Miranda Summers sat in the branches of the willow tree in her backyard. It was a big, old weeping willow tree that sat in the back corner of Miranda’s yard. Miranda had loved that tree since she was five. There was an opening in the branches of the tree that was just big enough for a now 14-year-old Miranda and her book bag. Miranda spent hours every day in that tree. She had carved words, pictures, letters, and designs into the branches of the tree with a pocketknife that she kept in a hole in the tree. Miranda usually read or did her homework in the tree, but today she just sat there. Tears ran down her cheeks. Miranda’s mother called her in for dinner, but Miranda ignored her. After the third time she called, Miranda’s mom decided that it was no use and went back inside. Miranda turned the pocketknife over in her hand. She grit her teeth and stabbed the knife into the tree. She sobbed until she had cried herself asleep in the tree.
The next morning, Miranda woke up only to find herself still in the tree. She crawled rather ungracefully down the tree. She trudged across the dewy grass and into her house. In the bathroom mirror, she could see that her cheeks were tear stained, and her dark chocolate hair was matted and tangled. Miranda ran a brush through her hair, splashed some water on her face, and slumped into the kitchen. Her mother was scrambling eggs on the stove, and her father was straightening his tie.
“Oh good you’re up,” said Mrs. Summers as she set a plate of food on the table for Miranda.
Miranda didn’t reply. She had hardly touched her food before the bus pulled up outside. She hugged her parents goodbye and ran out the door with her backpack hanging from one shoulder. The April breeze swept the hair off her face. She sat down in her usual spot on the bus, and as the bus pulled away from the curb, Miranda prayed that today would be better than yesterday.
Miranda sat, oblivious to the chaos around her, until the bus came to a halt at the front door of the school. After heaving a great sigh, she stood up and slung her heavy backpack over her shoulder. Miranda usually waited to be the last one off the bus so that people did not step on her heals. After falling in line behind everyone else, Miranda walked with her head held down, trying to blend in with the crowd of people around her. She was trying to make her way through the crowd to her locker, when a foot came out of nowhere and tripped her. The hallway was filled with the sounds of laughter as Miranda scrambled to grab her things before anyone took them. She looked around at everyone who stood around her. A boy was making his way through the crowd to her. With a sad look in his eyes, he held out a hand to her. Jason Smith was her best and only friend. Miranda sighed and took his hand, and he helped her up. Some people were still laughing, but most people had gone back to their business. Jason held her wrist in his hand and led the way through the crowd to Miranda’s locker. Jason stared at her as Miranda put books in her locker and exchanged them for different ones. Without saying anything, Miranda slammed her locker, and they both walked silently to their first class.
Miranda and Jason met when they were seven at the park down the street from Miranda’s house. She had fallen from the monkey bars, and he had come along and picked her up. Little did he know that that wouldn’t be the last time he would help her up off the ground. Jason had always stuck up for Miranda. Once, at the pool, a boy called Miranda fat, and Jason punched him square across his jaw. They had walked out of the swimming pool with Jason’s fist wrapped and bloody.
Miranda and Jason sat in the back of their math class. They were the two smartest kids in the school, despite the fact that they hardly ever payed attention. Neither of them had ever missed more than half a point on a test in their whole lives, so the teachers never really cared what they did as long as they did their homework and didn’t miss any on it. They usually read or did other homework, but today they just sat there. It hadn’t been the first time people had laughed at her, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Miranda was used to it, but it was starting to get really old. Jason spent the entirety of the class thinking and often taking sideways glances at Miranda. The bell rang, and they both wrote down their homework assignment. Neither of them said much of anything to each other until lunch. Miranda was the first to speak.
“It’s getting really old.”
Jason replied, “I know.”
“I honestly don’t understand what makes me that much different from everyone else. Do I really stick out that much?”
“No. I don’t understand either.”
The second half of school was just as depressing as the first. The usual people made fun of her. When school finally ended, Jason and Miranda walked home in silence to her house. Miranda had shown Jason her tree when they were ten. He had thought the tree was beautiful. He had sat in the tree with her and wiped her tears away so many times, it was hard to count. Today was no different. Jason watched her as she carved an intricate design into the tree’s bark with her usual pocketknife. He was amazed that she could even find a blank space considering how many things she had carved. Some were just slash marks from where Miranda had taken out her anger on the tree. Those were the days that he had not been able to be there with her. Jason watched her carefully and was always quick to take the pocketknife out of her hand if she started shaking too much. He always felt it was his job to protect Miranda not only from other people, but from herself as well. He did a good job of it too, but today, he got distracted. When Jason looked back over at Miranda she was shaking. Tears were rolling down her cheeks like rivers, and she had a long red gash down the side of her thumb. Jason nearly jumped on her. He chucked the knife to the ground. Jason wrapped her thumb in his shirt.
“What were you thinking?” he asked, trying hard to stay calm but failing.
Through tears Miranda replied, “I wasn’t.”
Jason wiped the tears from her eyes and brushed back her hair. Miranda put her head on his shoulder and cried her heart out. Jason hated to see her like that.
“You scared the heck out of me Miranda,” he said in a gentle voice.
“I’m sorry,” she replied.
“I know things are rough. You don’t deserve it, but you can’t let them get to you. None of the stuff they say is true. You’re unique, and that scares some people.”
“You don’t understand how hard that is.”
“Don’t I? It’s hard being your friend. You know that?”
Miranda didn’t reply.
“But I wouldn’t trade you for anything.”
A very, very small smile played with the corners of Miranda’s mouth. She looked up at him, and he looked down at her. Their faces were inches from each other when there was a loud crack. The branch they were on snapped, and they both fell thirty feet to the ground. Miranda was so surprised that she didn’t have time to scream. She felt his arms wrap around her, and just as she realized what he was doing, they hit the ground with Miranda on top of Jason.
“No, no, no,” Miranda said as she crawled off of Jason; she had never been more scared in her life.
Jason’s eyes were open, but his breaths were slow and struggled. Miranda screamed for her parents.
“Jason please try. Don’t leave me,” Miranda’s tears soaked the front of Jason’s shirt.
Miranda wrapped her arms around him. Her hand found something behind him. When she realized what it was, she screamed. Sticking out just below his right shoulder blade was Miranda’s pocketknife that Jason had thrown down from the tree.
Miranda’s parents came running from the house. She could hear the sound of ambulance sirens in the distance. They tried to pull her off of Jason, but Miranda only screamed louder. Eventually the ambulance pulled into the yard, and people dressed in green were running at them with a stretcher. For Jason’s sake, Miranda had no choice but to let them take him. She begged her parents to let her go with him to the hospital.
“You won’t be able to see him until tomorrow anyways because they’ll be operating on him,” they had said.
“I don’t care. It’s my fault, I should be there for him,” she replied, her voice wavering.
“ Oh Miranda, it’s not your fault. You didn’t make that branch break,” said Miranda’s mom.
“Mom, you can’t possibly tell me that if dad died of an unnatural cause you wouldn’t find some way to blame it upon yourself. And anyways, this is different,” Miranda couldn’t bring herself to tell them about the pocketknife.
Miranda just shook her head; she was still crying. A sympathetic look appeared on Mrs. Summer’s face.
“Fine. Go,” she said turning to go back to the house to call Jason’s mother.
Without hesitation, Miranda sprinted to the back of the ambulance and hopped in. As the ambulance pulled away, Miranda tried her best to stay out of the way of the nurses trying frantically to stabilize Jason. A nurse sat down next to her and handed Miranda a box of Kleenexes. Tears were still rolling easily down her face. Miranda muttered thanks and took them from the nurse.
“What’s your name?” the nurse asked.
“Well Miss Summers, they’re trying as hard as they can to stabilize him, but even if they can save him, there may be some permanent damage. The nurses are fairly certain it will not be fatal,” said the nurse, trying really hard to sound reassuring but failing.
“What kind of damage are we talking about?” asked Miranda.
“Well we can’t be sure until we get to the hospital, but we think he may have broken a few ribs. Worst case scenario he damaged his spine, and that knife punctured his lung, but again, that’s worst case scenario.”
Miranda put her face in her hands.
“You know he saved my life,” she said.
“You’re very lucky to have a boyfriend like that,” said the nurse as she turned to leave.
“I know,” was all Miranda said.
The nurses rushed Jason through a set of double doors. Miranda was told to wait in the waiting room until someone came to get her. It had been ten minutes, and Miranda was flipping through the pages of a magazine, when Jason’s mother came running in out of breath. Miranda jumped to her feet. Jason’s mom hugged Miranda, and they both sat down. Jason’s mom was full of questions. Miranda explained what had happened. She said they were doing homework in the tree, and Jason had dropped the pocketknife. Miranda did not feel that it was necessary to go in to detail about what had happened in the tree.
“I am so sorry Ms. Smith,” said Miranda when she finished.
“Don’t be. It’s not your fault,” said Ms. Smith.
Just then, a doctor walked into the waiting room. He saw Miranda and Ms. Smith and walked toward them. He sat in a seat across from them and shook each of their hands.
“Hello, I’m Dr. Stuart. I have good news and bad news. The good news is that though he landed on his back, his spine is not permanently damaged, and the knife did not puncture his lungs. However, since he was here, we ran some tests. I don’t know how to break it to you, and I am so sorry, but Jason has cancer in his lungs.”
Miranda felt as though her heart had been pulled out of her chest. She stared at Dr. Stuart in complete shock. Ms. Smith broke down in tears, but Miranda could not comfort her. Miranda felt dizzy, but instead of fainting, she threw up in the wastebasket next to her seat. She ran to the bathroom, leaving a sobbing Ms. Smith.
Miranda was sitting in a bathroom stall on a closed toilet seat crying, when the door opened. They knocked softly on the stall door.
“Miss Summers?” it was the nurse from the ambulance.
“Miss Summers, your parents are here to get you.”
Miranda opened the stall door. The nurse led the way out, and Miranda followed. Her parents were standing by the door. Miranda walked passed them, and they followed her to the car in silence. The silence continued through out the ride home. The car pulled into the driveway, and everyone got out. Before stepping inside, Miranda looked at her tree. The branch that they had been sitting on was lying on the ground along with other small branches. The grass was stained with blood where Jason had been lying only hours before. Miranda couldn’t stand to look anymore, so she stepped inside. Her parents were sitting at the table when she walked in. They invited her to sit with them, and she did.
“So we were talking with Dr. Stuart, and it’s not as bad as you think,” Mrs. Summers started, “They were able to catch it really early, and they’ve already started the treatment. He said it’s stage two.”
“So in a way, it’s almost a good thing that he fell from that tree. If he hadn’t, they would have found much later,” said Mr. Summers.
Miranda didn’t reply. She stood up and walked away. Once she was in her room, Miranda collapsed on her bed and cried herself asleep.
The next morning, Miranda was woken up by the sounds of her mother calling her name. She got dressed, put her shoes on, ran a brush through her hair, and went downstairs, taking the steps two at a time. Her father had already left for work, but her mother was making waffles. Miranda did not get the chance to sit down because the bus pulled up outside. Mrs. Summers handed Miranda a waffle in a napkin, and Miranda ran out the door.
The bus ride was the same as it always was. She sat in the back, and she was the last one off of the bus. In the hallways, Miranda was careful not to trip. Jason would not be there to help her up if she did. As Miranda was putting books in her locker, a boy walked up to her. It was the guy from the pool.
“Jason’s not hear to protect you anymore is he?” he said.
“Leave me alone, Doug.”
“Make me. I dare you to,” he sneered.
Before Miranda could think twice about what she was doing, she grabbed his hair with both hands and kneed him below the belt. He doubled over. Miranda slammed her locker and walked away. She had wanted to do that for a long time, but Jason had always stopped her.
Miranda sat in the back of her math class alone and read To Kill a Mockingbird. Occasionally, someone would throw a wad of paper at her, but she didn’t care. Lunch was the worst. She sat alone and wished the cooks hadn’t made peas. Her table was covered in peas that people had thrown at her, using their spoons as catapults. Though Miranda did feel a small amount of triumph when Doug ran away from her in the lunch line. As Miranda was rearranging the food on her plate, a teacher walked up to her.
“Miranda, Ms. Smith is here to take you to the hospital to see Jason.”
“Okay, thank you,” she replied.
Miranda dumped her tray, grabbed her stuff out of her locker, and signed out at the office. Ms. Smith was sitting in her car waiting for Miranda. When she saw her, she forced a smile. Miranda got in, and Ms. Smith drove away from the school.
“How was school?” asked Ms. Smith.
“Fine. How’s Jason?” replied Miranda.
“He’s awake. I came to get you because he was asking for you.”
They pulled into the hospital parking lot. They walked quickly into the hospital. Jason’s room was at the very top floor of the hospital. He was lying in the hospital bed staring at the ceiling. When he saw Miranda, his eyes lit up, and he smiled. She returned his grin. Miranda was filled with relief. Then he started choking. He couldn’t breathe. A machine by his bed started beeping loudly. Miranda rushed to his side as a nurse came in.
His last words before he passed out were, “Miranda, I love you.”
To be continued.