Perhaps autumn in Maine is God’s way of exploding his creativity into the universe. For there is nowhere in all the wide world that exudes such a tapestry of beauty than the shores, meadows and woods of that tiny state. The grasses covering the slow sloping hills turn a rich golden color that shimmered in the tranquil sunlight – rays weakened by the shortening of days, but still rich in warmth and brilliance. The hue of the Atlantic waves that lapped the stony shores changed from an aquamarine to a steely gray. It would turn from shimmery glass to a frothy display of wet power in a mere matter of moments.
But this display of colorful grandeur was but a shadow of the majesty of the trees. These were Maine’s calling card; her fanfare to the changing of the seasons. For every shade of red, yellow and orange there was a leaf. Their vanity was braggadocio, and there was not a creature in all the world that begrudged them for it; such was their brilliance. Every so often, in a perfect moment, the sun would catch the edges of those leaves. And like the way the sun dances on water, it would dance through those leaves and ignite them into an explosion of radiant splendor.
The laughter that washed over the golden meadows trailed behind three small dots, barely visible to the hawk above the tall, whispering grasses. Upon a closer look, it could be seen these dots were moppets of hair attached to two rambunctious compatriots, a boy and a girl. Their laughter was like the trickle of a brook, tinkling over stones. They bounded through the fields toward the red cliffs stretching out to the sea.
“You’ll never catch me!” shrieked the girl.
“I’ll catch you and I will make you pay, Rowena Norrington!” the boy shouted back.
The girl looked over her shoulder at her pursuer, her hair a tangled bird’s nest of curls. Her hair was streaked with dirt and her pinafore torn at the hem. “Not on your life, Morgan! I am too fast for you!”
She veered to the right and half skipped, half tumbled down a sandy slope that ended on a rocky, craggy cliff. She slid to a halt with a finesse that showed she had done this many times before. She unlaced her shoes and hurriedly pulled her socks off. Plunging her bare toes into the sand, she inhaled the salt air deeply and smiled.
“You have nowhere to go!” The Morgan called down from atop the sandy hill.
“Stop!” Rowena turned sharply and glared up at Morgan.
He half smiled, uncertain why he had been commanded in such a tone. He flashed a white grin under a ripple of freckles, he raised his hands in mock surrender. “All right. All right! I’ll stop!” He slid down the sandy slope and toppled to a halt next to her.
Rowena looked at him with mild annoyance and then back at the mixing colors of the sunset. The ever changing color of the sea was now a brilliant silver, like the back of a fish caught in the sunlight. Its placid surface caught the reflection of the sky and magnified it into a watery canvas.
“Can you ever be still? Rowena tilted her head to one side as though listening to something the rest of the world could not. “Breathe it in.”
Morgan sniffed the air. “Breathe in what?”
Rowena rolled her eyes and sank down into the sand, letting her bare legs hang over the edge of the cliff. “This! She exclaimed with a sweeping and dramatic gesture. “All of it! It only will last for a moment and then its beauty will vanish with the setting of the sun. But its glory is all ours for the taking.”
Morgan half laughed. “It’s a sunset. It’s science, not poetry.”
“It is both!” The setting sun caught her face and hair in its rays and illuminated them with a brilliance like the phoenix rising out of the ashes. “Just imagine being the sun.”
He wanted to laugh again, but there was something so serious about the way she spoke he knew he would only offend her. “I don’t quite think I could imagine that,” he replied instead - knowing she would oblige him with a response.
“Imagine being a great ball of fire - tasked with giving everything warmth; traveling the circumference of the globe. But you can never get too close or drift too far for fear of destroying all that bask in your light. It must be horrible and tragically lonely.”
She lay her head on her knee and Morgan thought she must sympathize with the sun. And as foolish as he knew the idea sounded rambling around in his head, he believed that if anyone could cry for a bursting, flaming star, she could. He leaned back on his elbows, his moppy bangs falling over his eyes. He blew them back up to their proper place on his head and sighed. “Well, I am sure the sun, with all its power, all its chemical compounds and mixtures of gases, would be hard pressed to find anyone worthy enough to be its friend. I suppose that is why it travels alone. Nothing on earth could travel beside something so majestic.”
Rowena half turned her head to look at him. “You are teasing me, aren’t you?”
Morgan let himself laugh now. “I wouldn’t dare.” He shook his head and rolled over to his stomach. “No, Rowena. I do not understand the lenses by which you view this world. But no one should tease you for it.”
Rowena smiled. “You see it differently too.”
“How do I see it?”
“Everything has a scientific explanation, a textbook reason for why they are the way they are. You see something and instantly your mind begins analyzing why it exists and how it works.”
“Is that so bad?”
Rowena shrugged. “Not if your father is a doctor and you already have your entire life planned for you. It would be expected that you see everything that way. No mystery or imagination.”
Morgan pushed himself up to his knees and slapped the sand from his hands. “If it makes you feel any better, there is one thing I will never understand.”
“What is that?”
He leaned in closely and smiled. “You!”
He pushed her over and leapt to his feet. Turning on his heel, he plunged down the sandy embankment. He did not need to look over his shoulder to know she was chasing after him, her temper flaring. Morgan knew he should not tease her so, but it was so wonderfully simplistic.
“You’ve had it now, Morgan Bailey! It is going to be heck to pay when I catch you!”
He rounded an outcropping of rocks and flattened himself against them. He heard her feet pounding through the sand. As she flew passed him, he tripped her, and she tumbled to the sand. He burst into laughter.
Rowena hit the sand with her hands in frustration, causing the sand to fly into her face, and adding to her contempt for Morgan. She felt her face burn with humiliation and knew her hated freckles would be glistening brightly amidst the bright red hue. Angrily she kicked her foot out from under her skirt and knocked him to the ground. He lay there, stupefied and stunned that he had once again been bested by a girl. She rose to her feet and wiped the sand from her clothes. She squared her shoulders she glared down at him.
“Perhaps next time you feel compelled to treat me in such a fashion you will remember that you were the one who ended up on his backside.” She smoothed her hair behind her ears and turned to walk away.
Morgan would not let her walk away with self-satisfaction. As she walked by his head he grabbed her ankle, and once again Rowena found herself face down in the sand.
“This is highly scandalous, don’t you think?”
The voice came from up the embankment. The sun blocked the face that belonged to the voice, but they both knew the owner. Rowena and Morgan both rolled onto their backs, covered in sand. Surely, they must look a sight! Now they would never cease to be the end of relentless teasing.
“Come down here Atticus!” Morgan sat up and brushed off his pant legs. “Say that to my face and see what the sand tastes like.”
The lad slid down the reddish sands and landed with experienced precision on his feet. His moppish black hair glistened like the feathery down of a crow’s wing in the sun.
“What are you doing spying on us?” Morgan clenched his fists.
Atticus laughed. “Last time I read my history book, we were part of a democracy, not a monarchy. No one owns this little spot of the East coast.”
“Well that’s your problem,” Morgan replied sullenly. “When was the last time you set foot inside the schoolhouse?”
“Oh stop it you two!” Rowena. “You are like two crows constantly cackling at one another.”
Morgan ignored her. “Tell me, Atticus. Where is it you learned about our little spot on the East coast? Oh, that’s right. That daft old man.”
Rowena saw Atticus’ fists clench and unclench. “Morgan that is enough!”
Morgan, already worked into a state, ignored her. “He’s crazy, isn’t he? Your grandfather is a crazy old man!” Morgan’s face was inches from Atticus’. “Craziness must run in the family.”
Enraged, Atticus lunged at Morgan. He grabbed his waist and hurled him to the ground with a resounding thud.
“Stop it!” Rowena tried to push herself between the two but was shoved away in their scuffle. Brushing herself off, she tried to step out of their way. Atticus was the stronger of the two, but Morgan’s stubbornness drove him to fight back. As they tussled, they rolled ever closer to Rowena, pushing her further toward the cliff’s edge. She could hear the water crashing on the sharp rocks below. The salty spray stung her face as it blew upward on the chilly wind.
Suddenly she felt the rock and sand loosen beneath her feet. She tried to call out all that came out was a whimper. She felt herself fall as sky and ground and sea became a blinding blue. She clawed at the air, her tiny fingers sank into a small indent in the cliff’s face. Now with nothing below her but the wild sea, she found her voice and screamed.
Both boys froze mid swing.
“Where is she?” Morgan pushed Atticus off and stood.
Atticus leapt to his feet. “She’s hanging from the cliff!” He half crawled, half ran to the edge.
Rowena looked up and only saw Atticus. “Where is Morgan?” she called.
Morgan leaned over the cliff behind Atticus. “I’m here!”
“Morgan, help!” Rowena was beyond scared, she was petrified. She could feel her fingers slipping.
“I’m here, Rowena!” Morgan called down. He lowered his voice and whispered to Atticus. “What do we do?”
Without hesitation, Atticus replied, “I’m going down to get her.”
“Just a minute!” Morgan protested. “What gives you the right to go?”
Atticus stood and pulled his sweater over his head. He tied the arm of one sleeve around his waist and handed the other sleeve to Morgan. “Nothing gives me the right. But I’m going just the same.” He lowered himself over the edge. “Hold on. I know you wouldn’t mind me falling - but I’ll be holding onto Rowena.”
Atticus inched his way over the side. As he felt his knees move over the top of the cliff he realized that the sea was much further down than he had first thought. But it was much too late to turn back - Rowena was depending on him.
“Atticus! Please hurry!” Rowena gasped between sobs.
“Look at me, Rowena,” Atticus replied quietly.
“I don’t want to die, Atticus!” Rowena’s gaze was frozen on the crashing waves.
“Rowena, I told you to look at me.” Atticus raised his voice ever so slightly. She looked up at him and he thought that her eyes were very much like the sea – though fuller and deeper in color. “That’s it,” he tried to smile reassuringly. “Just look at me.” He reached out his hand. “Now, I need you to help me. I need you to swing your free arm up and grab my hand.”
“I can’t! I’ll fall!”
“Aye, you can.”
“No,” she sobbed. “I can’t. I just can’t.” She closed her eyes and buried her face in the red sand of the cliff.
“Rowena,” Atticus stretched out his hand and his fingers grazed the top of her head. “Rowena, look at me.” She raised her head and looked up, tears streaming down her face. “I won’t let you fall. I promise.”
His words struck a chord within her heart and she believed him. She could not understand why, but she did. She threw her arm up and grasped his outstretched hand.
“We have you, Rowena!” Morgan called from above.
Atticus rolled his eyes as he pulled Rowena up. “Please just pull us up!”
Atticus wrapped both his arms around Rowena and held her close. She buried her face in his shoulder. “Don’t let me go,” she whispered.
“I told you I wouldn’t,” he replied.
With a final tug, Morgan pulled them to safety. Rowena threw her arms around his neck. “There now,” he smiled, looking over her at Atticus. “I’ve got you.”
Atticus rolled his eyes and unwound his sweater from his waist. He pulled it back over his head and brushed his tousled hair back behind his ears. Self-consciously smoothing the wrinkles from his pants, he turned to leave.
“That’s quite a sweater, Atticus,” Morgan called after him.
Atticus turned and smiled. “It is, isn’t it?”
“Where’d you get it?”
Atticus fingered the sleeve of the sweater and his smile broadened. “My grandfather knit it for me.”
Morgan’s smile disappeared. Rowena lifted her head and turned to look at Atticus. She smiled at him and Atticus returned her smile with eyes glistening in merriment.
“It’s quite a fine sweater indeed,” she said softly.
Atticus placed his cap on his head and deftly nodded to Rowena. Then he turned on his heel and walked back up the path towards the world and all it would hold for him.