The Twenty-One: Unsent Letters


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To celebrate the Month of Love, Aussie Owned & Read are giving our followers exclusive content! It may be a love letter between characters, a special date, or a scene you’ve never read before.

Today, Lauren K. McKellar reveals a love letter sent from Joel to Ellie, several years before The Twenty-One commences.

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Dear Ellie,

I’ve written this letter twenty-six times. Twenty-seven, if you count the one I’m penning now. Yes, penning, because I know handwritten letters are kind of your thing, and because there’s something so much more personal about taking the time to bleed this s@#t out onto the paper. Writing it by hand makes it seem permanent. Spending time forming each letter of each word makes it really means something.

I guess that’s the problem. For me, some words have changed. Words like forever now have an expiry date. Words like love now come with conditions.

But this is Valentine’s day, and this is supposed to be a love letter, so I don’t want to think about that. Instead, I want to think about the first time we kissed.

On Tuesday afternoons, my parents work late, and your folks—well, your dad is always at work, and your mum tries to babysit us, but we both know she has other things going on.

You and I sneak down to the beach, and even though Dani wants to come, we manage to convince her it’s much more worthwhile for her to stay around and accept our bribe of four bags of red frog sweets if she covers for us if anyone asks. The ‘I’m staying at Joel’s/I’m staying at Ellie’s’ trick always works wonders. A good ol’ fashioned switcheroo.

We float in the water, waves surging us up and swinging us down. We lie on our backs, staring up at the purples, pinks and oranges. The sun doesn’t set over the ocean, but it doesn’t stop the sky from being spectacular. Emerald Cove is beautiful like that.

“Hey Joel?” you ask, interrupting the gentle hush of the waves against the shore.

“Mm?”

“Do you ever think about what would happen after this?”

I frown. “What do you mean?”

Water swells and you swing so your feet touch the sand, facing me. “When we die. If there’s a heaven and a hell …”

“Why would you ask that?”

“I don’t know …” You gaze at the horizon. Lights from a container ship blink up at us. “I just wonder sometimes, that’s all. Where do all the souls go?”

A chill runs through my body. “I don’t know. But I don’t like to wonder that kind of stuff.”

The only sound is the slapping of my body as it drops from the lip of a wave to the ocean’s surface.

Then, “It scares me.”

I look across at your lower lip, worried by your teeth. A frown mars your forehead and in that moment, all I want is to press those lines away. We’ve been friends for ten long years—I hate seeing the closest person I have to me sad.

That’s why, when the next wave comes, I flip to my feet and splash you. A small smile breaks that tense jaw, and when I do it again, I get a laugh. Another wave comes, and we both dive under. When you come up for air, my feet press against the sand and I dive up, shooting out of the water. My body is weightless for one glorious moment and then I crash down, my arms around your shoulders for the most epic dunking of all-time.

Only, you don’t get dumped. When my hands touch your bare shoulders, skin on skin, chest on chest—something changes. The laughter dies. Eye to eye, chest to chest, I close the one part of our bodies that isn’t notably touching.

Lip to lip.

That kiss is coming home. It’s scary and it’s comfort, a contradiction to the senses, and I know in that moment that I was wrong. I have been dumped, my body turned inside out and flipped over and under by you, and I have no control over when or how I land.

That was years ago now, but it’s still clear as day in my mind. God, thinking of it makes it harder for me to accept what’s happened between us. Even though I know I have to. Even though I did what I did to protect you.

This was for the best.

My love for you is so deep, it’s like an ocean. And I don’t ever want to forget that.

And that’s why I’m writing you this letter. Because on days like these, I need to hold onto the good things in my life.

And Ellie Mayfield, that’s the point. Handwriting a letter really means something. And even though I’ll never put this mail in the post, taking the time to write down how I feel makes me feel as if our love will never die.

Joel Henley

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Lauren K. McKellar is an author of romance reads that make you feel. To find out more about The Twenty-One, check out the books section on her website here.

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