Being your own best friend...
|Contest entry for
Always and Forever
Emily sat high in the branches of her maple tree that overlooked the water. She loved spending summers at her grandmother’s house on Ramapo Lake in New Jersey. It might, indeed, have been a good thing that her grandmother lived down a long two-and-a-half-mile driveway else people just might have wondered who it was she was so deep in conversation with.
“I really, really want to take the canoe over to the island. I want to see what is there, I want to explore it. Wouldn’t it be fun?” Emily’s face was animated as she considered paddling halfway across the lake.
“It would be an adventure, for sure,” answered Victoria. “You’d have to steer though. I can’t do that part.”
“I know that, silly,” answered Emily. If one were to ask Em about her friend, she’d say that Victoria, she of the perfectly wonderful name, (versus a boring one like Emily) she with the long, long straight golden-brown hair that never curled or frizzed or had to be contained in two lumpy braids, was absolutely perfect. She didn’t have to deal with braces, wearing coke-bottle thick glasses, a know-it-all brother, and having endless chores to do every day. Victoria (never Vicky) was not afraid of the dark, didn’t want to hide during thunderstorms, loved (ick) Brussels sprouts, and never, ever got dirty. Victoria was everything Emily wished she could be. She was everything Emily was not. It was like they were two halves of a whole and Emily’s very best friend.
Victoria didn’t spill her secrets as Susie did at school, nor did she make fun of Emily when her words got all muddled when she had to read aloud in class. In fact, there were only a few things Emily could do better than Victoria. She could paddle a canoe, ride her bike (Victoria had to ride on the back), and write. Of course, Victoria was always the navigator and the spellbound audience for when Emily would read Victoria her stories. She never messed up her words when she read to Victoria.
“So, is today the day we take the canoe across the lake?” asked Victoria. “Maybe your grandmother will give you an extra sandwich for me and we can have a picnic on the island.”
“That’s a great idea!” Emily and Victoria climbed down from her favorite sitting branch and they ran to the house.
“Grandmother, Victoria and I are going to take the canoe to the little island today. May we each have a sandwich to bring with us?”
Emily’s grandmother, Annie, nodded and proceeded to make two cream cheese and jelly sandwiches. She put them, along with a thermos of spring water and two apples, in a bag.
“You and Victoria will have to share a cup,” said her grandmother. “Make sure you both have life jackets with you. Victoria, you watch out for Emily and Em, you watch out for Victoria. You know you swim better than she does!”
Emily laughed. “Yes, grandmother.”
“Are you sure you are strong enough to paddle to the island? Last time you tried, you got tired part way and I had to take the rowboat out to save you.”
“This time Victoria will help me!” said Emily. “We won’t get tired.”
Emily’s grandmother looked to Emily’s left. “You be sure and help then, Victoria. Don’t let Emily do all the work.”
Victoria and Emily looked at each other and grinned before Emily hugged her grandmother and ran out of the kitchen.
Climbing into the canoe after putting on her life jacket, Emily checked to be sure that Victoria put hers on as well. But she hadn't.
“I don’t need to wear it,” said Victoria tossing it on the bottom of the canoe. “I swim better than you do, no matter what your grandmother says.”
“But you should wear it anyway,” cautioned Emily.
“I don’t feel like it,” grumped Victoria. “It makes me hot and sweaty. It also rubs my arms raw. Let’s go."
Emily sighed and glared at her. One thing about Victoria was that she could be very stubborn. "You know the rules."
"Well," said Victoria, glaring back, "I don't want to and you can't make me! The lake is a bit choppier than earlier and it’s a little bit windy. Make sure you steer straight. Last time we were out on the lake, the wind caught the front of the canoe and you went in circles!”
“But you will help me this time. We will finally get to explore the island!”
Emily dipped her paddle into the water and pushed it towards the back of the canoe. First one side then the other. Up front, she watched Victoria paddle just on the one side. Little pairs of water swirls cycled as Emily and Victoria paddled the canoe out across the lake.
About halfway to the island, Emily’s arms began to get tired. “Victoria, you need to paddle harder. I’m doing all the work.”
“I am paddling. If you don’t like how I am doing it, then do it by yourself.” Victoria dropped her paddle in the water.
Emily’s eyes filled with tears as she caught the paddle as it almost floated by the canoe. “That’s not nice,” she announced. “You are supposed to help.” The canoe tipped dangerously until Emily got her balance back.
“Okay, I will. I’m sorry.” Victoria started paddling again and the canoe moved closer to the island.
Emily’s arms felt like they were going to fall off her shoulders when they finally reached the sandy shore. Pulling the canoe a little way up on the beach, the girls set off to explore before eating their lunch. They found a nest with seven large eggs in it.
“I bet that’s a Canada goose nest,” said Emily. “Oh, and look, here are two goose feathers. One for each of us!”
They found a grassy spot and decided to eat their lunch. “I can’t finish my sandwich. Will you finish it for me?” asked Victoria.
“I’m full," Emily answered. "I know, let’s leave it for the geese.”
Emily looked up at the sky. Grey clouds were puffing up. “That looks like a dinosaur,” said Em, pointing at one.
“That other one looks like a teddy bear,” said Victoria pointing. “I’m getting cold. Maybe we should head back.”
Walking back to where they’d left the canoe, Emily saw it floating in the water. It was nowhere near the shore. “We need to swim out to get the canoe,” she said, looking at Victoria. “I wish you had your life jacket on.”
“I’ll be fine. Let’s go get it.”
Splashing into the water, they started to swim out to the canoe. No matter how fast they swam towards the canoe, it still seemed like they couldn’t catch it. The wind was blowing it faster than they could swim. The wind was blowing it back towards home.
“We might have to swim all the way.”
“We’ll be okay,” answered Victoria. “Together we can do anything!”
Finally, they caught up to the canoe. “Now what do we do?” asked Emily. “We can’t climb in halfway across the lake.”
“You’ll have to pull it,” answered Victoria. “I can’t because I’m getting tired.”
“You should have worn your jacket!” Emily was tired too.
“You are right, but there’s nothing we can do now. Look! We are almost all the way back. We can do this, Emily, I know we can.”
Dog-paddling now, the girls finally made it to shore. Emily’s grandmother was waiting for them.
“Are you okay?” she asked Emily.
“I’m awfully tired, but we made it! I had to pull the canoe too! Victoria was too tired to help and she didn’t have her life-jacket on.”
“Victoria!” said grandmother in a stern voice. “You know better!”
Victoria didn’t say a word.
“Let’s get you in the house and into dry clothes. I think you both need a nap.”
After hooking the canoe to the dock, Grandmother herded the girls back to the house. “Now, get into your jammies and climb into bed. What to do about a girl who doesn’t follow the rules. What do you think I should do, Emily?”
“She won’t do it again, Grandmother. Will you, Victoria?” Emily watched Victoria shake her head. “She says she won’t!”
“Well,” said grandmother sternly, “rules are rules for a reason. I’m just glad you wore your jacket. Always wear it when you are in a boat, Emily.”
“I will, Grandmother. I did wear mine. I was getting worried for Victoria. Next time, I will make sure she wears hers too.”
“Well, okay then. Into bed, you two.” Emily’s grandmother tucked them under the blanket. “Now, sleep for a bit. You’ve made me exhausted. I need a nap too.”
Outside, it began to rain. “We made it back just in time,” said Victoria. “It was a grand adventure!”
Emily listened to the thunder roll in the distance. “I don’t like thunderstorms,” she said.
“I’ll keep you safe. It’s what best friends do! Em, you should write a story about our adventures today.”
“Maybe I will after our nap. You’ll always be my best friend, right?”
“Of course, I will. As long as you want me to be.”
“Always and forever,” said Emily sleepily.
On another lake, now in Michigan, Emily unpacked a box from her mom that had been sent from her grandmother’s house. She and her parents had moved there after her grandmother had passed away. All these many years later, she still missed her grandmother and those long summer days on the mountain. Emily picked up a notebook. On the front cover, it said, ‘My Stories.’
I was writing, even then, thought Emily as she looked over at the shelf of bestselling children’s books she’d written over the past two decades. I forgot all about these, Emily mused as she began reading. In the shadows beyond the living room chair, Victoria stirred for the first time in years.