Fifteen-year-old Molly leapt across the open field, too much in a hurry to bother dodging the anthills or the orange poppies. She carried a wooden treasure box, a silent thing which had only recently belonged to her. From high up in the sky, the sun peeked halfway out of a cloud.
Molly knocked on Nathan’s looming door.
Moaning its way open, the door revealed the tall, dark Nathan, her secret friend. Pa would never let her meet with him if he knew. He did not understand friendship between a boy and a girl, always believing it could only mean romance, which to him brought the most hurt in a person’s life. Though Molly did not believe romance would ever arise out of this friendship, she always noticed how Nathan looked at her in his careful manner, and wondered if it would happen, and if it did, if it would bring any pain at all.
Molly held up the treasure box. “He couldn’t take it any longer.”
She tried to ease him with a smile. “I’ll show you.”
Then she pushed passed him through the doorway and settled down on the couch in his living room. Matter-of-factly, she pushed off the stacks of books, the t-shirt and hat, and the plastic McDonalds’ drink from the coffee table onto the floor to give some space for her box. She could not blame a lonely eighteen-year-old bachelor for such a mess. Instead, she patted the space on the couch beside her, making sure not to mention it.
“Come and see!”
He came over and sat down beside her.
“I haven’t looked yet myself. But I think they will give me… the answers.”
Nathan stared at her intently, those dark eyes troubled or perhaps lost. Molly did not understand him sometimes, but neither could she ever understand Pa.
“No,” the young man pronounced, rising to his feet. “I don’t want to be a part of something where I don’t belong. Like you always say, your father wouldn’t like me very much.”
“I’ve told you so much about myself already, and you have told me things as well. Why shouldn’t you see?”
“This is between you and your father.”
Molly frowned. “Nothing is between my father and me. He won’t talk to me, so how are we supposed to understand each other?” She stood up and touched his arm. “You’re the only one I’ve got, Nathan. And I can’t do this alone .”
Nathan studied her hand touching him, and then he lifted his gaze to her face for a long, quiet moment. Molly quivered with a confused sense of delight.
At last, he plunked down on the couch, eager to end the awkwardness. “All right, let’s see what’s in this thing.”
Together they struggled to open the lid. For a moment Molly feared it needed a key, but after Nathan pried at it with a knife, it swung open.
Molly did not realize what she had expected until she saw the neatly folded piece of paper. In her imagination she had envisioned a photo of her mother or her mother’s jewelry or some other item her mother had prized, just to prove she had a mother. But paper meant importance, that something far more terrible must have happened rather than her mother passing away.
Carefully, Molly read the letter over, and then set it down, not knowing whether to smile in relief or to sigh in disappointment. The good news: her mother was alive and well in a little town in California. The bad news: Molly likely would never get to meet her.
Just then a knock came at the door. Nathan rushed to open it, and, behold, Molly’s father appeared, hovering over the tall young man.
“Who are you?” he asked Nathan gruffly. Then he looked passed Nathan, at Molly on the couch, noticing the treasure box in her lap.
Sheepishly, Nathan bowed and then ushered the man inside to sit down on the couch. “I’m Nathan. Your daughter’s a good… friend of mine.”
Molly’s father glared first at Nathan and then at herself, without taking a seat. “Why don’t you tell me things?” he demanded.
Tears streaming from her cheeks, Molly lifted the paper from the treasure box and handed it to him. “I wonder the same about you—you rarely speak to me. Well, I don’t mind that part, I guess, but I just… I just wish you would smile.”
Hesitantly, Nathan edged away into the kitchen, to avoid intruding on matters that did not belong to him.
Pa lifted the letter closer to his eyes, perhaps to avoid replying to his daughter’s heartfelt plea. He read the letter through, intently, and then he read it again, sinking down on the couch to examine it more closely. “I haven’t looked at this in so long,” he whispered. “Your mother… she wouldn’t like what I’ve done.”
Molly stared at him. “What-what is it…”
He turned towards her, revealing the pained look on his face. “I’m going to take you horseback riding today, Molly.”
“Truly?” she whispered.
She delighted to see the creases in his eyes as his lips curved into a definite smile. “Go on now, Molly. Let’s go home and get ourselves lunch before we go down to the stables.”
Molly stared at him, wonder filling the hole in her heart. She had always wanted to go horseback riding, to ride a gallant beast across a field of flowers like a fairy princess. But for some reason Pa had always refused to let her, until now.
Hardly able to contain her excitement, she snatched the treasure box and darted out the door, eager to return home as soon as possible.
Before he followed after her, Pa turned to Nathan again. He did not speak a word to the young man, but the light from the open door revealed Nathan’s face in the shadows of the room: calm, but deeply sorrowful. Pa smiled at the bachelor, reassuring him that one day he and the optimistic young lady would meet again.