“Together, we ran, her strawberry blonde hair whipping behind her as her laughter echoed. Together, we ran to the rushing river. Together, we arrived, her freckled face covered in sweat. Then, together we laughed. We stepped into the icy water, the place where we first met. The place where we first found where we belonged. Then we swam. I heard her screams before I saw her.”
Together, we ran, her strawberry blonde hair whipping behind her as her laughter echoed. Together, we ran to the rushing river. Together, we arrived, her freckled face covered in sweat. Then, together we laughed. We stepped into the icy water, the place where we first met. The place where we first found where we belonged. Then we swam. I heard her screams before I saw her. I looked around.
“Becca!” I screamed.
Then I saw her being swept away. The current was sweeping her into rapids. Her head went under, and the water took her away. Suddenly, I remembered the cliff. I swam faster than I ever had. I needed to find Rebecca before it was too late, before the wolf cliff had its second taste of blood. I was too slow, and it was my fault my best friend died. I hauled her up onto the shore. Her hair was soaked with blood. The moon was now high up in the sky. She would never smile her beautiful smile again. Never laugh her sing-song laugh. Never be there by my side. There I sat on the top of wolf cliff, crying over the death of my everything as the moon sparkled in the sky.
“Goodbye, Rebecca Amelia Jones,” I whispered as I stroked her hair. “I will never forget you.”
Then, I carried her home. Home, such an odd thing that some people think of it as a roof above their heads. To me, it was where you felt welcomed, wanted, loved. My home was Rebecca. Where I lived was just temporary. That night, her parents cried tears, but they were not broken, at least not as broken as me. As I lay in bed, I thought of her. Suddenly, all the memories came rushing back.
I was sitting on a rock at the side of the river, reading a good book, when she came out behind me. She had tears streaming down her face. She looked me dead in the eye and then sat down. She just sat there, looking at the river, crying.
“Aren’t you going to introduce yourself?” I asked.
She turned around to face me. “Why should I?”
“Because it’s normal.”
“You’re not what?”
Then, I laughed. She laughed too. There we sat, laughing by the side of the river.
For many days, we met by the riverside, but it wasn’t till the eighth day that we became true friends. It started like any other day. We talked and laughed. Then, out of the blue, Rebecca jumped into the rushing water fully clothed. Of course. I followed. When the water engulfed me, I was scared, but when I looked over and saw Rebecca swimming, I felt fearless. She reached over and held my hand. That was the day I became we.
I woke up with a jolt, reminding myself that I was here and she was gone. I looked around. Amy was asleep, and so was Aubrey, who was 12 and came here last year after her brother died and her mom went bankrupt. Ember, who was 16, had been here forever, and there was Clover, a small eight-year-old. I walked over to the dusty vanity and looked at myself. I was the girl whose parents didn’t care enough to keep her. I was the girl who picked fights with the biggest kid and lost. I was the girl who faded into the background. I was the girl with chestnut skin, raven hair, and star-speckled eyes. I was Rory. I was me.
Clover woke with a start, her screams drowning out my thoughts. I rushed to her side. Her nightmares had been getting worse ever since they found her a home.
“Rory, I’m scared. What if they don’t like me?” she whispered.
She drifted off to sleep. Then at 9:00 a.m., her new family took her home.
It was late on Sunday when she arrived. Her long, brown hair was swaying in the wind. There was a grim look on her face. A lady in a tattered dress pushed her forward. Then, she turned around and left her. The girl collapsed and tears streamed down her perfect face. Ms. Morton scooped her up and brought her to the washrooms. Meanwhile, up in the attic bedroom, the girls talked.
“She will probably take Clover’s spot.”
“Did you see her just collapse?”
“But, like, her hair…”
She came in with some hand-me-down sweatpants and a large t-shirt. She just fell onto the bed and fell asleep in Clover’s spot. I drifted off to sleep again, going back to a world where she still existed.
June 18th, we were on our way to the river, walking hand in hand, but when we got there, the police department was standing on the shore. Our shore. A woman stood there, tears in her eyes. In her arms was a boy eight years of age, just like us. He was covered in blood. His name was Jason.
Later, we found out what had happened. He had run away. Later that day, the police found him, washed up on the shore, dead. He had hit the cliff, Wolf Cliff. Little did I know, four years later, my friend would befall the same fate.
I woke up covered in sweat, drowning in my sheets. I needed to get out. I walked over to the window and hopped up to the roof. There she sat. Alone in the dark. I went up to her and sat down by her side.
“Was she nice?” I asked.
“The woman who dropped you off.”
“Tell me about her.”
“Well, she made the best cookies. The type that bring a smile to your face even when you think that you can never smile again. Her hugs… they fill you with warmth even in the coldest part of the night.”
“She sounds wonderful.”
“She was… but…”
“Her sweet voice turned icy and cold, and she disappeared for hours.”
“Still, you miss her.”
“Still, I miss her.”
“My name is Rory.”
I got up to leave, looking over my shoulder before going back inside. Still, she stayed. I got back into bed. Then, before I fell asleep, a dreadful thought came over me. Tomorrow, I had to go to school.
I got dressed in ripped jeans and a t-shirt. On my way out the door, I grabbed a piece of toast. Then, the bus came. As I walked to the back, I heard the other kids’ conversations.
I sat down. Phoenix joined me.
“Perfect, such a horrible word. They all say ‘Oh, she’s so perfect. Oh, she must think she is better than us.’ Well I’m not, and I don’t,” she muttered.
“Only someone perfect would say that.”
“If I were perfect… things would be different.”
“Look in the damn mirror.”
“I thought you were different.”
“Look at your hair.”
Then, she walked to a different seat with her head held high, her perfect hair swaying behind her.
All throughout school, I thought of her. The way she walked perfect. The way she talked perfect. Her hair. PERFECT.
Then, finally, school was over. I told Amy to tell Ms. Morton I was going for a hike. Then, I started on the path to the river. Slowly, the buildings turned into trees, and the cars melted away. After five minutes of walking, I reached the shore. Our shore. I slipped off my sneakers and felt the sand beneath my toes. The water was warmer than it was on the day she departed. It is calmer too. Almost welcoming. I collapsed onto the sand. Tears streaked my cheeks. I picked a marsh marigold flower on my way out. With each step I took, I threw down a petal.
When I finally arrived back “home,” all the girls were in the kitchen. All but Phoenix. I went upstairs to look for her. The light was on in the washroom. When I walked in, there was a pair of scissors on the sink.
“Phoenix?” I called.
She came out of a stall. Her hair was in a pixie cut.
“Do you like it?” she asked.
“I need your help.”
She took out a tube of bright pink hair dye and bleach. By the time dinner was ready, she was fully transformed. Together we walked down to dinner. All the girls gasped when they saw Phoenix’s new look. We ate chicken and mashed potatoes. There was a smile on my face for the first time in a long while.
Once again, my dreams were haunted by my memories.
On the day of my 12th birthday, we raced out to the river. She handed me a cupcake and a present. We ate and sung, then I opened up the present. It was a necklace with a moon charm. She had one too, but hers had a star. Then we ran into the water.
Phoenix shook me awake. We got ready for school. When we walked onto the bus, the only seats left were right in front of Amanda and her group. Three minutes after we sat down, she tapped my back. I ignored her. She kept on tapping. I finally turned around.
“What the hell do you want?” I asked.
She giggled her girly giggle. Words couldn’t describe how much I hated this girl.
“I want to give you and your little friend a warning.”
Phoenix turned around too. “It’s you who should be warned,” she muttered.
“Stay out of my way, Pinky, or you will wish you were dead like Rory’s other friend.”
Then, she went back to talking with her friends. My hands curled into fists but I turned around. I would have to wait to punch her in her makeup covered face.
“About my other friend,” I started to explain to Phoenix.
“They told me.”
“I should’ve told you.”
“We all have our secrets.”
The bus stopped. We walked into school. I decided whatever happened in Phoenix’s past didn’t matter. We took our seats. Math blurred into history. Then we had science. Phoenix and I were lab partners. We were studying oceanography. The day moved slowly, but eventually school ended, and the weekend began. The weekends were supposed to be fun, but not for me, at least not any more. I guess being abandoned at age seven and losing your best and only friend at 12 affected your view towards life. Well, anyway, this weekend was really bad because it was my birthday. I would be 13. She would stay 12 forever and never age. I walked home alone. On Fridays, I usually walked home. Music was drifting through my headphones. I told Pheonix I would meet her back in our room. I saw the orphanage. It loomed over me. Some might say it looked beautiful, welcoming. Not me. That house was like a chain holding me to my past. I opened the gate and walked towards the building. I took out my headphones and walked through the door. Everyone was arguing over what movie to watch. I joined the crowd.
“I have something to tell you,” Phoenix whispered.
She grabbed my hand and led me to the roof. I looked out at the moon. Whatever she wanted to tell me was not good.
“I got adopted,” she said.
“No, it’s not.”
I get up and led her out the door. I led her through the streets, then through the thorny path ways. I stopped. Did I really want to go back? I pushed past the final branches, revealing the shore. Phoenix gasped.
“It’s beautiful,” she said.
I looked back at the water. It was like my eyes had been covered the whole time.
And she smiled. And then tears started to streak down her face.
“I’ll miss you,” she said.
We sat there crying by the side of the river. At least I got to say goodbye.
I woke up at 7:00. When I looked next to me, Phoenix was gone. In her place was a letter. I start to read.
My name is Phoenix Rose.
I was born on the total solar eclipse, at the exact moment the moon blocked the sun. I am not normal. When I was two, my parents put me in foster care. By the time I was eight, I had been in 24 different homes. My 25th home was with the same people who were coming to pick me up today. They were nice at first, welcoming even. That lady who dropped me off was a stranger. I described that family. The only thing is, I don’t miss them. I can’t even spend a hour in the same room with them. When I was nine, I ran away. I have kept running ever since. I am thirteen. I will not let them take me now. If you want to find me, look near the river. Sorry I didn’t tell you before. I just couldn’t say the words.
Of course. Phoenix ran away. I was once again left with nothing. No one. Ember woke up. She saw me reading the note and crying. I tried to cover my face. I won’t be weak. She moved towards me slowly. I closed my eyes… She wrapped her arms around me. As each of the girls woke up, they joined the hug. I was not alone. I had never been. I had a family. One that would never leave me behind. We didn’t let go. Each of us took some of the others’ pain. We all got to the river. We found her…
She sighed. “I didn’t want you to find me,” she said.
“That would mean I would really have to say goodbye.”
She reached out and held my hands.
“Goodbye,” she whispered.
She hugged me. Then she ran away. Into the forest. She left me. I crumpled to the ground, memories of her playing in my head. We walked home filled with sorrow.
I fell asleep close to Ember. This time I dreamed of my parents. I was five. It was Christmas. My father danced around the room holding me in his arms. My mother sung loud, laughing. She joined the dance. We spun, and we laughed until we fell. Still laughing, my parents carried me to bed. That morning, I woke up to the smell of cinnamon. My parents sat with smiles on their faces. Snow floated down outside. Presents lined the bottom of the tree. That morning was a big blur of smiles and laughs. I remember one gift: a golden locket. Inside of it were two pictures. One was of all of us smiling and holding each other tight. The other of just the two of them. Mom was pregnant, and they both looked like they had won the lottery.
When I woke up, the dream was clear in my mind. I wondered where the locket was. A horrifying thought popped into my head. I didn’t know where my parents were. I didn’t know why they left me here. That thought was still in my mind as I got on the bus. Once again, the only seat was in front of Amanda. She tapped my back.
I didn’t respond.
“Did she finally realize how weird you are?”
I smirked. “You think I’m weird?” I said.
She glared at me.
“You’re the one making fun of someone because they remind you of yourself.”
She looked me dead in the eyes. “Pick your battles,” she said.
I turned around. Beneath all that makeup she was just as scared of the world as me. Just a small child screaming for help. I shook my head.
Today was the last day of school. The bell rang for the last time. I was not sad to be leaving this dump. I would be going to the Oakwood public high school next year. It seemed as though I would never leave this town. As kids ran through the hallways, I realized all the painful memories this town held.
I went to the records room under the library. I used to come here every day. I searched for Rory Lupus like I had done many times. I found it next to Brook Lupus and Matt Kingsley. I picked up all three files. I looked at my dad’s first. There was a picture of him smiling. A big dopey smile. His black hair covered most of his forehead. His dark brown skin reflected the light above him. He was beautiful. I wondered why he left me.
Next was mom. In her picture she was smiling too. Her brown hair was below her shoulders. Her pale skin showed every shadow. She, too, was beautiful. Why? Why? Why? What did I do?
Finally, me. The picture was from this year. My smile was forced. My hair was pulled back into a ponytail. My chestnut skin only reflected my pain.
Tears streaked my face. Why? I dried my eyes and walked upstairs. Then I walked out the door. I kept walking until I was at the orphanage. I went up to my room. I wiped the tears from my eyes. I walked over to the vanity. It was chipped and dusty, the soft blue paint peeling away to reveal wood. I looked at myself in the dusty mirror. Tears of anger swelled in my eyes. I gripped the sides hard. Why? Why would they leave me? Was I like this vanity, broken and old? Did they want something shiny and new? Did they just leave me here to collect dust and be forgotten? Then I let go. Paint fell, fluttering like snow flakes. I went downstairs, forcing up a smile.
Fast forward four years…
To The Moon
March 20th, one week before graduation. I got my letters.
I got a scholarship to Columbia University. The girls came rushing down, or at least what was left of them. With Ember gone, it was just me, Amy, and Aubrey. There were no new orphans in this town.
“I knew you would get in,” Amy said with a smile on her face.
Ms. Morton smiled and rubbed my back. That night, we ate steak and mashed potatoes, my favorite. That night, we all smiled. I looked at the vanity. Suddenly, it looked less broken. I fell asleep with a thought shredding up my mind… What will I say at graduation?
A week later, I was ready. A speech was drilled into my mind. It passed by so fast. I couldn’t believe it was over. When it ended, I went home and got ready for the party Amanda was throwing. Even I was invited. I wore a royal blue skirt that went up to my knees, a matching crop top, and simple black heels. I bought it with my own money. It was a major change from my usual jeans and a t shirt. I wasn’t sure I liked it. I walked to Amanda’s house. She was at the door wearing a pale pink skirt, a little shorter than mine, a crop top, a little shorter, and much more expensive shoes. Instead of pouting, we laughed. It seemed like such a childish problem. I walked to the snack table. There was so much music and dancing. I had never been invited to a party like this, but I’d never been invited to a party before. Amanda appeared next to me.
“Sorry I was such a jerk,” she said.
“No it’s not.”
“Yes it is… it was nothing I couldn’t handle.”
“Come on, let’s dance.”
We danced to the top songs of the 2000’s, belting out the lyrics. Too bad Amanda’s going to UCLA. We could’ve been friends (I don’t do letters.) That night, as I walked home, I hummed the tune of “Who let the dogs out.” When I arrived home, I got into bed. I decided a skirt once in awhile wasn’t the worst. Once in awhile! I closed my eyes and went to sleep.
When I woke up, my hair was a mess. I went to the mirror and started to brush. Then I went downstairs. Ms. Morton was waiting for me at the table. She smiled. A shoe box was in front of her. I sat down.
“What is that?” I asked.
“This is yours,” she replied, a sad smile on her face.
She slid it across the table to me. I opened it. Inside were three things: two letters and a golden locket.
“Where did you get this?”
“It arrived with you.”
One letter just contained a few things.
This is Rory Lupus. Her father died, and I am barely able to write this. I beg you to look after her. I wish I could look after her, but I can’t. Please surround her with love.
They did love me. They did want me. My dad was dead. I didn’t know where my mom was. I didn’t want to read the other note, but I did.
I love you. So did your father. He loved you very much. He lost his life in a car crash. I want you to know he would never abandon you. Neither would I. I am in the hospital with lung cancer. I know I don’t have much time left. Just know I love you to the moon and back. I love you.
Tears streaked down my face as I looked at the locket. Why had my life turned out like this? Who kept making things worse each time they got better?
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked
“It would’ve been too hard on you.”
I leaned on her shoulder and cried. I cried and cried. I wouldn’t give up. I would go to college. I would get my degree. I would make a difference.
A Fresh Start
I walked into my dorm room. My roommate was standing there with a nervous look on her face. She looked like she was made by a beach. Her wavy, blond hair looked like sand, and her blue eyes looked like the sea.
“Hi, I’m Irvetta.”
“Hi, my name is Rory.”
“Do you know where the other roommate is?”
Right as she said that, the door opened. A girl walked in carrying a suitcase. Her hair faded from black to blue, and she was wearing a beanie.
“Hi, I’m Irvetta,” she started again.
“My name is Rory,” I said.
“My name is Brea.”
She carried her suitcase over to a bed and unpacked. We did the same. All I had were some clothes, sheets, a blanket, a pillow, and a pillow case. As I was walking through the halls, I realized I could be anything. No one here knew my past.
My favorite classes were photography and science. One day, when I got back to the dorm room, Irvetta was going through my bag.
“We need to go shopping,” she said.
I rolled my eyes. “I don’t have enough money.”
Irvetta, Brea, and I went shopping. I came back with four new t-shirts and three new pairs of pants. I had been working as a waitress at a coffee shop nearby. I finally got enough money to buy my own camera. I took a picture of Brea standing with her arms spread out as the snow was falling. The other picture was of Irvetta holding the first flower of spring. They both didn’t know I was taking them. I showed the two pictures to them. They loved it. Then I submitted them to a contest with an amazing camera for the prize. I waited for a month to find out if I won. I did! I went and got the camera. I submitted more pictures into more contests. Some I won, some I didn’t. I found myself through photos. Irvetta and Brea were super supportive.
I sat outside in the waiting room. Nervous thoughts filled my mind. I held my portfolio close.
“Rory Lupus,” a woman called.
“Rachel is ready for you.”
I stood up and followed her. She led me to an office. I opened the door. Rachel was sitting at her desk. I sat across from her.
“Let’s have a look,” she said as I passed my portfolio to her.
She flipped through my photos. Sometimes, she nodded. Then, she handed it back to me.
“You know National Geographic photography is no joke,” she said.
My face turned white.
“Your first assignment will be next week. You will be with Cole Anderson, photographing the deep blue sea. Marcy, the girl out front, will give you your wetsuit and your camera.”
I smiled. “Thank you,” I said as I walked out the door.
Two weeks later, I was in the water. Suddenly, I saw something move beneath me. I swam deeper. A beautiful sea turtle swam beneath me. I followed it, taking pictures as I swam.
A year later, I was walking up the aisle, well kind of. I was on a beach. Irvette, Brea, and my husband-to-be’s family sat on the sand. Cole Anderson stood in front of the waves. I looked into his eyes.
“You may kiss the bride.”
We kissed. Then, we jumped into the water. I swear I saw Phoenix smile from wherever she was.
One of my assignments landed me right back in Oakwood. I was taking pictures when I saw it, old and cracked, the vanity sat on the side of the road. A sign said, “Take what you want.” Someone had moved into my old home. I picked it up and brought it home. I wouldn’t leave an old friend behind.
My name is Rebecca Phoenix Lupus. I am the daughter of Rory and Cole Lupus. My mom is 83 and in the nursing home. My father passed in his sleep two years ago. I walk into my mom’s room. She grabs my hand.
“Take me to the river,” she whispers.
I put her in the wheelchair and take her to where she asked. I stop on the shore. It is so beautiful. My mom gets up and walks to the water. She plunges in and never resurfaces. Tears streak my face.
“Good bye,” I whisper.