*WARNING: this short story has some sensitive content that may trigger/upset some readers*
When June was 7 she decided to run away.
The month was June and she knew it was time, because June was her name and June was the month. On the first of June, she collected her most important items in a small polka dot, hand held suitcase. She stuffed in her favourite teddy bear even though she thought she was too old for it, she crammed in two of her books best to read before bed, she crumpled up her favourite t-shirt, squeezing it into a space next to her brush, pencils and paper. The polka dot suitcase had yellow spots on it, just like the yellow polka dotted dress she decided to wear when she ran away. The dress was for special occasions only but June never liked special occasions. Grace would pull dresses over her head the day of special occasions, tell her she needed to be clean, brush her hair. At special occasions people would tug at her cheeks, ask grace how they were doing, she was their toy. So June wore the dress Grace saved for the most special of occasions, leaving the house she shoved her trainers on, picked up her suitcase and left. But she didn’t leave alone.
When June was 5 she met Adam.
Adam was three years older than June and he knew how to look after himself. They were the best of friends and spent all their time together, only Adam didn’t let June touch him. He asked her once and June didn’t see why Adam would ask her something like that if it wasn’t for good reason so, June didn’t touch Adam.
June walked round her house from the back door to the street. Adam was waiting. He held a suitcase too, just like hers only bigger and she wondered for a moment how he managed to have the same suitcase, but it didn’t matter, they were leaving and she had never been more happy.
June didn’t know why she wanted to leave. But for as long as she could remember, she wanted to run away. She knew she had been adopted by Grace and Jonathan when she was young, three maybe? June hadn’t been told when. But she had only ever been told how lucky she was to be adopted by Grace and Jonathan. ‘Such a lovely couple, they really deserve a nice girl, so you keep behaving!’ All June ever heard from anyone was that she should consider herself lucky, what if she had ended up in a home? But she didn’t think she was lucky.
So June and Adam left. June didn’t know why Adam wanted to run away but he did, so that was all that mattered. Grace and Jonathan had never met Adam because he would sneak into their garden through a secret opening in the hedge. Adam was June’s only friend and they didn’t even know he existed.
The 1st of June was a sunny, hot day. A breeze swept from the north over the fields around the village where June lived and June was glad for it, a cool relief from the scorching sun. By midday June and Adam were far into the farmer’s fields that laid behind the houses at the very edge of the village. When they found a big tree that harboured some shade they decided to sit and gather some energy. Adam told June they could find berries to eat, he knew where to find them and they are really nice. Then Adam told June that a few more fields over they would come to the river. He told her how clear the water was, how refreshing and all she could think of was cooling her legs and feet in the cool river water. Maybe they could even swim in it if it was deep enough.
By 3pm on the afternoon of the 1st of June Adam and June had almost made it to the river. Adam told June that they were only 15 minutes away from finding the banks of the river when they found the bush that had more berries than June had ever seen.
‘Why hasn’t anyone else come and got these?’ June asked Adam. Adam told her that only really clever people can find these particular berries so they were really lucky. June was so so hungry. She hadn’t eaten since the night before and it had been very warm and they had done so much walking. Adam gave June a drink from his bottle of water but told her to save the berries for when they got to the river because it’d be nicer to eat them there.
At 3:30pm on the 1st of June, June and Adam reached the river. The river Ending. The sun was lower in the sky and it lit up the leaves of the trees that lined the water, glowing a green light.
Adam eat his berries first and then June eat hers, they were sweet at first but then very sour. June scrunched up her face through the bitter flavour sitting on her tongue. Adam didn’t seem to mind. Adam finished the berries so fast, like they were there and then gone, but no matter how many June eat there still seemed to be more left. When she finally did finish the berries June didn’t feel too good. The sun was still really warm and suddenly she felt warmer than she had all day. Adam got up and started paddling in the water, it was at this point that June first noticed that Adam wasn’t wearing shoes. Which was a little odd, June thought.
‘Are you okay, Adam?’ June asked Adam, but he just smiled and held out his hand to June. She smiled back and made her way down the bank to the water’s edge. On the hard soil she took off her trainers, then her socks and hitched her dress up, Grace’s favourite dress. Just as she thought that she thought of a set of boxes, no suitcases, all inside each other, all closed in and on each other, they were in a room she couldn’t remember seeing before and didn’t recognise. Adam shook his hand at June again and she walked forward, dropping her dress in the water.
The water was wonderfully cool and June immediately felt the relief on her brow where small beads of moisture had started to gather, just under her hairline. The bed of the river was muddy and slippery, but Adam was right, the water was so clear that she could see her feet. She looked down and into the water, marvelling at the little world that had formed just under the surface, there were small green plants covering the bottom where she was stood, but further in she could see long streaming leaves, like the hair of a mermaid flowing behind her. Further in still June saw small groups of fish moving this way and that, dodging vibrations as they were disturbed by her movements. June had never seen water so clean. She had never seen a river like this. Her eyes tracked back to where her own feet were planted and finally back up to the surface of the water. The shade given by the trees behind her but the brightness of the day turned the water into a mirror and she saw herself. Dull brown hair, dull eyes, dirty. Her for special occasions only dress was streaked with mud. June stared at her reflection for some minutes before looking over to where Adam was on the surface of the water. But he wasn’t there, she looked and looked but nowhere in the reflection could June see her friend, her best friend, her only friend Adam.
Adam smiled again taking June’s hand. They walked in, deeper, deeper still. June didn’t feel too warm anymore. June felt cold. The water was cold and she was getting colder and colder. Adam still smiled and June felt safe. Adam had always made her feel safe. Always. Always since she had been, since she had been a baby. June looked back at the reflection and there she was, but no Adam and yet he stood right by her, holding her hand under the water as they walked in.
The sun went in behind the few clouds that were gathering, a chill formed in the air and June’s bones grew more and more cold, til she couldn’t stand.