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Whispers of Autumn

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She sits lazily, perched among the highest branches of a wizened old oak, so giant its limbs stretched out to the sky as if reaching to the heavens to find the answers. If only it were so easy for her. Looking around, she sees everything through shafts of light, tinted red, orange, yellow, and a slight bit of green the sun streams through the forest in a painted veil of fresh autumnal colors. The trees, giant with wide branches, gave her room to scamper across their knots and wrinkles. For now, she sits in the tallest tree, knees pulled up against her chest, looking out over the colorfully blanketed forest floor of the colorful copse, and the maze of vertical and horizontal brown boughs stretching across her vision and on to forever.
She sighs, leaning back against the broad trunk of the wooden giant, her head resting against it. She can feel its heartbeat, beating deep within the wood, in time with her own. Thump. Thump. Thump. The trees sigh with her, knowing they are the only ones close enough to hear the beat of the girl’s bruised heart. The foliage tries to comfort her, the leaves frolicking, flitting, spinning madly around her head in a whirlwind of red, yellow and orange. She lets down her hair, red as the leaves that stick in her voluminous tresses. Finally feeling in her element, she lets down the glass walls in her mind, letting them shatter into a billion pieces, her fears looking back at her as her face would were the mirror whole. Tears fall down her face, little gems illuminated by the sliver of light coming in between the leaves overhead. The water falls from her eyes, so far to the forest floor, heading the same direction her life always seems to. She watches them fall down. Down. Down.
Letting down her arms as the tears fall, she whispers her sorrows to the winds blowing through the trees, stealing the leaves up in its embrace. She tells of her mother’s death and her father’s drinking problems. The bruises he gives her all over her skin and her heart, too easy to hide when she has no one looking. She walks through school, town, life, invisible always. Her mouth refuses to work around anyone; she wouldn’t know what to say. There is no one who knows of the mess her life is in. No one dares to ask. Her fears engulf her, following wherever she goes. She is too afraid to dream. The winds wail for her, crying the tears she keeps inside day by day.
The colors on the leaves, illustrating the beginning of the fall season, remind her of change, finally letting her believe things can get better. They bring beauty into her life, simple as they are. But, as she lets the wind blow away her final tears, she glances down at the watch that encircles her wrist, squinting her eyes to see past the cracks that snake along the glass. She is late. Knowing her father will be mad, she clambers back down through the twisted boughs of the lofty tree, hitting the ground running with just one quick glance back at her sanctuary.

It is the next day, during art class, when she finally breaks. Running out of the class, she darts inside the washroom, pulling the thin door of the last stall shut tight behind her. If only she could lock herself away from the world as easily. Sitting on the floor, she drops her bag next to her, pulling her knees up to her chest. Grabbing her knapsack, she reaches inside the front pocket for a bottle of Advil. She touches the new bruise on her forehead, a result of her lateness the night before, wondering if the pills will really help the pain go away. If she swallowed the entire contents of the bottle, would her heart finally stop hurting as well? She doesn’t know how much longer she can handle this pain. Her noisy heart beats so fast, as if it is trying desperately to break out of her chest. It is so loud; she wonders why no one else can hear. Thump. Thump. THUMP. It’s a wonder to her that the entire school isn’t searching for the source of the deafening sound. Looking down at the pills, she imagines wishes she could be away from here. About to take them, she looks out the window at the colorful array of foliage falling from the trees outside. What is it about it that makes her stop? Watching them, she feels hope that she can change her life, fix herself as beautifully as the leaves have. Maybe her life could get better. Taking two Advil for her headache, she shuts the cap and puts the pills back in her bag, and makes herself get up the one more time.
Later, as she finally gets to step out of the class school and into the crisp autumn air, walking fast away from the building, she hears a voice behind her.
“Katie! Wait!”
She turns around, confused as to who would be calling her name. It’s probably another Katie. Then a boy stops in front of her, hands in his pockets, looking as shy as she feels. She knows him. His name is John. He is in a few of her classes, one of the kids you notice, talented and good-looking but shy. Her house was down the street from his, she remembered, they used to be friends. She looks at him, waiting for him to say something. “Hi.”
“Hi.”
Pause. “I, um, noticed you looked upset today. I saw you run out of art, and just wanted to see if everything was ok. Is it?”
Her thoughts spin around her head. He’s so nice. Someone noticed. Would he really care?
Glancing up, he notices her bruise. “Hey, how did you get that bruise?” He reaches to touch it, his fingers gently brushing her forehead for just a second. “That doesn’t look too good.”
That does it. For the first time she can remember she lets out a few tears in front of somebody.
“Hey, are you ok?”
Staring at the sidewalk, she doesn’t know what to answer. Just then, a small fiery red leaf falls to the ground between them, filling her vision. Suddenly, she knows what to say, and allows herself a small smile, the first in awhile, as she looks up at him. “No. I’m not ok.”
For a minute, he looks at her seriously, her heart in her throat waiting for his answer. Then, he nods slowly, and gives her a smile that takes her breath away. “All right. You want to take a walk and tell me about it?”
She almost says no. But, instead, she listens to the whispers of the vivid trees around her.
“Yes.”
And when he offers her a hand, she takes it.





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