TTD: Part 1, Chapter 3

“I thought I’d find you here,” I say.

Tsis huddles under the lowest branches of a deerberry bush growing near the base of a tall Chestnut Oak. Her expressive eyes are down turned, and her tone is full of regret.

“Elder has already flown by twice,” she says.

I should scold her gently, take her hand, and walk her back to the clearing. But the regret resonates with something in me; I’m weaker without you, and I’m feeling lonely, anyway. Instead of feeling responsible for her, all I feel is empathy.

I walk to the foot of the tree, turn my back to its bark, and slide down so I’m sitting opposite her.

“You hid in your raven skin, didn’t you?” I ask.

She nods, sniffs, then wipes snot from her nose with the back of her hand.

“I can only get to that one low branch,” she says.

“Hmmm. That does put a damper on your plans, doesn’t it?”

She nods again. “I just want to see it. The sunset.”

I stay quiet, biting the inside of my lip.

“All the rest of my family get to go, but they say I’m not old enough.”

“You aren’t,” I say. “You’re a fledgeling.”

“All I want to do is go to the canopy. My brothers take me all the time.”

“Sure they do.”

“They do!” She sniffs and glares at me.

I sigh. “Listen, I understand. But they’re not here, and it’s not safe.”

“That’s what Ma says, too.”

“Do you really want to make your Ma worry?” I ask.

Tsis gives me a proud smile. “I climb the evergreen next to our nest all the time. She just doesn’t know it.”

I giggle in spite of myself. “Do you now?”

She nods and puffs her chest. “I’ve done it six times.”

“And that’s very cool,” I say, “but you probably shouldn’t do that without at least one of your siblings around.”

“They were there the first couple times,” she says. “That’s why I know I’m fine.”

“Oh, I see,” I say, even though I don’t believe it. So I try a different tactic—and that’s when I start to get in trouble.

“I used to climb the trees all the time to watch the sunset, too,” I said. “I don’t like being left on the ground either.”

Tsis turns her innocent eyes on me, and blurts the truth that adults like to sugarcoat. “But it’s different for you because you’ll never be able to fly. It’s not the same.”

It stings, but she doesn’t mean it. Not like that. “You’re right. Not the same, but kind of, don’t you think?”

She frowns, her mouth scrunching up in serious thought. Then, her face brightens into a sunny smile, her expression changing cartoonishly fast. 

“Yeah, it is kind of the same.”

“Yeah. I just only climbed trees my parents said it was okay.”

My comment doesn’t seem to affect her. “But you used to climb the trees no problem, right?”

“Oh no. No, no. Don’t you even start thinking about—”

“Carry me up?” she asks.

“Absolutely not.”

“Come on,” she whined, using that plaintive tone that works on her parents. “It’ll be safe if you come with me.”

“No, no, no.”

“Come on, Erikhó:wa. Why not?”

“It is not safe, and there is an Elder looking for you. I will absolutely not risk my tail for you.”

Then she pulled a card I’d never seen her use on her parents. The girl literally brought tears to her eyes. On cue.

“Do you…” She sniffed, a tear rolling down her plump cheek. “Is it because you don’t like me?”

“Oh, come on. Cut it out.”

She let the tears flow, her words coming out with a stutter.

“I-I’m sorry if I was a-annoying you, but… but I…” She gulps. “I didn’t m-mean to make y-you so a-angry.”

And this is when I can’t believe that I gave in. In hindsight, I keep asking myself what was I thinking? Was I even thinking? Apparently not. I wish I could go back to that moment and knock some sense into myself, but I can’t. So, I’m just going to get through this next bit as quickly as I can because I can’t stand how cringey and foolish I was.

I drop my head into my hands, her performance poking at all the soft spots in my heart that are extra squishy because I’m missing you so much already. And here she is, making me feel like it’s all my fault that she can’t get up there to see the very thing that makes my heart ache. I know it’s not anyone’s fault, let alone mine, but the crying is hard to ignore. So much so that I wonder if it’s real.

Keeping the story short, I climb the oak with Tsis in her raven skin gripping on to the back of my collar. She’s so light I barely feel her hanging there. I go almost to the top, not wanting to risk the Elder spotting my much larger body. I watch Tsis carefully, and she’s as good as her word: she does nothing reckless or risky. I’m kind of surprised at how well behaved she is, really. She stands just behind the leaves so she can see.

The sun sets, my heart feels both full and empty, and I can’t really appreciate the complexity of the moment or my reaction because I keep scanning the sky to see if the Elder has seen us.

I climb back down, swear Tsis to secrecy, and make her promise that it will never happen again. She swears on her feathers, and we walk back to the clearing together. Each footstep brings regret, though, because I know Tsis will never quit now that she knows my weakness, no matter what she swore on.

The Elder returns a bit after us, and Tsis takes her scolding with a bowed head. She gives me a hug before the Elder escorts her to her parents, whom I’m sure will lecture her ears off the whole way home. 

And then I think I’m in the clear. I walk home, and each footstep reinforces belief in my choice. Yeah, Tsis now knows I’m a sucker and will definitely work me over again. She’s a fledgeling, after all.

But what I keep thinking is that even though Tsis will eventually fly with the flock to salute the sun in a couple years, she got to see the sunset now. Because of me. Because I know exactly what it’s like to be told to stay on the ground. I gave that experience to someone else. And I feel good about it… until I get caught.

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