In the meadow everything was silent and untouched. Maria looked over the vast field and the woods beyond and everything was blanketed in a thick layer of velvety snow. The air was cold and crisp, and stung Maria's throat and chest while she panted slightly from the run to this beautiful place. But she didn't see it as beautiful. Maria thought that the snow's glare was too harsh and the bitter cold wind was cruel and merciless.
She missed the warm sun from back in Hawaii where she was from. This was her first winter here in Oregon and everything about it made her more and more homesick. Instead of breathing in a gentle breeze filled with the fragrant scent of flowers and a touch of pineapple and coconut, she was breathing in nothing but the strong smells of snow and pine needles. Back at home she would have been lying on a warm, soft beach, feeling all the grains of beautiful white sand underneath her. Now she was standing bundled up in prickly scarves and hats with the rattling, empty crunch of snow and frost underneath her.
Maria looked around at the meadow and said quietly to herself, "How I wish I was back home. Or at least with my friends." And then, as if to answer her, a bundle of jackets, scarves, and mittens fell out of the nearby tree, screaming.
Maria gasped and ran over just in time to see that there was a girl in the midst of all of them, looking more like she had just won the lottery than fallen out of a fifteen-foot tree.
"Whoa! Ha ha ha! That was sooo fun!" she shrieked joyfully.
"Are you OK?" Maria inquired anxiously. The girl merely looked at her in surprise as if seeing her for the first time. Her large blue eyes widened with delight.
"Oh, who are you? I'm Sophie! I can't believe you're here! Mama told me our neighbors would be arriving soon but I had no idea how soon! Hi!"
Sophie looked expectantly at Maria, her eyes fluttering excitedly as if she thought that Maria was about to proclaim that she was a fairy princess from Australia.
"Um, I'm Maria. I come from Hawaii. Nice to meet you."
"It's not nice, it's spectacular!" exclaimed Sophie, tossing back her curly blond hair with one gloved hand. "It's been so long since I've had a friend! Come with me! I'll show you around."
With that Sophie grabbed Maria's arm and led her around the meadow, pointing out different types of trees and winter animals as they went. They walked so far and long that by the time they were done there was hardly a patch of snow that was not covered in small boot tracks. After a while, Maria gasped, "I don't think I can take another step, let alone get home. Please let me stop and rest."
"Oh, very well. Hurry, though! I'm going to show you my favorite place in the world."
Maria sat down and felt her heart beating heavily inside of her. Thump, thump, thump. Her mind was racing too. Was she actually having fun? Did she really like it here? What about Hawaii? Home? But Sophie was so nice and funny. Would they be friends? And could she ever forget about the warm beaches and swaying palm fronds?
"Are you done yet? It's gonna get real cold if we just sit here doing nothing." And with that Sophie burst into a line of cartwheels, finally tumbling into the snow, her hat askew and her freckled face shining with joy and pink from the cold. Maria stood, laughing so hard her cheeks hurt. Sophie stood up too and after a full minute of nonstop laughter she wheezed, "I guess . . . ha ha ha . . . we should carry on. Come on! I'll show you my special place but I'm warning you, it's a secret and I mean to keep it that way Just over this way!"
Maria followed and watched as Sophie burrowed through the bushes, disappearing into the other side. And then, rather hesitantly, Maria did the same and was immediately in awe of the sight in front of her.
They were in a medium-sized enclosed area and Maria's first impression was that she had somehow journeyed into one of those beautiful sceneries in the movies her older sister, Kami, watched. Taking up most of the space were three cherry-blossom trees, forming a perfectly straight line of strong sturdy trunks and outstretched branches. The branches were almost completely bare but every once in a while Maria could catch a glimpse of a little pink blossom budding and spreading out its delicate petals. In it, it carried the beauty of being so small, serene and tranquil, and outside of it the color was dainty and pastel.
"Whoa . . ."
"Nice isn't it?"
"It's not nice, it's spectacular!" giggled Maria. She never saw sights like this in Hawaii.
"Well, that's not all! You won't believe what else there is, right behind the trees, hidden by all those flowers and branches."
Maria walked carefully around the trees, not wanting to disturb something so pure and beautiful. And true enough; hidden behind the rest, there was a small pond of crystal ice, the sun's weak light bouncing off of it and the cherry-blossom trees casting spiral shadows over it. Maria looked deeply into it and saw that while the outer layer was ice, beneath that there were a few inches of tinkling water. And almost completely hidden by the ice, there was a faint reflection of two girls looking back up at them.
One was blond, fair-skinned, and had huge blue eyes. The other had dark brown eyes surrounded by long eyelashes, a cinnamon- colored complexion, and long black hair. In that reflection Maria saw her days with Sophie ahead of her, and their blooming friendship just like one of the cherry blossoms. She saw spring coming soon and then summer together in the meadow. Fall would blanket the ground in leaves and then another winter would come again. But his time Maria would be ready for it.
"It's beautiful," she murmured softly.
"I know. Does this make you miss your home at all?" asked Sophie gently.
"A little bit," replied Maria truthfully, "but now this is my home here in Oregon. This is my home here with you."