The Skeleton Tree

For the Fault In Our Stars competition.
Rowan remembers the days spent with her old best friend, Henry, who seems to have disappeared out of her life. Wanting to get their friendship back on track, Rowan finally realises why they had drifted apart in the first place.

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The next day, I get a text off an unknown number.

'Hi, it's Henry. Do you just want to meet in the woods by my house?' It reads, and I smile. It's those woods again. They come into everything that is to do with me and Henry.

'Sure. What time?' I write, and send. He replies instantly.

'An hour?' He says. That's the thing about him. He always leaves things to the last minute. When we were younger, he'd knock on my door at eight in the morning, wanting to ride our bikes. Or he'd call halfway through my dinner. He has the worst timing, but I guess that's why I like it. Everything is unexpected and random with him. It's exciting and different, and I have missed that immensely.

I walk down the path to the woods. It is bitter today, and I wish I still had my bike.

As soon as I get there, I see him leaning against a tree, the skeleton one, the hanging rope one. Of course it's that tree he picked, out of all of them, to lean on. Before he notices me, I take a long look at him. He wears a black, hooded coat, and dark jeans. His eyes, the same sparkling green as before, are set on the floor, and his hair is the same, dark brown mess, but appears a little more styled than it used to be. His once round, kid face, has become slimmer, and his shoulders are broader. I always thought he was beautiful, but my god, now he was like an angel.

"Hi." I say, nervously. In this day and age, pretty faces come with arrogant, cocky people, so I put up my guard, ready for him to say something mean. He looks up, and stares at me. I think back to the last time he saw me, and realise he isn't the only one that changed.

"Hi. You okay?" He asks, his voice deep and kind. Oh my god.

"Yeah, you?"

"Yeah." He says, coolly, and gestures to the fallen tree by his side. Obediently, I sit.

"How are your family, then? It's been some years, hasn't it? I thought we were done." He asks.

"So did I. I guess I've just been thinking about the past way too much lately. Uh, my parents are okay. How are yours?"

He swallows, sort of sadly. "My mum, she, uh, she's pretty ill if I'm honest."

"Oh right. I'm sorry. What's wrong with her?" I ask, politely.

"Cancer, in her ovaries. It's pretty bad."

"Oh god, Henry, I didn't know. I'm sorry. I hope she'll be okay."

"So do I." He says, regretfully. He stares off into the distance, as if he is avoiding eye contact. I see a tiny tear on his cheek, but I pretend not to notice. Henry loves his mum. He always has. This hurts to see him like this. I guess he isn't as strong as all his friends think he is.

"So what about your friends? What are they like?"

"They're pretty dim. But cool. I like them." He says. "Do you have many friends?"

I wonder if I should lie to him. I don't want him thinking I'm unpopular, yet no one can hide anything from Henry.

"No. I'm sort of an outsider." I say, looking down.

"Why?" He says, surprised. Why does he think? Can he not tell from the way I am why I don't have friends?

"I'm different." I tell him, and I feel my eyes welling up too. What is with me today? Why I am telling an almost stranger everything?

"Different is good."

"Not to them." I say, and a pathetic tear spills. I guess all this is overwhelming. Both our lives are pretty messed up right now.

Silently, he pulls me into a hug. I am taken aback, but I decide not to argue. This is good, right?

"Oh god, Ro, I missed you so much." He mumbles into my coat. I breathe in his soft, calming smell, and cry even harder.

"I'm sorry, this is pathetic. My problems aren't half as bad as yours." I tell him, pulling away and wiping my eyes. "I bet I've gone all red."

"Nah, you're okay." He smiles, but it isn't the excited one I like. It's the smile of someone who's whole world has been torn apart, yet they're trying to cling onto the last bit of hope they have.

"I guess it's goodbye now? Shall I call you soon?" He says.

"Okay." I say, and stand up. I watch him walk off, tugging at his sleeves, a habit he must have picked up after we stopped being friends.

Bewildered about today's events, I walk home, letting my tears fall freely. I love him. I love him so much. But he is scarred and sad and it makes me sad too. Something is not right about him, and I want to make it better. I just have to figure out what.

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