“Aren’t the stars nice tonight, Q?”
Mel sighed. She didn’t expect an answer from Q, but it was nice to talk to him, anyways. He’d never been much of a chatty person. “Look, I can see the north star! Never could spot it at home. Too much pollution in the sky.” She pointed up to a glistening light hovering in the inky night, brighter than all the rest. It reminded her of how Q’s eyes would shine when they caught the sun just right, highlighting the gold and amber flecks in his auburn irises. She was envious of them.
With a grunt, Mel sat up from her patch of grass and examined her companion. He was staring up, seemingly lost in the cosmos above him. I wonder what’s going through that boy’s head, Mel asked herself. I hope something for his poetry. He liked to write, but as of recently had stopped. He seemed so wistful and lifeless, and it broke Mel’s heart to see him that way. In an attempt to make him better, she had brought him to the woods, because it was a great place to hide away from the rest of the world. Maybe that would fix this.
But when she looked closer, she saw he had a frown on his face.
“Q, what’s wrong? Are you feeling okay?”
Mel sniffed. “Fine then. Don’t tell me.” She crossed her arms and turned away from him in a huff. “Not like I care, anyways.” But she did care, and she hated to admit it to herself. It only made all this harder, knowing she’d never see him again. Q was leaving her life, and she couldn’t even do anything about his mood. Her head reeled, trying to think of something that would make this situation less awkward, when an idea clicked in her head. “Hey, why don’t I get those shovels we hid and we can go digging for stuff, just like old times? You know, partake in one last tradition before you have to go. You stay here, I’ll go get them.”
Before Q had any chance to answer, Mel had already zipped away. She sprinted over loose branches and rocks with mechanical precision, weaving through the trees in a pattern she had ingrained into her head many, many years ago. Finally, she reached an especially large rock by the base of a sickly-looking tree. She moved loose debris out from under her feet and pushed the rock, once-white sneakers sliding through the damp ground as she shoved. Revealing a hole in the dirt, she looked down at a shovel sprinkled with patches of rust and frowned. Where’s the second one? Mel shrugged, took the remaining shovel, and heaved the rock back into its original resting place.
She broke into a light jog as she approached the empty patch of trees she’d left Q at, and was happy to see him still there. “Good, you didn’t walk off on me!” She held up her shovel. “Someone took the other one, can you believe it? Guess we’ll have to share. That shouldn’t be too hard, though. You point out a spot if you see one you like, okay? Let’s go!” She took Q’s hand, and felt him stiffen up beneath her grasp. “Come on man, don’t be so tense! We’re going to have fun, I know it,” said Mel, smiling.
After a few minutes of running around, Mel stopped them at a spot below a thick oak tree, eyes lighting up. “Ooo, this looks good! You sit, I’ll dig this one. Wouldn’t want your pansy arms to get too tired before you go to bed. It’s not good for your muscles.” Q settled into a seat at the base of the tree, watching Mel as she speared the shovel into the dirt. “You know, people hide all kinds of good stuff below big trees. Do you think it’s some sort of symbolism? Ah, what am I saying? People are just weird like that, symbolism or not.”
The moon glistened as Mel worked, watching her from above the trees. Q remained quiet, as did Mel, who wasn’t sure what to say. Nothing seemed to be improving her friend’s outlook, and nothing crossed her mind about what words she could speak to break the awkward silence that had formed between them.
By the time she had dug a hole big enough to be a small trench, she still struggled to find sentences. “Hah, nothing in this one. Guess we got all the good stuff as kids, right?” She sighed again. “But look! I can jump into it!” Mel did just that, flattening herself against the ground and covering her clothes in brown stains. “Remember when we’d get out our air guns and shoot at each other from the pits we made? Good times, good times.” She hopped out of the hole and frowned at Q’s chest. She couldn’t bring herself to look at those perfect eyes he’d been blessed with.
“Guess I got a little carried away with firearms this time,” said Mel, her voice quieting, brushing her fingers on a crusty red hole in his jean jacket. “Damn, I think I stained your shirt. Not like it’ll matter, though.” She held his hand again. “You should put on some gloves, Q, you’re gonna freeze out here!” He dragged against the ground as Mel pulled him into the hole she dug, landing with a dull thud. Mel picked up the shovel once again and began covering the pit with fresh soil. “Better get this all closed up, wouldn’t want anyone getting angry again. Remember when we got in trouble for leaving a bunch of little ones around all the trees? Man, was my mom mad. Said we’d kill the roots. With that logic, she probably wouldn’t be too pleased with one big hole,” she rambled, chuckling to herself.
Mel continued to scoop dirt into the pit, reminiscing about all the adventures the two of them had gone through. Before she covered Q’s face, she stopped herself. “Wait, I know what’ll cheer you up for sure!” She reached down, moving the corners of his mouth into a smile, then mirrored his face on her own. “There! I’m so glad I could see you happy before you’re gone.” Mel took a big pile of dirt and dumped it onto his face. “You always did love to get messy, didn’t you?”
With a final pat, Mel flattened the ground with her shovel. “There we go, buddy. Wouldn’t want to disturb the earth too much or whatever.” She knelt down, flopping onto her stomach with her arms outstretched. “One last hug before I go, old pal?”
“I’m going to miss you, you know.”
“Well, I hafta get this show on the road.” Mel stood and grasped the shovel, twirling it in her hands and flinging dirt on the trees. “See you ‘round, Q.”