The little neighborhood remained virtually timeless. New houses replaced the old run-down homes, and new families moved in with them. Nevertheless, those had not left.
With the same old people, the same old faces, and only a handful of new arrivals, the neighborhood remained as quiet as it has always been.
The sun was high in the sky as a school bus pulled into the bus stop to release its load of school-aged passengers.
A 15-year-old Dahlia stands by the bus stop, anxiously checking her cell phone, and scanning the passengers as they exited the vehicles.
She had grown taller but was still considerably short for her age at 4'7. She was beginning to show signs of burgeoning adulthood in her chest and waist.
With a single glance, one could tell that she was finely blooming into an astonishing beauty, despite her boyish demeanor. She was fidgeting with irritation.
Finally, sick of waiting for a reply, she angrily tapped the screen of her phone sending inquiry after inquiry to her most frequent contact.
"Dahlia!" called out a teenaged Brennan as he walked towards his friend, "Sorry I couldn't reply, my phone just died."
Dahlia inspected her friend as he approached. In the past 9 years since they met, Brennan had grown a head taller than her.
He was also developing a fine set of muscles despite his lean appearance. The young girl puffed her chest out and snatched one of Brennan's backpack straps.
She gave it a tight tug and reprimanded him.
"I told you to keep your charger on you!" she scolded.
The young boy smiled at his friend and gently said, "I'm sorry, I forgot."
As he gazed into her eyes, Dahlia felt her heart skip a beat. Her anger quickly subsided as she turned her eyes away to avoid his gaze.
Over these 9 long years, the two youths had grown close to one another despite attending different middle schools.
It was not unusual for the kids in the neighborhood to leave school as early as possible to meet their friends at the old park by the meadow.
Dahlia, Brennan, and a handful of other kids in the neighborhood spent much of their time playing together forming tight bonds with one another.
Today was a special day since it was the last day of school before the summer break. Brennan and Dahlia had a special announcement to make to the rest of their friends.
Brennan gently took Dahlia's hand off his strap, then tenderly took it into his own.
"Come on, let's go," he told her, "the others are probably waiting for us at the usual spot."
Dahlia took a deep breath to calm her beating heart, then nodded in agreement.
"Ok," she replied.
The two then headed toward the dead willow, hand in hand, while a summer breeze blew at their backs as if it were trying to help them make haste on their way.
Once they arrived at the meeting place, the group of seven chatted and made merry as teens usually do.
They didn't care much for gossip, but they all shared an interest in sharing all manner of narrative.
It was also not uncommon for them to relish on feasts of junk food, or just enjoy a healthy athletic competition in which Dahlia would normally win, though not infrequently in a cunning,
or perhaps even underhanded manner. Once the sun began to make its descent on the horizon, Dahlia and Brennan gathered the group for their announcement.
"Guys," started Dahlia, "My family is going to move out of the neighborhood in about two weeks. This means that I won't be attending high school with you guys."
The group was stricken. They all remained quiet as they exchanged glances and forced smiles. Brennan then put his hand up, drawing all the gazes toward him.
"I too will not be attending high school with you all," he said, "Dahlia and I are going to the boarding school in the neighboring city."
Once the announcement had been made, the group lightened the atmosphere by teasing the two, as teenagers, or perhaps as people of all ages, do when two individuals grow too close.
Before dismissing the group and exchanging gestures of departure and embraces, Dahlia invited the group to a farewell party at the Hua residence, the day before their departure.
Finally, the group disbanded and they each made their way home, except Brennan who was convinced by Dahlia to escort her home.
When the two arrived at the front of her home Dahlia invited him in for dinner.
"You should come in and say 'hi' to my parents," she suggested, "Dad's making dinner tonight."
Brennan replied with a saddened smile and downcast eyes, "I can't tonight, I need to make dinner for my father."
Dahlia, irked by his response, took his shirt collars and pulled his button-up shirt open to reveal his chest covered in lesions, old and new cigarette burns amongst them.
Dahlia lets out a frustrated growl.
"Was it your father again?" she angrily inquired.
Brennan just looked at her sympathetically. Her angry concern was somehow reassuring to him. He began trying to explain but was quickly interrupted by Dahlia's outburst.
"Why do you always hide your scars?!" she said as her chest tightened, "we're here for you Brennan! Don't shut us out! My parents worry about you! I worry about you! Why don't you trust me!?"
Tears began to well up in her eyes. Brennan tenderly placed his hand on her cheek. Again he smiled at her with the same gentle smile which always left Dahlia feeling powerless.
"It's ok," he said in an attempt to pacify her, "I'm stronger than my old man. He can't really hurt me anyways."
In a wrathful outburst, Dahlia slapped him. Her arm in the air, her fist clenched by her side. Brennan found himself astounded. It was as if time had frozen in the tension of the moment.
He let out a sigh of relief. Dahlia silently searched the side of Brennan's face. She did not know what for, but she could not turn her face away from his.
She forcefully snapped her head toward her door and stomped off in frustration.
Quickly, Brennan called out to Dahlia, "Hey!"
She froze with her hand on the doorknob and swallowed saliva. She stared down at the doormat, vehemently fighting the urge to turn around.
Brennan smiled at her nervously and continued, "please don't tell your mom."
Dahlia flung the door open. She wanted to turn around and berate him, but she failed to conjure any meaningful words. She bit her lip, trying to regain her composure.
"No," she said as she slammed the door shut behind her.
She leaned her back on the door. As she slid to the floor, a trapped tear slid down her cheek. Her heartbeat was irregular, her chest tightened to the point where she struggled to breathe.
Her mother stormed into the doorway from the kitchen, the sound of the slamming door had alerted her to the commotion that had occurred. Her husband followed right behind her.
The two saw their daughter on the floor, propped up against the door.
Dahlia saw her father and in a sobbing voice, she blurted, "Papa, Brennan is hurting again! Please help him!" She pleaded.
The hairs on Mr. Hua's arms stiffened. His daughter was never the type to cry so easily.
He ran towards the doorway, carefully opened the front door while carefully stepping by his wife and daughter. He jutted his head out into the open and looked around for Brennan.
He was nowhere to be found. He tried calling out his name, but there was no response. Mr.
Hua was overcome with concern as he re-entered the house and readied himself to set out and search for the young boy.