02 June 2011
OFF TOPIC: In the Middle of Summer (Short story for Fictionpress contest)
In the most overgrown, secluded corner of the downtown park, there's an old tree, with twisted branches which bend down to the ground. The bark is scratched and weathered, and covered in little patches of green moss. In the winter, the branches are bare and sharp, which gives the tree a kind of haunted, ancient look. But in the summer, it's covered in dark leaves, which would shield you from view completely, were you to try and climb it.
I love sitting on this tree. My mom used to yell at me for acting like a boy - I'm a girl, mind you - but now I guess she's getting tired of me. Not that I mind.
I dig my fingernails into the rotting bark of one of the highest branches of the tree, feeling slightly sick as I look down at the ground, which is much further away from me than I would like. Still, my hiding place is perfectly safe - or at least, it has been all the other times I've sat up here. I don't like to tempt fate, but I think these thick branches look pretty stable.
There is a sudden gust of wind, which rattles the leaves around me and blows my hair into my face. I grimace and try to push it away, but it falls back where it was. I give up, and move my hands back to the branch I'm resting on, just in case it decides to give way. I don't think the fall would hurt me too much, but I'd rather not take the chance.
After a few minutes, the sun starts to show between the thick leaves, and I wince, looking down at the ground. There are quite a few people walking beneath me - the park is always busy this time of year. I swing my legs absently, watching strangers talking and walking their dogs. I like being hidden away up here, knowing that the people below me have no idea that they are being watched.
A group of kids who look a little older than me are walking in my direction. They're just talking and laughing, occasionally glancing towards my tree without much interest. I follow them with my eyes, transfixed by their smiling faces; I don't recognise them from my high school. Without stopping, they keep walking past the tree, just below my dangling feet, without ever suspecting that someone else is in their presence.
I sigh idly, and lean back on the tree trunk. Days like this can get so boring - I don't like to stay at home, but I don't really have a lot of friends to go out with. I'm stuck by myself most of the time, waiting until it's September again. A few low hanging leaves tickle the top of my head, but I ignore them, feeling a little too tired to bother about anything as trivial as that.
I find myself gazing back at the ground again, and notice immediately that someone new has entered the park - a tall boy with short, brown hair. He is still quite a while away, so I can't really make him out, but he looks about my age - fifteen. He is walking slowly, his hands deep in his pockets, just staring at the ground. Something about this boy interests me, and I lean forwards for a better look.
A couple of minutes later, and he's standing right beneath me, kicking at the base of the tree with a bored expression on his face. I try not to make too much noise - I don't want to scare him away - but I keep watching him. People hardly ever come near here, and I'm pretty sure no-one else has ever climbed this tree. It's not very safe looking, after all, since it's so old, but it feels perfectly safe to me.
I watch, intrigued, as the kid pauses in front of the tree, and then turns and drops down, stretching out his legs and leaning his head back against the bark. All I can really make out now is his shoes, which aren't very interesting, so I twist round slightly so I can see his face. Close to, I realise that the boy is very good looking, with slight features and pale skin. He begins to pick at the grass absently, his eyes glazed. He looks unhappy.
Getting a better foothold on my branch, I lean right over where he is sitting, clutching the tree trunk with both hands. He never looks upwards, or out at the park; he is absorbed in his hands, tearing strands of grass from the ground and then throwing them away. As I move my head, the sunlight reflects off his hair, making different patterns. I hear the branch creak a little beneath me, but I don't move. I couldn't come down now, anyway, because then the boy would see me.
A short while later, I see the boy bring his knees up to his chest and rest his head on them, wrapping his arms around his shoulders. I don't know if he is just tired, but something about this makes me think he might be crying. His back shakes slightly, and his hair falls over his face. I feel the sudden urge to call out to the boy, to ask him if he's okay, but who would reply to a voice they heard up a tree?
Then, before I can adjust my position, I feel my feet start to slip a little on the branch. I panic, and try to tighten my grip on the tree, but somehow, it just slips from between my fingers, and I start to fall. I let out a yell of fright, and claw at some of the smaller branches which I pass on my way down, but then they're all gone, and I'm falling through thin air. I forget about the boy entirely, and screw my eyes shut a split second before I land, hard, on my back.
I groan as I try to sit up, shaking leaves and dirt off my face, but I can't find the strength in my arms. I lie back on the ground, cursing myself for my stupidity, and then open my eyes. At first, all I see is the sunlight pouring through the leaves above me. Still groaning, I turn my head slightly, and find myself looking into another pair of dark, shocked eyes. The boy I was watching is staring right at me, looking as though an alien had just landed beside him. I notice two wet lines running from the corners of his eyes.
I feel my face burn red, and I try to grin, to make the situation a little less embarrassing, but I can't bring myself to. I started to adjusting my skirt, but then I feel stupid because I wear the skirt with legging inside. The boy is still watching me silently, his lips slightly parted. Biting my lip, I hoist myself up onto one arm, wincing as my back gives a twinge of pain. I think that i should probably say something, explain to this boy why I almost just fell on top of him, but to my surprise, he speaks first.
"Are you all right?" He asks, his voice slightly croaky. It's lower than I would have expected, but it somehow suits his face.
"Yeah, I think so," I mutter, looking away, as though I'm trespassing on something private. After a moment's hesitation, the boy offers me his hand; I take it, and he pulls me onto my knees. I smile my thanks, not quite trusting my voice. The boy doesn't return it.
"Were you watching me?" He continues, looking at me apprehensively. I can't quite work out if he's angry or not. I open my mouth to answer him, but no words come into my head. I guess my guilty expression must give me away, anyway. "How many other friends you got up there?" I would laugh, but the way he says it sounds as though he isn't trying to make a joke. I take a look at his miserable expression, and decide I'd better leave, in case he gets upset again.
I stand up, and start to make one final apology, but then I see that the boy is once again resting his head on his arms. I can't bring myself to just walk away from him.
"What's your name?" I hear myself asking. After a second, the boy raises his head, and looks at me again, frowning. There are several fresh tears falling from his eyes. I don't think he's going to answer, and I feel myself blush again, but once again, he takes me by surprise.
"Ryan," he mumbles, sniffing quietly. He doesn't seem to mind that he is crying in front of a stranger.. A girl on top of that. I have a short hair but I'm pretty sure I look feminine enough with this skirt. I hold out my hand, trying to smile as best as I can.
"I'm Sam," I tell him, hoping I don't sound too forward. I wait for a moment as Ryan looks up at me, wondering if I've offended him in some way, but then I feel him wrap his fingers around mine, and he allows me to pull him to his feet.
Then, before I can say anything else, Ryan smiles at me shyly, which lights up his whole face. He sniffs again, and rubs the back of hand across his face. The sunlight dances over his hair.
"Thanks," he says softly, still smiling, and I can't help but smile back.
I should try falling out of trees more often.
1. Boyish-girl met girlish-boy
3. Skirt with legging
4. Tree in the park
So, here you go.