Michigan is bleary, Anna thought to herself. There was more rain than sunshine and it was one of those rainy days. Countless worms were washed up on the sidewalk and robins darted back and forth, feasting. If she was back in Nebraska, she would have been late for school, picking up each worm and setting it gently in the grass, not caring if her hands were slimy. But not here.
Here was just here, no matter how many times her mother called it home. Nebraska would always be home to her; Anna was sure of it. She missed it all- hot summer days spent with friends at the nearby lake, her two-story yellow-painted house with the tall, flowering redbud tree in front, even her mean, old neighbor who always yelled at her when she took the shortcut through his yard on the way to school.
There, coming into sight around the corner, was the school. She’d seen it when they drove into town, but it looked even worse from a closer perspective. The white paint on the walls was chipped and weeds sprouted through the sidewalk cracks. Kids gathered outside the old building, talking amongst themselves, already forming exclusive groups.
And then, almost by instinct, they all rushed through the pale, red doors. Anna fell into step with them, pulling her schedule from the bag slung casually over her shoulder.
“Hi,” a girl said enthusiastically from beside Anna.
“Hey,” Anna responded with a shy smile.
The girl looked at Anna as if she belonged in the garbage, “I wasn’t talking to you.”
She walked away with a friend, both of them snickering. Anna tried to act like it didn’t bother her. It wasn’t like people were automatically nice to new kids. After stopping at the red locker with her number, Anna headed to class. The rest of the day wasn’t much better, and no one ventured to say hello to the new girl, although the teachers encouraged it.
Anna had been dreading lunch, and it met her expectations. Everyone was already seated with their friend groups and none of the tables looked inviting, as if everyone was willing her to sit somewhere else.
Frozen in place, Anna knew she had to sit down, and spotted a table with a lone girl. The girl’s blonde, unruly hair cascaded down her back and she was slouched over. She didn’t acknowledge Anna until she was tapped on the shoulder.
As the girl turned and stared with her pale, gray eyes, Anna asked, “Can I sit here?”
“Sure. It’s not like anyone else wants to.” The girl attempted to smile, although Anna could see she was sad about it.
As the two of them opened their paper bag lunches, Anna noticed that the girl wore bangles and bracelets of every size and shape on her wrists and arms. It wasn’t just a few accessories; the girl was covered with them.
Too curious not to ask, Anna ventured, “Why do you wear so much jewelry?”
“You’d think I’m silly.”
“Try me,” Anna said, serious.
“They’re for people I’ve lost,” the girl said, “People and animals.”
Anna didn’t know what to say, so the girl kept talking, “See this bracelet here?” She pointed to a pink one covered in silver polka dots. “It’s for Fluffy.”
“Fluffy?” Anna tried to stifle her laughter, but failed.
“My poodle,” the girl said sadly, “She died last year.”
“Oh,” Anna felt bad for laughing, “I’m sorry.”
“It’s not like it’s your fault.”
The bell rang and everyone packed up. As Anna left the cafeteria, she couldn’t stop thinking about the strange girl.
All through her classes, she couldn’t stop thinking about the girl’s bracelets. There were so many bracelets; she must have lost many people she loved. And animals, Anna thought, remembering the conversation at lunch.
The girl was strange, Anna had to admit, but she was the only one who’d been the least bit friendly. Anna was still touched by the meaning of the bracelets. Anyone else would have thought the girl was extremely vain or spoiled. In reality, the girl was just remembering her loved ones.
“I never even asked her name,” Anna whispered aloud. She would sit at the table again tomorrow, Anna decided, and see if she could learn anything else about the girl.
Yes, that was what she would do.
On the way home from school, Anna didn’t even care that it was drizzling or that she wasn’t in Nebraska. She just wanted to get to her new house and lay on her bed, thinking. Anna liked to think. In Nebraska, Anna would climb up the grassy slope near her house and lay on her back, watching the clouds or counting the stars.
As she opened the front door, her mom called a greeting from the kitchen, “How was school?”
“Make any friends?”
“One,” Anna wasn’t sure if the gray-eyed girl counted as a friend, but she knew her mom wanted her to adjust to life in Michigan. “How was work?”
Just as Anna was new to the school, her mom was new to the place where she had a job as an accountant. Anna could never remember the name of the company, and it wouldn’t be on her list of priorities, even if she had one.
“Oh, fine,” Anna’s mother said distractedly, without much feeling. Anna could tell her mother hadn’t had a very good day either.
At least Anna had met one person. Did it count as meeting someone if you didn’t even know their name? Anna pondered this in her bedroom until she was called down for dinner.
Dinner was simple mac and cheese, from a box picked up at the local grocery store. Anna suddenly had an idea, and excused herself as soon as she was done eating.
Digging through the drawers in her bedroom dresser, already full of unpacked belongings, Anna finally found what she was looking for. A small, wooden chest full of bracelets and other random trinkets from who knows where. She sorted through them all, picking out the prettiest ones.
As she slipped on the jewelry, she said names to go with each one, “Dad, Grandma, Grandpa,” all of her deceased family members, and then, “Sharon, Tess, Aurora,” all of her friends from Nebraska who she doubted she would ever see again.
She kept putting the jewelry on even after she stopped saying the names out loud. When she finally stopped and lay back on her bed, she was covered with an assortment of jewelry.
Anna tossed and turned, her accessories clanging about. Finally, she fell into a deep sleep, feeling safe and as if everyone she had lost was watching over her, even those who weren’t dead.
In the morning, Anna trudged to school. Although it wasn’t raining, the sky was gray and the sun wasn’t shining.
Again, she paid little attention during her classes, only listening when the teacher mentioned homework or assignments. For the entire morning, Anna was looking forward to lunch, not dreading it.
Instead of stalling in the hallway after her last morning class, Anna hurried straight to the cafeteria and sat down at the same table. Anna waited for the girl to show up. As the girl sat down next to Anna, a small smile spread across her face as she saw Anna’s memory bracelets. It was a secret smile, but Anna still saw it.
“What’s your name?” Anna inquired.
“Lina,” the girl replied. “And you’re Anna.”
“How did you know that?”
“I’m in your science class.”
“Really?” Anna was shocked.
“Yeah. You’re never paying attention in class, though. I sit two seats to the right.”
They spent the rest of lunch eating in silence, and Anna hurried to her next class, excited that there would be a familiar face. Sure enough, as class started, Anna noticed Lina a few seats to her right.
The rest of the day, Anna stayed alert during her classes, hoping to see Lina again, but she was disappointed. Science was the only class they were in together.
As the days went on, Anna still trudged to school every morning. She showed more interest in her classes, though she looked forward to lunch and science the most. She learned more about Lina too; Lina had a younger brother named Tim, her favorite color was baby blue, and she liked to sing when nobody was around, mostly country music.
Every day, when Anna got home, her mother asked her about school, and every day, Anna said, “Fine.” But when Anna asked about work and her mother said, “Great,” Anna could tell she didn’t mean it.
“Can you come to my house after school?” Anna asked Lina one day during lunch.
“Meet me outside after school.” Lina hadn’t directly answered the question, but Anna read between the lines. Anna was excited all through school. How happy her mother would be when a friend came home.
The afternoon went by in a blur and Anna hurried outside as soon as the bell rang. She spotted Lina’s familiar blonde hair, messy as always, like Lina never bothered to comb it. Anna couldn’t blame her, beauty wasn’t a necessity.
Lina didn’t acknowledge Anna until she was right next to her. “Took you long enough,” she said gruffly. Anyone else might have thought Lina was upset, but Anna knew she was only joking in her own special way.
As the two of them walked Anna’s route home from school, Lina seemed to be suppressing excitement. This was remarkable, coming from Lina, who usually acted as though nothing was worthy of emotion.
When the house finally came into sight, Anna picked up the pace. Lina, with her long legs, had no trouble keeping up. As they stepped inside, Anna’s mom called a greeting, “How was school?”
“Good.” Then before her mother could say anything else, Anna added, “I brought a friend.”
Anna heard a sharp intake of breath and then her mother was rushing out of the kitchen to greet them.
“And who might you be?” Anna’s mother’s eyes twinkled and she looked happier than she’d been for a long time as she stood in front of Lina.
“Lina, miss.” Lina’s shy side was coming out again.
Anna’s mother sensed Lina’s shyness, “It’s okay. No need to call me miss.”
“Bye mom,” Anna said as she pulled Lina by the arm out of the entryway.
They ended up sitting side by side on the old, wooden porch. Anna looked at her friend and realized how lonely Lina must have been before Anna moved, with nobody to hang out with. Nobody she could call a friend.
“So,” Anna ventured, trying to break the silence, “you’ve lived here longer than I have.”
“Yeah, why?” Lina raised her eyebrows.
“Just wondering.” Anna murmured. “I thought you might know if there was anything interesting to do in this town.”
“That is, if you don’t want to sit on this porch all day.” Anna added.
Lina cracked a smile, “I know just the place. It’ll be perfect.”
“Perfect for what?” Anna asked, feeling as if she was missing something.
“You’ll see.” Lina said mysteriously. “Come on, let’s go.”
“One second.” Anna replied, then shouted, “Mom, we’re going exploring.”
Her mom appeared, sticking her head out the door, “Where to?”
In response, Lina simply pointed. Following Lina’s finger with her eyes, Anna saw the top of a hill, poking above an expanse of forest.
“Oh, what a lovely hill!” Anna exclaimed with a smile, filled to the brim with excitement. “I never noticed it before.”
Lina smiled back and grabbed Anna’s hand. Lina pulled her to the end of the backyard and into the woods. Lina kept up a quick pace and Anna struggled to keep up as they dodged branches and jumped over logs. The ground was covered in dead leaves and their makeshift trail was beginning to slope upwards.
And then, they emerged at the top of the hill. The grass was a pale yellow and came up to the girls’ ankles. Looking back the way they had come, Anna could see the house and the porch they had been sitting on.
“Let’s sit.” Lina said.
As they plopped down on the grass, Lina pulled two matching bracelets from the pocket in her jacket. The bracelets were silver with blue flowers as decoration.
Lina offered one to Anna and took the other for herself, “To promise we’ll always be friends.”
“What now?” Anna questioned, knowing Lina had something else in mind.
“We need to dig a hole.” Lina replied.
The two of them jumped up and scoured the edge of the woods for a sharp stick. Finally, Anna came across the perfect one.
“Lina!” Anna called out, waving the stick in the air.
Back on top of the hill, sharp stick in hand, Anna began to dislodge some soil. The dirt was loose and she soon had a hole as big as her fist.
Lina wasted no time and dropped her bracelet into the hole. Anna followed suit.
“Friends forever?” Lina asked.
“Friends forever.” Anna assured her.
They shook on it, then buried the bracelets, patting the dirt down so it would stay in place. It was getting late and Lina got up to leave.
“Wait,” Anna said, “I want to watch the sunset.”
Lina sat back down and they looked west as the sun began to sink from the sky. And in that moment, their faces bathed with the golden glow of the setting sun, Anna knew she would get used to her new home. Anna’s mother, watching the two girls from the porch, knew that if her daughter could get used to Michigan, she would too.