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Friendship Western

Distance and time—that’s how adults measure journeys. But because we were just boys, distance didn’t matter and time didn’t exist.


Now, as I retraced the familiar path of my youth—the path that led to our tree—I realized that the distance hadn’t changed, but the journey that used to take 30 minutes had taken me twelve years.


The turn off to the trail was still hidden. I was glad about that, it's what made our place secret. There were also short stretches where the route had been covered by overgrowth and the canopy of trees that surrounded me, as I walked, obscured everything except for my childhood memories. The path, like most I've walked, was anything but straight, but the light at the end was as bright and warm as ever.


When I entered the clearing we had discovered all those years ago, I looked to my left and saw our tree—almost exactly as we had left it. It had grown quite a bit in 20 years—so had I. Yet, standing there, looking up at the familiar limbs, I felt like a little boy again and smiled, and remembered.


We were three young boys who didn’t know we were different. We all liked frogs and didn’t like girls, and that’s pretty much all that mattered. Still, the real reason we became friends was probably the result of a statistical anomaly: we were all born on October 1st. It seemed as if our friendship was destined. 


Keegan, the blonde haired, blue eyed golden child, was an old soul, organized to a fault, as everything he owned was always in its assigned place. He was a meticulous planner and the de facto leader of our little group. As for Tommy? Well he was the rich kid, but you’d never know it to look at him. He wore Toughskins jeans and Keds sneakers and always looked like he needed a haircut. Yet he was a fearless defender of the downtrodden and the unquestioned heart of JTK, as we called ourselves. The “J” was for Jason, that’s me.


I was the very definition of average. You might even say forgettable, so much so that even I don’t even remember what I was known for. But for some reason I fit in with Keegan and Tommy, and on our 10th birthday we found the tree.


“Let’s go for a walk.” That’s how our journey began, I think it was Tommy’s idea but I can’t say for sure. It was, however, a perfect day for exploring the woods, sunny with a crisp breeze. The leaves had started to turn bright orange and red and those that were already on the ground made the crinkling sound of fall. Sticks we found became swords and for a moment we were pirates engaged in duels shouting things like “Avast ye matey” and “Arr!”


We spent many a day in those woods, so much so we considered ourselves experts, but we had never seen the trail that led to the tree, not until that day. Being young and fearless we did as boys usually do, we investigated.


When we came to a clearing at the end of the path Keegan and I ran into the opening as if we were trying to win a race. Tommy, who walked in more slowly to take in this new secret place, saw the tree first. In a flash, he navigated up the perfectly placed branches. Where others might have seen a challenge, Tommy saw an opportunity. He was always reaching higher and the tree seemed as if it was made for him to climb.


Keegan, as he was wont to do, decided we should build a fort and began barking orders. He had it all worked out. We could use the boughs and branches that were plentiful in the field to create the shell of what would become our hangout. We never minded when he took charge as he was a benevolent dictator always doing the most work and doing it well.


We didn’t get very far when Tommy yelled, “Oh my gosh! You guys won’t believe this!” Within seconds Keegan and I made our way up the tree to see what was so important.


“Look, over there,” Tommy said pointing to the west. “It’s my house.” Then he turned and pointed north “And Jason, there’s your father’s hardware store.” I was surprised at how small everything looked from the top of our tree.


“There’s our school and my house right behind it,” Keegan exclaimed, imploring Tommy and I to look. 


“We can see everything from here,” Tommy said softly, “This is our place and our tree, now and forever.” Keegan and I nodded our heads in agreement. 


The rest of that day was adolescent boy perfection. We built a makeshift fort, one we improved upon with each subsequent trip. Throughout the years, boughs, branches, and leaves were replaced with boards, nails, and an old windowpane Keegan had “borrowed” from his dad. 


That first day we stayed much later than we should’ve, but we were able to sit together and watch the sunset while drinking Juicy Juice grape juice boxes, just being boys and becoming lifelong friends. 


It was Tommy who came up with the idea just before we started back.


“Let’s spend every birthday here together!”


“It’s a deal!” I agreed instantly.


“I’m in,” Keegan added.


“It has to be a promise,” Tommy insisted.


“I promise,” I responded, holding my hand up like a witness in court.


“I promise, too,” Keegan joined in, with conviction.


Then we all shook hands and the covenant was complete.


Young boys make and break promises easily, but we were true to our word for the next eight years. There was one time we practically had to carry Keegan to the tree because he’d broken his leg playing football and another time when Tommy dragged me there three weeks after my dad died. I had been inconsolable and isolated. That birthday, at the tree, was the beginning of my healing. Tommy knew I needed to be there even if I didn’t. It was an act of love, not common at our age, and one I’ll never forget. Yes, we were always there on our birthday with Juicy Juice grape juice boxes at sunset.


Then, as is always the case, three boys became young men. Keegan left for college in California, becoming an electrical engineer. Tommy joined the army doing almost two full tours in Iraq. He had a servant's heart and a hero’s soul, though we always heard of his selfless deeds second hand. I wasn’t made for college or the military, so I stayed in town and worked at my family's hardware store. We made one last promise on our 18th birthday. We’d meet at the tree on our 30th birthday, watch the sunset and drink one more juice box together. It was a promise between best friends and a commitment to stay that way.


When Keegan called me last week, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Like I said, he’s always been the planner. I thought it would be impossible to keep our promise, but Keegan would have none of it. He would drive cross country to be there on October 1st, and he intended to pick up Tommy on the way.


I had just one job, to bring the juice boxes, Juicy Juice grape as always. 


I arrived early. I wanted time to reflect, but I soon heard footsteps coming through the paths we had explored as children. I turned to see Keegan walking towards me, reverently holding Tommy’s urn. 


No words were spoken. Keegan and I just sat down silently and stuck the straws in our juice boxes. Then the three of us watched the sunset together, just as we had promised.   


January 14, 2023 21:00

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26 comments

Michelle Oliver
23:13 Jan 17, 2023

I really like this story, had me thinking about it long after I read it. I think it is the simplicity of the narration. “I was the very definition of average.“ This line sums up the tone. What is interesting is that the J comes first in the boy’s initials. Why is that? Do the other boys see J as something more than he sees himself? Or did they put his initial first to boost him up in someway, give him at least a taste of being more than average? Was the narrator only average to himself? It struck me and stuck with me and I have been ponderin...

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Thom With An H
00:36 Jan 18, 2023

Michelle you really made my day. I struggled with the order of the initials because I knew it meant something. I decided to put J first because in my minds eye the other boys were mature beyond their years. They knew putting the J first would mean more to Jason then it did to them. So far you’re the only one who saw that. Thank you so much.

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Michelle Oliver
02:47 Jan 18, 2023

You’re welcome. This piece really touched me, I think because I had that kind of childhood and the initials are significant when you’re a kid… or at least they were to me.

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Robert Lee
20:07 Jan 17, 2023

Wow, just wow.

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Thom With An H
13:56 Jan 18, 2023

Thanks, just thanks.

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Laurel Hanson
21:57 Jan 17, 2023

This is a great read. The opening completely pulled me in. baiting the hook of interest: why is he going back? Their characters are well developed, and of course, the conclusion is a power house. A lovely story.

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Thom With An H
13:56 Jan 18, 2023

Thanks so much, Laurel. Boys tend to find their best friends in their youth. I wanted to capture that feeling. It's gratifyingly to know I just might have. :-)

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Saffa Mir
20:43 Jan 20, 2023

Three of us watched the sunset together, just as we had promised was so meaningful. It gives a strong impression that if your are connected by hearts , no distance can separate you. " I will keep on visiting you, as you're just far from eyes , not from heart"

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Thom With An H
20:51 Jan 20, 2023

Your words touch me. Thanks so much.

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Ernest Karibo
00:06 Jan 19, 2023

I just love reading your stories,the English and grammars are so friendly I use the dictionary tho while reading but your English makes me love your writing plss use less grammars next time for your fan Ernest🥹❤️

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Thom With An H
00:14 Jan 19, 2023

Thanks so much Earnest. I’ll do my best. You are very kind.

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Lily Finch
15:24 Jan 15, 2023

Thom, such a lovely tale of friendship and love. Sad about Tommy, of course, but such a wonderful story. LF6

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Thom With An H
15:05 Jan 21, 2023

Thank you Lily. I think it was sad but also happy. Friendship so strong is not common.

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Kari Larsen
19:04 Jan 24, 2023

Love this story! I can picture the boys in the tree seeing the house, the hardware store and thinking everything looked so small.

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Brenda Wilson
18:42 Jan 24, 2023

I love the intro. I never really thought of the way kids vs adults see time and journeys but it's very true and it's a nice way to introduce the theme of the story. Nicely done!

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Edward Latham
08:53 Jan 24, 2023

This story makes me think back to my own childhood and of the friends I had then. Maybe it's not true for everyone, but for me it's true that boyhood friends have a mystical quality that means they will never really disappear, and this was a charming dedication to that.

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Michael Keller
00:14 Jan 24, 2023

The word used is incorrect as used. No pun intended. It seems to be a common mistake among all of us.

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BRUCE MARTIN
05:40 Jan 23, 2023

Beautiful story. I kind of anticipated one participant dying, but it still had an emotional impact. By the way, along the same lines, have you ever read "After Twenty Years" by O. Henry? Different, but somehow similar. https://americanliterature.com/author/o-henry/short-story/after-twenty-years

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Kara Reeves
02:15 Jan 23, 2023

Really beautiful. Love the simplicity, and that I will forever think of this story when I see a Juicy Juice juicebox.

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Aeris Walker
14:55 Jan 22, 2023

Another beautiful story, Thom! So much emotion within this short, simple piece. The narrator’s voice is very “male”: he’s direct and matter-of-fact, but no less emotionally invested in these important friendships in his life, these through-thick-and-thin October 1st boys. I love the imagery of these grown men drinking juice boxes—it makes the whole scene all the more heartbreaking. Well done, Thom and best of luck!

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J.C. Lovero
13:41 Jan 22, 2023

This story is simply exquisite. An easy read, and introspective but still keeps your attention with the exposition. I somewhat had a bad feeling when you said Tommy did "almost" two tours, and when the urn confirmed my suspicion, my heart just broke. Such a good story about friendship. Good luck this week, friend!

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Abhishek Todmal
11:32 Jan 22, 2023

You've penned a beautiful piece here, Thom. I so enjoyed reading through it, here, on a Sunday when it feels apt I read of boys exploring a forest and building themselves a fort within. Seems like a Sunday-esque activity. I thoroughly enjoyed the simplicity, and thus the beauty, of your narration. I've been offered the advice myself, that my prose tends to lean towards the overtly elaborate; so something here to learn for myself as a fellow-writer. Cheers already :) I should have loved to have kept reading, though knowing we are tied to a ...

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Andy Baird
18:30 Jan 21, 2023

Great story about friendship that really evokes what it feels like to be a kid (and to grow up). The opening setup of the friendship trio reminds me of "Something Wicked This Way Comes," with the shared birthdays and seemingly destined boyhood friendship. Nice work!

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Stevie Burges
16:03 Jan 21, 2023

As usual - just lovely. Thanks for writing.

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Calm Shark
03:45 Jan 17, 2023

Man the sentence where it said "Tommy's urn" made me have a double-take. Man. However, I believe it is really sweet that although Tommy has passed, they still bring him along with them. You depicted their friendship very well and your characters are so interesting. Good job Thom:)

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Thom With An H
15:06 Jan 21, 2023

Old friends are the best friends. In many ways they are also the truest friends.

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