The arrow buzzed through the air.
Kal frowned as he saw it hit the outer red circle of the target. Before Rosie had a chance to comment, he was already shooting another arrow.
This time, the arrowhead got stuck just next to the bull’s eye. The brown Draik cried out in triumph.
“Rosie, did you see that? I did it. I hit the bull’s eye.”
Kal was already drawing another arrow from his quiver. He had to take advantage of this streak of luck, even if theoretically, it wasn’t even a streak yet, but one lucky shot.
“That’s not the bull’s eye.”
It took Kal a moment to reply. Raising his bow, he placed the arrow shaft against the string and pulled. “Yes, it is,” he mumbled, taking aim.
“No, it isn’t.”
He heard Rosie jumping down from the fence she had been sitting on and lowered his bow. Annoyed, he turned around to face her. “Look, I can’t concentrate when you talk to me. And it is the bull’s eye. Everyone can see that.” He glanced at the target, amending, “Even if it’s just the edge of the bull’s eye, it still counts.”
The spotted Aisha rolled her eyes, but fortunately, she refrained from commenting any further. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t even the edge of the bull’s eye, but for Kal, it was the first time ever he had hit so close and he wasn’t going to let anyone ruin that triumph, especially not his best friend.
Shooting a smile at Rosie, he turned back around to the target. He aimed and...
“When are you going to let me have a go?”
“Rosie,” he exclaimed, lowering his bow once more before he turned around to face his friend. “I told you that I can’t concentrate when you talk while I’m trying to aim.” He shook his head, then quickly turned back to profit from what he was sure was going to become a streak of luck. With narrowed eyes, he followed the arrow shaft, aligned it with the bull’s eye and let go.
Both pets stared at the arrow that stuck at the outer edge of the wooden panel, its shaft swinging up and down.
“Well,” Rosie giggled. “That was not even close to the bull’s eye.”
“Ha ha. I’d like to see you do better.”
“Well then, let me try.”
But before Rosie had spoken the words, Kal had already taken another arrow from his quiver. “Not now, I need to get another good shot first.”
“And another, and then another one because you feel like you’re getting a streak of luck.”
The Draik only half-listened to his friend. Drawing the string of his bow, he was once more taking aim. This time, he would hit the bull’s eye.
“Watching you shooting arrows is boring. I’d like to try myself, or do something different. It’s Valentine’s Day today; we should celebrate that.”
“Valentine’s Day is for girls,” Kal muttered distractedly. The wind had picked up, so he would have to aim a bit to the right. Maybe that was why he had not gotten close to the bull’s eye. He had forgotten to factor in the wind when aiming.
“No, it’s not. There are plenty of boys celebrating Valentine’s Day as well, and they’re not doing so by shooting with bow and arrows.”
“I’m not going to celebrate this day like one of them. All those boys who spend it together with girls... Don’t you think that’s a bit disgusting?” The shot had been better. Not as good as the second one, but better than the last one. He was still a bit too far to the left, but slowly, he was getting the hang of it.
“Girls are icky,” he added, pulling the last arrow from his quiver. Once he got his next pocket money, he would buy a larger supply. Having to collect his arrows after five shots was getting annoying. How was he supposed to get better if he always had to interrupt the training for going after his arrows?
Rosie had fallen silent behind him. Maybe he would let her have a go next, but only if she went to collect the arrows that stuck in the target. It was his bow, after all.
“I’m a girl.”
There was an odd tone swinging in her voice, one that Kal had never heard before. Was it shaking? Confused, he lowered his bow and turned around to face his friend.
“No, you’re not. I mean, yeah, you are, but only theoretically. Look at you. You’re more a boy than anything else. You don’t play with dolls, you don’t like pink... You even dress like a boy.”
Rosie was not looking at him. Her eyes were fixed on a clump of grass as though it was the most interesting thing in the world. Kal frowned. Something was not right. This was not his Rosie, the Aisha who liked teasing him so much and laughed at even the most stupid of his jokes. She had never avoided looking at him. She had never cried either.
The Draik’s eyes widened in horror as his friend let out a strangled sob.
She did not answer. She still did not look at him. Instead, she turned around and ran away as fast as her feet would carry her.
Kal knew that he could have easily caught up. He was a Draik, he could fly. In the air, he was faster than his friend, who had to stay on the ground. But something held him back. When he rounded up on her, what would he say? Dealing with crying girls had always been one of his largest nightmares. Monsters under his bed could be defeated. Crying girls, on the other hand, were a completely different story. His sister was already bad enough, and Rosie was not his sister but his friend. His best friend.
Completely confused as to what had happened, Kal stared after his friend until she had disappeared behind a group of trees. Then he shot the last arrow. It went straight into the bull’s eye.
* * * * *
Rosie had not come back. Kal had spent the rest of the afternoon shooting with bow and arrow, always waiting for her to show up and explain what had been wrong. But he had waited in vain, for when night had fallen over Meridell, she had still not come.
He had gone home filled with confusion and worry and made the decision to drop by her house early next morning.
But now that he stood outside her front door, he hesitated to knock. What would he say to her? ‘If you come play with me, I’ll let you borrow my bow this time,’ just wouldn’t do. Still searching for the right words, he knocked.
Maybe she wasn’t even at home. He would just tell her parents to that he says hello, and then she could come and see him this afternoon. It was, of course, a futile hope. Why should Rosie be away from home early on a Saturday morning?
The Draik heard footsteps behind the door. Someone was coming.
A moment later, he was facing his best friend.
“Err... Rosie. Hi. I’ve... err... You’re not going to start crying again, are you?”
Clever. Very clever. The Aisha looked at him with such incredulity that he wished he had not sought her out – or at least not opened his mouth.
“No, I’m not.” Her voice was harsh as she spoke. Nothing of her fragility from the day before remained. Instead, her eyes held an unusual hardness as she mustered him.
Kal gulped. “That’s good. Or maybe not. I... err... So you’re feeling good again?”
“Yes, I am.” The way Rosie crossed her arms in front of her chest told Kal that she was anything but. He gazed down at his feet, inspecting his green shoe laces. When had things become that awkward between them? He had never before not known what to say to her.
An uncomfortable silence fell over the two friends.
“If that was all... I’m getting cold.”
Rosie’s unexpected words made the Draik look up. That was all she had to say? She was sending him away?
“Yeah, that was all.” What else was there to reply to it? If only he hadn’t come. Maybe she would have calmed down without seeing him. At least, he wouldn’t have spent the rest of the day wondering what he had done wrong. Rosie was angry with him, that much he had found out. Why, he had no idea.
“No, wait, actually, that was not all.” He stuck a foot in the door to keep her from closing it completely. This was Rosie, his best friend, and he would not let her go without at least getting an explanation. “I was worried about you. Yesterday, when you ran away, I had no idea what happened. So I came by to make sure that you’re alright. Because I care about you. Because you’re my best friend. And I still don’t know what happened. You’re angry at me, right? What did I do wrong?”
The words rushed out of him before he had a chance to stop them. For a moment, he feared that he had just made the situation worse. He should have given Rosie more time on her own.
But then, her eyes softened. “Oh, Kal. You really have no idea what you did wrong?”
“Well...” He drew out the word, a reason finally coming to his mind. “You know that I would have let you try the bow. Really. I just wanted to get one last shot.”
“The bow?” Kal didn’t know whether he should be horrified or relieved when Rosie suddenly burst out laughing. Horrified that she was making fun of him, relieved that she seemed to be better. “You think this was about the bow?”
Not about the bow? Kal had admittedly found it a bit strange that Rosie would get upset to a point where she cried about him not letting her use his bow and arrows, but he could not find any other explanation. What else could she have been upset about?
Fortunately, before he had to answer, the Aisha spoke up again. “Kal, you’re such a boy. No, I wasn’t upset about the bow; I was upset because you said that I wasn’t a girl and sometimes,” her voice dropped down to a whisper, “I want you to notice me as a girl.”
“I won’t play with dolls with you.” The words had left his mouth before he had thought about them. Kal slapped a hand over his mouth, horrified at what he had said. Rosie would kill him.
But to his relief, she started laughing. “Are you sure? I’ve still got the Usuki Doll Uncle John gave me.”
“You still have it?”
“Yes. I hid it in the deepest corner of my closet. It doesn’t exactly look good after what we did to it.” Her eyes twinkled and Kal couldn’t help but join her laughter. It felt good to be friends with Rosie again.
“You know I didn’t mean to say that, don’t you? It was just the first thing that came to my mind.” He hesitated a moment, afraid of destroying the good mood, before he added, “I’m not sure I understand what you mean by what you said, about me noticing you as a girl.”
The words didn’t make sense to him. Rosie had always hated being called a girl. Why would she suddenly want to be one, especially in front of him? And yet, at the back of his mind, a thought crept up, one that was so unbelievable that he immediately pushed it back again.
“I know you don’t understand.” The spotted Aisha had stopped laughing, but she was still smiling. “When you do, I’ll be waiting for you.”
That made even less sense, but before Kal had the chance to reply, Rosie had spotted the quiver on his back.
“You want to go shooting with bow and arrows? Give me a second to put on shoes and coat, and I’ll race you to the target. I’m sure I can aim much better than you. I will not miss the bull’s eye.”
She seemed to be back to normal. Kal didn’t understand, but he wasn’t even sure he wanted to. He didn’t want to ponder her words. When he got it, she would be there, she had said. She had given him all the time he needed. For now, they were best friends again. Rosie and him, like they had always been.
“First one to arrive gets to try first.” He was faster, of course, but maybe, just maybe, he would let the Aisha win today.