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I loved the woods. I loved the smell of nature in the air, birds singing cheerful melodies, even the bugs crawling about busily. Just being there made me forget my problems.
Of course, that was before my parents announced we were selling the house and renting out another, much farther away. I was horrified. How could they do this to me? Didn’t they love me? Didn’t they care that they were taking away my solace in life, the forest? I ran up the stairs, sobbing. Maybe our house was a bit on the expensive side, but that shouldn’t change the fact that their only daughter came first!
After regaining my composure, I ambled out to the woods for one last glimpse at the beauty and awe of it. The trees reached toward the sun, silently basking in its rays. A squirrel scampered along, paying me no mind as it searched for food.
I sighed. There was something truly magical about this place. Why had no one else ever visited? Not that it mattered. I didn’t need anyone to hang out with, when I had the forest. Really.
I stroked the bark of a tree. The car accident that had taken my older brother’s life had been a traumatic experience. After all, I had only been seven. Of course, that was nearly seven years ago. I was totally over it now. Really.
I walked away from the tree and watched a long line of ants efficiently dashing back and forth. I was sure they all had friends. Why didn’t I? Not that I cared. Really.
Still… Why didn’t anyone like me? Was I boring? I suppose it depends on your definition of boring. I certainly didn’t go out looking for trouble, but I wasn’t totally shy, either. Was I dull-witted? Not particularly. I was a straight A student, for the most part. Was I a weirdo? Maybe. I mean, how many other thirteen-year-olds spent their Saturdays walking silently in a forest, staring dumbly at nature?
I did. That was all that mattered. Who needed friends, anyway?
I turned my thoughts from my social condition. How could I possibly leave the woods? I didn’t mind leaving my school, or even my house, for that matter. But this forest? How could I ever leave such a beautiful, serene scene at the mercy of my classmates, the barbarians they called students? I mean, it wasn’t like they ever visited. But still, what if they did? They might start a forest fire with the fancy cigarette lighters they all stole from their parents. Or maybe a land developer would visit and decide that this spot was the perfect place to put a giant mall.
I shuddered. I couldn’t leave this place. I would stay. My parents could leave. I would make a tree house here. I wouldn’t go to school when it started in a week. When people would think of the woods, they would quake. The legend of the wild girl who lived there would frighten them so badly, they would never come. A hundred years later, they would still be afraid, because my ghost would haunt the forest. They would leave the woods alone.
I constructed my fantasy, fully aware of its impracticality. I drifted deeper into the forest, thinking, wishing, and dreaming. Finally, I couldn’t take it any more. I knelt down on my trembling hands and knees and scooped up a clump of earth. With an unsteady hand, I reached into my pocket and pulled out two seeds. One by one, I placed them gently into the ground, but not without a kiss each for luck. Then, pulling the dirt up to my mouth, I whispered, as if sharing a secret with one of my nonexistent companions,
“At least let me find some friends.”
I covered the seeds, stood, and marched out of the woods.
There weren’t any butterflies in my stomach.
Instead, there were moths. Ugly, spastic moths.
The schoolyard was huge, brimmed with kids aged eleven through fourteen. I scanned the crowd for a familiar face. Not because I wanted to see one, but because I didn’t want anyone to recognize me. It was a new school, a new city, and a new house; I wanted a new image.
I shifted the backpack on my shoulders, decorated with a tulip design, and started for the massive doors. Giving it a firm tug, I concluded that it was too early for the staff to unlock them.
At that moment, a tall boy about my age walked up and opened the door easily, but not without giving me a funny look, like, You’re really so weak you can’t open a door?
I blushed. So much for the good image I had been aiming for.
I wandered about, feeling like one of the stray ants I had watched in the forest. Where was the wood’s gentle comfort when I needed it most?
Earlier, I had contemplated picking one of the flowers there and keeping it for sentimental value, but decided against it. First, it would have been painful to look at, and second, it would have turned brown and died in a matter of weeks, even if I put it in a vase.
Yet, I wished I had picked it. Maybe that flower would have somehow helped me find a friend amidst this sea of faces.
“Are you okay?”
I jumped five feet into the air, shocked to hear a voice directed at me.
A girl, probably my age, was studying me. “You look like you’re about to start bawling hysterically.”
How do you respond to something like that? “I… er… um…”
She grinned, seeming to find my discomfort amusing. “I’m Via.” Her jet black hair bobbed up and down with each word.
Yay! Some one else with a weird name! “Um, I’m Rae.”
“Cool. Eighth grade?”
“Same here.” She messed with her hibiscus necklace. “You look like a new kid.”
I must have looked pretty confused, because she laughed at me. “Most new kids look like they’re about to cry. We’re one of the biggest schools in the state.”
A bell rang. Kids surged toward the doors, but Via stayed with me for a moment. “Hey, I’ll see you after class. Let’s hang out some time!”
Two and a half months later, my birthday was fast approaching. It always took place during Thanksgiving break.
Every year, my parents would ask me if I wanted a party. Every year I told them I didn’t. After all, it wasn’t as if I had had any friends to invite.
However, this year was different. I had my best friend, Via, to have over. I could always invite Via’s cheer friends, too, but I didn’t know them very well. Besides, I had something special in mind for this party.
“So, can you come?” I asked Via hopefully. I told her about the party the day before, and she had said she would ask her mom.
Now, she nodded.
I practically burst with happiness. “Great! I can’t wait ‘til Saturday!”
The week passed painfully slowly, the clock mocking my mortal self and reminding me of its superiority. It was as if I was running through peanut butter, pushing and pulling, my muscles clenching in agony.
Finally, after time dawdling very slowly through the week, Saturday came, and Via’s mom dropped her off at my house.
“So, are you excited?” I asked, beside myself in anticipation.
Via smiled weakly and yawned. “I’m exhilarated. Now, remind me again why we had to come here at four a.m.?”
I rolled my eyes. “Well, it is a two hour drive, and I want to make the most of our day! Trust me; this is going to be awesome!”
Via gave a little smile, but behind it, I saw a glimmer of… anxiety? “Let’s just get to this place,” she insisted, nudging me to the door.
“Via…” I was staring out the window at the passing city, feeling strangely unable to meet Via’s gaze.
“Yes?” she finally replied, cutting through the heavy silence.
“Are you okay?”
“What do you mean?”
I felt her eyes on the back of my head and gave in, turning to look at her. “I don’t know. You just don’t seem like your normal, loud-mouth self anymore.”
She seemed to grin at that. Or perhaps it was just my perception of the little twitch that descended upon the corners of her mouth, and my hope that it wasn’t a frown.
Her response was just as unsettling. “My parents got divorced about a month ago. Why? Don’t ask. But I’m living in a tiny, old apartment until my mom can get a better job. And honestly, I miss my dad.”
I did not know how to respond to that. I had never had any family trouble besides… well, my brother.
I shuddered as I remembered that chilling day when my parents had first delivered the news to me. It had been a normal day of my peers’ rejection, when my dad had come to pick me up. This was strange, because usually my brother brought me home. I remember my mom sitting in the car, her eyes red and her face blotchy, as if she had recently been crying.
“What’s going on?” I had asked, my gaze riveting back and forth between the two of them.
My mother began sobbing.
My father, on the other hand, swallowed hard and kept his gaze trained on the rear view mirror. “Rae, your brother has been in an accident.”
“Your brother’s dead.”
My head had been spinning. In fact, it was still spinning, seven years later.
Via and I spent rest of the car ride in silence.
“Honey, do you want your father and me to come with you?” asked my mother upon arrival.
“We’re all right, Mom,” I told her. I turned to Via. “C’mon. It’s just over there.”
The forest was as beautiful as I remembered it to be, looking just as amazing as the last time I saw it. The trees still towered far above my head. Even now small animals ran about, the absence of fear evident. It was just as tranquil and picturesque as ever, untouched by the ugly hand of humanity.
Beside me, Via caught her breath.
I grinned triumphantly. “I told you it was amazing!”
“Not amazing. Mind-blowing,” Via muttered, in a trance.
I laughed. “You haven’t even walked through it yet! Let’s go.” I grabbed her hand and dragged her onward.
Taking walks through the wood was still incredible, as well. As I strolled under the canopy of branches, I started thinking about making that tree house I had fantasized three months before.
“So, do you like it?” I asked needlessly. The looks on her face made it obvious she was in shock.
“It’s like… it’s like… I’ve been here before,” Via murmured, studying the underbrush to either side of us. “Except… I haven’t. It’s like I’ve… I’ve… um, talked to it. It’s like it’s… whispering.”
We were silent for a moment. I could see what she meant. It was like the plants themselves were silently communicating, whispering the words directly into my mind.
Then I remembered. “Oh!”
Via stared at me as if I was insane.
I ran as fast as I could. Though it was months, it felt like hours since I had gone that awe-inspiring route.
Then I saw it. Right where I had planted the seeds, there were two flowers; one hibiscus, and right next to it, one white tulip. I knelt and put my ear very close to the blossoms.
Huffing and puffing, Via finally caught up to me.
“Pretty flowers,” she wheezed. “I like the hibiscus.”
I didn’t answer. I was too busy listening. The flowers seemed to be muttering to one another, their hushed tones beyond my comprehension.
I thought about how I had wished into the soil.
“I get it,” I said aloud, turning to face her.
Via stared blankly back. “Get what, Rayna?”
“Three months ago, I came to this forest for what I had thought would be the last time. I planted two seeds, and then wished into the soil I covered it with. A week later, I get you as a friend.”
“That doesn’t mean anything, Rae,” Via protested. “It’s a complete coincidence. It could happen to anyone.”
I laughed. “I would have thought so also, except for the fact that I didn’t plant a hibiscus and a tulip.” My grin broadened. “Both were watermelon seeds”
Via’s gaze became quizzical and suspicious.
I stood, brushing the dirt off my jeans. “I can’t say I blame you if you don’t believe me. I’m just letting you know that that’s really what happened.”
Very slowly, Via leaned down and plucked the hibiscus out of the ground. She shoved it at me. “So, you’re saying our entire friendship is based off a little pile of dirt and a flower. Is that it? Now that I’ve picked this, we won’t be friends anymore, right? I mean, according to your logic.” She laughed without mirth.
I could feel tears well up in my eyes. “I-I don’t understand.”
“You don’t get it, do you?” Her eyes were angry and her tone was accusing. “You think that the only reason we’re friends is because you put a seed in the ground and wished for friends. You think that this forest is enchanted, don’t you? You think you can just go wish for anything you want, and it’s going to happen. Well, you’re going to have to wish for a new friend, because now, there’s only one flower.”
“I don’t get it! Why are you so upset?”
“You just get everything you want, Rae. Why can’t I be lucky like that? Why can’t I have two parents, or good grades in school, or an enchanted forest to grant all my wishes? Why are perfect people with perfect lives even born? All people like you do is make people like me feel awful about themselves.”
Via probably would have said more, but I cut it in. “You think my life has been wonderful and perfect and glorious? My older brother died when I was seven. This was the first time in my life I’ve ever had a friend, but, obviously, I’m back to being friendless.” I choked back a sob. “I’m not pretty like you, I can’t cheerlead like you, and I’m not confident like you. I never seemed to recover after finding out that my brother was dead, or faced facts and saw that I needed friends. Honestly, you were a huge surprise to me. I didn’t actually expect anything when I made my wish.”
Via had turned away. “Just take me home.”
The two of us walked to the car, soundless aside from the crunch of our shoes against the dirt. We were silent on the drive home, and as Via’s mother came to pick her up
When she was gone, my parents called me into the living room. They told me that we were moving again. My mother had been able to get a job back in our old town, and my father’s pay raise would certainly come in handy. Though the house was smaller, the woods would be a matter of minutes away.
I went upstairs and sent an email to Via. I apologized for what I had said, and asked if she would forgive me. I also included my new address, and asked if she would visit.
I did not know if I wanted to move or not. I wouldn’t let myself think about it, because if I did, it would be making a choice between my best friend in the universe, and an enchanted forest that grants wishes. I didn’t need any more drama like that in my life.
A month later, in my new house, there was a knock at the door.
“I’ll get it!” I called, stepping over one packing box after another.
Somehow, I made it to the door. I opened it, and there stood Via, fidgeting under my gaze. “Oh, hi, Rae. I… I’m sorry I never answered your email. There’s just… There’s a lot I want to talk to you about. You know, personal stuff.”
I opened the door wide and stepped aside so that my best friend in the world could enter. “Feel free to sit anywhere you like. Box #1 or Box #2?”
She didn’t seemed to notice, but in the window box, a hibiscus and a white tulip bloomed, rooted in the fresh soil of the forest.