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The earthy smells of the forest mingled nicely with the salty taste in the air. The morning sun was just teetering on the horizon, casting butter yellow rays onto the water just down the beach. Kat smiled, there were already people at the market by the Council Hall. Quickly filling her water skin, Kat scribbled a note to her sister Sophie about where she stored the roots from yesterday’s foraging expedition. Pushing aside the door flap, she walked outside.
Slinging her water skin and coin pouch over her shoulder, Kat ran down the beach barefoot. She relished the cool morning air whipping through her hair. Today was hair cut day. On the run over she decided to take it short, maybe an inch long.
She jogged the last 30 feet into the market, stopping in front of the fruit booths. Waiting for her by the apple barrel was Carly, hair ruffled as always. She tended to try to flatten or neaten it often. Kat thought that not only were these attempts futile, but that it was hardly a bad thing. Kat grinned. This was why she’d woken up so early. She sprinted over even though she was tired. Carly laughed and bent a knee while opening her arms. Kat smiled even wider and launched off the ground, turning her forward momentum into upward motion. She landed in a hug, being spun around with her feet of the ground.
Once Kat’s feet were back firmly on the ground and she had breath in her lungs, she grabbed Carly’s hand and pulled her down the walkway. Dodging buyers and sellers as they cheerily made their rounds. Kat’s feet padded down the well worn path to the community center; a large open space with tables and chairs made of wood. There were a few people on line for hair cuts already, but not enough to dampen Kat’ mood.
She turned smiling to look at Carly, who was looking at Kat when she turned. Kat blushed.
“so, how short are you gonna go this time, Kat?”, Carly said, clearly trying not to laugh. Kat swung their hands back and forth.
“I was thinking of shaving it all off.” she poked Carly. That’s exactly what she’d done. She’d gotten tired of it lately though and decided to grow it out; to a full two and a half inches.
Carly chuckled and spun Kat around to look in the free standing mirror, then wrapped her arms around Kat’s middle. She leaned into Kat and sighed. Then it was Kat’s turn to get her hair cut. She told the hair dresser how short she wanted to go. He smiled and was poised to cut. He clearly knew what the deal was with her mood.
And a single golden-brown lock fell to the floor.
Sophie scowled at the hastily scribbled note on the table. She knew where the roots were, she’d helped harvest them. She wasn’t a child anymore! She punched the wooden pole that held the supplies from hooks while they weren’t in use. After fuming a while, she spun around and grabbed her walking stick and pack. She’d always been more at ease in the forest behind the huts. Today she intended to go deeper than usual to the river.
After a while Sophie began to whistle, and a Frou-Frou bird perched on top of her stick and sang along to her whistling. Smiling to herself, Sophie wondered how anyone could love anything more than the forest. Then she began to think. She thought about the bird atop her stick, about the trees around her, about the roots in the pantry, about Kat. Where did she go in the mornings? The market, obviously, but why? They already foraged enough for nigh on four winters and the acorns were ready for packing.
Sophie heard the river before she could see it. She broke through the brush and the bird flew away. Placing her stick carefully against the side of a rock, she climbed up to the concealed top, from which you could see nearly everything downstream.
Sophie sighed contently.
Carly broke the embrace and sneezed from the little cut bits of Kat’s hair that went up her nose during their hug. Kat giggled. Carly smiled and grabbed Kat’s hand, ruffling Kat’s freshly cut hair.
“Come with me. I have a beautiful place we can go.” And with that she ran fast out of the market and made a bee-line for the trees, dragging Kat along. Her grin widened when Kat stumbled. Carly stopped abruptly. Bending down into a crouch, she pulled Kat onto her back and started off again at a slow sprint.
The wind pulling at her dark brown hair and clothing, she laughed as she jumped a log and Kat tightened her grip. Carly’s gray-blue eyes sparkled as she slowed to a walk, then put Kat down. They walked through the woods hand in hand, laughing and talking. After a few minutes Carly stopped.
“Now, close your eyes, ok?” she said excitedly. Kat hesitated, which made Carly roll her eyes and laugh. “Aw, c’mon. I won’t bite.” Putting a hand on either side of Kat’s head, she planted a kiss right on her forehead. This was their customary trust symbol. Kat closed her eyes almost immediately, and Carly held both of her hands.
“watch your step! There you go. And...... Jump! Ha ha! Good job!” Carly directed. The sound of water pervaded the air. Kat’s smile widened, as if that was possible. Carly stopped again.
“ok, don’t go anywhere! And no peaking!” she said as she let go of Kat’s hands and pulled back the branches obscuring the view.
“......open....” Carly whispered in Kat’s ear.
The look on Kat’s face was priceless.
Sophie started as she heard laughing in the distance to the right of her hide out. Looking around, she saw no one. “probably just some kids gone berry-picking.” She felt justified in saying “kids” since she was almost 9. she was very mature for her age, which made it hard for her.
Settling back into her chair she carved of a stump, she continued day dreaming while staring down stream. About half way down the river, the bushes parted.
“what the..?” she said out loud.
A yelp of joy exploded from the break in the trees. And who came through? Kat being spun around in Carly’s arms, smiling brightly and giggling with absolute joy. Sophie sat back again, muttering angrily. This was HER place. And now, she had to share this with Kat too?!?! Anger and frustration took over as she picked up a sharp rock and a stick. She hacked at the piece of wood until she had 5 pieces the size of her pinky. She made up a story to go along with them as if they were a family. This helped her calm down. Her imagination had always been her safety blanket. Feeling better, she leaned forwards to watch the goings on.
Kat’s crystal-clear blue eyes were shining with tears of happiness.
“Carls, its beautiful here.” She whispered. Turning around she buried her face in the crook of Carly’s neck and sighed happily, inhaling her scent; Like crushed pine needles with a slight sun-baked tinge. Carly wrapped her arms around Kat and they stood there like that for a bit. Then Carly said,
“Wanna go for a swim?” and smiling mischievously, she went to tackle Kat into the water, but Kat jumped out of the way at the last minute, sending Carly flying into the water. When she surfaced, Kat laughed.
“they don’t call me ‘quick feet’ for nothing, silly.”, she extended her hand and laughed, motioning for Carly to take it so she could heave her out. Carly took it, but wrenched Kat towards her. Kat fell spluttering into the water, gasping as it splashed icy cold around her. She turned and glared angrily at the smiling Carly. She couldn’t stay angry for long, though, and soon just got out and went to dry under a tree.
Leaning her head back against the trunk, she watched Carly swim around, the water making her short hair spike funnily. Abruptly Carly slipped under. Kat waited for her to resurface.
Kat jumped up. “C.....Carly?” she whimpered. A large bubble floated to the surface. Kat cried out and leapt into the water. Kicking hard she plunged to the bottom, her ears popping. Barely able to see along the river floor, she saw Carly just starting to give up fighting.
Propelling herself frantically, she used the current to go even faster. Bubbles flew out of Carly’s mouth and nose. Kat saw what had happened.
Caught by the under-toe Carly had been pulled slightly down stream and under water into a patch of plants. Tall and thin, the plants clung to her as if they were feeding off of her being there. Carly had struggled, thrashed blindly, and gotten herself even more stuck.
Kat got there jus as Carly’s eyes were closing. They made eye contact, then Carly’s eyes slipped closed. Kat grabbed Carly’s hands and pulled, yanking her as hard as she could. She kicked at the plants below and heaved upwards with all her strength. A dull slurp noise reverberated through the water as Carly came free. Kat wrapped an arm around Carly’s middle and pushed off the rocky bottom of the river to get to the surface.
Upon surfacing, she didn’t stop to gasp. Pulling and kicking, she fought her way to the shore. Once on dry land she listened desperately for Carly’s heart beat.
She heard nothing.
Crying out, she started pressing Carly’s chest to force water out, to get her breathing.
“HELP!” she cried, “HELP US, PLEASE!” water gushed forth from Carly’s lungs at an alarming rate, and still Kat did not stop trying to revive her. What had happened to their perfect morning? It had been so wonderful, and yet now here was her Carls, refusing to breathe or have a heart beat.
Sophie watched in horror as Kat tried desperately to revive her beloved. Sophie leapt from her chair and dashed down the path with her pack. Running through the trees, she dodged bushes and rocks. Everything seemed like a menace now. She hoped she wasn’t too late.
She broke through the trees onto the beach and stopped abruptly, rather disturbed by the sight before her. There was her sister, crying, falling apart at the seams, beating the water out of her one and only’s lungs, all the while begging for Carly to come back to her.
Sophie shook it off and ran up, reviewing her healing lessons mentally. Gently, she pushed Kat away explaining that she knew what to do. Kat sat on the other side of Carly, holding her cold hand, rocking back and forth, screaming, sobbing, begging.
Sophie leaned back on her heals and whistled. A frou-frou bird appeared.
“go to the village and tell the healer where we are and that we need help.” The bird trilled in confirmation. Then it flew off.
Sophie proceeded to push certain areas of Carly’s chest, trying to get her heart to beat artificially. She kept at it until the healer got there, rather disheveled and rushed looking. Once her saw the three of them, he stopped. This was the one reason he hated his job. Walking up, he kept his face composed. Stooping, he felt for a pulse in Carly’s arm. Looking up and seeing his expression, Sophie worked even harder to bring her back.
Kat, still beside herself, watched horrified as a blue tinge took over Carly’s face. The healer stood up, and walked into the woods. Momentarily he returned with a sprig of pine wrapped together with an oak leaf and lay it across Carly’s eyes,
Sophie grabbed at Kat to restrain her, but missed. A screaming sob erupted from her throat. She flung herself across Carly’s chest, shaking her, begging her to come home. Sophie pulled her off, but Kat ripped away. Sitting by Carly’s head, she pulled Carly up into her lap, her head lolling against her shoulder. She held Carly close and sobbed.
The healer bowed and walked away without a word. Sophie threw a dark look after him, while trying to console her sister. Kat rocked back and forth, her tears running dry after about an hour. The sun started to descend, it must have been close to dinner time.
Kat wouldn’t leave. Her Carls, her darling, her one love, her everything. Gone, because she hadn’t gotten there fast enough. She didn’t speak a word. Sophie rubbed her sister’s back.
“Kat, c’mon. we have to go to dinner. Bring Carly, ok? We’ll bury her after dinner.” Kat didn’t move. Sophie sighed and walked into the woods towards the village, leaving Kat to mourn.
Kat sat there for at least another hour, jut holding Carly’s shell close, trying to keep it warm with her own body heat. “Carly?” she whimpered. And a cliché montage of memories crawled through her mind, like a funeral procession.
They’d known each other since Kat was 6, Carly eight. They were close, but nothing out of the ordinary. Just friendly strangers. After a few years they kind of lost touch, which was a hard feat to accomplish on such a small island. Then, when ever Rights Day rolled around, Carly’s family held a party. Every year they became close again. Another few years passed in the same pattern, with a few changes. Carly cut her hair short and colored it, seeming to enjoy life more. Kat stayed awkward for a while yet, but always strove to be Carly’s friend. After a while Kat grew into herself. She also realized she enjoyed being with Carly more than almost anything else.
Kat stood, lifting Carly with her, limp in her arms. She was numb to everything.
Then Kat had realized she had feelings for Carly. She suppressed it, looking for ways to avoid that road to rejection and hurt. She’d tried dating other people, keeping busy, everything she could think of. Nothing worked. For a few months Kat toiled under the weight of this love. Never had she felt like this before. It frightened her deeply, but also was somehow exhilarating.
Kat walked towards the water, carrying Carly, intending to finish this all the way.
Then, in early spring, Carly fancied someone, but wouldn’t say whom. Clues were left, ideas toyed with, hopes brought up. And there began their love.
Kat halted at the bank, ready to jump in and end it all. Then she thought of Carly, happy and joyous. She remembered the feeling of Carly’s hands in hers. The sharpening of all her senses when Carly pressed her lips to Kat’s forehead...
And she turned on her heal towards the village carrying Carly like a baby.
Life was just too worth living.