Aunt Hazel popped her head in Isa’s room. “Have you heard from Nate lately?”
Isa looked up from one of her favorite books, Jane Eyre. “Not since yesterday, why?”
Aunt Hazel’s gray eyes drifted to her watch. “It’s 12:15. I can’t believe he hasn’t come over yet. Usually, he’s invaded my kitchen and had at least three of my muffins before ten on a beautiful Saturday like today or any Saturday, beautiful or not. Or Sunday for that matter.”
“It’s already lunch time! I got lost in my book.” Isa set the book on her bedside table. “I guess Nate lost track of time too. He probably fell asleep on the couch watching TV. I’ll text him.”
Aunt Hazel shook her head. “Nate’s grandma just called looking for him. He’s not home.”
A sinking feeling invaded Isa’s stomach. He was probably fine. But still something felt off. Nate spent every Saturday with Isa. And if he had other plans, he’d always text and let Isa know.
She picked up her phone and checked her texts. Nothing from Nate. There were several from Carolyn though asking her opinion on whether to get side swept bangs. Isa tapped in a quick response.
Isa: Nope. Bangs are a pain. Have you heard from Nate?
Carolyn: I’m bored with my hair, tho. And no I haven’t. You guys get in a fight?
Isa: Nate and I are fine. Let me know if you hear from him. And just say no to bangs.
Isa looked up from her phone and her stomach twisted at the drawn look on Aunt Hazel’s face. “What’s going on? Did something happen?” Isa jumped off her bed.
Aunt Hazel flapped her hand and smiled, a forced smile. “Oh, honey. I’m sure everything is fine. His grandma is just a little concerned because he left the house around seven, acting all mysterious. And she can’t reach him on his phone.”
Isa tapped a text to Nate. Her fingers and thumbs never went so fast.
Isa: Where r u?
She stared at her phone, waiting for a response. “Why would he go anywhere so early on a Saturday morning?” Isa whispered.
“I’m sure he’s fine. Why don’t you come down for lunch?”
Isa and Nate had only known each other for four months, but it felt like they’d known each other forever. Their friendship was different than her friendship with Carolyn. Carolyn only tolerated Isa’s love for nature and books. Nate embraced it. Nate understood her. And he’d never just go somewhere without telling her.
Something was wrong.
Fifteen minutes later, Isa picked at her turkey sandwich on rye. How could she eat with Nate missing?
His grandma called again and this time, she spoke with Isa. His grandma’s voice had quavered with concern. She told Isa that Nate woke early, acting all excited about something he’d figured out. He grabbed a backpack and headed out the door around seven this morning. He said he’d be going to Isa’s later that morning, but he had to do something first.
Nate’s grandma was ready to call the police.
Isa’s heart felt as though it was being crushed. What happened to Nate?
She couldn’t just sit by and not help. She had to find her best friend. She pushed away from the table and her chair crashed to the floor. “Aunt Hazel, I’m going out.”
“Oh no, child. The last thing we need is two lost kids.”
“I’m not a kid.” Isa raked her hands through her hair.
Aunt Hazel rested her hand on Isa’s shoulder. “I know you aren’t sweetie. But the best thing you can do is to be here when Nate gets back.”
Aunt Hazel walked over to the sink and washed the same dishes for what had to be the third time. The phone’s shrill ring filled the kitchen. Aunt Hazel dried her hands and answered the phone. “Okay, I’ll ask her.” She cradled the phone against her chest and looked at Isa. “Does ‘the tree grew’ mean anything to you?”
Isa felt her brow crinkle. “Why?”
“This is Nate’s grandma again, and she remembered that as Nate was going out the door he mumbled something about the tree grew…or growing trees. She just thought maybe you’d—”
“Of course!” Isa jumped up and ran toward the back door. “I know where he is!”
She knew that Aunt Hazel was yelling after her as she raced across the yard, but she couldn’t stop. She had to get to Nate.
Isa ran through the forest as fast as her feet could take her. Her heart drummed in her chest as she navigated over roots, broken limbs, and rocks. She got to the clearing and stopped for a second to search the field, the stone cottage in the distance.
No sign of Nate.
Normally the field of sweet peas would have stopped her in her tracks but not today. Today she charged through them like a bull.
“Nate!” She yelled.
As she got close to the house, she called again. “Nate!” Her lungs started to burn.
She rounded the house and went straight for the old beech tree, laden with green leaves. Not that she cared about leaves right now.
All she could focus on was Nate’s body sprawled beneath the tree.