AGE - Runner Up

Katie Kent

Runner Up
The List


Katie Kent lives with her wife, cat and dog and works in journals publishing. She began writing non-fiction, but always had a dream to be a published fiction author. Her first short story was published in 2019, and to date she’s had almost 30 stories published in various publications and anthologies. This is her second Writing Magazine competition success to add to a handful of times being shortlisted.

The List By Katie Kent

My brother Matthew never got to turn 18. As he lay dying in a hospital bed two years ago, his body wracked with anorexia, he said to me, “Jade, don’t waste your life like I did. Don’t spend every day scared. Live. Do the things I never could.”
He helped me write a list of things I wanted to do before I turned 18. Read War and Peace. Visit Paris. Get drunk. Kiss a girl.
However, top of my list is to come out to my best friend Suzanne, and tell her how I feel about her. But it’s the day before my 18th birthday, and I still haven’t done it.
War and Peace was a slog, but I got through it. Paris was much better. Watching the sun go down in front of the Eiffel Tower would have been the perfect time to spill everything to Suzanne, but I chickened out.
As she holds her front door open, the clock chimes 8, and nerves rush through me. I only have four hours left to tick off the last few things on my list. I know no one will care if I don’t achieve them, but I made a promise to Matthew. He was the only one I’d told about my sexuality. I visit his grave every Saturday, put down fresh flowers and update him on my progress. This morning, I told him confidently that I was going to get drunk and tell Suzanne everything. Kissing a girl is the one question mark. Sometimes, I think she feels the same way - she is bisexual - but I’m not sure if she likes me that way.
“The birthday girl is here!” Suzanne announces.
“Time to get this party started!” a boy yells. I don’t recognise half the people here, but Suzanne is way more popular and outgoing than me. Cheers start as the speaker starts to blare out R’n’B.
Suzanne frowns. “Wait, I have a special playlist.” She connects her phone to the speaker, and ‘Cruel Summer’ by Taylor Swift starts to play.
Several people groan. “This is supposed to be a party,” another boy says.
“This is Jade’s party, and this is the music she’s into.”
I can already tell how much effort she’s put into this. She doesn’t even like Taylor Swift, and she hates pink, but the hallway is decked out in pink - streamers, balloons, and there’s even a massive poster of Taylor Swift on the wall.
“This is amazing,” I say. This is why I love Suzanne. Oh shit, did I just think the l word?
I look down at my shoes as she grabs my hand, not even giving me time to wipe the sweat off on my dress.
“Just wait until you see the living room.” She pulls me through the doorway and my eyes widen as I take in the wall, which is covered in posters of Taylor - the front cover of every album she’s released, including the Taylor’s versions.
“I don’t know what to say,” I mumble, but she just giggles.
“Just dance with me.” She holds both my hands and tries to get me to dance, but I’m too self-conscious. She seems to have no such concerns, putting her arms around my neck as she belts out the chorus to ‘Cruel Summer’. She’s making me hot, reminding me of a younger Taylor with her blonde hair and denim shorts, and I cough.
“Since when did you know the words to this song?” I ask, and she winks at me.
“I learnt them for you, baby,” she whispers in my ear, and I hope she doesn’t notice the way my body involuntarily shivers. Is this something anyone would do for a friend, or does it mean more?
“I hope you got some booze,” I say, when the song finishes. I need to cool down, and fast.
“Of course. I know how important your list is to you.” She leads me into the kitchen, where every surface is covered in bottles and cans.
“Let’s toast to your list.” She takes the lid off a bottle and produces two shot glasses, filling them both and handing one to me.
I take the glass, hoping my shaky hands won’t spill anything.  
“Cheers.” She clinks her glass against mine and downs the shot. I copy her, wincing as the alcohol hits the back of my throat.
“That’s disgusting.” I pull a face. “What was that?”
“Tequila,” she says.
“I don’t think I like tequila.”
She laughs. “You might like this more.” Picking up a can she pulls the ring, then takes a glass from the cupboard and fills it.
I sip the drink, which tastes like being on holiday in a tropical place. “This one is good.”
“You like pina coladas, then. So what’s left on your list?”
“Kiss someone.” I can’t meet her eyes.
Her cheeks flush slightly. “See anyone you like?” She speaks quietly, and suddenly we’re gazing into each other’s eyes… then a boy from my class swoops into the kitchen and takes her arm.
“Dance with me, Suzanne!”
She looks at me, as if asking for permission, and I try to shrug casually. “Go ahead.”
* * *
Three hours later, I’m well on my way to achieving my ‘get drunk before I turn 18’ pledge, but I wish I’d realised how difficult it would be to blurt out my feelings to Suzanne in a house full of people. She’s tipsy too, the booze amplifying her already outgoing personality. She’s already kissed two boys and one girl, and I wonder why I ever thought she would be into me - a shy, short girl with mousy brown hair and glasses.
I slump onto the sofa, and suddenly she’s next to me. “You okay?”
“Yeah.” I try to smile, but the tears in my eyes give me away.
“Is this about your list?” she asks, softly. “Or your brother?”
I just shrug, because that’s part of it, but not all of it.
“How about him?” She points to a guy with blonde hair and Justin Bieber dimples. “Or him?” A dark-haired guy who has attracted a small crowd with his dancing.
I shake my head. “I lied.” I grip onto my glass. “It’s not ‘kiss someone’. It’s ‘kiss a girl’.” I’m looking at the floor as I speak but now I look up, into her eyes. I can’t believe I’ve finally come out to her.
She takes a deep breath, then stands up, walks to the speaker and turns it off. “Party’s over!” she yells. “Time to go home.” People start booing, but she charges to the front door, opens it and stands there until everyone has gone, which takes about twenty minutes.
I was ready to tell her how I feel, but now it’s just the two of us standing here, my courage deserts me again. I look at the clock; I only have half an hour, and I have no idea how I’m going to do this.
“Did you know?” I manage to say. “That I’m…”.
“You think I wouldn’t know my best friend is gay?”
I bite my lip, and her gaze flickers to it for a brief moment, before her eyes focus back on mine. I want you. The words are on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t seem to actually speak them.
“Let me give you your present.”
I frown as she leaves the room. My foot taps against the floor as I hear her footsteps on the stairs. Time is ticking away.
She comes back with something rectangular, covered in pink wrapping paper with ‘18’ plastered all over it. I tear the paper off - and it’s a framed photo of me and Matthew, the last one taken before he got really sick. He has his arm around me, and we’re looking at each other with genuine affection.
“I hope it’s okay,” Suzanne says. “I’m sorry I didn’t get you something more expensive.”
“I love it.” I love you. I blink the tears away.
“There’s something else.” She pulls an envelope out from behind her back and hands it to me. On the front is my name, in my brother’s handwriting. “He made me promise to give it to you just before your 18th birthday.”
My hands shaking, I ask, “Do you know what it says?”
“No idea.”
I rip the envelope open. Inside is a card with a big ‘18’ on the front in pink. As I read what’s written inside, I can hear Matthew’s voice.
Ironic, hey? You’re my little sister, but I never got to my 18th birthday. I’m sorry I’m not here to celebrate with you. I would have given anything to watch you grow into an adult, but the voices got into my head, and I couldn’t fight them. My hope for you is that you live your life the way you want to. How did you get on with that list? If I know anything about you, it’s probably still almost midnight, and you still haven’t told Suzanne how you feel. Well, what are you waiting for? I know it’s scary, but I know you can do this. From the way she looks at you, I think she feels the same way. Don’t have any regrets, sis. Do it.
Love your big brother,
Matthew xx

“You okay?” Suzanne strokes my hair gently as tears stream down my cheeks.
I set the card down on the counter, taking her hands. I’ve planned this moment in my head so many times, trying to craft exactly the right words, but now the moment is here, I just blurt out, “I’m in love with you.”
I quickly shut my eyes, afraid to look at her face, but when I feel her squeeze my hands, I open them.
She wipes the tears from my cheeks with a finger. “I’m in love with you, too,” she whispers. Then, with a glance at the clock, she grins. “Ten minutes left to achieve the last thing on your list.”
We lean towards each other, and when our lips touch, I know that Matthew is looking down, cheering us on.

Judges Comments

Most of the entries in WM's Age Short Story Competition were written about old age, but the runner up, 'The List' by Katie Kent, vividly shows the signifance of 'age' in the life of a young person.

'The List' is a YA coming out and coming of age romance that's really touching, showing that age is no obstacle to contending with life's big issues in its depiction of a character dealing with huge grief about the death of her beloved brother and wracked with anxieties not just about coming out, but of being in love with her best friend.

Written in the first person, Katie conveys Jade's persona with relatable immediacy, making it easy to empathise with her. The device of 'The List' of things to be ticked off before Suzanne reaches 18 is layered with poignancy because Jade's brother Matthew helped her write it before his death.

There's a romantic optimism and an uplifting  sense of hope to the ending, and the way Katie balances light and shade in this story is what makes it stand out. The presence, and absence, of Matthew is handled with loving care; the question of 'age' is given particular weight by the fact that he didn't get to reach the milestone 18th birthday cast a sad, gentle but benign shadow over the unfolding love story between Jade and Suzanne. In this lovely, layered story, Katie shows vividly that 'age' can impact as dramatically on a young character as a more seasoned one, and the extent to which the romance genre can incorporate the darkness and difficulty of life as well as its moments of joy.