There had been no sleep for months. No dreamless nights where I could gather my thoughts together and breathe easy the morning after. I feared every night the same way I feared every day spent on the hill.
"It's snowing," I insisted. I don't know why it mattered - Anna went to that tree whether it was raining or shining, and I knew she went sometimes at night. "Anna, please, let's just stay here for today, okay?"
But she wasn't listening. She never listened to me. I just never know why I didn't see the way she was changing. It was so gradual, so minimal I guess, that I only saw it when it was there, right in front of my eyes. She never saw me changing, either.
"It'll be like something out of a book." She touched the window pane. Drew something twisted and out of shape. I dug through my drawer, already consenting even as I struggled to argue with her.
"It'll be cold and wet and you'll give us both pneumonia." I slung a jumper over my head and dragged my coat off the end of my bed, sitting down to slide my feet into woolen socks.
"We can climb into the middle of the tree where it won't have snowed yet."
"Anna-" I tucked my jeans into the socks. "-Can't we just-?" But she wasn't listening. So I followed after her.
I had grown used to my fear of the tree. Of that whole place on the hill. But that day, when we breached its peak and stood before it, I felt something else. Something worse.
"I told you," she said, sounding arrogant and flippant and, for the first time since I'd seen her face and shared in her wildness, stupid. When she spun, her toes grinding into the grass that was not coated with snow or frost, I looked at her again and saw that she didn't look wild anymore. That bright look in her eyes, that windswept kiss of her cheeks - it was all gone. I wanted to scream.
Had she always looked so dull? So withdrawn?
And there behind her, like a planned photograph untouched by the snow, stood the gnarled tree. Only it didn't look so gnarled anymore. It didn't look so twisted. She did.
"Anna." I couldn't speak above a whisper. I seemed to have lost my voice. I wanted a mirror. Did I look like that? Vague and dulled and tired? Almost broken? "Anna."
"Let's climb it."
But she was in its boughs like a wisp of wind, her feet disappearing into the leaves that looked brighter than they'd ever been. Vivid and green and full, packed in thick against the branches.
I had a heartbeat to think. A moment of indecision where fear gripped me cold and made me frozen, even though the earth here seemed anything but. I could go after her - I could follow just as I always had. But this time, I would coax her out of the tree, even if I had to force her. I would cut down the tree. I could fix this.
She never listened. She didn't see me the same way I saw her. She had, once. We had existed together, wild and windswept, and she had reminded me to wonder. But I didn't owe her this. I didn't owe her this.
I felt the bark, warm and smooth under my fingers, and looked up into the branches, beautifully arched. I couldn't see her. But I knew she was there. The leaves she discarded drifted down like little torn airships, sailing toward the earth.
"Anna." Louder this time. "Anna." Louder, louder. She had to hear me. But I couldn't climb. I wouldn't climb. Had she been having nightmares, too? Or had it been more subtle than that. Just a sapping of strength and energy - an inability to think of anything else. I didn't even stop to question reality. "Anna."
And then her face. There. Between the leaves.
She looked afraid.
"I'm here, Anna." But she wasn't looking at me. "Here, Anna, here." She was looking past me. At the ground just beside me. And I wish I'd turned in time. "Anna-"
I thought it would be her. And for a moment, when that gargled, startled scream rocketed through the space by that tree, I thought maybe it was. It was such a foreign sound.