Tarapha par-Raethan sat on the edge of the roof of her father’s hut tossing acorns onto the heads of the other children as they walked past.
“Her name means ‘old tree,’” one of them sneered.
“Her parents must have hated her,” said another.
“Your acorns don’t hurt!” a boy called up to her. He grabbed one out of the air and tossed it back at her.
Tarapha jerked her head to the side and the acorn flew by.
The children laughed and walked on. Tarapha sat on the roof by herself, a pile of acorns in her lap.
When silence had fallen over the lane, Tarapha stood up and let the acorns fall. They drizzled out onto the straw roof and pattered down the slope. She listened as they plodded into the soft soil below.
She looked up at another young girl who was skipping down the lane toward her father’s house. Summer was lagging behind the rest of them, just like usual.
“Were you throwing acorns again?”
Tarapha did not move or speak. Her eyes followed the girl as she neared the hut. The acorns were visible on the ground and Summer noticed.
“Let’s go for an adventure,” Summer said.
Tarapha leapt from the hut’s roof and landed in the soil. A smile had replaced her blank expression.
“You have more acorns in your pockets?”
“Just don’t throw them at anyone, ‘k?”
Tarapha began walking down the lane. Summer hurried to her side.
“Today in school, you-know-who spoke to me.”
Tarapha rolled her eyes.
“Don’t give me that. You know that I like him.”
Tarapha couldn’t help but notice how dark the trees were turning. Under the red autumn sky, the leaves had turned a deep shade of purple. They were the best color for leaves to be.
“Are you even listening to me at all?” Summer demanded.
Tarapha stopped walking and looked up at a particularly large tree and grinned. The meadow here, which was only just outside of the village, seemed eternal. The tree was grand and reached higher into the sky than Tarapha ever dreamed of going. In that moment, she did not hate her name.
“What are you seeing up there?” Summer asked. She stood right by Tarapha’s side and gazed up into the tree, but she did not see the same things.
A breeze rushed by and disturbed the tree. Several of the heavy purple leaves, set free from their anchor, glided down to the lane.
“Let’s keep going,” Summer urged. “The sun will set before we reach the heart of the meadow.”
A tiny squirrel poked its head out of a hole in the side of the tree and scratched its face with a mad flurry. Tarapha knelt down, pulling a handful of acorns from her pocket. She tossed a few to the base of the tree. The squirrel jerked its head down and blinked at the acorns. A second later, he was scurrying down the tree trunk. He scooped an acorn into his hands.
“I suppose you can throw them, so long as you’re being nice,” Summer said.
The squirrel seemed to investigate the nuts and, when he had touched every one of them, he ran toward Tarapha and leapt into her open palm where her entire stock waited.
She smiled and stood up, holding the squirrel still as he nibbled on the base of one of the nuts. “His name is Kriin,” Tarapha said.
“You like squirrels and trees and acorns. Why don’t you like other people?”
“I like you.”
Summer rocked back on her heels. “That doesn’t count.”
Tarapha looked out into the red meadow.
When the squirrel had eaten his fill, he jumped from her palm and disappeared back into his tree. The purple leaves rustled in the cool wind. When Tarapha decided to return home, she wandered down the lane alone.