A Thousand Boy Kisses

By: Tillie Cole


I laughed when she looked up at me. For a minute I saw Poppy in her young face. Her green eyes were filled with happiness as she flashed me a smile—it was dimpled too. “We’ve missed you so much!” she said, and stepped back.

When I lifted my head, Savannah was before me, hugging me gently. Mr. and Mrs. Litchfield came next, followed by my mamma and my pappa.

Mrs. Litchfield kissed me on my cheek, then Mr. Litchfield shook my hand, before bringing me in for a hug. When he stepped back, he smiled.

“You look good, son. Real good.”

I nodded. “You do too, sir.”

“How’s New York?” Mrs. Litchfield asked.

“Good,” I said. Seeing them waiting for more, I confessed, “I love it. Everything about it.” I paused, then added quietly, “She would have loved it too.”

Tears shone in Mrs. Litchfield’s eyes, then she gestured at the crowd behind us. “She’ll love this, Rune.” Mrs. Litchfield nodded and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “And I have no doubt she’ll see it up there in the heavens.”

I didn’t reply. I couldn’t.

Moving to let me pass, Poppy’s parents and sisters fell into step behind me, as my pappa placed his arm around my shoulders. Alton was still gripping my hand tightly. He’d refused to let go of me since I’d arrived home for this visit.

“Everyone’s ready, son,” my pappa informed me. Seeing a small stage in the center of the grove, a mic waiting, I made my way over, just as Deacon, Judson, Jorie and Ruby stepped into my path.

“Rune!” Jorie exclaimed with a big smile and gave me a hug. As did everyone else.

Deacon’s hand slapped my back. “Everyone’s ready, just waiting for your signal. It didn’t take much to get the word out you were doing this. We got more volunteers than we needed.”

I nodded my head, and surveyed the townspeople waiting with their Chinese lanterns in hand. On those lanterns, in large black writing, was every kiss I’d ever given Poppy. My eyes focused to read those nearest…

… Kiss two hundred and three, in the rain in the street, my heart almost burst … Kiss twenty-three, in my yard under the moon, with my Rune, my heart almost burst … Kiss nine hundred and one, with my Rune in bed, my heart almost burst…

Swallowing the intense emotion from my throat, I stopped when I saw a lantern waiting for me on the side of the stage. I glanced around the grove looking for who had left it. As the crowd parted, I saw my pappa watching me closely. I met his gaze, then he lowered his eyes before walking away.

The one-thousandth kiss … with my Poppy. When she returned home … my heart completely burst…

It was right that I sent this one up to my girl. Poppy would want me to send this to her myself.

Climbing on the stage, Alton beside me, I lifted the mic and the grove fell into silence. I closed my eyes, gathering the strength to do this, and then raised my head. A sea of Chinese lanterns being held up, ready to fly, stared right back at me. It was perfect. More than I could have ever dreamed.

Raising the mic, I took a deep breath and said, “I won’t speak long. I’m not real good with speaking in public. I just wanted to thank you all for gathering here tonight…” I trailed off. My words had dried up. I raked my hand through my hair and, gathering my composure, managed to say, “Before she passed, my Poppy asked me to send these kisses to her in a way that she would see them in heaven. I know most of you didn’t know her, but she was the best person I knew … she would have treasured this moment.” My lip hooked into a crooked smile at the thought of her face when she saw them.

She would love it.

“So please, light your lanterns and help my kisses reach my girl.”

I lowered the mic. Alton gasped when lighters all around the grove lit the lanterns and sent them soaring into the night sky. One after the other, they floated into the darkness, until the entire sky was glowing with lights sailing upward.

Bending down, I took the lantern beside us and held it in the air. Looking to Alton, I said, “You ready to send this to Poppymin, buddy?”

Alton nodded, and I lit the lantern. The minute the flame caught, we released the one-thousandth—and final—kiss. Standing straight, I watched as it sailed into the air to chase the others, rushing to its new home.

“Wow,” Alton whispered and put his hand in mine again. His fingers squeezed mine tight.

Closing my eyes, I sent a silent message: Here are your kisses, Poppymin. I promised they would come to you. That I’d find a way.

I couldn’t take my eyes from the light show above, but Alton pulled on my hand. “Rune?” he asked and I glanced down to where he stood, watching me.

“Ja?”

“Why did we have to do it here? In this grove?”

“It was Poppymin’s favorite place,” I replied softly.

Alton nodded. “But why did we have to wait for the cherry blossoms to come out first?”

Taking a deep breath, I explained, “Because Poppymin was just like the cherry blossom, Alt. She only had a short life, like they do, but the beauty that she brought in that time will never ever be forgotten. Because nothing so beautiful can last forever. She was a blossom petal, a butterfly … a shooting star … she was perfect … her life was short … but she was mine.”