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Trees Like Children
The girl tugs her thin sweater around her, the wind blowing her hair back and rustling through the trees. Pine needles blow around her ankles, stinging at her bare legs.
“Are you cold?” the boy asks.
“I’m fine,” she says stiffly, barely glancing at him out of the corner of her eye.
He starts taking off his jacket, but she steps away before he can hand it to her. “Really, I’m fine. We’re almost to my house, anyway.” She walks a little faster. He shrugs back into his jacket and matches her pace. The next silence is long and awkward. The path is dark, and they are nowhere near her house.
“Did you hear that?” the girl says suddenly, slowing down to scan the shadows between the trees.
“That noise. Like someone’s crying.”
“Oh that.” He shakes his head. “That’s just the trees. I’m surprised you haven’t noticed that yet. All the trees around her sound like that, especially in the woods. The wind pushes branches against other branches, and you get a sound like a screaming little kid. It’s all normal in this berg.”
“Doesn’t that freak you out a little?” she says looking at the tops of the trees. They look like the points of a thousand witches’ hats, dark against the twilight.
“It did when I was little, but now I’m used to it.”
“I’ll never get used to it,” she says, and then she says, a little quieter, “I hate it and I’ll never get used to it. The trees at home never squeaked like this.”
“No woods? No pine trees?”
“No pine trees in my neighborhood, anyway. Our neighbors had palm trees in their front yard.” She readjusts her sweater around her shoulders and crosses her arms tighter.
“And the weather was probably warmer,” he says, taking off his jacket again. When she turns away, he says “Really, just wear the jacket. It doesn’t have to mean anything, okay? I just don’t want you to turn into a human Popsicle.”
She accepts his jacket. “Ugh, thanks. Back home, I could have worn this outfit and been fine. It gets cold too early here.”
The corners of the boy’s mouth twitch a little. “If it means anything, you look good in that skirt.”
“Thanks, but looking good has never changed the weather. Or suddenly transported me back home.”
“Oh come on, this town isn’t that bad. Take these woods, for instance. They’re nice and cool in the summers. While all your friends are complaining about getting sunburned at the beach, you can smile and talk about the awesome party you had at the creek.”
“There’s a creek here?”
The boy points off into the trees on his right. “About three hundred yards that way. You didn’t know?”
“Hey, two months here. I haven’t exactly had time to go tramping around in the woods and listen to trees that sound like screaming babies.”
He laughs a little. “We could. What are you doing tomorrow afternoon after school?”
The girl stops. “What, are you asking me on another date? To go walking around the woods?”
“If this evening wasn’t too unbearable, yes.” He smiles at her.
She looks down, scuffing the toe of her ballet flat into the dirt trail. “I guess I’d like that,” she says
“Yeah. I don’t know.”
“No, it’s cool.” He shoves his hands into his pants pockets and looks away.
“Hey, I don’t mean it like that. Just, I don’t know. Everything’s weird here. I don’t know what to guess or not guess.” Another awkward silence fills the space between them.
The boy clears his throat. “Let’s get you home.”
At the end of the path is the girl’s new backyard. The lights of her house spill over the frosted grass, tiny reflections dotting the lawn like jewels. She turns to the boy. “Thanks for this evening. I had a really fun time.”
“You guess?” the boy says, his eyebrows shooting up under his bangs.
She giggles. “No, I know I had a fun time.” She smiles at him. He smiles back. This time, the silence that follows is less awkward. She starts taking off his jacket.
“No, you keep it for right now. It looks good on you.” He looks at his shoes.
“Hey,” she says, and then, without any warning, she leans in and kisses him quickly. When she pulls away, they’re both grinning. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she says, and she’s running off to her house without another word.