The afternoon sunlight shines down on my back and neck as I carefully place the plant into the hole I've dug for it. I arrange it so that its roots have plenty of room to breathe, patting down the dirt around it ever so gently.
I wipe the sweat off my brow, checking my watch. My friends are due to be here any minute, so I quickly water the plant, then put the gardening equipment away, hurrying into my house to change into something more suitable.
By the time they get here, I'm mostly clean. I've managed to get most of the dirt out from under my nails, and I've painted them with amber nail polish anyway, so it doesn't matter. My hair is in a messy bun, and I've reapplied most of my make up. I brush aside a lock of my ebony hair out of my face and walk out of my room and onto the front porch to wait for them, knowing they'll be hear soon.
I nervously pick at my nails, then stop when the nail polish starts to smudge. They won't notice the dirt under my nails and they won't know that minutes before, I was sweating and working in the garden. They would never think that I would garden or do anything of that sort.
My friends, Kimberly, Lucia, and Heather, despise gardening and cooking and sewing, basically anything that's domestic. They're kind of like the strong heroines you read about in books - tough and fierce, knowing what they want and not afraid to get it.
Me, not so much. It's not like I'm weak, or at least, I don't think I am, but I am the side character, the soft gentle one who always gets killed in the end. The one who lives with the world the way it is, adapts to it rather than try to change it.
I don't really mind being the odd one out. It's just difficult sometimes, trying to pursue things that I do like and they just don't. And it's not just that they don't like it, they look down on anyone who does.
Gardening isn't the only thing I like. I enjoy some sports, enjoy hiking and running and laughing, all of which are things that they like. But then I also enjoy cooking. And sometimes sewing, and I don't mind cleaning up as much as they do, even if it's not exactly something that's fun for me.
My thoughts are interrupted by their car pulling up. Kimberly hops out, her eyes bright with happiness. She doesn't wait for Lucia and Heather to get out, instead she runs over to me and pulls me into a tight hug.
"Katia, it's been way to long!" She says, letting me go and stepping back a little, running her hand through her short, fiery red hair, a habit I remember well. I can't help but grin at her enthusiasm.
Before I have time to answer, Lucia embraces me as well.
"Katia, I missed you!" she says. Her sky blue eyes shine with excitement.
"I know, I missed you too!" I say, forgetting my worries for a moment. Heather comes up to me, not quite as exuberantly (she was always the calmer one in our group) and hugs me quickly and tightly.
"Do you all want to come inside?" I say, stepping aside and ushering them through the door. They sprawl on my couch, talking and laughing as if they've been there forever. I've always been a bit envious of their ability to just fit in everywhere.
I sigh, my eyes darting around the living room, wondering what to do, what to say, how to fit in just like the old times.
Except this isn't the old times. And just because they don't like things doesn't mean I have to dislike them as well. I stand up, not really sure what I'm doing.
"Want to go out and see the garden?" I say, slipping on my shoes.
"Sure!" Heather says, and the rest nod in agreement. We all step outside, and walk through the paths I've carefully set up.
"So these are the herbs," I say, gesturing at a few of my favorite plants. "That's lavender, and then that's thyme . . ."
I trail off, realizing none of them are paying any attention. Kimberly narrowly avoids squashing a shrub in the corner, and Lucia scatters the pebbles in the path everywhere.
I sigh. Sometimes I wish I could be like them, chattering and laughing and fitting in everywhere.
But sometimes, I just wish they could grow up and learn to listen to other people. Sometimes, I wish that I could just be myself around them.
But I know that it’s not going to happen. As I watch them tear through the garden, I realize something: they are exactly the same as when I last saw them, two years ago. Sure, Kimberly got a haircut, and Lucia has a new girlfriend, and Heather has a different job, but the essence of them is the same. They haven’t grown or changed.
But looking at myself, I have. For once, I’ve learned to embrace myself, to do the thigns that make me happy, not just the things that should make me happy. And I’ve learned that those things might not make other people happy, and that’s okay.
I let out a breath, sitting down on a bench near a fountain I placed. Sometimes people are different, sometimes they can’t understand. And that’s okay.
For the first time, I feel relaxed and at ease with myself. They’re exactly the same. They still can’t understand me.
But for the first time, I realize that it isn’t my problem if they don’t see me the way I am. It’s theirs.
I watch them laugh, watch their happiness shine out of them like stars. I don’t know if we’ll stay friends, or if I want to. I don’t know if I’ll see them again after this.
But they’re happy, and I’m happy, and for now, that’s what’s important to me.
I sit on my bench and watch my garden grow and wonder if one day, they’ll learn to grow too.
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