The swing set in the clearing had rusted with time, ivy climbing up the poles and growing over the seats. The trees made a large ring around the area, their leaves bright red and yellow in the early fall weather and just beginning to shed. Dew had settled on the dandelions and grass, and they glistened in the early morning sun. A crisp breeze flew over Nyx’s wings as she stood in the middle of the clearing. She shivered, bringing her arms around herself.
This wasn’t the first time Nyx had visited this clearing. She and Dianthe had decided to make the swing set a monthly meeting spot when Dianthe had left the forest to live in a nearby town. It had been a few years since Nyx had stopped by here, though. Dianthe hadn't shown up the last three times they were supposed to meet, and after a while, Nyx had stopped coming too. Each day she had waited here without Dianthe had brought on a new type of loneliness.
Nyx could still remember the first time she had met her best friend. She had been at the village square with her parents, picking flowers growing in a tree’s shadow to pass the time.
"Excuse me, is this your brother?"
Nyx had looked over to find a girl with dark skin and black coils sitting on the top of her head holding her little brother Dain's hand. His white hair, honey-colored skin and blue iridescent wings matched Nyx's own.
"Aren't you supposed to be with Mom and Dad?" Nyx asked him annoyed. Dain smiled mischievously, then ran away towards the direction Nyx last remembered her parents being.
“What’s that?” the girl asked, pointing to the green-petaled and white-stemmed daisy in Nyx's hand.
Nyx had shrugged. “My mom told me, but I forgot the name,” she said. She handed the flower to the girl, who was standing outside of the shadow of the tree. Once the sunlight hit the flower, it shriveled up and turned to dust in the girl’s hands.
The girls stared at each other open-mouthed, then, without a word, rushed to pick more of the flowers and put them out in the sun. They watched in awe as each one browned and curled in on itself in a matter of seconds.
Nyx looked over to the girl, about to say something else before she frowned. “Where are your wings?” Nyx asked.
The girl shrugged. “Let’s play a game,” she said. She smiled and Nyx could see her chipped front tooth. “I’m Dianthe. What’s your name?”
Dianthe and Nyx had played together all day, and for many more days after that. They made imaginary games where they were the characters in elaborate stories. They scoured for the wildflowers and herbs in their village, ones with striped blue leaves and others that shed pink pollen. These became the many antidotes and tonics to the “injuries” they’d gain on their journeys. When they discovered the clearing with the swing set, they pretended that they were on a large ship and each swing rowed them to places beyond the stars.
One day, as the two played a game with a ball of twine, Dianthe accidentally kicked it high in the branches of a nearby tree. She groaned.
"Go get it, then!" Dianthe said, pointing up at the tree.
Nyx threw up her arms. "Why don't you do it? You're the one who threw it up."
"I can't climb all the way up there!"
"Why not? Didn't your parents build their house up in the trees like everyone else? How do you get home every night if you can't climb?"
Dianthe's face reddened. She stomped away and sat under a tree without another word, turning her back to Nyx.
Nyx felt bad as soon as Dianthe walked away. She flew up to retrieve the ball from the tree. As she came back down, she saw Dianthe watching her. She wasn't sure if Dianthe had tears in her eyes or if it was just a trick of the light. She landed in front of Dianthe.
"I'm sorry," Nyx said, holding out the ball. She wasn't sure what she was apologizing for, but she didn't want to see Dianthe unhappy. "Are you okay?"
Dianthe looked down, pulling up blades of grass and twisting them in her fingers. "You don't have to keep reminding me I don't have wings," she said quietly.
Nyx felt guilt bloom in her chest. "I didn't mean to," she said. "I won't do it again." She meant every word. After a while, Dianthe nodded.
The two tried to keep playing for the rest of the day, but each game was punctuated by a heavy silence. Still, neither left because they did not want to spend the day without the other. When it got dark, Nyx and Dianthe lay in the grass and traced constellations in the dark sky. Dianthe spoke for the first time, talking about the humans that lived in the nearby town.
“I’m gonna live there someday,” Dianthe said. “I’m gonna tell stories and travel the world and be famous.” Nyx had laughed and played along, relieved that Dianthe had seemed to let go of her anger, and the two talked about all the adventures they would have with the humans.
As the years passed, the two had continued coming back to the swing set. The games they played as children were replaced by hours sitting on the grass, talking as if they had all the time in the world. Nyx shared everything with Dianthe, all of her secrets and fears. Dianthe soothed her and responded in a way that made Nyx feel understood. She had never connected so much with someone. Dianthe continued to tell stories, weaving their surroundings into elaborate plots. It gave Nyx a new appreciation for the things around her. Any object she would have at first looked over, a rock, a branch, a bird's nest, could become something new and fantastical.
Then one day, Nyx learned that Dianthe was serious about leaving.
Some part of Nyx had always known Dianthe would leave. She had always said she felt out of place in the forest. The other fairies seemed to think so too. They found Dianthe's stories strange, and sometimes it seemed they took every opportunity to bring up her lack of wings.
"It's just so boring here," Dianthe had said, with forced nonchalance. The two were sitting on the swing set when Dianthe had brought up the topic. "Don't you ever get sick of the forest?"
Nyx shook her head. She enjoyed watching the forest wake up in the early hours of dawn, flying above the trees and watching the birds flit around while making their morning calls. Still, Nyx understood what Dianthe was trying to say. The forest was too small for her and the fairies had never tried to make this a place she could call home.
"You're really gonna live with the humans?" Nyx asked.
Dianthe nodded slowly, fidgeting with the bottom of her dress. "The biggest problem with going into town has always been that the people will know we're not human. Some of the elders remember when humans knew we existed, and they always say it never ended well for us." Dianthe pushed out her legs and soared a few feet on her swing. "But I think humans are more open-minded now. And besides, I think I look enough like them that they wouldn't question it."
Nyx stayed silent, slowly swinging on her own seat.
Nyx and Dianthe had cried the morning she was to leave. Nyx didn’t beg Dianthe to stay, because she didn’t want to make it harder for her. They promised to talk as much as possible, to keep each other in their lives.
For a while, they did. The more that time passed, however, the more they grew apart from each other. The last time they had met, Nyx couldn’t keep up with all the new people Dianthe had met, and the new words she was using.
"They build their houses on the ground too! They cut wood and brick and make them into rectangles." In their village, the fairies would coax the branches and trees to bend into shapes and livable spaces.
"And I went to go get some ice cream with Jasmine. She's one of my new friends. She likes biology a lot."
"Cool," Nyx said, trying to muster up some enthusiasm. Then she perked up, remembering something she had wanted to tell Dianthe. "Remember those plants that shrivel up in the sun? There's a new batch growing up on the other side of town. I wonder how they got there..." she stopped, waiting for Dianthe to pick up the thread of the conversation, maybe spin it into a story.
Dianthe didn't seem as interested as she had thought. “That all sounds nice,” she said with a tight smile. They sat in silence for another five minutes before Dianthe left. The next month, she didn’t come back. Nyx had cried.
Seasons passed, and Nyx’s pain and loneliness began to settle. She spent more time with her other friends and thought about her place in the village. She decided to become an herbalist, cataloging all the herbs and flowers in the forest and learning about their healing properties. It was a passion she found she loved.
Nyx became part of other things that filled her life too and she was content. But every once in a while, when it was late at night, she would look up at the stars and remember Dianthe and some of the pain would resurface anew, mixed in with some emotion that was like a mix of regret and nostalgia.
It was one of these nights that Nyx was looking out the window. She was supposed to be transcribing her notes into a book, when Dain stumbled into her room, eyes bright with excitement.
“I went to go see the human town!” her brother exclaimed, throwing himself into a chair. His shock-white hair stuck out in all directions as if he had just flown a long distance.
Nyx turned to him abruptly. “You snuck out? Why?”
“To see what it was like! It's not that crazy. I have some curiosity about how the humans live. Out here it's always just the same old, same old."
"The forest isn't boring," Nyx said.
"Whatever you say."
"How did you go without anyone's permission?" Nyx asked, leaning on her knees. She knew that the village was enchanted so it wouldn't be seen by humans who ventured too far into the forest. That was one of the reasons why she and Dianthe had decided to make the swing set a meeting place since it was technically outside the village's range.
Dain shrugged, but Nyx could hear the pride in his voice. "I just flew out. The elders cast a spell so you can only find the village if you take a certain path, but it isn't that hard to find if you know where to look. I just took the path and flew back."
"Huh," Nyx said. "How did you figure this out?"
Dain gave a cheeky grin. Nyx always hated when he smiled like that, even when they were kids. "Not telling," he said. Nyx rolled her eyes. "That's not all I wanted to tell you, though. I was passing this store that had books displayed on the window, and I saw one with Dianthe’s name on it! Imagine that?”
She knew her brother had said this to get her attention, but now Nyx could only listen to him with half an ear. As she drifted off to sleep later that night, she couldn’t stop thinking about Dianthe and the new book she had supposedly written. So, she woke up early and flew back to their old meeting spot.
Now Nyx stood in the middle of the clearing, shifting her weight from foot to foot. She wasn’t sure what she had expected to find here. Everything looked smaller. All that was left were memories and a swing set that was too uncomfortable to sit on. She lay down, wings flat against the grass, water seeping into her clothes. She looked up at the ring of cloudless sky.
Nyx could still remember when Dianthe had told her she would travel the world and tell stories. It seemed that at least one of those dreams had come true. Even though Nyx hadn’t seen Dianthe in years, she felt a rush of pride for her. It seemed that some things never changed. Nyx would always want the best for Dianthe because she loved the person Dianthe had been and the person she would become, whom Nyx would never meet. Nyx hoped that Dianthe was doing well and was trying to find her place. She hoped that maybe, as Dianthe thought of new stories to write, she would think of Nyx and the adventures they had as children and would remember Nyx as someone she could always come home to in a place that was not her home.
A sprig of orange leaves caught Nyx's eye. They were growing on the branches of one of the trees. Nyx flew over and plucked it, rolling the herb between her fingers. She had never seen this before; she would have to catalog it later.
How would Nyx's life have been different if Dianthe hadn’t come up to her that day, back when they were kids? Would she have found her love for plants and herbs? Would she have been able to value the little things about her village without Dianthe there to weave them into her stories?
Nyx smiled, flying back into the clearing. She wouldn’t have been the person she was today without her best friend. That was something she would always be thankful for.
She could almost feel her turmoil drain out of her as she thought this, replaced by a sense of peace. She didn’t know if this would be a permanent change, but she felt she had come to a better understanding. Sometimes people don't stay in your life and that was okay. Even though they were both different people now, Nyx would always support Dianthe from afar and cherish the memories they had shared.
It felt as if something was being lifted off Nyx's shoulders. She wanted to say something into the quiet space, but she didn’t know what. “Thank you” didn’t seem quite right.
Ultimately, Nyx didn’t say anything. She pocketed the sprig of orange leaves and walked back into the forest, towards the direction of her village.