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There are no streams in a city. There are rivers that are wide and polluted, and lined with tall buildings. When we go and visit my cousins in Boston, they proudly show us the Charles River and the park next to it. My aunt tells us to look at the green space, and all the trees. As the train clatters over the river, my cousin tells us that the water is cleaner then ever. But it’s not the same as a stream. The Stream runs through the woods by our house in Vermont. When I’m by it, all I can see is the trees surrounding it, and the rocks at the bottom. There is the old maple tree, which I once named Marvin, which has my “treasure box,” created when I was eight deep in its roots. The trunk of the oak tree, Oliver, is perfect for leaning against.
The Stream is at its best in April.
Miss Mullins, my math teacher, always gives piles of homework on the nicest days. And she’s one of those teachers that you have to do homework for and do it well. Mrs. Stephens is apt to simply make a check on top of the page, but not Miss Mullins.
“I’m going to the Stream,” I yell to mom.
“Kat, make sure to be home at 5:45. I have a meeting and I want you to watch your brother,” she yells back.
I grab my math book, notebook and an apple and bang out of the house. I don’t pay attention to where I’m going, just look at the trees starting to green. It looks the same every April. That’s what I like about the trees. They’re always the same. There may be a rainy April or a sunny April, but the result is always the same.
My spot by the Stream is about ten minutes from my house. By the time I settle down, the apple is half gone. It’s a granny smith, my favorite. It makes up for having to do Algebra. I hate Algebra. We’re solving equations with two variables. But it’s better to solve equations when you’re outside under the trees with sunlight on your face than inside with a brother running around the house, disturbing you. No one has ever come to my Stream spot. I’m glad of that. It’s where I can be alone.
About half an hour later my brain is filled with x, y, and the sound of the Stream bubbling, and no matter what I do, I can’t solve number 4.
“Crap,” I mutter to myself. Rolling my head around, I see movement out of the corner of my eye. It’s not an animal.
I jump up and whirl around.
“Oh, jeez, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. I was just walking by.”
It’s Mark. He’s in my grade, new this year. New students are rare around here. Groups of friends are created in kindergarten and no one ever leaves them or joins them. I’ve never spoken to him before, and honestly, I don’t know who has. And how he has found my spot, I don’t know.
He points to my math.
“Do you have Miss Mullins?”
“I hear she’s a tough grader. I’ve got Mrs. Stephens. I honestly don’t think she ever looks at our homework.”
He looks around. “It’s beautiful here. I love to walk by the creek. I’ve been exploring a lot lately, now that the weather is so nice.”
I nod. He smiles awkwardly, and looks around again. Why won’t he just go?
“Do you want help with that?” he asks abruptly, pointing to my math.
“Do you know it?”
“Well, let’s see.”
He drops to the ground next to me.
“Solving two-variable equations? It’s really simple when you get it untangled.”
He’s actually a good teacher. We move on quickly to the word problems, one involving the Swan Boats in Boston.
“I love the swan boats,” Mark says. “We used to live in Boston. I used to hang out around the Public Garden all the time. Actually, mostly in the Common. One time, my friends and I-”
“So the x is the price of one ticket to the Swan Boats, yes?” I interrupt him.
He stops, and I think I see resignation in his eyes for a minute, but it’s gone so quickly I can’t be sure.
We continue to work.
“Let’s take a break,” he says.
“If you want.”
He gets up, stretching. “The water is so gorgeous.” He pulls off his shoes and socks and rolls up his pants, throwing them by Marvin’s roots.
“What are you doing? It’s April, the water will be freezing! No one goes in the Stream in April.”
He walks down to the bank, and sticks his toe in, and then his whole foot.
“Come on in, Kat. It’s gorgeous!” he calls jumping from stone to stone, clearly exhilarated.
He’s insane. City kids.
“But it’s a beautiful day, Kat. You need to relax a bit. Take a breather from x and y.”
He’s grinning broadly. I roll my eyes. But the Stream is at its best in April. I’m not impulsive, but the sun sparkling on the water is inviting.
The dirt is rough on my feet as I near the water’s edge. And the water is absolutely freezing on my toe.
“Oh, come on.” He rolls his eyes and splashes through the water towards me. He reaches out his hand to pull me in further, but with his other hand he reaches into the water and lightly splashes me.
“Hey!” I shriek, and he darts away through the frigid water.
I jump after him. The rocks are slippery and my toes grip them as I move through the water towards him. He slides away, but I slowly gain on him. Suddenly his leg slips in an area of the Stream which is deeper than the other areas. He makes a comical face of surprise. I burst into laughter.
“Thanks a lot,” he yells at me.
“I’m sorry,” I gasp.
He glares at me until he can’t help it anymore and he bursts into laughter too. Soon we’re both gasping for air, we’re laughing so hard. I can’t stand up anymore, and sit down smack into the water.
“Holy crap!” I yell.
He starts laughing even harder.
“Forgot you were standing in freezing Vermont water, huh?”
“Oh shut up.” I stick my tongue out at him.
Together we make our way back to the bank.
“Can’t do that in the Charles, huh?”
“Are you kidding me?” he asks. “It’s full of toxic algae and recently something blew up on the people who were cleaning the river.”
“Yeah, apparently it was sodium or something.”
“That’s really weird. How did sodium get into the river? Of course this is the Charles.”
He laughs. “Well, see, one time my friends and I—” He breaks off, biting his lip and looks at me. “Sorry, do you want to get back to math?”
“Are you serious? Learning about exploding stuff or math? Exploding stuff any day.”
He grins widely. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile like that before. “Part of the Charles is right by MIT. The students there like to put sodium in the water because…well I don’t really know why. It looks really cool when it hits the water. My friends and I went down and watched them do it one year.”
“That’s awesome. You can’t do that here.” I pause and look at his face. “Do you miss it?”
“Yes. A lot. Especially my friends. But now—”
My watch beeps, and I look at it. It’s 5:30.
“I have to go! I need to get home!”
Quickly I gather up my stuff, and turn to go.
“Bye,” I say and start down the path, and then pause and turn around. He’s heading back the way he came.
“Mark?” I call.
He turns around.
“You know, I am really bad at algebra. This is the only place where I can concentrate on it and I usually come here every day, about this time.”
I smile at him, and head home.