9 years ago
I first met Xander when we were eight years old.
My parents had forced me to go to a superhero training camp to cultivate my talents. However, all I wanted to do was cultivate my plants.
The other kids avoided me because I preferred to spend my company amongst the trees and the flowers. They thought I was weird because I spoke to the plants, and refused to believe me when I told them the plants could speak back.
Xander never thought I was weird.
He was a bright boy with long blonde hair that looked like spun gold. He smiled often, and each time it was more and more dazzling. He and the other boys would play tag in the forest, and Xander always won.
He was fast.
Where most of us were still growing into our powers, Xander seemed accomplished in a way we’d never seen before. However, he wasn’t stuck-up about it. In fact, he was the kindest boy I’d ever met. Any chance he got, he would help people, whether it be from a kite stuck in a tree, or a boy about to be eaten by a bear, Xander would help.
We first met when I was comforting a black birch tree after one of the boys had used its trunk as a toilet. The tree felt pretty violated.
“Shhhh. Betula Lenta, please pay them no mind. They don’t understand.” I said as I stroked its green leaves. It swayed and rustled in the wind before it replied.
The trees did not have a voice, but they could be heard if one decided to listen closely to the wind whistling through their branches.
“Salix… Salix…” whispered the birch tree. I smiled in response to its use of my plant given name. My parents had called me Kamille, but the trees had named me Salix. I loved both names, but out here amongst the foliage, Salix was more fitting.
“What’s it saying?”
I startled out of my thoughts when a voice chimed from across the damp leaves of the forest floor. It was a little high, like most little boy’s voices, but it was not condescending or mocking. Just curious.
The question belonged to none other than Xander. He stood next to a cherry birch tree, hand resting lightly on its trunk, hair blowing in the wind. His hair sparkled radiantly in the sunshine and seemed to leave traces of luminosity behind in the air.
My voice stuck in my throat, but after a comforting whistle from Betula Lenta I calmed enough to answer him.
“It was just… calling my name…” I squeaked, trailing off at the end of the sentence.
Xander bounded forward in excitement. His hand left the cherry birch, and I could hear its mournful whimper at the loss. I supposed even the trees liked him. It figured.
He stopped directly in front of me, and smiled, dazzling me for a moment. I noticed that the smile didn’t quite reach his eyes, but after I responded in turn, his eyes shone with happiness. He reached over and placed his palm on Betula Lenta. It swayed in the wind, releasing a doleful whistle. Xander looked up at it thoughtfully.
“Why’s it sad?”
My breath caught. How did he know it was sad? Could he hear them too? I ached to ask, but my throat was dry of words. All that came out was a wheeze. Xander gave me a questioning look, and I buried my head in Betula’s tree trunk in mortification. Xander probably thought I was a spazz.
When I lifted my head from its self-imposed confinement, I braced myself for an impatient look on Xander’s face. After all, he had asked a question that I had yet to answer. Yet, when I took in Xander’s expression, it remained one of curiosity and amusement. His lips twitched slightly upwards, and his eyes twinkled.
I swallowed to wet my parched throat and replied, “How’d you know it was sad?”
Xander shrugged his shoulders, and glanced at the tree looming above us. “I dunno. I guess I just kinda felt it. Now, are you gonna answer my question or not?”
His last words seemed harsh, but they were delivered with his perpetually light tone. My brown eyes met Xander’s blue ones, and I hastily looked away. His golden hair fluttered in front of his face and I yearned to reach over and touch it, however, I knew my touch would not be welcome. My hand curled against the birch tree’s trunk, its chestnut colour complementing my brown skin.
“It’s sad because a few of the boys peed on it. It feels like it’s not being respected. This birch tree is quite old I’ll have you know.” I crossed my arms in displeasure as I remembered the indignation Betula suffered.
Xander nodded, and then leaned his forehead against the tree’s trunk. He pressed his pink, cupid-bow’s lips to the rough bark. He whispered something to it silently, lips barely moving from their position. Whatever he said, though, made all the difference. Betula Lenta ceased its mournful cries, and instead swayed its branches to gently caress Xander’s now upturned face.
My heart paused as green leaves brushed pink cheeks. I took a step forward and gently touched one of the branches in parting as the tree swayed back into its original position. I wanted to thank Xander for spending time with me and the trees, but before I could, I heard our camp counselor calling for us.
“Kamille! Xander! Sparring is about to begin! Venez ici maintenant!” cried Counselor Jacques, words slipping into his mother tongue. We both knew that once Jacques began speaking French, his warpath had already started.
Me and Xander glanced at each other quickly before we took off running. In record time, we made it to the sparring arena and realized some of our peers had already started sparring. Once Jacques clipped us both over the head for being late, he turned to yell at two boys who were play fighting outside of the arena.
I leaned over slightly into Xander’s space and whispered, “Thanks for being so nice to Betula Lenta.”
Xander inched closer to me and put his lips near my ear. I could feel his hot breath on my ear. The shouts of the other boys egging those in the arena on almost drowned out his soft question. “Betula Lenta? Is that the tree’s name?”
I shook my head with a smile, and returned the favour by placing my lips next to his ear so he could hear me. “No, that’s not its name. It’s the classification those kinds of trees like to use. They don’t have individual names. In fact, they’re not really big on individuality. After all, one tree is just a tree, but many trees are a forest,” my voice pitched softer as the sounds of the crowd ebbed and flowed, “That’s what they told me anyway.”
Xander opened his mouth to reply, but before he could, he was cut off by Jacques.
“Xander and Kamille, eh? Since you two seem so buddy-buddy, why don’t you get into the arena next?”
A hush fell over the crowd at the counselor's suggestion. Even the boys in the arena stopped fighting. Xander stood ram-rod straight next to me, fingers clenched tight. I remembered every other time Xander got into the arena to fight, and gulped. He would decimate me, and I felt panic bubble up and squeeze my throat shut.
Counselor Jacques didn’t wait for or reply, he simply nudged us towards the ring. My march there was wooden and halting, fear echoing in every step of Xander behind me. However, I knew that I couldn’t come to training camp and not fight. It was why we were there. However, it didn’t mean I wasn’t scared.
Because I was.
At last, we reached the arena door, but before I could open it, a hand fell on my shoulder. I turned and saw Xander peeking from behind his long curtain of hair. His eyes were sharp and cold, but I knew it wasn’t directed towards me.
“I’m sorry,” he said, hand trembling minutely. I reached up and placed a hand on top of his in comfort. The shaking stopped.
“Don’t worry. I know we have to.”
As I opened the door, his response followed into the arena.
“I know. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
My footsteps clacked loudly on the linoleum tiles of the ring. There were no mats. I shuddered at the thought of hitting the floor. One impact would bloody my nose. I was hyper-aware of how loud my breathing was. I couldn’t hear Xander at all.
I twisted around and saw Xander putting his long hair into a bun, perfectly poised atop his head. In the corner of my mind, I distantly noticed Jacques counting down.
At the chiming of the bell, I braced myself.
But nothing happened. I opened one eye from where I had squeezed them both tightly shut. Xander was just standing there, watching me. I gulped and backed up a few steps from the force of the stare. The boys jeered around us, taunting me. No one dared taunt Xander. As much as they liked him, they never forgot that they were also afraid of him.
I had seen Xander use this tactic before. He was waiting for me to make the first move. But I refused. The taunting didn’t affect me at all, it was only a given that I would lose to Xander. However, I would not attack first. The most important lesson my parents taught me was to never attack unprovoked. Fighting was only for defense. Not offense.
Xander tilted his head slightly, and a smile pulled at his lips.
He rushed forward, fist poised to strike.
I threw myself backwards, generating vines to form a protective cocoon in front of me. In one hit, Xander punched through them and continued his advance. In my haste backwards, I tripped over my feet and hit the ground, head bouncing off the tiles. I must’ve lost precious moments blacked out because when I opened my eyes, he was almost upon me. Vines reached for his legs to stop his advance, but they did not slow him down. The sheer force of his progress forward caused the vines to rip and splinter.
I scuttled backwards, knowing it would be over soon. I assumed that the hit would be enough to knock me out, and hoped there was no blood. I hated blood.
More vines slithered forward to wrap around his legs, but before they could get a hold of him, he stopped them with a powerful stomp. They shattered, wooden chips and greenery splattering across the linoleum.
My breath came in pants, and I knew I was out of energy. I quickly stood up, but it was too late. I had expended too much power, and yet was still not a match for his brute strength. Soon, he stood above me, blocking the sun. He filled my entire world, and with one finger he knocked me back onto the floor.
He pulled back his fist, and I braced myself, waiting for an explosion of pain.
I heard a sickening crack.
And turned my head to look at where he had punched the arena floor, shattering the tile he hit as well as the other tiles around it. The force of his hit was so strong, the tiles around us began to fracture and fragment, the cracks running like spider-webs throughout the arena.
I returned my wide eyes to Xander. My heartbeat was fast in my chest, fear and relief warring within me, and making me nauseous. What was truly frightening, however, was the look in Xander’s eyes.
His expression was gleeful, lips wide in a smile, his eyes hyper-focused and wild at the same time. They peered at me and looked deep into my soul. He leaned his head down and his breath ghosted across my face.
“We’re gonna be best friends Kamille… I can just feel it.”
I felt the tremors of the arena continuing its fragmentation around us. I could only nod.
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