Even when Peach pointed out the beautiful Sonoran Desert wildflowers proving springtime had come at last. Ever since the girls had struggled to get through the cold days and frigid nights, springtime—which had made even Escapist gasp with gladness at its sight—winter had cost them many sleepless nights and insufferable days of discomfort and quarrels.
Winter had been a doozy—but springtime gave Peach hope. But she wanted Escapist to care, too—because she didn’t. She was like a flower refusing to break through the ice and snow of winter, and then shaking from the cold as if wondering why she was doing so. Peach strived to help Escapist be the co-leader of the friendship. However, she, Peach, ended up guiding Escapist more than Escapist strived to further her relationship with Peach.
Escapist was standing before a roaring fire. Anger rooted her to the spot. Her best friend, Peach, was standing, she knew, away from the glow in the shadows. She was upset with Escapist.
Escapist didn’t care anymore. She just wanted a friend who believed in her. no matter how many times Peach commented on Escapist’s ability to tell her brother, Charles, that he needed to lower the pride and help her, she couldn’t get that she didn’t need to be like Charles—she needed to adhere to Peach’s commands to help herself—be smart.
But she gossips.
This is the world Escapist had put herself in. the castle in which she rules. She will not leave until everyone—especially Peach—sees the truth.
The truth of what? Peach wanted to know. The truth that Peach was wrong?
How? Both girls were right—about some things. Other things she had to overcome herself.
Escapist wanted to prove Peach wrong. And Peach Escapist.
But Peach was out to change Escapist, and Escapist Peach.
“You need to stop thinking you’re going to be Charles.”
Escapist scrunched her face together and slapped her hands over her ears. She said Peach’s voice sounded like she was yelling. “You need to stop talking about me to the other kids! I’m just going to be a great big laughing stock.”
“I’m just trying to help you!”
Peach marched up to Escapist and yanked her hands from her ears. Escapist jerked her finger in Peach’s face and snarled she had no right to tell her who she was. Peach looked at Escapist and shook her head.
“Escapist, how are you going to escape the insanity of your current situation?”
“Yeah—you should talk!”
Escapist laughed and responded in kind as she walked past the roaring fire towards their tents and supplies. She plopped down onto a huge rotting log. “Peach, I just want a best friend. It’s not like I have to do anything to get one—”
Peach stormed right up to Escapist. “You know we’re best friends! How dare you betray me?”
Escapist jerked a bang out of her eyes. “I’m just articulating something!”
Peach watched Escapist cross her arms, sighing like this confrontation was going to take a million years—just like every other speech. Well, so-called speech. To Escapist, Peach more like dictated everything Escapist didn’t want to hear.
Peach moved Escapist around. Though it was dark, she still pointed past the fire. “Look at all the beauty around you! See the wildflowers? We may be in the desert, but there’s life nonetheless. We may be in front of a roaring fire and still have to trek hundreds of miles to get through this desert, but we’re going to make it.”
Peach held her hands up after Escapist reacted. “Just trying to encourage you.”
Escapist gave a half-smile but looked at some of the yellow Brittlebush. “I’ve never had a friend like you. You’re always there, regardless the season or temperature or event. Even these wildflowers,” she plucked one and twirled the stem in her hand. “are looking back at me. Like you do when I have to make a choice. I know I said I wanted a friend—but you just need to listen to me. There are some things you can improve on, too, okay?”
Escapist bit her lip. She couldn’t get a word out without Peach feeling the need to indirectly tell her she needed to lighten up by believing what Peach thought was true. There were springtime flowers, but there were also the constant dust and sand embedded in even the tiniest cracks of rock and clay foundations. Deserts may be infamous for their torturous heat and dry air, but, according to Peach, they also provided life and possibly even hope—just by allowing wildflowers to flourish in the midst of all the Sonoran Desert’s mountains, rocks and cliffs. But what hope did Escapist ever have of escaping this desert?
Escapist looked at Peach. “I know I should be kinder—”
“And,” she sighed, rolling her eyes, “more joyful and willing to go about our journey with a positive attitude. I just…” Escapist shrugged. “I just…”
“Want it so badly you feel the need to just have it.”
Escapist snickered. “Yeah! That’s it.” She punched Peach’s arm, and Peach cachinnated. She pointed a brownish-red finger to the right.
“Let’s keep going. We have a lot of hiking to do.”
Escapist nodded, but Peach studied her eyes. A gleam of frustration shined through them. Peach pursed her lips and just packed her tent and other belongings. Once the girls mounted their backpacks and began their long continued desert journey, Escapist complained about how long it’d take before they’d see any more wildflowers. But Peach stared in awe at the towering mountains above her, yawning so big like the gigantic Egyptian pyramids boasting of such great height and weight. She waved in Escapist’s face, who looked up and bobbed her head. Peach jabbed at the scenery but then continued absorbing the magnificence.
“It’s like in the Egyptian desert.”
Escapist stayed quiet. After a few more miles, she told Peach she wanted to camp for the night.
“No! Stop expecting everything to happen at your convenience. We need to keep moving.” Peach ran around behind Escapist and slammed her small hands into Escapist’s huge bundle of a backpack. “Let’s go!”
Escapist rounded on her. “Why’d you have to rouse the Golden Eagle and all the owls? We’re—”
Peach’s eyebrows were raised and her eyes were boring into Escapist’s own. “We’re going to make it.” In fact, she walked around Escapist while she exhaled, and ordered her friend to continue with her. “Look.” Hunching, Peach grabbed a walking stick under some of the wildflowers, and then fell backwards.
“Whoa!” The backpack crunched and squished as Peach’s body flipped upside down. She strained to look over at Escapist, and waved her arms. “Help!”
“I’m coming!” Escapist jogged best she could with three pounds of backpack on her and skidded to a halt. Apologizing for spraying some dust into Peach’s face, she grabbed her wrist and began to pull. Escapist dug her sneakers into the ground, but Peach just kept yelling she was going to rip Peach’s arm right off.
“Or worse dislocate it!”
Avoiding the desire to scream for someone, Escapist concentrated. “Here—grab my hand and then roll your body to the left. Then you’ll be on your knees.” Peach attempted this, and succeeded—for a split second. Then she was back to being a vulnerable, helpless turtle whose heavy shell held her down.
“Get me up!”
Escapist strived to put her on her feet again as she panicked, flailing. But Escapist also commanded Peach to stop spazzing.
“The sun’s coming! It’ll blind me!”
“Oh stop being such a baby.” Escapist pulled one of Peach’s swinging arms. Peach rolled over with her legs and knees, eventually regaining composure. Escapist wondered whether she should lighten Peach’s load.
“No, no.” Peach insisted, waving her hands. “Thanks for the help!”
“Yeah—” Escapist unshouldered her backpack.
“No!” Peach smacked her hands away. “This is all we have. We bail out now, and we’ll never be able to get there. We have only a few more days…” Peach shaded her eyes with her arm that was more holed and torn than the whole grey sweatshirt she used to stay warm during the nights. “Besides, we’ll roast out here if we take anything off. We could get stalked.” She swallowed hard, wiping the sweat from her hands and nodded, wishing Escapist would stop nodding sarcastically. “And taken.”
“That’s not going to happen. We’re burdened—”
“You are!” Peach screeched. She marched over and shoved Escapist. Slapping her hands on her hips, Peach watched in satisfaction as Escapist flailed and then crashed onto the ground, dust spewing. “Maybe if you don’t listen, you can lie there until you do.”
“Peach—you can’t just leave me here!”
“I can—I will!”
She swung around and stomped off, abandoning an apologetic Escapist. Muttering victoriously to herself about her win, she looked back. “Hope you get back up—wimp!”
“You can’t just leave…”
But Escapist’s cries only caused Peach’s tan khaki legs to move faster. Her sweatshirt became her umbrella as she told herself she’d get out of this heat—and this relationship for good. “If Escapist can’t handle it, then she’s going to have to suffer on her own. I’m not picking up the slack anymore!”
Escapist’s words became a mere sound as Peach threw her hands up and slapped them on her dusty, dirty ears. Whatever. At least I don’t need to contend with that whining anymore.
She looked to her right and saw a cave. Jogging down towards it, excitement put a grin on Peach’s face. Wonder what this’ll lead to! She entered the massive opening and gazed all around the sonorous place. She then called her name but only heard intermittent drips of the stalactites as her name echoed. Something like firelight showed ahead of her. Rooting herself to the spot, Peach stared and then squinted.
She looked back. She never went anywhere without Escapist. But her heart hammered against her chest and her hands shook. Peach tried wiping the cold sweat from them, and then bolted back to Escapist, shouting her name.
Something was wiggling in the distance, and Peach blew puffs of air as she rubbed her forehead. “Escapist, we have to move. I saw a fire in a cave. We have to see what it’s all about!”
Peach strived to straighten Escapist, and Escapist did her best to get back up. Grabbing her arm, Peach lifted and then Escapist was being pulled upwards and then straightened. She ran with Escapist, the latter girl telling Peach to let go. As both girls half-jogged, half-ran the path, Peach pointed out the cave and headed down towards it.
“I don’t think we should do that.” Escapist’s voice went unchecked by Peach. “It may be a Native American trap!” She called louder.
“No! It’ll be an adventure.”
Escapist skidded to a halt, and Peach, facing her now, groaned. “I’m not going towards danger. We can go around the place.” She motioned with a finger while Peach rolled her eyes. “We can still make it.”
“Let’s go.” She ran further from Escapist, motioning for her to follow. “We have to make it out of this heat! It’s torturing me.”
Peach dashed ahead. She strained her neck to see her friend, but Escapist was continuing down their path. Peach commanded Escapist to go with her, but she just kept running. Peach heaved a sigh and told herself when they return, they’d go on a real adventure. Not a torturous trip.
Her heart beat again, harder this time. Every step Peach took soon fell into place with each heartbeat. Clutching her backpack, she told herself this trip was going to go by in a jiffy. Peach saw her mental self reaching the end goal, Escapist’s parents catching her backpack she had chucked into their open arms to celebrate her victory. Beaming, she spread her arms to celebrate the whole trip’s ending, Escapist going to hug her, them coming together in joy and gladness for the first time in a long time.
Peach grinned wide. Her smile then slowly transformed into an open O, complete with a horrified gasp. She struggled against her captor, ripping away from him or her, commanding Escapist to help her. Irate words streaming from her mouth made the attacker step back, its knees quivering and its large hard-looking mouth clack and shake.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry!”
Peach threw punches and kicked with all her might, but the weight of her backpack made her feel like she was one of those blown-up character balloons used to attract customers. Casting it off, Peach balled her fists and protected her face with them. She whirled around to see Escapist flying out of sight, screaming she was just attacked like the people in the horror movie Birds. Peach ignored her and continued her defense, telling herself she’d later teach Escapist a lesson about chickening out.
“I’m a black belt. Karate is my forte.” She gave a quick jab, and the stranger jerked back, its mouth whizzing away like lightning. Peach attacked again but stopped hard when it spread what looked like wings. She kept her face covered just enough to stare at the bird before her. Tightening her hands, she studied the animal’s gigantic wings. She backed away.
A Golden Eagle!
“Who are you?”
While it told her it could help her and her friend get to their destination, Peach hunkered down and then dove for her backpack. What if she was dreaming—
No. Peach shook her head. She wasn’t in some kind of imaginary world. This desert journey was reality. She was just… Peach dug into one of her backpack’s pockets and snatched a water bottle. She chugged it and then looked at the bird again after it was filled only a quarter of the way.
It tilted its head, seeming to try satisfying its curiosity.
She waved it and lugged her backpack back on her back, pressing on. “I’m hallucinating. Yeah, that’s it!” She opened her mouth for Escapist, but the bird told her she’d help her. She looked right at the bird. It talked again!
“Seriously. We can make it.” The bird bowed, lowering its wings. “Ride on me.”
Peach thought. This adventure was weird, but Escapist and she would win the Weirdest Students Superlatives Award at school for having ridden a talking bird. Still, she’d rather have others shake their heads at her than miss an adventure, so Peach clambered onto the bird, struggling to get the backpack and herself all set. Once she managed to sit still, Peach told this eagle to guide her right to Escapist or she’d make the trip herself after jumping off.
“Here we go!”
The Golden Eagle zoomed straight up into the air, but Peach panicked. Asking the eagle how it found out about her friend and her, Peach clutched her feathers as much as she could, keeping both legs pinned to the sides of her body at all times. The eagle swooped and soared, encouraging a hysterical Peach to calm down and have some fun. It also answered her question. But did Peach listen?
“You don’t understand—I was…”
Peach looked down and suddenly jabbed a finger at someone going in circles. “That’s her! Just—go slow...”
The Golden Eagle zoomed down, slowed and then landed right at the person’s feet. The bird bowed, Peach saw, and shook her feathers after her descent. Telling her she just had to get this news out to the rest of the school, Peach grabbed her into a hug and wouldn’t let go until the girl told her she’d never trade brownies for cookies at lunchtime and on the bus again. Peach instantly relented.
“Now,” Escapist hiked her backpack on. “Let’s say you and I take a break from this stupid heat and—”
“Fly with me!” The Golden Eagle spread her wings, repeating her prior behavior.
“I don’t believe it!” Escapist’s jaw dropped open. Peach laughed.
Escapist looked at Peach. “But I thought you were terrified of heights.”
“Not with you!”
Escapist’s worry didn’t leave until the Golden landed in some springtime flowers. When they dismounted, the eagle told the girls to study the beauty all around them.
“Yeah.” Escapist looked at Peach, wearing her backpack again. “I saw it. And I need it.”
Peach nodded, but Escapist pursed her lips.
“What?” Peach whispered, leaning towards Escapist.
“Let’s fly out of here.”
Peach agreed, her head bobbing as if her neck were a spring. She started running through the field with backpack off, Escapist creating her own path. Peach rolled in some flowers. Escapist grabbed some and started throwing them up in the air. When the bird asked whether they were ready to go, they returned to her, tired but eager.
Both girls gazed down as they flew higher and higher, telling the bird to soar over the beauty of the land. While the bird told the girls all about the flowers, they chatted to each other. When they landed, she told it to never speak of this time to anyone.
The bird bowed. “Yes, ma’am!”
Escapist and Peach stole some Brittlebush, promising each other that when their school yearbook and newspaper interview them, they’d say they were out—on an adventure.
The bird cried, and Escapist ordered it to hush. The bird flew off.
Peach grinned. The bird’s flight was literally breathtaking.
She looked at Escapist. “Let’s get out of here. The heat’s killing me.”
As the two girls hiked, Peach rolled her eyes when her friend mentioned the bird. “It was a great flight—the bird should’ve brought us home.”
“And we should’ve brought the bird home—wouldn’t an eagle be infinitely better than…?”
The girls discussed how the Golden Eagle could serve them--when they came to claim it.