The Rainforest Letters | Teen Ink

The Rainforest Letters

April 24, 2013
By red_fred, Puxico, Missouri
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red_fred, Puxico, Missouri
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Favorite Quote:
"No one looks back on their life and remembers the nights they had plenty of sleep."

I paused for a moment in order to get a picture of the orchid growing on the limb above me. The lavender flower held a small pool of that morning’s rain and two tree frogs were perched on the petals. I headed back to camp thinking how good it would feel to rest after my last expedition. It was a successful one, granted I had been able to get a picture of a jaguar, an ibis, and flocks upon flocks of other birds, but it was also an extremely exhausting trip, making me feel the need to find a pillow. And fast.
I was definitely looking forward to resting for once. I heaved my backpack onto my back and made the long trek back to where I had my camp set up.
I glanced into the river to see two boto dolphins surface and I froze. Their skins were a deep pink that told me they were still quite young. I snapped a picture as one stuck its head above surface briefly before they swam away.
I sat in awe for a moment. Botos were rare, and for me to get to see one was amazing. It wasn’t every day I was this lucky. Heck, it wasn’t every day I was even remotely fortunate. Since I was twenty and the incident happened, I had had terrible luck. Luckily, it hadn’t followed me to Brazil.

The world was rushing past me in blurs of black and white. I snuggled closer into the comfortable gray bus seat I was sitting in and decided to try to let the hum of the tires on the road lull me to sleep. I leaned against the window, letting the coolness of the wind soothe and relax my racing thoughts.
How long had it been since I had last been home? However long it really was, it was way too long for me to go back comfortably. Bad memories lay in those stores and streets, hidden behind people’s faces and smiles. They’ll all remember the rumors. Only the death of a good friend would bring me back to civilization after those two years in Brazil.
Ah…wonderful Brazil, my perfect, beautiful home and playground. I closed my eyes and pictured my camp that I had recently left.
Minutes before the letter arrived I was capturing a picture of a jaguar drinking from the river about eleven miles from my camp. I’d hiked the whole day waiting for a perfect shot of just something. I was resting with my camera at the ready when a slight bush movement caught my eye. Turning slowly, listening carefully, and watching silently, I focused my lens on a shadow slipping to the waterside.
The spots caught my eye as they blended in with the shadows and leaves. They moved as she did, defining every muscle on the majestic cat. The birds were mostly quiet out of fear. In my mind, it was in awe. The flowers stood out vibrantly against the dark green background, the dripping rainwater from the canopy above still forming puddles. The jaguar raised its head, pausing from its afternoon drink to notice me. I had just clicked the picture when…
My head hit the window hard. While feeling the lump from the bus driver’s bad attempts to miss the potholes, I frowned at the driver in his navy blue uniform before diving back into my memories.
Brazil had been a surprise for everybody. I had always loved Small Creek, while it was my friend, Jaysa Lee who always wanted more. Under circumstances beyond my control, I moved to Brazil, and Jaysa, much to my and even her own surprise, agreed to stay. Jaysa was the reason I was coming home to Small Creek for the first time in two years.
I had to say, whoever named the area I came from wasn’t very imaginative. It was Small Creek and Willow Brook. If you were going to party outside, you went to Small Creek Creek. If you were fishing, you went to Willow Brook Brook.
I never regretted my moving. I moved for my own reasons. One reason was my photography hobby and job. Small Creek was rural, but I didn’t need any more color and adventure than the original Small Town U.S.A. I didn’t need exotic animals and plants for my subjects. It was, quite honestly, a terrible excuse for me to leave. My other main reason for leaving I was going to have to face in the next couple of days. Luke.
Luke, tall, dark, and handsome as he was, for some reason, had wanted me. He had wanted me like I had wanted him. Bad. A six foot five muscular hunk, the star quarter-back with dark brown, curly hair and piercing emerald eyes, he could have had any girl he ever wanted. For some inexplicable reason, he wanted me.
Between Jaysa and her boyfriend Ian, Luke, and of course, me, we made quite a crew. We all knew what we were thinking before it was said. Jokes were relived often and were barely ever taken too far, except for that one fateful night…
Air brakes brought me back to reality. It felt like I was being transported from my junior year at the fair to the bus seat I now occupied, having to relive the many painful years full of stars and scars. I grabbed my duffle bag and purse and was about to step off the bus when I realized I had been the bus’ last stop for the night. I turned and smiled to the bus driver, taking a second to look him over.
He looked about twenty-two, but his brilliant red hair and lack of facial hair of any kind made him look considerably younger. His green eyes sparkled with curiosity. I noticed the dimples as he smiled back at me, looking for more than he’d get. The dimples were deep, like permanent reminders of old smiles. Smiles made with Luke.
I said goodnight to a crest-fallen face and stepped off. I was only about a half hour away from Small Creek, but at eleven-thirty, it was too late to call in any favors. I found a nearby motel and stayed there for the night. I checked in and rode the elevator to my modest room on the fifth floor. It was inevitable that I began to think in the elevator.
I didn’t have to have very much sleep to run on, but I had to have some. I entered my room and dumped my duffle on the red lounge chair and grabbed my things for my shower. I stepped in and just let the water run over my body. I hadn’t had a hot shower since I had last left the U.S. It was one thing I truly missed.
I thought of my freshman year, when I first met Jaysa. I had been drugged up and burnt out when I was involuntarily paired up with the new girl in Phys. Ed.
I remember looking her over critically . My thoughts of her at first weren’t the greatest. In fact, if you asked me to repeat it in front of a sailor, he would’ve blushed in his embarrassment for me. This peppy blonde was going to ruin my semester plans for cutting third hour.
After two weeks of her humiliation and pain and my bitterness and torture, she called me out on it. I knew it took guts to do that and I found myself respecting her for it. I started sitting with her at lunch and I let my dyed black hair grow back natural red. I dropped the drugs and picked up volleyball. She saved my life and my butt more than once.
Realization finally sank in. My best friend, my adopted sister, was dead at a solid and young twenty-three. She wasn’t coming back. I wouldn’t run into her on the streets and exclaim about how good she looks or find her at the restaurant, hanging out with older men, stringing stories together, or making me relive all of our old jokes.
I sunk to the floor of the shower and cried for the first time in a couple of years, since I boarded the plane for Brazil, my tears mixing with the water on my cheeks. When I finally thought I was cried out, I reached up and turned the faucets off. I cried some more soon after that, not even bothering to move.
Finally around two A.M., I got into my pajamas. Cried out, feeling dried and shriveled like a raisin, I collapsed onto my bed. I lie there, silently listening to the sounds of traffic and jukebox music from the bar across the street. Shortly, I knew it would be shut off and everyone would go home to his or her nice house and family that I never could go home to. It was always Tommy, me, and my drunkard of a dad in a small trailer filled with rats, smoke, and booze.
When I was half way through my sophomore year and Tommy had graduated, my dad drove himself and several empty bottles of Budweiser into a firmly planted oak tree. There were few people who attended his funeral and even fewer tears. It was then I moved in with Jaysa while Tommy worked his way through college. It was also then that Tommy and I both swore off the beer and cigarettes.
I, as I often did when I couldn’t sleep, reached into the bottom of my duffel bag and pulled out a stack of letters. Two had been read many times over, the addresses now faded and the envelopes well creased.
A different, newer one had funeral arrangements and was seen in my nightmares. The writing was foreign and unfamiliar, dark as the midnight during a new moon. I despised this letter for what it held.
The last one had once neat writing on the front and was still sealed shut, although the envelope was yellowing and the address, like the first two, had faded away; but unlike the others, the sender’s name was dark and wrote with a shaky hand.

August 24, 2008
Dear Alexis,
Where’re you at? What’re you doing right now? If you won’t answer me, at least answer Jaysa. She deserves it from you. We’re all worried you know. Some contact to at least let us know you’re alive would be nice.
I moved closer to home. Willow Brook’s quiet and calm like Small Creek on a Monday morning. You could come live with me if you need to. Just don’t let the guys of Small Creek get you down for long ok? You don’t have to come home I guess. Just write back soon okay?
Your Loving Bro,
Tommy Boy
P.S. Jaysa says she’s very deeply sorry. She hopes you’ll forgive her and that she’s mad at herself for mailing that letter.

I thought of when I received this letter. I remembered thinking of returning and living with Tommy for a while before deciding differently. I knew I wouldn’t have been able to stay still for very long. I had my first taste of heartbreak. I had also had my first taste of freedom and, I had to say, I liked it.
I looked around the room and swung myself out of bed, again crossing the old maroon carpet to replace the letters, not able to bring myself to read Jaysa’s. My brother’s house was only two blocks away. He would be furious when he found out I stayed in a motel, but he’ll get over it. I fell back into bed, and imagining the thin mattress was a sleeping bag on the soft forest floor, I drifted off to sleep.
Old habits are hard to break, so at five thirty I arose with the sun and went to the bench on the sidewalk to wait on the now familiar bus.
The bus pulled up and the door opened to show the same driver grinning at me—the same driver, same bus, same uniform looking unwashed. I looked in his eyes and on pure instinct, jumped and ran. I knew Jaysa wouldn’t have wanted me to be alone. I sprinted the two blocks to Tommy’s house, the cool fall Missouri air making my lungs hurt.
I jumped the steps and stopped, my fist raised to knock. I gathered my thoughts, my chest heaving and adrenaline coursing through my body, momentarily giving me courage. I knocked boldly, only to recoil when I realized what I’d done.
Tommy had always been an early riser like me so it was no surprise when my brother, as redheaded and feisty as ever, opened the front door.
He had obviously been up for a while. He had on khaki shorts and a dark green t-shirt, even though it felt like it was in the low thirty’s outside.
“Can I help you?” he asked in a cautious tone. I realized my hair had grown longer. I’d also grown thinner and gotten a dark tan since he had last seen me.
“Yes, do you know a certain young Alexis Carter?” I asked in a serious tone. I had my game face on, but my gut was twisting, my ears were ringing, and my heart was pumping and beating a hole in my chest every second I stood there.
“Yeah, she’s my sister. Why?” he asked fearfully. Did I mention my heart was pumping? His azure eyes delved for information on his sister with whom he has had absolutely no contact with in two years. I had to grin as they danced with everything from annoyance at me, nervousness at the news, and even excitement.
“I heard she may show up here on her brother, Tommy Boy’s, front porch today as the sun rose,” I said, tearing up as he did. He picked me up and swung me around. I heard an almost inaudible thump as feet touched the floor overhead and then padded quietly across the floor, but I was too caught up in the moment to notice it, well, at least very much.
“Tommy boy, it’s great to see you,” I whispered in his ear as he gave me a bear hug. I inhaled the familiar fragrance of his Hollister cologne and pulled back from him.
“Well, can I come in?” I asked teasingly. “Or am I going to have to freeze my butt off here in this arctic weather?” he grinned and acting like the southern gentleman he wasn’t, gave a sweeping bow, ushering me inside.
“It’s a whole forty-five degrees out there. It’s a heat wave. Coffee?” he asked picking up the can. I shook my head. I’d been around too many coffee beans for that stuff.
“The coldest it ever got at camp was sixty-five in the dead of winter,” I said as I sat down at the dining room table, automatically recognizing it as oak from my contest days in FFA. He hustled around the kitchen, starting the coffee and getting out two mugs, one for him and one for whoever was upstairs.
My brother was pouring the grounds into the coffee maker as I studied him. He was still six foot even and as lean as he ever was. My hair was now the same strawberry-blonde as his though his had considerably less gray, while mine had some that was very premature. His eyes were exactly the same as mine, just as they’d always been. He caught me looking and grinned, showing off his crooked teeth as he sat a cup of sweet tea in front of me. I smiled widely. This was what I was really wanting and he knew it.
“Can’t take your eyes offa me, huh?” he said excitedly. I laughed loudly, my stomach still churning, only to stop when I heard the stairs creaking behind me. I turned and watched a slender woman come down the stairs with a baby in her arms, her long brown hair in a braid, and her green eyes sparkling with curiosity. Tommy cleared his throat and glided toward her.
“Jessica, meet Alexis,” he said patiently. I immediately took in her appearance. She was shorter than him by a good five or six inches. She smiled at me shyly and whispered something to Tommy urgently. He nodded and they went upstairs together and slowly.
Tommy stopped halfway up the steps. “Be back soon” he said, his eyes telling me not to run away again. I nodded and looked at my surroundings.
The living room, kitchen, and dining rooms were spotless and the wood floor reflected the brick red walls. Black granite countertops shone with polish and general cleanness. I looked at a picture, trying to discover the familiarity I felt with it, when I realized it was one of mine from a long time ago.
It was a sepia tone picture of an old barn, the flowers in full bloom around it. It was a pre-Brazil picture, back when I signed the picture’s corner before they were framed.
I scanned the room, recognizing the other ones as well. One picture was of a calico kitten asleep in the light wheat straw. I think its name was Honey. There was a homely scarecrow standing alone in a field of short corn in the spring after a storm, the sky all kinds of gray and starting to turn blue. My gaze stopped on my favorite from high school.
It was one of Ian, Jaysa, Luke, and Tommy on the Ferris wheel in August. They were leaning out of the gondola above looking at me. The lights and stars blurred together as their background. They’re all laughing and having fun, forever immortalized in this picture. The gang split up not long after this shot. I studied each of the faces individually.
Ian’s round face and bright smile drew as much attention as his bleach blonde hair. I was always sorry I’d lost contact with him when I moved.
Tommy’s was much the same, but more tan and with less wrinkles, his red hair shining brightly against the background.
Luke’s face was lit up with joy as he smiled, his hair curling around his ears, knowing I had wanted to enter this picture in a contest. I would rather remember that face than the one I saw last, twisted with fury at Will, the team’s running back, and me. Too bad it had to be me. I gritted my teeth at the thought of seeing possibly the both of them in the next day or two.
Someone cleared their throat behind, making me jump. Who the crap was that?
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” Jessica said softly. I grimaced. I hated to be caught off guard as I was just then. My mental shield flew up quickly.
“That’s alright. Just reliving some old memories. So,” I paused, not knowing how to put my question in words without making it awkward. Living in the rainforest will do that to you. I think it’s the lack of conversation for long periods of time. “How long have you and my brother been married?” I had some right to know that, didn’t I?
“Almost a year and a half. So he’s your brother? I didn’t know he had a sister,” she said quietly. I grimaced. As much as I love him, you can count on my fool of a brother to forget to tell his wife about his sister. He was making this way more awkward than it needed to be.
“Yeah, he has a bad habit of keeping secrets at the worst of times and spilling them at the best,” I said grinning at her. She relaxed enough to grin back.
“So you’re the Alexis who signed our pictures,” she said softly. “I noticed he had a soft spot for certain photos and when I asked him why, he said you were an old friend,” she said giggling. She moved on.
“What brings you back to the States?” she asked, suddenly serious. I looked at her.
“How do you know I ever really left stateside in the first place?” I asked mysteriously. She grinned again, loosening up more and more.
“C’mon, my husband has a sister that shows up after two years. Either she doesn’t exist, is in jail, or was in another country,” she stated, daring me to bite any bait. As I often put it, I merely nibbled at it.
“Would you believe me if I said I was part of a smuggling ring. I got caught when I held a knife to an FBI agent’s throat. Of course, it was a plastic one,” I said, getting a look from Jessica. “What do you think we were smuggling?” I asked, grinning at her.
“Yeah, right,” Jessica said skeptically, returning my smile.
“If you must know then, I was part of a circus traveling the globe from a small city in China. I was the star trapeze artist. They put me in lots of white makeup, blue spandex, and Botoxed my eyebrows every night,” I said widening my eyes and wiggling my non-Botoxed eyebrows. I was finally forgetting my dread over Luke and fast. Jessica laughed out loud.
“Yeah, and I bet you caught a Great White out of Small Creek Creek with a cane pole from a johnboat,” she laughed as I stood up indignantly.
“If you must know, it was a Tiger shark and just a twig of a pole, missy!” I half-shouted at her. Tommy started clapping at my theatrics as Jessica sank into a chair, tears rolling down her face. Tommy was carrying the baby Jessica had held earlier. She looked to be six months old. I smiled as the baby looked at me and grinned.
“Who’s this?” I asked sweetly. I could beat up any girl, beak a guy’s heart in an instant, but I melt when I see a baby.
“This is your niece, Jaysa Alexis,” Tommy said smiling, watching my face. My mouth made a small O as he put her gently into my arms. Tears landed on my cheeks, seeming to come from nowhere.
“Hey Baby Jaysa,” I cooed softly. “I’m your Aunt Alexis.” I smiled, my heart swelling as my niece yawned and cooed back at me. Jessica took her after little Jaysa fell asleep in my arms.
I turned to Tommy. “I can’t do this,” I said, my voice cracking. He walked to the stairs making sure Jessica was out of earshot.
“What happened between Luke, Will and you?” he asked uneasily. I shook my head as the images ran through it—a dark night, a diesel truck full of guys, Luke finding Will with me. My heart broke again and again as I continued to shake my head.
I shook my head once again, willing the images to be gone. I stormed out and noticed snow falling from the sky and trying without success to cover the fresh new green grass that was growing. Tommy followed me as I stalked across the yard, tears rolling down my face.
“Hey Sis, slow down! I cain’t stay in your tracks!” Tommy yelled as he tried to follow my footsteps that were steadily being covered in the sudden snow flurry.
I thought of how sometimes people I love just infuriate me. Then I had a flashback moment of when our parents died and it stopped me in my tracks. I spun around.
“Tommy, I just need some time to think this all out!” I yelled at him as he sprinted to get to me. “Just leave me alone!” He stopped suddenly, about thirty feet from me.
“Lexi, I don’t know what happened, but you can stay here. We’ll work this out, with or without Luke. I don’t wanna lose you again,” he said, tears welling up in his troubled eyes.
“It’s been pure torture while you were in Brazil. Jessica kept asking me who Alexis was and I just said a friend because it hurt to admit my sister left without a word of missing this town or me. Just please don’t run away again without talking to me. I don’t care if it’s a letter with two words on it or a whole book.” I knew he was serious. Tommy hated reading or writing anything, but he loved to learn history and he loved me more than anything else.
“Tommy, I love you, but I just have to learn something by myself. I wasn’t going to leave you, but…” I said, stopping suddenly as he took eight giant steps forward and wrapped me in a tight hug.
Tommy squeezed my hand reassuringly.
“I’ll be there for every step. Now go on. You need a shower before the visitation tonight. You stink,” he said. I smacked him lightly, but giggled anyways. He ushered me down the hall to the bathroom. I stepped inside, finding it already stocked with my duffel bag, a radio, and towels. The clock on the wall said nine-thirty already. I flipped the radio on, got a quick shower, tamed my bush of red hair, and collapsed on the bed. My lack of sleep was finally getting to me.

I woke up at three in the afternoon, starving for some real food, not just airline peanuts. I walked down the hall to find a grave young man in the kitchen. He looked at me with a painful gaze as I recognized the blonde mop of hair and hazel eyes.
“Ian,” I breathed. He and Jaysa were pretty serious at one time, planning to get married a month after I left. I ran over and gave him a long hug. He was always strong and independent. When his dad died in high school, he didn’t cry, but as we stood there in the kitchen and I hugged him, his body shook as his tears landed on me and mine landed on him.
We stood there for fifteen minutes until I knew he was through. He stood there next to me and we talked. We talked about where and what we’ve done when he asked me a question.
“Will you stand at the casket with me and Liza?” he asked quietly. He had explained about Liza. She was his and Jaysa’s little girl who was almost two. I nodded with tears in my eyes. He shook his head mournfully.
“We need to go…” he trailed off and, heaving a troubled sigh, shuffled out the door. I followed and got into his charcoal gray truck, the same truck he had when we were in school together.
We rode in silence until we got to the funeral home at Small Creek. There were people milling around outside so we went around back and went in the side door. Tommy and Jessica immediately met us, one holding little Jaysa and the other holding Liza. They were both wearing grave expressions of trouble. I didn’t have to peek around them to know who was out there. In front of the line, looking as handsome as ever, there would be Luke with Will and Travis—his two cohorts. I didn’t look at all. I was afraid I was going to get sick.
I groaned and slumped against the wall. “I can’t do this,” I whispered tearfully. My heart felt like it was about to come out of my chest and I fought a strong urge to puke, something I hadn’t done since my fist three months in Brazil when I had accidently ate some poisonous berries.
I stayed in the back until they moved out of the door. Then I strategically moved in. I saw many classmates that I hadn’t seen since the day of graduation, bringing back memories of Senior Skip Day and black gowns.
It’s amazing. The people who want to leave small towns usually want to come back, but those who don’t want to leave never visit again.
It had been a long, grueling four hours from the time it started until it ended. I kept glancing at my friend in the silk lined, cherry casket. Her short blonde hair fanning around her face, making her look like she was playing a joke on the whole state of Missouri. A sick one sure, but that was her favorite kind.
We all went to Ian’s house afterwards for a quick talk. He led us to the kitchen numbly as the rest of us followed in the same manner. What surprised me were boxes. Boxes and boxes with names on them were stacked in piles. Names that were familiar: Liza, Ian, Jaysa, Will, Luke, Travis, Maria Cantrell (a foreign exchange student who was a friend), Tommy, Jessica, and even me. Ian explained hesitantly.
“When Jaysa would feel alone, tired, excited, or basically anything, she would sit down and write by herself, usually in a corner. I never knew what it was until I went to the basement to clean out her office and found these,” he said with a sweeping gesture.
My mouth gaped as I walked toward one of the boxes with my name on it and pulled the lid open. The box was the size of a big microwave and bulged on the side. I stared at the letters inside. There were purples, greens, blues, hearts, stars, clouds—apparently any type of paper and pattern she could get her hands on.
I could hear the others open their boxes behind me, but they seemed thousands of miles away to me. I was so deeply moved by the boxes of letters. There were well over eight hundred in that box. I had seen her write, but never thought about it.
My hands shook as I grabbed the one on top. It was turquoise blue, folded into an origami box. I opened it and something small and rectangle fell out. My vision blurred, I read the note as best as possible, my tears leaving stains and smudges across the paper.

Dear Lexis,
If you get this before we can relive our favorite memories, it’ll be right on top. This is yours to do what you want with and so are the letters. They’re separated into two completely different groups: high school and the rainforest letters. High school s from before you and Luke broke up and, well, the rest are from later. I honestly hope this ain’t on top, but you never know.
Please do me a huge favor—or maybe two or three. One, please take care of Ian and Liza. Ian might have a hard time coping. Two, settle the score, bury the hatchet, forgive and forget, make amends, wipe the slate clean, whatever you wanna call it between you and Luke. This seems silly and pointless, but it might not be at all if it works. Sorry. I missed you.

Tears flowed freely as I reached for the tissues. Finding the box empty, I had no choice but to use my sleeve.
LYLAS—Love You Like A Sister. Who knew a simple anagram in a friend’s handwriting would make me fall apart and make tears fall like rain? I hadn’t realized that I loved her as much as I loved Tommy and my mom and much more than I had ever loved my dad.
The thing that had fallen out earlier lay at my feet on the floor. I silently picked it up. It was a memory card. I slid it into my pocket and walked over to console Ian, who was sitting cross-legged on the floor, again like me, crying.
I went over and put my arm around him. He cried as Tommy and Jessica joined us to make a circle. It was late as we left much later. The ride home was hard for me. My inner conflicts were about Luke and Will. I caught the tail end of Tommy’s words.
“…Need to call the people about the boxes tomorrow,” he mumbled from the driver’s seat. Jessica and I agreed as we pulled into the driveway and drifted to our bedrooms.
Drained from a hard evening, I fell into bed. The room, a leafy green, made it easy for me to envision the rainforest and pretend Jaysa’s S-10 hadn’t hit the leftover ice patch. I could just as easily pretend the concrete barrier on the bridge hadn’t given way to her truck, sending it plummeting to the creek below.
I ripped the quilt off the bed, started a slight water drip from the brass faucet, and I rested on the carpet, a rich brown, making me comfortable and easing my homesickness.
I sat up again, noticing one of my many boxes of letters in the corner. Tommy must’ve sat it there while I was changing. I reached in grabbed one from the bottom half of the rainforest letters. I felt sad and upset while reading them, but I had no more tears to cry.

Hey Lexis,
Well, it’s two days after the breakup and we just dropped you off at the airport. God, you look like you’ve just been hit with a truck, pushed onto train tracks, the conductor saw you too late, and then a blind Amish guy hit you. Sorry, it’s the cold hard truth. The only thing that kept me from crying and begging you to stay is the frenzied look in your eye when you talk about the other night. Are you ever gonna tell me what happened?
I saw Luke the other day too. He looked just as bad as you did. I said hi, but he didn’t hear me. He was staring off into space. It was weird ‘cause he didn’t ever do that before. Just while I was sittin’ there, his friend hollered at him eight times. It was kinda funny. Just thought I would mention it.
Just don’t forget, Ian, Tommy, and me will always be here for ya. Come home soon with lots of pictures and stories ‘kay?
Your BFF,

I looked at it for a second. It was in an envelope addressed and ready to mail, but on the front it read in large, red letters, RETURN TO SENDER. I scattered the letters across the floor, separating them by the dates on the outside. Some letters cussed my mule-headedness while others glorified it. There was Senior Skip Day letters and even our day at the beach during our last Spring Break together. She wrote of her wedding night, long nights staying awake with Liza, and three on Tommy’s wedding with Jessica.

Hey Wings,
I can’t believe you got that tattoo. It’s great. The butterfly and Hawaii flower look awesome together. I don’t think the tattoo shocked me as much as the guy at the bar. Although he was a little drunk, but Luke still got so mad at the guy. Of course someone was flaunting it. *Cough* Does Tommy know yet? I can tell him. Just kidding.
My favorite picture will always be the four of us standing on that boardwalk—me in my pink bikini and shades, the guys both in their trunks, and you, among all of us beach bums, in your brown ‘kini and camo hat. WOO HOO! Hicks from Missouri comin’ through!
The surfer dude was amazed at our surfing abilities, especially yours. He was in awe at how you kept your hat on the entire time. I told him it was from Missouri twisting and wrestling wild bulls that had Mad Cow Disease. I said it made it more of a pleasure than a challenge and he said he imagined it would. I had a lot of trouble keeping a straight face. If you ever go back and someone calls you “Sista Twista” or even mentions it, just go along with it.
Hang Loose Sista Twista,
Wave Rider
P.S. We really need to do this again sometime. Maybe Ian will gather enough courage to try to surf. He needs to learn how to swim first. LOL. HE WENT TO THE OCEAN WITHOUT KNOWING HOW TO SWIM!!! He’s so goofy sometimes.

I grinned. My clothing of choice wasn’t exactly appropriate for a spring break in say, Miami, but from here, it was perfectly acceptable. When we into a club that night, I wore the same hat, but with a small, white tank top, low riders, and dancin’ boots. I didn’t flaunt my tattoo that night, of course, but now I tried to hide it, although the Brazilian guys dig it. It’s amazing how much some people change.
I remembered the guy from the bar. I danced our way into a bar and the guy saw my “tramp stamp” as he called it and branded me with Wings, a name now commonly used, although most people have no clue what it means. I rolled my eyes in his direction and walked on, enjoying the attention as Luke blew up slowly beside me. It took Jaysa, Ian, and me all night to calm him down. I thought that loud, smoky bar was about to become a wrestling arena real quick.
I sat and looked at the letters. There were a good hundred at least in just that one box. I laid flat on my back finally asleep sprawled amongst the array of letters.
Morning came soon, too soon for me. My habits overruled my jetlag, making me get up and trudge down the dark hall only to run into Tommy coming out of the bathroom. It was an unavoidable collision, me ending up on the bottom of a two-person stack, much to my dismay.
“UNHHHH…” I groaned as Tommy lay on top of me, reluctant to get up
We both started laughing, me slightly panting, as he rolled off his throne and jerked me to my feet in the same brotherly fashion he always had done.
“Hey, Clumsy, when did you gain so much weight?” I asked exhaustedly, trying to be funny too early in the morning. Tommy was too though.
“Hey, when did you get a big mouth?” he asked, ruffling my hair into a worse shape than it already was. I grinned, studying the black circles lining his eyes, a pair that looked much like mine and decided not to mention them. We trooped into the kitchen, where I poured myself a glass of sweet tea and quickly stuck it into the microwave to warm it up, while Tommy made a fresh pot of coffee.
“We need to call the people whose names are on the boxes today,” Tommy said, startling me and making me slosh hot tea over the edge onto my hand as I was getting it out of the microwave. I nodded not think and heading to the sink. Dang that tea was hot. He started naming off people.
“Her cousins Tyler and Ryder, Maria, Cherie, Luke, Will, and Travis…” were the names I heard. Luke I knew was going to have to be mine.
“Tommy, I’ll call Maria, Cherie, Tyler, and Luke, okay?” I wanted to get it clear with him. He looked at me doubtfully. “What?”
“Can you behave if you talk to Luke?” he asked uncertainly. I gave him a look that would’ve made Cruella Deville and Jafar cower in fear. Too bad it didn’t work on Tommy. I could contain myself when I needed to. Sometimes.
“Of course I can. I’ll be a perfect southern lady,” I said smiling in what I hoped was an innocent way.
“Like Scarlet O’Hara,” Tommy scoffed as he padded back up the stairs carrying two cups of coffee. I sighed inwardly and trudged back to my room, hot tea in hand. I walked in and immediately grabbed the letters closest to me, and a dark green one and a plain one nearby.

Dear Lexi,
Well, it’s been a year since I watched your plane leave for Brazil, and we’ve had no contact since. Why haven’t you written? Did you ever get my letters? I miss you on days I can’t talk to anybody that would understand. You always did.
So far you’ve missed Ian and mine’s wedding and Tommy’s and Jessica’s as well. Both were beautiful. You missed the birth of your goddaughter and soon you’re gonna be an aunt! If you knew, you’d be so excited. I never understood it. You could beat anybody up without a guilty thought, but you melt at the sight of babies. Have you met anybody down there? Are the guys the same?

Dear Alexis,
Guess who I ran into today? You’re probably not in any mood for games so I’ll tell you. Luke! He was polite, but he asked mostly about you. He wanted to know where you went off to and how you were doing. He seemed disappointed when I said I hadn’t heard from you. His face just crumpled. If I guessed I would say he still likes you. That is just my guess though.
I miss my partner in crime about now. Sometimes I need someone to slap me around and tell me it’s gonna be okay when it’s not. Do you know how much trouble I’ve gotten into since you’ve left? NONE! Ian’s a drag sometimes. He doesn’t even know how to pick a lock! Can you believe that? We learned that when we were like what? Nine? Ten?
Adios Amiga,

Surely Luke didn’t like me still. I mean, he broke up with me. I thought on this for a minute. I looked around my room. The only thing that was keeping me from freaking out right then was the letters. I needed to get a hold of Tyler, Maria, Cherie, and then the guy I was dreading, yet mildly excited to see again, my ex, Luke.
I went back to the kitchen and sat at the table and waited, still not comfortable enough in Tommy’s house to go look for him. About ten minutes later, Tommy came back with Jessica in tow. He looked at me and my face gave away my plan.
“Do you have to go now?” Tommy asked. I cocked an eyebrow. “I guess you do. Take the Jeep,” he said throwing me a set of keys. I looked at the key chains that rattled when they were thrown. Plastic pink and brown flip-flops captured my attention as I snatched at the keys. They were too girly for a guy, even with the Browning emblem on them. My eyebrow shot up higher.
“It’s Jessica’s okay?” I laughed and looked at Jessica, who looked lost.
“Do you mind?” I said holding up the set of keys. Her face dawned with understanding and she shook her head. I walked to the garage and saw my vehicle.
It was a midnight blue Jeep with removable sides and rollover bars.
“Be back soon, ‘kay?” They both nodded, watching me as I peeled out of the driveway, radio blaring and gravel flying.
“And now, David Nail with Red Light,” the DJ said, as the song started. I followed the tangle of streets to the addresses Tommy gave me, singing horribly out of tune with the radio.
The first few stops were easy. Tyler was remarkably easy to talk to, and as incredulous as we both felt, he accepted the letters. Cherie was harder to console and much more dramatic, but she too accepted the letters.
I had to stop at the next red light. I sat there singing when a red Dodge pulled up next to me. I nodded at the driver, a handsome man about my age with brown hair. He nodded back.
“Do you wanna race?” he mouthed. I looked at the speedometer. I had figured Jessica had a need for speed like mine, and I was right. It topped out at 100. I shook my head, but couldn’t help myself. The light had turned green and away we went. The turns were rough but oddly enough, we were both going the same way. I slowed down a lot as I neared my destination. The truck did too, until it matched my pace.
I pulled into a gravel driveway leading to a brick house. The red dodge pulled in behind me, the owner hopping out before the truck was fully stopped. He stumbled, regained his balance, and jogged towards me. My breath caught in my throat as I looked at the camouflage t-shirt stretched tight over his six-pack abs, the familiar curly, brown hair contrasting perfectly with his emerald green eyes.
“Can I help you?” he asked, slowing to a walk, wiping his greasy hands on his jeans. He caught me looking and apologized. “Sorry, I was working on my friend’s mustang. It’s a beauty,” he said wistfully, looking at his own truck.
“You always did have a way with words Luke,” I said, wondering if he would recognize me. I got my answer as his face whitened and he came to an abrupt halt.
“Alexis?” he asked. I nodded and smiled nervously. Did he miss me? Does he even want to talk to me?
“Tommy said you left the country,” Luke said, sounding like he was in a trance. I smiled, loving the thought that I had him almost speechless.
“Well, I’m here now. You think I would miss my best friend’s…” I trailed off, tears welling up in my eyes. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Of course, it would be the fourth load this weekend.
“Hey, it’s all right,” he said awkwardly. He started to give me a hug, then a quick squeeze, but finally settled on a pat on the arm.
“Ah, hey, do you want to come inside?” he asked as I wiped tears out of my eyes. His face showed his concern and fear. He was obviously as nervous as I was. I nodded and followed him into his kitchen, which was covered with wood and brown paint.
His dog was up on the counter, eating something off a plate.
“DIXIE!” he shouted loudly, right next to my ear. “That was my lunch,” he moaned as the chocolate lab leaped off the counter and flew down the hall and down a set of steps, sending him into his kitchen, sending napkins and a spoon flying as she took off.
I stifled a little laughter, which as it used to, brought laughter from him. Before I knew it, I was laughing. Not just laughing, but a deep laughter, one that was dormant inside of me. It was a real belly laugh.
“Man, it’s great to see you. What brings you to my neighborhood?” he asked curiously. All awkwardness was gone for the moment.
“Well, it turns out Jaysa’s been writing letters for years. She left several people one, two, or even a box full. You, sir,” I said, emphasizing the “sir”, “got a box full—you, Travis, and Will.” I shuddered involuntarily. Luke got dead quiet.
“What happened that night?” he asked. I shook my head, not answering. That was too private for me to share with my ex, or at least at the moment.
“Okay, so don’t tell me. But tell me this, was it you or him?” he asked. I sat and looked into his eyes, contemplating whether or not to answer him.
His eyes sparkled with fear, indecisiveness, anger, and something else. They asked more questions than he spoke vocally, but I was going to ignore them while he kept speaking.
“I’m not going to say,” I said stubbornly. He started to argue, but I held up my hand. He got up and strolled to the counter, placing his on it and bowing his head. He looked like he was trying to keep his patience.
“Listen to why before you truly get upset. I learned this week, that one fight is nothing to lose your temper at. To forgive and forget, ‘cause you may never get a chance to apologize later. I don’t want you fighting with anybody over something that happened two years ago, okay?” I pleaded with him. He just stood there and my memories took me back to the airport as I was about to board my plane.
The bleak terminal was nearly empty. Not many people wanted to go to Brazil in the middle of fall. The only people there were Jaysa, Tommy, Ian, and I, and then an elderly couple who were sitting a few rows away in the chairs waiting on our plane.
“Just be careful, okay?” Tommy said as he straightened my vest. I knocked his hands away and redid the job he had just finished.
“Yes Mommy. I’m a big girl now,” I said sarcastically, but not really feeling it in my heart.
“Come home soon,” Jaysa said, her vibrant sea green eyes pleading me to stay. She shoved a stack of letters into my hands as I grabbed my stuff and raced for the now open gates.
I glanced back and saw Luke running towards the others. It was hard to ignore that feeling in my stomach, but I did it skillfully. It hurt to know I was alone and we would never see each other again.
I sped up and boarded my plane, constantly replaying the scene in my mind, always stopping at the look of desperation on Luke’s face as I turned the corner. I sat down in the plane seat, tears coursing down my cheeks.
“Are you okay?” the old man sitting next to me asked as I shook my head. We talked and he asked me who made me upset.
“A guy. I hate him,” I said with little anger in my voice.
“Well, I assume that Nicholas Sparks was right when he wrote The Last Song. You have to love something before you can hate it,” he said sympathetically before facing the window and falling asleep, purposefully giving me some privacy. The more I thought about it, the more I thought he didn’t know how right he was.
“Yeah, I see what you’re sayin’,” he said. I wondered what it would be like if that night had never happened. We said good-bye and I headed back to Tommy’s.
As I pulled into the driveway, I realized I just had my first conversation with Luke without any yelling since the day before I left. I entered the house to hear Tommy rummaging in the kitchen.
“Howdy, what’s up?” I asked as Tommy and Jessica both looked up at me. They then looked at each other. What was going on?
“So…” Tommy started, drawing the “so” out long and suspenseful. “How’d it go?” he asked. I realized that they were waiting for me to tell them of a fight or something.
“Just fine. I had a nice talk with him. He was interested in what I was doing as far as work, but not in where I was,” I said puzzled. Jessica and Tommy exchanged looks again, but didn’t lead me on to another comment and neither one said anything else. I retreated to my bedroom, but instead of picking a letter out of a pile, I grabbed the first one I’d ever gotten from Jaysa.

How dare you? You know Luke is head over heels in love with you and would never cheat on you. Did you cheat on him? Or did you and Will just collide on accident as Luke came around the corner? I thought I knew you, but the Alexis I knew would never cheat on her boyfriend. Now I know why you said you had to leave Small Creek. Are you going to find a new man in Brazil, while keeping Luke and Will both waiting?
I hope you have fun,’ cause while you’re down there, I’m here. Have as much fun as you can while carrying a heavy guilty conscience. Just think of what you’ve done.

That was exactly what it said. No hello, good-bye, how’s the weather, or even do you miss me. Usually I don’t care what other people say, but when Jaysa rants, I listen more often.
She was right, but that night wasn’t my fault. Will was drunk and cocky, the other boys daring him to kiss me. I knew he wanted to do more so I tried to run. He tackled me and pinned me to the ground, kissing my neck and arms as I kicked and screamed unsuccessfully.
Unfortunately for me, Luke came around the corner and saw Will on top of me right after I went limp and thought the worst, but I swore I was never going to tell Luke what really happened.
I slid Jaysa’s letter back into the envelope, remembering how through Tommy’s letter she later apologized for her actions. I picked up yet another letter, this one from just before she had Liza.

Hey Lexis,
I’m writing this at three in the morning. Liza is keeping me awake. For someone so small, she packs a hard kick. Ian just rolled over and told me to go to bed, but he’s still asleep, so I’ll ignore him for now.
I miss you at times like this. Do you remember when I was sick and we played for three days on my quilt, then two days later we did the same on your quilt. Well, after all this time apart, we’re gonna have to spend three years together to make up for lost time.
~ Jaysa~
P.S. Luke asks about you every day I see him. LOL. Coincidence? I think not.

I sat thinking of the good ole days with Jaysa and me. She reminded me of better days, when the world seemed four blocks wide, innocent, and without a care in the world. All before boys came into the picture or we even knew what terrorists were.
She reminded me of later days when the town was my playground with me sitting in the middle of Luke’s truck or in the pickup bed watching the stars and the moon.
Only in a small town can a group of teens do doughnuts in the middle of a church parking lot on a snow day while a cop supervised, then have a snowball fight with the same policeman. Man that was fun.
I jumped off my bed and picked up the phone. My first instinct was to call Luke, but that would be really awkward so I called Maria instead.
The phone rang for a minute or so. I knew the connection wouldn’t be excellent since Maria still lived in Brazil. A sweet, cheerful voice answered on the other end.
“Buena tardes. Me llamo Maria,” the voice said, reassuring me that I had the right number.
“Maria?” I said making absolutely sure it was she and not some other Maria.
“Alexis? Oh, hon! It’s been ages! How are you? How’s Jaysa?” she rattled off. I exhaled heavily and she stopped, obviously sensing something was wrong.
“Jaysa had an accident the other day. She left you something. Could you get a flight up here as fast as possible? I could pay for a ticket if you need me to,” I said quickly not trusting the phone line or my voice.
“Yeah, I’ll get there, one way or another. I can get the ticket, don’t worry about that. Okay, see you soon,” she said catching me off guard. We said our good-byes and she hung up.
I drove back to Luke’s house, dropping off his box of letters. I stepped out of Jessica’s jeep, immediately looking for Luke. Not seeing him, I began unloading the box when he came around the corner of the house.
“Hey, let me get that,” he said rushing to help me. I shook my head and started to speak, but made the mistake of turning around.
Luke was standing there with no shirt on, the unusually warm fall air making his curls damp with sweat. His cross tattoo on his shoulder stood out like ink on a blank piece of paper, the barbed wire around it making it look real and dangerous.
He looked, to make it simple to explain for me, hot. Others at this point would come up with a line like “His eyes gleamed as if he was the sun,” but all I could think of was hot.
I closed my mouth and just nodded my thanks. He grabbed the box, brushing up against me. My skin tingled at the slightest touch. I didn’t know if it was his sweat or just something else.
I followed him inside, feeling out of sorts, not able to stop staring at his tattoo. He got his the same spring break I had gotten mine. I wondered if he had any new ones. He noticed my staring, but to my relief, misinterpreted it.
“Yeah, I’ve still got it. I was gonna have it removed, but I, well, in all honesty, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it,” he said, smiling at me. “I bet a hotshot like you had yours removed ages ago,” he said, his smile quickly slipping from his face.
As much as I wanted to say I did, I also wanted the smile I hadn’t seen since I left for Brazil to stay so I shook my head. “Naw, it’s still there. All of it,” I said smiling back. His face told me he was doubtful. “Do you want me to prove it?” I asked. He nodded, his smile back on his face as he teased me. I pulled the back of my shirt up just enough to see the butterfly and flowers just above the rise of my jeans. I remembered the hum of the needle, the music blaring and Ian and Jaysa’s whisperings as Luke and I both got our tattoos.
“Nice,” he said in an appreciative tone. I turned back around and saw his eyes twinkling like they did three years before when we were young and deeply in love.
“What? That I kept it?” I asked, trying to keep my distance and struggling to keep my self-acquired walls up.
“No, just appreciating the body it’s on,” he said unabashedly. I blushed and pushed my bangs back behind my ear. Well, there goes one brick in the wall.
“Yeah, well, I gotta go talk to Ian and check in,” I said, moving away from the awkward moment.
“How is he?” Luke asked quietly. I looked at him. He was once again serious.
“Not too good, last I heard. Between putting up with Little Liza by himself and Jaysa’s death both, it’s been pretty tense there recently,” I said, making another moment shared with Luke. I said good-bye and jumped in the jeep.
As Luke went back inside, I sat listening to the hum of the motor. My god, I’m falling in love again, I thought as I remembered meeting his smiling emerald eyes with a smile of my own.

“Ian?” I hollered down the hall as I put my paper clip back in my pocket. The extra key wasn’t where it usually was and he wasn’t answering the door, so I had let myself in. He said to, so it wasn’t technically against the law. I just used my skills in a more helpful way than usual. I had learned it when I needed into Tommy’s room while he was away and it had paid off since.
I was worried as I walked down the hall until I saw why he didn’t answer the door. Both he and Liza were curled up on the couch, fast asleep. I crept out and went looking for something else to do.
I found myself in one of my favorite spots from when I was younger. The Teardrop Café, although it clearly resembled more of a bar than anything, was a gathering spot for people of all ages, all schools, and all types.
I walked in and was immediately addressed by a loud yell from Suzie, the barmaid, who used to know me when I was with my friends for just a few drinks after work.
“Hey Suzie, just give me a beer,” I said, not aiming to get woozy. She smiled and nodded. I sat down and noticed a guy across the room staring at me, his ginger hair and topaz eyes gazing at me as I moved.
The man walked towards me and sat down on the maroon stool next to me. “Hey,” he said, “You remind me of a girl I used to know,” he continued, observing me like I was a science experiment.
“I am that girl, Travis, you dunce. And I’m not in the mood for you to be bugging me now,” I said. I rolled my eyes toward him, but he ignored me. I turned and glared at him. I pushed all of my fury out through my eyes toward him to no prevail.
“Ah, you saw Luke. Are you still as half as crazy about him as he is about you?” he asked. I stared at him.
“What?” I asked, wondering if I had heard wrong. It wasn’t possible after all these years that Luke still liked me, was it? “You’re drunk, Travis,” I said, his slightly nodding head and snores that were increasing steadily were giving me a clear answer. I sighed and hollered at some of the guys to help me get him to my truck. I took him home and drove around until my head was straightened out some.
I pulled into the driveway, noticing the by-now-should-be-dark yard was lit dimly by the living room lights. I walked through the door and saw Tommy and Jessica staring at me as they sat close together. They had apparently been talking about something they didn’t want me to hear. I waved to them on the way to my room.
As I threw my coat on my bed and started toward the bathroom, I noticed two new letters. The plain white letter on top stood out amongst the colors of the others with its unfamiliar writing, including a yellow one place obviously underneath it with now-all-too-familiar writing.
I opened the plain white one first, noticing the political advances and choosing to ignore.

Sorry, I found this in a gas station. The letter I just gave you or whatever…anyways, it’s one of Jaysa’s last letters. The ambulance crews found it among her things in the truck and are just now releasing it.
Alexis, you must promise to keep in touch if you leave again. I just lost one my best friends and I really don’t wanna lose another, especially this soon. I also want Liza to remember you so please, please, please don’t disappear again.
Friends Forever,

I knew then and there that I would have to visit more than once every two years in order to keep in touch. Maybe I could just write more often. Or write at all. Last time, I never did get around to that. I turned and picked up the other letter, the one from Jaysa. I opened it up, looking at her neat writing on the yellow page decorated with daisies.

Dear Alexis,
I miss you more than ever. I have a funny feeling about tonight. If something happens, I want you to visit the rainforest one more time and return for me. Sure, go ahead, make this my dying wish and if I don’t die, well, we’ll just pitch it and laugh about it later.
I want someone to go with you—preferably Luke, but if you two don’t make up, take Tommy Boy or Ian. Just make sure you go back and take lots of pictures. I hope you have fun without me. You’ve always been the one who adjusts quickly. Oh, and check on Liza. She needs someone besides “Daddy” to take care of her.
Love You Like A Sis,

I honestly thought Jaysa knew me better than that. I thought she knew I would only come in emergencies, but not for visits. I once again found myself wandering the streets, trying to find somewhere to clear my head. I decided what better place than The Landing.
Jessica’s Jeep, built for rough rides, made the gravel road smoother than the vehicle Luke used to have, an old piece of junk he dare to call a truck. I stopped next to the creek I grew up at, the Small Creek Creek, or as some of the older people called it, Small Creek Crick.
Small Creek Creek was a party spot. The cops gave up watching this spot for underage drinking years ago so, on Friday and Saturday nights, you could hear music blasting out of speakers, loud cheers and yells, and could smell the booze in the air. You could see the huge clock in the center of town, the moon, and the creek at the same time.
I stepped out of Jessica’s jeep and looked around. It was like it was when I came here for parties in high school. I saw the telltale glow upriver of underage drinking and a bonfire and had thought of crashing it. It scared me to think the seniors that were so looking forward to May were innocent freshmen when I was a senior. I decided to lay by the river, hoping the ripples and crickets would put me to sleep, the same sleep that evaded me like the plague.
I lie still and silent and listened to the world pass by and watched the stars. I had forgotten how relaxing it was. I could hear the river without a howl of a distant monkey; watch the stars without fear of being snuck up on…
All of a sudden I heard a branch snap. Crap! Who now? was the only thing I could think of. I came here for peace and quiet and was interrupted.
“Hey, what’re you doing up here?” a voice questioned. I was still lying on my back so I looked backward at the voice even though I knew who it was.
“Luke,” I said simply, respectfully. He grinned. “Have trouble sleeping too?” I asked, thinking of the picture in Tommy’s kitchen. Oh God, he looks almost as peaceful now as he did then.
“Yeah. It’s just, I keep thinking of the last time I saw Jaysa,” he said, leaning against his truck. I knew that truck was old and I paused to think. It looked like it hadn’t been washed since our last date.
“Oh yeah. Why?” I asked. I needed to know more than what I knew three years ago.
“I knew she had problems, but she listened to mine and didn’t share any of hers. Ever,” he said, and I knew he was thinking of right after I left. I knew she hardly spoke of her problems, just good memories, even though I know she had bad ones too. I thought back to the one time she shared a problem with me …
I looked up at Maria and grinned; her eyebrows almost meeting together in the center as she studies her schedule. It was her fifth day at school away from Brazil, and she’s still worried about getting lost. Our school campus isn’t really that big, just spread out. I look around and see Jaysa huddled in the corner of the cafeteria looking very upset. I walk over and ask her what’s wrong. And so, Jaysa tells me all about her parents’ arguing, one of the first and only times she did so.
“…You sleep?” is all I caught of Luke’s question, but I knew what he was asking. I thought of how to tell him why I was up here at one in the morning.
“Um, someone told me something and it disturbed me. I couldn’t sleep so I came here. I need to hear water without monkeys interrupting it; to be able to see the stars,” I said, still staring up at Luke calmly although my stomach felt like every butterfly was erupting inside it. I always felt like this feeling was very junior high, but I can’t help it.
Luke lied down next to me and put his arms behind his head. “You mean you can’t see the stars there? He asked curiously.
“No Goober, there’s trees in the way. Hence the name ‘rainforest’,” I said smiling at him.
“Oh, duh. Well, I wouldn’t be able to survive there. Hey, are you still taking pictures?” Luke asked inquisitively.
I smiled. “Of course silly. That’s one of the reasons I moved to Brazil. You should see some of them,” I gushed, extremely glad to be talking of a familiar subject. I described the vivid colors, the green foliage, and the noise that rivals one of a city in great detail, all the while watching his face, judging his reactions. I was glad to be able to be this close and still be comfortable.
I looked up at the distant, foggy, glowing face of the clock and saw the hands pointing at three-thirty, so much for a good night’s sleep. “So Luke, what’ve you been up to for the last two years?” I asked, not wanting to take part in a one-sided conversation. He grinned modestly.
“Aw, not much. Just workin’, huntin’, and having fun,” he said, making me grin joyfully. “What?” he asked obviously confused.
“Nothing. I just forgot what it was like to hear Small Creek talk.” Not to mention the extra fun we have. So we stayed there till the moon disappeared in between the hills and the sun rose. Luke telling me the ins and outs of small town life I missed and I telling him of my adventures in the forest.
I looked at the clock, the light tan, glowing face. The hands showed it was six-thirty. Luke and I had talked for five and a half hours. Funny how just after an hour spent together we were talking like it was two years ago, a simpler time when we were just two young adults in love without a care in the world.
“Luke, I gotta go,” I said, sitting up to see him asleep. There was no reason for me to wake him up so I grabbed my jacket from the ground and hopped in the jeep. I had to go pick up Maria from the airport, my own personal jail.
I sat in the common, gray airport chair waiting to see Maria’s familiar face. I was to pick her up and take her to her hotel she was staying at for now, but at the moment, I was tense and uncomfortable.
For the amount of time I spent in airports, they’re surprisingly uncomfortable for me. I hated them. They reminded me too much of hospitals.
A quiet and calm, yet cheery voice interrupted my thoughts. “Alexis?” came from behind me, the accent very familiar to me by now. I jumped up and spun around to face a woman, as familiar now as she was in high school.
“Maria!” I shouted, running to give her a hug. She dropped her bags and embraced me. I took in her long, black hair and almond eyes on her thin face, matching her slight build.
“So, what have you been up to lately?” she asked curiously. I grinned mischievously. “What’s so funny?” she asked, now cautious.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” I said, my grin turning into a quick smirk.

“Okay, let me get this straight,” Maria said as we ate at a McDonald’s close by. “You were in Brazil for two years and you didn’t call me,” she affirmed, making it sound more like a statement than a question. I smiled, feeling kind of embarrassed.
“Yeah, well Maria, I was kinda trying to forget my past. Don’t forget,” I said with a heavy conscience.
“So…” Maria said, drawing it out for several awkward seconds. I cocked my eyebrow at her. “When’s the funeral?” she asked quietly. I sighed.
“This afternoon,” I said, thinking of how soon it was coming up. I was deep in thought when I heard clear laughter coming from two tables away. “Maria, who’s laughing so loud?” I asked without turning around. I knew the laugh and to whom it belonged to, but I was hoping I had it wrong.
“Well, it looks like Will…” she said, making me duck under the table quickly. She looked down at me as the guys walked past our table. I watched their legs pass first from my side of the booth and then from Maria’s side. They left laughing loud enough to make everybody star. I then realized that the guys with Will weren’t Travis or Luke. I wondered momentarily whether or not they stopped being friends after that night. I knew Travis didn’t approve of what he did, but was that enough to end a friendship?
“Alexis,” Maria started, looking at me worriedly, “can you tell me what happened?” I looked at her questionably. “Why you left? That night you went to Brazil?” I contemplated for a second and decided to tell all.
It was a cook, dark night and we were at the gas station called Yarder’s after the guy who ran it, Yarder Hancock. Its real name read Hancock’s Gas, Groceries, and Garbage on the side of the building, the paint chipping off to it the point it was almost illegible.
I had heard that Will and Travis were drunker than skunks and were planning on leaving. I wasn’t going to let them get killed in a car accident like my parents were, one when I was younger and one when I had just entered high school. I headed around back to convince them that they didn’t need their keys. I knew that Luke wouldn’t mind if I kept his friends alive, even though he said what he wanted to do was important.
I came around the corner, listening to the yells and knew that the boys were wasted. They jeered at me as I walked to Will’s truck to look for the keys. I leaned in and wrapped my hand around the cold metal as I felt a hand gently, almost lovingly, touch my waist, the smell of cheap beer wafting into my face.
I had heard the dare, but ignored it, thinking it was the cheap beer talking and that Will was better than that, but next thing I knew, I was pinned to the ground as he kissed my neck and face as I screamed and kicked, trying to dislodge the legs wrapped around my waist. I went limp, breathing and getting ready for a last kick. If this didn’t work, I was through.
Suddenly, Will was gone and the streetlight that had silhouetted his face was shining in my face. I rolled over, shaking and scared, just in time to see Luke spring off and hop in his truck. I stood there watching as he peeled out trying to escape the scene in front of him. The truck disappeared into the night as I struggled to my feet, tears coursing down my face.
Two days later I was on a plane to Brazil, leaving the only home and friends I had ever had behind for the first time.
Maria gaped at me, making me feel sort of self-conscious. I gave her an awkward grin.
“Does anyone else know this?” she asked. I shook my head and sighed. “So I’m like, your secret-box?” she asked, this time making me laugh.
“You mean secret-keeper?” I corrected her, laughing at the look on her face. She had never been able to master English figurative language.
“Si, that. I could never get the hang of those stupid American idiots,” she said, making me laugh even harder. She looked at me questionably, but I was having enough trouble just breathing, let alone talking. I looked up in time to see Will raise his eyes from the dashboard of his buddy’s truck, his eyes meeting mine.
His mouth opened wide as his buddy peeled out of the parking lot, him staring at me in the rearview mirror, making me stop laughing.
“C’mon, I wanna see Tommy,” Maria said, obviously trying to make me forget Will. I smiled.
“Yeah, let’s go.”
I pulled into Tommy’s driveway to see Jaysa and Tommy in the front yard. Jaysa, I knew, was supposed to be napping while Tommy watched her, but the amount of cooing wasn’t coming from my snoring brother. I walked over and nudged him awake with my foot before picking up my niece.
“Hi Jaysa,” I said, letting her play with my jade necklace from Brazil. Tommy sighed and rose up on his elbows as Maria tried to control her laugh.
“Looks like you have everything under control Tommy,” she said, barely managing to control the laughter. Tommy saw her and leapt to his feet, hugged her, and swung her around, much like he had me when I first arrived. She was as much of a sister to him as I was.
“Maria!” he yelled, setting her down gently as she laughed loudly.
“Hey Tommy, glad to see you too,” she said, slowing her laughing down and I could tell she was getting serious. “When’s Jaysa’s funeral?” she asked. She never was ne to beat around the bush for very long.
“Tonight,” I said, my voice showing he pain that masked my face. I led Maria inside to the bathroom where she got ready for the funeral that was to take place at eight that evening, unusual for a burial and making the cemetery extremely creepy for most, but respectful for us.
That was what Jaysa said she wanted when she and I had talked about death years earlier, after my dad died. Not creepy so much, but in a small town, your favorite memories took place at night, mostly mudding, partying, and sledding when there was an absence of wet mud and an abundance of slick snow.
We headed out that night, all of us wearing bright colors, another thing in respect for Jaysa. As her casket was lowered into the ground, thirteen shooting stars fell in the sky, making tears fall with them.
“Look Alexis. A sign,” Maria whispered in my ear as she squeezed my arm gently. Stars, Jaysa’s favorite thing to do, watching them on warm summer nights, and thirteen, the lucky number of Maria, Jaysa, and me. We beat the odds every time.
After we took Maria to her hotel and put Jaysa to bed, I went and sat in the Landing to think. It had been a taxing evening. I cried too many times for my comfort. I sat and thought of simpler times when all we had to think about were rumors and friends.
I regretted every moment and all those years I missed talking to my best friend. I knew I would miss every day I lived without any contact with her. I knew that I had to pray and hope for some sign that everything was going to be alright.
I sighed, listened to the music of the countryside. Crickets chirped, frogs croaked, and the hum of a combination of soft, sad music and an old pickup grew louder.
Who now? Who else relied on this spot to relax? Luke and Ian both did, that’s who.
I walked slowly to the jeep, knowing he wouldn’t be able to see me from where he always parked his truck.
He got out, carrying a bouquet of tulips, Jaysa’s favorite flower. I watched carefully as Ian threw the beautiful flowers off the Landing into Small Creek Creek. I heard him whisper into the wind as he turned to walk off.
“Jaysa, you helped me through some hard times. You were my sister in many ways, as well as my wife and best friend. Good-bye, old friend,” came softly to my ears, making me tear up. One of my friends dead, one on her way home to Brazil tomorrow, and two in pain. I sat watching the white tulips float down the creek along with red and orange oak leaves.
I drove to Tommy’s house that evening, tears in my eyes and fell onto the couch. I cried myself to sleep that night in the living room.

“Alexis, you okay?” I heard Tommy ask me from above. I rolled over, and almost freaked out before remembering where I had crashed last night. I groaned as I got up, sore and tired.
“Tommy, you couch isn’t nearly as comfortable as Mom and Dads’ was when we were younger,” I complained as he laughed. I leaned over and picked up my cell phone. I frowned as I turned it on, wondering why I turned it off in the first place.
I almost always left my phone on, in case of an emergency. The only exception is if I was taking photos of wildlife. The light came on and the words ONE NEW MESSAGE appear on the screen. I opened it and the message appeared.
“Crap!” I yelled, racing to my bathroom and changing into a clean shirt and jeans.
“What?” Tommy asked as I raced back by him while gathering my hair into a ponytail. I finished and grabbed a banana. Luke wrecked his truck? He’s always been a careful driver before. “WHAT?” Tommy yelled once again as I snatched my jacket off the peg. I pause at the door.
“Luke had a wreck last night. I don’t know if he’s okay or not. When Jess wakes up, tell her. Then come if it’s possible. Okay?” I asked as I turned the door handle. He nodded and I was off.
I backed out of the driveway as fast as I could, worried about my friend. Was it bad? How hurt was he? Couldn’t Ian have just called? My phone beeped and I pulled it out and looked at it.
He’s hurt, but idk how badly. In surgery for leg now. Don’t freak.
Of course, now Ian sends me a message. Still I carried on, passing when I could while still driving the speed limit. Okay, well, just over the speed limit.
I sped into the parking lot and parked Jessica’s jeep and, after locking the doors quickly, rushed inside to see Luke. I walked through the automatic doors and looked to my left and right, a hallway on both sides. Seeing a nurse at the front desk, I raced towards it impatiently.
“Cherie!” I shouted at a girl that was in my class in high school. She smiled at me as I dashed up, almost running into the desk.
“What room is Luke Robbins in?” I asked impatiently. She leaned over to the computer and typed in his name. I was nervously fidgeting the whole time.
“Room 218,” she said. I started to sprint off, but she grabbed my hand. I looked at her fearfully. “He’s getting the very best care. Don’t worry,” was all she said. I tore towards the elevator, the bleak, white walls making me more nervous than ever. The button lit up as I pushed it.
“C’mon, c’mon,” I said bouncing as the up button remained lit. I quickly gave up on the elevator and hustled up the stairs to the second floor, the climbing burning off some of my restlessness.
“Alexis, you’re here!” Ian said as soon as he saw me open the door from the stairwell. I smiled at him before raising my eyebrows questionably.
“He just got out of surgery. He’s probably still asleep though,” Ian said softly. I nodded, understanding what he meant.
“Alexis?” I heard a voice croak softly, coming from a room across the hall from where Ian and I were standing. I peeked in to see Luke attached to machines by tubes. Nodding to Ian, I walked on in.
“Hey Bud, you look rough,” I said jokingly, even though it hurt to see him in that hospital bed. He grinned painfully.
“You should see the other guy,” he said, making me laugh at that age-old joke
“So, how bad is it?” I asked quietly, suddenly getting serious, anticipating the answer.
“I’ve got a broken leg, a fractured arm, and a concussion, along with several bumps, bruises, scrapes, and a couple broken ribs. I can’t sleep again for twenty-four hours, even though the anesthesia still ain’t wore off,” he said sighing. I giggled, knowing how he had problems staying up for New Year’s Eve, let alone twenty-four hours.
“Okay, well I’m gonna go get some tea, and Ian’s gonna come and keep you company and awake,” I said, more telling him rather than asking. He nodded sleepily as I grinned.
I walked out and smiled at Ian. “Hey, keep him awake while I go find some tea, can you? Someone has a low no-sleep tolerance,” I said as he grinned.
“Yeah, I can do that,” he said, as Luke weakly protested from inside the room, making me laugh. I patted Ian’s shoulder and carried on to find the nearest restaurant with tea (which happened to be McDonald’s) and promptly returned to the hospital.
As I climbed up the stairs, again to impatient to wait on an empty elevator, I thought of my high school friends and their lives. Most had been remarkably uneventful. As much as I had wanted to when I was younger, I would’ve gone insane if I was stuck here all of my life. I stopped thinking about that matter when I walked into Luke’s room.
I noticed two things immediately. 1.) Ian was fast asleep and on the verge of falling out of the chair, and 2.) Luke was trying hard not to laugh.
“Hey, you feeling more awake now?” I whispered quietly to Luke. He nodded thoughtfully.
“Who would’ve thought that this was the way our lives would go. I was sure you would’ve already been mauled by a tiger or something in Brazil, but instead a simple car wreck gets me,” he said, laughing at the irony.
“Oh yeah, right, I’ve seen you drive,” I joked, making him chuckle painfully. We joked for hours, falling silent only as the nurses and doctors swept in and out of the room.
Finally Luke got the okay for sleep and did just that. He told me goodnight and rolled over before almost immediately falling asleep. I sat and watched his side steadily rise and fall. I wondered if he ever thought about a night like this before I drifted off on the couch. A night so beautiful, not even an accident could mar it.
I woke up to the sound of rustling sheets and sat up gingerly. The stress and worry, even if it wasn’t there for very long, had made me tense up and I was sore from it.
“Morning Sleepy Head!” Luke exclaimed, making me jump. I wasn’t expecting him to be up yet. I looked at his face. Swollen and scratched as it was, it was bright and clearly optimistic for early morning.
“Morning,” I paused yawning. “What’re you doing?” I asked cautiously, watching as Luke struggled to sit up. I noticed a wheelchair nearby.
“Nuh-uh, you’re not going anywhere, are you?” I asked incredulously. Was he able to go anywhere in his condition? I would’ve thought broken bones would have stopped him eventually. As I watched, he gave up and consented with leaning against the headboard of his bed.
“You never did answer my question. What’re you doing?” I asked curiously. I wanted to know just where he thought he was going.
“Nothing now,” Luke gave me as a straight answer. He sighed. I realized that I was told he was in a two-car accident.
“Luke? Were you going to see the person in the other car?” I asked cautiously. He nodded slowly, his eyes soft and sad. Did he know the other person well?
“Who was it Luke?” I asked softly. I knew that he knew the person well enough to worry about them and want to visit them and that possibly, just possibly felt like he was their brother. He swallowed a sob.
“It was Tyler,” Luke said, pausing to let it sink in. Tyler, Jaysa’s cousin was another good friend of mine. He was funny, smart, and friendly with everybody. His personality matched his looks too. His stiff, short black hair and blue eyes made him look open to people looking for friends.
“Oh no” I moaned. “Does Ian know?” I whispered in case he didn’t. I glanced over to where he was lying in the maroon recliner. Luke shook his head.
“I don’t think hardly anybody does, except hi s parents and brother,” he said. Poor Ryder, I thought. It would be hard to have a twin in a car accident.
“Well, I’m gonna go visit them if I can. I’ll come back and tell you how he’s doing, ‘kay?” I said, making it more of a statement than a question. Luke stared at the wall and I knew that he was spaced out and there was no hope in getting an answer from him now.
I sprinted down the stairs, managing to skip three with each stride. I pushed the door open and went straight to the nurses’ desk. I smiled as I saw Cherie there once more.
“Cherie! Can you please tell me what room Tyler is in?” I pleaded. I knew I had more of a chance with her than with any other nurse because she, of all people, knew how close Jaysa’s family was to me.
“No I can’t, but I definitely wouldn’t say on the third floor,” she said, her face very solemn. I nodded and pretended to be again.
“Come on please! He’s like my cousin,” I begged. She shook her head.
“I can’t, I was told to allow real family only but I most certainly would send any of them to room 314 if they showed,” she said, her face staying straight. I sighed.
“’Kay, well I‘ll just go back to Luke’s room then,” I said, slowly heading towards the stairs. I turned and looked back as I opened the door, just in time to see Cherie wink. I winked back, telling her I got her message.
As soon as I heard the door slam shut, I raced up two flights of stairs to the door with a three. I rounded the corner and counted door numbers. It started low…304…306…308…and on and on until I reached door 314.
The door was cracked slightly, light and murmurs coming through. I pushed it open slightly more and peeked in. Sure enough, Ryder was sitting in a chair with his head in his hands while Tyler lay whispering fast, urgent words to his twin.
I took three steps forward, and started walking heavier than before; just heavy enough to warn them someone was coming before I knocked.
“Come in,” I heard two voices say together, one weak and one strong. I swung it open, slid in, and shut it. Ryder strode towards me and gave me a hug while Tyler, show couldn’t see me still, asked who I was.
“Hey Ty, how you feelin’?” I asked softly as I stepped into the lit room and smiled.
“Lexi!” he croaked as he held his arms out for a hug. I had known these boys since I was in kindergarten and had adopted them as my cousins when I moved in with Jaysa.
I leaned forward as he squeezed me tight. I turned to grin at Ryder again.
Although he was Tyler’s twin, he looked nothing like him. Where Tyler wasn’t skinny, he wasn’t necessarily tall or fat, Ryder was hefty and tall. Ryder had long brown hair that flopped everywhere and brown eyes that spoke to you. In every way he was just as friendly as Tyler was.
“So seriously, how’re you doin’?” I asked, getting genuine. Ryder resumed the position he was in before I walked in as Tyler put on a brave smile.
“Great. Feelin’ no pain at all,” he said with bravado, slightly grimacing with the denied pain. I smiled back with my game face.
“Sure, sure. If I believe that, there are guys outside willing to sell the Atlantis. I’ve heard coral’s really pretty this time of year,” I said, not believing a word I was hearing.
“Well, okay, you’re loss,” Tyler said, making me chuckle in spite of the events going on around me. “But yeah, I’ve got broken ribs, a concussion, a broken leg, and—” Ryder broke in suddenly.
“And he’s toning it down for you. He was in a coma and just woke up. I was telling him what happened when you walked in,” he said, walking over to lean against the wall next to me. A certain swear word flew out of my mouth as he said that.
Of course he would tone it down for me…I was like his sister and he didn’t want me to hurt. “Tyler Michael Martin, you know better than to lie to me. You knew I would find the truth,” I lectured trying my best to sound like their mom. I frowned at them, thinking serious thoughts, as Tyler broke into a slow grin.
Slowly both Tyler and Ryder started clapping together, Ryder laughing at my theatrics.
“I think she did better than mom,” Tyler said, making me start laughing too. I had been perfect until then.
“Well boys, I think I better get back down to Luke. I told him I was just gonna check on you and be back,” I said, leaning over to give Tyler a quick hug and hugged Ryder as he stood up.
“Before you go,” Tyler started before pausing again. “How’s Luke?” he asked seriously. I chuckled to myself.
“Well, he’s got a broken leg, a fractured arm, along with several bumps, bruises, scrapes, and a couple of broken ribs,” I said, grinning, “But he almost made it up here to visit. The tubes prohibited most movement,” I said. Tyler started laughing brokenly, making Ryder and me glance at him nervously before talking again.
“Poor Luke, he was always the most active of us baseball players,” Ryder said laughing at Luke’s misfortune. I joined in the laughter before walking out the door, back towards Luke’s room.
“How was he?” Luke whispered, trying to keep Ian in the dark. I grinned with false bravado.
“Doin’ okay. Still pale, but doin’ okay,” I said, earning odd looks from Ian.
“Who’re you talking about?” Ian asked to us both, but we ignored him.
“Don’t drag him into this,” Luke said as his voice rose dangerously.
“Ian, could you excuse us for a minute?” I asked boldly, getting a questioning look from him and a blazing look from Luke.
“Sure. Yeah. I’ll go see if Liza’s doing okay at her aunt’s house,” Ian said, gathering his stuff to leave.
“What’re you doin’?” Luke asked as soon as he saw Ian turn the corner. He glared at me, making me angrier than I already was.
“He deserves to know! Jaysa and him were married for two years and they’ve gotta be close by now!” I said loudly. As we stared at each other, Ian stormed in dragging a protesting Ryder in his wake.
“Why didn’t you guys tell me Tyler was in here?!” Ian yelled, his anger the highest I’d ever seen.
“Well, define ‘in here’,” Luke said, looking slightly abashed.
“You know what I mean! In the hospital!” Ian shouted, his voice rising.
“Well, we didn’t want you to worry. Right Lexi?” Luke said, looking at me for help. I laughed at his fear.
“Leave me outta this Luke. You’re on your own,” I said grinning.
“Well?” Ian asked in a quieter tone. He looked accusingly at Luke, Ryder, and me. As the boys’ stammering grew quiet, I sighed and gathered up my courage, knowing he would take it better from me. I stepped forward and touched his arm gently.
“Ian, he was in a coma. We didn’t wanna tell you until we were sure he was gonna be okay. We were gonna tell you as soon as I told Luke,” I said, looking pointedly at Luke as he started to protest behind Ian’s back as Ian bowed his head.
“Please forgive us?” I asked pleadingly. I stayed away for two years too long to lose a friend like this—stupid me and their stupid pride.
He looked up and grinned weakly, making me grin back. I knew we were forgiven.
“So, what now?” Luke asked from behind us. I turned and looked at him.
“Now life goes on,” I said, grinning before walking out.

I tore out of the parking lot as fast as I could, trying to escape from the events that had happened in the last week or so.
Why did my heard decide now was the time to fall in love again, even if it was with the same guy? Man, I have bad judgment sometimes. I would even go as far as saying crappy judgment a lot of the time. I mean, I know several people who ran away from their problems, but few ever ran away to Brazil. Heck, few ever made it to the next state.
I drove in circles until I was tired enough to fall asleep, and at noon, I fell asleep on the Landing.
I woke in the dead of night, opening my eyes to see my favorite nightlights, those things we call fireflies. I put my hand down and felt a paper underneath, making me curious about what it was. I bent over and caught my breath as I saw what I thought was just a sheet of paper was an envelope.

Dear Lexis,
I know I may’ve scared you when you heard of my accident, but I’m fine, remember? I would like for us to have an evening to ourselves. Would this location work? If so, listen carefully and turn around…

I rolled over onto my stomach and listened as I saw headlights coming my way and heard bars of Do I by Luke Bryan, playing from the speakers. Luke must’ve just got out of the hospital and he probably shouldn’t have been driving.
He slowed to a stop and stepped out. “Luke, what are you doin’?” I asked softly, smiling.
“What’s it look like?” he asked grinning. “I’m gonna go visit the prettiest woman I know,” I pretended to look downcast as we stepped towards each other.
“Oh darn,” I said, getting a questioning look from him. “I thought you were gonna come visit me!” I said, smiling again, as he wrapped his arms around me. We slow danced until the radio moved on to a faster song, much to our dismay.
I realized then that I was falling back in love with Luke. And what’s more, I may’ve never fallen out of love in the first place. His emerald eyes echoed my sentiments as he leaned closer and kissed me silently; slow at first, then quicker. That was the best night of my life, as we laid there next to each other and watched the sun rise over the creek.
But at the same time, I knew I had to get out of that town. There was no way that I, Alexis Carter, was going to be able to stay. If I stayed, my heart would break from wanting him and the rainforest. If I left, his heart would break.
One thing for sure, if I left, his heart would heal eventually. He would move on and find someone else, but there was never going to be another rainforest for me to explore—another rainforest for me to love. I made my decision then and there.
I stormed into Tommy’s house and grabbed my duffel bag and started stuffing things into it. I had forgotten that Tommy woke up early.
“What are you doin’?” Tommy asked cautiously. I jumped, and then sighed. I knew he was going to take this hard.
“Tommy Boy, I gotta leave. I’m gonna go back to my campsite, my silence, and my drama-free society,” I said, continuing to cram stuff into my bag.
“Listen Alexis, I gotta tell you something,” Tommy said sighing loudly and capturing my attention from my bag. I turned and saw his eyes were troubled. I started to say something, but he held up his hand.
“Just listen. That night, well I don’t really know what happened, but I know it wasn’t your fault, but it happened at a bad time. I was in the store with Luke. He was looking for you and he had a surprise. He had talked to me before we both got there. Someone said you were outside. Luke went outside, and hearing the commotion, went down an alley. There he found you and Will apparently.
“Alexis, Luke was going to propose to you that night. He had bought the ring and everything. And at the airport, he realized he still loved you and, yet again, was going to propose, but you were already gone,” he said, studying my face. Luke loved me, enough to face failure to propose twice.
“Tommy Boy, I gotta talk to Luke before I leave,” I said, starting to panic. He looked at me.
“Lexis, he’s just gonna break your heart again and we’ll have to miss you again, until someone else dies to bring you home again,” Tommy pointed out, quite sensitively now that I think of it, but I was selfish and stubborn.
We pulled up to Luke’s house in Tommy’s ’64 Camaro. Luke was I the yard working diligently, but as he heard the car wheels on gravel, he looked up and smiled as I hopped out and ran to him.
“Hey, what’s up? I didn’t get to talk to you last night after we dance,” he said quietly. I bit my lip nervously. How was I going to tell him my decision?
“Luke, you mean a lot to me, but I gotta go back,” I said quietly. He glared at me knowing that I was leaving him alone yet again.
“No, don’t, you can’t,” he said, denying my attempts to explain my judgment and making me mad. I was trying to be patient.
“Luke—” I started before he interrupted me again, making me lose my patience.
“No, you can’t go,” he said, his voice rising.
“LUKE, I’M GOIN BACK TO BRAZIL, WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT!” I shouted, making my point as he shook his head. My temper was rising as did my indignity. It came with the hair—and my Irish temper.
“NO, YOU CAN’T!” Luke yelled back, making my skin crawl with anger. Tommy revved the engine to him at me to hurry. He knew we were fighting again. We always did.
“Why not?” I asked, struggling to lower my voice. I knew if we were yelling, rumors would spread much faster than if we were just having a simple, civilized disagreement. Like that would ever happen, said a scoffing voice inside my head.
“You just can’t, okay? Besides, why are we even arguing?” he asked. I frowned at him, pondering his question.
“It’s just what we do. Good-bye Luke,” I said tearfully, reaching forward and kissing him on the cheek, running my fingers down his newly healed scar, before running to Tommy and Jessica’s car. I was on my way to the airport and as much as I wanted to, I didn’t even look back at the man I’ve loved since I fell for him in high school.
A few hours later I sat in my seat, thinking of those I left at the airport, their faces swimming in the air around me. I tried to shake them off, and only one thought came to my mind: epic failure.
I reached into my carry-on and pulled out the original letters. I didn’t have to look at the addresses to know which one I was looking for. It had once bore neat writing on the front and was still sealed shut, although the envelope was yellowing and the address had faced away from years of handling. The sender’s name still stood out in black and bold: LUKE. My eyes swelled with the tears. I grabbed my napkin and dried them quickly before they could drip on the envelope or the letter.

Dear Alexis,
I know I blew up last night and I’m sorry. It’s just, it hurt to see my best friend kissing my girlfriend. I got jealous, as I often do.
You don’t know how beautiful you are. Your red hair catches the sunlight and shines and flickers like a freshly lit match. Your azure blues eyes remind me of the ocean waves, echoing and confusing me constantly.
No matter how long you’re gone, I’ll always love you. Always. Just remember that when you’re in Brazil and you see a flower that doesn’t belong there, or a lost deer in the forest.
You don’t belong there, and I’m lost without you. I know that’s sappy, but it’s true. I love you.
Forever Yours,
Luke Robbins

The tears that threatened to spill over before came as if a dam had busted somewhere, bringing some concerned looks from other passengers, but also some weird ones. Two years ago, when I left for Brazil, I actually was on the same plane, in the same seat, and even had the same reason for tears.
Before this whole ordeal, that was the last time I had cried. I thought of a year ago, the day I finally forgave Luke. I had taken a picture of an iris, a species native to the rainforest. It was beautiful. The petals looked soft, but they were also solid. They were a current red and had purple streaks, a purple that looked like a mix of lavender and deep purple. It looked so out of place in the dense forest, alone and helpless, how I often felt.
I knew then what Luke had been talking about. The sounds of the plane’s engines startled me. I looked out the window and saw Luke’s face retreating back.
Did he know that when he slept that night in the hospital I had watched him, memorizing the calm face that brought pangs to my heart? Did he know how much it took to talk to him that last time, to say good-bye again? How the tears flowed when I got back into Tommy’s car?
Did he know how much I loved him?
I sat in a back-aching chair impatiently waiting for the announcement that said Alexis’ flight was leaving. I couldn’t believe I missed her. Again. For her same destination, same airport. For me, same timing, same chair, same ring resting heavily in my pocket. The plane took off down the runway and I jogged to the window to watch it lift into the air and my heart broke.
I remembered our last moments spent together, starting with a shouting match, ending with a peck on the cheek. I remembered the look Tommy had given me when they left. It was one of question and suggestion. I thought of our last words. “Why are we even arguing?” “It’s just what we do.”
I knew Tommy’s look was one he shot me on purpose. It asked of me, “What are you going to do about her? Do it quickly.” I knew then that as much as he hated me breaking her heart the first time, he doesn’t hate the idea of us being together again. He didn’t hate the idea of us being in-laws or his sister marrying me.
I pictured Lexis as I had last seen her. I knew I would miss her flame-red hair and azure eyes. Her face was a sheer rock of determination, her cheeks flushed and red, her eyes flashing with anger and rebellion. The slow, steady tears silently were rolling from her eyes.
I knew that she turned too quickly, if she had only turned and looked over her shoulder, she would’ve saw me pressing my hand to my cheek to keep her kiss from escaping. I’ll always cherish that kiss. I also knew that even though I was in love with her, I probably wouldn’t see her again.
Did she know that I wanted badly to kiss her those nights by the creek? That I forgave her years earlier, that I wanted her to forgive me? I always swore I would tell her what I wanted to if I ever saw her again, but did I? Did I tell her I still loved her, always have and always will? No, of course not.
Did she know I was considering following her to Brazil, in a slightly stalker sort of way? Of course not.
I heard footsteps fall heavily behind me, but didn’t think anything of it, until I heard a sharp intake of breath.
“LUKE!” I heard Alexis yell loudly. I spun around to see her rushing towards me. She’d never been the most graceful person I’d known, so when I saw the cord, I knew what was going to happen before it did. I stretched out my arms and caught her on her way down.
“Hey Klutz, have a nice trip?” I asked, trying not to smile. She looked up at me, not resisting my arms still around her waist and she smiled. Then for the first time in forever, I heard My Love giggle when she actually returned my love. I grinned.
“Yeah, I did. See you next fall?” she asked. I grinned wider than ever. I was sure it was going to reach my ears if we cracked any more jokes.
“Of course,” I said, still smiling, praying that she would see the love I saw in her eyes reflecting in mine. We stood there, arms wrapped around each other, looking into each other’s eyes.
I got down on one knee, pulling out the satin covered box in my pocket, watching Alexis cover her mouth in surprise.
“Alexis, I’ve loved you since we started dating in high school and even with all of the things we’ve gone through—I’ve never stopped. Will you marry me?” I asked, focusing on steadying my shaking hand. I watched the fluorescent lights gleam off the diamonds and emeralds of her engagement ring as Alexis grabbed my arm and wrenched me up from the floor.
“Yes, you sill boy. One question though,” she said, making me nervous. I nodded, clearing my throat. Her eyes gleamed with mischief as she asked, “Do you always carry an expensive diamond ring with you?” I laughed as she smiled and we stared into each other’s eyes.
Someone behind us cleared their throat and I tore my gaze away from Alexis long enough to meet eyes with Tommy. He nodded and I looked at Jessica, who had just cleared her throat again.
“Well,” she stage-whispered, her emerald eyes flashing. I raised my eyebrows. “KISS HER ALREADY!” she shouted in exasperation. And I did.

Former Football Star & Bad Girl Gone Good Reunite for a Wedding
By Travis White

This week was one filled with white dresses, white cakes, and lots of well wishes from friends, family and many others. It was all for the wedding of Alexis Jordin Carter and Lukas Braden Robbins, who’ve had several ups and downs in their relationship since graduating high school.
Alexis and Luke were in a serious relationship up until a horrible night when ties were severed and cut for what our small town thought was for good.
Alexis promptly moved to South American country of Brazil while Luke acknowledged he had become somewhat of a hermit. “Yeah, I’ll admit, I never thought I would love again, and I did mourn for our relationship and ignored my friends,” he said as he looked at his glowing bride, who laughed at his confession.
Their marriage ceremony was scheduled on the tragic event that brought them back together: the one-year anniversary of Jaysa Comahow’s death. Jaysa was killed a year ago on the twenty-seventh from hitting a patch of black ice and skidding off the side of Willow Brook Brook, leaving mourning friends and family, including a husband and a two-year-old daughter.
Yet at the ceremony, gatherers were there to celebrate, not mourn. “You know I miss her, but I’m glad Luke and Lexi found happiness and love again, like the kind Jaysa and I had,” said Ian, Jaysa’s surviving husband.
The ceremony of this couple was small and simple with immediate family and close friends such as Will Black, a professional football player, Maria Cantrell, a secretary from Brazil, and Travis White, the newspaper photographer and writer, attending.
“It’s so great to be together after two years of solitude in the rainforest. I was snapping pictures of flowers one day and the next I was looking at old pictures from high school in my brother’s kitchen. It was like going back in time. I honestly feel like I’m back in high school!” Alexis exclaimed when we asked her what it was like being with Luke again.
While in Brazil, Alexis worked as a photographer, photographing animals and plants in their natural habit, like the one on the left, of an orange iris, a species not normally found in Brazil, but Alexis took it as a sign.
“Luke’s last letter to me said for me to remember him when I saw a flower that didn’t belong. I snapped this picture the day I finally forgave him and then I read his letter a year and a half later. That was when I knew I had to go back to him,” Alexis stated as she watched Luke dance with her sister-in-law Jessica and niece Jaysa Carter, who was named after Jaysa Comahow.
To this day, if you look along the bank of Small Creek Creek, you can see a bed of tulips, a mixture of orange, yellow, and red—Jaysa’s favorite flower. A bouquet was floated the creek by someone the night of her funeral and a flower that usually didn’t bloom from just landing somewhere did, providing a memorial forever.
“It’s just phenomenal the miracles that happen sometimes,” Ian told the reporter. “I would’ve never thought about the tulips and I would’ve never thought Luke and Alexis would’ve reunited.
So from the staff working at Small Creek’s News Trickle to Luke and Alexis Robbins, have a great and wonderful marriage!

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