| Jr. Serial |

Tale of Treeo: Chapter 9  

She’s happier today. Probably cuz she spent the day with her friends, he thinks

Eli: Between my raking and Nellie’s camp, we finally made enough money to buy Shlomo a bike!
Nellie: But right when we were about to go to the store, Eli and I got into a fight, and he decided he wasn’t going to go.
Squizzle: The twins need to stop squabbling and pay some attention to the treehouse! We’re on a mission, people!


Nellie picks out a great bike, though Eli doesn’t tell her that. He just nods when she comes in, her face like storm clouds, and says, “It’s on the porch.”

It’s a sleek-looking, electric blue bike, with a little bell on the handlebar and electric yellow lightning bolts on the side. Kivi circles it, his eyes wide. Eli can’t wait to show it to Shlomo.

Shlomo won’t know that it’s a new bike, that this is tzedakah from his new friends. He’ll just think that Eli had a really cool bike when he was younger. It’s the best kind of tzedakah, and it makes Eli warm to think about it, like they’ve done something really important.

It isn’t raining yet after school on Monday, though the wind is already whipping through the trees. Mommy and Tatty have gone to a wedding, and Zaidy Zee watches their car leave, his forehead creased with worry. “I hope it’s not too difficult to get home in the rain,” he says. “The hurricane is supposed to hit after dark tonight.”

“That’s plenty of time for us to bring the bike to Shlomo,” Nellie says. Eli looks at the cheerful grin on her face. She’s happier today. Probably cuz she spent the day with her friends, he thinks.

Nellie has always had good friends. Eli has friends, too, boys in school he plays baseball and cards with. It’s not that he has a problem with Nellie hanging out with her friends. It’s just that she’s always with them. Raking leaves? No, we want to make a bake sale. Searching for Treeo? Nah, we’re going to have a backyard camp.

Nellie hasn’t even mentioned the treehouse in days. Even now, as they walk through the woods with Zaidy Zee’s warning to be back before dark, she only watches where the bike goes, lifting it over roots and tilting it so it doesn’t get too dirty on the floor. She doesn’t talk about Treeo or their search, and Eli’s sure that she won’t talk about it after they finally deliver the bike, either.

“It’s a shame it’s supposed to rain later,” Nellie says, frowning. “I bet Shlomo would want to ride with us after we give him the bike. And it’s going to be all muddy in the woods for the next day or two if we really get the edge of the hurricane.” The bike rolls through something thick and mossy on the ground, and Nellie yelps. “No! It’s getting dirty!”

“That’s a good thing,” Eli points out. “This is supposed to be my old bike, remember? It can’t be all fresh and clean.”

“Oh, right.” Nellie considers the bike again. Without missing a beat, she gathers a clump of dirt from the ground and throws it at the bike. “Come on,” she says, and Eli laughs and presses a few leaves against the seat.

They drop the bike on its side and then push it into a bush, leaving a few little scratches on the blue paint. Nellie leans one of the pedals into a little puddle, grinning happily, and Eli rings the bell a dozen times just so it might get a little squeaky. They play around with the bike until they reach the other side of the woods.

“It still looks pretty new,” Eli observes.

“Yeah, but not brand new.” Nellie spreads her hands. “For all Shlomo knows, you didn’t learn how to ride a two-wheeler until you were older, and you barely used this bike by the time you grew out of it. It’s perfect.” She wheels the bike down the path, leaving it at the edge of the woods, and sets off for the old, broken down house where Shlomo lives.

He’s in the backyard, and his face brightens when he sees them. “Hi Eli and Nellie! I thought that you’d come back way earlier!”

Eli exchanges a look with Nellie. “We wanted to,” he says.

“We wanted to get the bike first,” Nellie adds, then her eyes widen as she realizes what she’s said.

“From the back of the garage,” Eli says quickly. “That’s where we keep all of the old bikes.”

“Oh.” Shlomo looks confused. “It took you a week and a half to get to the back of your garage?”

“It’s a really big garage,” Nellie informs him.

Shlomo blinks and opens his mouth like he might ask more questions. Then he spots the bike from where it leans against a tree, and his eyes light up. “Wow! That bike is awesome!”

“Right?” Nellie looks proud. Eli nudges her.

Shlomo beams. “Can I really borrow it?” he asks, bouncing on his feet. “Are you sure? It looks like it’s almost brand new!”

“Oh, no,” Nellie says, hurrying over to the bike. “See the mud on the wheel?”

“And the scratches on the paint,” Eli adds.

Nellie pulls the bell. “This sounds kind of squeaky.” Shlomo blinks, nodding uncertainly.

“It’s really just an old bike,” Eli assures Shlomo. “Super old. Our little brother got another one because this one is so… old. You can keep it.”

Shlomo’s eyes widen. “Really? Are you sure?”

“Positive.” Nellie wheels the bike forward to him. “Go ahead. Try it out.”

Shlomo climbs onto the bike and rides across his patio in a few tentative movements. Within a minute, he’s riding in circles across the backyard, cheering and whooping as the bike carries him forward.

Watching him, Eli feels so proud and happy that it seems like his heart might burst.

The walk home feels lighter, as though Shlomo’s joy has settled over Eli and Nellie. “I hope he gets in a good ride before the storm comes,” Nellie says, jumping over a root in the path.

“I hope he remembers to bring the bike inside somewhere so it doesn’t get rusty,” Eli says, shivering. The wind whips through the woods, sharp and unforgiving, and Eli can feel it all the way to his bones. “Do you think the shed in his backyard will be good?”

“I think so.” Nellie darts forward, then waits for Eli to catch up. It feels good, like everything is back to normal.

“Hey, look at this!” Nellie points to the ground at a piece of metal bent into a circle, with a reflective piece of plastic in the middle. She picks it up and cradles it in her palm. “I think I saw one of these at the treehouse.” She passes it to Eli.

Eli peers at it. It’s shaped almost like a magnifying glass, though it curves outward at the center of the lens. “Cool.” He fiddles with the map in his pocket, new hope surging within him. “Maybe we’re close to it.”

“Maybe!” Nellie grins. “We should come back here tomorrow and hunt around.”

Disappointment stings at Eli. “Tomorrow?” he repeats. Nellie is always pushing off the search for the treehouse. “Why not now?”

“Well, there’s a storm coming,” Nellie points out. “I thought you were supposed to be the clever one.” She says it like it’s a joke, but there’s an edge to her voice.

“I am,” he says, his tone sharp. “Remember? Your idea to raise the money for the bike might have been more fun, but my idea raised more money in the end. I was right.”

“That’s not fair.” Nellie tosses her hair, her face stormy again. “I raised money, too. And you couldn’t even bother to come with us to pick out a bike.”

“Like you wanted me there!” Eli can feel the frustration rising, the same hopeless feeling that comes whenever he and Nellie fight. “You would’ve ignored me, just like you have every single time we talk about the bike!”

“That’s because you’re so bossy!” Nellie snaps. “You don’t listen to anyone but yourself! And not only that—” Nellie puts her arms on her hips and glares at Eli, revving up for the final blow. “Your ideas are boring!” she says, and it strikes Eli like she’d punched him.

Eli knows he’s quieter than Nellie. He isn’t super popular or a big organizer of events. But he’s smart, and he’s always thought that he was the one who had the good ideas. He’d never thought Nellie found him boring.

“If you say so,” he says, furiously. “Then why don’t you go ahead by yourself. I don’t want you to have to spend time with someone so boring.”

Nellie lifts her chin, eyes flashing. “Fine, I will” she says, and marches past Eli down the path toward home.

Eli can’t stand the idea of following her, like a wimp. He turns to the right and breaks into a run, racing through the underbrush without looking back.


(Originally featured in Treeo, Issue 988)

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