Shard Forty-Seven: As the Leaves Fall

September 1st

"Fall is my favorite month." Wesley peered up at the endless trees. Overhead, leaves were just beginning to tint orange and red, and a cool autumn breeze picked up.

I watched her watch the leaves. Her hair tumbled down her shoulders, and her scarf matched her boots—I'd bought them both for her. Her outfit actually looked good.

"What are you looking at?" she said.

"The leaves."

"Right." She picked one up. "Aren't they pretty?"

I took the leaf, turned it over in my fingers, felt its brittle coat. The weather was already getting cold again—just yesterday it had been February, and I'd been shivering my way to SoloCoffee for my first vanilla cinnamon blend. What happened to time? The summer was over, just like that. It was a blur.

"What are you thinking, Rachel?"

"Don't you know?"

She looked thoughtful. "Remember when I said that I knew you better than you knew yourself?"

"Yeah. It surprised me."

"I was lying—I only thought I knew you." She twirled the leaf between her fingers, gazed at it wistfully as it broke apart. "I can't read your mind anymore."

"I could never read yours."

She laughed. "You could if you tried; I'm simple"

"Okay." I took a guess: "Right now you're thinking about autumn."

"No."

"Ice cream?"

"No."

"I'm out of guesses."

"There's a leaf in your hair." She wrinkled her nose in concentration as she tugged it out, fingers lingering a bit too long by my face. The look she gave me was familiar. It was the same one she gave me after our last kiss, right before she promised to stop pining after me.

We hadn't talked about that kiss since.

I turned away. "I, uh, got an email from Manny."

"Oh?" Wesley went back to her leaf. "What did it say?"

"She's staying in South Carolina for senior year."

"Oh," said Wesley.

I hadn't talked to Manny since June, when she left for therapy, right after her mom told her about her abusive father and stepfather. Manny was happy at the clinic, and she'd been accepted to a prestigious private school that fed straight into Yale School of Medicine. She'd dropped off the map. I missed her.

Wesley opened her arms. "Need a hug?"

"I'm okay." I smiled. "How's your aunt?"

"Pregnant."

"What?"

"I know!" Wesley grabbed my hands and spun me around. "She was so happy. It's the first time she's been hopeful in months. I know the baby won't replace Emmanuel, but—"

"Are you going back to Maryland?"

She stopped spinning. "What?"

"You moved down here to help your aunt." Panic set in. "So if she's happy again, then you can move back—" and I'd be all alone. Truly alone.

"Ha. You can't get rid of me that easily, Rachel Day!" she sang. "Sorry, but I'm here to stay."

"Bummer."

"It will be fun doing my senior year in Georgia." She turned her face to the sky. "Wow. It really is senior year. We'll be off at college soon."

"It's huge."

"You should take Anthony under your wing."

"Anthony?"

"Anthony Johnson, Tania's little brother," she said, and I remembered. "Tania helped you out when you were a freshman, so you should help him out, make it all come full circle."

I thought about it. "That's a good idea."

"He'll appreciate it. He seems like a good kid." She snorted. "Like I'd know."

"You don't think you're a good kid?"

She paused. Then she wiped her hands, letting the last of the leaf dust fall away. "I like myself, and that's all that matters."

I put my hands in my pockets. "I like you, too."

"Rachel?"

I looked at her.

"Nothing," she said. "How's Rupert?"

"We had dinner a few days ago," I said, although she already knew that. "He paid for everything."

"Would you two ever—?"

"No." I shook my head. "We're just friends."

"Is he still at Ace Hardware?"

He worked at Ace for a couple of weeks to pay off my ring, but then he liked the job so much that he kept it up through summer. Now he even had a college fund, with UGA as his top school, and he was three months sober.

I sat down on a large rock and stretched my legs in front of me. Watching the leaves change color was another reminder that nothing was permanent. "I miss him sometimes."

Wesley put her hand on my back.

"But I'm over it, really," I said. "It's time for a new guy."

She sat beside me. "You deserve it."

"You deserve to be happy too."

"We don't agree on much, Rachel."

I didn't understand.

She brightened. "School starts in two days. Are you excited?"

"Nervous."

"When will you get your license?"

I rolled my eyes. "Eventually."

"You're almost seventeen—you'll have gray hair before you learn to drive!"

"I'm a bad driver!"

"Duh."

I started to push her off the rock, but suddenly my phone went crazy, vibrating as if my house were on fire. I yanked it out. "Hello?"

My eyes went wide.

Wesley frowned. "What's wrong?"

"Really?" I said to the person on the phone. "Are you sure? Okay. Wow. Okay. Is there anything I can do?"

Wesley leaned forward. "What happened?"

"We'll be there soon." I hung up.

She stared at me. "So?"

Deep breath.

"Tell me, Rachel!"

I looked at her. Then I looked at the trees and the sky and all of nature, and I smiled—I couldn't help it.

"Rachel?"

"Lizzy went into labor."

Wesley squealed, and we sprinted to her car.

AN: Thank you so much, everyone, for sticking with me through this story. It's been a long journey, but y'all have been so supportive, and I love you for it so much. I'm so blessed. I hope I didn't disappoint.

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ByYourSide (Jamie)