Feathers and Sunbeams
As I was putting the last touch to my make-up, the doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it. Wait, you just told me someone’s coming, didn’t you?”
I froze. It was one of those days then. She hadn’t had many of them lately.
“Jenna, did you sleep last night?”
“Not much. Why?”
“Because you’re forgetful today. Where’s Jenny?”
Jenna looked uncertain.
“Never mind, just come with me downstairs. It’ll be Jason by the door. I’m going hiking with him. Let’s make sure Jenny takes care of you so you get to nap for a while. You’re still in your nightgown.”
I bounced down the stairs, Jenna following me. She looked downcast. She always does on days when she’s confused.
I found Jenny in the kitchen.
“Hey, Jenny, Jenna isn’t feeling well. Please don’t leave her alone.”
“Oh,” Jenny looked ashamed. “I just stayed here to cook us breakfast. Jenna said she was going to see you. She normally doesn’t get lost in the house and the kitchen is the one place where we have to be careful.”
“Bah, I never get lost in the house. Or, well, once, at night when I’d had a bad dream. Stop fussing. Go see Jason now. I’ll stay here like a good girl. I wish I had a date.”
“I don’t have a date, Jenna.” I said in exasperation — Jason could so not hear this. I had to get out before Jenna invited him in. I quickly picked up my backpack with the picnic and some other essentials (you never know what you’ll encounter on a hike, so everything from bear repellant to ropes and matches should be brought along…at least if you’ve read too many adventure novels). Then, before Jenna could say something more, I dashed for the door. “Get some sleep Jenna, you’ll feel better in no time. And thanks for the pep talk. There’s nothing like being a rosebud cupcake, made me feel very special.”
Jenna looked confused at my comment. Clearly, she’d already forgotten our talk.
I was worried about Jenna, but experience told me she just needed a good nap. Unless she was starting to get worse. That day could also come. But I didn’t want to think about that. Not now. Not ever, but especially not now.
I practically kicked open the door, breathing heavily as I was out of breath after running down the stairs and then grabbing my things in a hurry and speaking at the same time.
Jason, startled, took a step backward.
“Oh. You remembered. I started thinking you’d forgotten.”
I stepped outside and closed the door behind me, embarrassed at having startled Jason.
“No, it’s just Jenna had a bad morning. She’s a bit senile sometimes. It isn’t too bad most days, but it gets worse when she doesn’t sleep. My aunts are really great with health and herbs and stuff, so they’ve given her everything they can think of and made her do all these mental and physical exercises too. Some studies have been made with some herbs recently that support their ideas, but it just helps, it doesn’t totally make it go away. So we don’t really know how long she has and it freaks me out sometimes.” I stopped to catch my breath. “Sorry, I’m babbling. It just…rattles me. I don’t want to lose her.”
We were still standing just by the door and I’d already managed to tell Jason something I don’t even talk to Johanna about much. I was practically having an emotional meltdown in front of someone I didn’t know very well. I felt…weird.
“It’s OK. My grandpa has started having some problems too. Very little, but I don’t know what to do. I mean I googled it, but it’s so much — herbs that might help, exercise in general helps, intellectual stimuli…it’s a lot to take in and put into practice.”
“It is. My aunts focused on one thing each and they’re professionally trained to work with psychology, herbs and nutrition. Maybe they can help your grandpa too? He could probably join Jenna for some exercises too…if he can handle her.”
Jason suddenly looked very happy.
“Oh, he’d love to! Jenna is amazing. He’d have a blast with her! My grandpa is a bit of a character too, you’ll see!”
Jason smiled at me and I suddenly felt like I landed in the moment. I wasn’t thinking about Jenna anymore, I was thinking about Jason. Windblown, rosy-cheeked, messy haired Jason.
“Sure, I’ll talk to my aunts tonight!”
“So, let’s get going. I want to take you up a mountain, so we better hurry. I don’t want it to get dark before we get back. But you’re quite fast, aren’t you?”
Jason sized me up as we started walking towards where he had parked his bike — next to mine — and I squirmed.
“I’ll be alright. I do a lot of biking and I go hiking with my aunts and uncles from time to time too. I mean it’s a waste not to — it’s pretty round here.”
“Yeah, it is. You brought some food, right? One gets hungry up there.”
“Cool. Did your aunts prepare it?” Jason’s eyes lit up. Jenna’s hot chocolate and crackers had truly made an impression on him. It was lucky he’d never attended a family feast, or he’d be drooling all the time.
“No, I made it.”
“Oh.” Jason couldn’t quite hide his disappointment. Which, of course, made me feel disappointed, but then I remembered what Jenna had said. Confidence.
“I’m not a bad cook, you know. I was raised here.”
“Of course.” Suddenly Jason smiled that quick smile of his. “I can’t wait to try it! I brought some of grandpa’s specials. You’ll see when we get there!” Again he smiled and looked at me. Then we grabbed our bikes and we were off.
We biked in silence, with Jason mainly biking ahead of me to show the way. He took me straight to one of the main hiking trails, where we got off our bikes. Then he set off up the mountain and I followed.
I don’t know what I had in mind for the hike, but it wasn’t rushing up a mountain. I mean when you hang out with someone, you tend to talk, right?! Not Jason. He really sped up the mountain. I realized he was super fit and tried not to think his clothes off. It wasn’t really that hard, because most of the time I had to concentrate on where I was going. Thinking about naked men and walking in a straight line just don’t go that well together.
We left the main hiking trail pretty soon and followed the creek instead. There was a tiny path next to it, probably made by animals, not humans (well, humans are animals, but you get my drift). It was so narrow and filled with hazards one could stumble over (such as lose rocks, pine cones and fallen branches) I kept worrying about tumbling into the creek.
The only time Jason stopped to say something, was when he pointed out plants, or tracks made by animals. To say the guy knows a lot about flora and fauna is the understatement of the year.
I was starting to feel a little bit neglected by walking in silence at a pace that would put a marathon runner out of breath, but then we came to a turn in the creek and Jason stopped abruptly. I almost bumped into him from behind, which would have been pretty embarrassing. Luckily, I managed to stop just in time.
“Oh, look, see that feather? I think it’s from a prairie falcon…isn’t it beautiful.” He swooped it up. “Here, you want it?”
He held the feather out towards me, then seemed to change his mind and instead used it to stroke my cheek.
“It’s real soft, isn’t it? It’s from such a majestic bird.”
He held my gaze as he stroked my cheek and I felt like…like all I could do was feel. The stroke of the feather was so soft and gentle as it caressed my skin. Suddenly, I was filled with something warm and fuzzy that made me feel all tingly inside. Whoever says emotions don’t affect your body have no clue what they’re talking about. That my aunts always say that, however, had not in the least prepared me for this feeling.
“Yes, it’s beautiful.” You are beautiful, I wanted to add, but I couldn’t. Who tells a person they hardly know they’re beautiful? But he was. There was something extremely beautiful about Jason and it wasn’t his face. It was him somehow. Like he had beauty inside. And I wanted to touch that beauty; connect with it.
Suddenly Jason shook himself.
“Sorry, I get carried away. Not everyone loves animals as much as I do. It’s just, they’re living creatures you know. And there’s a whole other world right in front of our noses. I mean that they’re living in. They see and experience everything differently from us and we have no idea what it’s like. I think the least we can do is study and learn. And care for them. Humans always forget they aren’t the only species on this Earth.”
He was babbling. And looking a little bit embarrassed. But he also had a confident half-smile dangling on his face. He believed in what he was saying.
“I think it’s beautiful, don’t you? This hidden world in plain sight,” Jason added and smiled a big, relaxed, smile again. This time he held my gaze more firmly. The embarrassment was fading away.
“Yes, it’s beautiful,” I agreed. And it was. So was he. He really was a beautiful soul. And I had problems not gaping. So instead I looked down and held out my mitten-covered hand so he could put the white and brown feather in it. I would so keep that feather forever.
As I looked up Jason gave me another big smile. This was so different from Jason in school. In school, Jason is always walking absorbed in his own thoughts, or with his head in a book. Always a bit aloof, as if he doesn’t care what people think. He probably doesn’t because they don’t see the world the way he does. And I have a feeling he looks down on them for that, which isn’t right, but still. Mysterious and aloof has its attraction — you want to solve the mystery.
“I thought you might like it.”
“Yeah, I do. And it’s cool you can tell which animal is which just looking at a feather, or a paw print. Some of my aunts and uncles can too, but most people can’t. I only know a few. I mean my uncle does hikes for tourists for a living and Wilda has an herbal shop, so I’ve kind of picked up a thing or two about these woods and herbs.”
“Yeah, it’s cool they’re so close to nature.”
Jason started walking again and I did, too. This time I walked next to him. I’d soon have to fall behind again, because the path was too narrow, but it would be nice to be able to chat for a while.
Jason still had a smile lingering on his lips and I felt as if I was made of light. I’d started feeling listless constantly treading up the mountain at a fast pace and in silence, only having Jason point out some animal paw prints and other things he found along the way. I’d felt rejected; as if he wasn’t really there to be with me. Now I felt like I had all the energy in the world and that walking up a mountain required very little effort.
“You know, there have been experiments made to prove plants feel things too,” Jason mused.
“Really? I mean my aunts talk to plants all the time, but they haven’t mentioned any experiments to prove they actually feel things.”
“Well, I don’t know if feel is the right word, but when they’ve measured electric wavelengths, or something of the sorts when people think about them. They even start to rise if you think about watering them. You know how they stretch after being watered, only they start doing that as soon as you think about watering them.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Most people don’t. Maybe they’d freak out if they did know, because you eat plants all the time. I mean imagine the vegetarians.”
“Sure, but you know you could still eat fruits and seeds that fall off plants and if you cut some plants, they just grow more. So I don’t think that’d be a problem. Besides, these experiments don’t prove they actually feel. It just proves we’re connected. Like water reacts if you touch it, it doesn’t mean it feels you touching it.”
Jason looked thoughtful. “I guess. But think about it, why would a plant react to a thought if it didn’t feel anything? Anyway, it’s nice to know we are all connected. In whatever way.”
I nodded. “It makes sense. I mean it’s what my aunts always say — that we’re all made of stardust.”
“And I guess sunlight, air, water, earth… We feed off all of that,” Jason replied with a smile.
“Yeah, but all that is stardust, if you think about it.”
“It is. It just sounds…more poetic to say we’re made of all those beautiful things. Being made of sunlight, I like that.”
I smiled. “Yeah, me too.”
Poetic. I didn’t know any other guy our age who’d say something like that.
And as the sun twinkled in Jason’s eyes just then, I was certain that he was made of some ethereal beautiful substance that was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.