Hayden rolled his eyes towards the entrance of the classroom at the sound of a tinkling laugh. Everly Jones, the bane of Hayden’s existence. Normal people just aren’t that happy. Hayden was sure of it.
“Hi, Hayden,” Everly said followed by a wide grin. “How was your weekend?”
“Fine,” Hayden replied without peeling his eyes away from the front of the classroom.
“My weekend was fantastic. I bought a new succulent. I named it Phoebe. I think she fits in very well with the others.” Everly’s eyes drifted up to the ceiling in thought. “Do you like succulents, Hayden?”
“They’re fine.” Hayden mumbled while scribbling the date onto his notebook.
This exchange was a regular occurrence unfortunately for Hayden. Everly would sit by Hayden in class and twitter on like a bird no matter how one-sided Hayden tried to make the conversation. No, more like squawking like a parrot, Hayden thought.
“I think they’re beautiful, unique. Each one has its own personality.”
“Plants can’t have personalities,” Hayden couldn’t stop himself from answering.
“Well of course they can! Some are very showy and demand attention like the paddle plant but some are shy like the Echeveria and others are--”
Hayden regretted even asking. Everly chittered on until the bell rang and then she turned towards the front of the classroom, her ever present smile hovering at the corners of her lips.
When the bell rang signaling the end of the class hour, Hayden swiped all of his papers into his backpack and made a beeline for the exit.
“Hayden, wait up!” At the sound of Everly’s voice Hayden closed his eyes and sucked in a deep breath. Lord give me strength, he thought.
“There’s an event being hosted at the library. It’s a collaboration with Evercreek, the senior citizen’s home. I volunteered to read to them”
“Well I was hoping you might want to come with me?”
“Why would I do that?”
“It’ll be fun. I really wish you would come.” Everly’s expression took on the slightest bit of a pout as she clasped her hands in front of her.
“I’m busy.” Hayden brushed past her while Everly’s mouth gaped open.
“Anything but that.” Hayden answered, not bothering to look back. Everly’s laugh floated up to his ears.
“You’re funny.” Hayden stopped walking and turned slightly towards Everly. She was standing there, smile pressing into her cheeks. Hayden narrowed his eyes at her.
Don’t even ask, Hayden. Just keep walking. Hayden raised an eyebrow at her then slowly turned on his heel and strode forward.
The next morning Haden was greeted by another loud, “Good morning!” from his least favorite ever-cheery voice. Does she ever give up? He clenched his fists atop his desk and gritted his teeth. He tilted his head in Everly’s direction. Clasped in her hands in front of her face was a small pot with an even smaller plant.
“It’s an Echeveria! A shy lil’ guy, just like you.”
Excuse me? Hayden thought.
“I asked Mrs. Patterson, from Evercreek, what kind of succulent matched your personality and we both agreed that it had to be an Echeveria and then I saw one at the store and I just had--”
“What is it doing here?” Hayden asked, pointing his hands at the plant.
“It’s for you, silly! Meet Petunia.” Everly gave him a massive grin.
“You can’t name it Petunia.”
“I am not going to own a plant named Petunia.”
“So that means you’re going to keep her?” Everly raised an eyebrow, a grin still plastered on her face. Hayden pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Why the plant? Why do you talk to me all the time? And why on earth is it named Petunia?”
“I’m just trying to be nice.”
“You don’t need to be. Keep the stupid plant.” Hayden turned back to the front of the class.
A few beats of silence went by before Everly spoke up. “You don’t have any friends.” Hayden turned back to Everly. She was looking down at her shoes. “You don’t have any friends and everyone needs friends. I don’t know why you don’t have any friends, but I thought that I could be your friend.” Everly ground the toes of her left shoe into the carpet.
Hayden heaved a great sigh. Then took the succulent from Everly’s hands and placed it on the very corner of his desk. With her head still pointed down, she gave the tiniest of smiles to the floor.
When Hayden’s last class of the day had just let out he once again heard that cheery voice.
“Hayden! Hey, wait up!” Everly jogged up to Hayden’s side, a little out of breath. “Wow, you sure can move fast, you’ve got such long legs.”
“What do you need?” Hayden had the succulent clasped protectively in both of his hands. He had held onto it all day afraid to let it get crushed in his bag. It's cute, I guess, not very manly though.
“Well you remember how I mentioned Mrs. Patterson to you?”
“And she helped me pick your succulent?”
“Where is this going?”
“Obviously I had to tell her a bit about you. She said you sounded lovely. I thought that maybe you would like to come visit her with me.”
“Look, Everly, I took your plant, ok? But I am not going to some senior home with you.”
“Why does this matter so much to you? You don’t even know these people.” Hayden clasped the succulent a little tighter, his cheeks getting warmer. He just wanted to get on the bus and go home as soon as possible. Can’t Everly see that?
“Some of these seniors don’t have anyone. They’re all alone, wasting away with no one to comfort them.”
“That’s not your problem.”
“It’s not.” Everly turned away suddenly to cough into her elbow. It seemed as though her whole frame, tiny as it was, shook with the force, but when she turned back around her ever present smile was back upon her face. “But if I were old and alone I would hope that someone would be kind enough to come see me. Even if they hardly knew me.”
Hayden sighed. “Not today. Besides, I have to get Petunia home.” He lifted the plant a little higher and Everly’s smile broadened.
“Another day then.” She spun around and walked off, a light bounce in her step.
A few days later Hayden was studying at the public library when a loud, “Hi Hayden!” caused him to jump from where he was seated and spin around quickly in his chair.
“Quiet!” He hissed. “Can’t you see that this is a library?” He widened his eyes and pointed around at all the heads that had turned in their direction when Everly greeted him loudly. Everly rolled her eyes and smiled.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to be so loud.” She held her hands up and shrugged.
“Why is it that, lately, you seem to be everywhere that I am? Are you stalking me?”
“What are you doing here? It’s late. Don’t you ever go home?” Everly asked without bothering to answer his question. She slid into the seat across from Hayden, making herself comfortable. Hayden sighed and closed his textbook, resigning himself to the fact that he would not be doing anymore studying.
“I’m just not in any rush to go home. What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing.” She turned away, once again coughing fiercely into her elbow.
“Are you ok?” Hayden asked, his brow furrowed.
“Yeah I just need some water.” She produced a bottle from her bag and took a sip. “Sorry about that. I’ve had a dry throat.”
“That’s ok,” Haden said, brow still furrowed.
“Why aren’t you in any rush to go home?” Hayden’s expression turned cool, his eyes narrowing.
“I don’t have to explain my home situation to you. Don’t ask.” They were both quiet for a moment. Hayden almost thought that Everly would get up and leave. He wasn’t sure if that would make him happy or sad.
“I know about what happened to your parents,” Everly finally spoke. “I can’t even begin to understand what it was like to lose them. But you shouldn’t give up on happiness because they’re gone.” She reached her hand across the desk and put it atop his. “I don’t think that’s what they would have wanted.” Hayden slid his hand out from under hers.
“You don’t know what they would have wanted.” He kept his gaze pinned over her left shoulder, not looking into her eyes.
“I guess you’re right.” Hayden snapped his eyes back to Everly. She was shrugging. “But I want you to be happy. I feel like that should be enough.”
Hayden paused for a moment, bewildered at the cheery expression in front of him. He couldn’t bring himself to be annoyed by it any more.
“You are such an odd girl.” At Hayden’s words Everly’s smile grew, etching it’s lines into her cheeks. Hayden gave a ghost of a smile back.
“Come with me tomorrow to see Mrs. Patterson.”
“You are relentless!” Hayden placed his forehead on the table and let out a dry chuckle. “Why is it so important to you that I go?”
“I just think that you’ll enjoy it! Please come?”
Hayden lifted his head a little, keeping his chin on the table as he looked into Everly’s pleading eyes.
“Alright, alright! I’ll go, just stop looking at me like that.” Everly clapped her hands in front of her and more heads swiveled their way. “But let’s get out of here because you obviously don’t understand the phrase ‘quiet zone.’” He scooped up his things and dragged Everly out by her wrist to avoid anymore scathing looks from people trying to read.
As they walked together to the bus stop Hayden noticed the air wheezing out through Everly’s lips.
“Are you alright?”
“Oh, yeah. I’m fine. Just a little tired. And my bag is kind of heavy.”
“Here let me.” Hayden lifted the bag from her shoulders and slung it over his own. He shrugged his shoulder up and down a little, noticing the lightness of the bag but deciding not to say anything. There’s no need to embarrass her by pointing out that it’s not that heavy.
As they approached the bus stop a bus just turned the corner.
“Perfect timing,” Everly said.
“Here’s your bag.” Hayden held it out in front of himself.
“Aren’t you getting on?”
“This one goes north. I live south.”
“Oh.” For seemingly the first time Everly looked sad to Hayden. “I’ll see you tomorrow, right? At Evercreek? You can’t back out.”
“I won’t. See you there.” Hayden gave her a two-fingered salute and Everly turned to board the bus.
The next day Hayden waited for Everly at the front steps of Evercreek shifting from foot to foot as the minutes dragged by. Everly was late.
“Hey Hayden.” Everly waved as she approached the steps, panting and her shoulders sagging a little.
“You took your sweet time.”
“It’s a beautiful day. I’m allowed to take the time to enjoy it.” Everly crossed her arms in mock anger but couldn’t stop her lips from tugging upward. “Come on, let’s go in.”
“Mrs. Patterson! I finally dragged him to come see you.”
“Who is this handsome young man?” Mrs. Patterson sat up in bed, reading glasses perched low on her nose and book in hand. A lamp in the corner put off a soft glow.
“This is Hayden. I told you about him. He’s the Echeveria.”
“Hi ma’am.” Hayden gave a little wave, his other hand shoved deep in his pocket.
“Ah yes, the mopey one.” Mrs. Patterson smirked.
“Mrs. Patterson! You’re not supposed to tell him I said that.” Everly turned to Hayden, a hand over her mouth. Hayden couldn’t help but grin at her embarrassment.
“Yeah I guess you could say I’m a little moody. I didn’t realize you talked about me this much.” Everly’s cheeks reddened. Hayden liked that look.
“Well don’t all just stand in the doorway. Come pull up a seat.” Mrs. Patterson waved her hands to some chairs in the corner. They sat and talked and Hayden began to enjoy himself. He had almost forgotten what it was like to laugh.
“Hayden, could you be a dear and get me some water?” Mrs. Patterson asked when some time had passed. “But not the water from the tap. It never gets cold enough. You’ll have to go to the cafeteria.”
“Of course. Be back in a second.”
When Hayden returned with a tall glass of cool water he caught the tail end of Everly and Mrs. Patterson’s conversation.
“ . . . this trial going?” Mrs. Patterson asked.
“I’m not sure how well it’s working. The bad days are seeming to start to outnumber the good days. But my doctor said I should stick with it for a little longer. Lyme disease is still so mysterious. No one really knows how it will respond to medicines.”
“Is he optimistic?”
“He doesn’t like to say, but I don’t think he’s liking the results.”
“Will you try another experiment?”
“I’m not sure. There’s a trial in Mexico that has shown some progress but I’m not sure if I want to leave here. It might not even work. Time will tell.”
Not wanting to let on that he had heard, Hayden knocked twice on the door. “I’m back ladies.”
“Oh, what a dear boy.” Mrs. Patterson patted his cheek as he gave her the glass of water.
“We should probably go. It’s been wonderful to see you again.” Everly leaned down and kissed her cheek.
“The pleasure was all mine, dear. And bring this young boy around more often, I like him.”
Everly laughed. “I’ll try to force him here again.”
Hayden held the exit doors open for Everly then paused at the top of the stairs. “You never told me you were sick.”
Everly’s steps halted and she turned back towards him. “You overheard?” Hayden nodded. “Can we sit? My legs are a little weak.” Everly sat on the steps, not waiting for Hayden. He sat next to her.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” He wrapped his arms around his knees.
“I didn’t think it was necessary. It doesn’t change anything.” She stared straight ahead.
“Are you dying?”
“The data on Lyme disease is very small. So, yes, I’m sick and yes, I might die. It’s hard to say if that time will be sooner or later.” Hayden stayed silent for a few moments.
“How do you continue to be so happy?” Everly turned to face him, her ever-present smile back on her face.
“That’s easy. Look around you, Hayden. Feel the sun, smell the air. It’s a beautiful day and I’m not going to let Lyme disease take that away from me.” She rested her cheek on her knees and took in a deep breath.
“But how do you do it? Enjoy it?”
“I live day by day, moment by moment. If anything, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. If each moment could be my last then I live every moment as if it were.”
Haden stared at her mouth agape. Then spoke. “You’re amazing.”
Everly laughed loudly. “I don’t have time to be sad and neither do you.” She placed her hand on Hayden’s arm. “Your parents are gone. You’re mad at the world.
“I’m not mad at the world. I--”
“You’re not? Hayden,” Everly laughed. “I smile and you frown. I give you a gift and you don’t want it.” Hayden fought to keep the smile from his face.
“That’s not the same thing as hate.”
“You and I got dealt a bad hand of cards but I choose to keep playing the game and you want to fold. The longer you spend hating the world the less time you spend enjoying life.”
“Then grieve! But don’t shut me out.” Everly and Hayden were silent for a moment, both looking straight ahead.
“I guess,” Hayden began, still not looking at Everly. “ I have room for a little more sunshine in my life.” Everly grinned and clapped her hands together. “But you’re going to have to take Petunia back. I don’t know a thing about succulents and I think I’m killing her.”
“Oh no, you’re keeping her.” Everly pointed a stern finger at Hayden. “I will teach you all there is to know.”