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by Evan James Sheldon

Here’s what might have happened:

Let’s say we were playing a game: sardines. It was in the church. Everything always happened in the church. Maybe that is helpful information. Probably not. Does it matter if it happened in a church? If God is everywhere, etc. Let’s say it didn’t happen there. Let’s say it was a mountain top. No. A grassy expanse. There are trees off to one side, big trees. They cast beautiful shadows that waver and dance in a warm breeze. Sometimes I am in shadow. Sometimes not. Everything could change in a moment. Or is it a moment that could change everything?

Let’s say that I was the one seeking, not the one being sought. In this version I was never hiding. There’s a wooden fence opposite the trees. The low, thick beams, weather worn and splintered, run horizontally between stocky posts. It is the kind of fence you can see through; the kind that doesn’t keep anything out. Just a marker that suggests but doesn’t enforce a boundary.

In this version, outside in the shade and sun, by the trees and the old fence, I am seeking. I go slow. Part of the fun is to be quick. To point out how adept you are. You thought I wouldn’t look here, didn’t you? But, I go slow. The other part of the joy is a rather wicked expectation; to draw it out and make them wait on you. A nervous, repressed giggle. Maybe I hear it with a soft intake of breath, a shuffling of shoes, the sound of cotton on denim. I round a tree and find her. She almost squeals, but there are other searchers. This is the thing about sardines: everyone is searching for everyone. When someone is found, you hide together.

Let’s say she smiles and waves me over. I oblige quickly and snuggle in next to her, a leafy bush for cover. She smells like clean laundry and sunny sweat. She definitely doesn’t reek like too much cologne and stale cigs. Absolutely not. Let’s say I brush up against her arm. I look down, acknowledging the contact, then back up and our faces are nearly touching. I can feel her breath and she doesn’t pull away.

In this version, I lean in and it isn’t an awkward, terrifying, confusing moment. Or maybe it still is. Bang! Pow! Sparks fly! And then someone bursts through the underbrush and finds us, our lips still touching. She pulls away and turns the most beautiful shade of red because the blush is paired with a smile. I realize I am smiling, and the friend who interrupted is smiling too. And everyone is smiling and it is not horrible. Not in this version.

Let’s say that the three of us laugh together. No one is threatened or told that it was dark and they didn’t see what they thought they saw. In this version, no one is afraid. Ever.

Evan James Sheldon’s work has appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine and Dually Noted. He is a junior editor for Tethered by Letters.