Brittle brown stems drooped from their plots, sad and abandoned in my parent’s absence. I felt my heart drop as bile bubbled up into the back of my throat. I hadn’t even considered that the lush green garden I had grown up in wouldn’t exist. No, I had assumed that I would be managing an already blooming – no, thriving – farm. One full of fresh produce, ready to live off of at a moment’s notice. All such produce was rotten, critters weaving in and out of once vibrant skin.
My fingertips rubbed small circles on my temples, fighting off the impending headache. I had planned on watering flowering plants, harvesting already ripe fruits and veggies. At the very most – sprinkling fertilizer on top of roots, plucking the occasional weed. I had not planned for this.
Pure terror blossomed in my stomach, tendrils of fear slinking their chilled claws across my skin. I never intended to take on such a huge endeavor. Let alone one I was ill equipped to handle. I had no disposable income and what little money my parents had was going towards their funeral costs. I could barely survive the next ten days! Where was I going to get the funds to reinvigorate this piece of –
My brown eyes scanned the horizon quickly, trying to place the vaguely familiar sound with a face. As soon as I found her the frozen claws of fear melted, leaving me warm in the morning sun.
“Christina!” Caution fell away, replaced by reassurance and excitement, as I called out to her.
Christina had been my best friend since we had been in the womb. Our parents had met at Lamaze class, where they became fast friends. They even went into labor just hours apart from each other. From there Christina and I had been in the same playgroups and preschools. She had been beside me, bright blue eyes full of warmth and humor, all through middle and high school. We had been through a lot together, but when I had left for San Myshuno University she had stayed behind to help run her parent’s shop. That happened four years ago and, like my relationship with my parents, I had let our friendship fall to the wayside.
“I thought that was you!” She exclaimed, pale arms braced against the fence that separated us. Suddenly her expression turned sour, “Oh, I’m sorry about your -”
I raised a hand mid sentence, shaking my head with a sad smile, “It’s not your fault, so please don’t apologize. My mom and dad would have wanted me to be happy,” The dull ache returned to my chest. Tears still pricked at my eyes when I mulled over their deaths; horrible, strangled sobs had whisked me off to sleep last night. When I thought of how they rotted inside of this very building for nearly a month the animosity that seared my veins felt like it could demolish the whole town. But I wasn’t naive, my parents would have preferred me to move on; be happy.
I would try.
“You’re right. They always wanted you to be happy,” Christina’s smile returned, though not as bright as before, “What are you still doing home? I figured you would be at city hall, getting everything in order to sell this place.”
“I’m not selling my home,” I found myself picking at my shirt, slightly embarrassed even as Christina’s eyes sparkled with warmth at the news, “Not anymore, at least. I decided my place was here, on the farm… Um, if you can call it that anymore.” I spared a glance over my shoulder before adverting my gaze quickly. Just the sight caused my pulse to race in fear.
Her eyes widened in shock, or maybe horror, when they focused onto the death and decay that had taken place in my parent’s absence, “Oh goodness, do you need any help, Will?” I didn’t have a chance to respond before she launched into her plan, “My parents still run the general store. I’m sure they’ll let you use some seeds and fertilizer.”
I opened my mouth but quickly shut it. My friend hadn’t changed, still bubbly and affectionate. Guilt bit into my skin – for all the times I had ignored a phone call from her, or replied to a text hastily. Despite the spew of memories assaulting me, Christina was beaming, unfazed with the lack of effort I had shown over the past years. Forgiving, loving, accepting. All the qualities that had drawn me to her in the first place shined brightly in that moment.
“Thank you,” I whispered, nearly moved to tears as I swung one leg and then the other over the fence that separated us.
Christina house was just two blocks down from my own. She made small talk as we walked, catching me up on the small town gossip that I had missed in the last four years. I tried to focus but my mind kept drifting off. I had so much to do. The funeral was this evening and now I had to find a way to restore my parent’s farm – all while being able to pay the bills.
“Will, where are you going?” Christina’s voice had a hint of laughter. I had walked right pass her house.
“Jeez, I’m sorry.”
I joined her on the front porch. The smell of breakfast drew us in as Christina lead the way. Their home was quaint, and the entry opened up into the dinning room and kitchen combo. From where I was standing I could see Samatha Levitt preparing the decadent food, and on the far side of the home, David Levitt was watching the news.
“Mama, Will is here!” Christina announced our presence with a wave, which I shyly returned as Mrs. Levitt turned to look at us.
“Oh my, I haven’t seen you in years. You look lovely, Willow.” Mrs. Levitt faced was lit up, excited to have company. I was an only child, and while Christina did have a younger brother, we both had been constantly present in each other’s households.
“You should join us for breakfast.” Mr. Levitt offered.
“I wouldn’t want to be a bother, I have-“
“Not a bother, young lady. Please, help yourself.”
I nodded, appreciating them welcoming me back with open arms. Christina and my parents weren’t the only ones I had neglected for the past four years – the damage extended to every person I knew from Willow Creek. My self-imposed isolation from this town had been thorough.
“‘Tina, will you please call Christopher downstairs? He’s packing the last of his things.”
Christina agreed, but not in the fashion her mother meant. Instead, she strolled to the bottom of the stairs and peered upwards, “‘Topher, get downstairs. Mom made breakfast!” I saw Mrs. Levitt’s petite face scrunch with annoyance but instead of voicing it, she put a plate of piping hot eggs and bacon in front of me.
“Here you go, sweetie. I’m sure you’re starving, I doubt there was any food in the house since-” She stopped herself, pale skin blushing, before taking a seat next to me.
I brushed it off, knowing that she also was trying to cope with my family’s death. They had been best friends for the last two decades, “I didn’t check, but I am sure everything spoiled.”
My agreement seemed to ease the tension from her as Christina and Mr. Levitt took their seats at the head of the table. I had just taken my first bite when Christopher reached the base of the stairs. His eyes were a deeper blue than Christina’s and his tousled hair was the same chestnut brown as his mother’s. He stared at me as he sat down next to his sister, and I found myself feeling self-conscious.
“So, Mama, Willow wanted to ask you something.” Christina declared.
“Oh? If you need anything, honey, don’t be afraid to ask.”
Christina gestured for me to continue. I swallowed hard, placing my fork down as gently as I could, “I, um, I was hoping you wouldn’t mind lending me some seeds and tools. My parent’s farm… it’s…” I trailed off, the lump in my throat forcing me to chose between silence or choked tears.
“Oh dear, of course. We all heard you were selling the place, though.”
A deep breath steadied my voice, “I was going to, but when I got there last night… I just can’t bare the thought.”
Mr. and Mrs. Levitt both nodded, “That’s great news, honey. Willow Creek was not the same without you. We would love to help you in any way possible.”
“Once I – once I get the hang of everything, I’ll pay you back. I promise.”
“Are you going to use our shop to sell your produce?” Mr. Levitt asked.
I hadn’t put much thought into it, but I didn’t see why not. My parents had sold their produce to the Levitt’s as well, “Yes, sir. If you would have them, that is. I’m not sure how the quality will be and -”
“Nonsense, it’s in your blood. Your parents grew the best produce around,” His praise brought a smile to my lips, “And using our shop is more than enough to pay us back.”
“I’ll drop it off tomorrow mornin’ fer you, Willow.” Christopher’s voice had deepened considerably since the last time I had seen him. His shoulders had widened, arms had filed out. He had been 15 when I left and I was now acutely aware that he was no longer Christina’s dorky little brother.
“Thank you so much.”
“No need to thank us. You know you can always come to us for help.” Christopher stated before stealing a piece of bacon off of Christina’s plate. He munched on it loudly as she groaned, threatening him with her fork.
The dining room filled with their banter as Mr. and Mrs. Levitt and I ate in silence. I may have lost my family but it was nice to know I still had a place where I belonged.