In the Tree House
Like most stories about friendship, this one does not involve whale bones.
As we got older, (but looking back on it, we were so young) the conversation shifted to love. It was winter, and we were huddling even closer than necessary on the small bed for warmth. We had been laughing at something, and every time one of us looked at the other, the laughter would start again. And it went like that, off and on, for a few minutes until the fun had been used up.
“Do you ever think about what your life is gonna be like?” asked Caroline. “You know, when you’re an adult?”
“Yeah,” I said, because I had. Extensively.
“Let’s talk about what it’s gonna be like when we’re grown up.”
This was often how we started these midnight conversations: with a formal topic introduction.
“Okay,” I said, because that’s what I always said. “You go first.”
“Okay.” Caroline gesticulated towards the popcorn ceiling as she laid out her plans. “When I grow up, I’m gonna marry an Italian doctor. He is going to be very handsome and good at cooking. When he proposes to me, he’s going to pick me up and sweep me off my feet, and there will be a huge diamond ring, and it’s going to be very romantic, like, what’s it called when the planes? In the sky?”
“Skywriting. He’s gonna skywrite in the sky ‘will you marry me?’ And I’ll say yes, and we’ll have a very classy wedding, and I’m gonna wear a dress with a train and with lots of lace. And we’re going to have three kids: a girl, a boy, and another girl. And they will be named Poppy, Jackson, and then either Silver or Willow, I haven’t decided.”
“I don’t think you can choose whether your baby is a boy or a girl.”
“No, you can.” Caroline spoke in edicts. “My mom took a pill when she was pregnant with me because she wanted to have a girl.”
I turned away so Caroline wouldn’t see my face. On the floor below me, there were indents from Caroline’s two front teeth, which got stuck there in first grade when she fell while we were trying to fly (she would jump off the bed over and over again, and each time she didn’t fly, she’d say “that wasn’t it,” and try again).
“What about you?” she asked.
I was eternally grateful that she had gone first because I had assumed that we would live together when we grew up. We would stay best friends and live in a treehouse together in a dense forest, and it would have different levels for our bedrooms, and the kitchen, and the living room, and a game room, and even a pool, and there would be a Rube Goldberg-esque series of ladders and slides and pneumatic tubes that would transport us and our belongings throughout the expansive treehouse. We would spend our days playing board games and making puzzles by a crackling fire. It would be eternally fall where we lived, and soft syrupy light would filter through the trees into our home. We would cook soup in a huge cauldron like witches and talk through every night. But obviously that wasn’t what Caroline had in mind.
“I think…” I tried to trace my story in the air like Caroline had, but it looked stupid when I did it so I just tucked my hands under the covers instead. “I will marry, um, a man. And… he will be a chef. A French chef. And we will eat chocolate all the time, the fancy kind, because he will be very good at making chocolate.”
“And what about your kids?”
“I don’t– I’m not sure.”
Caroline wrinkled her nose. “What do you mean you’re not sure?”
Some people might think Caroline’s expression was one of disgust, but I knew she was genuinely confused. The issue was that up until a few minutes before this, I had been sure, so sure about our future in the treehouse in the woods, but obviously Caroline was sure too, of something totally different, and I wasn’t sure what my life would look like without her at its center. But she could imagine what hers would look like without me.
“My mom says,” Caroline began, filling the growing silence, “that some people don’t want kids when they’re younger, but when they reach a certain age, they go crazy, and it’s like they need kids.” Caroline’s voice took on a reassuring tone. “So that’s probably what’ll happen to you.”
“Probably.” I forced a smile that in my head was so strained she would be sure to notice and ask what was wrong, and I would tell her, and she would find a way to fix it all, because she knew me well enough to tell when my face was frozen like I’d spent hours outside and smiling hurt like ice cracking on my cheeks.
But she just sighed and shifted in the bed. “We should probably go to sleep now.”
“Okay,” I said. “Good night then.”
Last year, I wrote a short story about two people who used to be friends. The story was supposed to be about whales, but it ended up being about these two, who have since set up shop in my brain. With this story, I wanted to explore what their relationship was like at an earlier moment in their lives.
Alex Berman was born and raised in Manhattan and is currently a high school sophomore in the Bronx. When not out running (preferably in the rain), Alex can usually be found drawing, writing, or reading with a cup of tea and a cuddly kitten. Alex is also known (to no one) as a Corduroy Pants Enthusiast and would really like to get that title going if you don’t mind. Just, you know, the next time you’re on the topic of pants (corduroy), give Alex a mention.