Red

Two; Trees are for birds

“What are you reading?” I hold my page with my finger and close the book to show Grandmother the title. “Ah, project for school?” I nod. “Well you won’t get anything very useful from that. Our towns history is in its stories. Not the regurgitated lifeless facts printed in the few books in the library.”

“Stories?” I perk up. “What kind of stories?”

“The ones about the founding of our town aren’t terribly exciting. There was a serial killer early on. The fire that burned down half of the buildings and killed many people is an unpleasant one. There are various family feuds that involved many ridiculous pranks. And then there are the town legends.”

“Legends?” How had I not heard of any of this?

“The wolves my dear.” I think back to the wolf pup I saw as a child. “They say that if you see the wolves in the forest you will be lucky in love.”

“That doesn’t seem like much of a legend. Just a superstition.” Grandmother pats my knee and smiles warmly.

“It is well known that wolves live in these woods but they are rarely seen. They are never heard howling either. Long ago, when the pilgrims crossed the ocean they angered a medicine woman from the native tribe nearby. They cut down trees from a forest on sacred land to make their homes. The medicine woman decided to teach them a lesson by turning them into wolves, they would become one with nature and see what they had done as wrong, or so the plan was. Many of them were angry and attacked the tribe. The medicine woman managed to escape and was protected by the wolves that understood what she had been trying to teach them. She offered to change them back. Most did, a few chose to remain as wolves, they preferred the freedom and continued to protect the medicine woman as well as the pilgrims who were human.”

“How does that have anything to do with seeing them in the forest and being lucky in love?”

“Those who have seen the wolves have had long happy marriages.” Well, I could at least use the story she told me in my report. I would have to do some more research but it would be worth it. “I think Lauren is rounding everyone under the age of twenty for a water balloon fight.” A few shots of that with my digital and some time spent editing on my laptop would result in great pictures for my project. In only a few minutes Grandmother helped with two major projects for school. I kiss her cheek and run off to grab my digital.

Katie is helping my 8-year-old cousin Lauren fill the water balloons with the hose. “You get a five minute peace treaty and then you’re fair game.”

“Yes Captain.” I give her two fingered salute before snapping a photo. In addition to making the team Katie was also appointed team captain by the coach. This resulted in a full hour of panic last night after Mom and I picked her up. She was worried she wasn’t cut out for it and would mess it up. A pint of rocky road later she was fine.

“Hey.” Erin grins bounding up to us, she and her mom were running late as usual. Uncle Joe arrived this morning not wanting to be part of their hectic packing routine. “Water balloon fight?” I nod. “Did he find you?” Katie’s head perks up. By miracle of miracles my mother didn’t say anything to Katie about Luke and dinner last night. I’m sincerely hoping that this about something other than him but I have a feeling it isn’t.

“Who?”

“The new guy.” She says as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world, and I guess it is but I prefer to play dumb. “I was calling for you after you started walking off to see if I could get a ride home but I guess you didn’t hear me. He stopped me and asked about you, asked your name, where you hung out, who you hung out with.” Erin has this ridiculous smirk on her face and Katie’s jaw has dropped so far down I’m beginning to wonder if she has the ability to dislocate her jaw and never told me. It would explain how she was able to actually bite the burger she ordered when we went out after school on Tuesday whole. It required both hands fully extended to hold it together. She must have the metabolism of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird because with the way she eats she shouldn’t be a size three.

“Sorry, I hope you weren’t stuck at school too long.” I apologize to Erin.

“No biggie, Dad came and got me.”

“Did you forget to tell me something yesterday?” Katie’s hand is on her hip. Here comes the inquisition. Her family is from Spain, and though the Spanish Inquisition isn’t something to joke about it always comes to mind when she get’s like this.

“I left the photography room, slipped in some water, and he helped me up.” Erin takes over helping Lauren with the water balloons.

“And?”

“And what?”

“What else? I need details!” I roll my eyes.

“He offered me a ride home, it creeped me out, so I left. He apologized last night.”

“Last night?”

“He just so happened to be eating a table over from us last night, he saw me and came over to apologize. Apparently it was his water that I slipped in. If you would like to read more into this than there is speak with my mother. She is convinced that, for whatever reason, he likes me.”

“Of course he would. You’re my best friend, and you’re hot. If I ever become a lesbian I’d do you.”

“That’s comforting.” I hold up my camera, “I’m going to go find a dry zone. If my dad gets hold of a water balloon and starts in your direction, run. He’s never quite grasped that you don’t need to pitch it like a fastball at someone.” Dad plays baseball on the weekends we aren’t here with his friends, he’s the pitcher. Last time I got hit with one of his water balloons I left with a bruise.

“He should be the one watching out for me,” She waggles her eyebrows. The balloons are almost all done. I’m guessing there are a few hundred which means that unless I wish to purchase a new camera I need to get out of here. I search for a dry spot and find a tree with a branch only 6 feet above ground. Tree climbing it is. I’m not up on my branch for very long when the fight starts. I begin taking pictures only watching the battle through my view finder. I hear the snap of a twig and look down just as a water balloon smashes into my face catching me off guard. I tilt backwards, my hands grasping at the branch for balance. It’s too late though, I am falling backwards and clutching my camera to me in order to protect it. There is a sickening crack accompanied with scream wrenching pain as my body makes contact with the ground. Tears are already springing from my eyes as I cradle my arm to me.

“Lenore!” Dad rushes over, “What’s wrong? What hurts?”

“My arm.” I sob out. I’ve never been great with pain.

“Can you sit up?” I nod and use my good arm to push myself up. This makes the other arm hurt more and I nearly give up and lay back down. Dad sucks in a deep breath as other people rush over.

“What?” His eyes are wide and he’s on the pale side.

“You’re elbow is…”

“Shit.” Katie gasps. “That looks bad.” Erin tells Lauren to run in and have Uncle Ben call an ambulance. “Babe, you’re bone is sticking out of your elbow.” I’m going to be sick. She kneels down beside me and gently lifts the camera strap over my head. “Your camera survived.” She reports once turning it over in her hands to inspect it.

“I want to see.” I’m sure seeing exactly how bad my arm is will only make me vomit, but I am hoping it will also make me pass out.

“Are you-” Dad starts but I cut him off and tell Katie to take a picture.

“Charlie what’s- Lenore! Oh god! Someone call an ambulance!” Mom is now in full panic mode. Katie gives up her position at my side for my mother and kneels behind my dad. She snaps the photo and turns the camera around to show me. Fortunately, seeing my jagged bone sticking out of my skin has the desired effect as everything goes black and I lose consciousness.

Image


“Are you sure your ready? You can take a few more days if you need to.” Mom has been worrying overtime since she found me sprawled in the grass. It’s been three weeks since I fell out of the tree. My surgery went well, my radius was placed back in my arm where it belongs, and my stitches are out. I got my cast yesterday which means the doctor has finally given me the ok to go to school.

“I’m fine, promise. Dad is picking me up after school, so if anything does pop up I will call him.” She opens her mouth to say something but I stop her. “Nothing will though, I’m fine. Katie as you can see is fully ready to play babysitter.” I look out the window where Katie is making a beeline straight for my door. I pull it open grab the new bag Mom bought me to use, and step out. “Go to work, quit worrying about me, I love you.” I shut the door before she can say anything else.

“That’s going to look great with your homecoming dress.” Katie smiles. It’s her I’m-trying-to-downplay-how-horrible-that-looks smile. It’s covering my entire arm and uncomfortable as hell, the one upside is that they let me choose the color. Red.

“Good thing I already bought a strapless huh?” She reaches for my bag and I take a step back. “I can carry it myself.” Her hands are on her hips and she looks like she’s about to lecture me so I start walking. People are staring as I pass them, I haven’t been here for three weeks and who knows what anybody has heard. They don’t have to make it so obvious though. I see Erin talking to some of her friends and quickly duck and choose a different path so I don’t run into her. She has been checking up on me a lot and pretty much just gossips about people at school. Even the pain killers couldn’t help with that one. “Aww.” I turn to Katie seeing that my locker has been decorated with a ‘Welcome Back!’ sign. “Thanks.” She has a black Sharpie in hand. “Go for it.” She immediately goes for my cast while I put in my combination. It’s weird seeing the inside of my locker after not having seen it for so long. For some reason I expected the inside to look different than it did, a book missing or moved. I don’t know, something. I shake my head realizing how odd a thought that is and rearrange my bag and locker to get what I need, it takes longer with only one hand but by the time I’m finished so is Katie. She’s written a WARNING note on my arm. I’ll read it later.

“I have the museum trip today so I won’t be back until after lunch.” She says placing the Sharpie back into it’s designated holding spot in her purse. She’s always been anal retentively organized. “So I asked a friend to keep an eye on you.” It looks like I’m not going to be able to duck Erin all day.

“I don’t need a babysitter.” I sigh closing my locker.

“I have a feeling you’ll like this one.” She has a look on her face that tells me it’s not Erin she’s asked and I have no idea who else it could be. I’ve found it best in situations like these to just go with it.

“Ok, well, have fun at the museum. I’m going to head to class now.” The bell wouldn’t ring for another few minutes but I didn’t want to get sucked into the current of students making their way down the same hall I needed to use once the bell rang.

“Don’t you want to know who I asked?”

“Is it Erin?” I already know it’s not and start walking towards my class. She falls in step beside me.

“Of course not, she has a different lunch. Plus I know you would kill me and since your arm is primed to do some serious damage to my face I’m not going to risk it.”

“So you’ll just wait until the cast comes off before you do something I’m not going to like?”

“Exactly.”

“Does the fact that I don’t need a babysitter nor do I want one in any way make you rethink your current stance?” She shrugs with an innocent smile and pulls open the door to my classroom for me. “Try not to get thrown out of the museum.” I smile before entering and taking my seat.

When we were 8 we took a field trip to go see whatever art exhibit was currently on display in the museum. It was all made out of rocks and entirely beyond our comprehension. Katie claims she never saw the hands off sign. It is not beyond the realm of probability (because this is Katie) that she saw the sign and thought ‘it’s just a bunch of stupid rocks, touching them won’t do any damage’. Dress code did not allow for anything other than sneakers with shoe laces, of which Katie could never be bothered to keep tied, and on her way to touch the rock stepped on a loose shoe lace, tripped and landed onto the sculpture with her outstretch hands and brought the entire thing down. The security tapes showed that she had the intent to touch them before she tripped, and we were promptly thrown out. Fortunately no lawsuit was filed because she pointed out how unsecured the sculpture was and it being an incredible safety hazard. Needless to say that was the last time our elementary school was allowed to bring a group of students through.

By the time lunch comes around I have yet to meet my babysitter and I have been tempted to smack several people with my cast for making jokes about climbing tree’s. All of my teachers have treated me like my IQ is now that of a pre-schoolers and talk to me in slow patronizing voices whenever I ask a question. I’m about to go to the front office and ask an administrator to look into seeing if there has been a rumor spread that my mental capacity was severely damaged when I fell, when I hear my name being called. I stop and turn around to see who’s calling me. I’m easily spotted with the bright red cast and though I recognize the people walking around during our lunch period I know none of them are calling after me so I continue walking.

“Wait!” The voice is closer now, distinctly male. I stop my feet from continuing in their intended direction and do as I am asked. “Have I told you that you walk incredibly fast for someone so small?” 5’6” is not small. I just so happen to be shorter than a lot of people. The speaker steps into view and it takes me a few seconds to place him.

“So you and Katie huh?” Of course they’re together, she’s been obsessing over the new guy and talks about him all the time. I don’t know why I didn’t figure it out earlier. “Figures.” I shrug not really caring and continue my path to the office.

“What are you talking about?” Katie just refers to him as ‘he’ when she talks about him and I can’t remember his name. He looks confused and it may be because he’s asked me a question and I’m standing here racking my brain looking for his name. It starts with an M right? I’ll just call him something generic if I need to and hope I get it right.

“I can’t say that I’m surprised, she talks about you quite a bit.”

“That’s uh, weird.” I raise a brow, is he about to insult my best friend? I could always test Katie’s theory about my arm being primed for face damage. Kidding, I don’t believe in physical violence. “I just mean we’ve kind of become friends, but usually she’s hanging out with the new guy.” That stops me.

“You are the new guy.” Apparently I’m not the only one to have fallen out of a tree recently. It seems his injury is what my teachers assume I have.

“There’s a new new guy.” Now it’s his turn to raise a brow. “Katie didn’t tell you this?” She may have, I tend to tune out when she begins talking about boys.

“There’s a very good chance she did and I just assumed she was talking about you.” I shrug.

“Why’s that?”

“I don’t know you well enough to answer that honestly, so if you don’t mind I’m going to go find a working vending machine.” Most of the time the machines didn’t take coins, which is the only form of money I had on me since I brilliantly forgot my wallet this morning. Luckily my coin purse was in my bag. I had enough finger use to hold it. I think. “So who dethroned you?” He clearly was intent on following me to the vending machines.

“Some guy named Hunter, I don’t have any classes with him. He and Katie have been eating lunch together every day though. Pretty sure they’re together.” I really should pay more attention to when Katie talks to me about boys. But by the time she gets to them my brain is already fried from trying to understand the talk about cheerleading. Luckily the cheerleading talk will die down in a few weeks, it’s always like this before they have a game. Once the games starts she should return to normal. “How do you not know this? Aren’t you best friends or something?”

“Yeah. Pain killers make my head fuzzy.” I lie. The pain killers they gave me didn’t work at all. Not even to take the edge off. When they removed the magical bags of pain killing liquids that were connected to my body all pain relief vanished.

“I could have sworn she said…” He shakes his head. “Never mind.”

“She talks to you about me?” I am so going to have to talk with her later.

“We talk in class. I asked her about you.”

“That’s not weird or anything.” I just said that aloud. Oh man. To my surprise he smiles changing my insides from properly functioning organs that keep me alive, breathing, and level headed to goo. What is wrong with me?

“I wanted to know how you were doing, she kept me updated.”

“Why? You don’t know me.” I met him once, ok, twice. And I still can’t remember what his name is. Mike, Micah, Michael… Matthew, Matt, Mattie….

“That could be different. I mean, you haven’t been here for awhile and I figured it would freak you out if I had stopped by the hospital or your house to check on you so I had to do the only reasonable thing and wait until you came back. And here you are. Now that can be remedied.”

“What exactly did Katie say to you?” So I know why I’m going to kill her later. Giving out info on your currently busted and broken bestie to some random guy isn’t cool. Head on spike here I come.

“Nothing really, we worked together in class and she would tell me how you were doing and then start telling me about you as a person. Sort of like she was trying to sell me something.” I’m at home all broken and stitched together and she’s trying to find me a boyfriend. Of course she was. My insane best friend who does crazy things because she loves me. “It was a waste of time on her part.” Why am I suddenly embarrassed and feeling slightly rejected? Of course he wasn’t interested in me. I was well, me. Nothing special. Blonde hair, big brown eyes that were a tad too large for my face. Obsession with Little Red Riding Hood and photography. Currently broken because my dad doesn’t understand how a water balloon should be thrown.

“So then why are you following me around?”

“Because Katie asked.”

“No need to stay, I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself.” There may be some difficulty at some point but I’m sure I’ll manage.

“Lenore, if there is one thing you should know about me it’s that I don’t do anything I don’t want to do.” I’m thinking knowing his name is more important. Why can’t I remember it? “What?”

“Nothing.” I shake my head and reach into my bag with my good hand to retrieve my coin purse.

“You look like you’re concentrating on something, trying to remember.” How would he know what my facial expressions are? Has he been watching me? A very small part of me is secretly hoping he has and now I know for sure I have been trapped at home for far too long.

“Uh, no.”

“You can’t remember my name can you?” My face heats. He smiles. It’s a soft one. Lethal. “It’s ok. Here.” He produces a sharpie from his pocket and holds it up. “May I?” I nod. Apparently he had been planning on signing it already. He signs near Katie’s message.

WARNING: I’m a bit unbalanced Funny. So freaking funny. It took her a while to write, she made all of the letters blocky and sharp edged, so different from her usual illegible chicken scratch. She had to seriously concentrate to get it done right. Mr. Fucks With My Insides caps his sharpie and smiles somewhat triumphantly. I’m curious as to what he wrote and at the same time highly skeptical that it’s a standard ‘get well soon’. I look anyway and am instantly envious of his flawless penmanship. Seriously, it looks like a generated font.

Park, after school? Huh?

“Just take a walk with me.” He smiles saying it gently, he’s trying not to spook me.

“My dad is, uh, picking me up after school.” Did he just ask me out? I can’t tell. “Can’t drive one handed.” I add, why, I have no idea. It’s fairly obvious and not really any of his business.

“I’ll take you straight home after. Promise.” His eyes are locked onto mine making my brain go fuzzy. They’re the same color as the lightly colored forget-me-nots that grow around our cottage, my favorite flower.

Before I realize it I’ve agreed to go and he is writing his number and name on my cast. I look down committing the name to memory this time. Luke.