Just as the sun rose up above the horizon, we crested the hill. I smiled at the sun’s golden rays, enjoying the warmth they projected onto my face. Our shadows stretched out in front of us, distorting our image so that we appeared to be colossal giants. There lay my old town, a speck among the vast expanses of nature surrounding it.
I could feel the people below, but only faint outlines. They didn’t blend with the other creatures, so vibrant with activity and exuberance at being alive. Matt turned away from surveying the town, looking at me.
“Are you sure you want to do this, baby girl? You don’t have to. It’s really not a big deal,” he said nervously, “It won’t ever become a problem. We could just get your stuff and leave.”
He was referring to why we were here. I had left a few things at the house I would like to get, if they were even still there. But the reason he was so worried was because I wanted to talk to the mayor as well. When I left, I hadn’t officially told anyone I wasn’t going to be living there anymore, and so I was still a resident of the city. I didn’t want to be attached to any city, because my home was on the road.
“Matt,” I said in a soothing tone, “It’s all right. Really. I want to be free from the constraints of the city, once and for all. Don’t worry so much. I’m fine with what happened now, I promise.”
He looked unsatisfied, but gave in anyway. We strolled leisurely across the ground, stopping at the small city gates.
“You don’t have to go with me, Matt,” I said, “I can do this on my own. You can stay if you want, I suppose, but it would be better if you just waited here. I’ll radio my position.”
I gave him a smirk at the mention of the radio, attempting to make him feel more at ease. He shuffled his feet, a habitual sign of his concern. Still, he respected my need for closure, and instead leaned across one of the posts on the gate. After he wished me good luck, I made my way through the town.
It was quiet and peaceful, most of the people still sound asleep. I spotted some kids playing tag in the field, their joyous shouts the only sounds in the air besides the gravel crunching at my feet. I smiled as I passed, enjoying the smiles on their faces.
Children were special, humans who had been left alone, their souls allowed to be pure. There was no way of knowing what they would be like when they grew up, but for now they were like angels.
I walked languidly along the streets, heading towards the mayor’s office. People emerged from their homes, the early birds rubbing their eyes sleepily. But it wasn’t long before they noticed me. I was rather easy to spot, mostly because of my hair. There were several surprised gasps, and I began to hear whispers. More people came out of their homes, enticed by the gossip about me.
It had been two weeks since my awakening, and so it made it a month they hadn’t seen me. But instead of the close whispers they usually engaged in, there seemed to be a wall around myself that made them back away, just like with Matt on the fateful day I met him. They were speculating on my return.
She had come crawling back after he left her on the side of the road, someone said. She killed that man too, just like her family, came another. These rumors should have hurt me, but they didn’t. Perhaps it was just because they couldn’t be farther from the truth.
No, that wasn’t it. It was because of Matt. Ever since I had awakened, I could feel him from long distances, an ever present connection. I could sense the wave of concern washing over him, his trepidation. He was probably thinking of chasing after me right now, if only to protect me. But the fact was that he was doing just that where he stood. He was always there for me, even if he was not right by my side.
Their comments were like a fly buzzing around my ear. An annoyance, but not a real problem. They seemed confused by my lack of hatred. I smiled sadly for them. They didn’t understand how much joy and love was in this world, so trapped in their misconceptions of society. I hoped they would someday wake up, and at least try to find some of that love.
I reached the mayor's office, the concrete bricks reminding me of my younger days. The building seemed so much smaller than it had when I was young, and it made it easier to go back in. I didn’t hold resentment for these people anymore, but they had still been a source of pain for me. I pushed open the door, the little bell on top ringing. The secretary looked up, and paused for a moment.
“I’d like to see the mayor,” I said politely, using the drifter persona Matt had taught me, “I’m sorry I didn’t book an appointment, but I’ve been traveling for a little while and haven’t had the time to make one. Is he available?”
She seemed shocked at my sudden behavior, used to my courser approach. I still had all the sass that existed before, but it wouldn’t get me anywhere here. She excused herself, and went to check on him. She came out hesitantly, telling me that he was in fact available, but I would have to make it quick for he had a business meeting in ten minutes. That was plenty enough time. She let me in, and I was greeted with the sight of the older man before me. He hadn’t changed since I was a child, his appearance the same. He looked up cautiously.
“Well,” he said, “If it isn’t Veronica. What can I do for you today?”
He looked awkward, and I understood he expected me to come back and beg to stay at my house.
“Hello,” I said to him, “It’s nice to see you again. It’s been about a month, huh?”
I held out my hand for him to shake, and after a few bewildered moments he took it.
“I understand you’re a very busy man, so I’ll make this brief. I left without notice before, and so I still technically live here,” I said.
His face twisted in trepidation.
“But now,” I continued, ignoring his expression, “I wish to inform you formally that I have moved to a new residence, and so will no longer be a part of the city population. I apologize for any inconvenience I caused without telling you before, and I thank you in advance for understanding my situation.”
He seemed so confused. Understandably, for I hadn’t spoken rudely, or even cursed once. He was waiting for some fight, but I wasn’t going to give him one. He didn’t deserve the effort. He stuttered out a statement in which he understood, and I gave him a smile. I shook his hand again, turning for the door.
“Wait,” he called as I reached the door, “What happened when you left? You just seem so different.”
He was breaking out of his professional mode, astonished by the sudden change in demeanor. I looked back, giving him another smile.
“I found someone who loved me just the way I was,” I replied.
He sat down, not quite understanding. As I turned to leave again, I had a thought. Didn’t the mayor know my family before the incident? I bet he knew my brother’s name! It had seemed strange that I had remembered everything about him, but his name still wouldn’t come to me.
“Sir,” I called, “If I may ask a question?”
He looked up, nodding his consent.
“I was just wondering if you by chance knew my family?” I asked.
He nodded again, his expression becoming fearful. He was worried I was about to explode on him. I could have been mad, for the city was partially responsible for his death as well. When he ran into town that night and came back alone, I understood they had shunned him away, refusing to help. After a lot of thought, I realized it hadn’t been out of spite, but more the assumption that my father had just been drunk and they didn’t want to deal with him.
“I didn’t remember what happened for a part of my life, as I’m sure you know,” I said soothingly so as not to startle him, “But I regained all of the memories. The only thing I can’t seem to grasp is what their names are. Could you perhaps tell me my brother’s name?”
He relaxed, but his posture wasn’t quite tranquil. He was calmer, but he still thought I was waiting for a chance to pounce.
“Simon,” he said, the name sounding foreign on his lips.
Simon, huh? I liked it. It definitely fit him, and I felt the last piece of the puzzle fall into place with this new knowledge. I thanked him, heading out the door.
“Veronica,” he called as I left the building, opening the door in a hurried way, “I’m sorry about what happened. We didn’t know, but we should have. I’m sorry.”
I gave him another smile, this time slightly melancholic. I didn’t say anything, just turned away again. I raised my hand in the air, calling out a farewell.
Suddenly, something collided with my leg, causing a resounding Thump!I looked down to see a little girl around 8, her pale blonde hair contrasting with her sky blue eyes.
She looked up at me in concern, exclaiming, “Oh my gosh! I’m sorry miss, I just tripped. My stuffed animal got thrown by one of those stupid boys. Where did it go?”
I laughed at her, telling her it was all right. I spotted her stuffed animal a few feet away from me. With a sudden shock, I realized that it was no ordinary animal. It was the little ladybug from the classroom, it had to be. There was even the slightly messed up stitch on one of its spots. I picked it up carefully, crouching down to her level.
“Is this the one you lost?” I asked, keeping my voice gentle and happy.
She rejoiced, taking it from me and giving it a fierce hug.
“Thank you!” she said happily, still hugging the bug.
“You sure like it a lot, don’t you?” I asked with a smile, enjoying her look of bliss.
“Yep!” she said, “Mommy thinks he’s plain and boring, but I love him!”
The ladybug had finally been chosen, only to go home with a little girl that loved him. It would have made sense for me to be sad that it wasn’t living with me, but the little girl’s smile made my heart fill up with joy. It had been chosen, and that was all that really mattered.
Suddenly she said, “Thanks! For helping me, I’ve made you an official ladybug club member. It’s special.”
I thanked her, showing exaggerated pride at the honor as she explained “the code”. She asked me my name, and I replied.
“I like your hair, Veronica. You’re so pretty!”
She was the most adorable girl on the planet.
“Thanks,” I responded, “But I only wish I was as pretty as you! I have to go now, but I promise to uphold the ladybug code.”
She smiled, and then ran off to play. I made my way to where Matt was, reaching up to ruffle his hair as he looked anxious. I told him to stop being such a worrier. I showed him my house as I packed a few more sets of clothes, and while Matt wasn’t watching, I grabbed a stuffed lion.
I would give it to him later, and he would laugh. This way, we would match. As Matt surveyed my house for other things I might have needed, I noticed a spider web in my window.
As I studied the beautiful piece of architecture, I realized what I had been wondering. The spider made a web everyday simply because it was what it loved to do. It could be knocked down more times than you could count, and yet it would continue. It loved to have something to be proud of, even if it didn’t last long.
Didn’t I take pride in every fire I built, even though it would eventually go out? I still did it because I liked it too. I had been wrong back then, about the spider’s melancholy. It wasn’t sad at all. In fact, it was filled with pride and glee. As I looked at it now, I realized that if I was going to be anything, I would be happy.
I could see things in a different perspective, and I found the town to be a better place. I could see the ladybug with the girl, the spider spinning its web. As I walked away with Matt, I glanced back this time.
I wasn’t any of the things I had thought I was. I wasn’t the sorrow, or the joy of the spider. I wasn’t the crushed ladybug, nor was I the ladybug with a home. No, I was something different.
I was the baby girl of Matt, the dear friend of Julian, the sister to a beloved brother named Simon. I was a drifter, one connected to nature and life. I was the girl who cuddled octopi at night, the one who adored stories, and the one who stargazed every night before bed. I was all these things, and it made me the luckiest girl in the whole world.
I was me, and that was the best thing I could ever wish to be.