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 morning, I woke up feeling more tired than I had the night before. It was freezing cold, and there seemed to be a layer of frost over every surface outside. I had a shower and ate breakfast, then chose what to wear. My stomach fluttered every time I thought of going there, to Henry's house. It would be so strange to go there again.

Where Henry and I live is known for being just houses. Most villages have shops and parks, and things to do. Ours is just four, large housing estates and a lot of fields and trees. As a child, I had always separated these estates into little groups and themes in my head. My housing estate was all red and yellow bricks, and at the bottom of a hill. It got a lot of sunlight, and I sort of pictured it as the sunny, kid-friendly spot in out village. Then there was the posher area, with spiral gates and posh, white-slab houses. We never dared go there. Then there were the houses up the hill, run down, with slanted gardens, so you could never play football without someone else having the upper hand. Lastly, there was Henry's estate, my favorite. The houses have rustic, old looking bricks, and mock-Tudor patterns above the windows and doors. They have black railings and red roses growing in their gardens. It always felt like I had stepped into another time, although these houses were built at exactly the same time as mine.

I trudge through the field, liked by dog-walkers, and make my way to Henry's estate. The place sends shivers down my spine, as I take in the familiar sights. Finally, I see his house. It is less old-fashioned than the others, and the shape resembles my house.

My heart pounding, I walk up to the door and knock. I wait a minute, but no one answers. This time I knock louder, and the door swings open, making me jump. Henry appears behind the door, grinning, his hair wet and matted.

"Sorry, just been in the shower. You okay? You look startled. Is it my shower hair?"

"No, you made me jump!" I laugh.

"Okay, I didn't think I was that scary. Come in then, Ro."

I step into the house, and peer around. It hasn't changed much since I last saw it. The sofa is new, and that's about it.

"Come to my room, I'm just on the Xbox, I'll say bye to everyone."

"Did you leave it on while you were in the shower?" I ask him, just making conversation.

"Actually, no. I turned it on straight after my shower, then sat there in a towel for half an hour, until I heard you knock and got changed."

"Sounds like something I'd do." I say, picturing it.

"Yeah. We can be procrastination friends." He laughs, and unplugs the Xbox, before turning to me.

"What you wanna do?" He says, sounding like he was at five years old. I shrug.

"What do normal teenagers even do?" I say.

"Well, you can probably guess what girl-boy ones do. Let's not do that. I have films? Games? Books? What do you like these days?"

"All three really. I want to try the Xbox, but I'll probably mess up your high scores."

"What high scores? Yeah, you can play."

He puts on some war video game, and we begin to play, before discovering how bad I am. In the end, we hide from everyone else and sit in a pipe and try not to get spotted. It's funny hearing the other players on the speakers asking us what the hell is wrong with us.

"Henry!" A loud, hoarse, male voice bellows down the stairs. "Come here now!" Henry leaps to his feet, dropping the controller on the floor.

"That's my dad, I'll be back in a minute." He tells me, growing pale.

I sit on his sofa, silently. I didn't know his dad was in. The only memories I have of him was a huge, red, angry man, who always yelled at everyone. His son, his wife, other parents, teachers, friends. Henry always told me that he would never become his dad, and I never expected he would anyway. He is much too different.

I hear muffled yells from upstairs, and I wonder what has happened. What could Henry have possibly done to get in this much trouble?

At last he comes downstairs, wiping his eyes. On one of his cheeks is a burning-red hand-print, which shocks me a little. How often does this happen?

"Are you okay?" I ask him, concerned.

"Yeah, I'm good." He says, his voice wavering.

"What happened?" I question, trying not to seem to nosy.

"I forgot to do something, that's all." He says, sitting down. Something about his face makes me not ask any more questions. He does not want to go on about this.

We play the game for a little longer, when his phone vibrates on the seat between us. Casually, he looks at the phone, his expression changing to panic again.

"I have to get this." He says, quickly. He grabs the phone and answers it.

"Hello." He says into it. I hear murmuring from the other person.

"Now?" He says, almost scared.

"I have someone round." He sounds annoyed.

"Fine. You're already here? Fine. I'll see you in a minute." He says, and hangs up. He turns towards me, looking apologetic.

"My, um, mates are here. Outside. I have to go somewhere with them. It's been fun, thanks for coming. I'll call you soon." He says, hurriedly. I nod and pick up my stuff.

As I leave the house, I spot a group of boys down the road. Some are on bikes, others on foot, all wearing hoods and baggy trousers. These must be his friends. I never thought he'd be friends with people like this.

I suppose there is a lot I still don't know about Henry. It worries me that there may be more nasty things I will find out, but one thing I know, I will not give up on him, no matter how hard it is. Henry is a good person, caught in a tough life. I just hope those boys don't influence him too much.

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