Friend of Mine
By: Tk. T

It was late August about five years ago when I first met Randolph. I saw him then as any other boy my age would see him. He was my friend, well, more my friend than I was his.

I lived by the marshlands then, and there I ran wild, jumping over logs, catching frogs, and gazing up at the sky. I swam in the glades filled with croaking frogs and buzzing fireflies, and when I was done swimming I would run barefoot across the fields rolling down in the grass hills that seemed to stretch on forever. I played in between the trees, sometimes looking for snakes and then poking squirrels with sticks. The marshlands were my sanctuary, and they still are today.

School was just starting then and the summer was fading. I remember dreaming of the summer while I listened to my lessons. I looked past my window as the teacher taught our lessons, all of us did, none of the kids wanted to be inside of a classroom when they could be playing outside. I looked out that window, wishing that school would end, and when it did I went straight into the marshes or over to my friend, Danny's house just a mile away.

I had always heard about Randolph Miller who lived at the Miller farm just a couple of miles south of my home, my home that has been in our family since my great-great-great-grandfather Timothy moved here. There was nothing interesting about the Miller farm, but somehow my town found so much to gossip about, those Millers.
I never listened to that tittle-tattle, kids never do. But I knew enough about the Millers to know that something was wrong with them. As I was always told, the Millers weren't normal people, they were considered haughty and suspicious because they never left their farm. They were up to something.

I remember going to the store with Papa one afternoon while buying milk for the hog's feed since we had run short. I looked up into the trees as we walked, bare and limp like most of the trees down here in the bog. The air was thick with humidity and the sun fierce on my back. Papa's face was tan and red from being out in the fields too long. His skin was rough like leather, his hand felt hard and scratchy on my shoulder as he steered me down the dirt road.

Papa and I arrived at the store right when the sun was at its hottest. Sweat dotted Papa's tan face as his large hand opened the door for me to walk through. The store was cool. I felt at ease immediately with the cold rush of air cooling my burning skin.
The storeowner was Joseph Tate. He has always worked at the store, and has always had the loudest mouth.

"Good afternoon, Joe!" greeted Papa walking up to the counter and shaking hands with Mr. Tate.

I looked around the store, exploring the aisles while the adults talked to each other. Boring stuff, I had thought, stuff that never interested me. I poked my nose into the candy area of the store, then looked back at Papa.

"Did you hear about those Millers?" said Mr. Tate handing Papa his change. "Did you hear about that Ms. Miller and what she did yesterday?" Mr. Tate was shaking his head, his thick grey moustache jumping on his face as he did so.

Papa was like me when it came to gossiping and smiled at Mr. Tate, "I try not to stick my ears in other people's affairs," he said.

"That Ms. Miller is a character, she is," he said. "That new schoolteacher came over to the Miller farm yesterday. You know that those Millers, they got a son?" asked Mr. Tate handing Papa his milk. "Anyway," he said waving his hand and leaning far off the counter. "That school teacher was trying to get that Miller boy to join the school, and that Ms. Miller was so toffee-nosed! She told that poor helpful schoolteacher that her son was too good to go to any old public school filled with loud boys and such," said Mr. Tate. "She said that her son was going to be home schooled and brought up the right way!"

Papa only looked at Mr. Tate. I could see in Papa's eyes his disinterest.

"Talk about snooty!" Mr. Tate had cried shaking his head. "Those Millers think that they're so wealthy and rich just because they live in that big old house," Mr. Tate went on. "Those Millers don't even do their own farming! They hire these gardeners and workers like they're so special!"

"We best be getting on now, Joe," said Papa looking at me. "Come on son," he said motioning me away from the candy aisles.

"Just remember what I said, now," warned Mr. Tate pointing a fat red finger at us while we left the store. "Those Millers, they aren't too friendly-like! They're the only folks out here without any friends and you can bet your nickel on it that I won't help them when the rain seasons come, no sir, I don't like folks that think they're better than the rest!"

"Goodbye, Joe," said Papa shutting the store door.

That was the first time that I heard about the Millers having a son. But I didn't take real care about their son, most kids didn't, in fact, actually, none of the kids really knew about Randy but me.

---

When I first met Randolph I was pitching pebbles on the bridge by the main road. The main road was just off the Miller's farm and their big white fancy house. I had my arms over the wooden railing of the bridge,and was standing on the top of the bottom railway as I tossed the rocks. I was aiming for a group of ducks when I first heard them, Randolph and his mother.

"Randolph, please take care!" I heard Ms. Miller say.

I turned on the bridge to take a look. I had only seen Ms. Miller once and that was when she was walking out of the florist shop while me and Mama were there. Mama had wanted to buy nice flowers for Ms. Connelly, the old widow who lived several farms down from us. Randolph and Ms. Miller were walking hand-in-hand down the street in front of me. Ms. Miller carried a pot of flowers and was speaking sharply to the boy trailing along beside her.
The first thing I noticed was Randolph's height. He looked about a small boy of six or five. Randolph was looking at me and I was looking at him. I remember how wide his eyes were, how pale he was, his skin the color of snow. He had messy red hair and had freckles all over his face. He seemed a frail boy, the kind that had never seen a day of hard work in his life. He had small white hands and thin arms and legs sticking out of his shirtsleeves and shorts. He looked at me with wide eyes, his face curious and surprised.

I watched Randolph and his mother walk past me, and still Randolph looked over his shoulder at me, his curious face watching as I offered a wave of my hand. A careless gesture, it didn't mean anything, but he was looking at me, so I waved.

And then Randolph smiled, and to this day I'll never forget that smile. His face erupted into the biggest, fullest grin I had ever seen. He looked like a grinning cat smiling so wide and big like he did. He raised his pale hand and waved back, the smile still glued on his face, and I waved back, still with the same careless manner as before. I was a little caught off guard by that little boy, smiling so wide and big like that.

I watched Randolph and Ms. Miller disappear down the street, their images blurred by the heat rising off the street.
And that was the first time I saw Randolph, but surely not to be the last.

---

Maybe, a little over two weeks or so later, my Mama called me while she was washing her hands in the water spout. The water spout was connected to a pipe that ran into our well in the back of our yard. Mama looked me over with warm tired eyes.

"Yes, Mama?" I asked shuffling my feet.

"I need you to do me a favor, would you?" she asked turning off the water and looking down at me while wiping her sweaty brow. "I think Bud mixed up the mail," she told me turning from the sink and reaching in her apron. "I have some mail that doesn't belong to us, but to the Miller farm," she said handing me envelopes. "Please take those letters to the Millers house," she said shooing me out of the house.

So I started out on the dusty road to the Millers house, my feet kicking the red dust as I walked.

I walked maybe two miles or so until I saw the big white house stuck on top of the only hill that was around this bog. I looked at the letters in my hand and then back at the house. My eyes were trailing up the big white wooden fence running around the house and my knees went under.

I had never seen such a big house, and to be honest, I was a little afraid of the house, with its size looming over me. I was also a little uneasy about entering the Miller house and meeting the Millers. It wasn't that I did not like them, I had nothing against them, it was just that I was a little uneasy, that's all.

I tried the wooden gate, which was to my surprise open. I walked up to the white house looking around as I walked. I saw the vast open yard, perfectly decorated with flowers and trees. The trees weren't bare and limp like the trees in our yard, but were full and big with leaves and flowers. I stopped a moment and looked up at the branches in awe. I didn't figure out until later that these trees were brought from the north to be planted here. I had thought then, that the Millers were on special land where trees naturally grew like that.

I must've stood there a long time because a voice called me over to the front door. "Excuse me," said a woman in dark clothing. "Why are you in Master Miller's yard?" she asked beckoning me to her.

I showed her the letters, "Bud mixed up your mail, Ma'am," I said very politely as I looked up at her. When I saw on her face that she had no clue who I was or what I was talking about, I explained a little further. "The mailman, Bud, he put your mail in our box. My Ma told me to come over here and give you back your letters."

The woman smiled all of a sudden, "Oh yes! Please come in!" she said taking the letters from me and waltzing into the house.

The minute I stepped inside I was bedazzled. The Miller house was nothing like my own house which was small and hot. This house was big and high, the ceiling seemed to stretch uptoward the clouds. I stood rooted where I was, looking up at the glass chandelier bobbing over my head.

"Come this way," said the woman motioning me.

I followed the woman up a corridor that gave way to wide carpeted stairs. I remember putting my hand on the railing as I watched. My eyes must havebeen as round as oranges!

The woman stopped in front of a closed white painted door and knocked. "Missus?" she asked in her strange accent. I had never heard such clipped way of speaking. It was clear to me that the boy who lived there had to be rich to have servants who spoke so differently, the way radio people sounded. "Missus? There is a boy here that has gone through the trouble of delivering your mail!" she said and then smiledat me.

I was still looking around atthe large painted walls of the house and the glittering windows up over my head. I was amazed by the house and at how cool it felt inside, I have have always been told that only rich houses had cool air.

The white door opened and Ms. Miller stepped out. She surprised me with a smile, "My, and what a sweet boy you are," she said taking the letters and smiling at me again.

I had never seen Ms. Miller smile or knew that she could smile at all. All of the chatter about her had painted the image of a strict woman like my teachers at school. "Thank you, Ma'am," I replied.

"Thank you so much!" she said. "What is your name?" she asked me, and I noticed then that she too looked pale. Pale like Randolph.

I told her my name.

"Oh! You must be the little boy that lives down on the Prescott swamp, right?" she asked.

I nodded my head, the same any boy would do if he were confronted by a woman like Ms. Miller. She was tall too, very tall and skinny. I looked up at her and to me she was a giant. I might have been scared if she hadn't been so nice.

She urged me to have some cookies out of debt to my favor to her. I was going to say yes, but I remembered Mama and knew that she would scold if I scrounged food from neighbors. So I politely shook my head, but that Ms. Miller must have known that I wanted the cookies, maybe she could read my face and knew that I was only being polite.

"Come have some cookies," she offered again. "Minerva has just baked them and they're warm and fresh. Do you like chocolate and lemon cookies?" she asked me with another smile.

I was hungry and was not going to refuse twice, so I nodded my head and followed the tall towering woman down the winding stairs. All the while I remember looking around the walls and floors, the house was just so incredibly big!

Ms. Miller told me to sit down at a large oak table, so shiny that I could see my reflection on the wood. I dared not touch the table in fear that I would smear the table and get it dirty.

A woman, also dressed in black like the woman who had opened the door for me, came out of a hallway with a plate in her hands. "Here you go, young sir," she said placing the plate of steaming cookies in front of me.

I was so rude, I ate every cookie on the plate, but Ms. Miller did not seem to mind or care. She watched me with observant brown eyes, her hands quietly resting in front of her as she watched.

"Do you want some more?" asked Ms. Miller.

I greedily nodded my head. Five years ago I had a big appetite for sweets and candies.

It was then that I saw Randolph again. He came from the hallway, white and pale with the same wide eyes and curious face. When he saw me he stared, curiously, as if confused. Then he smiled all of a sudden, the same Cheshire cat grin as before.

He said nothing, but sat next to me, smiling at me.

"This is my son, Randolph," said Ms. Miller nodding at Randolph who was still grinning at me.

I looked over at the pale red-haired boy and waved my hand again, my mouth full with crumbs of lemon cookies. "Hello," I said. Oh, how Mama would've scolded if she knew I had spoken with my mouth full.

Randolph smiled wider, "Hello," he said. He had a quiet voice, a soft voice. To me, he sounded girly, but I said nothing and looked away from him.

The woman in black gave me more cookies and I ate them all in front of Ms. Miller and Randolph, then I stood up and said I needed to go back home.

Ms. Miller left and called Randolph to come with her, but strangely he didn't, Randolph trailed after me and the woman in black all the way to the door. Randolph looked at me the whole time, the same delightful smile on his face. He saw me to the door as if I were a good friend of his. I turned at the doorway looking at him.

Randolph stood there, snowy and thin waving at me. "Goodbye," he said with the same grin.

I said nothing and walked away from the house.

---

Later that blistering day when I had walked over to Danny's house I brought up Randolph. "Hey, Danny," I remember saying, as I tossed a pebble carelessly into the glade, "I saw that Miller kid today, I went over to his house."

Danny shrugged his shoulders, "I heard that the Miller kid was really sick," he said looking at me with his bright blue eyes. "Is he?"

I didn't know, I just shrugged and looked away with a sigh. "He didn't look sick," I said. Then Danny's Mama came in and told me to leave so Danny could get ready for dinner. I waved to them and started home.

---

I don't know when I saw Randolph again, but I do remember it was well into the school year, it was winter and turning cold. I no longer wore my shorts and shortsleeves. Mama forced me to wear pants and thin longsleeve shirts. I hated them.

I was underneath the bridge trying to catch a big bloated toad when I heard Randolph again. I looked up at the sound of his footsteps on the top of the bridge. I remember looking up and when I recognized that it was Randolph I waved at him. "Hello!" I called up to him.

Randolph was wearing a sweater, although it wasn't that cold, and his nose was red as if he had a cold. He peered down at me curiously, "What are you doing?" he asked in his same thin, quiet voice.

"Catching a toad!" I answered. Then, just because, I said, "Want to help me catch him?"

Randolph's face broke into that grin again, he scrambled down the muddy hill to where I waited at the bottom of the bridge. I noticed how wobbly he moved as he ran, his small feet tripping over each other as he came down the slope to meet me.

That was the start of it, Randolph and me. We never ended up catching the frog, but after half an hour of trying and after Randolph's mother had started calling, I invited Randolph to come back again to help me the next day.

And so the next day came and he met me by the bridge, his wide eyes shining as I waved to him.

We went looking for the toad and sometimes went in the bog to skip rocks. I had to teach Randolph how to do a lot of things, like skipping rocks, catching fireflies, and digging for worms in the muddy shores of the glades. Randolph always came by the bridge, so eager to learn and spend his time with me. Little did I know it then, Randolph and I eventually started becoming friends, as we played together.

I never mentioned Randolph to the boys at school; in fact, I don't think it ever occurred to me to bring him up. Often, I forgot about Randolph when I went home to do my chores or when I was playing marbles with Danny. I never thought of Randolph as a friend, he was just a boy I sometimes played with. He was the kind of friend that you talked to when you were bored, or had nothing else better to do.

A little later into the school year, about midwinter, I came across Randolph again while I was at Mr. Tate's store. He was there with his mother looking about the store with those large wide eyes. I waved hello and made my way to the candy aisles, it was that day that Mama gave me ten cents to buy licorice.

Randolph walked up to me, surprising me with that cat smile again. "Hello," he smiled as he greeted.

I remember looking at Randolph a little annoyed, "Hello Randolph," I said and resumed looking for candy.

Randolph left, and then came back later. "Do you want to play?" he asked me in his quiet, soft-spoken voice. His wide brown eyes made him look like a duck again.

"What?" I asked pulling away from the shelf and staring at him. "You want to play?" I asked him. My eyes caught Mr. Tate glaring at me.

"If you want to play," Randolph said shyly. "If you don't mind," he said.

I shrugged and said that I would. After I paid for the licorice and went outside I suggested that we go looking for slugs, and when Randolph had asked why, I told him that it was cool to put salt on the slugs and watch. Randolph smiled then and walked with me to the marshes.

He was so slow, and five years ago I was a feisty kid who hated slow people. "Hurry up! Can't you walk any faster?" I asked as I stopped and waited for him to catch up.

Randolph's cheeks were colored, his eyes were wide and his breath labored, but I paid no attention to that and continued walking again, irritated that Randolph wanted to play with me, but I didn't want to seem rude. Randolph was only being what Danny called a "spoiled rich boy."

I bet, I remember thinking as I walked chewing on my licorice. I bet that Randolph never harvested grain for hogs, or had to clean up horse muck! I bet he never had to do any chores when he sat at home in his big fancy white house! I bet that Randolph has lots of servants to clean his room and a big bed where he can just sleep all day!

And I was mean to Randolph. That was when I started calling him Randy, I meant it as a sarcastic joke at first, but Randolph liked his new nickname and he became Randy. And the fact that Randolph liked being called Randy only made me madder and bitter towards him.

"Why are you so slow? You move like a turtle," I said glaring at him one time when we were looking for slugs one morning. "Why are you so slow? You're a turtle, Randy! You're as slow as a cripple!" I told him as he huffed and puffed after me.

I did many things to Randolph that winter, mean things that I regret now. I remember taking Randolph places and leaving him there just because I didn't feel like walking him back home, and because he was so slow. Other times, I made fun of him. I would say things about his freckles, or his height and the whiteness of his skin, and the whole while Randolph never said anything. He just looked at me with those wide brown eyes, staring, staring, staring.

The last day I saw Randy was when it was the coldest of winter and Randolph and I were walking together in the fields. The wind was bitter and stung our cheeks. I was wearing a sweater that day with a cap on my head. Randolph looked like a tomato, I thought, with his red sweater and coat buttoned all the way upto his chin. He wore a woolen cap and gloves over his hands.

"Why don't you go to school like the rest of us?" I asked him that day.

"Mother says that I'll get hurt if I go to school," Randolph replied rubbing his gloved hands.

"Why?" I pressed.

Then Randolph looked at me, "I don't know," he replied, his wide eyes sad and very sorrowful. "I wish I could go to school and play with the other boys," he said.

It never occurred to me that Randolph had wanted to go to school. I was surprised.

"I wish I was normal," Randolph said in a quiet voice all of a sudden. "I wish I didn't have to stay in my house all the time. I wish I could play outside like you," he said and looked at me.

From this day, I still remember what he looked like, looking up at me. He carved his face into my soul that day on that very day I decided to play with Randolph's hat.

"Give it back to me!" cried Randolph covering his naked ears with his gloved hands. It was play at first, but now Randolph looked ready to cry.

The wind cut into my face and I had shuddered. I knew that Randolph had to be cold because I was cold even with Papa's thick cap over my head. "I'm only playing!" I had teased waving Randolph's hat in front of his face.

Randolph's wide eyes were wider than ever. "Please! I need my hat back!" he cried as I ran away from him making him chase me. Randolph, as I knew, wouldn't be able to catch up. He wobbled and slipped as he ran through the fields. "Please! Give me back my hat!"

I laughed, "You're so slow!" I giggled waving his hat near his hands only to swipe it away and run farther into the fields. "You're a turtle, Randy! You're a turtle!" I teased him.

Randolph cried. He slipped and did not get up, but I left him, like I had done so many times before. I left him there in the fields, my hand still gripping his hat as I frolicked around in between the trees laughing and yelling for him to catch me.

"Don't you want your hat?" I taunted. "Don't you want your hat, Randy? Randy?"

The wind began to howl loudly in my ears. The cold wind swept past my sweater and chilled me. It froze me. I was so cold, the wind was so cold, everything was cold that day, the last day I saw Randolph.

I waited forever until I got too cold to wait and I left for home. I was an impatient boy five years ago. Five years ago, that winter, I left Randolph. I left him in the fields with the wind whipping past me as I walked home.

I had left him so many other times before, so I was sure that he'd be able to get home all right. I paid no thought to Randolph, that boy who I had left in the fields. That white boy with the thin body and soft voice, he always made it home before, so I paid no thought. I paid no thought.

---

Mama looked at me as I walked into the house, "Where did you get that hat?" she asked me with the same tired eyes.

"Oh, this hat," I carelessly threw the hat on the kitchen table where Papa was sitting watching me. "This hat belongs to Randolph," I said.

"Randolph?" asked Papa as if surprised. "You mean the Miller boy?" he asked me.
I nodded my head and began taking off my hat and scarf.

I remember how worried Papa looked then as he gazed at the red hat on the table, the hat that belonged to Randolph. "Don't you think he'll be cold without his hat?" he asked me.

"He'll be all right," I said with a laugh. "Randy is probably home right now drinking fancy hot chocolate or something," I said.

Mama and Papa only looked outside to where the wind was howling.

---

I had told Mama and Papa that I would return Randolph's hat after three hours or so. Papa gave me his coat and Mama gave me her gloves and scarf, "Be quick," said Mama brushing a kiss over my head just before I pulled Papa's thick hat over my ears.

I left with a wave and started to the Miller's Farm just two miles or so down the road.

---

I remember how fast Ms. Miller opened the door to see me, when I gave her Randolph's hat her eyes grew round and wide. "What? What's this?" she asked not taking the hat I offered to her.

"Randolph dropped his hat, Ma'am," I told her politely. "I'm returning it," I said with a polite little smile. I looked up in her face as the color drained from her face leaving her as white as Randolph.

"What do you mean? You mean he isn't with you?" she asked with unblinking eyes.

I froze. I felt my heart stop and the cold of the wind on my face. I ran from Ms. Miller and back to the fields, I remember her screaming something at me but I did not hear her, I couldn't hear her anyway from the roar of the wind inside of my ears. I had never run so fast in all of my life, it was the fastest I ever ran.

I found the marshlands and found a red stain in the center of the fields. I knew it was Randolph. Randolph was wearing red that day, all red, red coat, red hat, red gloves, red, red, red, the red little tomato.

I found Randolph where I had seen him last, but my eyes were filled with tears. I sank to my knees and stared in disbelief at his little form so still in the grass.

I turned Randolph over, "Randy?" I was barely able to whisper. Randolph's eyes were glazed over and unseeing. I saw blood around his ears and saw how blue his lips were, his frozen lips, frozen.

"Randolph!" I screamed. "Randolph!" I screamed and screamed. I must have screamed it a thousand times, but in the end I knew, I knew that nothing I shouted would bring Randolph back. I gripped Randolph's hat tighter, crying as the wind whipped the tears from my eyes and carried them into the air.

That was five years ago. Five years ago when I took Randolph's hat and left him in the fields. I was so ungrateful for Randolph, Randolph who had never done anything to me, who had been such a faithful friend to me. I betrayed his friendship only because of my own selfishness, when in fact, Randolph was the best and greatest friend I ever had, even to this day. Randolph was my friend, a friend of mine.