As she tore through the last of the branches, Haylwen’s guts clenched and her arms wind-milled. She half-fell, half sprinted down a steep hill, realizing she had run over the edge of the canyon on which the houses were built. Branches of native scrub brush grabbed at her but at least kept her from completely falling headfirst down the rocky slope. Amazingly, she kept her feet until she ran into a small tree at the bottom. The flexible tree bent at first, then threw her back. She bounced off and sat down in the small stream that trickled along the bottom of the canyon. She sobbed, gulping air for a few moments, before hearing the boys breaking their way through the bushes at the top of the slope. Images of what they would do to her, out here, all alone, propelled her up to run again.
Despite being tiny, the water was enough to have the plants grow thicker, with even a few medium sized trees. Haylwen slipped on the wetness, fought through the cat tails and bushes, and couldn’t make any quick progress. The noise of the boys headed down the slope convinced her she was doomed.
Then someone grabbed her, pulling her into a thicket of cat tail rushes. Her scream was just a barely audible gasp as she was too winded to do more, and she clearly heard someone say “ssh!” in her ear. She was pulled into the middle of the thicket, where there was a space, strangely clear of all plants, allowing the creek to dance lightly over polished stones. In this odd space, everything was brighter, sparkling. Haylwen wondered for an instant if she was losing her mind. Maybe I’m having a psychotic episode brought on by extreme stress?
She looked at her attacker. He was a boy, about her age. At first glance, he was very normal looking, in a blue t-shirt and jeans. Second glance showed he was very cute, with dark black hair and blue eyes so light they almost looked gray. He smiled at Haylwen, his bright teeth flashing in the odd light. A finger to his full lips, he then shushed her again, sitting down in the stream that trickled through the middle of the reed thicket. He looked completely unconcerned, as if he were sitting in his living room.
The noise of the boys chasing her came nearer, and Haylwen was sure they would be found. She tried to keep her attempts to catch her breath as quiet as she could. The rushes around them moved, and then the boys moved on. She couldn’t help staring at the strange, cute boy sitting not two feet from her.
“Hello,” he said.
“Hello?” she whispered.
“Hello,” he said again, smiling.
“Um…thanks for, well, thanks.” Haylwen said, struggling to make sense of everything.
The boy shook his head. “Thanks, but not to me. When you flow with destiny, you help everyone by being utterly selfish.”
Haylwen didn’t know what to say to that. The boy didn’t say anything either, just looked at her, as if waiting for something. “What?” she blurted.
“I was just waiting until you were ready to introduce.”
“Oh, my name is Haylwen.” Who was this boy? There was something about him that had her off-balance.
“I am Rivenwake, honor and peace to you.”
Californians are all crazy, Haylwen thought, trying to stay in control. Maybe he was some weird religion. But, it was always best to be polite to crazies. “Honor and peace to you, Rivenwake.”
“Bullies from school?” he asked.
Haylwen nodded, tears starting to flow again. She swiped at them angrily.
“What excuse were they using to pick on you?”
“I just moved here… and… don’t know anyone yet, that’s all.”
“I understand,” he said. His face was completely honest. “You’re not quite ready to stand up to them.”
“Ready?” Yup, he was crazy, all right. “Stand up to them? The three of them are way bigger than me. Any one of them could beat me up!”
Cute crazy boy smiled and nodded. “Yes, but if you stood up to them, none would want to fight you.” Then, he winked. Part of her rejected his wink. Like he knows anything! But her heart still fluttered.
He looked at her for a moment, his face becoming so serious, so beautiful, that Haylwen felt herself hold her breath. Her grasp on control slipped. His eyes, locked on hers, became painful mirrors of truth. “You are more powerful than you want to realize, Haylwen. Yes, just standing up will win many fights.” His eyes sparkled, becoming bright blue and joking with a blink. “But, having friends wouldn’t hurt either, yes?”
Haylwen let her breath out for what she thought would be a laugh, a sarcastic comment on his foolishness. To her surprise, it was just a sigh, a release of something, and tears welled up in her eyes. Feelings she couldn’t even name, much less explain, filled her up and spilled out her eyes. Her small voice of reason made some observation about shock and adrenalin, which she ignored completely.
His eyes held hers, tenderly but relentlessly. “Why do you choose not to have friends?” he asked.
Haylwen blinked away tears in surprise. “What? It’s not by choice, it’s just no one gets to know me enough to be my friend. It’s not like I’ll be around long anyway.”
Rivenwake blinked his large blue eyes several times, while nodding solemnly. “I see. You feel unlikeable.” Haylwen couldn’t help it. Tears poured. Rivenwake sat there, looking at Haylwen unblinkingly until her tears slowed. He didn’t look away, didn’t seem embarrassed, or anything. “You honor me with your emotions, thank you,” he said. A sad, far-away look weighted his eyes down until they fell into the creek. “I know what it is like to be without friends. I have many friends I haven’t spoken to in forever. But that is a very long story. A story for another day.” He flipped a few stones with his toes, changing the flow of the water. Even his feet were cute.
His eyes caught hers up again. “There is one I have spoken to recently, though… I want you to meet this friend of mine,” he said.
“Um, Ok,” Haylwen stammered, blushing slightly. How would he introduce her…
He looked away, then shyly back. “Yes, I hope someday you will call me friend.”
Haylwen tried not to let her jaw drop and wondered if she had hit her head on a rock. This whole scene was so unreal, but felt so right, somehow. Like a dream. He noticed she was staring at him and smiled. Crazy, maybe, but boy, he was cute.
Rivenwake stood up. “I think those boys are gone.” He stepped out of the little thicket of reeds.
Haylwen paused, looked around her hiding spot and, without much choice, followed him. Rivenwake was waiting just outside the thicket, still standing in the stream. “My friend will meet you, three days from now, at the top of that hill there.” Haylwen looked and, from where they were standing, she had a peek through all the bushes and branches to a rocky outcrop. “The trail starts in the park over there. Be there at one o’clock in the afternoon. Will you do that?”
What? Was he going too or was she supposed to meet some stranger by herself? She tried not to sound interested. “Well, no offense,” Haylwen said, “but I’m not sure I’ll be able to go.”
“Yes, destiny is not much for our plans. But I have a feeling you’ll go,” he said.
“Huh?” Haylwen’s control slipped a little. “How do you know I will be able to get away? How do you even know I want to meet your friend?”
He looked at her, and their eyes locked for a moment. The anger melted, and Haylwen felt like she was floating. “Because I know you, that’s why,” he whispered.
Later, playing the scene again in her mind, Haylwen thought that answer made absolutely no sense. At the time, she just nodded. Just after Rivenwake smiled in response, she heard her brother’s voice behind her. Looking over her shoulder, she saw him on the top of the ravine.
“Hayl? Oh my god, what are you doing? I thought I was crazy, hearing your voice, but no, it’s you who’s crazy. Did you fall? Are you Ok? Who are you talking to?” he asked.
Haylwen turned to point at Rivenwake, to see only a green frog barely covered in the shallow water. Cadarn peered down the slope, and seeing the frog, shook his head. “You’ve really lost it now. Good thing I decided to take this shortcut home. Come on, you’re a mess. I’ll help you back up, and you can tell me what happened.”
He slid down to her, took her backpack, and helped her up the steep slope. He shook his head at her, but Haylwen didn’t notice. She looked past him to catch a glimpse of the frog, still sitting there, and could have sworn it winked at her. She never saw the sad expression settle on its face before it slid into the water and disappeared.