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I spread my fingers out slowly across the jagged crevices of the tree roots. After all these years, I couldn’t believe I’d actually found the tree that housed the majority of any happy memories I had from the short time I spent in Kaden, Missouri.
As I sat alone under the sheet of fog forming overhead, I noticed the colossal wad of singed paper shreds Parker and I had shoved inside the hollow of our tree when we were eight. It was Parker who had decided that burning our angsty third grade hate letters to Paisley Applewright was the best way to help ourselves put our loathing to rest. Two boxes of matches later, we’d succeeded in burning them and both had battle wounds to prove it.
“Sarah,” Parker said to me later as her mother dabbed Neosporin on a burn by my elbow, “let’s not ever hate anyone ever again.”
From that day forward, Parker always remembered those innocent words she’d half-jokingly rambled to keep my mind off my stinging wounds. Unlike me, she saw her hate-letter scars as a constant reminder that nothing good ever came of us hating Paisley Applewright, and nothing good would ever come of us hating anyone or anything else. I respected my best friend Parker for being such a strong-minded eight year old, but I could never really get over the day Paisley took my scissors.
As I sat underneath that huge tree, I could almost perfectly remember the day Parker and I stole pink paint from Ms. Hanson’s third grade class. We’d decorated the base of our tree with sputters of the thick paste. Parker decided that in ten years, our ring would still be there. So I told her we’d have to come back in ten years to see.
That’s why I’d gone back to our tree.
I counted twenty three tiny pink blotches left from what we’d painted nine years earlier. Raindrops began falling from the fog as I tried to remember every detail of that crisp November afternoon.
I remembered being so happy painting with my best friend Parker. I remembered her huge grin as she covered her hand in pink and slapped it against the trunk of our tree, leaving a runny blob of paint that was supposed to be a handprint. I remembered waving goodbye and walking home to find our minivan packed full of everything we owned.
That day, November 16th, 1998, was the last day I ever saw Parker Morren.
I think I cried the whole way to Chicago as my mother explained that I wouldn’t be allowed to talk to anyone from Kaden ever again, how it would be to risky to even call Parker. Kaden must have been the ninth place we’d run from, but I felt worse leaving there than I had ever felt before.
That was why I was so shocked to see Parker’s number on the caller I.D. a week ago.
It was starting to rain harder, so I got up and trudged through the woods in my nice shoes. I slid into the drivers’ seat of my car and checked the clock. 1:42; I still had plenty of time.
At that moment, as I turned the key and began driving through the pounding storm, I couldn’t help but go against the most meaningful thing Parker had ever said to me.
I hated the rain.
I hated myself for leaving Kaden without telling Parker.
And more than anything, I still hated Paisley Applewright, the girl who had gotten drunk and crashed into my very best friend as she walked home from school a week ago.