Alaina Wynn remembered the last time she was really, actually happy. It was because of a vague and distant memory, of an eight-year-old girl and an eight-year-old boy.
It was Alaina and Bear, and it always had been. Forever, Alaina and Bear, Bear and Alaina. They spent every summer at Bear’s house in Essex, NY, a tiny town in the Adirondack Mountains, and at the end of the season they would go their separate ways— Alaina to Manhattan, and Bear to his home in Pennsylvania.
There was a field, and it was a field was full of wildflowers, yellow and purple and white clouds on a sky of tall grass. Bear’s family never tended this field, and the children liked it that way. They would lie there for hours, but that night, in Alaina’s memory, there was a storm, and Alaina loved storms. So she took Bear by the hand and led him into the field, and they lay there, holding hands. The rain started, and the thunder, and even the lightning, but they didn’t move a muscle, counting the seconds between the thunder and lightning. When their parents found them in the morning, frantic and scared, the wildflowers had all wilted. It might have been the heaviness of the rain, or maybe lightning had struck, but they never grew back.
Neither Alaina or Bear remembered the first three summers, nor did anyone expect them to. Their moms, Georgia and Sasha, met while pregnant with the both of them. They both had strange urges to bet money— and how many pregnant women can you spot at a casino? So they became friends, bonding over their mutual love of cats and 80’s pop. They both gave birth June 25th, in the same hospital. They knew at that moment that their children would be best friends for life. They were big believers in miracles. Alaina turned out not to be.
The families spent every summer after that in Bear’s parents’ country house in the Adirondack mountains. The children were summer friends, never managing to keep in touch over the year. There was a magic that only existed in the woods behind the house, and the field in front of the woods. They would stay up late whispering every night, telling stories about their school years. Bear talked more, Alaina listening in silence. He told her about his friend Thomas, and how they always ate lunch together by themselves because no one would sit with them. Alaina was always a mystery to Bear. He knew her best in the world, and somehow didn’t know her at all.
This went up until the twelfth summer, when Sasha — Alaina’s mom — decided it would be better to have the two sleep in separate rooms. Georgia — Bear’s mom — was completely against it, but Sasha always won, so Alaina left the little room with the blue walls and the two twin beds and moved down the hall to the guest bedroom, with the yellow walls and the one queen bed. Bear missed waking up and seeing the black curls on the pillow next to him.
For the next four summers, everything changed. Braces went on and came off, awkward stages came and went. Bear and Alaina drifted far, far apart. When they were thirteen, Alaina went to summer camp for the entire summer. It seemed to Bear that she didn’t care anymore, that their summers didn’t matter to her. So summer fourteen he decided to bring along his one and only friend, Alex. He wished that Alaina would come, that she could see that he wasn’t alone without her.
And she did come. Her eyes were black all around, a mess of charcoal eyeliner, a black chaotic blur. It contrasted with the deep green of her eyes, making them brighter and yet masking them. He saw her ripped shirt and tiny shorts, her army jacket and combat boots. It was a change he didn’t expect from such a happy person. It made her look dark and sad. He wanted to hug her and tell her all his secrets. He wanted her to tell him everything, too. But she didn’t talk to him. She didn’t even look at him.
“ALAINA!” he wanted to scream, “IT’S ME, BEAR!” But he didn’t. He ignored her right back, as hard as it was. Anyway, he had Alex. Alaina spent all her time in her room. Sometimes he saw her curled up with a book. He often took walks alone in the woods, revisiting the trees he climbed with Alaina, or the rock clusters they had explored.
One time he came back and saw Alaina and Alex sitting in the living room, laughing. She didn’t even have her book. Bear didn’t think anything of it— in fact he was glad that his two best friends were bonding. But for some reason, when he came in, the laughing stopped. So, seeing he wasn’t wanted, he left. Twenty minutes later, his mom called for dinner, so he went to find Alex and Alaina. They weren’t in the living room, so he checked the field.
“ALAINA!”, he called. “ALEX! he heard shuffling in the tall grass about 20 feet in front of him. He ran to it, hoping to see his friends. And he did. He saw Alex, with lipstick on his mouth and face, and he saw the shadow of a girl he once knew running into the woods. He ran as fast as he could after her, flashing Alex the most scornful look he could muster up as he went. He ran purposefully, knowing exactly where to go. He ran down the path until there was no path. He ran until he reached a large rock, covered in moss and fungus. He stopped all of a sudden, knowing she was there but still somehow surprised to see her.
“Do you ever think about this rock?” she asked.
“Do you? I mean, we spent our childhood on this rock. We don’t even know its name! We never even asked.”
“You’re insane,” he told her.
“No, I’m not. Just curious. Like, come here,” she grabbed his arm and pulled him down next to her. They lay on the rock, face to face. Bear felt her breath brushing against him.
“You see this mushroom? To someone, this mushroom is a tree. And this is their grass, and we’re killing it. Did you ever think about that? We’re so oblivious to everything around us, that we don’t even realize that we’re destroying an entire ecosystem.”
“Alaina, stop,” Bear insisted, sitting up.
“I didn’t mean to,” she said, still talking to the space next to her.
“Don’t give me that. You knew what this would do to me. You know how I feel. Why? Why would you do this to me?”
“You don’t love me, Bear.”
“I do, Alaina. You really think he loves you and I don’t?”
“He doesn’t love me. I don’t love him. I kissed him, that’s it. You don’t need love to kiss someone.” Her head was down, but she didn’t seem ashamed.
“You really think that’s the point here?”
“No, Bear, that’s not the point here. But you don’t know what love is. I love you because you are summer, and innocent and kind. But you can’t love me. No one can love me.”
“I do love you, Alaina. Why don’t you believe me?” he pushed.
“What do you know about me? You know me here, and here I am not me. You don’t know me at all,” she said, sitting up suddenly.
“You’re my best friend. I know everything about you!”
She laughed. “Wait, you’re serious? What do you know, tell me, if we haven’t had a straight conversation since I moved out of the room. No one knows me, especially not you.”
He paused, realizing how true this was. She was a mystery to him, and yet he knew that he loved her like he had never loved anyone before. She stood up and walked away, her bare feet skipping gracefully and purposefully over twigs and rocks, leaving him to murder the tiny mushroom people alone.