Present-day:

As I look out the window, I find myself thinking about how easy life was back when I was a kid. Those days seem so much simpler than it is now. It’s been two years since my best friend Jori left. All that I have is the memories she gave me. Not a single day was wasted when she was here and if I had to choose a memory that defined us, including my brothers, I would say the day we built a treehouse.

*

Past:

“Jori!” I shout in excitement. Not paying attention, I accidentally trip over my own feet and tumble the rest of the way down the hill.

Thud.

Groaning, I force myself to get up even though my body doesn’t want to. Shaking the dirt from my hat, I look up and see Jori, running towards me at great speed, her bright strawberry hair flying behind her. Not being able to react quickly, she leaps into the air and tackles me to the ground at full force like a cat catching their prey. The wind, once again, leaves my body as my back clashes with the ground causing a dust bomb.

“Holy cow! I can’t believe I just did that!” Jori shouts in amazement.

“Neither…can…I,” I say, barely getting the words out.

“What?” she asks. Guess she didn’t hear me. Her tiny weight grows heavier, crushing my chest. It was like a wall that continued to push until the person was crushed to a pulp. I didn’t want to be that person.

“Can’t breathe.” I wheeze as I poke her ribs urgently.

“Oh gosh, I’m so sorry!” she exclaims as she scrambles herself off of me.

“It’s ok.” I croak. My body feels so sore as I get up.

Jori locks her hands on her boyish hips and says smugly “Well Ren; you have to admit that was a pretty good tackle.” She proudly adds, “Even for an eight-year-old.”

A grin plays on my lips as I walk towards her. “I guess I could give you that,” I say teasingly as I squeeze her upper left arm, testing her squishy muscle. She rolls her eyes at my amusement.

“You ready to start on the treehouse?” she asks.

“Yeah!” I thought she would never ask!

“Sweet!” She says in excitement as she fist pumps the air.

We stare at each other for a moment. Jori’s hair is all over the place and she has dirt smudged across her face. I’m sure my appearance is just as silly. She realizes this too and we start laughing like a bunch of crazy hyenas.

Wiping away the tears, we nod at each other and race back to where my brothers Isaac and Zeek set aside the last of the supplies for our project.

My other brother, Nell, leans against the oak tree while chewing on a flower stem. When you look at him, he’s pretty tall for an eleven-year-old, and skinny. But never underestimate him. Someone did that once and regretted it. Now no one messes with him.

He brushes strands of hair as dark as onyx away from his unwavering green eyes.

“It’s about time you got here,” Nell says as he takes the chewed flower out of his mouth. He chucks it to the side and steps away from the tree. He walks towards the pile of wood that Issac and Zeek set aside and pulls out a long rolled-up paper tube.

“Here.” He says as he shoves the paper into my hands and walks away. I wonder what’s up with him. But to be fair, he’s not much of a talker and pretty much keeps his thoughts to himself. I unroll the white paper and Jori takes the left side to keep it from rolling back. We take a quick look, tracing the treehouse outline with our eyes. I peek over at Jori. She looks up and says, “This is going to be great!” She’s beaming with pure delight. If she were a star, she would shine the brightest.

“I’ll take that!” I look up and see Zeek towering over me. He picks the treehouse plan out from our hands and trades it with a wood board. “I think it’s time to start building.” He says in a matter-of-fact tone. He really tries to live up to his age. He feels as a twelve-year-old, he should be setting a good example for us. After our mom passed away, he felt he was the only one left for us to count on.

*

As we build the treehouse, I slowly begin to realize how hard this is going to be. But I also feel relief that my brothers are helping us. They said they would help us on one condition: that we let them use the treehouse too. Jori and I didn’t object and couldn’t care less because this will be ours and no one else’s.

My eyes trail to Jori and I can see how happy she truly is. Every moment that she spends with us is special to her, she told me once.

A memory of us sitting on a hill by my house watching the sunset came to me.

“Jori, do you like spending time with me and my brothers?” I ask.

“I do.” She answers as she plucks a dandelion off the ground with her small hands. She gazes at it for a while, stuck in her thoughts. I look at the sunset ahead of us. The sky painted in red, yellow, orange, and violet.

“Sometimes I wonder if this is all real or just my imagination.” Jori began. “But this dandelion feels real, so it must be real.” She looks so sad but I don’t know what to say.

She looks up at me and smiles.

“Either way, spending time with you and your brothers is special to me and I will live in every moment.” She puts the dandelion in front of her lips, takes a deep breath, and blows. They float in the air as the wind whisks the tiny, white fluffy parachutes off into an endless journey.

The thing is, Jori isn’t from around here and to be frank, we don’t know where she comes from. All we know is that when she dreams, she appears here. And I don’t blame her for wanting to spend as much time with us as possible. Her own home life is depressing and she mentioned she’d rather live here than in her own world. She told me at one point that she fears she might never return here someday. But we won’t let that happen. She can stay as long as she wants to.

I find myself smiling and snap back into reality.

“Hey daydreamer, the treehouse isn’t going to build itself!” I look up and see everyone staring at me. I laugh as my brother, Isaac, tosses me a hammer.

Finally, the treehouse is done. We’re all pooped from the hard work as we lay inside our new creation. I can feel a familiar breeze pass back and forth through the small windows we had cut out; cooling our skin. I stare at my hands. Dry, red, and dirty. My back aches and my neck is stiff. I look at everyone else; they’re covered in sweat and dust.

Zeek and Nell are fast asleep, leaning on each other. Jori and Isaac are at each window, looking out into the distance. Sometimes I wonder what’s on Isaac’s mind. He always seems to be deep inside his thoughts. He used to keep his head buried in books but ever since he turned ten, he has been trying to be a part of whatever our older brothers are doing.

The floorboards creak beneath my worn-out sneakers as I take a closer look behind Jori. A beautiful sunset lies straight ahead.

The sunsets don’t seem to change here, and I don’t think I want them to. I don’t know what the future holds for us but I hope we can all stay together.

Written by: Jamie Board