Everything was green. The way the sun shone down made everything seem brighter than it was. The arch of trees above my head should have provided a veil from the warm spring sunshine, but it didn’t. The sun still managed to shine on everything, even the tiny black ants scampering at the base of the trees. They gathered specks of dirt and pieces of splintered bark left over from the storm the night before.
The path was hidden, and if you didn’t know where to look, then you would never find it, which I found to be a shame because everything about it was beautiful. Only one other person knew about it. When we were seven we agreed to keep it a secret, and ever since then I struggled to keep my lips closed tight. I was never good at keeping secrets. He was, though.
I stared at the dirt, counting the roots as I walked. I concentrated so hard it was almost as if my feet weren’t moving at all.
A breeze blew through the trees, and I closed my eyes as my hair fell in front of my face, but I didn’t stop walking. I was never very graceful, even with my eyes open, but still I kept my eyes closed. I could hear the faint sound of the creek up ahead, and I let the running water guide me like I knew he would if he were here beside me.
When I opened my eyes, a speck of copper brown caught my eye through the trees, and I couldn’t stop the smile that spread across my face. It had been only a few days since I had seen the sparrow out on the path. I knew it was the same one because the patch of black on his breast looked like a heart. He perched on a low branch a few feet to my right, and if my arm were a foot longer I probably could have touched him. I knew his presence, so buried in the forest, was rare because sparrows, as far as I could remember, preferred the city and the presence of people. There were no people here, except me. He blinked once, and when I took a step towards him, he flew away.
I never quite understood why people wanted to kill the dandelions growing in their gardens. Each fluffy, snowflake weed was as good as a free wish, and I’d learned years ago never to waste an opportunity to make a wish.
Right before the path opened up to the bank of the creek, I cut through the trees like I always did and scoured the small field for the patch of dandelions that had been there for as long as I could remember. I never quite understood why people wanted to kill the dandelions growing in their gardens. Each fluffy, snowflake weed was as good as a free wish, and I’d learned years ago never to waste an opportunity to make a wish. He’d taught me that.
I’d been wishing on stars and weeds ever since.
I bypassed the empty stems that had been left naked by the wind and plucked the first fully round wishing weed I could find. I shielded its perfect seeds as I walked back through the trees and onto the creek bed.
Maneuvering through the soppy dirt, I sat down on the large rock as I always did and watched the minnows swim past. Sometimes I wondered where they were going or imagined how great it must feel to always be surrounded by the water.
I twirled the dandelion between my fingers and inhaled a breath before raising it to my lips and blowing the seeds into the wind. Some of them landed in the water and were carried with the current while some of them floated into the sky and disappeared. I closed my eyes and listened to the creek, the wind, and the birds. I was alone, but when I came down the path and sat by the creek, it never felt that way.
His voice appeared out of nowhere like it always did. There were hardly ever any rustling leaves to signify his presence. I smiled and my eyes fluttered open. “Hi.”
He leaped off the rock on the opposite side of the creek and waded into the middle of the water. His shoes, classic black Converse, and favorite blue jeans, dark wash and straight legged, didn’t get wet. “Anything exciting happen today?” he asked.
I shook my head. “Not really.” I tied the stem left over from the dandelion into a small knot. “Isn’t the water freezing?”
“No,” he said. “I can’t feel it.”
I set the stem onto the rock. “I went to your house yesterday.”
“Why’d you do that?”
“Your mom and I still talk sometimes.” I watched as he retreated back onto the dry dirt. “I think she wishes you could come home.”
“She and I both.”
“I was thinking, what if I brought her here? You know, maybe—”
“Because this was ours,” he said.
“But I just thought that maybe she’d be able—”
“If you bring her, I won’t come back.”
I blinked once, then again. “Okay.”
“I mean it.”
“I know. I won’t bring her here.”
“It’s not that I don’t want to see her,” he whispered. “I just can’t do that to her. She’s finally moving on.”
“But I’m moving on, and I still get to see you.”
He shook his head. “At this point, you wouldn’t move on if someone paid you.” He smiled and raised his hand in a small wave as he disappeared through the trees.
I took a deep breath and held it until I was certain I would pass out, and then let it out slowly. The water ran clear over the pebbles, and all I could hear was the trickling of the creek, filling the section of forest around me.
What if he was right? What if I wasn’t moving on at all?
What if he was right? What if I wasn’t moving on at all? I played miniature golf with some friends last weekend, and his mom told me I looked better, but I always tried to look better around her, whatever better was.
A small tickle on my arm distracted me. I quickly smacked the mosquito and flicked the insect onto the ground.
A few moments later, I felt my phone vibrate inside of my pocket. By the time I wedged it out, it stopped. ‘1 missed call’ flashed across the screen, but before I could see who it was, it rang again, my mom’s name appearing. I pressed the button to ignore the call and started the walk back home.
“Are you sure there isn’t anything you want to talk about today?” Rose, my therapist, asked.
I shrugged. Her office was stuffy and bright red. It hurt my eyes and caused my vision to blur if I focused too long on any one portion of the walls. She had a small wooden giraffe sitting on the edge of her desk. I’d never told her, but giraffes were my favorite animals. The patterns painted across their massive bodies fascinated me, and I could spend whole afternoons thinking about those long necks and the muscles it took to hold up their magnificent heads.
“I don’t know,” I said. I always said I don’t know when she asked me that. I spent every Tuesday afternoon in this office for almost two months now, and I still hadn’t figured out where to begin.
Rose pulled open the bottom desk drawer and rummaged around before coming up with a black and white composition notebook. She flipped through it, stopping to tear out a few pages that had writing on them, and handed it to me.
“What’s this for?”
“It’s for you to write in. Take it home and maybe try and write down something you want to talk about next week. It can be anything at all.”
I flipped through the pages and noticed just how dry they made my fingers feel. I didn’t like this. I didn’t like this because next week, no matter how hard I fought it, I was going to have to talk. “Okay,” I said. I stuffed the book into my backpack and gave her a half smile as I walked out of her office.
“You’re later than usual,” he said, perching himself on the biggest rock near the creek.
“I know.” I placed my backpack onto the ground and tossed the stem from the dandelion I had picked into the water. “I had therapy,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“Yup.” I sat down where the dirt was dry and began drawing circles in the brown dust with my finger.
He smirked. “Did you talk about me?”
“I don’t talk about anything.”
“Well,” he paused, jumping down off the rock, “maybe you should. I mean, maybe it’ll help you.”
“Help me what?”
“Just, I don’t know, get over all of this.”
“Get over all of what?”
He sighed as he walked over and sat down in front of me. “Doesn’t this make you feel crazy?” he asked.
“Of course it does, but why does that matter? I’m here. You’re here. I’d say it’s more miraculous than crazy.”
“I just want you to live the rest of your life, and not here at the creek, down this path. Out in the world, doing whatever it is you want to do.”
“But I like it here.”
“I liked it here, too,” he said. “But I had to move on.”
“Why do you keep telling me to move on?” I picked up a pebble and tossed it into the water.
“Because I think you need to.”
“You want this to end?”
“Of course not.”
“Then why are you trying to make it end?” I looked up into his eyes, and they were nothing like I remembered. It was eerie, almost as if I could see straight through them.
“I don’t want you to be stuck here anymore.”
I could see her looking at me out of the corner of my eye. She always did this when she wanted to talk. Small talk was all it ever amounted to anymore.
One night, while I was watching TV, Mom sat down next to me. I could see her looking at me out of the corner of my eye. She always did this when she wanted to talk. Small talk was all it ever amounted to anymore.
“How was your day today, sweetie?”
I turned my head to look at her. “Fine.”
“You got home from school pretty late.”
“I was down at the creek.”
She leaned forward to grab the remote from the coffee table and turned the volume down. “You spend so much time there.”
I shrugged. “It’s peaceful.”
“You’ll have to show me sometime.”
I gave her a tight-lipped smile. “Yeah.” Not a chance in hell.
“Do you remember that time you came to the beach with my family for my birthday? Mom put the cake on the railing so she could unlock the door, and the wind blew it off. It splattered all over the driveway.” I smiled and pulled my knees into my chest.
“And the ants were so bad the next morning your dad spent an hour trying to hose them off.” He smiled at the memory. “How are they doing?”
“Who?” I wasn’t sure if he meant the ants or my family.
“Oh. They’re fine.” I picked up the dandelion stem from beside me and twirled it between my fingertips. “What about the time you tried to ask Sara to Homecoming, and you left the note on the wrong car.”
“The football player.”
“Or the first time our parents let us ride our bikes farther than the cul-de-sac by ourselves, and I broke my arm. They didn’t let us do that again for at least a year.”
He spoke so calmly it startled me more so than if he would have shouted. The dandelion stem fell to the ground. “Stop what?”
“You’re living in memories.”
“They’re good memories.”
He slid down off the rock. “But they’re not all that’s out there. The world is so much bigger than memories.”
“I wish you would stop trying to push me away.”
“How can I push you away? I’m not even real. This isn’t real.”
I jumped down and stood in front of him, closer than I ever had before. “It’s real to me.”
“You can’t keep wishing for me on weeds.” He reached out to grab my shoulder; it was the first time he’d ever tried to touch me. I couldn’t feel the pressure, and there was no warmth in his touch. The hair on my arms stood straight. I took a step back and, for the first time, realized that maybe he was right.
Something had changed since yesterday. The trees and the ants were just where I had left them. The sun still made the green brush glow, but there was something different about the path that I couldn’t quite pinpoint. Birds chirped like they always did, and a breeze blew through my hair. The closer I got to the clearing of dandelions, though, I noticed the strong smell of fresh cut grass. I closed my eyes and breathed in the scent, cherishing the familiar smell in a new place.
When I emerged from the dirt pathway into the small clearing before the creek, my heart sank. Every single dandelion was mowed over. For the first time in years, the grass was short and tidy.
My eyes clouded over as I ran to the creek. Just because the dandelion was missing from the equation didn’t mean he wasn’t going to show.
I waited for an hour. He never came.
By the time I got to the cemetery, the sun was beginning to set. I walked to the spot I had tried so hard to forget and sat down on the prickly grass.
“They mowed the field,” I said, my voice unsteady. I picked a blade of grass and tore it to pieces. “No more wishing weeds.” I looked up, his name etched in stone staring back at me.
I’m not sure how long I sat there, but when I got up to leave, there was a sprinkling of stars emerging across the sky.
The notebook from Rose sat on the corner of my desk, and before I even realized what I was doing, I wrote down everything. I wrote about the day we found the path.
I skipped dinner when I got home. I kicked off my shoes and locked my bedroom door behind me. The notebook from Rose sat on the corner of my desk, and before I even realized what I was doing, I wrote down everything. I wrote about the day we found the path. I wrote about the time we snuck out of our houses and watched the stars from the rocks by the creek. I wrote about the sixty-one encounters I’d had with him after he died.
I didn’t plan on showing Rose what I had written, not yet. I grabbed the scissors out of the top drawer and carefully cut away the pages. I folded them and hid them underneath a small pile of CDs in the bottom drawer of my desk.
Before stuffing the notebook into my backpack, though, I wrote one simple word on the front page for Tuesday: Giraffes.