She bursts through the trees and leaps into my arms.
“Nik! I missed you so much!” The tears are still fresh on her freckled cheeks.
“Ellie, what’s the matter?” I wrap her in my arms and hold her, hoping the pain will go away. My heart hurts when she’s sad.
“Daddy says I can’t come to play with you anymore.”
“Why? Is it because I hate shoes?” She giggles in between sniffles as I wiggle my toes in the grass.
“No, silly. He said the woods are too scary.”
“No they’re not! I’m scarier than anything out here!” I pound my bare chest and give my most fierce growl.
Daddy has been teaching me how to growl real scary but I won’t be much good at it until I become a wolf like him and momma. I can't tell Ellie my secret even though I want to so badly. I want her to think I'm awesome.
“Let’s run away!” She begs.
“We can’t run away, Ellie. You’ll get in big trouble if you get lost. How about I show you a secret place instead?”
“You mean like a surprise?” I nod, my dark hair blows in the summer wind.
Her red hair is made into two pigtails that sway as she stomps past me. Her bottom lip sticks out as she pouts and I can’t help but wanna know how it would feel to kiss her. That’s what you do when someone you love is upset, right? Daddy kisses mom when she’s upset and it makes her smile.
“C'mon, I wanna see the surprise!” She is running ahead of me and I easily catch up to her.
“Wait up! You don’t even know where you’re going.” She sticks out her tongue and chases me through the trees. My bare feet stomp against the dry forest floor. Hand in hand we race to my secret spot.
The old cabin has been empty all my life. For some reason, no one comes near it. Maybe it’s haunted. We bypass the cabin and go bounding down the hill to the meadow. The wildflowers have just bloomed. White, yellow, and purple flowers surround us. The grass is so tall I can barely see Ellie beside me.
We bound through the flowers, racing past the cabin to an abandoned playground. No one comes near this place anymore so it’s private.
“This is my secret hideout,” I tell her proudly.
“Wow! How come no one comes here?” She asks as she climbs into the swing. I push her as high as I can. She loves to feel like she’s flying.
“I don’t know. Mommy says it makes people too sad.”
“It seems like a happy place to me.” She screams as I push her higher.
“Me too,” I say and climb into the swing next to her. We are so high my toes touch the clouds. We laugh as our bellies get butterflies.
“Wanna see who can jump the farthest?” Ellie asks me.
“Sure!” I say but I’m nervous about leaping out of the swing. We’ve slowed down and aren’t going as high but it still makes my belly do flip flops.
“Wait, I’m too scared! I can’t do it!”
“Three!!!” Ellie leaps from the swing and rolls onto the grass, giggling the whole time.
“Ah, c'mon Nik! Don’t be such a girl!” I stick my tongue out at her and she laughs.
In a moment of bravery, I jump out hoping to show her I’m just as brave as her. She goes to stand up and I dive into her arms. She tries to catch me and we both tumble, our heads bumping during the impact.
“Ouch! You are crushing me! What was that for?” She yells and shoves me off of her.
“Are you okay? I didn’t mean to hit you. I was just trying to show you I could do it too!” I examine her head, a little knot forming there. She waves me away.
“Should we go see the doctor?” I ask her.
“No! Doctors are scary. I’m okay, I promise.”
When the sun begins its descent in the sky I walk her home. In the distance, her dad calls out for her.
“Ellie, are you sure you don’t want to come home with me? I can protect you.”
“It’s okay. Daddy just gets mad when I’m in the woods. He will probably ground me. He doesn’t want me out here.” She pouts.
She hugs me tight and I hug her back. She plants a chaste kiss on my cheek and my whole body turns red. My heart beats so fast I think I might die.
“What was that for?” I whisper and grab my cheek.
“In case we don’t see each other for a long time.” She says and runs through the trees and to her house.
She looks back at me and waves. I just stare at her until she disappears into the house. My hand rests on the spot where her lips were. I smile and stand there wishing I had been brave enough to kiss her first. After that, Ellie disappears. I come back every day but her Grams will always smile sadly from the porch, letting me know she’s not here. My beautiful sunshine is gone.