For the third time this month, I set up my easel. I had about ten mini containers of paint, five different paintbrushes, a palette to mix my colors with, and a cup of water. As I tied my blonde hair up into a ponytail, I gazed at the brunette princess Barbie doll I had propped up on a table. On her left was a mini Christmas tree with all of its ornaments removed, and on her right was a toy dragon I had stolen-I mean borrowed-from my brother. The only things I painted on the canvas were a blue sky and green hills. I was finally going to paint this magnificent masterpiece of a princess fleeing from a dragon, and no one was going to stop me.
I groaned and stared at my phone. Even without looking at the caller ID, I knew that Zoe was interrupting me for the third time this month. She may have been my only friend in the world, but I wished she would stop bothering me. Did she seriously have no plans for the summer? Why couldn’t she ask her mom to take her to the beach or something?
For the first time this month, I let Zoe go to voicemail. I carefully mixed the colors I needed for the princess’s skin tone and applied it to the canvas. The phone rang a second time as I painted the long brown braid coming out of the doll’s head. Her pretty brown eyes came to life with the help of my brush and I gave her a lovely set of red lips. As I carefully gave her an ear, my phone rang for the third time.
Ugh! Why can’t you let me be, Zoe? I took you to the park, let you swim in my pool, played with your ever-growing collection of stuffed animals and dolls, and nearly got struck by lightning for your entertainment! I should have the rest of the summer to myself!
I reluctantly picked up the phone before it went to voicemail.
“Hey girl,” I said.
“Chloe, would you please come over?” She sounded pretty stuffed up.
“Is there something wrong?”
“Please tell me you’ll come over.”
If Zoe weren’t my only friend in the world, I wouldn’t have placed the lids back on the containers and placed my brushes and palette in the sink as I continued to talk to her on the phone. She wouldn’t tell me what was wrong, but I quickly put on my shoes and sprinted to her house regardless. She lived on top of the hill behind me, and the rain was determined to wash me straight back to the bottom. I held onto my little purse under my rain jacket up I sprinted up the hill and tried not to slip. I was going to reach the top unscathed.
I would’ve reached the top unscathed if I didn’t trip on my way to the door and hit my knees on the steps. Blood dripped down my leg with the rain as I knocked on the door. I must’ve stood there on my unscathed leg for about a good minute or two before this unrecognizable woman answered the door. Her brown bun was coming undone as she stood there in her green shorts and white t-shirt.
“Who are you?” she asked as she stared at me through her glasses.
“I’m Chloe. Zoe asked me to come over.”
“Why? And why are you bleeding?”
Before I could answer, Zoe appeared and pulled me inside. She wiped her brown hair out of her snotty and teary face, and I didn’t hesitate to hug her back as she held me close.
“What happened to your knee?” she asked as she wiped a tear away from her hazel eye.
“Nevermind my knee. Are you ok?”
“No, let me look at your knee.”
“Zoe, why did you invite her over?” the woman asked.
“Because I need her right now.”
She led me to her parents’ bathroom and grabbed a first aid kit. Her nose and eyes continued to drip as she wiped away the blood and bandaged up my wound.
“Seriously, what is going on?” I asked as blood gushed out of the corner of the bandage.
“I’m sorry, but could we possibly go upstairs to my room?”
“Why can’t you tell me here?”
“I would rather be surrounded by my stuffed animals when I tell you.”
If you think that two thirteen-year-olds are too old to be playing with stuffed animals and Barbie dolls, you’re correct. One of the many reasons Zoe was my only friend was because we could play with toys at our age and not judge each other. Personally, I was more comfortable being upstairs in her room with Felix the Fox in my lap than sitting in a bathtub with my blood pouring down the drain. I held the little fox close as Zoe snuggled up with her stuffed white cat, Mop.
“What’s going on, Zoe? Who’s that woman downstairs?”
“That’s my Aunt Tessa. She’s watching over me while my parents are gone.”
“Where are they?”
“They’re hiking in California for their anniversary,” she said as her eyes began to faucet once more. “I just received a call from my dad. He said my mom tripped and fell off a cliff during their hike. She was rushed to the hospital, but…”
She choked on her words as waterfalls came out of her eyes. I couldn’t find the words as we sat in the circle of stuffed animals. After all, what are you supposed to say when your only friend in the world is experiencing something you hopefully won’t experience in the near future?
“Zoe,” I finally replied, “I’m sorry. What would you like me to do?”
“I just want you to stay by my side. I need you the most.”
I scooted over and held her in my arms as we accidentally knocked over a stuffed horse, causing it to kiss Zoe on the forehead. We didn’t say a single word for half an hour. All I could do as I laid there was imagine what it would be like if my mother were to suddenly die. Would she be on a trip or an errand when she dies? Would she die right in front of me? If she doesn’t die right in front of me, how long would it take for me to find out? Most importantly of all, how long would it affect me? Would I ever truly get over it? The thought of losing my mom almost made me shed a tear.
The stuffed horse was barely touching Zoe’s head when I looked up at it. Smiling, I gently grabbed a hold of it and made it kiss Zoe. She finally smiled as she forced me to kiss Mop, which I grabbed and threw right back at her. We laughed and screamed as we treated the stuffed animals like pillows in a pillow fight. Kittens, puppies, teddy bears, and critters flew across the room as we acted like kindergarten students. My best friend was finally laughing like a maniac again, and that was all that mattered.
Aunt Tessa, who had been trying to make her knocking on the door louder than our laughter, interrupted our unconventional stuffed animal fight. It turned out my mom had been trying to call me and deduced that I was at Zoe’s place. After I explain my visitation, she allowed me to stay until dinner. Zoe held me tight and thanked my mom for letting me keep her company.
“I was four years old when my mom gave me Mop,” Zoe said as she held the stuffed white cat in her arms. “I can’t have a cat because of my dad’s allergies, so I received Mop for Christmas. I would tuck him in bed right beside me whenever my mom would go out of town.”
“I take it you’re going to tuck him in bed every night from now on?” I asked as I prepared two bowls of mint chocolate ice cream. Ooh, I shouldn’t have said that.
“Of course. Mop isn’t going to let me sleep alone. He’s always been my guardian angel. Does that sound weird?”
“Zoe, if I thought that was weird, you wouldn’t be my only friend in the world.”
Zoe smiled as she took a small spoonful of ice cream and patted me on the shoulder.
“Are you currently working on a painting, Chloe?”
“Yes, but I barely started.”
I couldn’t tell her the truth. I couldn’t tell her that she had been delaying my painting process, especially not in this moment.
“I’m stuck,” I lied. “I painted a blue sky and some green hills, but I can’t think of anything else to add. I’ve been stuck on this painting for a month.”
“Chloe, have you forgotten that I can tell when you’re lying? You haven’t finished it because I keep bothering you. You’re lying so you won’t hurt my feelings.”
“Yes, I’m lying. Look, the painting isn’t important right now. If you need me to come over and hang out with you, I will drop what I’m doing and hang out with you. I will invite you to my pool, take you to the park, and almost get struck by lightning for the second time.”
“Don’t do the last one. I already have to prepare myself for one funeral.”
“I would like to go back to the park, though. Remember when we went on a scavenger hunt in the nearby woods and couldn’t find a single thing?”
“Yeah, that was dumb. I’ll plan one for you and make sure it’ll actually work.”
“That would be nice. Do you remember when we ran around in the woods dressed as fairies and got lost?”
“Yeah, and then your mom had to go find us?” Really?
Zoe sat and ate in silence for a good minute as I regretted what I just said. Just when I started thinking about going home, she smiled.
“Yeah, I was crying like a baby when you led her to me. She snuggled up next to me when she tucked me into bed, and she didn’t leave my side the whole night. She told me that she would always be with me. Now I know that what she said is true. It will take me a while to accept that she’s gone, but I know that she’ll always be with me.”
After a long pause, I asked, “What would you like me to do now?”
“You can go home, now,” she replied as she held my hand.
“Are you sure? It’s not dinner time yet.”
“You’ve done enough for today. Thank you for dropping everything to be with me, Chloe.”
“Anything for my sister.”
I returned to my easel the moment I got home. My brother had since removed his toy dinosaur from the table, leaving the princess alone with the tree. As I picked up and gazed at the doll, I realized that her hairstyle was similar to how Zoe’s mom used to braid her long, brown hair. I rushed to my bedroom and fished around in a mini suitcase full of doll’s clothing for a white dress. After putting it on the doll, I grabbed a brown-haired Kelly doll and a stuffed white cat and returned to my easel.
I curled the cat around the Kelly doll and reset the princess doll. I reset my paint and tools and went back to work. The delicate head on my canvas finally had a body added to it as I painted a flowy white dress. She appeared ghostly, yet angelic. I was painting the little girl when Mom came upstairs.
“Chloe, it’s time for dinner.”
“Go ahead and eat without me.”
“Honey, we have to eat as a family.”
“I need to finish this painting. It’s important.”
“Please take a break.”
“Mom, I can’t. I need to finish.”
Before she could tell me to go downstairs and eat again, she looked at my canvas. The expression on her face changed as she realized just how important this painting was to me.
“Ok, I’ll let you paint for fifteen more minutes, and then you must come downstairs and eat. Deal?”
“Deal. Wait, Mom, I have a question.”
“What is it, dear?”
“When I was at Zoe’s house, I thought about what would happen if you were to die. I wondered how I would live the rest of my life without you. If you were to die in the near future, what would you tell me before I try to adjust to life without you?”
“Well, I’m not sure,” she admired my technique. “I guess I would tell you that we both knew that this day would come sometime sooner or later. No, I would tell you that you are going to be ok. Believe in yourself in the good times and the bad. You are well loved and you need to live your life.”
“I love you, Mom.”
“I love you too, Chloe.”
She gave me a little kiss and let me be. I continued my work on the little girl as I painted each strain of her brown hair. A single tear dripped down her cheek. She was currently cuddling with air, but I would soon be giving her a companion.
I was thankful for the sunny weather when I walked up the hill the next morning. I was also thankful to not trip and fall on the steps for a second time. I smiled as my best friend answered the door.
“You finished the painting!”
“Yes, and I made it just for you!”
I nodded as I turned the painting around so she could see it. She cried as she saw herself cuddling with a giant white cat as her mother smiled down at her from the sky. Were those tears of joy or tears of sorrow? Was this a good idea? She finally looked up at me and gave me her response.
“Chloe, you’ve never painted a picture for me before!”
“Like I said yesterday, I would do anything for my sister.”
She gently placed the painting on the ground and hugged me tight. I normally hated it when she hugged me that tight, but now I didn’t want her to let go of me. All that mattered was that my sister and only friend in the world was happy during this dark moment in her life.
“Would you like to go jump in my pool?” I asked.
“Sure!” she replied as she released me.
Once she returned with her swimsuit, we raced down the hill to my house. We laughed like maniacs and didn’t care if any of the neighbors stared at us. I was ready to do anything for my friend in her time of need, and nothing was going to hold me back.