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The Katsura Tree: Chapter One

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“You’re sure you have no idea where she could have gone?”
“I told you, I know as much as you.”
“Well if you hear anything, could you call me?”
“Yeah”
“You’ve got my number?”
“Yes” I sighed, “If you find her, can you let me know?”
“I’ll call if she’s found”
“Thank you, good luck.”
“Thanks.”
As Chloe’s mum left, I innocently made my way out to the garage. I knocked on the door four times before entering the dark, messy room.
“Hey, is she gone?”
“Yeah, she just left. She’s really worried though…”
“I’m not going back. I can trust you, right?”
“Yes, I’m just saying. Why did you leave?”
“I told you, I can’t go back. It’s horrible there!”
“What’s horrible about it?”
“It’s her new boyfriend,”
“Dave, right?”
“Yeah.”
“What’s wrong with him?”
“Well, at first he was all nice and bought us lots of stuff and made mum and me happy. Then he moved in and everything changed. I wondered why he brought only a rucksack of things with him. Turns out he was homeless. He’s just using our place as a crash site. He started threatening me behind mum’s back. She thinks he’s a sweetheart, despite his drug and alcohol problems. She thinks she can help him. Then he started inviting friends over when mum was at work and they…”
From the look on her face, I knew she didn’t want to talk about it anymore, so I changed the topic.
“So what are you gonna do?”
“Well, I was planning on staying here for a while, if that’s okay.”
“Yeah sure.”
“I’ll get a job and repay you for anything I use, I’d appreciate you giving me the homework set, and then when I have enough, I’ll rent a place far, far away.”
“Do you expect that to work? I mean, if you get too settled here and then mum or dad come down, they might find you.”
“It won’t happen, I promise.”
“Okay.”
****************
I walked into school feeling helpless. Usually the big red building was what got me down, but today it was Chloe. After she’d eaten the toast I got for her this morning, she said she had some business to take care of and left. What kind of business could a runaway have the morning after her departure? I just had to keep my mind distracted all day. That shouldn’t be too hard - if Alex is here.
“Hey, Nome.” I turned at the sound of Alex’s voice and saw her bright orange mop of hair rush towards me, “Did you hear about Chloe?”
“Alex, can you keep a secret?”
“You know I can.”
“No, I mean a real secret.”
“Oh. My. God. You like Michael don’t you!” she said, only half-jokingly.
“What? No. I know where Chloe is.”
“Is she alright?”
“Yeah she’s fine, but you can’t tell anyone, okay?”
“Yeah sure, so long as she’s okay. Her mum came ‘round to my place last night lookin’ for her. She was all worried and stuff. You takin’ care of her?”
“How’d you know?”
“Just a guess, you’re who I’d turn to. So, what’s your opinion of Michael anyway? I think he likes you”
“He’s funny, and pretty cute, but he does not like me.”
“Sure he does, why wouldn’t he? You’re reliable, trustworthy, smart, and super pretty.”
“Shut up,” I said as the bell went, “See you in an hour.”
As I waited for my English teacher, Michael slipped me a note as he walked past. I swear he winked at me but I can’t be sure. I looked down at the folded square of yellow paper. My favourite colour I smiled. I turned it over and, in a messy scrawl; it said read when you’re in class. Well, you can’t argue with a piece of paper. Half way through the lesson, during Mr. Hanson’s lecture on proper essay structure, I unfolded the message to find a poem inside.
Naomi, you be,
the only gnome for me.
The one who makes me do,
The crazy things for you.
When I do whistle,
The song of That There Thistle
I hope you do not mind,
The tune of the kind.
And as I sit
And write this down,
A light is lit
To turn my frown.
And that there light
Be only you
But this just might
Be what crazy people do
I smiled and sighed.
“Have something to share with the class, Naomi?” Mr. Hanson asked, mistaking my sigh of happiness for a sigh of boredom.
“Ugh, no sir.”
“Alright, so as I was saying…” he continued like there was no interruption. I zoned out to day dream about how life could be so much better and waited for the bell.
“Hey Alex, turns out you were right. Michael does like me,” I said as I handed her the poem.
“Oh wow! That’s so... sweet?” she snorted. “Well, at least I was right. You should learn to trust me more you know.”
“Shut up.”I said, hugging her.
“Hey, it has his number on it.” She noted. “0401593907”
“Oh sweet,” I said, immediately adding his number into my phone.
****************
I walked slowly up to my front door, contemplating my life and savouring the sights. The sun shone bright ahead over the lone plant in my yard, an old katsura tree. Under the tree sat a fat gnome wearing a tall blue hat and bright green overalls. I stared absentmindedly at the funny looking gnome as I passed, remembering when Alex and Chloe gave it to me for my birthday last year. Chloe. She should be back by now, right? I rushed through the front door, dropping my backpack and nearly running right into my mother.
“Hey honey, how was school? Do you have any homework? How’s Alex? Have you heard anything about poor Chloe?”
“Great. No. Good. Not yet. Bye.” I hurried away, leaving her standing there, bewildered, and headed to the garage. I knocked four times before entering, only to find the cluttered room empty. I sat down on a nearby box and let out a sigh. Where could she be? I looked around the room to try and see any adjustments that Chloe had made, but it all just looked like boxes of junk stacked on top of each other, with small spaces to walk between them. And then I saw it. A small bowl with a herb-like substance in it. I walked over and picked up a piece up to smell it. It had an unusual scent, sort of tangy. I decided to ask Chloe about it later and replaced it. Just as I was leaving, the garage door rumbled and sunlight shone in.
“Hey, Pipsqueak, what’re you doing in here?”, came the voice of my older brother, Chase.
“What’re you doing in here, Doofus.”
“I’m getting something for dad. He got me an old Holden Monaro for my 18th. He’s trying to bond with me.” He spat the word ‘bond’ like it was something dirty.
“What’s wrong with bonding?”
“Nothing, stop changing the subject, what are you doing in here?”
“Looking for something, just like you.”
“Whatever.” He said as he picked up a silver wrench and left, closing the door behind him. Wonder what that was about? I thought to myself. Oh well. I left the garage and went back to my room. Lying on my bed, I turned on the radio and closed my eyes. Out the speakers rang Come Back When You Can by Barcelona.
You left your home;
You're so far from
Everything you know.
Your big dream is
Crashing down and out your door.
Wake up and dream once more.

Come back when you can.
Let go, you'll understand.
You've done nothing at all to make me love you less.
So come back when you can.
I sighed and fumbled for the off switch. If I can’t even escape from life in my own room, then where can I? I rolled onto my stomach and pulled out my phone. Flicking through it, I remembered Michael and his poem. I found him in my contacts and called him. On the second ring he picked up.
“Hello?”
“Hey, Michael. It’s Naomi. Just calling to say hi.”
“Oh, hey Nome, wassup?”
“Nothing much. Just listening to some bad music. I liked your poem.”
“Thanks. Took me ages to write. Probably the longest thing I’ve ever written in my life, to be honest.” He laughed.
“Well it was… good.”
“Yeah… So are you busy tomorrow?”
“Ugh,” Chloe wouldn’t mind me leaving her alone for the night would she? No way, she’d be so happy for me right now. “No. Why?”
“Oh, well I was kinda maybe hoping you’d let me take you to a movie?” he asked, unsure of himself.
“Yes, of course.” I agreed quickly.
“Oh. Cool. So I’ll meet you there at five?”
“Yeah okay. What do you wanna see?”
“I was thinking maybe Shutter Island?”
“Oh yeah! I’ve been wanting to see that. It sounds so awesome.”
“Yeah I know, so see you there.”
“Okay. Cya”
“Bye” I hung up and immediately called Alex.
“Hello?”
“Alex, you’ll never believe what just happened! Michael asked me out to a movie tomorrow night! We’re going to see Shutter Island.”
“Ohh, I’ve been wanting to see that. You can’t tell me what happens. I mean with the movie, tell me everything that happens with you and Michael!”
“Okay,” I laughed, “but nothing will happen.”
“I don’t care, just call me straight away.”
“Okay, Cya.”
“Bye.” I hung up and laid the phone on my bedside table, smiling to myself. I get to go out with Michael. Oh. My. God. I can’t wait! I have to tell Chloe. I wonder if she’s back yet.
I raised myself from my bed a bit too fast and felt the world spin. Whoa, I think I need a panadeine. I made my way carefully down the stairs and walked into the kitchen to find my mum cooking dinner.
“Hey mum, I need a panadeine. We got any?”
“Yeah in the drawer, honey.”
“Thanks.” I said as I rummaged through the drawer. “What’s for dinner?”
“Your favourite, stir fry.”
“Oh mum, I hate stir fry.”
“Well, make something for yourself.”
“I will. Again.” I swallowed my pill with some water and walked out to the garage. I knocked four times before entering.
“Hey Chloe, you here?”
“Yeah, hey Nome. Sorry for running out on you this morning.” I looked her up and down and noticed the difference from her usually perky appearance. Her blonde hair was messy and uneven, she lacked the familiar make up that always covers her face and her eyes were bloodshot, as if she hadn’t slept in a week. I noticed her hands twitching, which she quickly hid behind her back when she saw me looking.
“Where were you?” I asked casually.
“I told you, I had to take care of some business.”
“What business?”
“My business.”
“Alright, whatever. Don’t get defensive. Anyway, tomorrow night I’m going out, will you be okay alone?”
“Who are you going out with?”
“Michael. From school. He wrote me the funniest poem. It’s so cute.”
“Yeah sure, whatever. Just feed me before you leave.”
“Okay. Oh and by the way, I was in here looking for you before and I found a bowl with some kind of herb in it. is it yours?”
“No. Leave me alone.” She answered, a little too quickly.
“Okay. Do you want anything to eat, though?”
“No, just go.” I left the garage, worried for her current state of mind. Her twitchy hands and shifty attitude left me feeling even more suspicious of where she had been all day. I had to find out.



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