This retells the classic children's story A Bridge to Terabithia, through the eyes of Anna Darkholme.
Anna hated moving. She hated being in this new town, in this new house. All it meant was secrets and lies and making new friends. Except she couldn't really make new friends. What was the point? All she'd be doing is leaving them all again in a few months. Momma had told her it wouldn't happen. Oma told her they would be in Caldecott for awhile and Oma did know everything so maybe this time would be different. She tacked her unicorn poster above the dresser and frowned, smoothing it down so it wouldn't wrinkle when she fixed the bottom.
"Anna!" Oma called, her voice reverberating up the stairs, through the empty hallway. "Come down and help your mother with the last few boxes."
"Yes ma'am." Anna dropped the remaining tacks onto the dresser and ran down the stairwell. Practically flying, she thought, hands out at her sides, jumping off the third step from the bottom. She swore she could almost feel herself glide a little. Maybe that's what I'll be. A flyer. That'd help Momma. She skidded to a halt in front of the door, yanking open the screen and tore off towards her mother, wrinkling her nose at the pale skin and brown hair.
Momma looked common. No, not common, she was still beautiful, but Anna preferred her blue skin and red hair, when she looked like a fairy or a water nymph. She was talking to a big, burly looking man who was eyeing her something fierce and Anna almost wished she could go and kick him in the shin. Make him stop. Momma would say that wasn't polite and they were supposed to be putting up a nice front, be respectable-like. Didn't mean Anna had to look nicely at him. Nope. Not at all. Anna scrunched up her nose and pursed her lips, practically stalking her way over to her mother, hoping the man would get the hint.
He didn't. Just kept on talking and looking and Anna pushed her hands into her pockets, kicking gravel around her feet, watching smugly as she dirtied the man's shoes. He didn't say anything, but the way the veins in his neck bulged slightly gave away how much she was aggravating him. Momma's hand on her shoulder also warned her that it was time to stop and be silent. She forced herself to stand absolutely still, keeping her gaze on the driveway and waited, knowing Momma would be proud if she could be still and quiet.
It wasn't that hard to do once she caught sight of the line of ants, watching the bugs scurry from the porch out into the grass. She squinted, trying to focus on them and where they were going. Once they reached the grass she couldn't see them anymore but could imagine where they were headed. A giant anthole, intricate tunnels running in all directions and interconnected. An entire world surviving under the ground, all helping each other in order to live.
A gust of wind blew past, bringing a leaf down onto the path of the ants and caused them to divert their path. Anna watched in horror as the man brought his foot down, twisting it and killing an entire row. "Damn bugs," he muttered, and she looked up. "You just call if'n you need any help Ms. Darkholme." He tipped his hat and shuffled his shoe, scattering even more ants and Anna just knew there were plenty that would never make it home.
She glared at the man's retreating form. "Robbins Pest Exterminator," she said, reading the man's shirt. "What's exterminating?"
"Killing." Momma said, and Anna's eyes widened and she looked at her mother. "Get the last box out of the back and then you can finish unpacking your room."
"Yes ma'am." She quickly complied and shut the trunk. Anna shifted the box in her hands, watching the man's van drive off and shook her head mournfully for the ants before running back into the house, enjoying the way she'd lifted off the ground a few inches when she'd cleared the doorway. Yeah, I'll fly.
Moving into a new town during the summer was a hardship. Anna had done it before, at least once, though she was pretty sure it'd been more than that, but they'd always moved to big cities. Places Momma could get easily lost in. It'd be hard to get lost here, where everyone was trying to know your business. Not that Anna was one to gossip. She was much more adapt at listening in and learning from others. Like Momma had taught her.
That didn't matter right now. There was no one around to talk to. Or play with. Anna wasn't all that sure there even were any other children in this town. None around her age, at least. She hadn't seen any when Momma, Oma and her had driven through or when her and Momma had gone for groceries. There sure were a lot of old people. Not as old as Oma but definitely older than Momma. Except, that wasn't quite right as Oma always said Momma was older than her. Anna wasn't sure how that worked. She didn't think she'd ever completely understand. Not that it mattered. Didn't help make any kids her age suddenly appear.
She took to sitting on the grass in front of their house and watching the ants walk by in their lines, waiting for something to happen. Oma had hinted something might which meant something would. But there were two weeks left of summer and she was watching ants. She raised an eyebrow and pushed herself up. Even to her own ears that sounded stupid. There was vast new areas to conquer, to explore. It wasn't doing her any good to sit around all day and sulk.
"I'm going exploring!" she yelled, not waiting for a response as she took off running down the driveway, careful to jump over the ants. She grinned toothily as she sailed in the air for a second, spreading her hands out to the side before her feet connected with the ground. She ran down the road for a few moments before changing course, dashing into the forest surrounding her house.
The trees were tall, stretching high above her head and she pushed through the underbrush, having to slow down so she didn't trip. Eventually, the trees became less dense and she was able to pick up her speed again, darting through the forest. She stopped when she spotted something ahead and smiled when she realized it was a boy. He had to be around her age or else he was ridiculously small. She smiled broadly and waved before running over to him, a little out of breath as she reached him.
He looked up at her through his sandy blond hair, his eyes wide and mouth gaping. He looked like he'd seen a ghost. "Hiya," Anna breathed, slouching a little, bracing her hands on her knees, as she tried to catch her breath. "I'm Anna. I live at the--"
"Perkin's old place." He closed the notebook in his lap, holding it almost protectively.
She shrugged. "Sure. I guess." She pushed her brown and white locks out of her eyes. "What's your name?"
"Cody." He was still looking at her like she was abnormal or something.
"You sure got a way with words, don't you." Anna laughed, throwing her head back as she did so and then looked down at him. "What ya doing?"
"Nothing." His mouth twisted, the notebook pulled even closer against his body.
She held her hands up in front of her. "Geeze. Sorry I asked." Shrugging, she turned, deciding it was time to find her way home. "Nice meeting you Cody."
Anna didn't wait for an answer, certain she wasn't going to get one and took off back the way she'd come. Halfway there she looked over her shoulder. The boy was gone. "Friendly," she muttered, and sped up, knowing Momma would probably have something to say about her leaving like she did.
"I ain't wearing it and you can't make me." Anna slammed the screen door shut behind her and sailed off the front porch, twisting in the air before landing safely on the ground. Her hands automatically went to her hips and she shook her head, nose wrinkling in disgust at the white dress her mother was holding from the doorway. "I ain't. I ain't!"
"Am not," her mother corrected, before sighing exasperatedly. "Very well. Wear what you wish but do not expect any consoling when you come home in tears because the other children--"
"Like I care what they think, Momma." Anna rolled her eyes.
"She's is right, Raven," Oma stated, walking out of the house, using her cane to move down the steps. She handed her a paper bag.
"Thanks, Oma." She gave the older woman a hug and dashed up the stairs to hug her mother, quickly stepping away for fear that she'd be forced to endure the dress.
Momma shook her head and walked down the stairs, kissing Oma before heading to the car. "Let's go, Anna."
"Beginnings are always strenuous," Oma told her and Anna nodded, bounding off to the car.
She buckled herself in, holding the paper bag carefully in her lap as they drove. "Remember, Anna, you must keep what happens in our home to yourself."
"I know, Momma." Anna reached over and rolled the window down.
"They would not understand." Her mother's features darkened and Anna reached out, giving the woman a comforting hug.
"I know," she reiterated, before settling back against the seat. "Ain't like we'll be here long anyway." She reached her hand out the window, feeling the air beneath her fingers.
There was no immediate reply and she turned, watching Momma intently, about to speak when they stopped in front of the school. "Remember you are taking the bus home." Her mother reached out, brushing strands of hair from her face. "You are stronger than all of them."
"Sure, Momma." Anna slipped out of the car and forced herself to stand tall as she walked past the other children bustling about. This was the part she always hated, learning the environment of the new school. Once she did, it was easy to slip into the shadows if she wanted. She really hoped she wouldn't need to this time. Was it too much to hope she finally had time to make a friend?
By recess, she'd done nothing but recite her cover story in front of the class and idly listen as the teacher went over geography and multiplication tables. It was easy enough to disappear inside of herself while looking as though she was paying attention. She'd become gifted at that particular skill. Sometimes, Momma liked to make long rants about things she didn't quite understand and that was the only way she'd figured out to help her endure them.
That Cody boy was in her class. Three desks over and two back and had stared unbelieving at her when she'd introduced herself to the other fifth graders before blatantly disregarding her. Well, maybe not quite that. He seemed to do that with pretty much everybody. She took to studying him, catching him doodling in his notebook and being called out on it by their teacher, Mrs. Brooks. Anna had seen his sketches, the vibrancy and detail causing her to smile. This was the one to try and make friends with. The diamond in the rough as Oma often said. He was as different from the rest of the class as she was. A kindred spirit like in that book. She shrugged, unable to remember which one exactly.
Cody, you and I are gonna be friends. She smiled broadly at him and his eyes widened before looking quickly back down. Best friends.
It didn't work out and she quickly became an outcast at school that day. The boys wanted nothing to do with her because she was a girl. The girls thought she was odd and called her 'Skunk'. Anna merely rolled her eyes. Was that really the best they could come up with? She left the sequestered girls' area of the field, unable to understand how they could find hopscotch and jumprope so appealing, and wandered over to where the boys were, sitting on the fence and watched them engage in a game of kickball.
They ignored her and she waited, quietly learning the rules and noticed that all you had to do to play was sit on the opposite fence and wait your turn. She hopped down from her spot and took up residence behind the last boy in line. He looked at her, bug-eyed, before turning to the boy beside him and moved his fingers in a circular motion around his head. "Crazy," he muttered, the other boy nodding his assent.
Uh uh. She pursed her lips, concentrating on the boy rolling the ball, trying to figure out his method of attack. I'm fearless.
Anna perked up as she watched Cody step up to the makeshift plate, intently looking at the ball. She grinned toothily as he kicked it, watching it sail past the end of the field and he raced around the bases to the cheers of his peers. He looked different than the solemn boy she'd seen in class and in the forest and she realized it was because he was smiling. She tried reciprocating one but he didn't meet her gaze. Shrugging, she watched the boys before her take their turns, none of them making the ball fly as far as Cody.
She slid down off the fence and strode over to the plate. "No way, girl," snapped the ball boy. "What you think you're doing?"
"Getting ready to kick the ball." Her hands were on her hips and she stared at him as though he were stupid. "What do you think I'm gonna do?"
"I dunno. Twirl?" the older boy retorted, causing the younger ones to laugh.
Anna could feel her cheeks redden and she balled her fists, forcing herself to control her emotions. "What? You afraid you gonna get beat by a girl?"
There was a chorus of "Ooooo's" and the boy's eyes narrowed, lip curling in a nasty smile. "Ah, just let her kick, Joe," Cody stated, from the sidelines.
Joe shrugged and picked up the ball. "Ain't my fault if you cry, girl."
"Name's Anna!" she called out, getting ready for the roll. She'd only get one chance to kick. If she missed, she'd get laughed at mercilessly. The ball moved quickly, faster and harder than any of his previous pitches and she kicked, her foot connecting squarely with it. It sailed over their heads, flying through the air, past where Cody's had landed and finally dropped on the girl's side of the field.
Anna grinned, breaking into a hard sprint as she ran around the bases, uncaring that her run was met with shell-shocked silence. She felt like she was sailing over the bases and ran with her hands outstretched at her sides. Flying. Reaching home, she jumped onto the plate and did a little twirl out of spite. "Didn't like this baby game anyway," Joe muttered, turned and walked away, the older boys following.
Her smile faltered as she spotted Cody, shaking his head before walking with the rest of the younger boys towards where the others had gone. She stamped her foot and walked back to the fence, plopping down miserably. Stupid boys.
The rest of the week went about as well as that first day. The other students regarded her cautiously, rumors already circulating around the school. Anna ignored them, focusing on her schoolwork and then at recess finding a spot on the fence to read or to people watch. It was something Momma had taught her and helped her see trouble coming and avoid it. She was beginning to hope Momma would need them to move again. Stupid old Caldecott wasn't turning out to be any better than the last place they'd lived. At least it was Friday. Which meant she wouldn't have to deal with any of the other kids for awhile.
She spotted Cody walking towards where the rest of the boys were playing, and she shook her head. He looked at her but quickly averted his gaze when he saw she was looking at him. Anna rolled her eyes and headed back to the school. She didn't want to play with him anyway. When the bell rang, announcing the end to recess, she walked quietly towards her classroom, head held high. She wouldn't let any of them know they were getting to her. She was above all this. Stronger. Momma and Oma had told her so. One day, I'll be able to fly.
She slid into her seat and raised an eyebrow Mrs.Brooks and a younger woman entered, the rest of the class scrambling in. "Hello, girls and boys. Did everyone have a fabulous summer?" the woman asked, and Mrs. Brooks shook her head, leaving the class. "I see we have a new face this year. I'm Miss Molloy." She tipped her head towards Anna and placed the box she had been holding onto the table. Her smile was broad, encompassing almost all of her face and Anna just knew it was genuine. "Who might you be?"
"Anna," she told her, smiling back, liking this woman immediately. The rest of the class seemed to as well, all of their gazes locked on the box.
Miss Molloy laughed at their expressions but it wasn't mean. Nothing about this woman seemed mean. "Come on then. Robbie. Joyce Ann, come on up and help pass these out." She knocked once on the box and the two chosen scrambled forward, opening the box with delighted grins.
Anna leaned forward, wondering what treasure was inside and her eyes widened with glee as she saw the various instruments. "Come on, now, make some noise!" Miss Molloy yelled, and the students began playing the instruments they were given or tapping on the desks. The woman started singing and the others joined in.
Anna couldn't help but continue to grin, the woman's smile was infectious and she sang wholeheartedly, letting her entire body get into the song even though she didn't know all the words. It didn't seem to matter. Not at all. Her mood was lifted, joy sneaking into every fiber of her being. It was wondrous. She looked around the room, swaying side to side like the others and caught Cody's gaze. He grinned back. Not looking away from her. See, I'm not so different, she thought, willing him to see.
Eventually the song ended and he looked away, the connection broken. But she knew it was there and she wasn't about to back down now.
On the ride home, Anna learned that Miss Molloy was the music teacher and that she came every Friday. The other kids all said nasty things about her outside of class. Calling her a hippie or city folk. She was different and that scared them. But you could tell they also loved when she came, sharing bits of the world beyond their small community. Cody seemed to be the only person, beside herself, that didn't have anything bad to say about the woman. Everyone else was making nasty comments the entire time, even if they enjoyed playing all the instruments. Anna was grinning for the rest of the day, playing the song they'd sung over and over in her head, barely paying attention to anything Mrs. Brooks said.
Finally the bell rang and school was over. Anna collected her things and stuffed them in her bag before walking to the bus. She took her usual seat, halfway back and all alone. Ain't a leper. She snorted. Prolly don't even know what a leper is. She looked accusingly at the others filing in before shrugging, reminding herself that she was better than this. Besides, Oma probably had a huge stash of chocolate chip cookies.
Cody sat in the seat before her, his little sister sliding in beside him. She watched as his older brother, a seventh grader filed past with the rest of his friends. Anna stared intently out the window, thankful for when the bus began moving. She blocked out the sound of everyone else, watching the scenery flash by. Cody was leaning against the window and she peered over the seat, looking down. He was drawing in the same notebook and the images below nearly took her breath away.
"You're really, really good," she stated, and flinched as the notebook was slammed closed.
Anna shrugged and sat back down, deciding that was probably the best course of action. She hummed the song they'd learned earlier, pleased when the bus finally arrived at her stop. She waited for Cody's brother to pass first, knowing the consequences for not doing so (and she'd rather not be shoved out of the way again) and then got out, trailing behind Cody and his little sister. Cody's brother crossed the road, scrambling through his pockets for his first cigarette and she shook her head at him, watching as he disappeared into the forest.
"Bill don't mean nothin'," Cody muttered, and Anna turned, surprised that he was still there. He had his hand stuffed in his pockets and gave a little shrug. His sister was still at his side, looking curiously up at both of them.
"You got any dolls?" the little girl asked, Grace Ann if she remembered correctly. Every girl seemed to have Ann in part of their name here. It was rather annoying.
"I have a few." Anna smiled down at her and the girl reciprocated, holding up two fingers.
"I got two of them. One's Maybelle and the other's Chrissie. Chrissie's at the hospital." They were walking down the road, towards the path that led to their two houses and Anna nodded.
"Why's she at the hospital?" Anna asked, shifting her backpack.
"Cause she's sick, silly. Why else would she be there?" Grace Ann shook her head.
Cody was dragging his feet a little and took a deep breath, like he was gathering his courage. "Hey, you wanna go do something?" he asked, looking intently at Anna.
"Oh, I wanna come!" Grace Ann cried, jumping up and down excitedly.
"No. Not this time, Gracie," Cody said, shaking his head.
The little girl stamped her foot. "Why can't I come? Ain't like y'all had plans."
Anna smiled gently and knelt a little so that she could be at the girl's eye level. "Hey, how about you take one of my dolls. I'm getting a little too old for them," Anna offered. "And then Cody and I can go play while you get your room set up for the new doll?"
Grace Ann seemed to ponder that for a moment. "What color hair does the doll have?"
Anna shrugged. "What color do you want?"
"Chocolate. Like yours." Grace Ann's nose wrinkled. "Well, most of yours."
"Got yourself a deal. I'll have Cody bring it to you."
Grace Ann nodded and started down the path again, only once looking back at the them.
"So." Anna looked at Cody, not all that sure what they were going to do.
"Yeah." He looked about as unsure as she did. They started down the path, veering off down the one that would lead to her house. "So, you and your folks bought the old Perkin's place."
"Its me, my Momma and Oma, my grandma." Anna stuffed her hands in her pockets, slowing down her pace.
"Why'd y'all move out here?" Cody stopped altogether, sitting down on a stump near the mailbox.
"Momma's closer to work out here." Anna sat down on the ground, not caring about the dirt. Cody rose a little and she waved him off. "A little dirt ain't gonna hurt me."
"What's she do?"
Anna shrugged. "I dunno. Work. What about you? You got Gracie Ann and Bill. Mom and Dad?"
It was Cody's turn to shrug. "Yeah. Pa's an exterminator."
Anna's eyes widened, remembering the man's shirt from her first day here. "Your daddy's 'Robbins Pest Exterminator'."
Cody shrugged again. She could tell she was losing him by the way he began to pull into himself.
"Hey, come on. Don't wanna just sit here all day." Anna jumped to her feet, nodding for him to come with her. She dropped her backpack by the front porch, pleased when he did the same, and then started out into the surrounding woods.
"Where are we going?" Cody asked, as Anna crouched low, moving slowly through the underbrush.
"We're hunting." She pushed shrubs out of her way, trying to make as little noise as possible.
"Hunting?" He was right behind her, mimicking her pose. "What are we hunting?"
"Captain Hook," Anna replied, picking up a small twig. "Make sure you have a sword." She lifted hers, showing him what she meant.
Cody scrambled to find one. "Captain who?"
She looked back, eyes wide. "Captain Hook. Our arch enemy of course." She grinned. "He's an evil sea captain. His hand was chopped off and thrown to the crocodile. Now he has a hook." Anna smiled, brandishing her twig-sword. "And we need to make sure he doesn't find out where the rest of the Lost Boys are!"
Anna's grin faltered. "Yeah. Tootles, Nibs. Curly?" She looked intently at him. "Slightly? The twins?" She dropped her sword and sat down, motioning for him to do the same. He was watching her with rapt interest and she smiled again, telling him the tale of Peter Pan, making sure to mention everything Momma and Oma had ever told her about him. The way Cody's eyes widened with horror and delight depending on what she was saying filled her with joy and egged her on, continuing the tale. Slowly, they noticed that the sky was getting darker.
"I got to get home," Cody muttered, helping her to her feet.
"I have the book. You can borrow it and give Gracie the doll we owe her." Anna grinned and started running towards her house, knowing he was right on her heels. She ran inside, ignoring Oma's call and entered her room, grabbing her copy of Peter Pan and a doll with chocolate-brown hair and ran back outside. Cody was at the bottom of the porch, putting his backpack on and watching as Momma's car drove towards them. "Here you go." She handed Cody the items.
"Thanks," Cody grinned, tucking the book under his arm. "I'll see you at the bus stop tomorrow. Night, Anna."
He was already running back down the path towards his house. "Night, Cody!" she called, ignoring her Momma's raised eyebrow. "Oh, hush." Anna wasn't about to let anyone bring her down.
It became a routine, every day after school they left Grace Ann and dropped their packs off at Anna's porch and then disappeared into the surrounding forest. At first they played Peter Pan, roaming through the woods with their makeshift swords in search of Captain Hook and the rest of his smarmy crew. She spun a few other tales for him, remembering her favorite ones, and drew him into the magical worlds of Narnia and Sherwood Forest.
"How do you know all this, Anna?" Cody finally asked one day, laying out in a field, the sun beating down on them.
"Oma loves to read," she replied, completing her flower crown.
"I thought she was blind?" He was looking peculiarly at her.
"She is. They got books in braille. She reads those to me. Plus she just knows lots of stories by heart." Anna grinned, the crown finally finished and placed it on his head. "And now you're a prince."
"But not like Prince John," he protested hastily.
"Course." She shook her head at his need to point that out. "You're a good prince."
He picked up the second crown she'd made and placed it on her head. "Now, you're a princess."
"All girls are princesses," Anna stated, remembering the book Oma had been reading last night.
"Are all boys princes?" Cody asked, pushing himself up and following her to the fence.
She clambered up it and pondered the question, getting her balance as she started walking across the fence. "I dunno. Maybe?" She stopped at the nearest pole and looked over her shoulder at him. "Can't really see Joe O'Neil as a prince."
Cody nearly stumbled, quickly catching himself and nodded, moving cautiously towards her. "Can't really see Missy Avery as a princess."
Anna giggled, nearly falling off. "Maybe they started out as princes and princesses but then something happened." She jumped off and she swore she was almost hovering in the air for a few moments before her feet connected to the ground.
"Careful!" Cody admonished, being true to his own warning as he got down, sitting beside her on the grassy knoll. "What do you mean? What could've happened?"
"You know how grown-ups told us that fib about the tooth fairy?" She peered intently at him, the wheels in her head already turning.
He gave a quick look around and leaned closer, like they were conspiring about something. "Don't say that too loud. Gracie still believes in her. And Santa."
Anna's eyes widened in astonishment, mouth gaping. "Santa is real, Cody."
He turned three shades redder. "I..uh...Anna..."
She erupted into a fit of giggles. "I's just kidding, Cody."
"Not funny." He pushed at her shoulder, causing her to roll a little, her laughter continuing. He smiled, shrugging. "It was a little funny."
Anna grinned and laid back down on the grass. "What were you saying? 'Bout the tooth fairy?" he prodded.
"Maybe instead of a tooth fairy, there's something darker out there. Something that makes kids mean." She looked over at him, biting her lip at the way his face scrunched and he took a deep breath.
"Yeah." That was all he said for a moment, staring up at the clouds. "Why's it only do it to some kids? Not all kids are mean. You ain't mean."
"Maybe they ain't strong enough to challenge it." Anna sat up and stared out at the forest, eyes narrowed. "Maybe we're supposed to fight it and free them. So they'll be nice again." There was something out there. She wasn't sure what but it made the hair on the back of her neck stand up, body tense.
"You think so?" Cody asked, sitting up beside her, mimicking her pose. "What ya looking at, Anna?"
"Don't you see him, Cody?" she breathed, nodding towards the forest. "The monsters there. Watching us. Waiting."
Cody turned, squinting his eyes trying to see. Something was rustling the trees and they both froze, breath catching in their throats. Cody's father came out of the brush, shaking his head and dragging a bag behind him. "Ain't a monster. Just my dad," Cody grumbled.
"Come on, boy. 'Nough playing for the day. Get over here and help," Mr. Robbins ordered, slamming the bag down.
Cody scrambled to his feet and gave her an awkward wave as he ran towards him. Anna ducked back under the fence and ran back towards her house. Monster.
Anna peered over Cody's shoulder, sighing when he shut the notebook. "Why don't you ever show anyone your drawings?"
"I..." He hesitated, slowly handing the notebook to her. She sat down on the log beside him and opened it, grinning as she looked at the various pictures he'd drawn. There was Peter Pan battling Captain Hook. The Twins and Nibs shooting arrows at the Wendy bird. Robin Hood and Little John walking through the forest. And... "Why's Maid Marion look like me?"
"Cause she's brave," he mumbled, taking the notebook back and closed it. "Like you." His cheeks were red.
"Thanks." Anna stretched, jumping off the log. "Come on. Let's go on another adventure. We haven't tried to find where Captain Hook landed the Jolly Roger in awhile."
"Can't.' He twisted his lips, shoulders slumping. "I gotta go pick apples. For Ma."
"I can help!" Anna nodded, tugging at him. "I've always wanted to pick apples!"
"It ain't fun," he protested, walking back towards his house with her hot on his heels.
"Uh huh. Anything can be fun if ya look at it correctly." She skipped ahead of him, giving his old dog a pat on the shoulder as they neared his house. "Hi Mrs. Robbins!" she called, waving to the older woman that always looked haggard.
Mrs. Robbins nodded and then returned to waving out the carpet, dirt flying off. Gracie Ann waved from the porch, brushing her newly acquired doll's hair. Cody kept his head down and she followed him towards the back of the house. Anna climbed the tree, ignoring Cody's protest to be careful and winked at him once she was safely ensconced between a branch and the trunk. "Just start picking 'em off and throwing them down. 'kay?" he asked, looking intently up at her.
She nodded, making sure to only pick apples that were ripe and chucked them down, gently, so they wouldn't bruise. It wasn't that much fun that way so she began tossing them differently, making him work to catch them. He scrambled around the yard, catching all of them and panting for breath.
"You're always such a rogue, sugar," Cody told her, grinning, and she threw an apple at his head.
"Am not! You don't even know what that word means, Cody Robbins!" She cried, indignantly, ready to chuck another at him.
He held up his hands. A peace offering. "Its what they call Robin Hood. In the book you gave me."
"Oh!" She brightened at that and tossed an apple down, trying not to hit him. "Guess I am then." Rogue. She liked that name.
Anna woke gasping, turning abruptly towards the sound of something dinging her window. She tiptoed over, pushing open the window and stared disbelievingly down at Cody. He was still in his pajamas, Gracie Ann bundled in beside him. "Anna!" he called, trying not to speak too loudly. "We need to use your phone!"
"I'll be right down," she replied, hoping they didn't wake up Oma and Momma. Not that it mattered. Oma'd already know what was happening anyway. And Momma woke up at the slightest sound.
Anna exited the room, quietly walking down the hallway and stopped as the Momma's door squeaked open. She smiled at Momma, pleased to see her in her blue skin and not the pretend pale skin that matched hers. "Cody needs to use the phone," Anna informed her, eyes widening in wonder as Momma's form shifted, becoming Raven Darkholme. Red hair became brown and her skin changed to match Anna's color.
"Very well." Momma wrapped the robe around her body and they descended the stairs together, Anna pushing the front door open.
She gasped as she looked at Grace Ann, the right side of the girl's face a mass of bruises. "Gracie."
The little girl whimpered, pressing the unblemished side of her face into Cody's side. "We gotta use the phone and call my Gran. Pa's in...in one of his moods." He wouldn't look at Anna, stared straight ahead at her mother.
"Come along." Momma turned and they followed her towards the kitchen. Cody took the offered phone and dialed a number, talking in hushed tones and holding Grace Ann close.
"She'll be fifteen minutes," Cody stated, hanging up the phone. "We can wait outside." Grace Anne shuddered at that.
Oma descended down the stairs and brought out the cookie jar, placing it and the jug of milk on the table. "Sit, children."
The three of them did, though Grace scooted her chair closer to Cody's. She barely ate her cookie. None of them did. Cody still wouldn't look at her and Anna didn't know what to do. They sat in silence, no one saying a word while Oma started making tea. A few minutes later there was a knock at the door. "Stay," Momma ordered, walking quickly to the front door.
The three children immediately disobeyed, peeking around the corner to see what was happening. They couldn't hear anything and Cody sighed. "That's our Gran."
"What happened?" Anna asked, hugging Grace Ann tightly.
"Pa's in one of his moods," Cody replied, looking away. "We'll be gone for a few days."
"Did he..." she looked down at Grace Ann's face. "Did he hurt--"
"He's in one of his moods," Cody snapped, pulling Grace Ann close and walking towards the front door.
Anna's lower lip trembled as she looked at Cody. It looked like the darkness was trying to swallow him whole. Her eyes widened. "Make him a mean prince," she gasped, and quickly turned, grabbing a book from the pile on the counter.
She ran after Cody, sliding past Momma and stopped at the bottom of the steps, pushing the book into his hands. "Here. For you. To read to Gracie."
He nodded and her smile broadened as he took the book. "The Little Princess," he read, smiling at her.
"So she'll know all little girls are princesses. Nice ones." She bit her lip, hoping he'd understand.
"And all little boys are nice princes." Cody nodded, giving her a little wave as he stepped into his grandmother's car.
Anna waited until it disappeared into the darkness before walking back inside. "Cody's daddy hit Gracie, didn't he?" she asked, looking at Momma. Lost.
Momma nodded, tugging her back into the kitchen and then sat down on a chair. "But why? Ain't he supposed to protect her? Love her?" Anna shook her head, curling into her mother's lap. "Like you and Oma do with me."
Tears were sliding down her cheeks and she snuggled into her mother's embrace, pleased when her mother's fingers slid through her hair. Comforting. "Not all adults are like your mother and I," Oma stated, sitting down across from them. "Just as there are those who would harm us for who we are, there are those who take their anger and pain out on others."
"Ain't right. Y'all should stop him." Anna glared accusingly at them.
"He will be dealt his own fate, liebling." Oma said nothing more and moved the tea kettle off the burner. After a moment, she turned back to Anna, eyes wide and pointed a finger at her. "Do not ask questions or you shall drive a stake between you two."
Anna knew she wouldn't get anything more from Oma and sighed, holding tightly to her mother. Slowly, Momma's soft caresses and their dulcet tones helped her drift to sleep.
Cody wasn't back the next day. Or the day after. Anna looked forlornly at his desk each day, ignoring the petty remarks from the other students. Even Miss Molloy's music lesson on Friday wasn't enough to pick up her spirits. On the outside, she looked the same, keeping up her defensive front like Momma had taught her. Inside though, she was a jumbled mess.
Then Saturday morning, he appeared at her door, looking like he usually did on the weekend. Except he didn't. Not really. Anna couldn't quite pinpoint what it was as they set off, disappearing into the woods. He was quieter than usual and didn't seem to be as wholeheartedly involved in their games and she frowned, heeding Oma's warning not to pester. But she wanted to cheer him up and she was at a loss.
Anna poked her stick at the bushes, frowning as she watched him slowly seek out his own stick. "Never mind, Cody," she told him, dropping hers. "Ain't in the mood to play Robin Hood."
He stuffed his hands in his pockets and nodded, looking anywhere but at her. "Sorry."
"Ain't your fault." She playfully bumped into him, sighing when she didn't get the usual push back. Biting her lip, she looked around, grasping for an idea when she heard water. "Hey, come on. Let's go exploring. We ain't ever gone beyond here."
She grabbed his hand, not taking no for an answer and started running, forcing him to keep up with her. Eventually she let go of his hand and they raced together, heading towards the sound. She glanced sideways at him and was immensely pleased when she saw him grinning widely. They stopped at the edge of the stream's bank, looking down at the water flowing below. "We ain't ever been this far before," Anna stated, walking up the bank, careful to avoid falling in.
"Ain't ever heard of this stream before," Cody said, looking perplexed.
"You mean we discovered it!" She whirled around, smiling broadly.
"Just cause I haven't heard of it, don't mean it ain't been discovered before."
Anna shrugged, waving off his answer. "You know where everything is, Cody. If you ain't heard of it then no one's found it." She continued up the bank, the trek becoming a bit harder as they began moving up hill. They were both breathing harder as they reached the top. Her eyes widened in wonder at the old rope swing attached to the branch of a large tree. "Cody! Look it!"
"See. I told you someone else must have been here before," he replied, and she ignored him, grabbing onto the rope.
"Ain't seeing anybody now." She grinned toothily, tugging hard on the rope, pleased when it didn't break. She grasped it tightly in her hands and backed up, running forward briefly before swinging. She held on tightly with her hands, wrapping her feet around the rope as she swung across the creek. Floating above the ground. Almost flying. Her feet touched back on the ground and she looked at Cody, eyes wide with delight. "You've got to try it!"
She thrust the rope at him, silently urging him and clapped as he took the rope, repeating what she had done. He had his head thrown back and laughed as he crossed over the stream before touching back down. "It's like you're flying, ain't it?" she asked, taking the rope back.
"Yeah," he breathed, and she was off again, soaring over the ground.
She set back down, laughing delightedly. "This is ours, Cody. No one else's," she told him. "Nothing bad can happen here. We'll make sure to keep it out."
Cody grinned, taking the rope. "Yeah, we will."
Anna watched him soar across, thankful to see happiness back in her friend's expression. Nothing bad.
They went back everyday, making sure to leave well before dark so they wouldn't get lost in the woods. Gracie Ann tried to follow once or twice but they set her straight and soothed the little girl's tears with more dolls. Anna never liked them anyways. Then one Saturday, Anna couldn't go right away. Momma was having some kind of work function and she and Oma had to go. It wouldn't have mattered much but Anna was forced to wear a dress and if there was one thing she despised it was wearing those. It was infinitely harder to pretend to be Peter Pan or Robin Hood when wearing one. She endured the party, being the perfect little child and pleased beyond belief when the car finally entered their driveway.
Cody was waiting on the steps of the porch, sketching in his book and stood up as soon as the car pulled up. Anna bounded out. "We're going to play," she yelled, grasping her friend's hand, wondering why he was looking so peculiarly at her. She'd ask him later, after they got far enough away that Momma and Oma couldn't object to her leaving.
"Why are you dressed like that?" Cody asked, as they traversed up the hill.
"Had to go to a party." Anna stamped in a puddle, letting the mud splash on her white dress.
"You're getting it dirty!" he admonished, eyes wide.
She shrugged, jumping again, getting a little more mud on before reaching the top. "I'm gonna see if I can make it clear across," she told him, grasping the rope.
Cody caught hold of it and shook his head. "I don't think that's a good idea." He tugged on the rope. "If'n anything ever happened to you, sugah--I'd up and die."
"Why?" Anna pursed her lips, raising an eyebrow at him. "Why'dja call me sugah?"
He grinned, leaning in closer. "Cause underneath all your tough words and even tougher wrasslin' yor just a sweet little thing." She wrinkled her nose at his words, wondering why he was saying that. "At least, I reckon you are. Course only one way to know for sure."
Her eyes widened as he grasped her face and kissed her. And then, there was this awful pull, a giant tug and her heart began to race, thoughts rushing at her, overpowering her. She couldn't think and tried to push him off but nothing would cooperate. His eyes were wide, gaze locked with hers. He looked scared and she knew she must look like that too. And then, suddenly there wasn't anything in his eyes. They were just blank. Lifeless. Then her world went dark.
This isn't right. None of it. There should be a model airplane hanging over the bed, not a poster of Robin Hood. The walls should be blue and white with baseball pendants and trophies adorning the shelves, not rows of books and teddy bears. Slowly, Cody pushed himself up off the bed, shaking his head at the green bedspread, and the soft teddy bear he had been clutching dropped carelessly to the floor.
"Ma? Pa?" he yelled out, but that isn't his voice. It's Anna's, coming from his throat. Anna's hands he was looking down at. Anna's star and moon pajamas. He screamed for his parents again, confused, wanting to beat up Joe for this stupid practical joke, cause that's what it has to be. There was no other reason for him to look like this. He heard footsteps near his doorway and waited for his mom to enter and then go and beat the tar out of his older brother. Or for Gracie Ann to come in and wake him from this nightmare.
He kept screaming as a blue monster entered the room, red fiery hair framing her face. "Demon!" Cody screamed and its still Anna's voice coming from his mouth and he lunged away from the creature, diving under the bed, his confusion growing as he encountered Anna's secret box.
"I warned you, Raven." That was Oma's voice, Anna's grandma, and he saw her old black shoes peek out under the bed. "Come out, child. There is nothing to fear."
"There's a demon!" Cody protested, and shook his head, pressing himself closer to the wall, out of reach. "Why do I sound like Anna?"
"Because you are Anna." And that was Anna's mother's voice but he didn't see her feet, just Oma's and the blue demon's.
"No, I'm not. I'm Cody!" He shook his head, tears forming in his eyes. Slowly, Anna begun to break through the onslaught of Cody's presence and blinked, brushing tears from her face. "Momma?"
She crawled out of the bed and moved towards Momma, crying hard. "I'm scared, Momma." She touched her mother's hand and the same sharp pull she felt with Cody happened and she leapt back, crying out in pain.
She backed herself into a corner and pressed her face into the wall. "Don't touch me!" she cried hysterically as Momma approaches her. Cody's presence in her head cried for his mother and Anna can't help but cry harder.
Her mother scooped her up, careful not to let any of their skin touch and began rocking her. All Anna could do was cry and whisper her best friend's name over and over. Slowly, she calmed down, hiccuping every few moments, before looking up at Oma and Momma. "What happened?"
"Your friend is in a coma," Momma stated, and Anna bit her lip.
"Did his daddy hurt him?" she asked, not liking the way Momm and Oma looked at one another, hesitating.
"No, liebling." Oma sat down on the bed and patted it. Anna walked over and sat down.
"I hurt him, didn't I?" Anna asked, remembering the kiss and then the pull and Cody's eyes.
"It appears that your power allows you to take something from another," Oma told her, brushing back Anna's hair.
She leaped off the bed, shaking her head. "No!" She stamped her foot, tears rushing down her cheeks. "It ain't my power! I'm supposed to fly! Like Peter Pan."
Momma reached for her and she pulled back, continuing to back up. "You could fly. You can do anything."
"No no no no. No!" Anna shouted and ran down out of the room.
She ignored their calls for her and raced towards the stream. Cody would still be there. Waiting for her. Nothing bad happened there. It was their place. Theirs. Everything was safe there.
Branches hit her, scraping her knees, tearing her pajamas and she pushed on, wiping her eyes so she could see. I'm here. I'm here! he called and she whirled around, looking.
Anna got to the rope and searched for him, shaking her head when she couldn't find him. Here, Anna.
She called out his name. "I don't wanna play hide and seek!"
I'm right here, Anna. "Where are you?" she called out, looking down at the stream, fearful he'd fallen in.
"Anna!" her mother called, running up the hill.
"I can't find him!" she said, moving past, continuing to search.
I'm right here, Anna. "Where, Cody?" she screamed, whirling around, desperate.
"He's in a coma, Anna. There is nothing anyone can do about that," her mother stated, reaching for her.
She squirmed out of her grasp. "No! He ain't. I hear him!"
She was pulled back against her mother and desperately fought to be released. "Where are you?"
Right here, Anna, he whispered, and she finally realized he was in her head and ceased struggling.
Momma picked her up and began carrying her back towards the house. "I'm sorry, Cody," Anna cried, burying her head in her mother's shoulder.
Always with you, sugah, he told her and she cried harder, looking back at their rope swing.
It wasn't a safe place and it was all her fault. Ain't your fault, Anna he said. You're my best friend. Ain't nothing gonna change that.
"You're my best friend," she whispered, letting Momma bring her into the house, placing her in bed. "I'm sorry, Cody. So sorry."
There wasn't anything else she could do but cry for the little boy that had been her best friend and the life he would never know.
Rogue set down on the bank of the stream, frowning as she looked at the tattered rope. Closing her eyes she grasped hold of it. "I can fly now, sugah. Have been able to for awhile," she whispered, opening her eyes and sitting down in the grass.
I know, Cody replied, forever the ten year old boy from so long ago.
"I'm sorry you never got to be that famous artist." She pulled her knees up to her body, resting her head on them.
Ain't blaming you for that, Anna. Ain't blaming you for anything.
"I'm sorry I killed you," she breathed, tears falling down her cheeks.
Uh uh, Anna. You made me live.
She smiled through the tears, seeing him swinging across the stream, head tilted back in pure delight. You made me live.