I stare at the new treehouse. It needs about one more day of work to finish but it’s better to wait; I’m in no rush.
“Can’t believe Dad pulled through with this design,” My brother says next to me. “It’s good.”
“Really good, are you sure you don’t want to finish?” Sara asks as she climbs down. “ It’s just one side of the ceiling, not that hard.”
“Somethings are worth the wait,” I say.
When I was eight I asked my dad to build a treehouse because Emily and I really wanted one. For the entire summer, it was us three building a small little house. Back then Dad was just starting getting into architecture and didn’t design it well. It would always fall down no matter how many times we tried. One day while Emily was getting tools for my dad, she tried to rush climbing the tree but tripped and fell. Without thinking I jumped off to see if she was okay. I broke my foot while Emily escaped unharmed. I expected her to be hurt as she has a weak body. The treehouse was finished a week later.
Hmph, wouldn’t it be crazy if I need to break my foot again to finish the wall? I seem to lack the willpower. At least I don’t think about Emily much anymore.
After I drop Sara and Travis back to their homes, I go to mine; a studio apartment in downtown Seattle. It’s not much but a bed is all I need. Well, a bed would be everything I would need if my fridge was stocked up on food. I don’t see how I run out of food so fast. I don’t even eat much.
I have no choice but to use half of what I earned on yesterday’s show to feed myself. At the store, it’s always the same: chicken breasts, a box of Trix cereal, a gallon of milk, rice, some bread, and a few apples and even fewer bananas, beef, and all the other food that barely fits the description of food.
If I could go back in time and stay a child I would. Living alone is much harder than anyone said it would be. Rent always comes first and when that’s paid off, all the money goes to food then bills. I go at least a week without cell phone service every two months. Talk about being a starving artist. At least I make enough to not have a real job. That is the American Dream right there. I’m an artist under the Young Records label and I’m struggling to make end meets.
I should stop sending all my money into savings.
The supermarket is relatively empty. I guess people don’t do that much shopping on Fridays. I grab what the essentials first, then head to the back of the store to get the last of what I need.
“Bread makes you fat,” A familiar voice says behind me. It shocks my spine, freezing me in place. It’s been three years. She had cut us off completely because she couldn’t take this town anymore. Now she’s back. It’s her, it has to be her. Fuck, why now?
“Excuse me?” I say turning around.
Her hair is back to its original length. It’s as if she’s in Senior Year again, but this time it’s in her natural hair color. Emily doesn’t hide her freckles on her face anymore. Her eyes have bags under her eyes and she’s much skinnier since the last time I saw her.
She’s recently been attacked by her sickness. It happens every once in a couple of years for a couple of weeks. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; it gives her anorexia, ceases her physical activity and gives her insomnia. All of this causes her to lose all the weight she tries hard to gain.
Yet she’s still beautiful. A ghost of a woman that shouldn’t even be alive.
“Bread makes you fat,” She repeats herself, grabbing whole wheat bread and replaces the ones I have in my cart.
Why is she here? Emily hates me. Why is she talking to me?
“Hi Cody,” she says softly.
I stay silent for a second. Part of me thinks this isn’t weird. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m here for the week for Sam’s Wedding.”
“Oh right, I heard she’s getting married. I got invited but I’m not going, wouldn’t be right.”
“Yeah…” This is awkward for her too. Good. “I heard you’re making it as a rapper. I’m proud.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty good. I’m playing a show tonight.”
Emily still dresses however she wants. The overalls are new but they look good. Her sweaters, hat, and bandanna are all gone. However, everything she's wearing is designer clothes. Right she lives in the upper east. This isn’t the Emily I used to know. “Yeah, I know. Jerrica is going with Soran. They’re trying to get me to go.” She laughs nervously. Three years doesn’t make everything disappear. I can still read her like a children’s book.
Soran. That was Emily’s boyfriend three years ago. They’re still together then. I’ve seen him in commercials and magazines. He’s good to her, he can give her everything I can’t. I’m just a failure, I couldn’t keep a simple promise. We were supposed to be married this year.
“You should go.”
“Do you think that’s a good idea?”
Of course not. You broke my heart. No, I’m sorry. It’s my fault for everything that happened to you. You were right to disappear from our lives. I’m the type of person who ruins them. I almost ruined yours.
“Of course now,” I laugh.
She giggles, taking a step back. “Did you ever ended dating Grace? You two were cute together.”
“No. I mean, she tried but I had to let her know I just wasn’t into it, y’ know? We’re still friends though.” Gently, unlike you. Why are you talking to me? Do you really miss me? I don’t. I know it’s bad, but Grace replaced you. Hell, even Sara is a better friend than you ever were.
“Oh,” she pauses like she’s disappointed. “How is everyone?”
“Do you care?” I say a bit irritated. She has some balls talking to me like nothing happened. I know she’s just trying to get this over with. If she’s here that we would have run into each other eventually. She’s saying she’s okay with us never seeing each other again.
Emily forces a laugh. “I guess I don’t have a right to anymore.” She crosses her hands in front of her chest. “It’s just...being here brings up the past too much.”
“So why come back?”
Before Emily can respond, her boyfriend comes up from behind. His face is instantly recognizable from the commercials I’ve seen. I get it. In my mind, I’m paranoid that she’s doing this all purposely just to gloat she’s doing fine without me. It’s not paranoia if I’m right.
“Emily, this is where you’ve been,” He says as Emily turns her body to the side, creating some space between me and Soran. “Who is your friend?” Soran's voice is deep but friendly. No wonder Emily likes the guy.
“Oh, Soran!” Emily’s tone completely changes to excitement. “This is Cody, you know about him.”
“Oh! It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Soran extends his hand. “I’m Soran Sergeiveic, Emily told me great things about you.”
“No, pleasure’s all mine.” I accept his handshake begrudgingly. I guess I have to take that to face value. Still, having Emily in front of me like this, it’s disgusting. “Soran, is this your first time in Seattle? How’s the weather treating you?”
“Not so different from New York so far, thank you.”
Man, this small talk is killing me. “How long are you guys staying?”
“It’s just this weekend. We leave on Monday,” Emily says as Soran takes hold of her hand. “I was hoping I could see everyone at least once before I left. That’s why I asked how was everyone. Is Sara still living at Grace’s?”
“Andrew lived with them for a while but left after a year. Who knows what he's doing. Sara goes to college in LA now, but she’s back for the summer.”
“Did you know-” I can’t take this anymore. I have to leave. It’s better if we don’t see each other. Whatever she’s trying to do, she got what she wanted. There’s no reason to continue this any longer.
“Listen, Emily, it’s been great and all but I have to go. I have to go prepare for my show. It was nice meeting you, Soran.” I cut her off before I can get a read on Emily. I hear a goodbye and then some mumbled words as her voice fades away.
It took a year and a half to forget about her. In that time I got signed to accomplish my dream. I have fans, and outlets and friends I can depend on. I’m an outlier, people like me aren’t supposed to be this successful. Everything in my life was coming together nicely. Dad retired from the DEA after arresting half of Lyle’s operation and shattering it. He and Mom spend a lot of time traveling now. Travis graduated from college and took a job in Seattle. Grace has just graduated from High School and transformed herself to be strong. Sara is still in college but comes to town from time to time. She started a youtube channel for her acoustic music. One of her songs has half a million views. She plays in my shows whenever she’s in town. Chris is still recovering at home. I visit him from time to time. He hardly ever talks to me, so we just spend the time playing video games like the old days.
Life has been good.
Then Emily has to come back. I knew she was coming for the wedding, but I never thought I would run into her. Seattle’s a big place.
Now she’s the only thing on my mind while I drive back to Darkwood.
It’s drizzling by the time I arrive at the treehouse. Like hell, I’m going to leave it unfinished. It’s just a damn part of the ceiling that needs to be finished. I get the planks and the tools and climb up above the ceiling.
Fuck, I’m pissed. I’m hammering harder than usual and it makes a dent on a wood. I take a deep breath and slow down.
An hour later, I’m a little bit soaked but the treehouse is finished. All that’s left is to decorate it and it’ll be a good place for someone to claim it as theirs. I don’t need this place anymore. I climb down and take a blunt so I can relax a bit.
“Shit looks really nice,” Someone from below says. It’s hard to find this place in the dark, it’s someone who knows their way around.
I look down but I can’t even see a silhouette. I’m forced to climb down.
“You know, when I heard that you’re rebuilding it, I didn’t think it would look so different,” he says. His voice is familiar.
“And you are?”
The man scoffs as I climb down the steps. The scoff gives it away. “I’ve been gone for two years and you forget me already, huh?” Andrew chuckles.
“What are you doing here?” I fist-bump his already extended fist. We made up after Emily got shot, but we never really become friends again. I kind of disappeared for that year. There was a time about two years ago where I helped him out with something. I wonder if he ever did it.
“Checking it out, didn’t think you’d be here.”
“Where’d you been? Last I heard you were in New York.”
“Well, yeah, I guess. School keeps me busy, can’t always be in contact. You shit’s blowing up though, fucking fire!” Andrew laughs.
It brings a smile to my face. “Thanks. Have you seen Sara yet? She texted telling me she got a letter from you.”
Andrew’s laugh hasn’t changed. “Don’t tell her, don’t tell her. I have a surprise for her tomorrow. Shit’s wild, yo.”
“Shit man, lots of shit changed. The gang’s all in town, maybe we should throw some shit and get wild. Maybe after your show, make a big o’ after party.”
I chuckle, “Thanks, but I don’t drink anymore. Besides, I don’t think Sara would be down.”
Andrew groans, “Psh, yeah, you're right.”
Andrew, he seems a lot calmer. His reckless aura must have faded away. These past few years have been good to him. I wonder what happened. “You coming?”
“Of course, mate. Where else am I gonna show everyone my surprise?”
“What’s your surprise?”
“Shh,” Andrew places his finger over his mouth. “Secret.”
I laugh and push his shoulder, “You asshole, always with your games.”
Andrew grins, “You know it.”
“How come you’re back though?”
Andrew kicks the ground and dirt goes everywhere, including my shoes. “Family reunion, that and I finally got some free time. Really want to know how my sisters are doing.”
I laugh, “Sisters? You and Grace, siblings?”
Andrew shrugs, “I lived with her for a year, so? Also curious how she is now. I bet you grew to be a hottie.”
“Hmm,” I cross my arms then uncross them again. “Weird thing to say if she’s your sister.”
“Fuckin’, Codes,” Andrew chuckles. “I miss ya man.”
We fist bump again. Everyone is back in town. I already think about all the unfinished stories that are about to play out. Freyja is back, she’ll throw a wrench in Sara’s life. Emily is back, she’s throwing one at mine. Now even Andrew’s back to throw a whole tractor in our lives.
I get a weird feeling in my gut. Things seem like they're coming together for a reason. No, there’s no such thing as fate and it’s all pure coincidence. We all live here so it’s bound to happen that at one point in time, we’ll all be here at once. Life has been quiet, so why does it feel like things are about to heat up?
I can’t stop thinking about Emily.
Shit. I want her back.