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At the Rooftop Garden
Emily Miller

With the song of the birds outside his window, Charlie wakes from his deep sleep. They’re singing him a good morning tune, as was the routine. The sun peeks through the window, shining onto Charlie’s face. Charlie stretches as big as he can before returning the greeting to the birds.
           His bedroom door creaks open, revealing his mom standing there. “Who are you talking to Charlie?”
           Charlie motions to the blue birds, sitting right outside his window.
           With her cup of coffee in hand, Annie looks at her little boy. It was times like these where she thanked God for the gift that Charlie is.
           Annie’s life wasn’t the happily ever after she dreamt of since she was a kid. She had fallen in love, gotten married, and started her own family, but it was all with a less than ideal guy. Seth was her high school sweetheart, and she thought they would live happily ever after. However, shortly after Charlie was born, they got divorced. They made co-parenting work, that was, until Seth died seven months ago.
           Annie breaks away from her spiraling thoughts, and looks at her little boy again.  
           “Ohhh,” she takes a sip of her ever-so-fast-cooling coffee, “well, tell the birds you’ll talk to them later, you’re going to be late for school.”
           About to leave, she watches as Charlie sits unmoving from his bed. She clears her throat, motioning that he get up with a nod of her head before leaving the room.
           Finally up, Charlie pulls his drawers out from his dresser. He stares into the muddled mess of shirts for a moment, then snaps out of it, grabbing a little button-up with pigeons flying all over.
           He takes a minute to focus on buttoning each button, then he heads out into the kitchen. 
           Yogurt and fruit sat waiting for him. Annie had tried to arrange the fruit into the shape of a bird, but gave up and arranged a smiley face.
           Two voices turn Charlie’s attention away from his food. The voices belonged to two bushy tailed squirrels. Charlie scoots closer to get a better listen.
           “I found it first!” one of the squirrels argues as it tugs a nut closer to its body.
           “Yeah, well I’m hungrier than you are!” the other replies, pulling twice as hard as his friend. Charlie sets his spoon down and runs to the pantry to grab something.
           Annie is frantically walking around the house, getting ready for work as well as making sure Charlie is set for his school day. She steps into the kitchen and sees Charlie’s abandoned breakfast at the kitchen table.
           “Charlie!” she calls out. What is he doing now?
           “Yeah?” Charlie pokes his head from behind the pantry door, startling his mom.
           “Oh goodness gracious child, why haven’t you finished eating?” she asks while trying to not get upset over the accidental jump-scare.
           “The squirrels are fighting over food so I was going to get them more so they can share.” Charlie walks to the sliding door in the kitchen, using his shirt to hold dozens of nuts. Annie eyes the two squirrels sitting on her picnic table, angrily chittering away. She was about to tell him not to encourage the squirrel’s loitering, but notices the time and runs to finish getting ready.
           “Okay well just hurry up and finish your breakfast!” her voice trails off as Charlie empties his shirt in front of the two eager squirrels.
           “Oh, thank you little boy!” the squirrels say before filling their cheeks with the delicious gift.
           “You need to make sure you share; you need to play nice,” Charlie tells them as he dusts his shirt off.

           As his mom drives him closer to his school, the pit in Charlie’s stomach doubles in size. It’s the first day back after spring break, and Charlie is not looking forward to being stuck in a room all day with his peers. Looking out the window, he tries some breathing exercises that he had been given by the school counselor. A gentle hand on his lap ends his spiraling thoughts. He looks up to see his mom’s hand on his leg. She gives him a reassuring squeeze.
           In the rearview mirror she makes eye contact with him, “it’s going to be okay.”
           Charlie gives a half smile before looking out the window again. He places his little hand in his mom’s and holds on tight.
           “How about we go to the community center today after school? That would be fun,” Annie says, hoping to give him something fun to look forward to. After a pause, she breaks the silence once again, “remember love, nobody can tell you who you are and who you aren’t. You can do anything you want and be whoever you want to be.”
           This time Charlie replies with a genuine smile, “thanks mom, and I’d love to go to the community center later!”

           Charlie is glad as he is released from his prison. Everyone had been too busy sharing their spring break adventures with each other, that they didn’t have time to pay any mind to him. Typically Charlie spent his school days being heckled and teased by the people who should’ve been his friends, but was glad today was calmer.
           Standing outside in front of the school, Charlie watches as parents come and pick their kids up. A butterfly catches Charlie’s eye. Fluttering from side to side, it lands on Charlie’s outstretched finger. Holding it close to his face, the butterfly reaches out and tickles his nose, before continuing its journey throughout the world. Charlie’s eyes follow the butterfly’s path, until some classmates draw his attention.
           “Hey Charlie! Come over here!”
           Charlie examines the situation, and hesitantly walks over to the group of kids.
           “Look, there’s a cat! Isn’t it so cute?” one of them asks as Charlie joins the circle.
           At this point, most of the kids were either on the school buses, or their parents had already picked them up. With the courtyard mostly cleared out, a black cat, who was just a few feet from them, decided to take a nap in the warm, late afternoon sun.
Charlie, still second guessing their intentions, nods at the comment. He thought the cat was very cute, but was too nervous to speak up.
           “Why are you so quiet? Are you okay?” “Are you not a cat person?”
           “No, he likes all animals, he’ll talk to anything.” “Well why isn’t he talking to this cat?”            “Someone just doesn’t seem very chatty today.”
           “Oh, maybe he’s talking telepathically with the cat!”
           “He doesn’t actually believe he can talk to animals- does he?”
           “Well, let’s see what he has to say after this,” one boy breaks from the group, taking several giant leaps towards the cat. With a slight pause, he raises one chubby leg back, before sending it full force into the side of the cat.
           “No!” Charlie dashes from the group as the kids laugh at him.
           He watches the screaming cat go flying into the patch of grass right next to the courtyard.
           Panting, he falls down next to the cat. “Are you okay Miss Cat?!”
           Shakily standing up, she replies, “I’m alright little boy, thank you for checking on me.” 
           “You didn’t deserve that…” Charlie stretches his hand out, seeing if head scratches were welcome or not. The cat rubs her head under his hand, purring ever so softly.
           After a moment, her purring stops, “you didn’t deserve that teasing either, I overheard a bit. I’m really sorry. How about we show them a lesson?” she hisses as she turns to look at the group of bullies. They were still mocking Charlie for talking to the cat.
           “Oh don’t do that Miss Cat,” Charlie interrupts her pathway with his arm. “I know they’re mean… but it isn’t good to take matters into our own hands. They’ll get what they deserve, but let’s just leave them be for now.”
           Before the cat could reply, Annie drove up in the car, “Charlie, are you ready to go?”            “Coming, Mom!” Charlie says standing up, then he looks back at the cat, “it’s your
decision, so whatever you end up doing, I wish you luck.”
           Charlie and his mom were already driving away before he could see what the cat made out of the group of bullies.

           The community center was a popular place for everyone of all ages. It was several stories high, each level featuring different activities. The first floor had a huge indoor swimming pool with slides. Charlie never liked going there. It was too loud and he didn’t like how kids would splash him in the face. There was also an arcade, a library, a workout gym, and a rooftop garden.
           Charlie plops down onto a patch of grass located in the quiet undisturbed garden. He is surrounded by bees and butterflies. Little bugs dig around in the loose dirt beside him. With a scoop of his hand, he catches a roly poly. It then starts to climb the infinite ladder which is his fingers, when a pigeon flutters over and lands a few feet away from him.
           “Hello there little boy,” coos the pigeon.
           “Hello, Mr. Pigeon. How are you doing today?” asks Charlie, the roly poly continuing its endless journey..
           “I’m doing just fine thank you,” replies the pigeon, “I like your shirt,” he rustles his deep blue feathers.
           Looking down Charlie smiles, the pigeons on his shirt look just like the pigeon in front of him. “Thank you, Mr. Pigeon.”
           “Please,” the pigeon comes closer, “call me Seth.”
           Charlie finally lets the roly poly down into the grass, “that’s the same name as my dad—or, it was when he was alive… my mom says that he is always with us though,” Charlie places his hand over his heart, copying what his mother had motioned to him seven months ago, and stares off into the grass.
           “You’re never alone Charlie.”
           Charlie looks up, “how—how did you know my name?”
           “Haha, you just seem like a Charlie! I think you and I have a lot in common, I can just feel it,” Seth rustles his feathers.
           “Charlie, I need to go to the restroom, you okay being up here by yourself ?” Annie asks while setting the book she had been reading down.
           “I’m okay, I won’t be by myself,” Charlie motions towards the pigeon and other critters scattered throughout the garden.
           “Hey,” with a whisper, “do you want to go on an adventure?” Seth asks.
            “Okay,” Charlie dusts off his hands and stands up.
           “I have a question for you first,” Seth flies up and lands on a post, so that he is eye to eye with Charlie, “do you believe you can be whatever you want? Be whoever you want to be? Do you believe that Charlie?”
           Puzzled, Charlie thinks about it. His whole life his parents had always encouraged him with the very words this pigeon is telling him now.
           “Do you believe in me?” Seth questions, flying to another post, beckoning Charlie to follow.
           There is just something about his voice, that is familiar to Charlie. As he thinks about his response, he follows the pigeon.
           “Yes,” Charlie concludes, “I do believe in myself…”
            “Do you? Where’s the confidence?” Seth hops to a chair.
            “Yes… I do,” Charlie follows.
           “Dig deep inside- listen to what your mother has been telling you your whole life!” Seth flutters to the wall.
           “I do!” Charlie states with confidence, stepping up to the edge of the garden.
            “And do you believe in me?” Seth hops along the edge.
           “Yes, I do,” Charlie is standing right along the barrier, the only thing keeping him from falling down the side of the building.
           “Then follow me,” Seth turns away from Charlie, his wings spreading wide.
           Charlie hesitates before standing up onto the edge of the roof ’s walls.
            At that moment, Annie returns from the restroom.
           “Charlie! No!” she starts running after her son. Charlie turns, but then Seth gets his attention again.
           “Quick! It’s now or never!” Seth takes flight from the ledge.
            Charlie leaps after him.
           Annie watches as her son follows in the steps of his father.
Emily Miller

With creative juices and ADHD running through her veins, 20 year old Emily finds joy in many artistic endeavors; writing, photography, painting, crocheting, and many other hobbies take up her time. She was beyond excited to have her story "At The Rooftop Garden" and painting "Botanische Malarei" accepted in this year's journal. With an open mind, and plenty of inspiration, she's excited to see what the future holds for her. Emily wants to thank you, reader, for taking the time to look at her art and story, and hopes you have a good day!
Social media: chill.your.biscuits (instagram) (website)

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