The Ever Greene

The Ever Greene

Rebecca Arriola, Editor in Chief

Now I’m all alone…in southern California, she thought with a sigh. Kel Greene’s mood hadn’t improved as she walked around the house. Another sigh escaped her lips as she flopped down on a stool in the kitchen. The house was too large, too empty without him. Tears threatened to spill out. She pinched her arm and focused on the pain and took a few deep breaths. Well, she placed a hand almost shakily on her stomach; I’ll only be alone for a few months. With a grunt of frustration she quickly stood, grabbed a knife from the drawer and marched outside. A quick survey of the backyard reminded her she was far from home. Her old backyard didn’t have a forest in place of a wood fence. Nothing here was familiar. The life of an army wife, she thought bitterly.

She gripped the knife and walked to the tree that was set off a bit from all of the others. It was an evergreen, tall yet from the size of some other trees she could see, still young. Nine months… She raised the knife and was about to cut into the tree when she heard a voice gasp, “No, You can’t do that!”

In silent shock she dropped the knife and spun around with one hand over her stomach, the other on her throat. She looked around frantically and saw no one. She turned back to the tree and peered to either side. A breath of relief escaped and a giggle from above rang in her ears. Startled once again she glared up in the tree as she bent down to pick up the fallen knife. “Who’s there! You’re on private property.”

“No I’m not” called the voice. It sounded like a young child. A boy perhaps. Still with her guard up she called, “Come down here.”

A rustle of leaves sounded and a few pinecones fell. Soon small feet were noticeable and a boy, no older than nine, shimmied down the trunk of the tree. Kel had never seen anyone climb a tree like this kid; it was almost unnatural how he seemed to find the smallest nooks and bumps to use as supports – like he knew every dimension.

He brushed himself off and looked at her with a simple, “Hi.”

Kel raised an eyebrow at him, “‘Hi’? That’s all you have to say. You’re on someone else’s property, kid. Without permission. Don’t you know how much trouble you can get into?”

He didn’t say anything but instead stared at the knife. With a sigh Kel tossed it behind her and gave him a look that asked “better?” He smiled brightly and sat on the ground before saying, “I wasn’t on private property. I was in a tree, and you can’t own a tree.”

With a sigh she massaged her head, an obvious gesture to try and remain calm with the boy. “Any way kid, go back home.” He didn’t respond and pulled grass from the ground. Kel rolled her eyes and knew this kid was going to be difficult. She crouched down next to him; he just ignored her and continued on with his task. She took a moment to study his face. If she had to describe him she would use the word “natural.” He had dark, coarse hair that reminded her of a tree trunk and eyes so green it looked like a forest. Forests over here, forests over there – I can’t seem to get away from them. A smile crept on her face as she thought this. It was odd since she had always hated forests, having grown up near a beach.

“Say kid, what’s your name?”

He stopped pulling at the grass and looked at her. “I don’t have one. Well I do, but I don’t.”

Kel furrowed her eyebrows in confusion. “What do you mean? You have to have a name.”

The boy just shook his head and went to scattering the grass around himself. “If you want a name you can make one up for me.”

“You want me to name you?” she almost laughed at the idea, but he nodded seriously. Is this child serious? He couldn’t NOT have a name, it’s ridiculous. She frowned a bit, not sure how to react to any of this. “If you really wanted me to I guess I could name you. I’d need some time to think about it though.”

His face lit up almost immediately. “Really, you’ll give me a name?”

Surprised by his reaction she could only nod. “Is there a particular name you want?”

He shook his head. “I’d be happy with anything!” He was so giddy he stood up and did what looked like a little dance. Kel couldn’t help but laugh at this. Perhaps a child won’t be too bad, if they’re like this. She absent mindedly placed a hand on her stomach again.

“Does your tummy hurt?”

She didn’t hear him and just stared at the house so he asked again. “Does you’re tummy hurt?”

Her eyes widened for a second as she came back into reality. With a smile at the boy she said, “No I’m just thinking about my baby.”

His eyes widened and mouth gaped in amazement. “You have a baby?”

Kel chuckled a bit and patted her stomach. “No, not yet. In a few months though, I will.”

He placed a hand next to hers and was silent for a few seconds. “I don’t feel anything.” His mouth pouted in disappointment.

She laughed a bit again. “Give it a few months and I’ll be as round as a balloon and it’ll be impossible to not feel anything.”

His eyes sparkled at the thought. Such a pretty green… “Forest.” She smiled at the word. The boy tilted his head at her but she could only beam at him. “Can I name you Forest?”

“‘Forest’” he tried the name out himself. A blinding smile spread across his face – almost like the name was a secret joke that only he would get. “It’s perfect.”

With a triumphant smile Kel said, “Forest it is then. By the way my name is Kel. Mrs. Kel Greene to be exact.”

“Then I should call you Mrs. Greene?”

“No you can just use Kel. I feel old when people say ‘Mrs. Greene.’” She shook her head at the thought.

“So back to the baby…” He stared intently at the stomach. “How big will it grow?”

Kel roughly traced a size with her hands and the boy gasped. “Is that possible?” She held back a laugh when she answered, “Very possible.”

Forest thought for a moment and looked at the house. “So where is Mr. Greene?”

Kel sighed and sat down with her back to the tree, Forest sat down next to her. “He’s a part of the military and is off right now for some extra training. Once that’s over he’ll be stationed in the fort down the road, but we wanted a house off site – you know so when work is over relaxing is easier.”

“Oh, so when will he be home?”

“I can’t think of the time at the moment but it won’t be for a long while. The baby will probably be born before he comes home.”

“How long until the baby is born?”

“Nine months.”

He stood in shock. “Babies take that long to be born?”

Kel smiled and said, “At least you never have to carry one for that long, being a boy and all.”

He sat down with a sigh. “I guess that’s true.” He placed a hand on his own stomach and shuddered. Kel chuckled and stood up. “I better get inside and unpack a bit more. You better get home before your parents worry okay, Forest?”

He slowly stood and smiled at her. “Okay… but I’ll see you around right? I can come talk to you when you’re out here?”

She smiled sweetly at him. “Of course you’re always welcome. You won’t be a trespasser anymore.” Then she started back to the house. Right before she opened the door she heard his shout across the yard. “Thank you for my name!” She turned around to wave, but he was already gone. Probably ran off in the trees. I wonder if a house is set back there somewhere.

*

Before Kel knew it, she was always outside talking to Forest. At first she tried to figure out where he lived or some general information about him, but he always avoided the questions. She started to worry he was homeless, but when she asked, he laughed and assured her he wasn’t. More than once she even walked into the woods to try and find a house, but there was nothing. What shocked her even more was that he didn’t go to school. This conversation happened a few weeks after they met.

Kel went outside and decided to read a book under the tree. She had only been reading for a few minutes when Forest leaned over her shoulder and asked, “What’re you reading?”

She jumped a bit. Normally his sudden appearances didn’t surprise her but she figured he’d be in school. She had to think for a moment before deciding school couldn’t be out today. “Forest… shouldn’t you be in school?”

He simply shook his head and asked again. “What are you reading?”

Kel sighed and showed him the cover of the book. Forest nodded and sat next to her like he normally did. Not convinced Kel asked again. “Shouldn’t you be in school?”

Forest sighed and said, “I don’t go to school.”

This confused her. “How could you not go to school? Are you homeschooled?”

“Hmm. No I’m not and I’ve never gone to school. I do know how to read and write though.”

“Oh. What about math?”

“I know some.”

Key frowned a bit. “Who taught you?”

He shrugged his shoulders and simply said, “I can’t remember.”

Kel wasn’t sure what Forest meant but she had learned not to push him too much for answers. He’s gotten up and left before if she got too pushy. She closed her book and leaned against the tree. “Next time I can bring some books and we can read together if you want. I bought some for the baby.”

His eyes lit up and he nodded enthusiastically. Kel liked it when he seemed his age. In the short time she knew him she found he had a tendency to act like he’s been alive for many more years than he looked. They spent the rest of the afternoon talking about different stories. After that day Kel would bring a book to read out loud if they couldn’t find anything to talk about.

*

Kel and Forest were quickly becoming friends. Kel even told her other friends about him but the day they had gone over to the house he didn’t show up. The next day he had told her he didn’t want to interrupt. On further thought Kel decided it was for the best. Their age difference was so great that people probably wouldn’t completely understand their friendship. Kel thought of Forest like family, maybe a nephew. He seemed to treat her in the same manner and that made her happy. Talking to him helped her when she was lonely in the house – not that he ever went inside. Kel offered once but he solidly refused and she never asked again. Not that he was rude about it; he seemed to really like the outdoors. It’s a good thing it didn’t get too hot where they lived, even in the winter.

Forest rewrapped his scarf for the fifth time. “Are you cold, Forest?”

He nodded solemnly and sat on his hands. Kel chuckled and offered her sweater. He refused instantly. “No! The baby will be cold, right?”

It was a month away from the delivery and so Kel was sitting in a chair rather than the ground like she normally did. She sighed and rubbed a hand over her stomach. “Yes, I suppose it would be best I keep my sweater. Would you like me to go get another from the house? I could bring out some hot tea too.”

Forest made a face. “I don’t drink tea and I’m fine. I can just walk back and forth to get warm.” He stood up and began pacing.

Kel leaned her head back and closed her eyes. “My mother should be here in the next few days. She’s going to help until Jared gets back.”

“Jared…Mr. Greene. Mr. and Mrs. Jared Greene. Jared and Kel Greene.” Forest has been doing this a lot lately. He said he tried to think of a name that would sound good for the baby. Kel was surprised he didn’t even ask the sex of the baby. She decided to not tell him until he asked. Since he didn’t offer information she didn’t either. If Forest wanted to know something he would ask.

Kel opened her eyes when she felt Forest’s hands on her stomach. With determined eyes he asked, “Is it a boy or girl?”

She laughed, “All these months and you finally ask?”

He furrowed a brow, “How long have you known it?”

“A very long time.”

He threw his hands in the air, “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“You didn’t ask. I thought we had a don’t ask, don’t tell relationship here.”He pouted his lips to that, knowing I was right and sat back down. “I bet your mom already knows and is bringing a lot of presents with her.”

Kel raised an eyebrow at him, “You’re probably right. I’m also betting a lot of it is pink.”

He looked at her with a beaming smile, “So it’s a girl! Will you bring her to see me when you get back home? You said you’d leave for a bit when she’s being born.”

A sweet smile broke on Kel’s lips. “Of course I’ll introduce you two. It’ll be the first thing I do when I get back. I won’t be gone long you know.”

“I know, but now you need a name.” He frowned. “Have you thought of any? Or Jared, since I know you talk to him still.”

Kel puckered her lips in thought. “Nothing I really like so far.” She tilted her head. “I figure I’ll know when I see her. That’s how I picked your name you know.”

He looked at her questioningly. “Your hair is really dark, and wiry, which reminded me of tree bark. Then your eyes were very green, not blue green, but the kind of green that reminds me of tree leaves. You also look very…natural. So I figured ‘Forest’ would work best for you.”

His eyes were wide in wonder as she gave the explanation. “Then I found your name fit perfectly. You’re young, but sometimes you seem like you’ve been alive longer than me.” Kel laughed at the thought and Forest gave what seemed like a knowing smile so she continued, “Like a tree. They grow so tall, but while we consider them old tress they’re still young.”

Forest nodded, understanding what she meant. Kel sighed and struggled to stand up. Forest stood too and offered an arm to help her. She ruffled his hair and she said goodbye. “I’ll try and visit, but with my mom here I might not be able to.”

Forest nodded and placed a hand on her stomach. “Then good luck with the baby. Promise you’ll introduce me as soon as you get back home?”

Kel smiled. “I promise.”

*

Kel’s mom stared at the bundle that lay in her arms with an adoring look. “Ever Greene. That’s quite a play on words, Kel.”

Kel chuckled from the bed as she took the baby from her mom. “I know but as soon as she opened her eyes…I knew it was perfect. Besides Jared gave me control over what to name her.”

Kel couldn’t help but look at her daughter’s face. The wispy hairs on her head that looked between a red and brown, the chubby face and tiny fingers that would make anyone’s heart flutter. What Kel loves the most, though, were Ever’s eyes. They were a startling bright green, nothing like anyone in her or Jared’s family. They reminded her of Forest. Kel couldn’t wait to introduce them. She knew Forest would take to Ever quickly. Of course Jared already saw her through a webcam, he cried while Kel beamed brighter than ever. She couldn’t wait for him to get home in a few months.

“Oh, Kel…” Her mom’s voice brought Kel from her thoughts. “I almost forgot to tell you. The storm last night? Lightning must’ve struck one of your trees in the backyard and it was split in half. I’m afraid when we get back we’ll have to call someone to take care of it.”

Kel froze and didn’t look up but she heard her mom placing her travel bag by the door to the room. She had a horrible feeling about what her mom was telling her. “Which tree was it?”

Her mom smiled a bit. “Luckily it was the tree that was set off a bit from the others, so no fire started. I know you enjoyed sitting under that one, but…” Kel didn’t let her finish her sentence. “I need to see! Hurry up we have to leave.”

Her mom was startled. “Well we have to go finish checking you out. I think they said you have to leave in a wheelchair as well.”

Kel looked up with pleading eyes. “Please mom, I really need to get back.”

Kel’s mom gave her a weird look but left to get a nurse. Kel sighed and stared down again at Ever. With a soft whisper, “It’s okay sweetie. Soon we’ll be home and I can introduce you to Forest. He’ll be like an older brother to you. It’s okay.”

The feeling Kel had didn’t tell her everything was okay so she kept repeating the words until her mom came back and told her they could leave.

*

Kel walked in the house and was glad to find everything in working order. Her mom told her to go rest and not bother helping with the bags. She didn’t feel like arguing so she took Ever to see her bedroom.

“Kel? Was there anything you needed?” Her mom’s voice floated upstairs. Kel looked at Ever for a moment. It took awhile to get her to sleep. She had cried most of the way back from the hospital.

Kel walked from the room and at the stairs asked, “How about you go pick up a cake? To celebrate Ever coming home.”

Her mom’s face brightened at the idea. “I know just where to get one. You come sit in the living room and I’ll be right back, okay?”

Kel nodded and went down the stairs. “Oh and Kel if you go outside don’t go near the tree. It’s dangerous and I don’t want anyone getting hurt.”

Kel rolled her eyes but agreed. Once her mom was gone she walked toward the backyard. In a soft whisper to Ever she said, “You’d think after having you she’d stop treating me like a baby.” With a soft sigh she thought, I know it’s only because she cares. Also Jared isn’t home so she’s a bit worried.

As soon as Kel stepped outside she froze with a sharp intake of breath. The tree was really split in half and leaned slightly to one side. She slowly walked toward it and, holding Ever firmly with one arm, placed her hand on the trunk. She peered around the tree, trying to spot Forest. He was nowhere to be seen.

She called out a bit. “Forest? Where are you? I’ve brought someone to meet you. The baby, remember.”

Nothing happened and so Kel backed up a bit and peered at the tree; almost expecting to see him smiling from its broken branches. A soft whimper caught her attention. From the forest she could spot a little girl crying. The girl resembled Forest in a way, but instead of green eyes, she had an orange-red shade that reminder Kel of the autumn where she grew up.

Maple. Kel shook her head, wondering where the thought came from. She was about to ask the girl why she was crying but before she could she heard more people. As she looked around she saw a large gathering of people from very young to very old. It was an amazing sight, though they all looked sad and many were crying. A forest, she thought. An old man wobbled over to Kel and she pressed Ever tighter to her chest. “Who are you all?”

The old man raised an eyebrow. “Could you really not have guessed by now? You’ve even spent so much time with one of your own.”

“Forest…”

The man nodded, “That’s what he claimed you started calling him. Very soon we all called him that. I must admit it was very fitting.”

Kel narrowed her eyes, “Where is he?”

The old man ignored her as he wiped his eyes a bit. Everyone else was either crying at the tree or staring at their exchange. The man then looked at Ever. “Ah? Is this the baby girl he told us all about?”

Kel nodded stiffly. She had begun to understand. The man leaned down and stared at Ever who had woken up. Kel was surprised she didn’t start crying, but she simply stared up at the old man with wide eyes. The man glanced up at Kel. “Her name?”

Kel swallowed, “Ever. Ever Greene.”

The man chuckled slightly and tears began to well up again. Kel noticed they had a slightly green tint to them. “He would’ve loved it. I can tell. It was because of her eyes wasn’t it?”

Kel could only nod and she looked back at the tree. Her tears brimmed her eyes. “No.”

The man placed a hand on her shoulder. Kel slowly and shakily walked up to the tree – the evergreen – and placed a hand once again on its trunk. “Forest? Please come here…”

The tears wouldn’t stop flowing now. “No! Forest! You haven’t met her yet. I named her Ever. Did you here? Her name is Ever Greene. Her eyes are just like yours. Jared wanted to meet you also. I told him about you.”

She fell to the floor, Ever held firmly in her arms, and cried –Ever had started to cry too. Kel wondered if this is what it felt like to lose a child. She had come to love Forest. She wanted him to see Ever grow up. She could hear the cries of all those behind her. She knew they were all like Forest. It was like she had always known he was really different; different but oh so special.

*

The tree had to be cut down, Kel fought to keep the stump there. Her mom was so scared when she found Kel and Ever crying that day. For some reason her mom couldn’t hear or see everyone else there mourning the loss of Forest. Kel didn’t try to explain and her mom gave up on asking. When Jared came home she told him everything that happened. He simply hugged her while she cried again, and muttered “I’m sorry” in her ears.

Kel sits outside a lot still, on the stump of the evergreen tree. Now she sits with Ever and when Jared is home he’ll sit too. Though now, whenever she’s sitting outside alone someone will come from the forest, sit next to her, and they’ll talk. None of them are like Forest, but in a way it’s like he’s there again. Listening, watching, and smiling his beaming smile; in a way that looks like a young kid, but like a tree, while young, has seen many, many years.