When Ann was younger, her mom and dad would always fight.
She didn't understand why they were fighting, just that both were always upset with each other, making her upset too.
So when she came home from school, hear yelling in the kitchen, she would go directly to her room without greeting them, change clothes, and go out again.
She would walk and walk the neighborhood, sometimes try her luck and jump fences with a sign that says 'No Trespassing.' Well, she was young, she didn't understand the meaning of the sign, so she ignored it.
That's how she came to discover the place that would become her favorite, a place that can give her peace and sense of belonging.
When, one day, she jumped a fence and walked through the woods and shrubs and plants, she came upon a small clearing.
There was tall green grass, surrounding a big tree in the middle of the clearing in a circular motion. The tree's leaves spread out, creating a roof. Small flowers peak from the spaces between the grass, and they would sway slowly in the wind.
It was closing to sunset when Ann discovered it. The sun was just about right to give the place a sort of fantastical feel, like a unicorn or a fairy would jump out from somewhere. Ann decided she liked the place. She called it, 'Ann's Hideout', and would go there whenever her parents were fighting or when her friends were all busy with school.
Two months later, when a silent war was going on between her parents, Ann snuck out in the middle of the night, bringing her favorite book of Alice in Wonderland with her. She sat underneath the huge tree. Its leaves was blocking the moonlight, and so Ann could barely see the letters in her book.
She frowned, deciding that she'd just spend some time dozing off instead of reading, when her hand grazed something cold and metallic beside her.
At first, she jumped, worried that maybe there was a snake. But when she looked closer, and used her curiosity-stricken arrogance as a youth, she reached for it and found that it was a flashlight.
She beamed. She could read with it. So she did. She missed the writing at the end of the flashlight, though, indicating that it belonged to someone else, and that it just so happened to be beside the huge tree. Well, she was young. Complexities were not a matter of importance to her.
Another two months later, Ann had finally realized a very important matter.
When she sat down under the shade of the tree to escape the scorching heat, Ann noticed a carving on the tree's bark.
That was when she realized she wasn't the only one who knew of her Hideout. But because she was young, she didn't think of it as an invasion of privacy, she was just happy. There was someone else who liked the place.
So, she carved her name below Jacob's: Ann.
And she left a candy in a hollow part of the tree that was just directly above the names. The hollow was big enough to probably fit a few more candies, but she only got one to spare.
She left a few minutes later, holding in her hand the flashlight she discovered months ago, feeling all light on her heels.
The next day, at school, a new student joined their class. A boy.
"My name is Jacob." he said.
Ann froze. Jacob.
She internally freaked out. There was no way this Jacob was the Jacob that knew her Hideout. Yup, it was just a coincidence. There were millions of Jacob's around the world.
So, because she was young, Ann ignored the signs. She didn't go to her Hideout for the week though. Even with her parents looking like they'd somehow get a prize if they glared at each other so much, she didn't go to the tree.
Now that she thought about it, she had no idea what the name of the tree was. She put that thought aside for another day.
The next week after that, she was bored at home. Her parents were out, who knew where they went, so she snuck out of the house and went to her Hideout.
When she arrived there, though, her jaw dropped.
The tall grass was mown, and looked like a bed of green on the ground. The small white flowers were gone, and there was a narrow path leading to the tree.
Ann hesitated, before she took the path and stood in front of the tree.
She looked to the hollow, and saw that the candy wasn't there anymore. In its stead was a pink flower. A pink rose. She smiled.
Humming to herself, she circled the tree. She touched the rough bark with her hand, feeling its coolness under her palm. And that was when she noticed another carving.
She stared at it for a while. It was almost unreadable. The bark had almost grown back on the letters.
Ann traced the word with her fingers.
"Lucas and Lilian..." she whispered, finally able to read the words.
It seems they were at the place first. They discovered the tree first.
Ann left the place, but not before placing a few more candies at the hollow.
The next day, at school, she turned to pass on testpapers to the person behind her, and the timing was just right that she saw Jacob place a candy into his mouth.
She stared. Too long. Jacob received the testpapers from her before giving her a smirk, purposefully and deliberately folding the candy wrapper in his hands before placing it in his pocket.
"Ann, face to the blackboard." their teacher instructed.
Ann turned slowly to the front, her face a mixture of shock and disbelief.
The candies he had was the same candies Ann had left in the tree.
Her mind stopped working for a bit. But when it finally did, she turned her face to Jacob again, but he was already looking down at his paper.
"Ann, last warning. Face to the blackboard!" that was her teacher.
When the bell rung, signaling that the schoolday was over, Ann packed her things and went out of the classroom faster than anyone else.
Without even bothering to go home, she went straight for the fence with the 'No Trespassing' sign and ran to her Hideout. She sprinted to the tree, looking for the candies she left the day before.
They weren't there.
Ann jumped at her name being called. Her heart thudding, she turned around mechanically to face the person that called her name, standing in the middle of the trees on the edges of the clearing.
"Jacob. Hi." she squeaked.
The boy smiled at her and walked the narrow path to the tree, his backpack straps in his hands.
Ann watched him as he approached.
"So it is you." she said.
Jacob smiled even more. "It is me."
And then they laughed.
"I already had an idea!" Jacob wheezed.
When they were finally settled down, they sat side by side and leaned against the tree. They talked, and talked, and talked some more. About school, about many things. They introduced themselves again.
When they were about to leave because it was getting dark, Jacob handed Ann a pink rose.
"A thank you. For the candies." he said.
Ann smiled. "Thanks!"
And so they went home.
Ann thought that that day was the best day of her life, turns out it was just about to take a turn for the worst.
At dinner time, Ann sat with her mom and dad to eat. They were particularly quiet, but Ann didn't think any of it. She was just happy that they were all eating together. It had been a really long time.
When they were done eating, her mom and dad sat her down. And dropped a bomb on her.
"We're getting divorced." her dad had informed.
Ann's world felt like it was going to crumble.
Despite being young, she knew what divorce means. She had classmates whose parents went through the same. It means they were getting separated, and they'll never be a complete family again.
"No!" She exclaimed, feeling desperate.
"Sweetheart, we know this is so sudden-" her mom tried, but she cut her off.
"This is not just sudden. This is stupid!"
Her dad didn't like that. "Ann, we know it's hard to understand-"
"You're right, it's hard to understand." A tear escaped to her cheek. "I don't understand. What's the purpose of you getting married in the first place?!"
"Honey, we loved each other." Her mom tried.
"So now you don't?" Ann asked, another tear down her cheek. "What about me? You had me because you loved each other. Now that you don't, where does that put me?"
"We love you, Ann. That much is true." Her mom said.
"No, no you don't." Ann seethed. "If you did, you'd try to fix this."
"We did try-" her dad.
"No you didn't!" Ann was shaking, holding back her tears. "If you did, you wouldn't get divorced. If you tried, you'd find ways to love each other again."
"Ann..." her dad tried reaching out to her, but she stood up and took a step back.
With all the venom and anger she could muster, she grit her teeth and glared at her parents.
"Why make a family if you can't hold it together in the first place."
And with that, she ran. She ran from her home, now just a house with people living together. That wouldn't even last long.
She ran, and ran, and jumped the fence with the 'No Trespassing' sign.
She ran to her hiding place, she ran to the tree. She circled it, and stopped in front of the carvings of 'Lucas and Lilian'. Her dad and mom.
She touched the carving, placed her head on the bark and leaned, and cried.
She sobbed, her voice quaking with all the emotions. She broke down in front of the tree, scratching at the carving of her dad and mom's names.
Her fingers hurt, bleeding from scratching the rough tree so hard.
But she was young. She could care less. She just wanted to erase her parent's names from the tree. They were liars.
She cried there, alone, until sunrise.
She was slumped, leaning on the tree. She had no more tears to cry, her voice so raw she couldn't speak.
Someone called from beside her. She knew who it was, but she didn't bother to look up. She was tired.
She felt Jacob sit beside her. "The whole neighborhood is looking for you. They have been since last night."
She didn't answer, but she moved to place her head on his shoulder.
"They said you just ran out of the house and disappeared." He said, placing an arm around her shoulders.
"Do you want to go back?"
Ann shook her head no.
"Okay." Jacob moved so Ann was on his chest, her head right under his chin. "Do you want to talk?"
Ann shook her head no.
So they stayed right there, under the tree that had become Ann's favorite place, until they were found by Jacob's parents.
Turns out, Jacob's family owns the property of her Hideout. And when they heard that Ann had disappeared, Jacob ran out of the house to look for her. He just told his parents they were going to be at the Hideout. His parents knew where it was.
And they found the two, leaning against each other, sitting under the shade of the tree that had become Ann's favorite place.
Now that she was older, she now knew what the tree was called, Acacia. 'Thorny Tree', just like Ann's life. Strong and sturdy Acacia.
The tree where she was the saddest and happiest, the tree where she met Jacob. The tree where her parents met. The tree where they decided to stay together, only for them to break it. The tree where she told them she forgave them, and that she loved them so much. The tree where they decided to let go. It was the tree with so much of Ann's memories.
The Acacia tree. So strong and sturdy. Just like what Ann grew up to be.