| Treeo |

Tale of Treeo: Chapter 8

“We made enough money to buy a bike. A good bike, even. Shlomo’s going to love it”


Eli: That map doesn’t make sense, but I did find a tool from the clubhouse in the woods. And the brook!
Nellie: Ha, you should tell them about how you fell into the brook with Kivi!
Squizzle: Brook, Kivi, clubhouse… no one gives me any credit. I was the one to find that tool, not Eli!


Eli is wrong, by the way, which might be a first. There’s no rain on Sunday, though there are warnings that the edge of the hurricane might hit their neighborhood on Monday. And Nellie has her camp on Sunday morning, like she’d wanted to, while Eli is at school and can’t see every little thing that she hasn’t planned ahead.

It feels wrong, somehow, wanting to do something without Eli. Sure, they go to different schools and have different friends and interests. But at home, they’ve always been a team. Nellie can’t stop thinking about all the ways that Eli could have been there at her backyard camp. There’s one little boy who keeps crying, and Nellie just knows that Eli would have been great with him. The kids ruin two of the arts-and-crafts sets and leave them short one, and Nellie can imagine exactly how Eli would have convinced two of the kids to share. They’d have liked his bike tricks, too.

But Eli isn’t there, and Nellie is right about how much money she’ll make with it. The envelope of bike money is thick now, full of nearly enough for the bike — no, more than enough, she realizes a moment later, because Eli must have raked another two backyards and added the money to it without telling her.

They can finally buy Shlomo a bike.

Yes! Nellie does a little spin, then jumps into the air and lands in a perfect split. “We did it!” But there is no one in the room to laugh at her antics, no Eli to cheer with her. Nellie gets up again and trudges outside.

Eli is still in school for another hour, and Nellie wanders the backyard as she waits for him, her hands tucked into the pockets of her sweatshirt. Inside the pockets, she can feel some of her recent finds: that vine-like material from the leaf pile and the weird map from the nest. She takes out the map, squinting at it as though it might suddenly start to make sense.

The markings are easy enough to read. There are paths winding across the map, and the river that’s drawn into it must be the brook that they’d found near Treeo. But there’s no rhyme or reason to it, no spot that Nellie recognizes, or even a starting point. The tree isn’t on it at all. It might be a map of the woods, but it’s useless.

She sticks it back into her pocket. Eli might have some ideas about it. Maybe once the bike is bought and delivered and they aren’t so busy with their schemes to make money, they’ll be able to go back to how things were. If nothing else, they have a shared mission: to find Treeo again. It’s their place, and they’ll find it together.

That thought cheers her up enough that she feels bright and optimistic by the time Eli comes home. Even Eli can’t look too grumpy when he sees her grin. “We did it!” Nellie announces. She decides not to rub it in his face that she was right about the camp. Maybe they won’t fight today at all. “We made enough money to buy a bike. A good bike, even. Shlomo’s going to love it.”

Eli’s eyes light up. “We should go to the shopping center today to pick it out. I’ll go ask Zaidy Zee.”

Finally, things are looking better. Nellie heads upstairs to find a hair tie. Her favorite one is usually on her dresser, but it’s nowhere to be found right now. Wait. Hadn’t Miri borrowed it this morning before the camp? Does she still have it?

She darts out to the hallway to grab a phone and dials Miri’s number. “I have your hair tie!” Miri says when she picks up. “I didn’t realize until I got home. Do you want me to bring it to school tomorrow?”

Nellie can hear Eli calling her name, loud and excited again. “Nellie! Zaidy Zee said yes!”

She turns back to the phone. “I have a better idea. I’m going out now, anyway. We’ll stop at your house on the way — we’re going to the shopping center.”

Miri perks up. “Oh, did you finally make enough money for the bike?”

“Yeah! And a little extra, too. I bet we could get something cool with it. Maybe a bell. Little kids like bikes with bells, right?”

“My little sister likes her bike with streamers coming from the handles,” Miri says. “I don’t know what little boys like. You should bring Kivi with you.”

Eli is still calling Nellie’s name as he runs upstairs. Nellie shakes her head vigorously. “Oh, definitely not. Last time we brought Kivi to the shopping center, he disappeared for half an hour and Mommy found him hiding in a rack of winter coats.” Miri laughs and Nellie says, “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

Eli skids to a halt at the top of the stairs. Nellie hangs up the phone and turns to face him.

“You’ll be where?” Eli says. His brow is furrowed, and he doesn’t look nearly as enthusiastic as he had before.

Nellie shrugs. “It’s not a big deal. I just have to pick something up from Miri on the way to the shopping center.”

Eli makes a face. “You mean, you’re going to stop at your friend’s house and talk to her for an hour while we wait in the car. No, you’re not.”

“Yes, I am,” Nellie shoots back. “I’m not going to do that. I want to get this bike, too.” She throws up her hands. “Why are you being so ridiculous lately?”

“I’m being ridiculous?” Eli demands. “I’m just trying to do what we agreed we’d be doing! Again! And you’re doing whatever you want. Again.”

“It’s not about what I want! It’s just a hair tie! It’s not a big deal!” Nellie twists around, frustrated. “Why does it feel like every conversation we have becomes a fight?” She’s so sick of it, and she doesn’t understand why Eli is being this way. Eli used to tell her things. But now, there’s this big canyon between them, and crossing it feels like Nellie might just fall into an abyss.

“You’re the one who keeps trying to change things,” Eli retorts. He scowls at her. “Fine. You know what? You want to go to your friend’s house? Go ahead. But I’m not coming along.” He heaves his shoulders in a shrug. “You’ll pick out whatever bike you want, anyway. What’s the point of coming along?”

“Fine,” Nellie says, mimicking his tone. “I’ll go myself. I don’t want to go with you, anyway.” She storms down the stairs to where Zaidy Zee is getting his coat and grabs the envelope of money. “I’ll bring my friends,” she says, glaring up at Eli. “At least they listen to me.”

She stalks outside and sits down in the car, staring at the back of the driver’s seat. Zaidy Zee clears his throat. “You and Eli are having a rough time,” he observes.

“I’m doing just fine.” Nellie tightens her hand around the envelope. “It’s Eli who’s having a rough time. He always needs things done his way.And whenever I try to do things my way, he just gets mad at me. I’m sick of it.”

“Ah.” Zaidy Zee steers the car down the block. “Have you talked to him about this?”

Nellie kicks at the bottom of the seat. “I’ve yelled it at him,” she says, feeling a little sheepish when she says it aloud. “That counts, right?” But it’s not like he’ll listen if she says it any other way. “Look,” she says. “Eli’s just… like that. And he’s not going to change. And I guess I used to just do what he wanted because it was easier, but we’re getting older, and I don’t want to follow him around for the rest of my life.”

She tries to imagine growing up and seeing Eli as just another sibling, no different than Kivi or Rikki. It’s a frightening thought, drifting apart from her twin brother, being their own people instead of a unit. Nellie has had a ready-made best friend for her entire life. Not having him anymore just sounds kind of… lonely.

She firms her chin and tries to sound confident. “Anyway, it’s about time that we stopped doing everything together. We’re not little kids anymore.”

Zaidy Zee glances at her in the rearview mirror. “I see,” he says, and Nellie bobs her head up and down.

“Yep,” she says. And if she says it enough, maybe she’ll believe it.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 987)

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