it.

They pull me past the house with the chipped-grey paint and the front porch swing, the only home I’ve ever known; past the woman in the garden of the house next door, the one who raises her hand to wave at me, fingers folded over flowers I know she’ll lay at a grave tonight; even past the lonely cross on the side of the road, my reminder of what was and what will never be again.

Away into the sky I drive until the words of light come alive and it’s no longer a choice thrust upon me by a painting in my therapist’s office.

It’s mine.

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