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We were sitting at the breakfast table when we got the news. The news that changed me. My little brother got more orange juice on the table than in his mouth, and my mum was frantically trying to rip a piece of kitchen towel to wipe it off. Yawning, I rubbed my dark chestnut eyes, attempting to wake myself up. I had just eaten a spoonful of my cereal and I still had the sweet crunchy taste in my mouth when my Dad walked in with the morning paper. Dropping it down on the table, he sighed deeply, and took a seat, sipping his daily cup of coffee, steam escaping from the mug.
“Listen George, there’s something I have to tell you. It’s Samantha. Umm, well I don’t really know how to tell you this but she’s not really with us anymore. She’s...” Dad seemed to be stuttering on his words, something he only did when he was having a hard time telling someone something. I had absolutely no idea what news was about to come. “She died George. She was in the woods yesterday, you know that place where you always go with her, around there, and she fell into the river. No one was there to help her, here you can read it if you want.” He handed me the newspaper. I froze. I couldn’t read it. It couldn’t be true. Sam, my best friend, the only person I trusted, the only one who understood me, she couldn’t be dead. I saw her the other day - we were in the woods. It was our favourite place to go, where we could get away from the rest of the world and just be us. She absolutely hated the name Samantha; it was too girly for her. I called her Sam. She was not like your typical teenage girl; she was more the tomboy type, she ran faster than me. That’s probably why we got along so well. We’d started building a tree house; it had been her lifelong dream to have one. Now we’d never get to finish it.
“No, you’re lying, stop no!” He tried to come closer, he tried to hug me, but I didn’t let him.
I ran out of the kitchen, needing to get away. I didn’t know where I was heading, I didn’t care. The looming grey sky covered the world like a blanket. I could tell this was not a good day. I ran non-stop through the small town, past old women chatting in the street and past elegant waiters serving breakfast. I kept running until my legs collapsed. As I slowed down, I looked around and saw that I had reached Samantha’s house. Panting for breath, I doubled over, standing in the middle of the street full of lined cream houses, each with their own mailbox and front lawn, mowed perfectly to the very last strand of grass. But in that second, I forgot all about every other house, and stared only at Samantha’s. It was number 32, the one on the very corner. Her mother Jane stood on the grass talking to some people I didn’t recognise. Jane was a caring mother, everything I had always wanted from mine. She always had a smile on her face, the little sunshine to brighten everybody’s day. I’d never seen her without her smile. More than this, she always seemed to know the right thing to say at the right time. A quality I wish I had. I’d often stumble on words and mess things up before I even finished saying them. The people she was talking to offered her flowers. I overheard them saying that they were sorry for her loss. Tears flew to my eyes. I never cried. Nodding gracefully, she hugged them both and thanked them for coming by. My whole body felt weak, as if there was no power left in me. I knew it had to be true, but I didn’t want to accept it. Not noticing Jane at first, I just sat there on the corner of the road, wailing, the tears coming faster now, trying to convince myself that this was a dream, or more like a horrible nightmare. That it wasn’t actually real life. Screaming and kicking my legs, I wanted to wake up. As I felt her arms around me, I almost threw them back, not wanting to be with anyone. If it had been anybody other than Jane, I probably would have. But her soft skin wore a peachy scent and her gentle touch made me feel, even if for just a second, a little bit better.
Pain washing over my heart, I lifted my head and looked into her eyes. I tried to speak but no words came out. She nodded, as if she already knew. She took a deep breath before she spoke. “I know George, I know.” It took me a few moments to think of the right thing to say.
“Why?” Whispering the question, it was all I could really think of. I kept my head down, brushing the clump of dirty brown hair from my face, and then skimmed my eyes until they met hers. Her mouth opened into a sympathetic smile, the type your teachers give you before they announce a huge test the following week. I wiped the final tear from my face longing for everything to go back to the way it was.
“George honey,” she paused for a second, her eyes twinkling with tears. “I don’t know. No one knows.” Opening her mouth as if to say something else, she closed it again, as the single teardrop rolled down her face. She shook her head as she placed it in her hands, whispering ‘no’. It was the first time I saw her cry.
“She was a lovely girl, so smart too; just talking to her brightened my day.” As I turned, I saw in front of me a scruffy haired man, dressed in an old workers jacket. His pants were covered in soil, and from the lawnmower he held in front of him, I guessed he was the gardener. I hastily wiped the tears from my face; I didn’t want to seem like a freak. “I’m so sorry for your loss. If there’s anything I can do, let me know.” The whole town had heard about it by now. He looked guilty, as if he’d said something wrong. Truth was nothing anyone could say would make it right. “Now listen here,” he groaned as he sat down next to us, clutching his back as if he was in pain, “My wife died, well, two years ago now, and my life just stopped. I didn’t want to do anything anymore. All I wanted was for her to come back into my life. Why should so many people be living when she wasn’t anymore? I missed her, I still miss her, of course I do. But now, now I guess I can remember the good times.” Hanging his head, he cleared his throat and turned back to me and Jane. “It was a couple of weeks after her funeral when I was in the garden planting lilies, her favourite flower and I remembered that she’d always wished for the garden to look nicer, for me to plant some nice new grass and flowers. And so I did. That’s how I took up gardening actually. Life is a bit like a flower, they blossom and grow tall and proud, and then they wilt and eventually die. And although you can’t bring them back to life, they never really lose their beauty, that magic spark that they have. Tell me, do you remember her smile?” I thought for a second as I pictured Sam’s face, her hand pushing back her blonde floppy hair from her eyes. When she smiled, you could see it in her eyes. They lit up with happiness every time. You can tell when a person is really happy by looking at their eyes. I turned to Jane, she looked deep in thought. We both nodded at the same time, definitely remembering her smile. “Although you can’t see it anymore, it’s still there, somewhere.” He glanced up to the sky as he spoke. “Would you want her to be unhappy?” It took me very little time to think. I shook my head immediately.
“Well then, I think that the only way to keep that smile on Samantha’s face is to lift your head high and put a smile on yours. Samantha will always be with you, in here.” He put his hand to his chest, indicating his heart. Doing the same, I felt a smile emerging onto my face, the rainbow to wipe my tears away. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must get back to work.” He stood back up and began to walk away.
“Excuse me, sir,” my voice cracked as I called for him. He turned back to me, “thank you.” I tried to say more, I wanted to tell him how much I appreciated it, but the look in his eyes told me that I had said enough. We smiled at each other for a second, and then he left with Jane, giving her a hug as she cried on his shoulder. And as I sat there on the side of the rough pavement, damp from all my tears, I felt a sudden urge to finish what Sam and I had started.
The heartening oak trees welcomed me, waving their branches as I headed into the woods. I decided to stay well away from the river, for safety reasons. I’d gotten all the materials I needed from my ancient garden shed, planks of wood, nails and hammers. My feet led me to the part of the woods where Sam and I had stood just two days ago; I was sitting on the top of the tree while she passed me the bits and pieces, joking around, laughing. We had already finished the base and two of the walls. Now it was time for me to carry on. I’d always been called a monkey because of my fairly advanced climbing skills. I managed to nail together the next wall and jumped down for the new stack of wood planks. Breathing the fresh spring air and listening to the song of the bluebird’s way up in the sky, I could think of nothing I would rather be doing. Hammering the last nail far into the wood, I heaved a huge sigh of relief and jumped down to the ground. I turned to admire the tree house, and I knew that it was perfect. Sam would have loved it. And as I stood there at the bottom of the tree and looked up through the thriving canopy of leaves, I put my hand on my heart and smiled, knowing that somewhere, Sam would be smiling back at me.