"Everyone is someone's friend, even when they think they are all alone."
I don't know what it's like to have a sister: I'm an only child. But I think if I could say that a peer was like a sister to me, I'd say it was my best friend Jasmine (Her skin is light brown, I'm white. But there is no color in friendship.) I'm an only child because I was an accident. My mother was sixteen when she had me. Whoever my father is, he fled after hearing the news. I've never seen him, from what I know. I have no idea who the guy is. When I was younger I used to pretend. I used to look at male models in magazines and find ones that looked like me: Freckles, brown hair and light brown eyes.
"Models don't have freckles." My neighbor Ajax is the closest thing to a brother, I think. He told me about model standards once when he was ten and I was eleven. "My mom said that models never have things like that on their faces because they want them to look like dolls."
So there I got the impression that my freckles were a bad thing. They're mixed thoughts, though. Some people tell me they wish they also had freckles. I hear girls talking about how they wish they didn't. Some people, I recently learned, draw on fake freckles.
"Where did your mom hear that?" I asked him.
"She knows. She does the makeup for Hallie Otis, remember?"
"Of course I remember." We were both drawing on a poster board that day. A huge white poster board. Together we drew a jungle. I focused on foliage while he did animals.
"Lions don't live in the jungle." He whispered to himself. He dropped his colored pencil and looked at me. "Yeah, Hallie Otis has freckles."
I stared. Hallie Otis was so pretty. I doubted freckles would do her justice. "Nuh-uh."
"Yeah-huh." He picked up his pencil again, starting on some sort of small lizard on the forest floor. "I saw her. My mom took me to see the studio once and I saw her. With my own eyes."
I tried to shade a leaf while thinking of dads and freckles. Looking at the drawing now, five years later when I'm sixteen, I failed miserably, while Ajax's drawings are top notch even now. "I could do better now," Ajax mutters.
So since then, I've seen Hallie Otis without makeup. While my freckles are just around my nose area and a little on my chest, her's are scattered all around her face. Still yet, she's beautiful, no doubt, she covers them up to this day. Ajax and I are in my room, looking at our poster.
"Can't believe you kept this thing." Ajax says, holding it out in front of him. "It's total garbage."
I sigh. But it's our garbage. Ajax is the only non-related, non-boyfriend-of-my-aunt person that I've known the longest. Since I was three and Ajax was two we've known each other. My aunt is the one who looked after me most of the time, despite being only ten years older than me. Without her, I would have never lived in this amazing small town of Osley. I'd never have met Ajax. I'd never have lived in this house. Never met Jasmine. Never climbed all the way to the timberline, never loved the music I do, never met Harvey Michales.
Harvey and I go way back. Way, way back. Age four. A playground at the edge of town. His older sister took him out to play one day. My aunt, Elisa, took me. It wasn't her intention to take me that day. I begged and begged to try out ,y wagon and finally, after pausing an episode of Gilmore Girls on Jared Padalecki's face, slipping on a pair of blue flats and heading off to the playground. This was back when we both lived with her parents (my grandparents), my mom (her sister) and she was the forgotten child. Her parents were so busy being pissed at her sister (my mom), Christi, for screwing up her life, that they basically forgot about Elisa the whole time. Elisa had a boyfriend since the second grade. That's two years before I was born. Surprisingly, they're still together to this day.
Anyway, we got to the playground and after filling my red wagon with dirt, I got bored playing harassing the worms and quickly hopped off to the swings. After swinging for a while, I looked back at my wagon to find out something absolutely horrible. There was a little boy playing with my wagon. There was a girl with ginger hair reading a book just feet away from him. My jaw dropped. My eyes didn't water though. I hopped off that swing set and stomped over to the boy, fury in my eyes. "That's my wagon!" I cried. He stood up and looked back at his older companion.
"Finders keepers!" He said to me, he shouted it, but his voice most definitely did waver. "Losers weepers."
"What is "weepers"? I demanded. His companion, who I later learned was his older sister Clementine, looked up from her book.
"It means you are a cry baby!"
"I hate you!" I screamed, grabbing my wagon by it's edge and trying to escape this crazy boy once and for all.
"Harvey!" Clementine snapped. "'Finders keepers' is not the rule, I told you that. That is stealing." I watched in awe as the girl took the boy's arm gently in her hand and kneeled down to his level, explaining to him in a kind voice that what he was doing was wrong. He first started to sniffle. Then he started to cry. His big sister hugged him and then I felt bad. He apologized to his sister, and then turned to me.
"I'm sorry, girl."
"Ask her her name." Clementine encouraged with a welcoming smile at me.
"What is your name?" He asked with a shaky voice and a slight stutter.
"R-Riley..." I said.
"I'm sorry Riley." His big sister high-fived him, which seemed to make him a little less sad.
"It's okay." I thought for a second. "Do you want to play with me and my wagon?" I asked an nicely as I could.
He looked at his sister, who smiled at me and he said, "Yeah!"
I squatted down next to the wagon and grabbed his arm to pull him over. I picked up a worm from the dirt pile. "This one, his name is Risata." Risata means "laugh" in Italian, where my grandparents are from.
"Then can this one be Mooshie-Mooshie." He giggles. I did too. I nodded. That's how our friendship started out. With Risata and Mooshie-Mooshie.
Back in present time, I say what I was thinking. "It's a memory."
Ajax scratches the side of his head. "Hoarder."
"Oh, says the guy who keeps Tootsie-Pop wrappers in a jar." I dared.
"Says the girl who collects sea glass."
"Sea glass is beautiful." I put my hand to my chest. Ajax scoffs. "What? It is!"
"It's just..." He shrugs, out of defense.
"Exactly, so shut up."
He starts grinning, stretching his legs along the couch. "It's just that people confuse you for a tomboy. You're pretty girly."
"Oh, please. I'm neither. I think I'm actually in the middle, thank you." I roll my hand in a circle and bow. "It's too damn hot for this."
"Which is why we were going to go swimming."
"Hell yeah we were, until you decided to insult out work of art."
I head over to the bathroom to change into my swimming shorts and the top of a two piece. The shorts are pink and the top is green. I must say, I'm not much into the practically-loincloth scene, but to each their own, right?
Anyway, we're going swimming in the river that splits our town in two. We call it the Watering Hole, because sometimes deer and the occasional moose will have a sip from it.
I mean, we've got lakes here and there, we're in Minnesota. But this one is the main one of them all. It's got the clearest water. You can see the smooth rocks at the bottom and feel the slippery algae on your feet. It's amazing. It all fits in a river that's only fifteen feet across.
After we're both dressed to swim, Ajax looks at my stomach. "You're wearing a butterfly belly button piercing? So girly."
"Whatever. Don't forget, guys can like butterflies, too."
"Yeah, guys like butterflies. Don't expect to be not flirted with."He rolls his eyes and we head out. The heat hits us right away.
"Damn." I mutter about the heat.
"Wow..." I hear from behind me. I turn around. There behind me stands my best friend Jasmine and my other friend McKenzie, who is most definitely a guy, despite his name.
"This weather is amazing." McKenzie grins at me. "I swear, I'll sweat out a pound or so help me..."
"You don't even need to loose weight." McKenzie is a football player. Or, was, at least. He used to play at his old school, but he moved to our school and is still waiting on the coach's decision.
"Well, those guys are definitely going to sweat off a couple pounds." Jasmine says, pointing across the river. I look there and see Harvey and his friends playing football in this heat.
"They're crazy." I mutter. Harvey tackles his best friend, Hanson, who was holding the ball. "They're not even wearing helmets."
"You're adorable, you dork." Jasmine pats me on the back. Jasmine is skinnier than me. She says that shorts would look good on me but she'd rather go with her bikini. McKenzie and Ajax are wearing trunks. McKenzie jokingly told me that he would wear a Speedo. I didn't believe him, anyway.
"I would not want to see your balls through that, just saying." I told him.
"Hey, you don't know until you try it!" He poked me in the ribs and I poked him back.
I think I'm really over Harvey now.
"Be the person your dog thinks you are."
"It's too damn hot!"
"Oh, quit whining, Michaels." My best friend Hanson groans. But I can't help it. It's around a hundred degrees-- I'm Minnesotan, I'm used to winter most of the year.
"Are you seeing all this sweat?" I ask him, raising my arms up. "This shirt is new." I really did just get this striped blue t-shirt, and I think it looks pretty nice.
"Blah, blah. Shut up already."
Ah, summer. Cargo shorts every day, sweat, lemonade, lemonade, heat, no shirt, shirt, whatever. Lemonade and more sweat. Hopefully not both mixed together. Cargo shorts. You can carry a lot of shit in these. Not actual shit, though. I mean you could.
"Are we still playing?"
"I fucking won that game!" I throw my hands in the air and sit on the grass. "I really won that. And It's way to hot for anything else."
"That's what she said." Kenny, my other friend says walking past.
"You say that like you've ever had a 'she'." Hanson mutters.
"Wanna repeat that, pretty boy?" Kenny snaps at him. Automatically, I zone out. Riley used to call me Pretty Boy. Sometimes Preppy. Spider. Bean Pole. Stick Bug. Dude. All I could think of for her was Bellino, which means "pretty" in Italian. I'm not Italian, she is. My mom is Mexican while my father is American. My father walked out ten years ago, when I was six.
Hanson shrugs. "I mean if you want me to."
"Want you to what?"
"I was talking to Kenny. Keep up, dude."
I shake my head. "Zoned."
Hanson sits next to me."Staring?"
I glance at him before laying my arms on my knees, and then my head on my arms. "Staring at what?" You know that moment when you know someone's about to start talking about your crush but you try and be nonchalant-- And fail like shit? That's what happened to me "Look, Hans. We're great friends and all, but I'm not into you like tha--"
"Shut up. I mean Riley. She has a belly button piercing." I automatically look up. He nods his head in the direction where she supposedly is and-- BAM. Shining belly button. Two piece swimming suit. Long brown hair. Adorable smile. But the belly button thing? Honestly, that's hotter than this day.
"Whatever." I mutter, setting my head back down on my arms.
"No, I'm just saying. No special dreams, horndog."
"And I think that guy, McKenzie? I think he's her boyfriend."
I sit up and look around. "She has no boyfriend." I stand up and start to walk away.
"Michales, chill." Hanson calls, but he doesn't mean it. He lays down on the grass and closes his eyes, finding that whatever I'm going to do, I'm not his problem right not.
There's a path of rocks that you can walk on to get across the river and stay dry. But why would I do that on such a hot day? Even in this heat, the water stays cool. As I walk across a shallow part.
As soon as Riley starts talking to the other guy, I wave Jasmine over. Jasmine, being Riley's best friend, is my best lifeline to Riley.
"Hey." She says to me when she walks over.
"Who's that guy?" I ask her.
"I said 'hey'."
"His name is McKenzie. He's new. Remember? The teacher introduced him in math like, last month." She shrugs and we both look in their direction. Riley's laughing and she smacks his arm.
"McKenzie?" I look at her and say.
"Yes, McKenzie." She smiles. "McKenzie Cavnik. Tell me that's not perfect." She claps her hands together once, causing me to startle. "Oh, you are jumpy these days." Jasmine crosses her arms over her chest. "You wanna tell me why you two broke up? It's been, like nine months."
I stare at her for a while. "Well..."
"I mean, rumor is that you and Hannah had some thing going on... Like, while you and Riley..."
"Woah, no." I sigh. " I may be a dick sometimes, but I didn't cheat on her."
She pats my arm. "You're not a dick. Kenny's a dick. You're a nice guy whether you like it or not."
I don't smile. Do people really think that? I'm just respecting Riley. She told me that we didn't have to tell anyone that she broke it off with me if I didn't want. I feel like telling them that she dumped me would make her feel like I'm attacking her.
Jasmine's never dated anyone. She's never had a boyfriend and she doesn't know how much it hurts to see your ex enjoying someone else the way they used to enjoy you. She was my best friend. How can I be expected to just drop it all?
Hanson's mom owns the Osley Pet Shelter. Sometimes I go there. I haven't gone there in a while, but football's been done to death today. I'm tired. So Hanson asked me to go over and help out with the animals.
"As long as that psycho dog ain't there."
"Daisy? She got adopted."
Daisy the Psycho dog once upon a time tried to bite my face off, but it's all good because she didn't. For that, I am grateful. I'm also pretty grateful for not having any body parts mutilated by any psycho dog. Or anything for that matter.
"How the hell did she get adopted? I mean, no offence but..." I shrug. "Who's the lucky person?"
"Doesn't live in Osley. Actually he lived in, like, Texas." Hanson raises his arm up to smell his atmpit. "God, I smell like shit."
"Yeah, you do."
"Shut up, Michaels. You probably smell worse than I do." He punches my arm.
"Probably. Probably because you, at the very least can't feel my B.O radiating off of me and onto you. Although vice-versa, I can."
He stares at me for a second. "I have no idea what the hell you just said."
"Whatever." I say, ever so slyly glancing behind me to take a look at Riley and the guy again. But when I look, Riley's by herself. No Jasmine. No McKenzie guy. No one. She has a towel around her and she's sitting at the edge of the river. Her lips are moving. She's probably singing. I can't help it. I stare for a minute, trying to tell what she's singing. Suddenly she sits up and looks into the water on her and and knees.
"Dude, b-cup, I know. Believe me, I know. But you're staring."
I roll my eyes. A little subject changer. "I thought Kenny was the pervert."
"Hey, come on now. Some things you can't miss. Hannah's ass, for instance."
"Okay, Hanson. I get it."
He shrugs and grins. "That one has a rack on her. Didn't you notice?"
"Okay. I noticed."
"Why did you even break up? Come on, now." The grin on his face is making me want to punch him. and I would.
"Shut up!" I intended it to be quieter than what it was. Everyone outside turns to look. Even Riley looks up. I feel my face heat up. "Car." I say, heading over to Hanson's car. "Let's go."
I can't say Hanson's a dumb blonde, but maybe a full-time blonde, part-time dumbass. Well, one time he died his hair pink, but that's a whole different story.
"Hanson?" That's Riley's voice, no doubt. She's back to hands and knees in the dirt, looking for something in the water. Hanson starts across the stepping stones and over to Riley. He leaves me here standing around like an idiot. Then he waves me over. I follow, kind of against my will and kind of with it.
"Doesn't your mom need us over there or something?"
He keeps walking, and I catch up. "It can wait."
When we walk up to Riley, she looks up and jumps slightly at the sight of me. It's been something like a year since we've talked-- Really talked. "Hey." She says. She says it to me. She was looking at me. Me, the idiot, holds up my hand as a "hey" instead of responding.
"What's up, Manicotti?" Hanson asks. Riley's last name is Martinelli. The funny thing about a lot of Italian last names is if you place the word "chicken" in front of it, it sounds like a delicious dinner to serve to the family. Riley being Italian was a lot of memories. The way she talked. The way she never really noticed the way she started yelling when she was excited. She eats a lot of pasta. She never really ate pizza, though. And she tells me that meatballs aren't supposed to even be eaten with spaghetti. All that and she can pronounce gnocchi.
"Manicotti. Nice." She points to something near the edge of the water. "This little guy is covered in paint."
We both kneel down and look at what she's pointing at. There's a little turtle with a yellow and blue shell. In fact, it's got a letter on it. "What the hell?" Hanson mutters. looking closer. I look closer, too.
"'MP Dragons'." Riley reads. I sit up and roll my eyes. Melvin Peake Dragons. The next town over's football team.
"Really?" Hanson murmurs.
"Douchebags." I say. After saying it, I realize that Riley and I said it at the same time. I look at her and she's already looking at me. She smiles. "Jinx."
That's all the contact, though. Hanson picks up the turtle. "Those dicks. Here, we'll take this to my mom."
Riley stands up and walks next to him, opposite side of me. "They even painted it's arms. And it has paint on it's face."
Hanson may seem like a big tough guy, but he gets like Riley when he sees an animal is hurt. Whit animals in pain, they're toe top priority above all else. "So what does paint do to them?" i direct my question at Hanson. With all the times I've plotted in my head my chance meeting with Riley, the words never come out.
"It's toxic. And they got paint in it's damn eyes, too." Hanson mutters. After we cross the stepping stones, Hanson unlocks his car doors. "You coming with?" He asks Riley, who looks back at her house and nods.
"Guess so." She sits in the back and I sit in the front.
"Riley, can I see your towel for a second?" He asks her. First, I think he's being perverted again, but instead when she hands the bright blue towel over, he sets it on my lap and then after that, he sets the small turtle on my lap.
I almost start to pet it, but remember it's a turtle. "So is it a boy or girl?" I look at Hanson but he just starts the car.
Riley scoots forward in her seat. I try lot to look at her. "Can I see it?"
"See what?" God, I'm an idiot. The turtle. "I mean," I pick up the turtle, who peeks it's little head out for a second before hiding away again. I wish I could hide in a shell right about now. I hand it over to her.
She slowly turns it over and runs her finger over it's belly. Stomach, I guess? "It's a boy." She hands it back, and I look at it's stomach. I can't help but notice her flower pattern bikini top. I only notice now that she's wearing trunks instead of the usual bikini bottom.
"Um..." I see nothing to differentiate this turtle from any lady turtle.
She laughs a little, pulling her long brown hair to one side. She hugs her arms around herself.
"It's stomach area, if you want to call it that, is concave, huh?" Hanson asks and Riley nods. Hanson pats my shoulder before putting his hand back on the wheel. We stop in front of the animal shelter. He grins after Riley gets out of the car. "It's so it doesn't fall off when it's, you know. Doing the dirty."
I stare for a second before comprehending. "Oh." Hanson gets out and then I do.
Riley starts to walk in, but Hanson calls her back. "My mom packed extra shirts in the back of my truck."
"Oh," Riley says, walking toward him. He opens the trunk of his car and tosses a blue animal rescue shirt over her head. She's already wearing trunks so it doesn't look like she's walking around pantless. On the front of the shirt is a yellow smiling dog and OSLEY ANIMAL SHELTER printed across the top. "Why don't you wear one? You smell horrible."
"Are you kidding?" He shuts the trunk. "Those shirts are lame as hell."
She looks down at hers, which is a bit too big. Her hair being wet makes the back of the shirt wet. "I like it. I'm keeping it."
"Oh, please. Have it." He rolls his eyes and we walk it. "Too bad it's not a white shirt." He whispers.
"You're becoming more and more like Kenny every day." I whisper back.
"Just tell me you aren't even slightly thinking bout it and I wouldn't believe you."
I roll my eyes and hold the door open for her, and shut it before Hanson walks in. "Thank you." Riley says to me.
"Please, forget the formalities." I joke. I kind of mean it, though. I just want us to be normal together again. I want gnocchi. I catch a hint of a smile from her.
Hanson opens the door, turtle in hand. "Mom?" He calls.
There's a dog bark and then, "Back here, hon." We both follow Hanson to where the voice came from and lo-and-behold, there is his mom playing with a little brown puppy. It runs up to Riley, licks her leg and then runs around my feet. When it runs to Hanson he kneels down to pat it's head.
"Hey, Ivan." He coos. If the rest of the football team herd that, he'd never live it down.
"Sounds like a Russian spy." Riley says with a smile. Hanson's mom looks up and smiles at us.
"Miss Martinelli," His mom, Ellie says, first hugging Riley after standing up, then me. "Mister Michales, Osley's shining star."
I blush. Since freshman year, when I was recruited early for the Osley High varsity team, I've been the towns latest football obsession. The previous one ended up not going on to play college and instead was found passed out in a bathtub after taking some laced X. But that's not anything near what I'll do. I'm going to make it big or else my name's not Harvey Michales.
"Bling, bling." Hanson mutters and Riley lets a short puff of air out of her nostrils. A laugh of sorts.
"Don't be rude, Danny Baby." Ellie scolds. For the record, Hanson's first name is Daniel. But he doesn't look like a Daniel, so he goes by his last name, Hanson.
I laugh. "Yeah, Danny Baby."
"Hey, I'm not into you like that." He rests his arm on Riley's head. "But you..."
I clench my fist. His mom makes a face and Riley steps away from him. "Only in the wildest of your dreams."
"Yikes." His mom laughs. "My own son, turned down right in front of me." Ivan the dog paws at the door.
"So what are you kids here for?" She picks up Ivan and rubs his head and he squirms and yips. Hanson shows her the turtle.
"Italiano over here found this."
"Don't call her that and-- Dear God, is that even alive?" She sets the jumpy dog down and takes the turtle away from her son. "Was it those kids from that town over there?" She waves her free hand to the left. Just left of Osley is Melvin Peake, another small town (yet slightly bigger than Osley), who kind of sucks at football and has a history of bad sportsmanship.
Riley, Hanson and I nod in Unison. "Shame their parents don't teach them to respect God's creatures.
I don't nod for that one. As right as it is, I guess some time ago I stopped believing in God. Or, at least, stopped thinking that he watched each and every one of us humans on earth all the time. What was he doing when my sister Clementine took her own life? Certainly not caring, that's for sure.