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Down by the Wishing Well
I stumbled down the grassy hill, chasing after Anna, arm outstretched to tag her. I chased her down the hill, around the copse of maples, across the narrow bridge that spanned the shallow stream, and down the path to the wishing well.
“Safe!” Anna exclaimed as her small hand brushed the stone of the wishing well, turning to me and sticking out her tongue while giggling. “I’m too fast for you, Nathan. You’ll never catch me,” she teased. That was what she claimed, but I always caught her eventually.
“Hey, you can’t stay there all day, there’s a time limit!”
She scrunched up her brow, her soft golden curls stirring in the breeze. “Well. . . you’re puppy guarding!” she retorted.
I sighed. “I’m bored, can we do something else?”
Anna stepped away from the well and into the sunlight. “Wanna go on the rope swing?”
Without answering, I took the opportunity to lunge and tag her. Having not expected it, tumbled to the ground, smacking her elbow on a rock. Immediately, tears sprang to her eyes, and I looked at her elbow to find a nice gash, already quite bloody.
“I’m sorry, Anna!” I said, feeling guilty. “I didn’t mean to do that.” I extended my hand and helped her up, ushering her back the way we’d come. “Come on, let me take you to your mom and she’ll clean that up.”
And so ended their games of tag, down by the wishing well.
I made my way down the hill, around the copse of maples, across the stream, and to the wishing well, looking for Anna.
“Anna?” I called. “Are you down here?”
“Yes,” she replied, her voice quiet and squeaky. I walked around to the other side of the wishing well to find her sitting on the ground with her back against the stone, her knees pulled up to her chest with her arms wrapped around them, and a tear making its way down her cheek.
“What’s wrong, Anna?” I asked, sitting in the dirt next to her, my knee pressed against hers.
She raised her hand to her cheek and flicked away the tear, sniffling. “Someone at school today said mean things to me.”
“What did they say to you?”
“He told me that I’m dumb and ugly,” she whispered.
“Anna, you’re neither of those things! You are smarter than him for not saying mean things back.” I looked away for a moment. “Plus, I think you’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen.”
Anna turned to me with a hopeful look in her eyes. “Really?”
I nodded sheepishly. “You’re smart, pretty, and fun, and you should ignore anybody who says differently.”
She smiled at me and wiped her eyes dry, down by the wishing well.
Anna flung the small and flat stone side-arm, watching it sail across the stream and skip—once, twice, three times.
“Nathan, did you see that?!” she asked, bouncing up and down in excitement. “Three skips!”
I searched around the base of the wishing well for a good skipping stone. Tendrils of ivy had grown up and over and all around the wishing well, adding a mysterious flair to it. The stone base had remained free of the green leaves, showing off its array of multicolored stones.
I found a good stone and joined Anna at the bank of the stream, imitating how she threw her stone because I had never skipped stones before. It splashed into the water with a disappointing tha-plunk. My shoulders drooped, and I sighed dejectedly.
“Hey, don’t give up that easily!” Anna said, handing me several stones from the pile she had collected. “Watch how I do it.” She demonstrated how to skip a stone, and I tried over and over until I got it right, guided by Anna’s helpful and at times annoying directions.
Even after I got it right, I continued to skip stones, trying to beat Anna’s three-bounce skip. Anna and I stood out there for hours, skipping stones in primarily silence, which was broken by the occasional joke.
The sun was dipping low in the sky, casting shadows across us. It was time to go home. I collected my remaining pile of stones and placed them at the base of the wishing well.
My best friend taught me a new skill that day, down by the wishing well.
Anna and I sat side by side up on the edge of the wishing well, swinging our legs.
“I feel guilty,” she blurted out, turning her beautiful brown eyes to look at me. When I tilted my head, she went on. “I broke up with him,” she said, referring to her boyfriend, the first she’d had.
“Oh, really?” I couldn’t help feeling a twinge of satisfaction. “Why?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” she said simply, resting her head on my shoulder. I looked at her—the soft and friendly eyes, the golden curls cascading down her back, her hand resting gently on my knee—and I knew that I loved her. I had always loved her in some capacity, but not it was different, and I couldn’t tell her. Not now, not ever; it would ruin our friendship, and I didn’t know what I would ever do if I lost Anna. She was my very best friend; we’d grown up together, always there to support each other when we needed support, and help each other when we needed help.
I promised myself I wouldn’t tell her, down by the wishing well.
I spread out the red-and-white checkered blanket, weighing it down to the grass by placing a good-sized rock on each corner. Anna placed the basket that held our lunch in the center of the blanket and sat down cross-legged beside it, pulling out the sandwiches she and her mother had made earlier. Her golden locks were pulled back into a ponytail, and she looked as beautiful as ever. I shifted my gaze to the lunch basket before she noticed me staring at her.
“Here,” she said, passing me my ham sandwich. “It’s got Swiss on it.”
I smiled inwardly, she had remembered Swiss was my favorite cheese. “Thanks.”
The sun was high in the sky, but the heat was surprisingly bearable for a summer day. Birds chirped all around, and a curious blue jay stood on top of the wishing well as he watched us eat, maybe waiting to see if we would leave any food for him. When I only had one bite of my sandwich left, I tossed it to the jay, who gulped it down hungrily.
“Hey!” Anna said, slapping my arm. “You can’t feed him or he’ll get too used to it and forget how to find his own food!”
I rolled my eyes and lightly shoved her arm off, stealing her last bite of sandwich from her hand and tossing it to the jay. She gasped and looked at me. She was always so cute when she had that look of mock anger on her face. Anna pushed me over and sat on top of me to pin me down, but I began to tickle her until she flopped over giggling. To my complete mortification, I leaned over and kissed her, my body not responding when I tried to stop. No, no, no, this was bad, this would ruin everything. But to my surprise, she kissed me back.
“I love you Anna,” I whispered to her.
“I-I love you too.”
My first kiss was with my best friend, down by the wishing well.
I sat up on the wooden covering of the wishing well beside Anna, her hand grasped in mine. It was the last week before college, the last day that Anna and I would have together for a long time. I would be going off to a local school, something familiar and close to home. But Anna had been offered a scholarship to the best university in the state, and she couldn’t refuse it, even though it meant leaving me behind. I tried my best to be happy for her and encourage her to go, but my heart was in turmoil. Anna had been by my side for my entire life, and know, after this last day, I had no idea when I would next see my girlfriend.
“Promise me you’ll call,” I demanded.
“And you won’t forget about me?”
She smacked my shoulder. “Of course I won’t!”
“And you won’t flunk out?”
“Hey now, come on,” she chuckled.
“Anna, say it.”
She sighed. “I promise I won’t drop out of school and come crawling back home to rely on you.”
“Eh, good enough,” I grumbled.
“We better get going,” she said, hopping down to the ground and dragging me with her.
I stopped her before she could start walking back home, wrapping a lock of her hair around my finger. She smiled up at me.
“You’re beautiful Anna, inside and out, and I love you. Don’t ever forget that.”
I kissed her goodbye that day, down by the wishing well.
I powered down my computer and grabbed my briefcase, throwing on my coat as I left the office and drove to the nearest florist, where I bought a dozen roses to give to Anna for Valentine’s Day. When I got back to the apartment we shared, I called out her name but heard no response. I searched the apartment for her and found a note on the counter.
You know where to find me. – A
Twenty minutes later, I arrived at the wishing well to find Anna sitting on the stone rim of the wishing well, a piece of paper clutching in her hand.
“Hey baby,” I said, walking up to her. “Happy Valentine’s Day.” I handed her the roses and she sniffed them before placing them down on the stone beside her.
“You know,” she began, and that’s when I noticed that her eyes were puffy from crying. “I wrote you a poem for today,” she waved the folded piece of paper in her hand, “but I don’t think that’s what you really want.”
“Is something wrong, Anna? Did something happen?”
“I don’t know, Nathan, you tell me.” She wiped at her nose. “I’ve seen the way you look at the girl who lives across the hall from us. And I got jealous and paranoid, so I grabbed your phone this morning when you weren’t looking and read through your texts with her.”
I stood there in shocked silence, unsure of what to say.
“I know I shouldn’t have read them, but at least now some things are clearer.” Anna picked up the roses and shoved them into my chest. “I think you better keep these.” She hopped down and walked past me, but I grabbed her arm to stop her, turning her to face me.
“Anna, it’s not what it seems like, I can explain.”
“I really don’t think you can give me an explanation that would help,” she replied.
“Please, baby, don’t go.”
Anna shook her head. “Don’t call me that.” She jerked her arm free and stormed off, taking my heart with her.
“Anna, come back!” I shouted, but she didn’t so much as turn to look over her shoulder.
The love of my life broke my heart that night, down by the wishing well.
I sat at my desk in my office when my phone rang. “Hello?” I answered.
“Hello, I’m looking for a Nathan Vasquez?”
“Speaking,” I responded.
“This is Dr. Liu from the hospital. A Ms. Anna Dupont has you listed as her emergency contact.” I froze at the mention of Anna’s name, the woman I hadn’t seen since that Valentine’s Day two years ago. Why would she have me as her emergency contact?
I had zoned out and missed the rest of what Dr. Liu said. “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” I asked, my voice shaking.
“Anna Dupont was in a car accident, I think you better come down here.”
I got to the hospital as fast as I could, asking a passing nurse where I could find Anna. I was told she was in surgery right now and that I would need to wait in the waiting room until she was ready for visitors. I sat in the plain waiting room raking my hands through my hair, watching the hour hand on the clock go around and around. Three hours and passed when Dr. Liu came into the waiting room to fetch me, guiding me to where Anna was lying in her hospital bed. My stomach flipped when I saw her. She was barely recognizable—her face was a warzone of bruises, stitches, and swollen cuts.
“Dislocated hip, fractured tibia, collapsed right lung, and forty-two facial stitches,” Dr. Liu listed off from her clipboard, sighing. “She’s a fighter, but it will be a long time before she leaves here. I’ll give you some time.” With that, she exited.
I pulled a chair up beside Anna’s bed and gently slipped her hand into mine. She groaned and tilted her head to look at me.
“Nathan,” she grunted, her voice raspy.
“I’m here, Anna.” A tear slipped from my eye. Despite the past two years, I still loved her as much as ever, I always would. “I’m here, and I’m never leaving you again.”
I wished with all my heart that instead of sitting in a hospital room, we could be sitting down by the wishing well.
I gripped Anna’s arm tightly, helping her down the path and across the stream. The hip she had dislocated so many years ago was giving her trouble, and she leaned heavily on me as we limped down the path together. When we got down to the wishing well, we stared at it. The wishing well itself could barely be seen. Ivy tendrils had claimed it as their own, and the area was overgrown with shrubbery.
“Dad, let me clear some of this.” I stepped back so that my son could cut away some of the shrubbery. He had my build, but his golden hair was all Anna’s, although his was now tinged with touches of gray. When he had cleared away the undergrowth, Anna and I leaned against the wishing well, enjoying the familiar feel of the stones, even though we hadn’t been here in quite some time.
“Grandma, Grandpa, is this the wishing well you told me about?” my granddaughter asked me.
Anna and I looked at each other and shared a private smile.
“This is the wishing well,” I said.
The wishing well where tears were shed, laughs were shared, and hearts grew ever closer. The wishing well where my wife Anna and I lived out our final days.