What am I even doing here?
This was the thought Willow had as the picnic clamored on around her. Icy wind sliced through her jacket as she stood quietly underneath a tree thick with bright red leaves. The sky above was blanketed in gray, the sun hiding like a shy child. If she squinted just right she could see the wisps of snowflakes drifting through the air.
I’m in the middle of Harvard Yard for a picnic, surrounded by classmates. It really shouldn’t be too hard to befriend someone! She thought. Just as suddenly as the thought drifted through her mind, another thought leapt up and ripped it apart.
You’re a freshman! No one associates with freshmen, much less a silent little twig like you!
She sighed and wrapped her bright red scarf tighter around her neck. She glanced back at the tree before walking with unwilling feet and her bag thumping against her thigh towards one of the little packs of people whispering and giggling amongst themselves.
“Hey Willy!” one of the wolves asked as she approached, a Cheshire smile painted on her makeup-caked cheeks.
Willow flinched slightly. She never really liked the nickname, despite how often it seemed to come up. She offered a strained smile as she walked to where they were, making sure to stand outside of their tightly knit circle.
Beyond the one little greeting, they continued talking as if she wasn’t there. From the football team losing the away game on Saturday to some rumor about the boyfriend of a classmate’s friend, they continued on. Eventually, she drifted quietly away, head hung a little lower than before.
They didn’t notice her go. Most people didn’t.
She drifted on to another group, quietly standing there until a black-haired boy started glaring at her. On to another. And another. And another.
Eventually, something in her just gave up. She went back to her fiery tree, dejected.
I guess I was right, she thought. Without skipping a beat, she began to climb the tree. No one bothered to look; most had seen her do this before.
The cold bark felt rough under her fingertips as she climbed. Once she reached the branch she was looking for, one that she could sit on without the fear of falling, she lifted herself up and made herself comfortable.
From her bag she pulled out a sketchpad, weathered with use, followed by a pencil. With a practiced hand, she began to draw. First a jumble of meaningless shapes before it was crafted into the semblance of a human face, then it could see and smell and sing-
“Hello up there!” a voice called from below. She stopped, looking down and seeing a boy standing there. His smile was genuine as he shivered in his black hoodie. “Do you mind if I come up?”
Figuring it was some jock trying to convince her to do their homework or something, she ignored him, continuing to draw in her sketchpad.
She suddenly heard the rustling of upset branches and the cries of disturbed leaves. Following their wails, she looked and saw the boy a couple of branches away from where she sat, panting ever so slightly.
“Hey, aren’t you in my psychology class?” he asked. He tentatively creeped up another branch, yet made sure she still had space.
Seeing him up close, she recognized him. Her mind, in an instant, spilled out all the little observation she had of him. His name was Alexander Tunell, though he went by Alex, and he was social yet independent. He raised his hand and was right often enough that he less intelligent members of the class secretly flocked to him, pecking at him for knowledge.
She smiled at the thought. Then she remembered he asked her a question.
“Yeah,” she stated simply.
“Your name’s Willow, right?” He inquired further, leaning back against the tree as he waited for an answer.
“I’m Alex. Alex Tunell.”
“I know.” She internally cringed as the words left her mouth.
Great. Now he probably thinks I might be stalking him, and I’m weird and I’m not worth the time of day and-
His laugh cut off her thoughts.
“That’s not surprising. Honestly, I did know your name, but I wasn't sure. I’m bad with names most of the time,” he admitted.
She turned to look at him in surprise.
He continued on, his gaze turning to the horizon. “I’ve seen you doodle in class a couple of times, and you’re really, really good.” He glanced back at her, noticing the sketchbook in her hand. “Oh! So that’s what you were doing up here!”
Without even meaning to, she smiled. “I come up here a lot.”
“I can’t blame you. It’s nice up here,” he replied, glancing back at the view once more before he returned his gaze to her. “Do you mind if I look?”
She hesitated, a million thoughts running through her head, before she handed it carefully down to him.
He flipped through it gingerly, as if each page was an ancient manuscript which would crumble into dust if handled improperly.
“They look like photographs,” he whispered, smiling. Jokingly, he added: “If only you’d draw one for me.”
“Do you want me to?” Willow asked, realizing exactly what she was proposing. To someone who was almost a stranger!
“Can you?” He inquired, looking at her with hopeful amber eyes.
For a minute, she was speechless. As long as she could remember, no one had ever asked her to draw them, at least at school. The internet, on the other hand, allowed her to create and sell her creations behind a virtual facade.
“Sure,” she told him before her mind caught up to her lips.
Alex gave her a smile that could have lit up the world. “Thanks!”
She shrugged, feeling a lot better than before. “No problem.”
Suddenly, her phone alarm went off, its frantic chirping reminding her of the time.
“Shoot! I have to go,” Willow exclaimed. Alex handed her the sketchbook. She stuffed it inside her bag before she began to climb down.
“See you tomorrow!” Alex called down once she reached the ground.
“See ya!” Willow yelled back.
As she reached her car, she realized she felt happy. Happier than she felt in a long time.
She got in, pulling the keys out of her bag and started her car. She paused, looking back.
Even though she was no longer there, Alex was still in the tree. From what she could tell, he was looking at the horizon.
She smiled, returning her gaze to the road as she pulled out of her parking spot and drove off.
It’s not much, but it’s a start, she thought.
What am I even doing here?