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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9. 9

I wake up on Saturday morning, my head pounding, my face stinging, still wondering what to do.

My parents drag me out to the park, to walk. It is surprisingly nice, just tromping through the woods, chatting and watching the last leaves float to the ground. I almost forget Henry and his 'mates', and what they are making him do. Whatever that is. I know it won't be a good thing, Henry sounded petrified on the phone.

"So, how is school going?" My mum asks, absent-minded.

"Fine, thanks." I mumble.

"You can always have friends round if you like." She says.

"I don't mind. Maybe I'll ask some of them, but they live far away." I lie, feeling terrible.

"Okay, well if they can, ask them." She says, smiling.

"I will." I tell her, sadly. I hate to lie, but she can't know what school is like for me. It would break her heart, trying so hard to bring up her daughter well, and making her happy, then seeing the way I am crushed at school. She can't know. I can deal with it, for a few more years, then I can leave, travel the world, and start new. Just like Henry wants to.

As we pull onto our driveway, I catch the last glint of the sun as it goes down, and shudder. Whatever he is doing today, Henry will probably be beginning it now, as it gets dark.

The night draws on, and I feel increasingly scared. What if he gets hurt? Or arrested? All I can think is how I should do something. 

Finally I decide to call him, but there is no answer. I can't just sit here and let this happen.

Without a second thought, I pull on my boots and a coat, and climb out my window. It is about eleven at night, and my parents went to bed early. My hands shake as I climb down the tree. My mind is set on finding Henry. If he is at home, I will persuade him not to go. If he is out, then I will figure out what to do later.

I run as fast as possible to his his house. My lungs hurt and I gasp for breath. At last I stop, outside the woods, and try to breathe normally again. That's when I hear voices.

Turning towards the woods, I see a few figures, dotted around, shouting things to each other.

"Are they here yet?" I hear one of them say, in a gruff, impatient voice.

"Nope, they best be here soon!" One cries back.

"I can see them now!" A younger, more scared voice says. Henry.

Quickly and silently, I creep behind a tree, to the side of the woods. There are more shouts and scuffling, and I wonder what is happening. There is no way I can get Henry's attention now, without them seeing and him getting in trouble. I guess I'll just have to wait and see what happens.

The twigs on the ground crunch as more feet approach, and I am paralyzed with fear.

"Hey, give us the money then and we'll leave." One says, almost too quiet to hear. There are more voices which I can't understand.

"No, you owe us." Another says, and there are angry shouts.

Slowly, I peer around the tree to make sense of the scene before me. There are two clear groups, separated by a small space in the trees. Like 'No Man's Land' in the First World War. As if they are preparing for battle.

The next thing happens so fast, it is all in a blur. One boy approaches another boy opposite him, staring threateningly. He punches him in the nose, the noise echoing about the trees. That's when it all kicks off. There are shouts and cries, and I hear more punches, and people falling to the floor. I catch the flash of a knife in the moonlight, and my stomach jolts. Then there is a scuffle, right out of my eyesight, and I hear a groan and someone fall to the floor.

"You idiot, you stabbed him!" Someone shouts, and everyone goes silent.

"Let's go!" Another shouts, and the noise of a dozen teenage boys running in different directions plays around the woods. And then it is silent.

Swallowing hard, I come out from behind the tree, and see the figure on the ground. He is curled up in a fetal position, holding his stomach, which pulses with blood. His hair, dark brown, is plastered to his face, and his eyes, a familiar green, are wild. It is Henry.

I run towards him, and sit on the ground. He stares up at me, fear in his eyes.

"Ro." He murmurs, shaking his head.

"Henry I'm calling an ambulance." I tell him, reaching in my pocket for my phone. He shakes his head, terrified.

I call the number, ignoring his attempts to snatch it off me.

A man answers the phone, and I ask for an ambulance. I tell him my friend has been stabbed, and I tell him the location. He says they are on their way.

I turn back to Henry, who's face is pale and sweaty, and his eyes are full of tears.

"You shouldn't have done that. Why are you here?" He mumbles, breathing fast.

"I was worried. A good job too. They'll make you better." I tell him, clutching his hands which hold the wound in his stomach. I am aware of the blood that soaks my hands and the ground around us, but I try not to think about it. "They'll  make everything better." I tell him again, pulling up his sleeves to reveal the scars on his wrists, which have increased since I last saw him. "Even these."

"No, they can't." He says, his voice cracking.

I take his face in my hands, trying to look confident.

"Henry, everything will be okay. You'll get better, and then we can leave. We can run away, escape your dad, escape everything. Okay?"

"No, what about your parents?"

"I don't care."

He nods, and inhales, his throat raspy. He coughs, and I see blood on his lips. This is not good. Coughing up blood is a bad sign. He seems to realise this too, and I see his body stiffen with fear. He stares up at me with his beautiful, striking green eyes, and struggles for breath.

"We're at the tree, look." He tells me, pointing.

"I know. I guess everything comes back here." I tell him, soothingly.

"I love you, you know. I'm so sorry. I love you." He tells me, moving his bloody hands away from his stomach and clasping mine.

"I love you too." I say, my voice a tiny squeak. "I never said it before."

"Well we've said it now. You never forget me, Ro."

"Henry." I protest, angry with his lack of will to live.

"It's okay. I'm fine. I love you." He says, his breathing slowing. Sirens and blue lights fill my senses, as Henry breathes out for the last time, his eyes set on me.

As I watch the life leave his body, I let him take me with him.

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