At the first whisper of the unicorn’s warm breath in my ear, my worries begin to fade. I lean back against a burnt tree stump and close my eyes. I can feel the dewy grass of the clearing tickling my ankles above my sneakers. The heavy summer wind falls like a mantle on my shoulders. A bitter-tasting lump has formed in my throat, but I let myself sink into the warmth.
Words fl it through my mind. Descriptions. Serene. Sun-drenched. Dappled wood. Magical. Paradise. They comfort me, as they always do. I steady my mind, focusing on them, on their shapes and colors and structures, the myriad ways they fi t together. Solace. Consolation. Assuagement. Relief. The unicorn nickers softly. I reach up and rub its muzzle. I let my heart brim with the feeling of luckiness, that I have such a friend to love, such a place to stay. The only place that stays the same. No matter what.
I hear a girl’s voice behind me. I turn around. She has two short pigtails and a pink, sooty face. She is grinning. I grin back. The unicorn grunts. I mouth her name, the silent word bursting with joy. For a moment, I pause awkwardly. But she doesn’t care about my height, or the fact that I have never, will never, be able to speak to anyone but her. She squeezes my hand and leads me away, the unicorn clopping behind us.
When I am with her, the lump in my throat begins to disappear. So that 20 minutes later, I am able to whisper two words. Thank you. And she smiles and nods and squeezes my hand. Friendship. It’s a beautiful word, the color of winter sunsets and summer tangerines. My mind lingers on the image, and the time passes by. Words fl oat out of my mouth now, light and sweet like spun sugar. At the same time, they form in my mind, as always, unspoken. Gratitude. Serendipity. Liberation.
And then all of it is shattered. The sound of a bell ringing echoes against my eardrums, loud and insistent. I can feel the worn, tattered cover of a book in my hand. The golden-lit clearing is gone. The ground underneath me is cold.
Students fill the hallways and cluster around lockers. I should be one of them. The lunch break is over. It is time to enter the world again, to be subject to a classroom of pitying stares . . . to try and find the courage I left behind in the unicorn’s world.
I rise and wrap the book in my coat. It is close to falling apart. I cannot count the times I have slipped it into my backpack, always comforted by the image on the cover: a sooty-faced, pigtailed girl leading a unicorn into the forest.