It was the oldest tree in town, reaching seventy five feet into the sky and it enchanted Sally. Her first sight of it was when she was eleven, not quite as tall or grand but even then it had an endless reach toward the heavens – this glorious Sycamore. Trees always spoke to Sally and this one spoke in wonder. She longed to climb it and know its secrets and started to but skinned her knee in the attempt. Not because she wasn’t an agile climber of trees for Sally had conquered many but because of the tow-haired boy who surprised her by yelling, “Hey!”
The peeling bark of the old syc was merciless as she slid down its trunk. “Hey what? Look, you made me skin my knee!” She grimaced at the fresh blood and broken skin.
“That’s my tree and you can’t climb it!” The boy’s blue eyes matched the morning sky but there was a little danger there too.
Sally huffed off, feeling those eyes watch her until she disappeared from their view. His tree? He must have been one of those Halligan’s. They owned most of the town and truth be told she was trespassing whenever she visited her tree, the Syc. His tree?
But she could never stay away from it, though always on the look out for the blue-eyed boy, she visited her tree, her tree, every chance she got. That had a heart in its trunk left by a broken and removed bough, that had a dancing man and woman made of twisted branches at the top. And they weathered the seasons together – in Spring Sally sat beneath it and wrote poetry, in Winter she left bread crusts in the heart for the birds and squirrels who refused to go south, in Summer she clung to its shade and in Fall she collected its blazing leaves and pressed them in books. Yes, her tree. Her Syc.
And when Sally left home to discover her own life, she brought the Syc with her and kept it close in mind and heart, longing to feel the rough bark, smell its musky scent, feel its sway with the wind and time. It was a special place Sally could go to when life was cruel and uncaring. Her life had fallen away from the simplicity of home, love refused to oblige her, work refused to fulfill her and the sky was never blue enough, never the color of that boy’s eyes. “Come home,” Mom had written so many times in so many letters. Sally resisted that request for years until the story about her tree.
Mom sent a copy of it in a letter. “Look what they’ve done with your tree, Sally,” was all the letter said. The Halligans had parceled land to the town and a park was now the permanent home of her tree. Her Syc. And she had to go see it again. Go home. Leave the empty place of small city apartments, commuter trains and singles bars.
Sally sat in her car in wonder, parked on Main. The town had changed so much – but the tree never changed. It had only grown higher and stronger and she didn’t have to worry about the blue-eyed boy, the Halligan who once claimed ownership. She could climb it now and she would.
“What are you doing with that ladder?” Dad asked seeming to know what she had in mind.
“Never mind, Dad,” Sally said and pecked his cheek as she grabbed the keys to his truck.
“The town won’t let you climb it either,” he said as she started for the door, “They’re more strict than Will Halligan ever was.”
Sally stopped and turned. “Will Halligan?”
“The boy who made you skin your knee,” Dad said. “He’s still around, loves that damn tree as much as you do.” Dad giggled a little and shook his head. “Have fun, honey.”
The sun had left only traces by the time Sally got into the park and she drove the old pick-up right up to its trunk, next to the heart. She wrangled the ladder from the truck bed and rested it firmly against the Syc. “I will climb you now, my friend,” she said rubbing its bark and feeling giggles rising up from her eleven year old soul. And when she reached the top rung, Sally clung to the Syc’s trunk, still unable to find a foothold into its arms.
“Hey!” the man’s voice startled her and the ladder rattled.
Sally looked down and there he was, that boy, now a man – Will Halligan. And though there was only moonlight to illuminate his face, the eyes were still morning sky. “What?” Sally asked annoyed and embarassed that she couldn’t move without falling.
“You’re going to break your ass trying to do that, darlin’.” Sally heard the smile in Will Halligan’s voice.
“Go away, I’m busy,” she said. “And this isn’t your tree anymore, so just go mind your business.”
Will was already in the truck bed putting his hands on the ladder to steady it. “Okay, I’ve got you, you can come down now.”
Sally looked over her shoulder and down at Will Halligan who seemed to be enjoying the view a little too much. “Who said I want to come down? I’m going to climb this tree,” she insisted.
Will laughed and it was sweet and boyish, his laughter. “Well you’ll be there quite a while. You’re going to need a cherry picker to get up there. You want me to call Bert, I think he has one. Though I don’t know if he’ll come down here at this hour…”
Sally’s arms were aching from trying to keep her embrace on the massive trunk and her pride was slipping too. “You’re an ass,” she said. “Get out of my way, I’m coming down,” and she started her descent, secretly hoping he wouldn’t let go of the ladder.
“Okay darlin’,” Will said, “you’re fine, just keep coming,” and Sally felt his hand on the small of her back to steady her. Sally was thankful for the moonlight because it wouldn’t reveal the blush that rose from her toes and reached to her face.
“I’m fine now,” Sally huffed, “you can let go.” And they stood face to face in the truck bed, in the moonlight and the blue eyes no longer held danger but something else that frightened her more. “What are you looking at?”
Will jumped down from the truck bed and grinned. “Why do you love my old tree so much?” he asked.
“Why do you still call it your tree?” Sally retorted. “It’s not your tree anymore,” she pointed out.
“Darlin’, it will always be my tree,” his grin grew wider and Sally thought she saw a wink. “So, why do you love it? Tell me.
Sally stood in the truck bed looking down at Will and resisted the smile that forced itself on her face. “Because it is perfect, because it is glorious, because I could see everything from the top, if I could get there. Because it enchanted me from the very first time I saw it,” she whispered.
Will reached out his hand to Sally and she took it and came down to solid ground but never let go, and they stood in the moonlight, beneath the Syc, looking at each other for the longest moment. “What?” Sally finally asked.
“You enchanted me from the very first time I saw you.” His eyes were liquid sky and mirrored the stars.