Ella skipped down the sidewalk on her way to Daniel’s house. She had already visited with her mom and helped to arrange some vases. The evening was being welcomed by clouds of pink and orange that drifted across a burnt umber sky. Ella was allowed an hour before she had to get back and finish her homework, so she hurried playfully down Eden Street with a smile that seemed impossible to turn upside-down. At the first intersection, she followed the turn of the sidewalk as it morphed into Auxley Street. As soon as she rounded the corner, her feet stopped short. Four houses down―that’s where Daniel lived. But something new was placed along the path that stretched out before her. She cautiously continued down the walk, not once removing her eyes from the For Sale sign. Which house is it in front of, she wondered to herself. Not Daniel’s, no not his. He just came to town, he couldn’t be leaving. As Ella inched closer, she hoped with all her might that the sign was planted in front of the house on the right, or the house on the left. Not his, not her friend’s. But the closer she got, the more clearly she could see. Finally, she stopped and stood, staring at the sign. It was Daniel’s house that was for sale. And those were moving trucks in his driveway.
The faint chorus of whining leaked out from inside the house, the familiar voice reaching Ella’s stunned ears. “But Mom, why do we have to go?” Ella ran up the steps in search of the voices.
“Because I said so.”
“But I don’t want to go. I like it here, I have friends.”
“You’ll make new friends.”
“That’s enough, Daniel. Now either go pack your things or get out of my hair so that I can do it,” his mother said firmly. The rhythmic stomping of stubborn footsteps followed her up the stairs.
“Daniel!” Ella called from the front porch.
The front door was propped open by packed boxes. As soon as Daniel saw Ella, he took off running. Her hand in his, they ran down the porch steps and kept on going. They ran and ran until they reached the bridge Ella had led them to on their very first play date. They stopped and caught their breath for a moment.
“Daniel, why are we running? Why is your mom packing up your things? Are you moving to a new house?”
Without speaking a word, Daniel grabbed Ella’s hand again and led her down by the stream and to the pool which they had claimed as their own that summer. Daniel let go of Ella’s hand once the pool was in sight and ran over to the fort they had built of sticks and leaves. He started piling up timber a few feet from the fort’s gaping entrance.
“Daniel, where are you moving to?”
“Away,” he said as he arranged some twigs, standing one up in the middle and twisting it in his hands.
“What are you doing?”
“Starting a fire.”
“Because I’m going to stay here for a while.”
“Yes I can, Ella. If you’re not going to help me, then leave me alone!”
Ella was silent for a moment, surprised at how her quiet friend snapped at her. Before long, she went over and snatched the stick from Daniel’s hands. “You’re never going to start a fire this way.” She rearranged the timber and found some dry moss. Leaning over the pieces of wood, Ella went to work.
Daniel stood, tucked his hands into his pockets, and tried to calm his nerves. “They just told me. I saw the ‘For Sale’ sign when I got home. I didn’t even know―” He couldn’t seem to finish his own thought. “My mom got into a fight with my Nana. She said they’re taking me away so Nana can’t see me anymore.”
“But I thought your parents liked it here.”
Ella watched Daniel as he turned away and swiped a tear from his eye. “Daniel?”
“Where is away? Where are you going?”
“Where is far―”
“Just!” Daniel interrupted her, but caught himself and cooled his own temper. “Can we just be quiet for a while? I don’t want to think about it.”
Ella waited a moment before laying the sticks gently on the ground and walking over to sit by her friend. As the sun bent down to kiss the earth, the sky blushed with shades of purple and pink. The moon and the brightest stars began to peek out of the colorful blanket above while the two children sat in silence together, sharing the last few moments they had before they would be torn apart.
“Ella!” a voice was heard in the distance. “Ella!” The two young companions looked up in the direction of the sound. “Daniel!” It was getting closer.
“That’s my mom,” Ella said as they rose to their feet.
“Ella!” as Maggie said this, she pushed her way passed a large bush, then laid her relieved eyes upon her daughter. “Oh, Ella! I’m so glad you’re okay! Both of you!” she said as she embraced the children.
“Mommy, Daniel’s leaving! His mom is making him move away!”
“I know, honey. I heard.”
“Well? What can we do!” Ella’s panic was surfacing now.
Maggie didn’t want to stand by and let her daughter’s heartbreak, though she knew she couldn’t stop it. “Ella,” she began, rubbing her daughter’s shoulders as if it would ease the blow. “I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do. It’s Daniel’s parents who have to make the decision.”
“Then can you talk to them!”
“I’m sorry, honey. It’s out of our hands.”
“Noooo!” Ella collapsed into her mother’s arms.
Looking over her daughter’s shoulder, Maggie reached out to Daniel. “I’m so sorry, Daniel.” After only a few short moments of silence, Maggie scooped Ella up and rose to her feet, taking Daniel by the hand. “Come on sweetie.” With that, she led the two brokenhearted children back to the very house they had fled.
“Daniel!” his father called. The boy stood in place as his parents ran down the walk and threw their arms around him. “We were so worried.”
“Dad,” Daniel said, pulling away from his father’s embrace. “I don’t want to move.”
His parents looked at each other as if deciding who would handle the situation. Henry finally looked his boy in the eyes. “I’m sorry son, but the decision has been made.”
Ella heard these words and turned her face into her mother’s shoulder―which was by now soaked with tears.
“Don’t worry,” he continued. “You got used to living here, you’ll get used to living somewhere else too.”
Daniel looked up at Ella who still refused to face him.
“Let’s go inside, son.” Then Henry turned to Maggie. “Thank you for bringing him home.”
“No problem. Good bye, Daniel. It’s been very nice getting to know you.”
“Bye,” Daniel muttered sadly as his father ushered him inside.
Maggie began to walk Ella slowly back down the sidewalk to go home. Ella peeked over her mother’s shoulder just as Daniel looked after her and their eyes met. Quickly she scrambled out of her mother’s arms and ran to Daniel who pulled away from his father. “Daniel!” Henry called after him.
The parting friends fled into each other’s arms. “We can still be friends! Will you write to me?” Ella pleaded.
“I’ll miss you!”
“I’ll miss you too.”
The parents gave them a moment before deciding it was time to separate.
“C’mon, Buddy,” Henry said as he gently tugged at Daniel’s shoulder.
“Mommy!” Ella went crying into her mother’s arms again as she was lifted up to be carried home. As tears streamed down Ella’s face, she watched Daniel walk slowly beside his father with his head hanging and his hands tucked into his pockets. In just one year the pair had each made their first best friend, and had their first broken hearts.
“Good morning, Mr. Finer,” Ella said as she approached the old man sitting in a chair of the community room with Mr. Jerries, Eleanor, and a few others who had fallen asleep. Other elders were spread out around the rest of the room, watching TV, playing board games, or sitting quietly with their eyes running over the contents of books or gazing out the windows overlooking the gardens in the back.
“Miss Ella! Did you know that Eleanor here is grumpy even after she takes her meds?”
“Now you stop it or I’ll come over there and hit you with your own cane!” Eleanor threatened.
“Oh you couldn’t hit the side of a... A, uh... What’s that, Ella?”
“Yeah! You couldn’t hit the side of a barn if you were standing right next to it.”
Mr. Jerries sat back and laughed at the two who had become quite accustomed to bickering since Ella had introduced them.
“You old quack!” Eleanor teased.
Mr. Finer leaned in to whisper to Ella. “I didn’t say it right, did I?”
Ella laughed. “I don’t think so.”
Mr. Finer sat back in his chair with an ‘oh well’ sort of look.
“I can’t stay long today. I’m on my way to work.”
“You shouldn’t have stopped. You’re a young woman who should enjoy her youth rather than spending it visiting with me. Besides, I have these two to keep me company.” Mr. Finer glanced over to see that his two friends had drifted off to a dream land as well. “Well, I’ve been up for two hours. I suppose I should nap too.”
Ella chuckled and rubbed the old man’s shoulder. “I’m going to drop your hydrangeas off in your room and get going.”
“I’ll be here,” he replied as Ella walked away.
She returned to find all three of them awake and arguing again, but went over anyway and boldly interrupted. “Off I go, now.”
“Could you make these two fall back to sleep again before you leave? Please? I’m desperate.”
Ella bent down and kissed Mr. Finer’s forehead, then went over and did the same for Mr. Jerries.
“Don’t come spreading that over here!” Eleanor remarked.
Ella responded with a smile. “Next time!” she called, then turned to leave. Nearly out the door, she ran into Eric on his way inside.
“Glad you’re here,” he said.
“Oh?” Ella was flattered.
“Yeah, as long as you’re here, you’re not on the road.”
“I was just leaving,” she assured him. “So give me at least twenty minutes to get to where I’m going before you venture out again.”
“Oh good, you can laugh at yourself,” Eric noted. “You know, I never asked; do you have family here or do you just make deliveries for the shop?”
“No, just visiting an old friend. Here to see your grandmother?”
“If she’s in a good mood, yes. Otherwise I’m here to see... that guy,” he said as he pointed to a random stranger.
“Well, either way, I hope you have a nice visit. I should be to work in about fifteen minutes, so you’re safe to drive after that.”
“Thanks for the heads-up.” Eric smiled after Ella as she made her exit. Finding his grandmother, he bent down to give her a kiss. “Hi, Nana.”
“Hello, dear. Do you know who that was that you were speaking to?”
“She’s the florist in town. And we happen to live in the same building.”
“Yes. Do you know her?”
“I don’t believe she remembers me, but I know her, and so do you. Don’t you remember?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Don’t pester the boy, Eleanor.” Mr. Finer said.
“I’m not! Am I pestering you, dear?” Eric didn’t answer. He was lost in thought, trying to recall the person his grandmother was referring to. “Dear?”
“What? No. Not at all.”
“So there,” she said snottily to Mr. Finer. “Let’s go for a stroll through the gardens,” she decided, giving Eric a gentle pat on the hand. “My chair is over there.”
Eric retrieved her wheelchair. He helped her in and they went out to spend the morning gathering fresh air and the lovely fragrance of flowers.