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On top of the world

24TH OF JULY

Emma

I don’t think I’ve ever been up so early in my life, but if I’m honest with myself, I’m not sure I’ve slept much at all because the excitement kept me up all night. As I walk into the lounge of the little flat we rented for the night, I’m not surprised to see that Sam is already awake, sitting at the table while reading a book. I check my smartwatch and find that it’s barely after 7 in the morning.

“Morning, sunshine,” I say softly.

“Morning, Moony,” Sam says looking at me with a little smile. “Fell out of bed?”

“Something like that, where’s Tane?”

“He left only a second ago, he’s having a shower.”

“And you didn’t join him?” I lift my brows playfully, and Sam chokes on a laugh.

“We’re not quite there yet,” she says with a shy smirk on her face. She places the book on her lap and looks at me with a weird half-smile. “How are you today, anyway?”

“I’m good, and you?”

Truth is, I’m super excited about my secret plan for our last day in this country, a plan I hope will make this the best day of our lives. An adrenaline-packed, Emma’s style last day in New Zealand so we can go out with a BOOM.

“I’m fine,” Sam replies. I know this is a bittersweet moment for her because she doesn’t know when she’ll be able to see Tane again after we leave; which is one of the reasons why I want today to be amazing and have spent every spare second yesterday planning this out. That is, with a little help from my dad’s contacts.

I look down, and the book she’s holding reminds me of something. It’s the one I gifted her earlier this year, and she has been reading it quite a bit during the trip, even if I haven’t seen her pick it up in a few days.

“Here,” I say. “Pass me that book,” I add as I extend my hand towards her.

She gives it to me, and I sit in front of her, flipping the pages.

“What are you looking for?” she asks curiously.

“A quote,” I reply with a smirk.

“You read the book?” she lifts her eyebrows curiously.

“Of course I have! I wouldn’t give it to you if I didn’t know it would help you,” I hate to admit this to her and sound too soft, but fuck it, after everything we’ve been through, a bit of softness and cheesiness is the least of my worries. My best friend saved the damned world this week, I can be cheesy for once.

“Here,” I say, finally finding what I’m looking for.

Sam looks at me, her eyes fully focused on my own, and I have to wonder how she’s so awake at this time of day. “Let’s hear it,” she says.

“There’s nothing more difficult than walking away from what we love before we’re ready to.” I start reading slowly. “Even when every fiber of our being understands that we must go, we want to stay. We want to linger. We want to find a loophole or shortcut that allows us to have it all.” I look up at Sam, her eyes still on mine. “When we have to leave the things we love behind, we are allowed to mourn them. To miss them,” I read with a sad smile. “But we must never, ever forget that the best days of our lives are not all behind us.”

Sam’s still looking at me, a few tears trapped between her lashes. “Thanks, that’s lovely.”

“I know you’re only splitting up for a while, but I thought I’d be good for you to remember that you’re allowed to feel a little sad about it,” I say. “But today, today is a day to create some marvelous memories together!”

“What’s the plan?” She knows I’ve been up to something, but I haven’t spilled any details yet.

“Just finish packing your bag,” I reply as I prance over to my bedroom door. “We’re heading somewhere for the day, and we need our bags ready for our return home tomorrow.”

I know Sam’s got so many questions, but she just gets up and starts putting away the few things scattered around the room as I enter my bedroom and finish up my own packing.

✢✢✢

Samantha

I wheel my bag into the lounge, finally ready for whatever Emma’s got in store for us. Tane’s been sitting at the table, patiently waiting while we sorted all our packing.

“I’m ready,” I say.

“Perfect, we’re heading to the airport,” Em says. “We’ll drop the rental car there.”

I lift a playful eyebrow at her, trying to remember how old Sam would’ve reacted, but realizing that girl is far gone.

“The airport? What are you up to, Emma Moon?”

Old Sam would have been so anxious about this change of plans, but I’m not. Maybe I’ve grown out of my anxiety on some levels, or maybe I’ve been through so much, being so close to death, almost losing my best friend, my life, the whole world... That a lost plane seems like the least of my worries.

“No,” she says, a mischievous smile spreading on her lips. “Told ya, we’re heading out for an adventure. Don’t worry, we’re flying back to Christchurch early morning tomorrow, with more than enough time to catch our plane back home in the afternoon, trust me.”

I do trust her. I trust her with my life.

“Sounds like fun,” Tane says beside me, a reassuring smile on his face.

“Okay,” I say.

“Okay,” Em replies. “Maybe okay will be our always?” She adds laughingly as we walk out, and Tane looks at us like he has no clue what we’re talking about.

Maybe ’okay’ is our way of expressing that whatever life throws at us, we will make it, as long as we have each other. I lace an arm around Tane’s waist as I smile at Em, and all three of us make our way to the rental car for one last ride.

The drive to the airport is quick, and we’re on a plane heading west in no time. I found out our destiny as soon as Em handed me my boarding pass, but I didn’t ask her why we are heading there. I already knew she wanted to add this to our original itinerary, but the time frame wasn’t right, so we ditched the idea. Em hated me a little for it, she was so looking forward to the adrenaline capital, but deep down I was secretly glad, too scared of what she might make me do.

But I’m embracing all these new feelings now, and trusting Em with my life.

Remembering my favorite John Green book, I understand now how ’I am the writer, but also the story told’. I can take my life wherever I wish it to go. It might not be easy, there might be good and bad days, there might be ups and downs, there might be challenges along the way, but overall, life always brings us forward. And I want to give into life. I want to give in to this force inside of me that’s trying to tell me it’s okay to give in and live fearlessly for a while.

I will live my best life, I promise myself as we soar into the clouds, and I hold Tane’s hand in mine while I lace my other arm around Em’s shoulders.

✢✢✢

Emma

We arrived in Queenstown before lunchtime, and I took Sam and Tane to the most popular burger joint in town. The queue was long, but it was worth it, I’m sure that was the best burger I’ve ever tasted in my life. We ate it sitting by the lake, the snowy mountains in front of us being the most magnificent backdrop.

We did a little tour around the town, enjoyed the views on the lake, and went up the gondola where we watched the city from up above. But I saved the best for last, and as the sun slowly starts to set behind the tree line on the horizon I look at the huge number 38 written on my hand.

“Holly fucking guacamole, I’m so excited about this!” I yelp as we make our way to the platform.

Sam looks down at the number 39 written in red marker on her hand and then smiles up at me.

“I’m so glad you’re going first, you know, so I make sure you don’t die before I follow you into the abyss.” I know she’s joking, and I hope she’s at least a little excited about this.

“I promise you, you won’t regret this! Bungee jumping is super safe!” I say as we walk over the bridge, my turn almost up.

“If you jump off a bridge, I’ll jump off a bridge,” Sam says jokingly.

“Number 38!” The guy yells in front of us.

“Fucking tits, I’m up!” I say as I grab Sam’s hands in mine, “You can do this, I’ll be down there waiting for you, okay?”

“Okay,” she replies. “You got this too, go, have fun!” She adds with a smile.

“Enjoy yourself, Em,” Tane says from behind my best friend, one of his arms casually holding Sam from the waist.

I walk towards the platform where they fit all the harnesses and a guy walks around me tightening straps and linking me to whatever things they have to link me to. I look out to the river running below, unconcerned; this will be fun.

“You’re good to go,” the guy says, and he helps me over to the edge. “At the count of three,” he adds.

“One.”

I look down to the river and the boat waiting for me far away, and then back up to the horizon, letting the wind rip through me. I can’t help thinking about how close we got to death, how close we got to almost ceasing to exist. And it might sound delirious that I’m doing this right now, but fuck, I feel as alive as I’ve ever felt. Life is giving me another chance to make the most out of it. And I have people that care, people that will always show up for me. And even new people in my life, like Miguel, who keeps showing up every day despite the distance and time difference, making a little time for me on the daily.

“Two.”

I can’t help thinking about how much I talked with my dad in the last few days, and how he was willing to help me get the last-minute flight that got us here. I can make an effort; when we’re back, I can put a little more on my side and try to make things work, try to understand him a bit better. He’s proved he’s willing to have my back.

“Three.”

I jump forwards, my arms extended to the sides as I fall headfirst into the abyss, an excited shriek making my throat rumble.

I’m alive. And I matter.

✢✢✢

Samantha

My turn comes way too quickly, and as my number is called, I push myself to walk forwards and not to run away. Tane plants a quick kiss on my forehead and smiles broadly at me as I walk away.

A guy walks around me, adjusting the harness and attaching me to the bungee rope. Having my feet bound together feels unfamiliar, but at the same time, haven’t I lived my whole life like this? Bound? Bound to my insecurities, to my fears, to the unknown.

“Are you ready? Walk to the edge of the platform, here, hold my hand,” the guy says.

I walk forward, feeling like a penguin, and stop right on the edge.

“Let me know if you need a push. If not, jump on the count of three.”

“I can jump,” I reply, not sounding convinced about my answer at all.

“Okay, on one…”

As I look up into the horizon and the forest stretching to the sides of the river, I can’t help but think about everything that’s happened in the last few weeks. How close I was to die in the woods, and how the woods have a completely different meaning to me now that Tane is a part of my life. I glance to the side and find him smiling back at me.

“Two.”

I guess, after all, life is a compilation of fleeting moments, a succession of memories. And we only get to keep the strongest of them, the ones that leave a mark in our souls. I know all about forgetting, and that’s exactly why I know how to remember. And I remember, I will remember this journey until the last of my days because this country has changed me and shaped me in more ways than I can explain. I will remember, because I have been made anew.

“Three!”

I hesitate for a second before I let go. I take a step forward, my eyes fixed on the pines looming far away, and as my body flips, my head going down towards the water, I can almost feel the world’s warm embrace surrounding me. Before I even realize what I’m doing, I find myself screaming at the top of my lungs and laughing at the same time.

I survived. I am brave.

✢✢✢

25TH OF JULY

Tane

Time by her side could have not gone by faster, and saying farewell is maybe the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my life.

Yesterday was simply perfect. Emma gifted us with a magnificent day full of happiness and adventures, while also allowing Sam and I to have plenty of time just for us throughout the day. As the time for the girls to go catch their plane nears, I ask Sam if I can have a little alone time with her.

We’ve discussed this earlier, and I have decided not to go to the airport to make the goodbye a little easier on both of us. So an hour before they’re meant to head to the airport, I take Sam over to my favorite little bit of woods in Christchurch while Em goes out for some hot chocolate.

“This is lovely,” Sam says as we stroll across the woods at Bottle Lake, the path long forgotten as we mindlessly walk around.

“Even if I’m as human as I’ll ever be, the woods still feel like home.”

“They’ve always felt that way to me too,” Sam replies, her hand squeezing mine gently.

I turn to look at her, her green eyes shining a little as I know she’s been trying to avoid the tears from falling all day long.

“That is something we certainly have in common,” I say as I take her hand and usher us towards a fallen tree nearby, where I help Sam jump up and sit down.

I stand in front of her, feeling like what I think a young teen asking his crush to prom might feel like. “I’ve got something for you,” I say, gathering courage.

Sam’s smile widens as she looks at me, her eyes at the same height as mine. “Do you?”

I take my hand to my chest and get my Pikoura out from under my sweater. I buried the Koru in the woods the morning after I closed the portals, all its power long gone due to the stunt I had to pull. So the Pikoura has been the only weight around my neck again, as it has been for so long I have forgotten what it feels like to be without it. I pull it out around my neck and hand it to Sam.

“I want you to have this,” I say. “As a token of this journey you’ve been through.”

Sam’s eyes widen a little as her lips part. “The double loop… Which represents bonds,” she says, clearly remembering our conversation on the beach, now seeming so long ago. It feels like a whole life’s gone by since.

“Yes,” I say. “I want you to keep this as a reminder of your bond with this land. The Pikoura represents a lot of things, including the bonding of cultures. This greenstone will represent the bond of cultures within you: the one you were raised in, and the one you came to discover here. One loop for Argentina,” I say as I trace a finger through the greenstone now sitting on Sam’s palm, “and another loop for New Zealand. To remind you that you don’t belong to one nor the other, but both.”

Sam’s glistening eyes blink rapidly as she tries not to shed tears, but fails. I lift a finger, wiping the tears gently and kissing her on the cheek afterward.

“This is the most beautiful present anyone has ever given me,” she says.

I take the cord back from her hands and pull it over her head, sitting the stone gently against her chest, and letting my fingers travel slowly up her neck. Sam’s hand reaches up, cupping my cheek, and as I mirror her movement, we both lean forward at the same time, sealing our bond with a kiss that melts every bit of the God left in me, making me feel utterly human and vulnerable.

When Sam pulls away, I feel cold for a second, but then she jumps to the floor, and loops her arms around my middle, resting her head against my heart.

“I will miss you,” she whispers against my chest.

“I’ll miss you too, Sam.” I hug her tight, not wanting to let go, but knowing that our time is running out. “But we’ll see each other again as soon as I can, I promise.”

I kiss the top of her head, letting the scent of lavender surround me like a comfort blanket.

“I’ll see you soon,” she says dreamily, looking up at me, and I make a point of remembering every curve of her face, the moss green brightness of her eyes, and the soft velvety feel of her lips.

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