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A cloudless, deep blue embraced me from above as the fiery leaves crunched beneath my boots. I had sympathy for them; I’d been crushed below peoples boots before too. My logic pushed that thought away. “Shelter,” I muttered beneath my breath, kneeling down to retie my laces. Long, strawberry-blonde hair hid my face. “That comes first.” I refused to let myself think about what I was running from until I could find a place to rest for the night.
Mrs. Willis sat at her desk as students gossiped and giggled, some sitting upon their desk. Some chemically-masked blondes fixed their hair, and one was making signs with everyone’s name written on them in highlighter. I, however, was sitting with my head rested upon my desk. I usually didn’t talk in Spanish class, yet everyone came and asked me for help with their work. Now, I am not antisocial. There are just certain groups I choose not to associate with.
A familiar name stuck out within the conversations surrounding me. The voice belonged to an immature boy who went by the name Prince. He wore baggy jeans, sneakers, and a t-shirt with a stupid phrase on it. Prince had a laugh that said, “I’m a *bleep* and I know it.” We used to be friends, but that was back when I was dating his older brother.
Ever since our breakup, he had been a complete jerk. He was constantly slapping labels on me, trashing my self-esteem. This was the final straw between Prince and I, and he pushed me to the edge.
The name he had spoken was that of my best friend since 2nd grade, Kennedy Evans.
Kennedy had medium-length brown hair with side-bangs. It was usually a crazy color underneath. Bright blue, her hair stuck out in the hallways. She wore Sperrys, soccer socks, a t-shirt, Nike shorts, and braided bracelets. Her blue-gray eyes, made her look blind. She was flirty and athletic, and almost always had a boyfriend. Yet she always made mature decisions and always stuck to her beliefs and values. Her most prized possession was her sister, Shelby, who had to be taken care of most of the time because their Dad was an alcoholic. Our first conversation was when we were working on a project to enter into the annual Reflections Contest. It went something like this:
“Hey Kennedy, do you have an extra skin color?” I remembered the days when the “apricot” colored crayon was referred to as the “skin color.”
“You bet!” She handed it to me, beaming.
I made my way back to my desk. I had just finished coloring my picture, when I pressed down too hard and the crayon snapped in two. My eyes widened, and tears began to form.
“I’m so sorry!” I wailed, cradling the leftover pieces in my hands and giving them back to her.
“Don’t worry about it! I have plenty extras. I color all the time at home, so I have lots of extras.”
I stared as she placed them into a plastic, supply box with a heterogeneous mixture of pencils, markers, and gum wrappers inside.
“Oh, okay,” I said.
I gently placed my drawing on her desk, searching for approval within her eyes.
“Oh, wow! You drew everyone in the class!” She exclaimed, eyes sparkling.
I saw the sparkle.
“Yeah, I did. You’re right here.” I pointed to a girl with pigtails, in a hot pink dress.
“My dress! It’s my favorite color!” Exclaimed Kennedy.
I smiled and nodded.
“What’s your name again?” She asked.
“Aspen Anderson,” I remarked.
“Nice to meet you, Aspen!” she laughed, taking my hand and shaking it. “I can tell we’re going to be good friends!”
“Do you know Kennedy Evans?” Chirped Prince, in a voice that made me snarl.
A chemically-masked girl twisted her hair around her finger.
“Yeaaaah,” she purred.
“Well, she and Aspen kissed last year.”
“Yeah, I know, right?”
“That’s disgusting! What losers! They must be really desperate!” The girl and her friends squealed.
My face burned, and my eyebrows narrowed. That was IT! I had HAD it with him! That jerk didn’t even tell the whole story!
I was getting my chemistry book out of my locker, and Kennedy just happened to be standing behind the locker door trying to spook me. When I closed my locker, I spun on my feet, and ran-smack into her.
But before I had the chance to explain what actually happened, my natural instincts kicked in.
“Ugh!” I growled, and standing to my feet, I made a B-line towards the door. “Aspen!” Said Mrs. Willis.
“Bathroom!” I replied abruptly, and raced through the door.
Feeling as though I was flying, I bulleted down and weaved through the hallways. I burst through another door, I tried my hardest to escape from humiliation. A fall breeze brushed my freckles, and my brown eyes watered.
My feet thudded against the sidewalk with each stride, adrenaline racing through my veins. After what felt like forever, I reached my apartment, pulled out the key, and thrusted open the front door.
I rapidly dumped my schoolbooks onto my bedroom floor and began making a list and completing each task the second it came to my attention. It was as if I was trained for this.
Hoodie. Pocket-knife. Carabiner. An extra shirt. Jeans. Shorts. Sleeping bag.
To the kitchen. 2 cans of SpaghettiO’s. Crackers, chips, a water jug.
From the shed- A small rope and tarp.
I threw my skinny jeans on over my shorts, having to do a little dance in order to get them over my hips, and pulled my black Hoodie over my head, then stuffed my pocket-knife and carabiner into my too-small pockets. I then managed to shove all of my supplies into my oversized backpack and a duffel bag.
Finally, scribbling a mile a minute, I wrote a quick note to my mom;
“Went for a walk. Love you. Be home ASAP,” and taped it to the fridge.
My heart rate was finally beginning to lower.
I sat outside our door, putting my hair in a ponytail, and I made the decision to never look back.
My next decision? Where to spend my first day of isolation.
I recalled a time when I was young and was walking through a forest by the highway. My mom had run out of gas and it was a shorter walk to go through the woods. It was good that I had such a vivid imagination to entertain me. I was going through a fairy obsession at the time, and my character was always the same throughout every role-play. Glitter was my name, and I had angular blue and green wings, which left a trail of glitter everywhere I traveled. My character could even talk to animals.
And then it hit me. I decided I would revisit the different settings of my favorite childhood memories. This included Disneyland, of course. Thank god for GPS.
I checked the time on my watch, which read 1:47 on Friday, September, 14th, 2012.
Arrival time: 3:19 p.m.
I pulled on my hood, put in my headphones, turned on the latest dubstep, and began walking.
Letting out a sigh of satisfaction, I wondered why I hadn’t thought of this before. Being by myself without bratty kids at school, no homework; I was perfectly capable of taking care of myself. This girl was always interested in this kind of survival stuff, and now it was time for freedom.
A smirk crept upon my face as I walked down the sidewalk. It was time for me to show the world what I was made of.
About 10 minutes after reaching the start of the forest, I heard my name called out into the wilderness from behind me.
Oh, HECK no, I thought, You are NOT taking me back there!
As fear and anger crept into my eyes, I wanted to scream. But I instead broke into a light jog, careful not to make too much noise. It stunk that the trees for which I were named were so skinny, and my black hoodie stuck out against their white trunks.
“Miss Anderson!” and my heart started racing again. Kennedy desperately called out my name.
I’m sorry, Kennedy… I’ll come back to visit, I promise. Just not today, not today, not today…
And then she screamed. Prince yowled his demonic laughter, and I was furious.
Tossing my bags onto the brush, I ran to Kennedy’s aid.
“Leave her alone!” I roared, kicking up leaves and dirt behind me. My hands were clenched into fists, ready to come to the rescue and give Prince a taste of his own medicine. Now was the time for me to kick his butt and have a legitimate reason for it.
“What makes you think I’ll do that?” he roared in reply.
As I sprinted, I yanked my pocketknife out of my back pocket. Noticing a drop-off in the landscape, I jumped and landed twenty feet away from them, feeling the shock. I pushed myself back up with my hands, scraping them on tree roots poking out from the dirt.
Gasping, I lifted my head from the ground and saw Kennedy in Prince’s headlock, struggling to break free.
I held the knife up to his neck from behind, and I felt him jump beneath the cold metal. “Because I’m stronger,” I hissed softly into his ear.
I could feel an evil smirk creep upon his face.
“You’re such a du—,” and just as I was about to press the tip of the knife into his neck, Kennedy forced herself out of his grasp.
Turning to face him, she raised her hand, and whacked the heel of her palm against his temple.
Prince cowered and crashed down onto the ground. Not even 2 seconds later, he opened his eyes, whimpering, “I’m blind! Oh my god, I’m blind!”
I took his hand in a tight grasp, and helped him up. I placed my hands on his shoulders, and turned him east. “The highway is that way. Start walking,” I commanded.
And to my surprise, he did.
Kennedy and I stared after him with his hands outstretched, trying not to crash into any trees, until he was out of our view. It was evident that she was in shock.
I was first to speak.
“How did you find me?” I was somewhat frustrated that she came after me.
“I saw you on the side of the road when I was driving home.”
Shoot. I need to be more careful about that.
“And Prince?” I pressed on.
“He must’ve followed me.”
We stood in silence for a minute or so, gazing into nothingness in front of us.
“You need to leave.”
“Leave you?” Her blue eyes widened.
“I meant to call the police.”
“You’re coming with me.”
“No, I’m not.”
“I’m through with life back home. I feel alive out here.”
“That doesn’t sound like the Aspen I know.”
“I’m sorry; you’re the one person I don’t want to leave behind.”
“Then come home.”
“You could come with me.”
“I have to take care of Shelby.”
I sighed. “I can call you on a payphone and we can meet up somewhere.”
I paused. “No.”
She pulled out a twenty. “Emergencies and calling me only.”
“Yes ma’am.” I took the twenty.
We sat on a nearby tree log, immersed in thought.
“I’m praying for you,” she said.
That’s exactly why I loved her so much.
. Her head was rested on my shoulder, arms wrapped around my neck. My head was rested atop hers, and we embraced as we began to cry from our distress. We felt like we were nothing, being manipulated by Prince and the world around us.
“Please come back,” she whispered, and wiped her nose on her sleeve.
“When I feel better.” I negotiated.
“That shouldn’t be too long. You get back up easily.” She smiled from beneath her tears.
I stood up, and so did she. We hugged for what felt like forever.
“I’ll talk to you soon, okay?”
“Okay.” I said bluntly.
We parted ways, Kennedy heading towards the highway, as I headed deeper into the forest.
I came across my bags, flung them over my shoulder, and continued on my way. I tried to forget what had just happened. “Shelter,” I muttered beneath my breath, kneeling down to retie my laces, long, strawberry-blonde hair hiding my face. “That comes first.”
I began to seek out a branch I could hang my tarp over; most of the trees I passed didn’t have low enough branches. Rummaging through the forest, I sighed when I couldn’t find just the right spot. I plopped myself down, with my back against the nearest tree trunk. I pulled my crackers out of my backpack, and began to much.
The autumn leaves of a hawthorn caught my eye, its scarlet warming my heart. A Monarch Butterfly danced across the sky, brushing his delicate wings across my face. I took this as an invitation to dance along with him.
Delighted, I rose to my aching feet, and began to chase after him. In this solitary place, I could look like an idiot and not have to worry because no one would see me.
Let us dance.
And I began to spin and whirl about with the monarch, and I lifted my head to feel the sun on my face, and a cry of freedom erupted from within. As I danced, my cares floated away, and our guests arrived gradually. Their wings created a soft hung, and I sung my heart out, thus creating harmonies together. I felt like a child within a fairytale.
Our grand finale was when I stood defiantly with my arms outstretched to my sides, and my partners landed gracefully upon my skin, one by one. Gasping and out of breath, I was the happiest I had ever been in my entire life.
“I think they like you,” said a voice from behind me.
I turned sharply towards the voice, blushing madly.
His deep blue eyes pierced my heart, and his half-smile made me melt. His shaggy brown hair brushed his eyelashes, and freckles were dusted upon his snow-white complexion. He stood 2 inches taller than me.
Nice going, Aspen.
The butterflies flew away, leaving the stranger and I to ourselves.
“Being out here too long can do stuff to you,” he chimed.
The butterflies entered my stomach, and I was speechless. The boy took notice of my bags next to the tree I had selected.
“Let me help ya with that.” Without asking, angel-boy began to make a shelter, creating a triangular frame from broken branches, and throwing my tarp on top. He used piled leaves to cover the ground inside the shelter, and rolled out my sleep bag inside.
“How’s that?” he asked.
“Wow.” I sat inside the shelter, pulling my backpack and duffel bag inside with me. It was rather roomy.
“Knock, knock,” he said from outside.
“Go away!” I joked.
“Okay.” He got the joke and crawled inside, and sat down beside me. “How long ya been out here, butterfly?”
“It’s my first day,” I replied, prying my eyes off the floor and making eye contact.
“It gets even better.”
The boy smiled. “I’m Hawthorne.”
I mirrored that emotion. “How fitting; I’m Aspen.”
We were both named after trees.
“Forest kids!” Hawthorne exclaimed, throwing his firsts above his head.
I was thankful to have a friend to stay with me that night. We shared a can of cold SpaghettiO’s, and after kissing my forehead goodnight, he assured me he would keep watch and wake me up in a couple of hours, so he himself could get some resp. But he couldn’t manage to keep his eyes open long, so he eventually fell asleep as well.
Hawthorne wasn’t there when I woke up the next morning, so I went looking for him.
After walking about 5 minutes, I realized a blue-eyed wolf with brown fur was looking me in the eye from about fifteen feet away. He was fear-stricken, and I could see his bones. Another wolf accompanied him, and she had tan fun and brown eyes. She whimpered. I could see she was carrying pups, and I knew the wolves were on their last leg. They had little chance of survival.
I then realized that if I didn’t go home, that would be me.
My face burned, and my heart broke. It was time to go back, time to face reality and take back the fight. My fight.
I gathered my stuff, and Hawthorne came up behind me.
“Aspen.” I continued to pack my bags, and didn’t acknowledge him. “Aspen, where are you going?”
“Home,” I said.
I felt his heard break.
“Oh,” he whispered.
“Come with me.” My bags were upon my back.
“My home is here, Aspen.”
“You’ll come back.”
“When I feel better,” he replied.
“You’ll get back up easily.”
Hawthorne smiled, and wrapped his arms around me.
“Talk to ya soon.”
He let go of me, and I started to run.
I burst through the front door, dumping my supplies onto the floor.
“Mom!” I cried. “I’m home!"