I’ll never forget the summer I met Basil.
Every year, for as long as I could remember, my family and I would travel to the village of Stopper’s Pond. There, from June to August, we would fill our tiny vacation house with music, joy, laughter, and all the other delicious sensations of summer. To this day, I’ve never seen or heard of a more idyllic place. It seemed blessed by Heaven, and so it made perfect sense that I should find Basil there.
I can still remember the first time I saw him. I sat on the steps outside my front door. Where my family was, I can’t remember, but all thoughts of them left my mind when a boy came whizzing by on his bicycle. He was a charming, freckled fellow with a mop of red curls that flapped as he sped by. I was instantly taken with him. Without a thought, I fetched my bicycle from the garage and pedaled after him.
I soon caught up with him. “Hey,” I said.
He turned and flashed me the most winning smile. “Hello there,” he said.
“What’s your name?”
Something about his name delighted me. It was so unusual. I had never met anyone with a name like “Basil” before, and yet it seemed perfect for such an uncommon boy.
“Do you live here?” I asked.
“Naw,” he answered. “Just here for the summer.”
“Me too!” I pedaled faster to keep up with him. “Where?”
The address he gave, to my surprise, was just down the road from my family’s own house. I told him so, and the coincidence seemed to please him as much as it did me.
“Hey,” I said, stopping my wheels with a spray of dirt and gravel. Basil followed suit. Inwardly, I rejoiced. I had his attention.
“Have you been to the woods out behind the vacation houses?” I asked.
Basil frowned and shook his head. “No,” he said. “I’m not supposed to---”
“Aw, come on!” I waved him closer. “It will be fun. I’m not supposed to either, but I still do it. No one ever finds out. Let’s go!” The boy’s smile returned and my heart leapt. I noted that I had known Basil for only a few minutes, and already he affected me so. Where would things be between us by the end of the summer?
We played for hours in the woods that day. Together, we looked for rabbit tracks in the forest floor, and delighted in hide and seek amongst my favorite trees. As the sun began to set, we leaned our backs against the trunk of an oak. The sun’s golden glow bathed the forest in warm light. If the day had ended there, at that moment, I would have been perfectly happy.
What happened next, however, turned my world upside down.
I felt a soft delicate touch fall upon the back of my hand. I looked down to find the touch was Basil’s. Slowly I shifted my palm upward, and there we sat, palm to palm in silent, electric, bliss.
“We’re special friends now, aren’t we, Basil?” I asked.
He nodded. “Yeah,” he said.
“Jake!” The call came from far away, piercing and shrill, ripping across the peace of the forest.
I winced. “I have to go now,” I said. “Will you meet me here tomorrow? At noon?”
“You got it!” Basil stood and gave me one last wave before scampering off into the underbrush.
Basil and I had many more adventures that summer. We would always meet in the woods in our special spot which had, in a way, become sacred. From there we would set out on adventures to uncharted lands filled with hidden delights and dangers.
Of course, there were days when my family demanded my attention. Certainly, I did my best to grit my teeth and smile through them, but every moment, my mind and heart were with Basil.
Our affection for each other grew as well. Holding hands progressed to kisses on the cheek. Declarations of special friendship became “I love yous.” I was ecstatic. It would be fair to say that Basil was the first person I ever really felt connected to. I’ve never been as happy as I was that summer I spent with him.
One day, I waited in the woods for Basil, as I always did. This time, I’d brought along my shovel. The plan, as we’d agreed the day before, was to dig for buried treasure.
Basil arrived at last, but something was wrong. He carried nothing with him. There was a darkness in his eyes I’d never seen before. It chilled me to the bone.
“What’s the matter?” I asked. “Where’s your shovel?”
Without any warning, my darling Basil burst into tears. His chest shook as he spoke. “My father says the summer will be over soon. We’ll be leaving in a few days.”
My chest became a block of ice. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I knew this day would come, but I’d willed it away, as if refusing to believe would keep it forever at bay. I felt my own eyes begin to sting and water.
“But, you can’t leave me,” was all I could say.
“I don’t want to,” Basil answered. “I want to stay here in this forest forever.”
That word echoed in my ears. My eyes landed on the shovel that leaned against a tree trunk
Forever. I could give him that.
He yielded so quickly and so completely to the blows of my shovel. It was as if every fiber of him wanted to receive the gift I was giving.
Digging the hole took quite a long time. My muscles ached by the time it was deep enough. As the sun began to set, I kissed my special friend’s cheek one last time. By now, it had gone cold and pale. I placed him into the grave as gently as I could, and then my tears flowed freely as I covered him up.
It was dark by the time I made my way out of the woods. I wandered along the road to my family’s house, lost in thought, replaying every adventure I’d shared with precious Basil. As I rounded the corner, however, a high-pitched voice pulled me back to the present.
“There you are, daddy!”
A little shape bounded toward me. She came close and wrapped her arms around my legs.
“Hi there, Sugarplum,” I said. “Did your mama send you out looking for me?”
“Yep,” my daughter said. “She said you should be coming back from hunting right about now.” She stopped suddenly, her eyes fixated on my face. “Daddy,” she said. “Are you crying?”
I forced a smile. “No, Sugarplum. Just allergies.”
We walked hand in hand down the road.
“Tomorrow, Daddy,” my daughter said, “I want to go ask the little boy down the road to play with me. The one with red hair and freckles.”
I fought hard to swallow the lump that rose in my throat. “You can’t, honey,” I said. “That little boy’s not there anymore.”
Written by Jdeschene