Split Stones

Split Stones

Bethanie Lee | Art by Alex Cotterel

She woke up from the vibration of her phone. The alarm clock on her side flashed 3:00 AM in blaring red. The familiar panic settled into her chest as she reached for the bright screen, answering the call without having to check the name.

“Anna,” he whispered. Even through the depths of panic in his voice, he didn’t stutter. She let out a breath to calm her pounding heart, fear and relief passing through her body before exhaustion settled in. 

“I’ll be there.” She reassured him before he hung up the phone. 

Anna threw on a hoodie, grabbed an extra jacket, brushed her hair back, and slipped out her bedside window. The season of April had been kind to everyone, but not to her.

Anna had never hated running, but chasing after him had tired her. The wind screamed in her ear as she picked up her pace. She might even have been scared of the darkness of the night and the human-like figures formed from the shadows of the trees.

He was waiting for her almost a block away from his house. His eyes met hers before crashing into her arms as she struggled to catch her breath. His body was ice cold and his hands trembled as they wrapped around her back.

“Where to?” 

They traveled in silence uphill on foot. What used to take five hours suddenly only took three. She had grown familiar with the trail. The footsteps of others who had walked the path before them were imprinted on the dusty road and helped her remember where she was heading. She liked to pretend those footsteps were her own, that this was their little secret.

When they reached the lake, the sun had risen and begun to reflect his golden shimmer on its waters, expanding its reds and blues like a painting. They sat on the pier, feet dangling off, hands propped up next to one another.

Anna dipped her fingers into the lake’s icy waters, eyes fixated on the rippled reflection of her face next to his. She would never turn him away, the stars on his arm were his testimony. 

Caleb opened his mouth, paused for a moment considering, then, “Sometimes, I feel like I’ll die if I stay put.” 

She watched as the golden light reflected off the top of his head and threw flickers into the air, “When have you ever stayed put?” 

Even now, his fingers fiddled with one another as his leg bounced on the timber boards. She watched as he struggled to articulate his thoughts. 

He wrinkled his nose and sniffled a couple of times, his face a blank emotionless expression. The silence poured over the field like a gust of wind and she imagined the pebbles all around them flipping over.


They had met at twelve years old after he moved into the apartment next to hers. Their families had grown close over a short period and started traveling together. While visiting campsites, Anna and Caleb had created a secret tradition of stacking stones one by one towering as high as they could go. 

They imagined the stones resembling their souls, and a part of them would live there forever. But each time Anna turned away, satisfied with the result, she thought she heard them rolling down. Nonetheless, she never bothered to check. 

Before they knew it, the world around them changed until eventually, it was unrecognizable, and he began to grow in fear of becoming his parents. 

She caught a glimpse of that fear the first time he ever called her to his house. They were just thirteen. She remembered it clearly; his eyes were untamable, tears streaming down his face, bruises on his cheek. Anna’s heart had stopped when she saw the hues of purple and green. She knew about the fighting, but she never knew… how could she not have known? 

“I’m suffocating,” he fell to his knees, eyes wide and roaming his shaking hands as if they were detached from his body. “Anna–I’m suffocating.” 

She embraced him because there was nothing else she could do. There was nothing she could’ve said because he could not hear her anymore. And they stayed there for hours.  

On the side of the pavement, Anna held onto him as tightly as she could even though her arms were exhausted, afraid that if she loosened her grip she would lose him forever. 

As the sun set, his breathing had evened. When she searched his eyes, only lifeless black greeted her. His body was as stiff as stone. Caleb never cried to her again after that day. 


He smiled a lot when he thought people were looking. He was fully aware of the effect his chocolate-brown skin and golden-brown eyes had on the students and adults around him. 

Caleb had always been the popular one at school, constantly tending to the hoard of students vying for his attention. He had a gift for making people listen, and want to keep listening. 

He knew about the students who whispered about him and glanced over their shoulders to marvel at him in wonder. Yet every stare seemed to pry incessantly at everything he wished to conceal from the world. 

When they entered sixth grade, their English teacher had asked the class to prepare a small introduction ahead of time: Name, favorite color, and a short poem they had written. 

He was already shaking when the teacher called on him. In his hand was half a piece of paper. The other half belonged to Anna. She knew the exact words written there, they had done this assignment together the night before.

But he could not speak. He stood there, mouth open and face as white as a ghost as he tried continuously to push out the words. They didn’t come. His hands shook, eyes terrified–then defeated. Instead, tears streamed down his face, leaving pale streaks that were replaced again and again. 

The world might’ve wiped the memory from existence the moment the class ended, but Caleb’s confidence had chipped away. And the town pretended not to notice because he was everyone’s golden boy. 

Anna remembered. She had seen how broken he was.


There was no excitement in growing up. In their little town, everyone knew one another, but Anna thought there was a sense of beauty in the monotony of their lives. They all went to the same middle school, high school, and eventually college. As they entered sophomore year, Caleb and Anna had grown inseparable. 

“If I tell you something will you promise to never repeat it?” He asked her.

They lay on their backs in the school quad waiting for lunch break to end. His eyes were fixated on a small rock, tossing it into the air and watching as it fell back into his palm. Hers were studying his features.

“Anything.” She replied, sitting up slowly. 

He sat up too, meeting her eyes, and smiled softly. 

“I want to be an artist. Or an actor. I want to be someone famous who goes insane with creativity.” He looked at her now, completely still, waiting expectantly for her response.

“Why would you want to go crazy? Crazy people are never happy.” 

He looked at her as if he was disappointed by her response and she regretted her words instantly. His brows furrowed in confusion, struggling to answer her question.

“Maybe happiness wouldn’t be so important then… At least I would be brilliant. Someone would remember me.”

They sat in silence for a few seconds. He was shaking again, bouncing his knee up and down on the turf. The rock lay next to his leg, forgotten.

“I would–I will remember you.” She looked at him but he would not meet her eyes. Then, he laughed. 

“I was kidding.”


When Caleb turned sixteen, Anna packed up a picnic and hiked up to the lake, telling him to meet her there. She had dedicated the previous day to baking a cake and decorated it in blue and gold flakes. It had taken her hours to perfect frosting his name in cursive.

Not soon after, the silhouette of his figure appeared, closer and closer by the seconds. She held the cake behind her back, her wide smile spoiling her excitement. But as he stepped out from the shadow of the trees and into the sunlight, she knew that he had not come to celebrate his birthday. 

He kept quiet until he was only a few feet away from her. 

“I’m leaving Anna.” He said. Though his voice didn’t shake, his eyes gave it away, darting back and forth between her eyes and her mouth. “I’m going to boarding school in the city.” Her hands let go of the cake behind her. 

The air stood still–impossibly so. She could not react in any wrong way. Even through her despair, she forced her lips into a thin line, cupped his face in her hands, and replied,

“I’m so proud of you.” 

He smiled brightly then. The only thing Anna could think of was that she had never seen him so happy. 

For the first time, his frantic eyes were replaced with fierceness. Maybe it was there all along but she had mistaken it for something else. 


Anna helped him pack away his life into a small suitcase. He didn’t take much and she knew why: He didn’t want to be reminded of his life there. 

She should’ve known he had been fading away, she should’ve seen it. He never belonged in that small town. The light in his eyes had died long before she could remember what they looked like. 

The day he left, he had walked to her house one last time. They stood in front of each other for a few awkward seconds before he embraced her. For the first time in a while, she felt his warmth. 

“I’ll be back soon.” He whispered, arms tight around her back.

“Don’t keep me waiting.” She replied.

Her hair blew into her face and hid the single tear that escaped her eye. She was almost grateful. 

“See you soon?” He tried a smile as he pulled away. 

“At the lake.” She promised. 

She watched as he ran off into the distance back towards his house, and everything almost felt normal. He would return home and tomorrow they would meet at school again. They would run to the lake, they would talk about their future, they would be together. But that wasn’t reality. 

As she turned around and walked back towards her house, a weight lifted off her shoulders. Her heart had stopped sprinting after him. 

Somewhere nearby, a gust of wind knocked scattered stones from the sidewalk onto the concrete. Startled by each other’s absence, they split open, crumbled pieces clinging to one another.