So Much to Learn
My parents were both stuck at work, tightly holed up in storm shelters with they’re coworkers. They called and texted to make sure me and Carmen were okay. Both Reid’s and Bruce Will’s parents were also stuck at work, tightly holed up in storm shelters with their coworkers. It was just us kids at the Dickerson house. Bruce Will, Reid, me, Carmen, and, for some reason, Owen. Apparently, Owen was over at my house with Carmen while me and my parents were gone. Yeah, my sister was in big trouble. Trust me.
Right now it was about 7 o’clock in the evening and we weren’t seeing an end to this. We had all been hanging out in the living room for 3 hours now, doing nothing. The electricity had gone out about an hour ago and we were all pretty miserable in the stale heat, wishing we could open a window without the roaring wind outside mockingly harassing us.
There were candles lit here and there, casting creepy shadows on the walls that threatened to haunt my dreams tonight. We were nibbling on two-day-old pizza crust from the pizza the boys had scrounged us up from the refrigerator and drinking flat coke from a liter they found wedged in the back of the freezer, frozen solid for who knows how long. I had tried to convince the guys that my parents had just bought some groceries and that if we ran over to my house I would be able to get some things for a real dinner, but they wanted to be the heroes that provided the meal, so I let them.
All of our phones were dying and we were completely unprepared in the way of storm supplies, so we were definitely in a bit of a pickle. Tornadoes were not something that I had been through many times, but I was calm. This was fine. We were fine.
I was sitting in the corner, in a perfectly sized space for my body between one of the couches and the TV stand, curled up with Reid’s Bible. Ever since Reid had given it to me, I had wrestled with the thought of leaving it too far out of reach. I didn’t know why, but it went everywhere I did. It was like, for some reason, just the knowledge that I had it with me, there if I ever felt like pulling it out (which I had been doing a lot of lately), calmed me. Reassured me. I enjoyed reading it, though it was hard because it was written in old English, but I was having a hard time concentrating on it for two reasons: Carmen and Owen were being flirty and gross and I wanted to pinch Owen for being Owen, and I kept replaying in my head the conversation that I had had with Mark before his mom came to pick him up.
“Why didn’t you tell me about your friends? I mean, it’s pretty obvious that you guys hang out pretty often. Did you not want me to know about them?” Mark had said.
While he had been waiting for his mom to get here, he had been doing really well with guys. They were really hitting it off, despite how I thought it might go because of the way it had gone on the beach when they met for the first time. I, of course, felt terrible for keeping my worlds separate like I had when I could easily tell from what was before me that they actually got along really well.
“I just--I didn’t want you to worry about how I was hanging out with other guys. The boys are just friends. I’m sorry. I know it’s silly. But, you know you’re my guy, right?” I said, taking his hand.
He swung our hands back and forth between us and smiled. “I know. But you could have told me. It does bother me a little that your best friends are guys, but I trust you. And you saying what you just did helps.”
I smiled back at him and said, “Thank you for trusting me. And I won’t keep anything like this from you again. Promise.”
“Good.” And then his mom pulled up and he gave me a quick kiss and left.
And now I was thinking about him and smiling idiotically and everyone knew I was smiling about him because they had all seen our farewell as they spied on us through the window. But I didn’t care. I was just glad that everyone knew about everyone. It was a relief.
I was staring thoughtfully at the wall, the Bible open on my lap, but movement over to the side caught my eye. I chuckled at Reid as he scooted on his bottom across the floor over to me, a lopsided grin on his face, his knees poking awkwardly up in the air.
“Hey, Billy Willy. What’s the haps?” Reid said, settling down directly in front of me.
I crossed my legs under me so our knees bumped and said, “This is kind of hard to read. Do you ever get confused with all the old words?”
Reid smiled, nodding. “I did. But I’ve been reading it so long that I’ve gotten to where I understand it pretty well. What part is confusing you?”
He held out his hand for the book and I gave it to him. “All of it,” I joked. “I don’t know, just certain stories and stuff. But it’s more than just the language. Some of the stories just don’t make any sense. Like the story about the rich man who threw a party and invited all his friends, but then no one would come, they just kept making excuses. Why would they do that? And then he starts inviting all the poor people instead? I don’t get it.”
Reid was nodding, reading through the passage I was talking about. “It all has to do with symbolism. It’s a parable. It’s representative of how God offers everyone a feast with Him in Heaven, but so many just make excuses and ultimately miss out on such a huge blessing, giving up their places to those who are actually willing to accept.”
I nodded, thinking about that. “Quick question: What’s a parable? And why does everyone reject this ‘feast’ you’re talking about? Why a feast? Do dead people get hungry? Why is this guy so desperate to fill his house with guests? Why--”
Reid laughed, interrupting my word vomit. “You have so much to learn.”
“But you’ll teach me, right?” I asked, not actually sure what the answer would be.
He smiled warmly. “I’d love to.”
You Have No Idea - Part 2
“Why didn’t you just tell me?” Bruce Will asked from my left. “There’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”
I leaned back and rested my head against the edge of the countertop, training my eyes on the wall in front of me, avoiding their pitying gazes.
“My parents hate you guys,” I said exasperatedly. “I got grounded for 4 days when I came home after pizza with y’all because they think we were out vandalizing abandoned buildings or something. There is definitely something to be embarrassed about.”
“Why. . . ?” Bruce Will trailed off.
“Why do they think y’all have criminal intent?” I finished, rolling my eyes. “I don’t know. There’s this--this feud that they think we’re in, our families. I even believed it. I was here at your house that night, at the party, because I was spying on you per my parents’ request. They wanted to know what. . . what makes you better than us. I guess it’s all just a jealousy thing, I don’t know.
“But I hate it. You guys are really cool and I love hanging out with y’all and I just. . . ,”--Another tear rolled down my cheek and I angrily swiped it away--“I wish I could share you with my family.”
Reid threw his arm around me and kissed me sloppily on the temple. “That is the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me.”
I gave a watery laugh and looked at him to see his happy eyes. He smiled warmly at me and I felt impossibly better.
Bruce Will came in then and said, “That sounds really hard. I wish you had told me. Now I feel like an idiot for all the things I said. Why did you keep it a secret from me?”
I sighed. “I didn’t want either of you to know, but I needed help from someone to get this day together like we did. I guess I picked Reid because. . . I needed someone to help me keep this a secret. I knew that if I asked you for help, you’d just want to fix it and go talk to my parents, and that’s not what I wanted. And I wanted you to think that my family is nice, like you always have. I had to choose who would know the ugly truth and I chose Reid, because it was easier. I’m sorry. This has all turned out horribly.”
Bruce Will smiled. “It’s okay. It’s a tough situation. I get it.”
I looked at them both, smiling. “Thank you.”
Bruce Will opened his mouth to say something, but he was interrupted by his little brother. “Are y’all done in here yet? I have to pee.”
There was a storm coming and the waters were choppy with the cool wind and dark skies. Mark liked the beach best when it was like this, so we decided to go and spend a couple hours together before it started raining.
We had been spending a lot of time together lately, getting to know each other, but mainly at our houses, in the presence of siblings and parents. This was our first time out without someone else there and it was a little awkward, I’m not going to lie.
“Who are you texting? You’re not normally on your phone this much,” Mark asked.
He was right. I was staring at my phone way too much, especially since we were just us for the first time. No one else to talk to.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said, sending one last text to Hannah, telling her to stop texting me, I was on a date. “It’s just Hannah, she keeps texting me. I’ll put it away.”
I tucked my phone in my pocket, ignoring the chime it made as I did so. Hannah could wait.
“So, what do you want to do?” I asked, tucking a tress of my hair back behind my ear as the wind kicked up.
“Wanna walk?” Mark asked, gesturing down the beach.
“Sure,” I replied, taking his extended hand as we stood.
We began to walk. And walk. And not say anything.
I opened my mouth multiple times to say something, but nothing ever came out. This was really weird.
“So. . . ,” I said.
“So. . . ,” he said.
“What--” I began, but then my phone started ringing. “Sorry, let me just see who it is.”
I pulled my phone out and it stopped ringing. But then I saw that it said I had missed 3 calls and 4 texts. What? How? My phone hadn’t made a noise.
And then it started ringing again. I answered it. It was Bruce Will, who had apparently called once and texted twice already.
“Hello?” I said.
“Hey, did you get my texts?” he said. It sounded like he was driving.
“Yeah, I got them, but I haven’t read them yet--”
“Where are you? I went to your house but it’s just Carmen there. I’m coming to get you.”
“I--I’m at the beach, but I’m fine, you don’t have to--”
“There’s a tornado warning. Get your things and I’ll be there in a couple minutes, okay?”
He hung up and I looked at Mark. “Bruce Will is on his way to pick us up. There’s a tornado warning.”
“Oh, um, okay. Let’s get our stuff, then. Who’s Bruce Will?” Mark said as we headed back to where our things sat in the sand a little ways away.
Oh. I had forgotten that I had made it a point not to bring up either of the guys around Mark. I didn’t want to bring up the fact that I hung out with other guys whenever I wasn’t with Mark, just in case he got a little. . . jealous or something. But now we were up for an awkward conversation.
“Oh, um, he’s my, um, my friend. He lives across the street,” I answered, trying not to say too much.
I was being silly. Mark was a good guy, he wouldn’t mind if I told him I hung out with Bruce Will and Reid. He knows he’s the one who holds the title of boyfriend. So why was I so worried about it?
“You’ve met him before. He was one of the guys who came over to us on the beach when we met,” I said.
“The one who said he was your boyfriend?” Mark asked.
I gulped. I had hoped he wouldn’t remember that. “No, the other one.”
Mark nodded, saying nothing else.
“Don’t worry,” I said, trying to defend the guys, “They aren’t usually like that. They were just joking around that day.”
He nodded again. Said nothing. Well, this should be interesting.
So, I know that in the synopsis I said that I really want to keep this story light and fun, and I'm really trying to. But I also know that the direction the last chapter went is not so light and fun. So I just wanted to explain why I decided to take the story that direction.
So in the last chapter, I chose to write that Billy, our beloved main character, has a bit of a break down in front of her new friends, Bruce Will and Reid, our beloved side characters, for lack of a better term. I questioned if I really wanted to write it this way or if I wanted to go back and start the chapter over and just give Bruce Will and Billy a light argument that they could bond over. But I felt that keeping it the way it is would be best for the story because of character development.
First of all, life is not only light and fun, even in the summer when you're a 15-year-old girl living on the beach. So I wanted to bring a little bit of turmoil into the story to make it a little more realistic, and even relatable. I know I can relate with the way Billy feels when she just starts crying in front of people she definitely does not want to cry in front of and then dealing with the embarrassment of it--I've been in that boat too many times. And if you're a guy or just a very emotionally controlled person (which I am definitely not), then you're just not gonna understand, but that's okay. The point is, I wanted my readers to see more of real life in this fictional story.
Second, I wanted to bring in a scene that made Billy more likable. I hope you guys are already in love with Billy like I am. But so far in the story, I've kept all of her feelings pretty silly. Like in the pizza place or at the church when she was freaking out about not belonging--all of that is just about self-consciousness and irrational fears, as relatable as they may be. But here in this chapter, Billy's deeper feelings--some she didn't even realize she had--were coming to light. Her feelings of guilt about lying to her parents, or disappointment in Bruce Will excluding himself, or sadness about not being able to share her joy about the Dickerson family with her family--these feelings are those that evoke empathy from the readers, which is so vital to a well written protagonist.
Third, I wanted to further Reid's and Bruce Will's and Billy's relationship on a more personal level. So far they've gotten along fairly well on a primarily superficial level, just teasing each other and hanging out, things like that. But I wanted to give them a closer friendship that involves more personal thoughts and feelings, generally giving the story more depth. In the upcoming chapter, part 2, you'll see as Bruce Will and Reid make sure that Billy knows they understand her feelings and that they aren't judging her and that they're glad to be her friends, and even to know that she feels the way that she does, so that maybe they can help her.
So now that you know my reasoning for bringing the story a little further down to earth, I'm giving you the assurance that the story WILL NOT remain in this position of seriousness. I'll be getting back to the original feel of the story as soon as we move past this scene in the bathroom, don't worry.
You Have No Idea - Part 1
Lunch went with the theme of the day and tension seemed to be that theme. Everyone knew that something was going on with Bruce Will, but the only person that knew exactly what that something was was Reid, who refused to tell me. He only kept insisting that me and Bruce Will needed to work it out on our own.
So it was an issue that Bruce Will had with me personally, but he wasn’t man enough to walk up to me and address it. What could it be? Had I done something? I couldn’t think of a reason for any of this, but I didn’t have to; I would find out the reason from the source himself.
I had gotten out of my dress clothes, cleaned my face, and pulled my curled hair back up into a bun, my bag thrown over my shoulder and ready to leave. But instead of heading downstairs and recovering my hidden bike and returning to the real world, I went the opposite direction down the hallway.
Bruce Will’s bedroom was at the very end of the hall and I knew he was in there. As soon as the meal was excused, I had watched him head up the stairs, probably planning on not seeing me for another few days when he would have decided how much he hated me. Reid had offered to come into the room with me, but I said no; I wanted to do this on my own. And as I passed Reid’s room, he looked up and gave me a thumbs up and a smile, wishing me luck. I nodded and kept moving.
The door was open, probably because he didn’t feel the need to keep it closed when he was at the of the hall and around the corner, out of sight--and also because he wasn’t planning on me walking through it. I just marched in, throwing in a passing rap of the knuckles on the open door to announce my entrance.
“Hey,” I said, stopping in the middle of the open floor, in front of the bean bag he was sunk into. I adjusted the position of the strap on my shoulder.
Bruce Will looked shocked to see me in the middle of his room, which was remarkably clean, looking down at him in his athletic shorts and messy hair that he did not think I would see. When I saw him lounging in a bean bag, I automatically expected to see his phone in his hands, a dazed look on his face as he scrolled through highlight reels of our fellow students at school. But he was holding a book instead. I respected that.
“Well, I’m going,” I told him, swinging my body in the direction of his door. “I can see you weren’t planning on saying goodbye.”
At that, Bruce Will stood and mussed up his hair some more, as if he was trying to tell me that he didn’t care that I was in his room. “Goodbye,” he said indignantly.
I couldn’t do it anymore--I erupted like a volcano that had been building up pressure for days. “You can’t be serious,” I spit. “Do you have any idea how much trouble I went through to be here today? Because you wanted me here? The amount of planning I put in to today, the perfect lie for my parents, the perfect attitude for yours, the perfect plan for coming to your house and going to your church and going home--all without my family knowing a single thing? And for what? To spend the day with your cousin while you sulked around, ignoring me for some reason I'm completely unaware of.”
“Oh, well, sorry for looking forward to having you over today and then overhearing that cousin of mine talking to you in his bedroom about not telling me whatever it is you wish so desperately to keep from me even though I thought we were friends. But no, you and Reid are the ones that are friends. I thought you’d be happy to get to hang out with him without me getting in the way. And I don’t know why you care if your parents know about today, it’s not like it matters--we’re not friends anyway.”
I stared at him in anger, my whole body trembling. “You have no idea,” I said, shaking my head. Feelings that I didn’t even realize I had about this whole situation were bubbling up to the surface and now I was crying (again!) and shoving Bruce Will around his own room and all he could do was stand there.
“You have no idea what it’s like to have friends that your parents hate that you just want to hang out with at their church with their amazing family. You have no idea what it’s like to know someone like you and not be able to tell your family about this great friend that you’ve met because if they knew--if they knew--that you were hanging out with him, you’d be grounded for days. You have no idea what it’s like to lie to your family to their faces about where you’re going when all you want to do is tell them that you get to go to church for the first time and you really want them to come with you. You have no idea!”
At some point near the tail end of my tantrum, Reid had come running in and had pulled me away from Bruce Will, trying to ask me what was wrong, what was going on, but I was too worked up to answer. I got away from Reid and took off back down the hall, locking myself in the bathroom and collapsing on the floor, leaning against the cabinets under the sink.
This was terrible. How had I let this happen? I was sitting on the floor in the Dickersons’ bathroom, surrounded by dirty towels and stray glass marbles and Nerf darts, bawling my eyes out. I couldn’t go home, not like this. My family would know immediately that something was wrong. But I couldn’t very well walk out of this room. I barely knew the Dickerson boys, much less their families who would also probably be able to tell something was wrong. I was stuck in this bathroom forever. How had I let this happen?
“Hey, did you see where Billy went?” I heard Reid ask someone in the hall. There wasn’t a response, but seconds later, he was knocking on the door. “Billy? I know you’re in there.”
I didn’t say anything. Instead, I found myself praying for the first time in my life. God, if You’re out there, please help me. What do I do? What do I do?
And then the door opened. I couldn’t believe this. I ducked my head, pulling my knees to my chest and hugging my legs. This couldn’t be happening. I would never be able to live this down.
“Joke’s on you,” Reid said as I felt them both sit next to me on either side. “The lock on that door has been broken for a long time.”
I walked in after Owen, looking around and taking the room in. It was fairly small, as every room in this small church was, but it was full of people--and all of them were looking at me. Feeling uncomfortable, I sat down in the nearest seat and sunk into it, wishing that Reid and Bruce Will would walk in already. How long did it take to have a quick guy-heart-to-heart and then bro-hug it out?
But they never came. The teacher called everyone’s attention to the front, and then everyone’s attention to me, asking my name (to which Owen tried to respond with Emily, which I immediately shut down) and then the teacher gave the lesson and I sat alone. The whole time. I was majorly regretting coming to this church, even if the lesson about single eyes was pretty interesting. I had only come because Bruce Will had made it sound so nice and he seemed so happy when I said I would. . . .
When the teacher dismissed the class, I stood and walked out before anyone could whisper about me or whatever it was that youth groups did in their spare time. I walked around the church, my eyes traveling over everything in sight, trying to find one of the guys. Why had they left me like that? I didn’t understand. Was Bruce Will really so upset that they missed a full hour of class?
“Hey, are you okay?” Owen was suddenly next to me, his hands stuffed in his pockets.
I swallowed, coming to the startling realization that I had stopped dead in the middle of the foyer and tears were pooling in my eyes. I took a deep breath, looking away. “I’m fine. Thank you.”
But he didn’t walk away like I hoped he would. And he also didn’t say something snarky like I had pegged he would. He placed a hand on my shoulder. “What’s going on? Why are you crying?”
I blinked furiously, sniffed. “I’m not, I’m fine. I’m just waiting for someone. You can go.”
Owen sighed behind me, a torrent of people flooding the foyer and greeting one another. I thought I spotted Reid in the sea of faces, but then he was gone and Owen was dragging me to one side of the room.
“Who are you waiting for?” Owen asked, leaning in close so I had no choice but to look him in the eye.
I dabbed at my eyes, finding no point in hiding them anymore. He knew I was upset. My arms tightened around me. “I’m here with the Dickersons.”
Owen nodded, standing on his toes to see over everyone. He waved someone over and a few moments later, Reid came into view. He looked at me and exclaimed, “Ah, there you are! Where have you been?”
I turned back to Owen. He smiled warmly. “You okay?”
I nodded and he patted my arm. “Thanks.” I smiled.
“No problem, Billy,” he said as he passed me to leave and I watched him go, my smile a little more genuine.
“Are you alright? You look upset. Were you crying?” Reid spewed.
I shook my head. “I’m fine. Where were you? I sat alone in class, waiting for you to show up.”
Reid practically slapped himself in the face and I almost laughed. “Oh, man, Billy. I’m so sorry. Bruce Will and I were sorting a few things out and we just didn’t realize what time it was and that you were wandering around here all by yourself. Ah, man, I’m sorry.”
I smiled. “Where is Bruce Will? Is everything okay?”
And then Reid was avoiding eye contact and rubbing the side of his neck. “Um, yeah, about that. . . .”
“Reid, Billy!” Jackie waved us over, ushering us into the same pew in the back from the other night. I followed Reid into the pew and Jackie followed me, a long sandwich of Dickersons squeezed onto the wooden bench. I began to wonder how on earth me and my family had fit ourselves onto this bench the other night; I couldn’t imagine this pew seating three more people.
Or four. I spotted Bruce Will up at the front, sitting next to Owen and his family. He and Owen were talking and Bruce Will seemed perfectly happy. I was very confused.
After singing a few hymns, we all settled into the pew and I relaxed for the first time since we had gotten there. I was sitting next to one of my friends and the other was in sight and I didn’t feel like I had before. . . uncomfortable. Like I didn’t fit in. But now I almost felt like I could belong. Someday. Especially when I was handed a Bible.
“You don’t have a Bible?” Reid had asked when he caught me reading over his shoulder.
I shook my head, my cheeks warming. I probably should have had a Bible and I felt incomplete sitting here without one, everyone around me having one in their lap. But I wasn’t about to go and ask my parents to buy me one, or even buy one myself and walk into my house with it tucked in somewhere, hidden.
Reid looked at me for a second and picked up his Bible, handing it to me. I took it excitedly and flipped through the pages, completely losing the place he had had a moment ago. I heard him chuckle beside me and I elbowed him, stopping to read a couple verses he had highlighted in Psalms.
How crazy it was that people believed there was one limitless and invisible person living in the sky that created everything and watched our every move. And yet here I was, soaking it up. And I kind of wanted to believe it, too.
When the preacher was done and they sang a slow, sad song at the end, I excitedly smacked Reid on the arm when they started to sing the same words from those verses.
“This is in the Bible!” I whispered.
He nodded, smiling, and I looked around and saw that no one else really seemed to notice, so I calmed down and decided to be cool about it. I just never knew there were songs that were made from words in the Bible. That was so cool.
When the announcements were made after the song and they dismissed everyone, I held Reid’s Bible out to him. “Thanks for letting me borrow it,” I said.
Reid reached out, but instead of taking it, he pushed it back toward me. “Keep it.”
“No way. This is yours. It has all your little notes and stuff in it.”
Reid stopped me. “Keep it. It’s yours. I have others.” And then he shrugged and turned around to talk to his dad. I looked down at the Bible that had obviously belonged to someone for a while. Wow. Mine.
And I didn’t put that Bible down for a long time.
Organic and Natural Gunk
“Why are you putting that stuff on anyway?” Reid asked, watching me closely.
Reid’s dad Matthew hit a bump and I almost smeared eyeliner up my forehead. That was close.
I rolled my eyes at Reid. I was doing that a lot this morning. It was like all of the sudden since he was the only one in on the “my parents hate the Dickersons” secret, he felt like he now had the freedom to tell me everything he was thinking, especially if it was about something he didn’t like me doing. I didn’t know if it was the fact that I had a boyfriend now or the fact that he was suddenly so open about his distaste for everything I did, probably both, but I was now realizing that I was finding him less and less cute and more and more annoying--more like a brother than anything else.
“Because I want to,” I brushed him off. I shoved my elbow into the nonexistent space between his side and mine to dig in my little makeup bag for some mascara. Reid grunted.
If he even dared say anything about having to sit smooshed up against me, I would strangle him before we could make it to the church parking lot. I didn’t even want to be in Reid’s parents’ car, fitted in between Reid and Bruce Will (who, by the way, was ignoring me for a reason I didn’t know). I would much rather be in the back of the SUV with Lincoln, listening to Sara and Hazel tell each other about the dreams they had last night. But here I was, all thanks to Reid. Here’s how it went when we stood outside the house, trying to figure out where I would sit:
“Well, Billy,” Bruce Will’s mom, Jackie, said, “We have two open seats in the back of the SUV and one in Tanya and Matthew’s car. So you can choose if you want to sit with the boys or with Lincoln. It’s up to you.”
It was obvious where I was going to ride. Sitting in the back of the SUV would be bumpy, but having an open seat separating me and Lincoln versus sitting between Reid and Bruce Will? SUV, please.
I took a step toward the SUV, heading for the line of kids waiting to climb in. “I think--”
“She’ll ride with us,” Reid had said, snatching up my arm and tugging me back over to him.
“She wants to,” he cut me off. “Let’s go, don’t want to be late!”
And then I was shoved into the car and Reid was pushing me into Bruce Will so he could slide into the seat next to me and we were all very uncomfortable.
Back to now:
“You don’t need it, though,” Reid said.
I raised my eyebrows. Was that supposed to be a compliment? I couldn’t tell. “And why is that?” I asked.
Reid shrugged, dragging my sleeve up with the movement. “It’s a very casual church.”
I tried not to roll my eyes again. “Mm-hmm.”
Reid began to chuckle and elbowed me, which really only took the slightest of movements. “I’m kidding.”
I gave him a look. He gave me the look back.
“I am kidding. You don’t need it because you’re beautiful without it, and I wish you weren’t putting all that nasty gunk on your beautiful face.”
I forced myself to stifle a smile. “It’s not ‘nasty gunk’. It’s all organic and natural.”
“Ah, so it’s organic and natural gunk,” Reid shot back.
I couldn’t help it; I laughed. But it was cut short by a derisive grunt from Bruce Will. Reid and I looked over at him, but he seemed to be pretending we weren’t there. Reid shrugged when I looked over to him.
As soon as we pulled into a parking space, Bruce Will hopped out of the car and took off alone toward the entrance of the church. Tanya looked over to Matthew.
“I’ll go talk to him,” Reid said to his parents. He turned to me and smiled before getting out and walking after Bruce Will.
“Do you know what that’s about?” Tanya turned around and looked at me.
I shook my head. “No. I did notice that something was off, but I didn’t know anything was bothering him so much.”
The SUV pulled up in the spot next to us and we all got out.
“Where are the boys?” Jeremiah, Bruce Will’s dad, asked.
I piped up before Tanya or Matthew could spill too many beans. “They went ahead of us. They’re just inside.”
Jeremiah nodded, helping Sara from her car seat. “Dad, I have to go to the bathroom,” Sara cried.
He nodded, looking to hand Sara over to his wife, but just at that moment, Jackie spilled the contents of her purse across the pavement.
“Oh, do you need some help?” I offered.
“No, no, I’m fine,” Jackie said, waving me off. “But could you take Sara and Hazel to the ladies’ room? They’ll be late for class if they don’t go soon.”
“Oh, um, sure,” I replied, turning to the girls. “Ready?”
I had never taken any young girls to the bathroom before. What if they, like, fell in? What if the toilet overflowed or the sink sprayed them in the face? What if they fell and busted their heads open? Wait, okay, obviously I’m taking this way too far. Just relax.
We got to the bathroom successfully, so I took a deep breath. If we can get in okay, we can get out okay.
The twins both found some empty stalls, so I went ahead and found one as well. I listened for any abnormal splashing that might indicate a disaster, but nothing came. We all washed our hands and none of the sinks were overly splashy. And we all walked out of the bathroom with our heads in tact. Success.
Both of the girls led me to their classroom where they waved me away and left me alone to be lost. Well, I definitely didn’t anticipate this.
“You look lost,” I heard someone say. I looked over to see a boy that I knew I recognized.
“Hey, you’re the guy from the other night,” I said.
He looked at me confused. “Um, sorry. What was that?”
“Yeah, you are. You were flirting with my sister,” I pointed at him, walking over to where he stood. He took a few steps away from me.
“Um, I’ve got to get to class, but nice meeting you,” he said, starting to take off.
“Wait!” I called after him, catching up. “You were right, I’m totally lost.”
He nodded, forcing a smile.
“What’s your name?” I asked him, looking him up and down as we went up a stairwell.
He squirmed under my watch. “Owen.”
“Owen,” I nodded my head, still watching him. “I’m Billy.”
He looked at me. “Billy?” He said it more like a statement.
“Yes, Billy. That’s what people call me. If you must know, my actual name is Emily. But I’ve never gone by Emily in my life.”
He chewed his lip. “Well, good to meet you, Emily.”
And then he walked into what I assumed to be the Sunday school classroom, leaving me alone in the hallway. I knew it. That kid was trouble.
Bank Teller Luncheon
I woke up to my dog Patrick running into my room and hopping up onto my bed, effectively landing on my gut. I rolled over with a groan onto my other dog, Dave, and groaned again. I finally decided to just sit up and that’s when my alarm began to blare, reminding me that today was Sunday. Today was Sunday.
I hopped up excitedly and shut off the alarm, scooping up Patrick in my arms and hugging him. Today was Sunday. Today I would tell my parents that I was going to the beach but instead I would be going to church with the Dickersons. I would pretend to pack a lunch into a bag that would actually hold some church clothes, walk my bike over to the Dickerson house where I would hide it in their garage, change into my church clothes in their bathroom, and then go to church with them and then back to the house for lunch. And then I would change back into my beach clothes and grab my bike and ride it around the neighborhood for a few minutes (to give my hair a little convincing umph) and return home happy and exhausted. I had been looking forward to this all week. I couldn’t wait for it all to unfold.
I was a little bummed that I hadn’t been able to make it to dinner at the Dickersons’ on Friday, but I just couldn’t come up with a good enough lie to get me out on a Friday night when my parents knew all too well that my best friend (the only person I hang out with on Friday nights) was still out of town. So instead I sat at the usual dinner table with the usual company and then watched a usual Hallmark movie to wrap up the exciting night. Obviously not what I was hoping for, but today would hopefully make up for it.
I immediately headed to the bathroom for a shower, a quick shave, a brushing of teeth, and some pampering. I curled my hair and tied it up in a bun so no one would notice until I wanted them to, and by then, the rest of the family was waking up. I rushed back to my room, shooed the dogs away (for goodness sake, it wasn’t their bed), and jumped into my shorts and T-shirt, pretending that I had a bathing suit on under it. It was 9:40. Time to go!
Scooping up my bag that I had packed full with a dress, heels, makeup, a makeup remover wipe, and my phone, I tried not to skip down the stairs and into the kitchen.
I reached for a banana, but thought better of it--banana breath, no, thank you. My mom noticed as she stirred her sugary coffee.
“Go ahead,” she said, nodding to it.
“No, that’s okay,” I said. Man, I was way too tense. Relax, Billy. You’ll give it away. “I’m not very hungry.”
My mom nodded, her lips pursed. “Going somewhere?”
This was it. My time to shine and recite the script I had had in my head for days. And to lie to my mom’s face. Yeah, that part wasn’t that great.
“Beach. I was thinking about renting a surfboard for the day, trying that out again.”
It was the perfect lie. The only reason I would get up this early on a Sunday morning to go to the beach was if I was planning on doing more than just swim. And surfing was a great excuse. Last time I had surfed, I had nearly drowned and I actually ended up breaking the board. I came home sore all over and with too much salt in my lungs, but I had told my parents that I would try again eventually. I really did want to know how to surf, but I just wouldn’t be learning today.
My mom gave me a worried look. “Are you sure about that? I’m not sure that’s the best idea.”
I mock-sighed. “I’m sure. Don’t worry about me. It’ll be great. I’m gonna go. See you later!”
I headed out of the house as my mom called after me, “But you should eat if you’re going to the beach for the day!”
I waved back at her. “It’ll be great! Bye!”
I blew a big breath out after closing the door behind me and walked around to the side of the house for my bike. I rode it down the road until my house was out of view (just in case either of my parents had decided to watch me go), waited a minute, and then rode back up the road to the Dickersons’.
I walked up to the closed garage and tapped on the door three times, and like magic, it opened. Inside stood Reid, his tanned skin accentuated by the white button-up he wore, paired with long Levi’s to fit his long legs, and beige slip-ons.
“Morning,” he said as he closed the door behind me, taking my bike and propping it up against the wall. “I still feel like this is a bit extravagant for a trip to church.”
I rolled my eyes and followed him up the steps, through the side door, and into the kitchen. “I already told you a thousand times. This is the way it has to be.”
“But keeping it from Bruce Will? I don’t get it,” Reid said as he led me through the house, up the stairs, and to the bathroom.
I reached for the doorknob, but Reid grabbed my hand. “There’s someone in there.”
I grumbled. “Then how am I supposed to get dressed before we leave?”
He dragged me further down the hall, never letting go of my hand, and into a bedroom. His bedroom.
“You can get dressed in here,” he said, cracking the door behind him and standing in front of it. “But only if you tell me why we’re keeping this from Bruce Will.”
I sat on the bed, hugging my bag. Reid watched me, waiting.
I would have rathered Bruce Will lead me through the house, tell me there was someone in the bathroom, and then show me into his room. But I didn’t want Bruce Will to know about the feud that he was apparently oblivious to. I liked it the way it was, him thinking that my parents were awesome people that liked him and would be okay to know that he was hanging out with their daughter. So I had had to tell Reid instead, who had treated this situation like this the whole time because he didn’t approve.
“Bruce Will doesn’t know about my parents. And I want it to stay that way.”
“Why?” Reid prodded.
I rubbed my eyes. I had already explained all of this to him. “Please just respect my wishes, Reid.”
Reid seemed to concede. “Fine.” He turned and opened the door, but stopped. “Hey, one more thing.” I looked at him. “Should I wear a tie?”
I smiled and shook my head. “Not without a coat. That would be too bank teller luncheon and not enough Reid church.”
He nodded and gave me a confused look before walking out and shutting the door. Whoa. I guess my mom and her fashion tips had had some effect on me after all. Even though that sentence hadn’t made much sense to either of us, it was definitely there.
Pimply, Stinky Boys
I told Hannah about everything over video chat when I got home that day. There was a lot of squealing and laughing and nodding. I hadn’t really talked to her in close to a week and I had to explain to her that I just kept forgetting to text her when I finally got my phone back.
Once I had caught her up on the affairs of my summer without her, she proceeded to fill me in on the drama of hers.
“So my brother apparently has a new girlfriend, which, word on the street is, he thinks is ‘the one’, so when I finally get back home he’s supposed to introduce her to, like, the entire family at this party we’re having--which I literally found out about, like, an hour ago--for my great-granddad’s eighty-ninth birthday or something. I don’t know, she seems a bit sketchy to me, at least from what I’ve heard. Of course, mom is super upset about the whole thing, because of what happened with Ty’s last girlfriend, which is putting Holden on edge, so basically the house is on unsteady ground right now. Luckily for me, I’m not there to deal with it. Or not directly, anyway. I still have to deal with Holden texting me during his stress fits and mom calling me in the middle of the night because, oh, man, what if this girl goes crazy like René did? To which I have to respond in as reasonable a tone as possible while still having to try to shut down the conversation because this is not my problem. So anyway, there’s that. And there’s this girl here. . . .”
Hannah had quite the life. We had known each other for as long as I could remember. I had been with her through all of the ups and downs of her life. Her parents divorced when she was eleven and her mom took full custody of both her and her twin brother Ty, obviously altering their relationship with their dad, who I remember to be a pretty cool guy. Their father, Wendell, met another woman, Dana, and married her two years after the divorce, helping her raise her son, Isaac. Their mother, Shaaron, met another man, Holden, and they married only a year ago. As their step-dad, I thought Holden was doing just fine. He, Ty, and Hannah got along well.
And the story of René was also a long one. When Ty and Hannah were thirteen--only two years ago--Ty met a girl named René. He may have been young, but their relationship got pretty serious--as serious as a thirteen-year-old boy’s relationship can get. He honestly believed he was in love with her. They went everywhere together, so I got to know her pretty well, being over at Hannah’s house a lot and even at my house--Ty and I are pretty good friends, too, so he would come over when Hannah did. It was going really well for them for a long time, almost a year. But then one day she changed and we were all suddenly out to get her, according to her. There was a lot of yelling about us keeping secrets and devising plots against her, and then she rather rudely broke it off with Ty in front of both of our families and stormed out when she was through. The whole thing seriously spooked Ty, which worried his mom, which leads to where we are now. We’ll all just have to hope this time it works out better.
After hours of talking and running down our batteries, we finally hung up, me being left with her advice for the whole going-with-this-Mark-kid-to-some-party thing: go for it. She simply said not to think about it too much and just go with the flow, summer wouldn’t last forever.
But now it was time to decide for myself.
I didn’t know what I had been expecting. A packed house? Rowdy teenagers? All I knew was that it wasn’t this.
First of all, there wasn’t another girl in the house. Not a single one. Second of all, there was a total of a whole seven people, each of them being pimply, stinky boys. I was surprised to see that Mark was by far the cutest of them all. And third, as it turned out, Mark’s older brother did in fact make a bet with Mark that he wouldn’t be able to find a date for this party. However, as it was found out tonight, Mark did find a date--and he was the only one to do so of all eight boys, because apparently the bet extended to the whole of them. So from the perspective of the boys, Mark was definitely ruling the room.
As soon as I got there, Mark ambushed me with tips and warnings about the evening to come that did nothing but freak me out. He led me to the kitchen where he introduced me to his mom as she mixed Dr. Pepper with Sprite and then he showed me to the group in the dining room where they were already knee deep in an interesting looking card game. How late was I?
Of course, the guys gawked and there were even a few “Oo”s and “Ah”s, much to my discomfort. But thankfully, when Mark had cleared a seat for me beside him at the table, I was free to excuse myself for a drink. I waltzed desperately back into the kitchen where I made small talk with Mark’s mom, Katy.
“So where exactly did he pick you up?” Katy asked and I was taken aback a bit. Had he done this before? Was she familiar with her son finding random girls to fulfill her eldest son’s dares?
“Um, the beach,” I answered. “You know about that?”
“Oh, yeah,” she said, her spoon clanking against the side of the pitcher as she stirred. “He tells me everything, it’s so cute. As soon as he found you he came home and told me all about a pretty girl that he had gotten to agree to come to the party with him and that he didn’t even have to bribe you. I can tell he really likes you, even if he doesn’t really know you yet.”
My head was spinning. So much of what she had just said was flattering, but I was having a hard time keeping up with all the information. Wow. He talked to his mother about me.
I smiled as the sandstorm in my head settled and poured a glass of water for myself. I asked, “So what is this? Do they have these parties regularly?”
“Oh, yes, though I wouldn’t really call them parties. Lots of boys his age have groups like this, but they have this specific game they get together to play twice a month. The other groups play other games. The boys’ parents take turns hosting and it just so happens that it’s my turn.
“These games can take a while sometimes, so that’s why they decided to go ahead and start early without you. You’re not late. And we’re so glad to have you join us tonight. But I guess I better stop talking your ear off so you can go out there and keep my son company. Have fun.”
And with that she practically shoved me out of the kitchen and continued to watch me as I made my way to my seat, settling in next to Mark and his friend Duck (I don’t know, I was afraid to ask). I sat there for probably ten minutes before Mark even acknowledged me, but I didn’t take any offense, I could tell all the guys were fully engrossed in this game. And besides, the time that I spent being ignored was the time that I used to learn about and observe the game.
There was a lot of game talk and minimal chit chat about life as the game (and time) stretched on, but somehow the whole group just seemed to grow more and more comfortable and close. I was getting smiles from more than just Mark less than halfway through the game and even the fact that I was starting to understand the game was granting me an in with the guys that I was disliking less and less as the night began to race by. I was even asked for advice or confirmation on certain plays once or twice, which, I must admit, was great.
By the end of the night, I knew all of the six boys’ names and I might even say they liked me--I might even say I liked them. And when the game was over and Mark offered to walk me out, I even received a chorus of goodbyes from them. This night had gone far better than I had even dared to hope.
Mark followed me to where I had left my bike propped up against one of the trees in his front yard where we stood to say our awkward farewells.
Mark stuffed his hands into his pockets. “Thanks for coming tonight. It was cool that you were here.”
I smiled. “Thanks for inviting me. I was pleasantly surprised tonight.”
He grinned at that and then continued shyly, “Would it. . . be okay if I. . . asked you to come next time?”
His eyes flicked back and forth between me and the ground. I smiled and said, “That would be great.”
His face brightened up considerably. “Awesome. So, um, can I”--he cleared his throat--“can I have your phone number? You know, uh, to let you know when and where it will be?”
“Sure.” We exchanged phone numbers and then stood there for a moment longer in silence as we tried to figure out what to do next. Did this mean we were dating? Did I want to be dating him? I didn’t not want to. Did he want to be dating me?
“Does this mean you’re my girlfriend?” Mark asked quietly.
“I don’t know,” I answered, tickled that he was thinking the same thing. “Do you want me to be?”
He was quiet for a long time as he either thought about it or worked up the courage to tell me what he was thinking. And then he said, “Yes.”
I was elated. “Okay.”
“I’ll be your girlfriend.”
He tried to stop a smile, but really he only minimized it. “Cool.”
And then he quickly leaned in and kissed me on the cheek, and just as quickly turned away and walked off, calling a goodnight back in my direction.
I smiled the whole way home.
Nothing Could Ruin This Day
We were in a classroom. It was fairly small, but the other options were way smaller, so I wasn’t going to complain. There were toys in chests and Crayon art taped on the walls, so we were definitely in the preschool-kindergarten classroom. There was a desk on one side of the room, which is where Ms. Carmichael sat, doing what appeared to be paperwork. And on the other side of the room was a two-foot-high table with chairs to match, which is where we tried to sit at first.
When we had all gotten our pizza (there were probably about ten of us), most of us congregated at the table, but after watching Reid try to sit in one of the tiny chairs--failing miserably--and nearly falling over because I was laughing so hard, the Dickersons, Carmen, and me ended up on the floor, making me glad that I wore a comfortable, stretchy dress.
However, Carmen wanted no part in sitting with the Dickersons. When I noticed her apprehension towards them, I pulled her aside and tried to talk some sense into her. The fact that she was sitting with the other teens on the other side of the room right now shows exactly what good that did. She was still brainwashed just like Mom and Dad. Not that I blamed her; I would have done the same thing just days ago.
“And then I did a double drop swing back fall hard punch kick and he still didn’t die!” little Lincoln was telling Reid. I hoped they were talking about a video game. “But then I just had to do another karate kick and he was out. I crushed him!”
“So, what have you been up to for the past few days?” Bruce Will was asking me. “I, um”--he cleared his throat--“haven’t noticed you around, uh, lately.”
I noted his stiffness as he spoke, wondering what it was about. I could tell he was sitting rigidly, something that was highly uncharacteristic of the Bruce Will I was coming to know, and wished he wasn’t, because he was making me stiff.
I took a sip of my Diet Pepsi and set the Styrofoam cup back down on the ground next to me as I replied, “Yeah, I’ve been spending a lot of my time at the house for the past week. Parents grounded me.”
“From leaving the house?” Bruce Will asked incredulously.
“Oh, no. They just took away my bike. I can go out all I want--I just have to walk. And, of course, no hanging out with anyone. So that explains my radio silence. I’m hoping, though, that my being here is the end to that grounding.”
I saw Bruce Will nod in the corner of my eye, but my focus had moved to the other side of the room. I tensed when I saw Carmen laugh way too hard at a joke that one of the guys she was sitting with told and then reach over and touch his arm. Uh-uh. There was no way she was over there flirting with some boy she just met.
“Yeah, I’ve been spending the last week in my house, too,” Bruce Will continued. He paused for a second as he watched me. “You okay?”
I broke my gaze from the guy and turned back to Bruce Will. “What? Oh, yeah. Just thinking. What were you saying? You spent most of your time at home, too?”
He smiled like he was glad to know I was listening and then went on. “Yeah, actually, my parents and I do this thing every year where we set aside one week in July and make it ‘family time’.”
I took one more glance at the boy across the room, deciding to ignore it (at least for now), and then gave all of my attention to my neighbor. “Oh, wow, that sounds cool. You guys must be pretty close, then.”
He gave a big smile. “Yeah, we really are. But sometimes--actually, scratch that--most of the time our ‘family time’ is pretty grueling.”
I scrunched up my brow in curiosity. “How do you mean?”
At that moment, I saw something change in his face just as the rigidity slipped away from his posture, the easy smile and comfortable slouch returning. And just like that, we were deep in conversation just like old friends.
They say freedom rings and I definitely agree. And it sounds a whole lot like a little bell on a bike.
I couldn’t stop ringing it. I was getting plenty of annoyed looks from those around me as I rode down the street on my way to the beach, but it just felt so good to be back on this uncomfortable banana seat, making my way quickly and then slowly and then quickly again to my home away from home. The ocean breeze was calling me more than I could stand and I was getting so antsy to dig my toes into the sand that I was having a hard time keeping in a straight line.
I was on cloud nine right now and I didn’t think anything could put me in a bad mood. After all, it was the perfect day.
After we left the church last night, all I could think about was the boys. How Bruce Will had told me in detail about how ‘family time’ when it comes to his family means fasting and reading the Bible, and how now I know that the Dickersons are religious and how that makes them two times more interesting. How both Bruce Will and Reid invited me to dinner on Friday and church every Sunday and how I couldn’t wait to take them up on that. But then when we got home, all I could think about was the beach. How I was officially ungrounded and I got to have all of my awesome books and music and TV shows back, but, best of all, I got my bicycle back. How I was going to get up early this morning and make my family a big fancy breakfast and then put on my swimsuit and fly down the street on my beloved bike, soon to spend the entire day in the water and on the sand.
And then I woke up this morning and the weather was perfect and I just felt so great and absolutely nothing could ruin this day for me. And now, stepping onto the sand that’s still cool from the morning and feeling the amazing breeze on my face, I seriously thought I might cry. Seriously.
I started searching for the perfect tree where I could park my bike and keep my bag, but they were already all taken so I opted for getting closer to the water and finding a good spot at a fence. There, I stripped down to my suit, ignoring some jerky catcall (nothing could ruin this day), and took off to where the sand was wet. I stood there for an abnormally long amount of time, just watching the waves and squishing the sand beneath my feet. This was my happy place.
I slowly turned to face a boy with an awkward haircut and a very skinny body. Nothing could ruin this day. “Hello.”
I had to inwardly laugh at myself for a second as I thought about how that’s become my trademark “Go away” greeting. I just wondered if he’d realize what exactly my “hello” means. So, to help him get it, I turned around and started walking the opposite direction.
“Hey, wait,” he called after me. Nothing could ruin this day.
I kept walking, but that didn’t stop him. “So, what’s up?”
“Oh, you know, the sun, the sky, my annoyance,” I spoke casually.
“Haha, good one. You come here often?”
I stopped abruptly and made a one-eighty, walking off and hoping he wouldn’t notice. And at first, he didn’t. But then a few seconds passed and he was at my side again. So I stopped again and looked the guy in the eye.
Nothing could ruin this day. “What do you want?”
He ignored my question. “You know, you've got really pretty hair--”
“What do you want?”
He sighed dramatically. “I know you don’t know me, but I made this bet with my brother--”
“Oh, no.” I stormed off immediately. No way was I getting into some pubescent boy’s bet that undoubtedly had something to do with an older girl wandering around the beach alone. “Absolutely not. Leave me out of it.”
“Please! I need your help!” He was running after me, his arms flailing around awkwardly, and I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Is that how you run?”
“What do you mean?” He actually looked like he honestly didn’t know what I was talking about. Man, maybe this kid did need my help.
“Okay, okay, what is it? What’s the bet?” I didn’t know what on earth I was doing, but then again, I apparently didn’t know that a lot lately.
“Wait, really? You’ll help me?” His eyes lit up like a child’s at the candy store.
“Not unless you tell me what I’m getting myself into.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, okay, so basically--”
Why were they here? Why couldn’t I just go to the beach without any interruptions? I started trying to think of a way to run away without being too obvious, but who was I kidding, they had already seen me and were headed over our way.
“What?” the boy that I was now realizing I didn’t know the name of said, turning to follow my gaze to where Bruce Will and Reid were, surprisingly alone. I would have expected to see the triplets with them.
“What’s your name?” I asked quickly as they neared. He sputtered, caught off guard. “Hurry, they’re almost here. What’s your name?”
“Hey, Billy,” Bruce Will greeted warmly, throwing his arm around me for an awkward side hug. That’s, um, odd. “We were just looking for you.”
“Uh, hey,” I said back, uncomfortably patting his naked side. I had never hugged a guy before, much less my neighbor--that I was supposed to hate--who was now shirtless.
And that’s when Reid came around to my other side and set a tan arm atop my bare, freckled shoulder, Bruce Will’s hand never leaving my side. “And who’s this?”
Oh. They were trying to save me from having to talk to this kid. Ha. How kind of them. If only I actually wanted that.
“This is Mark,” I answered, and then threw in, “A friend.”
All three of them looked at me then, the Dickerson boys realizing exactly what I was trying to tell them. I gave them each a look, to which Bruce Will responded immediately, withdrawing his arm. But the only movement coming from Reid’s end was his arm switching to both shoulders, not just the one. I rolled my eyes.
“Awesome. Nice to meet you, muck,” Reid said, extending his hand. “Mark. Sorry. Mark.”
I stifled a groan. “Mark, these are my. . . ,” I thought about what I would say, “Acquaintances.”
Reid gave a cheesy chuckle, one I had never heard before, and then corrected me with, “I’m the boyfriend, actually.”
My eyes widened at him, but he pretended not to see. “What is he doing?” I mouthed to Bruce Will, noticing how he was in a fit of laughter. Ah, so this was all becoming a joke to them. Well.
I shoved Reid away, Bruce Will bursting out in a howling laugh. “Get off of me.” I turned to Mark. “He is not my boyfriend.”
Reid feigned shock. “Are you breaking up with me?”
The look on Mark’s face was unreadable. I could probably guess what was going through his mind, though. “That’s it, I don’t want to see either of you right now. Go. Go away.”
“But, Billy.” Reid got on his knees in front of me. “After all we’ve been through?”
“I said go. I don’t want you here,” I said, choking down a smile. There was no way I was rewarding them with a smile after this stunt. I knew it was hard to be friends with guys, but, man. The things I didn’t know.
And so the boys shared a fist bump as they sauntered off, throwing smiles at me over their shoulders. I couldn’t help but break into an angry smile, shaking my head.
“Okay, sorry about that. Where were we?” I said, finally acknowledging Mark again.
“I need you to go to a party with me. As my date.”
It was day number four of living off of close to nothing. Food supply was down, water supply was nearly gone, and time was running out. I was nearing insanity; I could feel it. Just the simple things had started to become interesting, more vivid and animated, even. I was all alone. I had long ago begun having long conversations with myself, but just recently did inanimate objects initiate conversations themselves. I didn’t know how much longer I had. I only hoped someone would soon find me and save me--
“Stop being so dramatic.”
“Oi, can’t a girl narrate her life around here?” I cleared my throat. “I only hoped someone would soon find me and--”
“What are you even doing in here? What is all this?” Carmen used her toe to nudge a small blue brick on the floor that had fallen a little farther from the pile than the rest.
“That’s a LEGO, dear. I thought you were more educated in today’s toys.” I cleared my throat again. “I only hoped someone would soon--”
“Did you build that?”
I sighed loudly and turned around in the chair I was sitting in at my desk. I followed her gaze to the miniature beach house made up of small colorful plastic bricks. “Yes. You know, oddly enough, when you get LEGOs, the sets don’t normally come prebuilt.”
“I didn’t even know we had LEGOs anymore. I thought we threw them all out at the AM.”
AM is an acronym for Almost-Move, which is what me and my family call our brush with relocating across country a few years ago. We all thought for a full year that we were going to pack everything up and move to Washington where my mom was born. We had everything in boxes, we had even gotten to the point of having our cars crammed full of those cardboard cubes and small furniture, ready to go. But then something happened.
We were all just sitting in the sparsely furnished living room on the sofa that we didn’t have the room to bring with us. It was depressingly empty in that room and it was throwing us all off, and not in a good way. Dad filled the silence with, “Maybe we shouldn’t move.” And that’s when we unpacked and moved right back in.
What happened that day couldn’t really be explained and that didn’t really help when people kept asking us why we weren’t half way there already. But it’s what happened and we’re all glad for it.
I gasped. “Throw them out? LEGOs are not just junk that you throw away like yesterday’s trash just because you’ve already built all of the sets. LEGOs are. . . ,” I struggled for the right word, “Keepsakes that are to be cherished like yesterday’s treasures. They are irreplaceable.”
Carmen snickered, rolling her eyes. “You need to learn to do actual things when you get grounded.”
“I have been doing actual things,” I said, which was honestly true. I had been listening to music (until my parents realized they forgot to take that away too, and then did), I had been doing a lot of cleaning--the bathroom was practically spotless, might I add--organizing my closet, going for walks around the neighborhood, obviously playing with LEGOs, writing dumb short stories that always had happy endings (‘cause what other way is there to do it?), drawing, playing board games with Carmen, all sorts of stuff. I also went with Dad every time he left the house just so I’d be able to actually get out of the house for more than a scenic stroll. “I showered this morning,” I pointed out. “Actual thing.”
She laughed some more.
“There’s just nothing to do. . . ,” I grumbled, slowly sliding out of my seat and onto the floor. I didn’t know what she was talking about. Pfft, dramatic.
“Well, here’s something for you,” Carmen replied.
I looked up from the floor at her upside down face, craning my neck to get a clear picture.
“Mom said we’re going out tonight and to dress nice.”
I perked up immediately. “Really?”
She gave me a look.
“Okay, okay, but, like, really? What kind of nice? Presentable nice? Elegant nice? Clean nice?”
Carmen only shrugged. “Go ask her.” And then she walked away and went into her room, shutting the door behind her.
Once I figured out that Mom meant elegant nice, I got dressed in my favorite black floral maxi dress and with my trusty flip-flops and messy bun, we were off. I wondered where we might go. I hoped we’d go to some fancy dinner at one of my mom’s coworker’s houses where they always had the garlic knots that were to die for. My stomach was already growling.
But then we drove past their street and then another street I thought we might drive down. I was getting confused. No garlic knots?
Next thing I knew, we were pulling into the local church’s parking lot.
“Wait, why are we here? Are there going to be garlic knots? I’m confused.”
“We’re here to go to church, Billy,” my mom responded somewhat annoyed.
“But--” I stopped when I saw the look on her face. So this was a don’t-ask-questions kind of trip. Ugh. I hated those trips.
We got out of the car and I noticed then just how many other cars were in the parking lot. Huh. I wouldn’t have thought that for such a small church, not to mention on a weeknight, there would be this much of a turn out.
As we headed to the small entrance, I tried to remember the last time I had been to church. I didn’t think I had. What was the point when no one in my family believed in some God that created and controlled everything?
When we went inside the cozy little run-down church, there was music playing, but I didn’t hear any singing. We walked the short distance to the auditorium. It was crazy. People were packed into the brown wooden pews like sardines, some even standing around the back because they’d rather stand than be stuffed between elderly widows or introverted couples--which I really didn’t blame them, I would do the same if I actually had a choice. But instead, when my dad came up empty searching for an alternative, we ended up squished in on the back row with the Dickersons.
By some sort of luck, I was stuck between Carmen and Reid, guaranteeing me a free pass on cracking jokes and gossiping quietly during whatever this was that we were a part of. Maybe God does exist.
“Hey,” Reid greeted me with his attractive smirk, lifting his arm to rest behind me on the back of our pew to give us more room. . . or for some other reason.
I smiled back and started to respond when my dad stomped on my foot in passing, mumbled a passive apology, and then fitted himself in between Reid and me, settling in comfortably. I just sat stiffly next to him, rolling my eyes so much that it hurt.
I thought about how the Dickersons were here. I couldn’t for the life of me recall, of all the hours I spent watching them from my bedroom window, seeing them piling into their cars, all dressed up, on Wednesday night, leaving at exactly 6:45. There had to be something going on for everyone to have shown up like this.
“Do you know why we’re here?” I whispered to Carmen. “And why everyone else in this town is, too?”
She only shook her head in response as who I assumed to be the pastor of this tiny church stepped up to what I would hardly call a pulpit, the piano music coming to a stop.
“Good evening, everyone. It’s wonderful to see so many faces in this little place, gathering as a congregation to discuss God’s will for this town.”
So that was it? This was a town meeting? At a church? On Wednesday night? What terrible planning on whomever had to plan this’s part. Why did my parents drag me and Carmen along to this? We are perfectly capable of staying home by ourselves.
And then I remembered that I was grounded, that Carmen was only 13, and that they probably didn’t feel too confident on leaving the two of us alone for who knows how long.
“I do apologize for announcing a town meeting with such short notice,” said the pastor, “And to show our appreciation for your attendance we have some food in the back of the church for when we dismiss, as well as some pizza and sodas for the kids. They can go ahead and go to the back to eat, please just follow Ms. Carmichael, the kind lady in the green cardigan.”
He gestured over to a woman who actually looked quite nice, and kids ranging from probably 5-18 started to get up and walk toward her. When I saw the Dickerson kids stand next to us, I turned to my mom to see what she would say. Surely she wouldn’t make us stay here and listen to an old man drone on about fencing and bills, or whatever it is that people talk about in town meetings. I had already been grounded for 4 days. I needed this. Carmen and I both needed this.
She nodded her head emotionlessly and ushered us off after everyone else. Oh, yeah. There was definitely a God.
Until Further Notice
When we got back to the neighborhood, my parents were waiting on the front porch of our house. I didn’t notice them when we all got out of Bruce Will’s car and talked for a few minutes longer about dental hygiene. I didn’t notice them when I was squished into a group hug with the boys because they were glad that I had come. I didn’t notice them when Reid stopped me before I left and whispered to me that he thought I was cute, too, making my cheeks grow hot and feet fumble beneath me. I didn’t notice them when I started walking back to the house, throwing my scarf around my neck and thinking about my jacket that I “accidentally” left in Bruce Will’s car so I’d have a reason to come over again. But I did notice them when I took the first step up to the porch and heard them both clear their throats simultaneously.
“You went out with them?” my mom angrily interrogated. I was now sitting erect at our dining room table as Mom stared daggers at me and Dad stared pity at me from the opposite side of the table. “With two older boys? Alone? One of which is the son of--of--of the enemy? You’re only fifteen! You could have been hurt or kidnapped or worse. Did you even consider that?”
“No, but--” I began.
“That’s what I thought. You say you were following up on a lead? Well, you are never, ever allowed to ‘follow up on a lead’ like that again! What were you even doing? Shoplifting? Vandalizing? Oh, if you were doing anything of the sort--”
“Natalie,” my father interjected, “You do remember we’re talking about Billy, right? As in, our Billy? The Billy who cried for two days straight because she returned a library book a day late?”
“Well--I--uh--you--” my mom sputtered. She looked around the room as if confused, frowned at him, then furrowed her eyebrows at me. “You lied. You snuck out behind our backs, lied about it, and then got back home just in the nick of time to sneak back before curfew, both of us expecting you to be home two hours ago.”
“I wasn’t planning it,” I argued.
“I don’t care. I don’t care. You did it. It’s done. But what are you going to do now?”
I sat silently for a moment, determining if I was supposed to respond or not, and then said, “I’m sorry. It’s just, the boys aren’t bad. It was like the feud didn’t even exist when I was with them. Like we could actually be friends.”
“Well, I’m sorry too, because you can’t,” my mother replied. “That goes against one of the very few rules that we’ve asked you to follow and it’s just not happening. It never will.”
I frowned so badly that it hurt. “But, Dad, you’re the one that keeps telling me to make friends. Well, I am. I’m making friends.”
He shook his head sadly. “I know that I’ve said that. But you know that I never meant the Dickersons. I have to stand behind your mom with whatever she decides.”
“Thank you, Stephen.” My mom nodded as if we were in a business meeting and he had just supported her presentation. Then she turned to me. “And you’re grounded. Until further notice. Go to your room. Now.”
“Now, Billy,” my father echoed firmly.
I huffed, but didn’t say a word, and got up and marched off and up the stairs to my dark room where Carmen was lounging on my bed, watching TV. She didn’t have a TV in her room because our parents thought she was too young to have her own TV, so I often found her in my room, on my bed, watching my TV. And right now I didn’t really have the patience for that.
“Finish whatever you’re watching and get out,” I snapped rudely, tossing my scarf onto the bed. “I’m gonna go shower and I don’t want you in here when I get back.”
I gathered my things and went to the bathroom down the hall. I would regret everything I just said soon, but right now I was just blowing off steam on whatever was around to hear it.
I just hated how Dad always just sat there and did nothing, everything he said only backing up Mom. Forget it if he had another opinion--it was hers that mattered. It had been like that my entire life.
Ever since they met she was the dominant figure of the two: he was the nerdy kid that just needed someone to hang out with, she was the popular girl that just wanted someone different to hang out with. My parents were high school sweethearts that got married right out of college, the epitome of a successful relationship. And that was all because he just followed whatever she said, bending to whatever she wished. She was just good at hiding it by not asking for much and naturally giving off a superior air. She did something and my dad was behind her 100%. Ugh. I could hardly stand it.
When I walked back into my room, towel wrapped tightly around me, Carmen wasn’t there, but Dad was. He had just unplugged the little TV box and was now carrying it out of the room. I watched him go, and when he had made it into the hallway, he turned back around and said, “Phone?”
He held out his hand as I retrieved my phone from the pocket of the jeans I was now holding, handing it to him. Being grounded stunk.
After getting in my PJ’s (and apologizing to Carmen), I flopped pitifully onto my bed, longing for that book I had been looking forward to practically all night. I looked over at the cardboard box in the corner, filled with old baseball cards, that I used as a makeshift table for my books. It was depressingly clear; no books in sight.
No phone, no TV, no books, no bike, no nothing. No phone meant no texting Hannah, the most text-y best friend ever. No TV obviously meant no TV. No books meant no worldly escape. No bike meant no freedom, which meant no beach. Left in this environment I was subject to only the creativity that made up my entertainment for who knows how long. At least it was already eleven so I could just go to bed.
I crawled under my blanket and stared at the ceiling, willing myself to be sleepy. Ugh. Being grounded stunk.
“So, tell me, why have we not done this before?”
I sat in the middle seat in the back of Bruce Will’s car, Reid in the passenger’s seat, and Bruce Will in the driver’s. He and Reid had stood in front of the car right before we left for probably two whole minutes just arguing about who should drive, eventually and finally settling on Bruce Will driving because a) it’s his car and b) he’s the oldest. And thanks to that not-so-brief quarrel between them I now knew that Reid is only sixteen (not seventeen like I thought he was, same as Bruce Will).
I had been staring at my phone for way too long, rereading the text from my mom for the thousandth time.
Why are you still at the party? Is everything okay? Do we need to come over?
What should I say? Should I just pretend that my phone died? No, she’d see right through me, I always kept my phone charged and I also knew I’d get grounded for something, whether that was worrying her or staying at the party too long or what. She always found something.
I’m fine. I’m just following up on a lead I got. I’ll be home soon.
There. That wasn’t too vague and it didn’t give anything away. That would be fine.
“I mean, really. I’ve been living with you for how long? And you’ve known Billy for how long? And we’ve not done this for how long?”
“Done what, Reid?” Bruce Will said with an air of exasperation. “Coerced the poor girl into hanging out with her annoying teenage guy neighbors?”
Bruce Will threw me an eye roll in the rear view mirror and I couldn’t help but giggle a little. He wasn’t really wrong there, but I went ahead and said, “You guys didn’t coerce me into anything. I came with you by my own choice.”
Reid gave Bruce Will a look as we stopped at a red traffic light. “See?” He reached his fist back and held it in front of me. I didn’t move.
“No bump?” he asked sappily. He shook his hand out, bringing it back to himself. “Harsh.”
“Sorry. I just don’t do. . . that,” I gestured vaguely to his entire body.
He gave me a look. “What?”
I realized then what he must have been thinking I meant. “Oh, no, no, no, no! That’s not what I meant. You’re actually really cute--” I choked on my words as I realized what terrors were spilling forth from my mouth. I cleared my throat, sinking into the car seat. “I don’t do fist bumps.”
Bruce Will had a boyish grin on his face and Reid’s sudden smirk was not making me feel any more comfortable in this car. It had become really quiet and I did not like it one bit. I thought that this may have been how I would die.
I sunk lower into my seat.
When we reached our destination, my favorite restaurant ever, we all sauntered our way into the late-night comfort food pizza place. Right now it was only eight, but Santino’s only opened at four so they were known for eight o’clock pizza runs.
Me and my family used to come here often when I was younger, but now that I didn’t eat meat and Carmen evidently didn’t eat pizza, we had to stop trying to eat out so often because it always just ended in driving back and forth through town a thousand times before heading right back home and eating old leftovers that were shoved to the back of the fridge. We could never agree on where to eat any more.
Reid rushed ahead of me and Bruce Will over to the only booth in the entire restaurant. We followed not-so-enthusiastically after him and I sat in one of the chairs across from the booth, watching as Bruce Will and Reid apparently silently argued.
Reid spread out his arms to block off the booth, smiling broadly at Bruce Will as he tried to slide in next to him. Bruce Will shot him a glaring look but Reid only shook his head. I witnessed all of this silently, trying to figure out what was going on.
Bruce Will sighed and then turned to me, saying, “Is it okay if I sit there?” He pointed at the chair next to me. I nodded rather eagerly, trying to convey that he shouldn’t be so reproachful about sitting next to me, but instead no doubt coming on strong and making it seem like I wouldn’t have it any other way. Luckily, Bruce Will ignored my overly ardent nod and plopped down next to me.
But I could tell Reid did not. He opened his mouth to comment on it, I’m sure, but I cut him off by standing abruptly and announcing that I would be right back. I beetled off to the bathroom and when I made it there, I leaned against a wall and took a deep breath in.
What was I doing here? I belonged here about as much I belonged in the circus. I moved over to the sink and inspected my reflection. My long brown hair was becoming mussed and tangled up all over the place, so I ran my fingers through it a few times and then tied it up in a bun, thought better of it, then just left it in a ponytail.
I just wanted to go home. I didn’t know why I had come here, I should have just said that I needed to go and refused to hear otherwise. But I did come and now I’m standing in a filthy bathroom, staring at my frowning face, wondering what I’m gonna tell my parents when I got home, wondering if I’ll even be able to come up with a convincing lie, wondering how long it will be before I work up the courage to tell the guys that I just want to go home.
Then I took another deep breath and decided that I would tell them now. I would march out of this bathroom and over to the booth and tell them calmly and honestly that I needed to go home. I nodded. Yeah. That’s what I would do.
I pulled my scarf and jacket off--wondering why I hadn’t done that sooner--tightened my ponytail and walked out of the bathroom in my white tank top that I hoped wasn’t too see-through.
But then the moment that I saw Bruce Will and Reid arm-wrestling over the table, their elbows inching closer to the pizza that now sat there, I remembered why I came. I stopped just out of view and watched for a moment as they both gave out at the same time, cracking up together and then going on in conversation about some baseball player.
This was why I impulsively left their house with them. Because just watching them made me feel happy, and I wanted to know what it was like to be part of those moments. I wanted to get out from behind my window and to learn about them first-hand. To know them first-hand.
So what I asked when I reached the table was not if they could take me home; it was what pizza we were eating.
“You’ll just have to forgive him,” said Bruce Will, “He gets a little excited sometimes. You don’t have to go anywhere with us. If you need to go, that’s perfectly fine.”
Reid had disappeared just a moment ago to change his pants that I had ruined, leaving Bruce Will and me standing in the kitchen alone. Of course, it wasn’t long before the triplets came tumbling clamorously into the kitchen, chasing after the dog of whom I didn’t know the name.
“Hey!” Lincoln spoke, very much not using his inside voice. He had stopped abruptly in front of me, allowing his sisters to dart past him. “You’re the girl that’s always watching us from her window!”
My eyes widened and I took an involuntary gasp in, choking on nothing in the process. I went into a coughing fit and just stood there hacking while little Lincoln stared at me seemingly bored and Bruce Will simply looked confused.
I turned around and scooped up my tea, gulping it down in the tense silence. When I decided that I should probably say something already, I smiled and chuckled forcedly, patting Lincoln on both shoulders and pushing him away in the direction that the twins ran, which he tried to fight off.
“Kids,” I said, still laughing unnaturally. “You never know what they’re gonna come up with.”
Bruce Will smiled stiffly, nodding.
I needed to get out of there before things could get any worse. This was already a terrible nightmare come to life. I was only supposed to be here for a few minutes, scope things out, and sneak back home where my PJ’s awaited me next to a good book.
Reid returned then, saving me from a situation that I would not have made any better by telling the fish joke I was about to spit out. It was a good joke, though.
“Alright, so what are we thinking?” Reid rubbed his hands together like he was getting them warmed up to do something big. “Obviously we have to stay far away from the bowling alley, but maybe a mean round of mini golf? Or we could just go get some pizza and hang out. . . .”
This was crazy. Why was I even considering going out with these guys? We were lifelong enemies. If I was gone from the house for much longer my parents would start to worry that I was actually enjoying myself and then they’d be calling me and I’d have to tell them something. Plus I had only met Reid a few minutes ago, Bruce Will and me had never been actual friends--much less hung out together--and they were both older than me. How would I explain any of this to my parents? Or even to myself? I was losing my mind. I needed to leave.
“Billy,” Bruce Will caught my attention back. “Do you really need to go?”
Did I really need to go? Yes and no. I still had a little bit of time before I had to bring my report back to Mom and Dad, but if I stayed any longer I’d find myself riding off into the horizon with a couple of boys that I was supposed to hate. What I was learning tonight about how Bruce Will almost seemed to be oblivious of our feud and how Reid was apparently down to hang out with some younger girl he didn’t even know. . . that was throwing me so far off I didn’t even know which way was up anymore.
I had been silent too long. I needed to answer him one way or another. But what did I want to say? If I said yes, then he’d likely give me that look that I don’t even know why I know means that he’s disappointed. Reid would probably try to coerce me into changing my mind and the pier pressure would double how uncomfortable I already felt and then I’d probably just give in and then hate myself for it.
If I said no, then Bruce Will would lighten up and Reid would get even more excited and then I’d make myself excited because everyone around me was excited and also because I was breaking the rules and being rebellious and that’s exciting. But I’d also have to figure out how I’d get around my parents, though that would happen in both scenarios.
And I guess there’s the third scenario where I could just sprint out of here like my life depended on it and plan on not seeing either of them for the rest of my life and then fail at that because they live across the street and I go to school with one of them. Ugh, this decision was killing me.
“Um. . . .” They stared at me and I stared back, my lips pressed tightly together. Okay. Just say it. Just spit it out. Okay. “No. I’m free.”
What? I was supposed to say yes! Why did I not say yes? What am I thinking? I have to fix this. Just tell them you meant yes, you just remembered you have to get back home and do some chores or something. Yeah. That’ll work.
Bruce Will smiled and Reid patted me roughly enough on the the shoulder that I actually flung forward a little and he apologized awkwardly and we all chuckled about it and then we were out the door and on our way to the pizza place that I recommended and oh my goodness, what did I just do?
Sitting in My Tea
My mom adjusted the infinity scarf I was wearing, subconsciously nodding in satisfaction. My stomach had been growling for a while now and I smiled sheepishly as Mom raised her eyebrows at me.
“Hey, it’s your fault for making me skip out on dinner,” I explained.
“Don’t act like you actually wanted to eat what your father made,” she replied.
I sighed. She was right. It was Dad’s turn to cook tonight and he had made tuna salad sandwiches with coleslaw. 1) I had never liked tuna. 2) I had never liked coleslaw. 3) I was vegetarian anyway, so there was no way I was eating fish.
“Whatever,” I said, because I didn’t know what else to say.
“You look cute, Billy. But is it too cute? Not cute enough?” my mother asked herself.
That’s my mom. She had always been a bit of a fashion forward person, but I honestly just thought that that was kind of unnecessarily stressful. Some people just put so much thought into what they would wear to the point of freaking out over it when everyone could simply just put on what they felt like putting on, not worrying about anything else.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Alright, alright. You’d better go. Don’t want anyone noticing you.”
I chuckled to myself as I tugged at my vegan leather jacket and pushed the screen door open in front of me. Right. I just had to slip in, taste a few hors d'oeuvres, scope out any activities, and slip right back out. No biggy.
There was a lot of cars. So many that some were parked inconveniently far down the street from the Dickersons’ house. I watched quietly as a handsome young couple walked arm in arm up to the door and rung the doorbell. Okay. Time to go.
I crept across the street, slowly coming into the light that bathed a full ten yards of the neighborhood around the Dickerson property. I stealthily maneuvered my way through the cars and up the front steps, ducking into the house and trying my best to blend in.
Wow. I had been in this house before a long time ago, but this was definitely not what I was expecting. Though there was a countless amount of people in every ground level room, it didn’t feel packed at all. Most everyone was seated snugly somewhere or tucked comfortably in little groups in a nook or cranny and they were all clearly enjoying themselves. This was undoubtedly something that my parents parties never had. Our house was almost always packed during parties and there wasn’t quite the air about it that I was getting here.
Mental note #1 - Not crowded
Mental note #2 - Comfortableness
I followed the smell of warm comfort food into the kitchen and let a smile spread across my face. My stomach growled again as I poured myself a Solo cup of sweet tea and looked around at the platters of everything from vegetables to rolls to desserts. I walked right past the meat platters and picked up a perfectly browned crescent roll. It was still warm.
Mental note #3 - Fresh hors d'oeuvres
I spied Jeremiah and Jackie in the living room talking to the same couple I watched come into the house just before I did and I stood in a little corner in the kitchen watching them. I quickly learned, however, that the kitchen was not a good place to hide.
“Billy,” someone said behind me. “You came.”
I spilled about half of my tea on the floor at the sound of my name and then turned to face Bruce Will. He was about half a foot taller than me so I had to look up to meet his eyes.
“Oh, um, yeah,” I stuttered. I set down my cup and reached for a tall stack of napkins from the dining room table. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to spill tea all over the place.”
I crouched beside the puddle and watched, horrified, as someone walked right into it, slipped, and fell down hard on their tailbone. A dog wandered over at that and began licking up some of the liquid from the floor.
“Get out of here, Hank,” the boy on the floor pushed at the dog. But he didn’t go anywhere and was instead joined by another dog.
“What are you doing here, Reid?” Bruce Will said, still hovering behind me. I half-heartedly worked at the puddle, distracted by the boy sitting in it. It was Reid Dickerson. The cousin. He was a tall, olive-skinned, particularly handsome boy that I most certainly did not want sitting in my tea.
“I’m sorry,” I groaned. I was there for five minutes and I had already been outed, made a mess, and been the cause of someone’s unanticipated harm.
Reid noticed me then, which should have happened much sooner because then he probably would’ve noticed the puddle he was about to walk through, and threw a shiny smile my way. “No worries.”
Bruce Will stepped around me and helped Reid stand, giving the by-standing dogs a better chance at the tea. I mopped up what I could and then stood as well.
“I’ve been in my room the whole time,” Reid said coolly with a smug shrug. “Told Mom and Dad that I didn’t feel well. And they actually believed me. Can you believe that?”
Bruce Will responded in a disappointed tone, “What did we talk about, Reid?”
Reid rolled his eyes and waved a hand at Bruce Will. “I’m working on it, alright?”
Then they both looked over at me at the same time. “And who is this?” Reid appeared to ask me.
I looked between them, confused. They clearly knew each other. They were cousins! Why was he asking me who Bruce Will was?
“This is Billy Carpenter. She lives across the street. You’ve seen her before,” Bruce Will answered. So Reid was asking Bruce Will who I was whilst looking at me which made it look like Reid was asking me who Bruce Will was. Huh.
“Oh, yeah, yeah,” Reid nodded, still staring at me. I shoved my way between them as politely as possible to dispose of the soggy purple napkins in my hands. My hands were still sticky, though, so I stopped at the sink to clean them, but then jumped back in a mixture of surprise and shock.
“What. . . ?” I trailed off, pointing at what looked like a rat in a plastic ball.
“Now how did Ronny get in the sink?” Bruce Will asked. He picked up the ball and set it back down on the floor and we all watched as the hamster rolled itself away. “Oh, well.”
I stood for a moment, deep in thought about what to think about that. I then came to my senses and took a sudden sharp breath in. “Well, I think I’ll be going now,” I mumbled to no one in particular and beginning to scurry away toward the front door.
“Wait, but didn’t you just get here?” Bruce Will stopped me. “And where’s your family? I haven’t seen any of them yet.” His gaze wandered over the guests in the living room.
“Um, well, I sort of came alone. And I was only dropping in for a few minutes, you know, been there, done that, so--”
“You know what, Billy’s right,” Reid interrupted loudly. “This party is so yesterday’s news. We should get out of here. I’ll go put on some dry pants and then we’ll go do something fun.”
“Wait, no, I can’t--we don’t--I. . . .”
The wind stung my eyes as I rode smoothly beside the road, coming across the scattered potholes one after another and successfully dodging them. I had accustomed myself to recognizing them long ago, this road far past familiar.
Steering my bike to follow the curve of the street that turned into my large neighborhood, I went through the list of to-dos I still had to accomplish. I had been putting off most of my responsibilities today so I could spend time at the beach, but as I neared home, I couldn’t procrastinate any more.
The first set of Dickersons were throwing a dinner party tonight and banishing the second set to bowling or something. I was assigned the job of sneaking in to said party and, while trying my best to blend in, sniffing out what exactly it was that made the Dickersons’ parties so popular. My parents had somehow figured up the math and determined that the Dickersons always had more attendees; and, of course, that had to change. We couldn’t be beat, much less by our worst enemy.
I coasted past house after house, slowly coming to a halt at my own. As I dismounted my bicycle, I heard the usual chatter across the way, one especially familiar voice turning my head. The moment my flip-flops hit the pavement of the street, that voice called out my name.
“Hey, Billy,” Bruce Will greeted. His hand lifted above his head in a lazy waving motion, the triplets all looking to see to whom he was speaking.
Seeing as how we lived across the street to each other, we saw one another a lot. Though mainly in school, there was the occasional acknowledgement as we both just happened to be in the same place at the same time, mainly just like now, both of us standing outside of our homes. I didn’t know why Bruce Will ever bothered to say hi to me--we were sworn adversaries--but he did it quite a lot. I just did the same thing every time--I gave him a cursory glance and a briefly returned greeting, walking away in the process.
So that’s what I did. “Hello,” I muttered, strolling casually away, bike in tow.
“I don’t guess you or your parents are coming to the party tonight?”
I froze mid-stride. That was out of the ordinary. He didn’t normally continue the conversations that I so very clearly shut down, much less actually ask for a response. Resting my bicycle against my hip, I turned back toward him and crossed my arms, saying, “Why?” Was he planning something? So what if we weren’t coming? Would he try to coerce us into changing our minds? And if we did come? Would he or his parents take that opportunity to try something?
“Um,” Bruce Will began to reply, the hand that was just in the air reaching to the back of his neck and rubbing. “Just wondering. You guys don’t normally come, and I just wanted to make sure that you knew that y’all are welcome.”
I narrowed my eyes at him, my suspicions continuing to grow. “Sure.”
I saw his eyebrows raise, eyes widen, but then, just as quickly, his eyebrows sunk low and a frown formed on his lips. “Sure what?”
I considered what to say, but was interrupted by the sound of the screen door on the front porch of my house swing open and then closed again. I rounded to see my sister on the steps, trash bag in hand. She looked at me, Bruce Will, then me again, and rose her eyebrows. We both watched as she carried the bag to the garbage can a few feet away from me, then stopped next to me.
“Are you coming in?” she asked, casting a nonchalant glance in Bruce Will’s direction.
“Goodbye, Bruce Will,” I sent his way as I followed Carmen to the house, propping my bike firmly against the wall. We stepped loudly into the entrance hallway and I looked around to see if both of my parents were home.
Both of my parents worked, my mom a realtor and my dad a graphic designer. My dad worked from home most of the time, so I saw him a lot, and my mom was normally home by now, but sometimes she got held up by her clients. And it looked like today was one of those times.
“Dad?” I called into the quiet house, slipping off my shoes and setting them on the shoe rack next to the door. I noticed the dirt, dust, and sand collecting under it and made a mental note to sweep the floors later.
“In here!” I heard my father’s disembodied voice travel from the back of the house. I made my way to his office, Carmen following close behind me.
Even though I had already memorized what the space looked like, my eyes roamed around my father’s office once again. A computer rested upon a large desk which was covered with everything from crumpled papers to stray staples to sandwich crumbs from who knows how long ago. Beside the desk there were filing cabinets that I doubt were actually organized like they were supposed to be and many stacks of books that found no place to be other than the floor. The room could by no means be called clean and/or organized, that I was sure of.
In the cramped small room sat my dad, spinning fatuously in his old swivel chair. He brought his revolving self to a stop when he spotted my sister and me in the doorway and sported the same welcoming smile I had so learned to love.
“How was the beach? Did you actually talk to anyone?” my dad asked.
I rolled my eyes. “The beach was the same as it always is, but you wouldn’t know what that is, would you? Unless you actually went there every once in a while.”
This was an ongoing thing between my dad and me: he would jump all over me about actually meeting new people while Hannah was at summer camp, and I would jump all over him about possibly coming with me to the beach for once. And we would always end the recurring argument the same way every time.
“The sand. . . it’s just so uncomfortable, it gets everywhere. And it’s hot! You can’t even walk in it, it’s so hot.”
“I don’t need friends just for one summer. I’ll do fine on my own until Hannah gets back.”
And that would be the end of it--at least until the next day.
Something brushed past my leg and I looked down to see our little border terrier squeezing his way through into the room. We all watched as he padded over to my father’s feet and lazily plopped down onto the floor.
“When was that appointment again? Every time I see him it worries me,” I said.
Our smallest dog of three, Patrick, had recently gotten himself into something. The poor thing hadn’t been eating for days and the moping around wasn’t helping any of us to think little of it. He was getting old, we all knew, but we didn’t want to see him die even sooner just because he ate something he wasn’t supposed to.
“It was today, actually. I took him this morning,” Dad answered, slipping his glasses off his nose and pinching the bridge there. He must have another headache. Dumb allergies.
“Really? What did they say?” I piped up.
“The vet said that since he hadn’t been throwing up--or worse--it probably wasn’t anything too bad and that his body is probably just taking it’s time working at getting it out of his system. But then, just to be safe, he took an x-ray and they gave me this.”
My dad spun around and reached over to a blue folder on his desk, handing it to me. Carmen peeked over my shoulder as I opened it.
“He ate a coin?” I asked, turning the paper to get a better look.
“Well, yes, and no. He ate nine coins.”
“Nine coins?” I was exasperated. How on earth would Patrick get a hold of nine coins, much less decide that he would eat them?
“Yes. The vet said that hopefully he would pass them soon on his own and that we need to be keeping a close eye on his bowel movements. And if he doesn’t pass them, then he’ll most likely need surgery.”
My sister and I gave each other a look. “So what I’m hearing is, we need to inspect his poo and see if there just happens to be a dime hiding in there.”
Dad scratched his ear and replied, “Yeah, pretty much.”
Carmen and I groaned together. I knelt down in front of Patrick, caressing his soft fur. “Why did you have to go and eat coins, you silly thing?”
Just then a beautiful cheerful voice sang, “I’m home, family of mine!”
Together we walked back to the front of the house to meet Mom. “Hey, why the glum faces?” she asked, taking Carmen in her arms and giving her a squeeze.
“We have to search through Patrick’s poop,” Carmen answered for us, her voice muffled in my mom’s blazer.
Their name was Dickerson. Jeremiah and Jackie and their son Bruce Will and their triplets Sara and Hazel and Lincoln. Jeremiah’s brother Matthew and his wife Tanya also lived with them, along with their son Reid. Matthew, Tanya, and Reid had only just recently moved in with the other Dickersons because of (as the rumors say) a temporary financial fallout. It was said in accordance that the quoted “fallout” would be corrected soon and the second set of Dickersons would move back into their self-built DIY dream home that they were currently leasing in order to make a little extra money.
They had so many people in their house, warm light and cheerful sound was constantly spilling out of the invariably open windows and doors. That house had already been lively enough before the second set of Dickersons had joined in on the boisterous talking and the howling belly laughs that could always be anticipated at dinnertime.
I despised it. I wished every day that it was not in fact summer and that all five adolescents in that household were forced to sit quietly in a classroom listening to a monotone teacher murmur incessantly about cubed roots. But still, every day I wished that it wouldn’t stop.
I wanted to hear the innocent shrieks of Sara and Hazel and Lincoln as Bruce Will and Reid chased them around on the perfectly manicured green lawn all while giggling uncontrollably. I wanted to smile subconsciously through my window as it sat slightly ajar, watching Bruce Will roll around on the ground play-wrestling Reid because Sara and Hazel, always inseparable, dared them to, each twin rooting for a different boy. I wanted to not only see countless moments of Reid playing toss with Lincoln, of Bruce Will sprawled across the concrete driveway beside the girls, scribbling stick figures and rainbows and flowers there with sidewalk chalk, of the entire family telling hilarious tales out on the back patio over the barbecue that Jeremiah and Matthew had made. I wanted to not only see these moments, but to be part of them. I wished that it wouldn’t stop.
All of that is not to say that I wasn’t satisfied with the life that I actually lived in my own home, though I honestly wasn’t. I had plenty of wonderful memories being made within these walls. It was simply that seeing how the Dickersons enjoyed each other and themselves forced me to realize that there was more to be lived this summer than just sitting in the center of my bed, clacking away at my computer or hiding alone under my umbrella up at Topsail, watching the waves travel smoothly and fiercely, wishing that I had someone to walk the beach with besides my dogs while my best friend was at summer camp.
I knew now that there was so much more to do, to see, to live. And this summer I promised myself that I would live a real life and that I would enjoy it, too. But I never expected what that would mean to me only a few days later. . . .
Due to nothing specific, really, I have decided to step back from the story that I had previously been posting here on my blog. No, I have not deleted it and I'm not saying that I am discontinuing it, I just need a break from it. It was too. . . heavy for me. I'm planning on beginning to work on something lighter for a change. If/When I return to the previous story, I will re-post the chapters that I had on here, as well as newer ones. But please don't ditch the Stories page! As I said, I will be working on something a lot lighter, more fun filled, hopefully more humorous, and the like. Below is a quick synopsis of the upcoming story, and I hope you'll stick around to read it! Thank you!
Emily (Billy) Carpenter has lived in the same house in Surf City all of her life; and so has Bruce Will Dickerson across the street. The Carpenters and the Dickersons have had a feud that Billy has grown up to stand behind for as long as she can remember. Fraternizing with the enemy is strictly prohibited. But what will happen when Billy's and Bruce Will's secret is discovered by their parents?
As Billy and Bruce Will go behind their parents' backs to be friends, they spend their summer getting to know each other, exploring their hometown and Topsail Beach, and learning new things, all while making new memories and new friends along the way.
Books are usually titled after they have been completed, so I don't yet have a title for this story of mine, but I'm sure I'll work something up eventually. And I know that the synopsis is, like, super cliche, but that's pretty much what a synopsis calls for and I promise that the story will only be moderately cliche. So yeah. I'll hopefully have the first chapter up soon. Stay tuned!