You know how you can remember snippets of memories from when you were little? It's kind of strange remembering things before you could remember to remember, if that makes any sense. It's like your subconscious mind stores these memories in your puny undeveloped brain and you have to concentrate super hard to pull them out. Well anyway, one of my earlier memories is sort of like that, except it wasn't at all vague. I was probably five when it happened but nine years later, I can still remember every single miniscule detail like it happened yesterday.
I was playing in the backyard, in the sandbox, by the edge of the woods. We lived in a development back then, with woodland growing behind the houses. It was a bright summer day with birds chirping and all that other nice stuff. Just as I was about to poke the flag on top of my castle, I caught a glimpse of the shrubbery behind me move. It was very faint and could have been a small animal but, I was little. Of course I was curious.
I abandoned my shovel and pail and looked over to my dad who was on the patio reading a newspaper and drinking coffee while my mom gardened close by. My older brother, Matt, was ten at the time and went to middle school. Jordan, my one-year-old brother, was in his playpen doing whatever it is one-year-olds do. My memories don't reach that far back.
How could they not see it? I thought. I guess grown-ups just didn't have much of a child's curiosity in them and babies Jordan's age are still blind to the world. Sad, really.
I scooted over the rim of the sand box and made my way through the thick growth. How I went unnoticed, I still have no idea.
I'd probably gotten five feet into the cluster of trees when I started to sense that I wasn't alone. I'm not sure if that's a little kid thing or what but I just suddenly knew someone was there.
I looked around me. It was pretty dim but since it was probably afternoon, I could make out the shapes quite clearly in the unearthly greenish tinge of the forest air. I wish I hadn't, though. Then, I wouldn't have noticed the quick movement beside me as something darted behind a tree close by.
As you can imagine, my curiosity instincts took over. I stumbled over to the tree and quickly looked behind it.
I don't know what I was expecting. Maybe my mom or dad to pop up and say peek-a-boo or something. But, even though I was that young, I wasn't dumb enough to think one of my parents could move that quick. I'd leave that to Matt (the dumbness, I mean). What I saw there was shocking. It was nothing I haven't seen before but seeing it in this setting was quite unnerving.
Crouched by the roots was a boy. My age probably, or a few years more than that; I didn't really pay attention to age back then. It seemed unnecessary. He had shoulder-length, wavy, dark hair entwined with feathers and beaded braids. His skin was darkly tanned and he was bare-chested, lathered in lots of beaded jewelry and strange tattoos. His pants were normal jeans but he went barefoot. The thing that made me really anxious was his eyes. Of course, whenever a girl meets a guy, the first thing she notices is his eyes, right? But seriously, this guy's eyes were so freaky! They were, like, three different colors. It was mostly gray, but had flecks of blue, green and red surrounding the dark black dot thing in the center (I would later learn it was a pupil). You'd probably think it'd look weird and, I don't know, scary? But I thought they were pretty. In a really...weird and creepy way.
I guess I looked pretty freaky myself, standing there with my mouth open, looking traumatized because the next thing I knew, he was scrambling up, frightened, and started to run away.
Of course, I had awesome reflexes. My dad said so when I grabbed onto his leg whenever he left for work or when I tackled Matt after I found out he took the last cookie. It took me about five seconds to run after him and pounce on his back like a lioness catching her prey.
"Lemme go! Arg, that was my spine!" I patiently sat on his back as he squirmed, hollered and pounded his fists underneath. Even though he was bigger that me, I knew how to make my tiny amount of weight work for me.
I looked down at him for a few more seconds until he stopped floundering.
"Hello," I said politely, "Can I talk to you? I'll let you up if you promise to keep still."
The boy made an quiet indignant sound and muttered, "Why should I bargain with a lousy commoner? Especially a girl. I'm a prince for goodness sakes!"
I had good hearing, too. "A prince!" I exclaimed admirably, "Do you have a big castle, too? With princesses and knights? Can I be a knight? Mummy says I'm a princess when she puts me in itchy dresses, but I don't like it."
I got off him, carefully pinning his back to the tree trunk and holding onto his wrist with all the strength I could muster. If he was a prince, maybe he would want to escape back to his kingdom. But I had questions and I wanted them answered.
I cleared my throat and (would you believe it?) bowed. "Hi! I'm Casey. What's your name?"
I knew I wasn't supposed to talk to strangers but I thought I could make an exception.
He was silent. "Adrian," he finally mumbled. He spoke funny. My mom used to travel a lot. She said when people talk differently it's called an accent. Adrian had an accent.
"Adrian," I said, trying it out, "Prince Adrian. That's a nice name."
Truth is I thought it was weird for a guy because I have a girl cousin named Adriane but, I had a feeling saying that was not going to help one bit.
"And where's your mom and dad? Are they the king and queen?" I wondered aloud.
"At home," Adrian said ignoring my second question.
"Where's that? In a shiny gold castle in a pretty garden?"
He was quiet. When he didn't answer after some time, I decided not to pressure him. Peer pressure is not nice. I learned that in school.
"Why aren't you with them?" I asked instead.
He looked up then and his weird, multicolored eyes bored into me and made me cringe.
"I was left behind."
That startled me. A lost prince? The phrasing was so scary that I sat there, frozen. Before I had the chance to ask what he meant, I heard my parent's voices coming out of the gloom.
"Casey! Where are you, Case?"
Adrian jumped up and before I could stop him, he bolted.
"Nice to meet you, Casey," he said before he ran away, "You're not so bad... for a common girl."
And before I could open my mouth, he was gone and I was left staring after him.