Just for Leo
“One last go, that’s all I want,” Leo pleads. “C’mon, just this one, and it’ll be your turn.”
And so Dri lets him have the only swing just one more time. The yellow Kougra laughs as he swings high, higher than Dri. He is alone up there, and Dri feels small, so very small, left behind on the ground. She stares up, her breath coming hard in the frosty air. Weak winter sunlight falls onto the two as a few drops of rain patter down. It is Monday afternoon, just after school.
And then Leo is down, laughing and breathless, and Dri smiles at him, because after all, what is one more swing ride?
“I want the green one.” Leo grabs the game piece.
“Leo, you had it last time,” Dri reminds her friend. They sit on the grass in Dri’s garden. The sun is going down, red and orange and pink. It is Tuesday, freezing cold, and there is a fine drizzle of rain. Dri pulls her coat closer around herself. It will be time to go in soon, and Leo will have to leave.
“Just one last time,” Leo protests.
A little chunk of wood, that is all it is. A chunk of meaningless wood. So Dri lets him have it.
“I’m making valentines,” Leo says, when Dri opens the door Wednesday afternoon, wet and dripping because it is raining again. He is sitting on the bed cross-legged, with a pile of paper and pens. Dri is tired because it has been a long day. But seeing the Kougra, her best friend in the whole world, makes her happier, and she smiles.
“I’ll help,” she says.
“You can write,” Leo says. “I hate writing. I only write the most special ones. I’m glad you’re here, or most of them wouldn’t have any writing at all.”
So Dri writes. She does all sorts of writing: pretty, funny, curly, straight, big, small, bulky. You can say so much with writing, and Dri says it all. Leo has lots of friends, lots and lots. He makes friends easily. Dri has hardly any friends. She doesn’t talk a lot; people don’t notice her.
“This one’s for Savvy,” Leo narrates, picking out a blue marker. “She’s a Special Friend.” He bends over it and begins to write. After a long moment, Dri says:
“So, are you going to write in mine? I can’t do it.” It is only teasing, really, because Dri is the most special one; she is Leo’s Best Friend.
“I’ll get my mum to write it,” Leo says carelessly, just like that. And as he puts another sticker on a card, he does not realize how much he has hurt Dri. It is like a physical punch to the stomach. Dri turns to look out the window, the glass blurred by rain, and Leo does not see how bewildered and hurt she is.
There is no neomail waiting in the crisp white postbox when Dri yanks it open on her way home from school Thursday afternoon. It is dripping from the rain that patters down on the sidewalk all around her. Dri is puzzled; Leo always writes a neomail, every day.
She goes inside with a heavy heart, and sits to stare out at the growing darkness.
That night, when her owner, Katie, comes home, Dri sits on Katie’s lap and lets the tears come. They spill across the Cybunny’s soft silver cheeks and drip onto Katie’s jumper. Katie bends her raven-black head closer and whispers:
“It’ll be okay, Dri.”
Saturday night Katie stays out late. Dri heats up the lasagna Katie left in the refrigerator, and sits down to do her homework. It is dark outside, the rain that has been there all week beating against the window. Dri does the homework mechanically, not really thinking, because Dri is thinking about something much more important: Leo.
“Captain, the ship is sinking!” First Mate Dri cries, desperately grasping at the sail, trying to furl it in as she slips about in the wet rigging.
“Never fear, brave Dri!” Captain Leo cries, steady at the wheel. “We will get through this storm. I shall see to it personally.”
Waves lash at the deck, spraying the Captain and his First Mate. They are all that is left of the crew; the rest have been washed overboard.
“Captain!” Dri cries, catching sight of something in the stormy waters. “Captain, it is a group of Peophins! They have come to lead us to safety!”
Captain Leo grins through the salty spray.
“See? We are saved!”
As land comes in sight around the bend, they cheer.
“First Mate,” Captain Leo says proudly. “We have made it.”
When Dri wakes up on Sunday morning, it is cold and wet and raining, as usual. She opens the window and sticks her head out. There is no snow on the ground, as she had hoped. It is bitingly cold and the wind stings like acid. She quickly puts her head in again.
Katie is making pancakes downstairs, but Dri does not feel hungry. She opens her notebook at the kitchen table.
“Dri, is something wrong?”
Katie is standing next to her, wearing an apron and holding a spatula, with flour dusting her normally jet black hair, looking worried. Dri looks back at her notebook. It is a Fuzzy one, the type Dri loves so much.
“I guess not,” she says after a moment. “I’m just thinking, that’s all.”
“About what?” Katie asks. Dri can smell burning pancakes, but the girl doesn’t move.
“Leo,” Dri whispers. Katie goes to rescue the pancakes, leaving Dri with tears stinging her eyes. She is back a moment later. She sits down in the chair opposite Dri and puts her chin in her hand. Her green-glass eyes watch the Cybunny thoughtfully. After a moment she says:
“You know, Dri, not all friends are forever.”
“I never realized,” Dri says, tears spilling down her cheeks, “what Leo was really like, I think. I can’t help him anymore. He takes too much. I just can’t.”
Katie tilts her head. “You were always there, Dri,” she says. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Leo is just one of those people who need a lot and don’t give back very much.”
“He has so many friends,” Dri says sadly. “I guess I just didn’t matter. I never saw that.”
“You do matter, Dri,” Katie says forcefully. “To lots of people. You and Leo just aren’t right for each other anymore.”
“I see,” Dri whispers. She feels like something inside her is broken, shattered into a million little pieces, like the time Katie’s china lamp broke. Katie reaches over and scoops her up. Dri smells dusty flour, and the fruity shampoo Katie uses on her hair. It mingles with her tears, and now it is dusty and fruity and salty. And sad. Dri’s tears taste sad. So very, very sad.
Monday morning Dri gets up slowly. It is still slightly dark outside, but she knows. There is a feeling of stillness, of utter and absolute peace and quiet, that she knows so well.
She hurries into warm clothing, boots and mittens. She slips quietly downstairs, careful not to wake Katie, and unlocks the front door. She smiles as her boots crunch on it. She reaches down and scoops it up, feeling the soft powdery whiteness.
After all the icy, stinging rain, it has finally snowed.