Under That Large Tree
When I saw her sitting under that large tree in the playground all alone, I instantly knew something was wrong.
Samantha Natalia, who we call Sana, is one of the most popular – if not the most popular – girls in Neoschool. That pink Cybunny is always surrounded by her friends, myself included, of course. Not only is she pretty, but she’s also really nice to anyone and everyone. These days, you don’t run into a lot of those in the elite clique.
And she’s always smiling. I mean, I almost never see her sad; Sana is always the one cheering others up. I remember when I hit a major block on one of my stories... she treated me to a couple of mocha frappes at the Coffee Shop and listened to me ramble about how I couldn’t seem to get my characters right, how I had a lot of plot holes to fill, etc. She didn’t look bored at all while I was talking and even gave me suggestions on what to do to look for inspiration.
I just couldn’t help it. The moment I saw Sana wearing a frown and keeping away from the crowd, I simply had to let my siblings go home without me. I stayed behind and made my way toward the playground, which was almost empty except for a couple of Poogles on the seesaw and an Aisha in the sandbox. As I got closer, Sana looked up, saw me, and she smiled for a second before the corners of her mouth turned down again. It was so wrong and so out of character... and yet, there she was.
“Hi, Glitter,” she said, moving aside to make room for me. “I thought you were already gone.”
“I told them to tell Kat that I’ll be a little late,” I answered. “I can explain when I get home. Besides, it’s not that late yet.”
“Are you sure it’s all right for you to stay?”
I sighed and gave her what I hoped was a reassuring smile. Putting my arm around her shoulder, I said, “It’s fine. I just want to know what’s wrong.”
But after I said that, I thought back to what had happened before the final bell rang. The first thing that came to mind was our meeting at the Writing Club, of which Sana and I are members. Instead of talking about our usual projects and such, we elected next year’s council officers, and for some reason, they decided to make me secretary...
It was then that I remembered, and I figured out why Sana looked so down. For a moment, I wanted to kick myself for asking such a stupid question, the stupid faerie Acara that I am. Maybe she also thought I was so stupid, but then again, she’s probably too nice to think about her friends like that.
“Promise you won’t tell anyone, please,” Sana whispered. “I don’t want anyone to think I’m a narcissistic jerk. By the way, congratulations... I’m sure you’ll make a great secretary, Glitter.”
“Thanks.” I raised an eyebrow. “You’re the farthest anyone can get from a narcissistic jerk, Sana. And my lips are sealed. You know you can trust me, cross my heart. Was it... about the election awhile ago?”
She nodded vigorously, her Cybunny ears flopping. If the situation wasn’t so serious, I would have laughed and made a joke about them. And I knew I was right on target.
“If it makes you feel better... I voted for you,” I blurted out. “But to be honest, it’s really hard to choose between you and Justin. You two are really...”
“You know, I thought I would win. I actually did.”
“So what’s wrong with thinking positive? I don’t believe that will jinx anything, anyway. It’s not your fault...”
“Do you sometimes feel that you can do so much better than anyone else?” Sana asked softly. “I’ve been with the Writing Club ever since I entered Neoschool. I try to attend meetings as often as possible since I’m in some other clubs. It’s not that I’m saying it was a bad idea to vote for Justin; he’s a nice, smart guy, but... well, you know what I’m saying.”
It was my turn to nod. “It’s all right to feel that way.” Justin could be a bit scatterbrained, but I had to agree with Sana – he’s smart and would make a good leader. In fact, it was that bespectacled speckled Nimmo who helped me ace my last science exam.
But of course, Sana is smart and charismatic in her own way too.
“I feel so terrible for thinking that I should be president,” she said, her voice wavering on the last few syllables. I instinctively handed her my handkerchief, but when she took it, she merely stared at the embroidered pink Kadoaties as if she was talking to them, not me. “Justin is my friend. I should be happy for him. Actually, I am... but it’s so hard to be when I ran against him. And I thought I had a right to win because I’m currently the vice president.”
The sensible side of me wanted to point out that not all vice presidents moved up, but my sympathetic side stopped it; this was not the time.
“Does the club think I shouldn’t be president at all?” she wondered. “I hate to sound like a jerk, but what’s wrong with me? I think I would do well... that’s why I didn’t object when I was nominated!”
“It’s not that!” I said, and realized how loud I had said it when the Aisha and the Poogles looked back at us. At least it didn’t take long for them to go back to their own little worlds. “There’s nothing wrong with you, Sana. If the club didn’t want you to be president...”
“It’s not like anyone would complain. They could just not vote for me anyway.”
Sana really was feeling terrible, and I was running out of things to say to cheer her up. Plus, I was afraid that I would say the wrong thing and make things worse. I tried to think – what would my owner-slash-guardian and mentor say at a time like this? When she wasn’t losing herself in writing or playing NeoQuest, Kat could give useful tidbits of advice – before slipping away into her own little world. Unfortunately for me, it was hard stepping into her shoes.
“Well,” I began, thinking carefully, “you’re in more than just one club. You’ve got the Library Brigade, the Dance Club, Thespians’ Society... and even the honor roll, right?”
She actually managed a little chuckle. “You got them all.”
“Are you an officer for any of them?”
Sana smiled for longer than a second; I was making progress. Maybe cheering up others wasn’t as hard as I thought. “I’m going to be the next president of the Dance Club, and even though it’s not exactly a council position, I’m one of the senior members of the Thespians’ Society.”
“Wow,” I breathed. “That sounds like a lot of work. I’m perfectly fine with the Writing Club myself.”
“It is a lot,” she replied, scratching her head. “Sometimes it can get pretty tiring, but I enjoy being in my clubs... also the Writing Club,” Sana added, nodding to me as she traced a sleeping Kadoatie on my handkerchief.
“If you were elected president,” I began slowly, “you would have more work on your hands. Being president of two clubs... that’s really something. But wouldn’t it tire you out?”
She stroked her chin; I could tell she was thinking about it – long and hard. In fact, I nearly did a double take when she spoke again.
“I love all my clubs... I love being in them a lot. Sure, sometimes it can be exhausting, but in the end, everything is worth it. You know how I feel, don’t you, Glitter? It’s like when you take the time and the energy to write a really long story, and when you finish, it feels so good.”
I had to agree, but that wasn’t the point.
“Look,” I said, “that’s all true, but sometimes you just have to take some time for yourself. That’s why I didn’t join the Thespians’ Society when you asked me to – I wouldn’t be able to handle the extra work. We’re different, and besides, I’m not even an honor student.” I laughed shortly. “I should focus on my studies more. But even if you can handle extra stuff, you should really make time for yourself so you can relax. If you do too much, you could fall apart.”
I knew I had a definite example of that – Kat, always writing to the point of nearly missing meals or losing sleep. I was about to raise that point when Sana spoke again.
“But doing the things I love... isn’t that relaxing?”
“Well, yeah, but not if you always have to attend meetings, keep the other members from causing trouble, and basically make sure everything’s in order. That might sound fun, but it doesn’t when it burns you out. Sometimes the best way to relax is to have some quiet time... when you don’t have to worry about anything. Sana, I know you’re a really good leader, but maybe this is like a wake-up call telling you that you shouldn’t try to do everything, because you can’t.”
“I can try.”
“We can all try, but in the end, we need to rest, and sometimes we have to step back and let others help us. You get what I’m saying, Sana?” I squeezed her shoulder. “I don’t want you to suddenly faint in the middle of class because you overworked yourself, or come to class with ugly dark circles under your eyes. Even if you’re not president, or even on the council of any club, you can still do something. Members are just as important as leaders. You have to have both.”
With that, I took a deep breath. I wondered if I should consider joining the Debate Society.
“You do have a point,” said Sana, surprisingly conceding. “I guess I always want to do something, that’s all...”
“I’m sorry – was I going too far?” I asked, scratching my head. “If you...”
“Yes, you went far enough.” But she sounded more grateful than annoyed. “I’m glad you did.”
“Yes... I guess I forgot that I can still do something as a regular member. For one thing, I can support what the council does, and I can still suggest things for them to do if they can’t think of anything. I got caught up with becoming president, thinking that I’ll really be a big help... and I bet my ego also had something to do with it. I was jealous of those who won... like you.”
I giggled, and I was glad when she giggled with me. “Egos do that to us, Sana. And mine is a lot bigger than yours right now! Besides, being a leader isn’t everything. Don’t be jealous – you’re not the one who’ll be writing her hands off whenever there’s a meeting!”
“True,” she answered, and we laughed again. It felt like forever since we laughed like that, and it felt longer than forever since I last saw Sana smile. “Thanks so much for taking the time to cheer me up, Glitter. I feel so much better now. I never thought of any of that...”
“That’s because you’re too nice, and you always want to do something for others. Don’t you think of yourself for once?”
“Of course I do!”
“Then treat yourself to a night of nothing but rest and relaxation. We don’t have any homework for tomorrow – tonight is perfect. Trust me, Sana.” I saw that she hadn’t used the handkerchief I had lent her, and I amused myself by pondering how many Kadoaties she managed to trace during our conversation. Seemingly reading my mind, she handed it back to me.
“You’re nice too, Glitter. When you take your place as secretary of the Writing Club, promise me you won’t overwork yourself either.”
I smiled; her smiles were indeed contagious. “I promise. And I know you’ll remind me about that too.”
* * *
The next afternoon, I saw her sitting under that large tree in the playground. Only this time, she was not alone.
She was with the two Poogles I remember seeing on the seesaw yesterday. One of them looked angry and the other was sobbing into a handkerchief, and I instantly knew something was wrong.
And I also knew that whatever that something was, Sana would make it right.