Seen 9:43 PM by Jesse Ramirez

Nick checked his phone again. He had three bars and a strong signal. But his home screen was still empty. He opened it looking back at his messages. There were three from him in a row. They were all seen last night at 9:43 PM. Nick sighed, clicked the phone off, and put it back in his pocket.

The air was warm and clear, like how all summer mornings should be. Nick shifted from foot to foot, the gravel under his feet crunched. He was waiting, rather impatiently, for someone who clearly wasn’t coming. He was waiting at their entrance. Two trees had half fallen onto each other in a triangular fashion which made for a good imaginary portal when they were younger. This is where they had always met.

His arms dropped to his sides where they had been crossed over his chest. His fingers tapped at his thigh, a familiar beat only he could hear the rhythm to. He worried his lips and took his phone out. It was 10:37 AM, and his last text read, “meet you there at 10!” He stared at the screen until it turned off and he was left looking at himself.

He looked tired, his usually bright brown eyes looked dark and dull, and his dark hair looked like a mess, his tan skin looked pale. He was tired. Nick had been tired this entire summer, his last summer before-

He didn’t want to think about that. Looking at the blue horizon he decided he’d wait no more.

It wasn’t smart to go into any woods alone, but he knew the way and had practically lived in these woods since he was seven. It was quiet and warmly lit. Yellow beams of light were filtered through the aspen branches and leaves, leaving a warm green glow on the ground. He’d been here hundreds of times. He didn’t need to check his way but instead just let his memory lead him.

The memories that lingered in these trees were good ones. Games of fantasy and dragons running from the law and pretending to have wings and fly. He smiled to himself, these memories were sweet, and he suckled them like candy.

Small leaves crunched under his feet. It had only recently started to get cooler, the days slightly shortening, the leaves beginning to fall to the ground. He knew autumn was coming, and he hated it. Why couldn’t this summer last forever? Why couldn’t things stay the same?

“I’m being stupid,” Nick told himself aloud, “They wouldn’t forget. They’re just late. Very, very late. I’m sure they’ll come running up behind me any minute now apologizing profusely.” He kept walking though, part of him knowing the truth.

“I’m sure it’ll be the best story when they get here. They’re gonna talk my ear off with how bad the traffic was, or how their sister had forgotten to fill the tank up again… 

They’ll be here. They will.” He kept repeating these things, wanting desperately for them to be true.

This was Nick’s last chance. His last chance to keep things the same, to keep them from changing. He had sensed things were different at the beginning of summer, their last summer before they both left for college. The longer wait for a reply, the clipped texts, the brushing him aside… he knew that this was happening, and yet he still held on to false hope. He couldn’t let go, not yet, he wouldn’t let go of this.

When he finally looked up from staring at his feet for what felt like hours, he was at his destination. He stared at it with saddened eyes.

“Ow! Ow ow ow!”

Nick turned around to see his friend sitting on the ground, their legs spread out in front of them. One of them was bleeding.

“Woah hey, are you ok?” Nick hurried over to their side sitting down next to them. He looked at their knee; it was scraped up pretty badly. His friend looked up at him, tears in their eyes. “Hey don’t panic, it’s ok, I’m here. I’ll be right back!” Nick took off in another direction.

When he came back he had two handfuls of bright green leaves. “We can use these as natural bandages,” he said, smiling and applying the leafy bandaid.

“Hey, Nick,” they started, “You’ll always be there to help me, right?”

“Of course I will,” Nick said, extending a hand to help up his friend, “We’re friends. I would never leave you.”

Long thin branches swayed in the breeze, a skinny green leaf falling every now and then.

Gnarled roots sprouted from the ground and far off echoes of laughter danced in the air.

The willow tree.

It looked the same. It did not change.

“Hey man, I got your text, what’s up?” Nick’s friend came over to where he was sitting against the tree. He didn’t look at them, but instead stared off into the distance. Tear streaks stained his flushed cheeks. His friend cautiously sat down next to Nick, looking at him.

Nick sniffled and took a shaky breath, “My parents- they’re… They’re getting a divorce.”

His friend stiffened. “Oh… Do you want to talk about it?”

They both sat there for a second too long. The silence, deafening.

“No.” Nick finally answered, “I just wanted you here.”

His friend lay their head on Nick’s shoulder as they sat there in silence, together.

This was theirs. It was where they played and lounged, where they came up with their extravagant stories, it’s where they daydreamed for hours, and it was where they pledged their undying friendship to each other. He approached the tree’s wide trunk running his hand across the bark.

It felt the same, it did not change.

“So?” Nick happily tapped his thighs, “What’s the answer?”

“Got it right here,” They said, waving an envelope, “My entire future.”

“Well hurry up, open it!” Nick came up behind his friend peering over their shoulder as they ripped the envelope open. They read it in a hushed slurred whisper, and then,

“I got in… I got in!”

“Hell yeah you did!” Nick clapped them on the back and then shook their shoulders, “I’m so happy for you!”

Nick’s smile wavered, but only for a second.

He made his way over to the tire swing and latched onto the rope. It scratched at his palm, but he didn’t let go.

“You’re going to have to tell me about all the cool stuff you do up there when you come back for breaks.” Nick stared at his friend hopefully.

They looked up, finally, from the letter, “Uh, yeah,” they tucked it away quickly in their coat pocket, looking back at Nick with an unreadable expression.

“You promise we’ll still stay in touch though, right?” Nick clung on to the rope.

“… Yeah.”

As he walked around the tree he saw the tire swing. It was old and worn. Just like it always had been. Its rope was slowly coming undone and the tire had deep rips. He looked inside the hollow piece of rubber, the special rocks they had found still sat at the bottom.

It swung the same. It did not change.

Nick took in the whole tree, every feeling, every memory.

“Was this not enough?” His face scrunched and a lump slid down his throat, “ All those years, was it not enough? Was I– was I not enough?” He asked no one, no one but himself. God he wanted to leave this place, but he loved this place. He loved them, loved how they made him feel.

He slumped down against the trunk, pulling his knees to his chest and resting his head on top. There were too many thoughts going through his mind that he couldn’t sit and ponder on one. It was all too loud, the buzzing, the questions, it was all too much.

He sat like this for a while, breathing and not moving.

His head turned upward, he squeezed his eyes tightly before they opened.

A crow was there. It was perched on a branch a few feet higher from where Nick sat. It looked down at him; its dark feathers trapped whatever light hit it.

“Are you here all alone?” the crow asked, head tilting. Its voice sounded so familiar, like he’d heard it all his life.

“I’m not supposed to be.” Nick answered, still looking up at the bird.

“Then where is your companion?” the crow hopped down to a lower branch.

“Who cares. It’s all gone and no matter how hard I try to keep it to stay, it still goes.” He looked away from the crow and pulled out his phone checking it once again. There was nothing there. It was 11:12 AM now.

“Nothing can stay forever,” the crow replied matter-of-factly.

Nick turned off the phone and slammed it onto the leafy ground, “But this was supposed to! We were supposed to stay friends all through school and college and then into our adult years. I thought that… I thought they wanted the same. They’re all I have. All I have from then. They’re my tether to all those good things. I can’t let that go. I won’t.”

“Maybe it’s time to cut the tether,” the crow said nonchalantly as it pruned its feathers. 

“Maybe it’s time to leave that part of your life behind. Embrace those times, but learn how to let go. Remember them, but do not get trapped in them.” The crow now stared back at Nick, its eyes unreadable. It hopped from foot to foot. Its beak tapped the bark to some tune.

Nick stared back at the bird, tears threatening to fall. “I don’t know how. I don’t know how to move on and get over this.” His eyes were sad. He wanted the bird to understand, to be on his side.

“Just because we let go of people doesn’t mean we have to let go of all the good feelings they brought us.” The crow looked away from him now, staring at something far in the distance.

How could I have let this happen, he thought, We meant everything to each other… they meant everything to me.

“We were such good friends!” Nick pleaded, “I tried to be such a good friend, and yet they still pulled away! I don’t know what I did to change how they felt about me.” Nick looked at the bird wanting it to look at him back. He needed it to understand. To know why this was so hard for him. To feel for him. The bird did not turn its head, but continued to stare off into nothingness. Nick snapped his head back down and stared ahead into his own nothingness.

The crow, still looking at nothing, began to speak, but was quickly silenced when Nick abruptly stood up.

He walked a few feet from the tree and began pacing. Before long, he had made his own small path in the leaves and dirt. His fingers tapped together mercilessly, the same rhythm as before. It was faster this time.

His feelings were all jumbled. He couldn’t focus on one. They kept swirling, and mudding, and changing. He was no longer sad about what was. He was angry about what is. Nick felt betrayed, not only by his friend, but by the bird.

He didn’t understand. He didn’t understand why this was happening or what it meant. He was crying now as he was pacing, his breath getting hitched and tears streaming down his cheeks. He wiped his hands at his eyes and nose.

Nick stopped. He was standing still.

“Will things always change this horribly?” he asked the crow.

The crow looked at him now. “Not always. Look at how you have changed. Was it all bad? Look at the person you’ve grown into. Look at how your interests have changed, your thoughts and beliefs. Not all change is bad, it is just a way of living.” The bird turned back away from him.

Nick crumpled to the ground, stretching his limbs out to take up as much space as possible. He hated what this meant. Despised what was to come of it.

But he laid there and felt good. He was in his favorite place, with his favorite memories. He wanted to hate the crow, but he didn’t. He wanted to hate his friend, but he couldn’t. These feelings and memories would not change, and that was good enough for him.

He laid there, letting his eyes unfocus. He could see blotches of green and blurs of blue. He could hear the birds chirping and the cicadas singing. This is what he would remember. It’s what he wanted to remember.

They met when they were just ten years old. They had everything ahead of them. Nick closed his eyes. He could see them both sitting in the tree.

“Do you think we’ll stay friends forever?” They asked, swinging their feet. Their blonde hair caught in the wind and softly whipped around their face. Their green eyes smiled, and freckles were thrown across their nose.

“Forever is such a long time,” Nick replied, picking at the bark. He never could sit still. 

“But, I think I could spend forever with you.” He looked up at them smiling.

They would spend forever with each other, or at least their memories would. It didn’t feel as good as the real thing, but it didn’t feel terrible either.

When Nick opened his eyes, he had stopped crying. He shifted his head to look over at the crow. It was gone. He sat up and looked around.

The willow tree had new branches; it had changed.

The bark on the tree had weathered and smoothed; it had changed.

The tire swing was older and stiffer; it had changed.

He got up, looked at the tree and smiled. He began to walk away from this place he called theirs, and as he did, he remembered whose voice it was. His own.


Biography: Writing to me is an act of creation, as broad as that sounds. There is power in the ability to mold worlds and universes into the shape you want them to be, to tell the stories of people that feel so real to you that you can’t help but share them with the world. To me, my writing is something that I must share with the world; it would be selfish to do so otherwise. I aspire to be one of the greats and an inspiration for the next generation. Though I know this journey will be long and arduous, the thought alone is exciting.