“Andrei!” she exclaimed, her eyes still startled and her perfect “oh” of surprise beginning to stretch into a delighted smile.
Scrambling, she stood up; her half-asleep legs exploding into pins and needles as she leaned up and over to kiss his cheek.
“Heyyhi..hey!” she finished lamely, her dimple finally appearing as she stopped and stayed still, her eyes taking him in.
His dimple flashed back at her.
It was the smiley, slightly awkward silence that comes of people thrilled to see each other again; the spaces between them filled up with all the things bursting to be shared, their eyes too busy taking their fill; marking the tiny changes that time brings, their smiles conveying the utterly overwhelming joy of realising that someone you’ve missed is standing right there in front of you. The silence of not quite knowing what to say.
“You look well.” she commented, breaking the silence.
“And by ‘well’, you mean ‘not dead’?” He responded, stooping to pick up her dropped book.
“Well, I did wonder. It’s been a while. You pretty much dropped off the face of the earth last year.” She said, trying to keep her voice neutral.
“I didn’t realise you worried.”
“I don’t. Mum asked after you.”
Her eyes flashed at him, her annoyance with his cavalier tone quickly taking over. He’d always had this effect on her, even when they were children, running amok on Tokyo’s pristine subways. They’d grown up together- him and her older brother the best of friends, and her always tagging along after them, half-forgotten.
It was always this Andrei that she saw when he was around: the twelve year old with charcoal curls and the baby fat still clinging to his cheeks. He’d always been quick to laugh then, his eyes still that shade of greenish-brown: pond-muck eyes, she’d told him.
They’d known each other their whole lives. Their mothers had been best friends for years. Them, with their penchant for naming their children with quirky names from forgotten novels, and a shared history of bell-like laughter and boarding schools. To her, they’d always lived down the road, her memories full of the three of them clambering over the fence that separated the Andrei house from the woods behind it. Andrei and his parents had moved to Tokyo when she was six and she didn’t quite grasp why Oro-her older brother- moped about for days afterwards.
When she was ten, her father came home with the news that they’d be leaving for Tokyo in a matter of months. Oro drew up a calendar, counting down the days until he would have his best friend back. It was autumn when they moved.
She reached for her cup, ignoring the slight knowing smirk on his face.
“How long are you in town for?” she asked, not a little aggressively.
“I don’t know. Maybe a while.”
She glanced up at the pause in his voice. He held her gaze, debating whether to share his thoughts or lean over and tug at her messy plait. That had always annoyed her.
He decided on staying still and quiet as she sipped at her tea.
“Your mother worries about you.”
He knew she’d crack. She was bad at silences, her need to speak and fill the void with words always overcame her. She never did know how to shut up.
“You worry about me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You don’t need worrying about.”
“You miss me.”
“No, Andrei; I don’t.” she stated in what she thought was an emphatic manner.
He gave in. Laughed out a mocking, “Yes, Achlys; you do.” and tugged at her hair.
She swatted at his hands.
“I do.” he said simply, dropping his hands. “I miss you. I miss him. I miss how it used to be simple, easy, happy. I miss home.”
This time she stayed silent. Her head bowed, her fingers gripping her cup tightly, afraid to let go and let it shatter; terrified to hold on too tight and find that it’d cracked anyway.
“Do you want to go see the tree?” he finally asked into the overbearing silence.
She nodded quickly, her head still bowed and studiously avoiding his eyes.
It was strange how the moods in their relationships swayed. Thunderclouds one second, sunshine and rainbows at the other. They’d always contrasted, getting on each others’ nerves, the teasing always going a step too far, the barbs always landing in places that hurt. Oro had been the one to keep the calm, the one that bridged their two extremes; the middle point that they’d both connected over and still connected to.
Their feet picked out a path they knew by instinct. Years of running into the woods and being scratched by brambles and low branches, their adult bodies still remembered when to duck and when to move sideways. He lifted a branch out of her way.
“I miss him too.” she finally sighed.
He put his arm around her shoulder. They walked companionably, each lost to their own thoughts, their own memories, wading in and out of each others’ lives.
The tree. It was a magnificent cherry blossom, her delicate flowers a pink bedspread on the ground in the Spring; her branches reaching out. She’d always fancied that it was reaching out to them, wishing they would visit more often; stay longer and remember how it used to be. He always said it made him unbearably sad. The cherry blossom tree a reminder of all that had been lost, all that had been done and all that would never be accomplished.
Their feet squished the grass as they walked closer to the tree. She stopped, pulled off her flip flops and let her feet feel the grass caressing her soles. He smiled, this one indulgence always reminded him of her at sixteen and barefooted, blossoms in her hair and her brother spitting mad at some boy she’d been flirting with.
They knelt by the tree trunk, both of them reaching out to trace the words they’d cut into it three years ago.
Orpheus J. Smith.
May 27 1982 – April 7 2007
A brother. A hero.
They sat with their backs against the trunk, the inscription between them. Oro bridging them again, the middle that they connected to and connected over.
They sat in silence. The silence of not quite knowing what to say, but the kind of silence that wrapped itself around them; bringing them closer rather than pushing them apart.
“You do worry about me.”
She threw a blade of grass at him.