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Kings and Queens
Pale gold rays of light filter down through the spring green leaves of the canopy. The leaves flutter in the wind’s gentle breeze, whispering secrets of another time. Warmth caresses his face as he gazes skyward. Around him the slim trunks of faded brown trees that make up the woods tower high above his head and cling to each other with entangled branches.
The cotton of his loose, creamy shirt brushes against his sun-tanned skin in time with the breeze. Contentment ripples through him. The sun streaks his hair gold. His legs dangle over the edge of the structure built in and amongst the trees, pushing through empty air. The northern sides of the wooden logs are sanded down, smooth on his palms, but if he reaches underneath he can run his fingers over the rough. Memories surge.
They’d built this kingdom in the springtime, and treasured it summer, autumn, winter, always. He did all the heavy lifting, his shirt sticking to his back with sweat, while she watched from the ground, shouting up encouragements, sipping on fizzy lemonade. Even now, he can close his eyes and remember the way her eyes sparkled when she said hard yakka was not her forte, not one bit, not at all. Muscles developed where before there was nought but skin and bones, thanks to her.
She made him strong. She made him weak.
“Best friends,” they whispered together in the dead of night, under the full moon. A picnic blanket scratching their bare legs. Her eyes bright fiery sparks. His racing pulse making it hard to hear her low, smooth voice. Their promise to each other. “Forever.”
They grew up together, their lives as entwined as the rose vines on the façade of an crumbling cottage. Like the fig trees of Angkor Wat, they clung to each other through the maelstrom that was life. He stood by her in the cemetery as she watched her flesh and blood be lowered into the ground. She held his hand when he couldn’t take the taunts, the words, and he was too numb for tears.
In his mind’s eye, the better part of his memories rises to the surface. Racing each other to the very peak of the canopy, pulling themselves up towards the sky with nothing but the strength in their arms. Lying face up on the platform, pointing out constellations and dreaming up some of their own. Staining their fingers with the juice of mulberries. Laughing. Smiling. Loving.
His last memory makes its way forward. Crickets chirping. Fire blazing. Smoke stinging his eyes. She speaks in ellipses and hiccups and slurs; he listens with a closed mind. The words do not compute.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” Tears shining in her eyes, on her cheeks. “I wish—”
Wishing is for fools, he hears his heart say. The fire crackles, sparks, and starts to die.
In the now, the future stretches out before his eyes, as bleak as the white-grey of coming rainclouds and endless History exams.
If he looks up, past the leaves, past the clouds, he thinks he’ll see her flying, flying high on her way to a new town, school, life. He is left hidden in the trees in an unknown wood, staring at an empty sky and wishing wishing wishing that the past week had never happened.
He’ll miss her more than he can ever say, and more than he can ever allow himself.
A cloud blocks out the sun. The previously warm breeze turns icy.