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Danny was sprawled casually out on a patch of grass, out of breath, when he met Carl and Annie. He had taken a lengthy run, looping through the city streets, ending in the park across from his apartment building. This had been his routine for the last few days as he adjusted to Carmelo. Today was a particularly hot day, and the heat left Danny exhausted and parched.
“Why does the writing on your arm look so messy?” came a squeaky voice, poking at Danny’s upper arm. “Danny jerked his head up, pulling one ear bud out and pausing his music. In front of him, standing at barely three feet was a bottle blonde little girl. She was crouched over Danny, staring intently at his tattoo, her hand still poking at his bicep. “Stay go- golden, champ.” The girl read slowly, her bright blue eyes narrowing in concentration.
“Annie! Get back here!” Called a boy, as he hustled in Annie’s direction. “I’m sorry, my little sister can be a little nosy.” The boy added on, scooping Annie up into his arms. She giggled wildly as she was tossed over the boy’s shoulder.
“Oh its no problem.” Danny waved away his apology and adjusted himself into a seated position. “Oh, and by the way Annie; it’s a very special message. It means a lot to me.”
Annie wriggled impatiently in the boy’s arms until he finally let her down.
“Special how?” She inquired, her bright eyes staring intently into Danny’s green ones.
“Well, my father passed away and I put this message on my arm… Ya see, when I was younger he would always write that on a note to me. Just to boost my confidence, I guess. I put it there so I’ll never forget, no matter how long it’s been.”
Annie frowned and replied, “I’m sorry. You look sad now. I didn’t mean to.”
“Annie!” The boy groaned and pulled her away as she stretched out her arms to hug Danny. “Personal space.” He emphasized.
Danny grinned and stuck out his hand to Annie,
“Hi, I’m Danny and you’re very sweet. I don’t mind your questions at all.” Annie shook it, an exuberant smile dancing across her face.
“This is my brother Carl, he is always telling me I’m too friendly. But that’s just ‘cuz he’s scared I’ll end up like one of those little girls on that missing kids website. He just loves me a lot. But I like meeting new people, and you don’t seem scary.”
Danny let out a laugh and struggled to his feet, gently massaging his calves.
“Good to know.” He replied.
“Annie, why don’t you go and play with Fiona for awhile?” Carl suggested, tossing Annie a raggedy looking doll. Annie snatched the doll out of the air and dashed over to a picnic blanket set up under a tree a few feet away.
“Hey look man, I’m sorry if she was too… forward.” Carl shrugged awkwardly, running a hand through his messy blonde hair.
“Not a problem, dude. I thought it was pretty cool. Most kids don’t pay attention to things like that. Your sister seems smart.”
“You have no f**kin’ idea.” Snorted Carl, “sometimes I swear she’s smarter than I am.”
“The young ones always seem to be more optimistic, you know? Like every problem is beatable. It is for awhile I guess.”
Carl nodded and there was a silence. Danny analyzed Carl as they stood in the silence before asking hopefully, “Do you go to Carmelo Academy? Because I just moved here from the middle of goddamn nowhere and I honestly know nobody…”
“Can’t say I’ve heard of it…” replied Carl, turning slowly so his back faced Danny. On the back of his windbreaker read Carmelo Academy Varsity Wrestling Team in a light blue emboss.
“Motherf**ker.” Danny whooped, slapping Carl roughly on the back. “Are you a junior? Cause that’d be chill, since I am.”
“Yeah, actually. I can show you around because Carmelo can be a nightmare. It prides itself on being exclusive and all that s*** but it’s pretty packed. There are around two thousand kids total. It can get pretty hectic.” Carl explained. “Also sports are a huge deal here. I mean, I only got accepted because I’m a beast on the mats.” He boasted, “Do you play any sports?”
Danny nodded and replied, “I was the first freshman in five seasons to make the varsity soccer team. Soccer has always been a huge part of my life.”
“You’ll do fine here.” Carl informed him as Annie came darting towards them and attached herself around Carl’s legs like a koala bear.
“I need to pee.” Annie tried whispering, although her voice didn’t quite lower at all.
“Why don’t we just head home?” Carl suggested picking Annie up and placing her on his broad shoulders.
Annie nodded and turned to Danny. “I think you’re very nice and I think you and my brother should be good friends. That way you and I can be friends too. Also, now I know you go to Carmelo, so I bet I’ll see you there sometime. I’m in preschool there!” Annie smiled proudly. Then she proceeded to rattle off Carl’s phone number and wouldn’t let the boys separate until she had seen Danny had stored Carl’s number into his phone.
After his serendipitous encounter with a fellow student, Danny ran for another half hour, avoiding any contact with his Lisa and Stan. Panting and dripping with sweat, Danny made his way back to the apartment building. He only lost track of where he was once. He jogged past the doorman who wrinkled his nose in distaste. Danny finally stopped at the elevator bank and punched in the ‘up’ arrow. His momentary happiness wilted away as the elevator rose floor by floor, and had completely dissipated by the time it had reached the 45th.
The elevator opened with a resounding ding and Danny snuck quietly into the apartment, if you could even really call it that. With a place this size, it felt more like a house. Scratch that, thought Danny, a prison. He gingerly snuck down the hallway, eager to make it to his room without any contact with the newlyweds. To his chagrin, his mother swooped down on him like a vulture. She seemingly appeared out of thin air.
“DANIEL, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? I texted you several times.” She shrieked, waving the curling iron in her hand dangerously close to Danny’s face.
“Danny. I go by Danny…” He replied, exasperation peppering his voice. “I was out for a run. Guess I lost track of time.” He lied, scooting as far from his mother’s weaponized hand as possible.
“Sweetie, you need to shower and change. We have dinner with the family of Stan’s boss. Stan left a nice polo tee on your bed, y’all will be matching!”
“Let me think about that… No.” Danny replied flatly, inching his way down the hall away from his mother.
“Nuh-uh mister! This isn’t a choice. We’re a family; we’re going to a family dinner. Besides, they have a girl who just your age! She goes to Carmelo as well!”
“How fascinating.” Danny said dryly, his back pushing open his bedroom door.
“You’re going tonight and that’s final.” Lisa snapped and turned on her heel, curling wand aloft. Danny groaned and flopped down on his bed. Beside him lay a hideous yellow and orange striped polo shirt. Something you’d see those walrus like old men on golf courses wearing, Danny smirked at the thought.
After his shower Danny stood around in his towel contemplating whether the shirt, or lack there of would cause a fight between Stan and himself.
“F*** it.” Danny mumbled and threw on a pair of pale orange shorts and a white short sleeved collared shirt.
“DANNY. HUSTLE. YOU’RE GOING TO MAKE US EVEN LATER.” Stan hollered from the living room.
“I’M COMING.” Danny screamed back, slamming his door as he exited his bedroom.
“Oh!” Lisa exclaimed when she saw Danny slouch into sight, “you look so much like your father, he was so handsome when he was your age. You’re like his spitting image.” She smiled and squeezed Danny’s hand lightly. Danny felt something in his stomach. His mother had buried the memories and conversation of Danny’s father with his body.
Stan shuffled his feet awkwardly, “uh- he’s not wearing the shirt.”
“He looks handsome, let him be.” Lisa waved away Stan’s objections as she brushed her hands down the front of her crisp white sundress.
“Let’s go.” He replied abruptly, pushing the ‘down’ button on the elevator, so conveniently placed right in the entrance to the apartment.
As soon as they exited the apartment building, a wave of heat rolled over them. It was one of those nights in August. When your shirt would stick to your back and pungent smells clung to the thick air. The streets of Carmelo moved at a molasses pace, as if the heat inhibited the usual hustle and bustle. Lisa waved her left hand in the air, the large rock on her ring finger glinting in the dwindling sunlight. Once in the cab, Stan rattled off an address Danny recognized as closed off apartment building he had run by earlier that day. Typical, he thought, they’re both too lazy to walk just a few blocks.
The cabbie pulled to a smooth stop in front of a grand set of wrought iron gates, nestled between a thick stonewall that separated the apartment building from the rest of Carmelo. There was writing splashed prominently across the face of the gates: Prescott Commons
Stan stepped out of the cab and strutted importantly to a buzzer, pressed it, and spoke:
“Stanley Wallace and family here for Mr. Gregory Thibodeaux.”
A disembodied voice replied,
“Yes sir, please wait for the buzz and the gates will swing open. Welcome to Prescott Commons, enjoy your visit and please keep off the grass.” There was an obnoxious bzzzzzzz and the gates swung silently opening into a courtyard. The apartment building itself was in a shape of a U. The building was cozied around a pristine courtyard. In the middle stood an ornate fountain depicting a rather famous, and fictitious event from when the city of Carmelo was founded. There were a handful of citizens who wholeheartedly believed this myth, but most saved it for a story told in the quiet of night. Used as one last story for the younger children to hear before bed. Like all myths, details had gotten lost in passing. Generations passed and details were embellished, changed, the myth distorted from the original teller. But the myth always had one common thread; it followed the life of young Pani over four hundred years ago.
- Pani loved the night sky. She would sit out in the fields behind the hut she lived in and stare up at the sky wishing she were a part of the infinite night. It just so happened that there was one other person who shared her passion, her best friend Aurella. The two of them would sit outside for hours on end, deep into the night staring at the stars. One day, the girls hatched a plan. They were going to run away, climb to the top of the tallest mountain and reach for the stars. The girls walked for days and days, they hiked up the face of Mount Carmelo. They finally reached the tallest peak of the mountain and began reaching. The two girls stood still reaching for so long, their feet began rooting into the ground. Their legs fused together, then their hips, their torsos and finally their entire bodies were fused together. The two girls had been still for so long they had turned into an oak tree. The families of Pani and Aurella searched in vain for them for years and years but the only remnants of the two girls were the twisted oak trees limbs. -
So, reaching to the sky in the middle of Prescott commons was a replica of the very tree within the myth. Water sprouted from several of the tree branches and the names Pani and Aurella were etched in the bronze trunk. The myth had traveled so far because of the location of the city of Carmelo. It was indeed on the top of a mountain, surrounded by smaller towns. If you visited the city square you could see the actual tree of the myth told.