Please forgive typos. Enjoy.
By Paige Thulin
"The journey in between what you once were and who you are now becoming is where the dance of life really takes place."
~Barbara De Angelis
Butterflies are so interesting. The colours, the shapes, the way they fly.
All morning I lie in the grassy fields outside the village, watching the butterflies and making dandelion crowns.
One of the most interesting things about butterflies is how they grow up. They start out as ugly little green things that tear up the crops. Then, as if they've discovered some horrible truth about the world, they close up, cutting themselves off from friends, family, and everything else. Finally, they emerge, more beautiful than ever, as if the understanding they've discovered is radiating off them in great rainbows.
The next day was Souls Day. In my village, it's a day to honour those who've died, and a festival to help send off those whom we've lost in the past year. For being started for such a bleak reason, it's always so much fun.
The normally plain and boring village is covered in rainbow streamers and every house hangs colourful lanterns from their roofs and in their windows. All the local merchants set up their booths and have discounts on everything. And all the best foods are served on Souls' Day: fried bread covered in sugar, meat from things the merchants called cows, pigs, and chickens. Everything smelled so good. You could tell when the cooking started from miles away. And the traveling merchants that came to town always brought wine with them. The adults of the village always spoke of how great it was, and now that I was 16, I was hyped to try it.
The sun was getting lower, and I was starting to hear the soft chirp of the grasshoppers. I knew I should head home soon, mother would want me to help her start decoration, but I couldn't bring myself to leave the butterflies.
I looked up when I heard soft footsteps treading through the grass.
His eyes - the colour of pine needles - bore into me; reading my very soul. I was lost in his eyes, caught in his spell. Then, he smiled, and I was finished. My legs turned to mud, my insides melted. I couldn't move if I wanted to.
"Azalea," he said, the magic word breaking my trance.
I got up and smiled. "You shouldn't sneak up on me like that," I said.
He looked me straight in the eyes, and the crooked smile I loved most spread across his face. "But it's so much fun," he said mockingly, his voice that of a hurt child.
"So to what do I owe this displeasure?" I asked jokingly.
"Your mother sent me actually. Supposedly, she wants you to help her decorate." Told ya so. "But, what I really wanted, was to see you." he said with a smile.
I quickly looked away to hide my blush; he laughed. "It's not funny, Adrian!" I scolded.
"I'm sorry," he apologized, pulling himself together. "I shouldn't laugh; but it really was funny."
"I guess..." I sighed, crossing my arms and turning away.
Adrian walked up behind me, wrapping his arms gently around my waist. I closed my eyes, taking in everything around me: the wind-swept grass brushing against my ankles, the warmth of the setting sun, the soft chirp of the grasshoppers, and Adrian's arms around me. And yet, I was still aware of the butterflies swirling around me, though I could neither see, nor hear them...
"Let's go," he whispered, lips pressed to my ear. "Your mom's going to think I tied you up in a cave somewhere." He took my hand, leading my back towards the village.
I looked up and smiled. We could be here, in a cave, or at the center of the Earth. As long as I had Adrian, I would be happy...
I could see the village over the hills, its light shining brightly. The ovens had definitely been fired up; I could smell the sugar bread, even from so far away. I could see the merchant caravans arriving, the strange humped creatures they called camels carried them and their wares. Hand-in-hand, Adrian and I ran back to the village, like children running to a pen of new spring lambs; the setting sun, our only light.
When we finally got there, it was even more beautiful. Lights of every colour hung from houses, merchant booths, and even trees. Dyed, cloth streamers were strung from everything possible. Drums, bells, and other instruments were being brought to the village square; I could already hear their music. People carrying tables laughed, while children sang, running through the streets trying out their new, brightly painted masks. The smell of food was so over powering, I could almost taste it; the thought made my mouth water. The excitement was a buzz that slithered and squirmed like a snake through each and every one of us; the air was like lightning. This would be a great Souls Day; I could feel it.
Though I didn't want to leave, Adrian had been right: if I wasn't home soon, my mom would start to worry.
Adrian left me at the door, saying he'd see me tomorrow at sunrise.
I opened the door slowly to the sound of mom chopping potatoes and my sister "ooing" at a lantern.
Slowly, I took hold of the door handle, my heart racing. My other hand trembled as I tried to steady the door with it. I moved it at a turtle's pace, willing it not to make a sound. But the soft click as it shut was enough to alert my mother of my presence.
"Azalea!" she screamed, storming into the room, face purple, chopping knife still tightly clasped in her hand.
Too late, I thought, cursing the door.
"You've been gone all day," she said. "You know you were supposed to be home to help me decorate."
"I know, mom," I insisted. "I swear, I was coming home, and then Adrian-"
"Again with that boy!" she cut me off.
Just then, my younger sister Snapdragon ran into the room cheering, "Azy".
I swung her into my arms saying, "Hey, Snaps".
"You know I don't like you being alone with that boy," she warned.
"Then why did you send him?!" I accused irritation and distain written across my face.
"As if anyone else would be able to find you?" she questioned her voice barely above a whisper. She had a point; Adrian knew me better than I knew myself.
By now, the only light came from the lanterns hung in the windows. Their dim glow illuminated my mom's face; I'd never noticed how old and frail she'd begun to look. Deep rings hung from her tired eyes. Her graying hair, thin and lifeless, locks straying every which way from her loose, messy ponytail. For the first time, my brave, strong-willed mother looked small and fragile, like the slightest touch, the weakest wind, would shatter her.
I could see the concern in her eyes. I wanted to tell her that there was nothing to worry about. That she'd met Adrian, and knew I was safe with him. But I couldn't bring myself to argue with those broken eyes.
"I'm sorry, mom," I apologized. "I'll put Snaps to bed." Holding my ten-year-old sister tightly, I left the room, unable to meet that sorrowful gaze any longer.
"Why do I have to go to bed?" Snaps complained when we got to her room. I lay her on the bed, pulling the blankets over her.
"Mom's having a hard time because it's Souls Day tomorrow." I explained. "It'd just be a lot easier for her if she didn't have to worry about us for a while."
"But Souls Day is fun!" she pointed out.
"I know." I told her. "But, remember when Dad died and mom didn't eat, sleep, or talk for a week? Since Souls Day is a day to remember the dead, all those wounds get torn open again. Last year she didn't even leave the house. Instead of being happy that Dad's in a better place, she feels sad and lonely because she misses him.
"You're still very young, so I don't expect you to fully understand, but that's just how mom works."
Though I could still see confusion, I also read understanding in her eyes. She nodded once and lay back, closing her eyes.
Just as I was walking out the door of her room, Snaps called out in a hushed, sleepy voice, "Sis, are you going to marry Drie-drie?"
I closed my eyes, replaying in my mind, this evening's scene: Wrapped in Adrian's arms in the fields, butterflies floating around us. I sighed, and smiling to myself I said, "I hope so."
"Well when you do," she added, "do you promise we'll still be best friends?"
This time turning around, I flashed her a smile and simply said, "Promise." Before leaving the room, closing the door behind me.
I opened my eyes the next morning to near darkness. The sun had yet to rise. I hurried out the door, not wanting to wake my mother and sister. I walked out into the garden, my eyes still adjusting to the pre-dawn light. Gently snapping several flowers of different shapes, sizes, and colours from their plants, I quickly made my way down the path through the forest, picking several more blossoms on my way.
Finally reaching the trail's end after fighting through broken tree branches and avoiding sleeping animals, I gazed upon a small hill. Atop it was a single round stone and a mound of dirt, dug up and replaced only a few years prior, on which the grass had only just begun to grow again.
I placed the bundle of flowers on the grave. Kneeling down I said, "Hey, Dad. How are you?"
No answer. I didn't expect one.
"It's Souls Day again," I said, my voice clear, but not far above a whisper.
"Mom's having a hard time. I guess she still doesn't know how to handle you being gone. I heard her crying again last night... Is that what real love is like, Dad?
"Maybe that means I do love Adrian. I don't think I could bear to lose him. Mom's been throwing fits every time she finds out I'm alone with him. You were never like that. I remember how you used to say all the time how much you liked him. Snaps likes him too. Last night, she even asked if I was going to marry him.
"I wish you could see her. She's growing up so fast. I'm not sure she completely understands about you being gone. After all, she was so young when you passed. But she's growing up wonderfully. She's incredibly smart. I think you'd be proud... I know you would..."
I looked up at the sky. The sun was slowly ascending, turning the sky brilliant shades of pink and orange.
"Sorry, Dad," I said, "but mom will be waking up soon, and if I'm not there when she does... well, you know how she gets."
Jogging back into the forest I called over my shoulder, "Be back later, Dad!"
I skidded to as stop in front of the house and bolted through the door, still being mindful of the volume of my footsteps.
I bounded through the door to my room as quickly and quietly as I could, jumping onto the bed and yanking the blankets over my head, just as the door creaked open to my mother calling, "Azalea, time to wake up!"
The streets were packed with people laughing and singing. Children ran through the crowds, cheering and playing games while they trailed streamers behind them. They crowded around every place selling sugar bread and other treats, begging the shopkeepers for freebies and discounts. Many were drawn to the village square, where the instruments that had been placed yesterday, came to life in song; sweet melodies filled the air.
My mother and sister were somewhere in the flock of people. They'd begged me to come with, but I declined saying that I had to wait for Adrian.
So there I sat in front of the house, watching the joyous ensemble, yet unable to join it. My head in my hands, elbows perched on my knees; I sat hunched over, staring at the ground. My eyes glanced over every grain of dirt and even the tiniest of pebbles, until a shadow fell over them.
I looked up, careful not to meet his gaze; hoping to avoid another incident like yesterday. Adrian smiled down at me, the sun blazing behind him, I squinted against the blinding light.
Crossing my arms and turning away, I refused to look at him. He sat beside me and I turned the other way. "You look like a lemon," he laughed, his remark about the exotic fruits the traveling merchants would sometimes bring was directed at the sour look on my face. "Come on," he coaxed, "What did I do this time?"
Now, I looked into his eyes, glaring daggers sharp enough to skin a bear in one sweep. "Well, Adrian," I said his name like a curse, "You've dept me here all day." The tension in my voice began to grow. "I've been sitting here, waiting for you, while everyone else is enjoying themselves; right in front of me no less! What ever happened to 'I'll meet up with you at sunrise'!"
"I had some things to take care of," he said it like it was a joke. I'm not sure if I loved or hated that about him, but Adrian thought life in general was a joke. "Besides, you could have gone without me" he said, like he was telling me I had two eyes.
"No I couldn't!" I shot back. "Not without you."
He smiled, putting his lips to mine. Pulling away he said, "Aww... That's so sweet of you," his voice was like a mother praising a small child.
He stood up and smiled down on me. My eyes followed him; the sun blinding me for the second time. He extended his hand. Taking it, he pulled me to my feet; his green eyes blazing.
"So what were those 'things' you had to take care of?" I asked as he pulled me into the crowd.
He glanced at me; a mischievous smile crossing his lips. "Well... for now it's a secret... But you'll find out eventually..." he trailed off.
I just smiled. Normally I would object, but today I was happy just to be there, celebrating with Adrian.
The festival was even better than I had hoped. I had never seen the villagers so happy. I'm sure the spirits were pleased. I hoped the Souls Day after my death would be half as good as this year's.
After the festival, each of the villagers who had lost someone in the past year would walk into the center of the village square, where the people had already gathered into a huge circle. They were to light a candle, symbolizing that even though the person had passed on, their soul still lived on, burning brighter than ever. Adrian and his father, along with several other villagers, stepped forward.
I had loved Adrian's mother like a sister. She always was kind to me. And when Snaps was just a baby, and mother had to worry about her all the time, Adrian's mom - Isabella was her name - had taken care of me.
The whole village had admired her, not only for her kindness and good virtue, but for her beauty. She was truly an angel among frogs. Compared to the rest of us, with out dark hair and dirt coloured eyes, her hair, the colour of fire, and her eyes, the same brilliant green as her son's, looked even more radiant. Until she'd married Adrian's dad, she lived with her father who was a traveling merchant; much like the ones who visited us several times a year. She would mesmerize Adrian and I with tales of the strange places she had been, and the interesting people she had met. Her death took its toll on all of us.
Watching her son and husband lighting their candles, all I could think of was that that had been me only two years ago. I wondered if mother had gone to visit father yet that day.
By the time the lighting of the candles was completed, the sun had begun to set; the day was nearly over. I hadn't seen my mother or sister in a while because I'd been walking around with Adrian since the ceremony had ended. Every time he looked at me, I noticed that mischievous glint in his eyes. He was keeping something from me, and I was determined to find out what.
Just as the last rays of sun began to dwindle away over the hills, Adrian took my wrist and said, "Come on," before dragging me back to the hills where he'd found me the day before.
When we finally got there, I looked into Adrian's eyes and asked, "So what's the big secret?"
He smiled and pulled out a red, woven bracelet. The golden beads twisted throughout the strands and glinted in the soft, pink light that the sun had left in its wake.
I held me breath as he gently tied it around my wrist. Darkness fell, and the stars and fireflies surrounded us. "You wanted to know what the secret was. Now I just hope you say yes." My favorite crooked smile crossed his lips again. "Sorry I wasn't there this morning; I was getting permission for this."
For a while, I forgot to breathe. I didn't blink either. No thought crossed my mind. And automatically I breathed, "Yes. Yes, Adrian."
He smiled, "I thought that would be your answer. Won't your sister be pleased?" He knew? I guess it didn't matter. I couldn't be happier. My body didn't feel like my own. My brown eyes met his green ones, and I felt a spark. I knew it was love...
Then someone screamed.
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