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The Red Tree
Author's note: I'm not sure how this came out of me. It is sort of dark, but I guess that's why I like it? I just love how someone could come back from the pain and loss of someone they truly loved and to find another love in the process. I find Natalie a VERY strong woman and in a way I look up to her.
This isn’t…this…couldn’t have…she was sitting next to me…on the car ride to school just a couple days ago. Why couldn’t she fight it? I can’t…how did she...? How could I be anywhere else when this happened? They must be lying to me…she can’t be, my best friend, dead.
I lay on my bed, unresponsive. My soft bedspread now feels as if it is glass, as if any moment it could shatter beneath me. A floorboard creaked in the hallway just outside my room. Using my peripherals, I could see a glimpse of blonde hair in the crack of my door. It was Sally again. It’s pathetic; I’ve seen her pacing back and forth in the hallway for hours, constantly peeking in my room. She’s probably contemplating on whether or not she should confront me. This time she actually does.
“Natalie, honey, lunch is ready…you need to eat something.”
I let out a muffled giggle. Listen to her, calling me honey, trying to comfort me. She’s not my mom and she doesn’t belong here. If she steps one foot into my room, I swear! I will throw a huge tantrum. I didn’t answer her. I just lay there, motionless, staring at the little holes in my ceiling tiles, I could feel her studying me. She sighed loudly, making sure that I heard her, and then left to the kitchen. She left the door ajar and I heard her mumble something to my father. It was about me, and I knew that he would soon be in my doorway.
I hopped off my bed and made my way around to the right side. I quickly grabbed one of my old backpacks, and on my knees, I started stuffing it with things, when I heard two small knocking sounds on my door. I angrily struck my backpack at the floor. I was too slow. Not that I would have been able to make it out fast enough. I could feel him looking at me, I kept a blank expression.
My bedroom only has two ways out, my door, and my window. On my right is my window, which is only inches away from me, but it would take too long to try and squeeze out of it. I just want to get away. I clenched my jaw and returned my father's gaze. He was trying to give me an understanding look but it just made me angrier.
I glanced at my cell phone that was on my bed. His face turned stern, he knew what I was planning to do. With my head down, I snatched my phone and tried to dart past him through the door. He took me by the arm.
“Where are you going?”
I shook myself around, trying to break away. His grasp was tight but somehow I managed to get loose. I zipped passed Sally who was slowly and carelessly sipping a cup of coffee. How ridiculous... she doesn't give a damn. How could my father choose this petty woman over my mother? Enough of this, I didn't have time to think I just had time to run. The front door snapped shut behind me as I heard my father yell my name. I started towards the pier, I had to see for myself.
The pier wasn’t too far but it felt like a million miles away with the wind tearing at my body. The neighborhood was so deserted. It was after six and no one was on the streets but me. After running for a while I became sluggish. I was nearly half way there when my legs buckled underneath me. I was exhausted. The air was so cold and every time I took a breath I felt like it was burning a hole through my chest.
I laid in the dead grass next to the sidewalk. She’s not gone…she’s not! I took my phone from my bag and dialed in her number. I waited, listening to the ringing, for her to answer in her chipper voice that would make anyone’s day better. It seemed like it was ringing forever and I began to feel a coldness run through my whole body. It kept telling me…she’s gone, let go! I fought the chill and waited longer. Suddenly, there was another voice on the line. It’s her! It’s really her!
“SARAH! Sarah! You’re alive! You’re okay! Oh God, I thought I lost you! Sarah! Sarah, where are you?”
For some reason she kept talking over me. I quieted for a second and noticed it was her voicemail.
“…Sarah” I whimpered.
I slapped the ground and screamed. A fiery rage was growing inside me. I bit my lip, trying to hold myself back from throwing my phone as far as I could out into the woods. The voicemail was still going on in my ear, but I wasn’t paying any attention to it. When it came to the beep I didn't bother hanging up. I felt frozen to the point where I couldn’t move.
“Why!” I screamed out.
Another chill hit me, and I flinched. The rage built up again, I couldn’t take it. If she had gone, why am I still here? I stood up and started for the pier again. It was like I wasn’t even telling my legs to move, they just kept on going. The upper half of my body was harder to budge, and my chest was still burning. I tried holding my breath, but that only works for so long. I turned on the dirt path that led up to the peak, there were a lot more trees here. I could see the top and I pushed myself to run full speed ahead. When I made it there, I stopped to look over the pier below. I hated this place. The water was stirring and the height of the waves were too high for anyone to survive.
I walked up to the overhang. Every step I moved closer, the water appeared weaker, but I knew it wasn’t. The water seemed disgruntled or disturbed. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and raised my head to the sky. It’s time. I raised both of my arms into the air, like a bird about to fly. I inched forward a few steps and breathed in again. I leaned forward, ready to fall to my death. All of a sudden the wind acted up rippling at my clothes and shoving me backwards to the ground.
I heard a voice in the distance, sounding like it was saying my name. I saw nothing but trees behind me. I thought I was imagining it at first until a tall, dark figure appeared.
“Natalie?” It called.
It was approaching very slow. I could make out that it was a young man, most likely my age. He was wearing a black hat and coat with faded jeans.
“Natalie is that you?”
I was on the ground at the time, still trying to get back on my feet. When I looked up I recognized him. His name was Avery Bennett. I'm pretty sure we had some classes together last year. He didn't get out too much. Either that or I just didn't ever see him. I was very confused on why he was here. Right now, right this second, but I was kind of glad he was.
I was trying to think up some explanation as to why I was just on the ground and I began to wonder how much he had saw. No one else was around. It was just us. He seemed a little nervous, like he didn't want to get quite too close to me. More time passed and the more awkward it became. I was looking around trying to figure out where he had came from.
“How did you find me?” I blurted.
It just sort of came out. I didn't expect it and neither did he. It was a stupid question. Why would he even be looking for me? I guess I just wanted to break the silence.
“I was just walking... I come up here a lot. Well, actually just recently.” He says “ever since...”.
There could only be one thing he was talking about. That is, what happened the other night. I could feel the tears coming. I didn't want to cry in front of him, I barely knew him. I felt stupid just standing there, saying nothing. I am pretty sure my makeup is already spread across my cheeks and neck because I can feel the tightness of it on my skin. I tried to clean up by wiping my face down with my hands. They practically slid off everytime I attempted because they were so cold. I sucked in a big breath and then asked “Were you at that party too?”
“You don't remember?...”
I was taken aback. I don't remember much of anything about that night. I don't even really remember how I got home exactly. I did, however, remember the hour long lecture my father gave me in the morning. He moved a little closer, stepping over a few twigs.
“We were pretty much hitting it off the whole time. About quarter to three you started to wind down and ended up falling asleep on me. Sarah was in no shape to drive you home, though she kept insisting on doing it. Mostly everyone was gone after that anyway, besides Sarah, Rachel, Chris, Hunter, and John. So I decided I would just drop you off on my way home.”
I put my hand on my head as if I got the side effects of that hangover again. I closed my eyes and shook my head.
“How do you know where I live?”
“When we were little my mom used to work with your mom, and so she would sometimes have to stop by your house to chat or drop things off. I don't know, I guess it just stuck with me, and it does help that your house is the only one on your block that has a green roof.”
My mom used to be a psychiatrist. She isn't anymore though, it was basically the thing that split up my parents. She always tried to take matters into her own hands and fix the problem, but it always caused more conflict.
I couldn't feel my hands anymore and I was partly wet from the slush on the ground. He looked at me and started whipping off his coat. “Here! You're freezing!” He bounded the rest of the way over to me and then wrapped it over my shoulders.
“So... now you know why I'm out here, but I still don't know your end. What brings you out on a crispy 'wintautumn' evening without a coat or mittens?”
At this time he was guiding me back to the dirt path. We then started following it back towards my place.
“Yeah! You know, in between Fall and Winter.”
“Wouldn't that be Wintall, then? Winter and Fall?”
“Potato, Patado. You're avoiding my question...”
“You caught that.” I let out a short breath. “I dont know. I guess I just needed to get out of the house. Get some fresh air.”
“Yeah, me too.”
The awkwardness was setting in again, and having his arm around me made it even more so. It was weird knowing that he remembered everything about that night. I hope I didn't do anything completely stupid. My mind bounced back and forth from trying to put pieces of him and the party together.
My concentration was broken when he said “Well hey! Would you look at that... it's beginning to snow! I've been waiting for more of this!” He smiled. “There is something about snow that just makes everything seem so...”
“I was going to say white.”
“Oh...” I laughed.
“Nah, I'm kidding. I was going to say happy. I just didn't want to agree with you 'cause finishing sentences is such a cliché.” He chuckled. I laughed too.
“So how long have we known each other? I mean, well, been able to know each other.” I wondered.
“We've gone to the same schools together since the 6th grade.”
“Wow... It's weird how we could have been friends all this time.”
“Maybe we weren't supposed to become friends until now.”
“So does this make us friends?” I asked, almost hopefully. He seemed really nice and it wouldn't hurt to have someone there to help through all of this. We were a house away from mine. We stopped and turned to each other.
“You can count on it.” He said, putting one hand on my shoulder.
I wanted to hug him so tight right then. His side dimples when he smiled were so contagious and he radiated joy with his rosy cheeks. I really didn't want to go home, not after how I left. I didn't want to leave this spot. I almost asked him if I could stay with him for the night, but that'd be too weird. I knew I should just go home. I gave him back his coat and then thanked him. If he hadn't had showed up on that cliff, I probably would be dead from either hitting rock bottom or drowning from the undertow.
“Thank you.” I said.
“For saying my name.”
There goes that smile again.
“Anytime. You make sure you get some good sleep tonight and I'll see you bright and early tomorrow morning at school, but if not, then I understand.”
I nodded and then we departed ways. My mind was whirling now, wondering what my father was going to throw at me when I got home. I felt horrible the second he left, he made it all go away. Now, it just seems like it was a dream and will be lost in memory tomorrow. I was determined to see him again.
My alarm went off at 6 AM. I just laid there, under the covers. Surprisingly, my father didn't say anything to me last night. When I walked in the door, the two of them were asleep on the couch. My heart sank a little... there I was on that cliff about to jump and he was here cuddling up to that... I could have jumped. I could have easily stepped once, and no one would have seen me again and he wasn't wasting any time waiting up to see if I would come home. I couldn't believe it. I kind of stood there a while to see if he would twitch or show some sign of emotion. Nothing. He was completely out. I was going to turn the tv off for them but I decided not to, almost hoping it would disrupt their sweet dreams.
After that I went to bed, or at least tried to. Too many thoughts and questions were smothering me. My emotions were conflicted. I had no idea what to do. It all happened so fast. I was furious with Sarah for not leaving the party when I did. If she had, she would still be here. She would show up at my house in her 2005 Black Cadillac STS Sedan, with Anna in the backseat, at 7:10 AM. I can't stand it not knowing what went on that night! I hate not knowing how it happened. I wasn't there to help, and now I will never see her again.
I will never be able to have our silly moments back, where we would just look at each other and start laughing to death or just by one glance, be able to understand exactly what we were trying to say; or having sleepovers, and watching re-runs of our favorite shows. I let out a long whimper into my pillow. I never knew that I could cry so early in the morning. It felt just as easy as crying any other time of day. I could tell my eyes were puffy and they still itched and stung from yesterday.
I pulled myself out of bed and rummaged through my dresser. Of course I take out the first pair of sweatpants I see, and chose a matching hoodie. I tied my hair up in a bun and then brushed my teeth. My face looked like death. I had dark spots under my eyes and red patches all over my skin, my green eyes were so dark in comparison. I looked like a ghost, I've never seen myself so pale. I didn't want to go to school, but I'd much rather be there then here at home, so I softened my eyes with some makeup and grabbed something to eat.
I texted Anna and told her I was taking the bus today, and I would talk to her more when I got to school. I put on my coat, hat, and mittens, grabbed my bag, and left to the bus stop. It was snowing and there was about an inch of white, sparkly powder on the ground already. It crunched every time I stepped. There was a group of sophmores and some freshman at the end of the street, on the corner. As I got closer to them, I got nervous. I never took the bus, and I was almost positive I was going to be the only senior. I stood along the side, aloof from the crowd. I pulled out my phone, no reply from Anna.
The bus was pulling up. Unexpectantly, across the street, I see Avery walking. The bus came to a stop and opened its doors. The crowd formed into somewhat of a single file line. He crossed the street and made his way behind me.
“Finally found your coat and mittens I see.” He said.
“What? Oh. Oh, yes I did.” I laughed.
“I've never seen you ride the bus before...”
“Sarah used to give me rides.”
I could tell that he was struggling with what he would say next. I thought I would jump in and save him the trouble.
“How come you ride the bus? Don't you have your license?”
He seemed pleased with the topic change. His body language looked much more relaxed.
“I have my license. It's my car that's the problem. It keeps acting up and overheating for no reason. I've checked the thermostat and I've tested the cooling system but both are fine. I'm going to try to get it checked out today.”
We were going down the isle in the bus now and I had no idea where to sit. I just chose a spot in the middle and called it good. I scooched in and sat down. He sat beside me.
“That sucks... how many days did you have to hitch a ride?”
“All last week. I'm sick of it. The bus is a horrible place.”
“Is it that bad?”
“All you hear is an annoying humming sound filled with constant and obnoxious laughter from the freshmen. All. The way. There.”
Everyone was on and the doors shut with a whooshing sound. Immediately the noise started. I heard snip-its of conversations all around. Someone said the name 'Sarah Parker' and caught my attention. They were asking if anyone heard about it. I bunkered down a little bit trying to hide myself. Avery's hand appeared in front of my eyes with a headphone in it. I accepted the kind gesture and put it in my ear.
I took a look at him. His profile in the morning light revealed his defined jaw line. His hair was the perfect length, not too long or short. It was a light chesnut brown, and had no curl to it. In these moments, just looking at him, I realized how handsome he really was. He had warm light brown eyes and the sun hit them just right to where they shined. He was lost in thought, or maybe just listening to the music. He turned his head to look at me, and noticed that I was looking at him too. I didn't look away and neither did he. In that moment, we both just smiled.
The ride there was kind of nice, sitting there together. The song “Cheers” by Rihanna came up next in his mix. A jolt hit me. The night of the party, Sarah came to pick me up and this song was buzzing out of her car speakers. We shouted this song all the way there. My eyes were beginning to burn. I took the headphone out of my ear and leaned my head on the window. It was so cold against the side of my face. Avery felt the lag and traced the wire to find that I'd taken it out.
“Hey, how are you doing?” He said.
He hooked his arm around me, gently pulling me away from the window into him. He gave me a little squeeze and shined a soft smile. I couldn't look at him, because if I did, I knew I would fall apart. It's strange for him to comfort me. He's practically a stranger, but according to what he told me, I was more than friendly at the party, so, I guess it's not the same for him. I didn't care though, I needed a shoulder and his was more than perfect.
“You'll get through the day, I'm practically in all your hours...” He said, warming my arm. “Your so cold.” He frowned, squeezing me tighter.
We got to the school and I didn't want to move. I was so warm and being this close to him felt like time didn't exist. I heard others start to stand up when the bus doors opened. I felt Avery moving. My heart slid back into place, back to when I was looking down a 120 ft cliff. He threw his bag over his shoulder and held out his hand for me. I hesitated, then took it. He led me down the aisle and we made it out into the cold.
He was perfect. He held my hand on the way to every class and he talked off everyone who asked me about Sarah. Anna wasn't at school. That's right! Anna was at her dad's for the weekend out in Indiana.
I wonder if she had heard, she must have. I don't know why my first instinct wasn't to call her, I didn't think about that at all. That's why she didn't return my text this morning. Avery was talking to me about the soccert tryouts coming up, in mid-sentence I got up and asked Mr. Tusk if I could go to the bathroom.
The hallways were silent and they seemed so much bigger when they weren't filled with kids pushing and shoving each other. I got to the nearest bathroom and yanked out my phone. I dialed in Anna's number and waited for her answer. In between the ringing I heard a noise in one of the stalls. It sounded like crying. Anna's voicemail played in my ear. I tried to call again. The stall opened and a girl with auburn hair walked out. She had a black sharpie in her hand. She saw me look at her and she scrambled to hide it. I looked away. She put it somewhere and then walked up to the mirror. Her eyes were all red with makeup running down the sides, similar to what I looked like this morning. No answer. Why isn't she answering!
The sink turned on. The girl washed her face and looked at herself in the mirror. Finally getting to see her clearly, I knew that she was Rachel Kemp, a senior like me. She was one of those girls who needed everyones eyes glued on her and tried everything to keep them watching. She flirted with all the boys and they loved it. She was basically the biggest senior class slut. She grabbed her backpack and pulled out a baggie of what looked like a ton of joints. She opened it and pulled one out. She put the baggie back and pulled out a red lighter. She lit it and took a big puff. She looked at me. I pretended I was looking somewhere else.
“Want a hit?” She said.
“Why are you smoking that? You never used to smoke.”
“Things happen. Things change. You want some?”
At the time... I almost wanted to. I knew I shouldn't, and for some reason I found myself reaching for it. The thought of everything being lifted off of me for just a few minutes sounded like heaven. Just as I was about to take it in, my phone vibrated. The text was from Avery, I didn't bother looking at it. I walked over to the sink and looked at myself in the mirror.
“Thought so.” She murmered, trying to take it from me. I jerked away.
“I can do it! But if I do, I'm not going to stop, and that means I would be just like you.”
I turned on the sink and threw it down the drain. She pushed me out of the way and tried to fish it back out.
“B****! Why did you do that!” She cried.
“Do you know what happened at the party?” I screamed “Because I know you were there, Avery told me! Sarah never did drugs and that night she was hanging around you, Chris, and Hunter!”
Her face went blank and she stiffened up.
“Who's your supplier!” I interrogated.
“Go to hell!”
She grabbed her bag and rushed out of the bathroom. No! I am not going to let her get away. I know she knows something and I am not going to stop now. I whipped open the door and took after her.
“Rachel!” I gritted my teeth. “Who is your supplier!? Is it Hunter?” I grabbed her bag and spun her around.
“Let go! Get off of me!” She reeled.
“Please! Please, tell me!” I tried to grab hold of her.
The bell rang for school to be out. The halls became packed with people in what seemed like an instant. Rachel got loose from my hold and I lost sight of her in the crowd.
I didn't move as the people weaved around me, I was too disappointed with myself for letting her get away. I caught familiar faces and faces I've never seen before lock eyes with me. Let them stare, I told myself.
I checked my phone again. Avery's text read, “Are you okay?”. Considering at that very moment I was almost smoking a joint, I wasn't really okay. I felt like there was nothing holding me back. Voices in my head were telling me that I had nothing to lose, to go ahead and smoke it, but when I got that text, they disapeared. After that, the only voice I heard in my head was his. Yet again, he saved me.
Avery found me. We caught the bus just in time. He offered an ear bud again and I refused, after that he put his Ipod away. I didn't say much and I could tell that it bothered him. The bus was at our stop and we got off. I started walking down my street. He was just standing there.
“Natalie!” He said, quickly catching up to me. “Do you, maybe, want to come over?”
I was caught off guard, but then warmed up to the idea. I smiled and started walking in his house's direction. We walked there in silence, not the awkward kind but the comfortable kind. As we were nearing his driveway I started to regret coming. I didn't think through the fact that I was going to go inside his house and possibly meet his parents. I look horrible today and I'm barely wearing any makeup. I became very nervous and things got tense.
“My mom's home but my dad is still at work.”
His voice set me at ease. Then I realized that I was with him. I had nothing to worry about.
His house was a pale blue and had white shutters. It was basically a picket fence away from perfect. There was a garden trail around the front, overflowing with yellow spider mums and pink daisies. There was a three-paned window in the front and I could see his mother working away at something.
We went in through the garage. Avery opened the side door and led me down a tiny hallway. It soon opened up into a large area containing the dining room and the kitchen. The walls were a settle green and were filled with deccorations from top to bottom. Eloquent plates placed on shelves and intricate paintings were hung on the walls.
“Hey mom.” Avery said, slinging his backpack to the floor and taking off his jacket.
She had been drying dishes. From the looks of it, they had a dishwasher and it made me wonder why she would waste the time.
“Hey, Avery can you-”
She turned around with a plate and a rag in her hands. She was surprised to see another person in the room. She continued, trying not to make it so obvious that she'd noticed.
“Can you please take your backpack into your room? You know how I hate it when you leave it-”
“Right in front of the door because it looks so ugly.” Avery finished. “Yes mom, I can do that.” She laughs and returns to drying the dishes.
Apparently, he only finishes his mother's sentences. That didn't bother me though. That just means he has a good relationship with her. Last time I checked, that was a good thing. Avery threw his bag over his shoulder and moved down another hallway. I smiled and followed closely behind, sneaking another look at his mom. She was a simple beauty. Her brown hair was twisted in a bun that was between casual and classy. She was wearing a white apron with a collared shirt and jeans underneath. I practically ran into him when he suddenly stopped to open his door. I let out a funny noise and then covered my mouth.
“Geez, if you wanted a hug you could of just asked.” He snickered over his shoulder.
I gave a small smile and exhaled. His bag slid off him as he rolled onto his bed. His room was plain. It had a bed, a closet, a dresser, and a desk. He relaxed with his hands behind his head. I set my bag on the floor and looked around. He only had one picture on his dresser among countless soccer and football trophies. It was of him and another boy who looked a bit older.
“Who's this?” I pointed.
“That's my brother, Rylie.” He lit up, but it faded almost instantly. “He's in the army. Just got deployed to Singapore a week ago... miss 'em like crazy. We'd do some fun s*** together. Me, Chris, and him.”
I almost forgot, he'd lost someone in this too. Chris and Avery were best friends, plus his brother had to leave in the midst of it all. How does he do it? He's handling everything so well.
“How do you do it?”
“Do what?” He shined that perfect smile.
I sat next to him on the edge of his bed and stared deep into his eyes. I waited to see if anything would flicker.
“What?” He lifted an eyebrow.
“How do you push everything out and keep living?” I layed next to him.
“I guess I just still can't believe it.” He shrugged. There was a long silence where we both understood each other.
“I'm glad you're here.” He breathed.
He reached over and entwined his fingers in mine. My heart skipped, then slowly went back to normal.
“We can get through this you know,” He reassured me “together.”
“At school today, I kept looking at everyone around me and it was like nothing happened.” I closed my eyes because they were beginning to burn. “It was like... nothing happened.”
Then I just fell apart, in a strange house that I've never been in before, in front of a boy that I barely knew. I couldn't help it.
He got up to close the door and then made it back to his spot just as fast. I held him tightly and cried as hard as I could. He held onto me just as tight, I could tell he needed me as much as I needed him in this moment.
“She was my best friend.” I whimpered.
He cuddled me closer and rubbed my back in large circles. My body shuddered. Memories of me and Sarah streamed through my mind. Times from when we were children all the way up to last week. From when Sarah broke her arm on the monkey bars, to my parents divorce last year. From watching Cinderella, to watching P.S. I Love You. To playing with barbies to putting on makeup. We've been through everything together. We've always been there to pick each other back up, but not this time. She's not here to shower me with candy and our favorite movies. She's not here to get me out of town. She's not here, she's not coming.
I felt something drip onto my forehead. It took me a couple seconds to realize that it was a tear. I didn't look up, I didn't have to see it to know that he was also crying. He was constraining himself from shaking. I tried to settle down and even out my breathing. I gently stroked his arm. He needed to be comforted too. He tensed up and things seemed uncomfortable.
“When you left class early... was it because of me?” His voice pierced the silence.
The quietness devoured the room again and it was hard to think. The fact that he assumed it was his fault put needles in my chest. I remember that I got up to call Anna, which I still haven't heard from. This made me want to check my phone.
“No. I went to the bathroom to try and get a hold of Anna.”
“She wasn't at school today...” He pieced together.
“She's been in Indiana with her dad. I don't even know if she has heard anything. She didn't answer my text or my call.”
“I'm sure she is okay and someone must have contacted her.”“But if I can't get a hold of her than how can anybody else?”
There was a polite knock on his door. I scooted a little ways away. He sighed and slowly took his arm back. The door opened.
“Dinner is almost ready and your father is on his way home.”
Avery looked a little surprised at this. He glanced at me and then back to his mom.
“Oh, we were just about to go.” He said hastily.
“Oh. Can I ask where?”
“Probably to Natalie's. Save me a plate?”
Avery got up off the bed and got his backpack. I took this as my cue to get up and fetch mine. I tried to make little sound as I went to go unnoticed, but it almost made her stare at me more. I hope Avery didn't mean it when he said my house because I really don't want to run into Hef and Crystal. I still can't believe him.
“He thinks you're avoiding him, you know.” She stated.
“Well, I'm not. I just got other things.” He mumbled.
She raised her eyebrows at him and then left down the hallway. Avery looked at the floor in front of me. I thought he was going to say something, but then he shook his head and went for the door. I stopped him. “I don't want you to be scared to talk to me.”
He gave me a connecting look with his light brown eyes. I wanted to kiss him. He looked off and smiled. Things changed from here. Everything he did attracted me. His eyes, his smile, the dimples, his neck, his shoulders, the way he walked, the way he'd say certain things like what he is about to say to me right now.
He grabbed my hand and we started walking out the way we came in. He opened the side door when we seen a black car turning into his driveway.
“Shi-” He muttered
We went back inside. His mother inspected us. Avery froze.
“I forgot something in his room.” I giggled at her and pushed him in front of me.
She smiled and went back to setting the table. A table for two I might add. I felt bad. Why did Avery want out of this?
We made it to his bedroom and he opened his window. It's a good thing we are on the ground floor. We waited for his dad to get inside, the step was only about 3ft down. He pulled me across the street to the wooded area.
I knew where we were going. We walked up the path, all the way to the top. The wind wasn't as bad today. I am glad that the wind was strong the last time I was up here. In a way, it saved me too. Then again, maybe it wasn't just the wind. I looked up into the sky.
“Get a load of this.” He smiled, walking over to a tree full of red leaves.
It was pure beauty and completely stood out from all the others. It had to be about 20 feet tall. The leaves were a mixture of bright scarlet and deep wine crimson. It carried polished ruby berries and the birds all flocked to it. The only thing I could find to say was “Wow.”
He gave me that warm look, his eyes bright and his smile flawless.
“I was out here this morning and seen it. That's why I was late for the bus, but I couldn't help but to be drawn in. The colors are just so gorgeous.” He paused “I find it weird that it is in the mountain side though, surrounded by all these dull trees.”
“That is weird.”“I thought I'd show you. It's too amazing to keep to myself.” He chuckled.
“I love it.” I said touching its nearby leaf “It makes me hate this place a lot less.”
“Hmm... me too.” He closed his eyes.
We sat down under the tree and listened to the sparse wind blowing.
“Why aren't you having dinner with your family right now?”
“My dad and I... haven't been on very good terms lately.”
He looked at me, confused on why I was so interested. He cleared his throat.
“I don't know. You'd think he wouldn't be so hard on me because of what just happened, but he is still his same old self. I'm always on my own.” He shook his head “You've got to learn things the hard way, with him, that is the only way you'll ever really learn. He always says stupid stuff like that, treating me like I'm one of his soldiers in training.”
“Your dad is in the army too?”
“He was. He acts like he still is. He always told me “When you can't lean on anyone else, that's when you find yourself.” Seems like I only get more lost when I don't have anyone else.”
“I see... Is your dad the reason why your brother is in the army?”
He ran his hand through his hair. I was getting too personal. I was going to tell him he didn't have to answer, but then he did.
“Yeah... he was always pushing that on us since we were kids. Most of my cousins are in it too.”
“Do you want to?” I couldn't help myself.
“No, and he's pretty much forcing it on me now because he knows that I don't.”
“I'm sorry. You shouldn't have to deal with that while you're grieving.”
“He doesn't think so. If he saw me crying, he would slap it right out of me. “A real man doesn't cry” He'd say.”
“That's horrible.” I gave him a concerned look. “My dad doesn't pay attention to me anymore. We used to be best friends. Then I became the third wheel to his girlfriend, but now I'm nothing to his fiancé. All he does is walk around and please her. I hate who he is becoming.”
“Is your mom okay with it? It hasn't been that long since they broke up, right? I'm sorry about that too. No matter how much my parents bug me I can't imagine them splitting...”
“It's alright. The wound is somewhat healed for now. She... I honestly have no idea what she thinks. She keeps all her feelings inside. She likes to focus and fix other people's problems and not her own.”
“That makes sense, given that she does that for a living. Must be hard to get her thoughts out.”
“Trust me, I've tried but she always turns it around on me.”
“I'm getting hungry” He blurts.
I laugh and he joins in.
“What time is it?”
I search for my phone. I push a button to light up the screen. Five missed calls and three texts from my mom. It's almost six o'clock.
“Speak of the devil” I say “My mom has been trying to get a hold of me this whole time.”
Her texts read 'Natalie, please call me back when you can.', 'I really need to talk to you. Call me.', and 'I am at your dads, where are you? Come home now.'.
“What's she saying?” He asked. “She's at my dads.” I say it like a question “She is telling me to come home.”
“Why is she at your dads?”
“No idea. I should probably go.” I stood up.
“We probably should.” He said standing up next to me.
He looks me in the eyes and smiles. I give him a half smile wondering if he was serious.
“Let's go” He commanded.
Things were more out of control than I thought. Me and Avery could hear yelling from the front porch. My mom's car was parked on the street and both my dad and Sally's car were in the driveway. He grabbed my hand. Walking in, it was obvious that we'd interrupted something. Everybody froze except for my mother, who made it to me in one full sweep.
“Oh my God!” She draped over me “Why didn't you answer my calls!”
She squeezed me so tight my hand ripped from Avery's. He stepped aside. She searched me for dirt or wounds or something.
“See! She's fine, Nikki. Look at her.” He gestured his arm at me.
She turned around and put her finger to his face.
“You're lucky I don't try for full custody, Mark.” She put all the emphasis on his name.
He was stunned and most likely embarrassed for being scolded by his ex-wife in front of his new fiancé. Sally looked scared to death and not to mention out of place. I was worried that my mother would be acting like this. She always needs to be in control. She needed me to be under her watch for her to know that I was being taken care of properly.
“I packed your bags, they are on your bed. You are coming to stay with me.” She ordered. “I am going to pull the car around, please get your stuff and say goodbye.”
I was overwhelmed. I turned to Avery, he looked sad. I took his hand in mine. My mom lived on the other side of town, and I think he knew that. I don't want to be that far away from him. My mother saw this 'moment', and then heaved out a sigh for a reasoning that only psychiatrist's would understand.
“We can drop your friend off at his house.” Then she left for the car.
We whooshed by my dad and Sally to my room. She was right, all my things had been packed up in multicolored suitcases. She most likely did all of it, got everything down to my posters. Avery started helping me haul cases outside. My dad followed me around like a puppy, not sure what to say. He finally boxed me in my room. It felt like the other day.
“Nat.” He pleaded.
“What!” I snapped, I was still mad at him for not waiting up the other night.
“You don't have to go.”
“Why shouldn't I?”
“Look... I know I haven't been there for you, especially lately, when I should be the most. I just...”
“You just what, Dad?”
Avery passes through the threshold to get another bag. Conversation stops and so does Avery.
“I believe we haven't met, I'm sorry about that.” He sticks out his hand to Avery.
Avery set down the bag he'd picked up in a routine motion. He then met my dad's hand in concentrated thought.
“Firm shake.” My dad chuckles “I'm Mark Solis. Natalie's father, which you already have found out.”
“You're not Sergeant Henry Bennett's son are you?”
“Yes. A proud son at that.” He pledged.
I could tell those words meant nothing to him. It was fake.
“As you should be. He served our country well and is a great surgeon.”
“Thank you. I have big shoes to fill.”
“You sure do.”
“Well... it was nice to meet you, Mr. Solis.” Avery said, picking up two bags and carrying them out of the room.
There was one bag left. I fixed my fingers under the handle. I didn't know what to say to him, if anything at all.
“I've heard things about his father, Nat.” He started “I don't know if hanging around him is a good idea. He cou-”
“Now you want to talk? Seriously, Dad? Now you want to boss me around and tell me what to do and who I can hang with? You can't do that!” I leaped out of the room.
“Stop! Stop.” He tagged me. “Ugh!” I raged “The whole time I was here, it was like I didn't exist to you! Open your eyes! I could have killed myself!”
“What?” He gaped.
Sally was sitting at the table, waiting for things to settle. My words shocked her, but she tried her best to look like she wasn't listening.
I turned and kept to the kitchen.
“Nat! Natalie, baby.” He tried to hold me. “I had no idea...”“Exactly.” I tore away from him.
I could tell I hurt him and I hated it, but he hurt me too. I didn't want to say anything about me killing myself, I just needed him to know how serious I was. If he tells my mom, I will have full-on intervention. I hope that he realizes he's losing me. We used to be so close, and that's what hurts the most.
Avery was standing by the car. I was about to get in, when another car rolled up. The back door kicked open and a blonde girl jumped out.
I dropped my bag and sprinted to meet her half way. We hugged, both in tears. My mom got out of the car. Anna's mom hopped out of hers. My dad came out of the house.
“I tried to make it back as soon as I could. I lost my phone in the airport and there were flight delay's.”
“I can't believe all this.” She whispered.
“I know... I'm glad that you're okay. You didn't answer my calls or texts I was beginning to think things.”
“Do you think I can stay at your house for this week?”
She nodded, yes.
“I'm going to try and convince my mom. I'll see you back at your house.” We hugged again.
I made short eye contact with my dad. Me and Avery got in the car. We slowly backed out of the driveway. My dad still stood there on the porch. I looked down into my lap. I need to stop thinking about him, let him do all the thinking.
I peeked at Avery. He was looking out the window. He's seen so much. I wonder what he's thinking.
“I live on Pinnacle. Up on the right.”
“I remember.” My mom said.
I could see her staring at him through the rearview mirror.
He didn't seem to notice. She stared at me next.
“This one, right?”
He didn't want to get out. He opened the door slightly, putting one leg out.
“Thank you for the ride, Ms....”
“It's Williams now.” She informed him.
He gave me a forced smile. I didn't like those kind on him.
“More like see you later.” I told him.
He looked doubtful. He walked to his garage door and hesitated to open it.
“You getting in front?” My mom asked.
“No.” I said, faster than I expected.
I wanted him to look at me, one more time before we drove away. He didn't. He probably had too many things on his mind. My fault.
Now, to convince my mom in letting me stay at Anna's. This might be hard. “Mom, I want to stay at Anna's. I asked if I could and she said it is alright. I got all my bags and I haven't seen Anna since she left. It's closer to school and...”
“That's fine,” She agreed.
Wow. I certainly did not expect that.
“But I want you to call me every night, before you go to bed.”
That, was expected.
“Okay. Can I send you a text?”
“How do I know it's you?”
“I don't know. I guess you'll just have to trust me.”
Things were quiet the rest of the way to Anna's, which wasn't that long of a trip. Once I got all my bags inside, I went back out to say goodbye to my mom. She rolled down her window.
“I'll be fine.” I stated “Thank you for letting me stay.”
“Your welcome. Be good and be safe. Me and Tom will drop off your car in the morning.”
“He's a co-worker of mine.”
“Oh.”“Text me tonight, okay?” We did a part way hug through the window. “I love you.”
“Love you too.”
My mom left and I ran back inside. I texted her later to say goodnight.