She is three, and the world is an immaculate globe in the palm of her hand. The playground her father takes her to is her kingdom, the slide her throne; when she swings up high and feels nothing but freedom and the wind, sees nothing but the burnt acrylic yellows smeared across the horizon, she can’t help but feel she’s in another world. She is three, and she feels that she was born to be the queen of the sky.
She is five, and she isn’t good with the kids her age. Really, she isn’t good with people in general – but it’s okay because she’s found herself to be particularly gifted at befriending fairies. And once she sees one, it’s like they’re everywhere – in the blades of grass beneath her feet, in the stars that speckle the night sky, in the ringlets of her hair. They laugh: a light, tinkling sound that makes her forget how sad she is, pulls her back into that other world. She is five, and she pretends she isn’t alone.
She is seven, and her classmates laugh at her with scorn that looks unnatural on such young faces. So she spends her recesses under her tree, closing her eyes and listening to the wind. It carries the songs of the fairies, a different one every day. Some days it’s common gossip, others a tale of whimsical adventure. She can feel her heart get a little heavier with every story it weaves. She only wishes she could ride the breeze forever. Some say she’s crazy, and often she wonders if they’re right. She is seven, and every time she looks up at the sky, she feels tied down.
She is nine, and another girl hears the wind. The girl’s name is Lucy, and she has dark tresses and eyes to match, and the sort of smile you’d see in an impressionist painting – soft and serene, face filled with quiet mirth. Where she is bruised knees, Lucy is immaculate handwriting. Where she is twitching fingers, Lucy is movements filled with purpose. Where she is a lion’s mane, Lucy is a daintily raised chin. But they’re both quiet, and they both love to read, and they can both see the fairies. They sit under the trees and hook pinkies together with unspoken promises, and time seems to stop just for them. She is nine when they find their wings in each other.
She is eleven, and they don’t talk about fairies anymore. They talk about dinosaurs and magicians and their future plans for space exploration. More than anything else, they talk about the book they plan to write together. Every day brings new projects to build, and new adventures to embark on. They disagree sometimes, but even their fights are in sync, every argument and counterargument executed perfectly enough to be scripted. She usually wins, but she suspects it’s because Lucy lets her. When they aren’t arguing, they’re agreeing, and when they stand united, they are so formidable, so unstoppable that she swears they can conquer the universe. She is eleven when she discovers what it is to fly.
She is thirteen, and no one bothers her anymore, not when Lucy is nearby - which she nearly always is. Everyone loves Lucy. They love her warm smile and her silent kindness and her airy laugh. Lucy, she thinks, is a sort of real-life fairy – she’s dainty and smart, and she makes you want to be good. Lucy is everything she is not, everything she wishes to be, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, they meet up under the same trees to read in silence or work on their book. At the end of the day, she watches Lucy write in her loopy cursive, and Lucy watches her paint the stars, and they create their own worlds together. They shout and they cry and they fight more than ever, but they’ve never been closer. She is thirteen when she learns the meaning of sisterhood.
She is fifteen, and her world is in ashes. She never goes to Lucy’s funeral, because she isn’t sure how she’ll react, isn’t sure what will happen after she sees her best friend’s body cast into the ground forever. What does one do when they realize they’ll never see their other half smile again? She doesn’t know if she’d cry or scream or shatter beyond repair. Maybe she’d just stop existing. So instead, she throws out their pens and their notebook collection, and she grabs their precious little journal, stuffed with story ideas and bucket lists and their moments together, and she throws it into the fireplace, watching until the pages turn black. She burns everything until only her paintbrushes are left. She is fifteen when she watches her wings disintegrate.
She is seventeen, and she has forgotten how to speak. Her words don’t ever fit in her mouth, always jutting out at awkward angles. Without Lucy, she is stranded, lost in a fog. Her focus in class has faltered – her journal fills itself with doodles of anything and everything. When her pencil sweeps across the page, she’s in control. But she can’t write. Her fingers don’t drip words like they did before; she longs for the times when thick trails of ink would flow freely from her pen without any thought. They used to say Lucy was the morning sky and she was the clouds at dusk. But, now? Now, she thinks maybe Lucy was the sun, and she the moon, absorbing all the light her friend cast off. Without Lucy, she’s half a person. She is seventeen, and she stops yearning to fly.
She is nineteen, and she is coping. She doesn’t like to say she has healed because that implies the scar has closed, and she’s not quite sure it ever will. She still fumbles with her words, both in speech and in writing. Her novels, she realizes, are a thing of the past, as fleeting as the songs the wind once carried to her. She doesn’t think there will be a day when she looks at their trees and doesn’t think of Lucy’s laughter, look at the clouds and see Lucy’s smile, look at herself and remember she is only half a person. The dreams that come to her during stormy nights are the most jarring, but she copes. She picks up her brush and paints away the grief, layers line upon line until the page is filled with thoughts, and she is empty of them. She is nineteen, and she picks herself off the ground and takes a small step forward.
She is twenty-one, and it’s been six years since Lucy’s death. She stares at Lucy’s tombstone. This is her second time visiting in all these years, and the only time she’s been coherent enough to think or say anything. She pulls a tiny canvas out of a flimsy plastic bag and sets it in front of the gravestone. It is Lucy’s face, painted as a faint blur across the sky. Her fingers don’t shake once. She takes a step back, face numb from the crisp autumn air, and she smiles. She tells Lucy about the galleries she’s entered her art in, the school she applied to for a teaching position, her new friends – she talks and talks until there’s nothing left to say, and then she squeezes her eyes shut and says goodbye. As she walks away for the last time, she feels free. She is twenty-one when she paints her own wings and finally, finally conquers her kingdom in the sky.