The Secret Tree
The oak tree was the bearer of Adeline’s secrets. The hollow beneath its roots still housed the decades-old remnants of her clubhouse, where she’d gone to escape her older brothers. A few moldering pillows and a yellowed sketchpad were all that remained of her hideaway. Adeline knew her things were still there but couldn’t bring herself to throw it all away.
There was a heart, too, carved in the tree just above the moss line. At least, when she’d carved it, it had been just above the moss. Now, all these years later, she had to stand on tiptoes to see the jagged shape, her initials and Derek’s gouged there. How different would her life have been if she had walked away from him, even then?
Around the oak were tiny purple flowers that had sprung up after she’d spread her mother’s ashes. When her brothers had tasked her with the urn, she’d walked barefoot into the woods behind her childhood home and spread her mother around the tree. Adeline had loved her mother and the tree so much; it seemed right for them to be together.
The tree was close enough to the property line of the house that she suspected it knew what happened there so many nights since she and Derek had moved in. On particularly windy nights, leaves were flung across the windows, syncopating the rhythm of Derek’s fists colliding with her flesh. She could almost imagine that the tree had sent the leaves, in solidarity or warning. She couldn’t quite put a finger on it, but the leaves stuck with determination, an angry kind of violence.
Or maybe she was just so used to Derek that she assumed everyone was angry and violent.
Whatever the case, it was to the tree that Adeline ran the night Derek came home angrier and more violent than usual. When he threw her mother’s Limoges vase at the wall next to Adeline’s head, she bolted, hoping that Derek would lose interest in her. The tree had seen the rest of her, it may as well see the worst of her now. With her mom gone, there was no one else she trusted enough to turn to.
She made it to the tree and rested a palm against the rough, familiar bark. She could hear Derek yards behind, swearing at her.
Adeline pressed herself to the tree. She slid to the ground, running her fingertips over the velvety purple flowers. Her tree and her mom. At least she wouldn’t face Derek alone.
He burst into the clearing, eyes wild. He took a single step and groaned. At least, Adeline thought he groaned. But she understood from the way his eyes widened and he tilted his head back that the noise came as much a surprise to him as to her.
A tree branch, thick and heavy, fell upon Derek, crushing his skull and pinning him to the bed of flowers.
The tree offered Adeline a secret of its own.
Jenny Birch is a middle school ELA teacher and freelance writer who writes primarily contemporary and YA fiction. She hails from Pittsburgh, PA, where she lives with her wonderful husband and two crazy-awesome sons. She is an active member of the SCBWI and Penn Writers. She can be found on Twitter @TheRealMrsBirch