I didn’t expect for someone to be standing there as I climbed over my backyard fence. We had moved in a few months before but most of the houses in the new development were vacant. The Harris’ lived 3 doors down and I had met Jennifer. She and I were the same age and getting ready to start 3rd grade. Polly lived up the street at the top of the hill. Polly, Jennifer and I were friends by default. I liked them well enough, but Polly could be bossy and Jennifer liked to have tea parties in her bedroom with her toy troll dolls and talk baby talk to them.
“Hello. Who are you? My name is Rebecca,” I heard as I hoisted myself up the fence and straddled the middle in preparation of jumping down. I was planning on playing in the yard without the prying eyes of my older brother who had been left to babysit me while my Mom ran to the store. He thought this made him the boss of me. It didn’t but rather than have another argument about it, I decided to go play in what I considered my own personal backyard.
Now someone else was here and I didn’t know why. I looked at her for a moment and suddenly felt as if I had done something wrong.
“I’m Susan. What are you doing here?” I asked as I jumped down. I almost landed on her. She stepped back but continued to smile. She was about my height but thinner. Her hair was so blond it was yellow. She had enormous blue eyes with pale lashes. Her nose was large and her skin was so white it was almost translucent.
She was wearing a starched white blouse that was tucked into her pants. Her socks had lace on them and she was wearing white saddle shoes that didn’t have a mark on them. Her hair had a ribbon in it which matched her shirt
“I live here now,” she said. She began blinking rapidly and her eyes darted for a moment.
“What do you mean you live here now?” I asked. I quickly looked into the living room window. “I don’t see any furniture.”
Her smile got wider. “Oh, that’s because we haven’t actually moved in yet. The movers come on Saturday. We’re staying at a motel until then.”
“I see,” I said as I wiped my hands on my jeans. I wasn’t wearing any shoes and my feet were dirty. I tried to smooth my hair down but it was pointless. It was curly and stuck out everywhere. My Mom gave up trying to comb it so she cut it short and hoped it would somehow stay put.
“Do you live next door?” she asked.
“We moved in here a long time ago. I know everyone in the neighborhood,” I said as if that would mean something.
“Rebecca? Where are you?” I heard a man’s voice call out. Rebecca turned and I saw a man approach us.
“Hi Dad. This is Susan. She lives next door,” she said. He walked over the stuck his hand out. I shook it and hoped it was clean.
“Nice to meet you Susan,” he said. He was tall and younger than my parents. His hair was cut short and his teeth were so straight that I wasn’t sure if they were real or not and tried not to stare.
“Thanks, you too,” I said and pulled my hand away.
“How did you get in the yard? I didn’t see you go through the gate,” he asked and looked directly at me.
This was the second time in 2 minutes that I felt as if I had done something wrong. “I climbed over the fence like I always do,” I said.
“Oh well, please be sure not to do that anymore. This is our house and you should come to the front door from now on.” He turned and looked down at Rebecca and put his arm around her shoulder. He had spoken and I had been dismissed. “It’s time to go,” he said and turned her around. “It’s nice to have met you Susan,” he said as they walked away. Rebecca turned around, smiled and waved.
I waved and walked through the gate. I left it open. I figured if he had such a bug up his ass about it, he could close it himself.
It was such a beautiful Saturday morning so I jumped on my bike and pedaled as fast as I could to Rebecca’s house. I had so many things to tell her about my new crush that I couldn’t wait. We weren’t in the same classes anymore and had different schedules. Since she wasn’t allowed to use the phone during the week, the only time we had to talk was on the weekend. Sometimes we would catch each other in the cafeteria but she had new friends I didn’t like.
Rebecca’s mom opened the door. I had parked my bike exactly where they had told me. Everything in their house was always in the exact right place. It was spotless and I often felt that if I moved wrong, I would knock something over and they would banish me forever.
“Good morning Susan,” she said and just stood there. She always did this. I always had to tell her I was there to see Rebecca even though it was obvious.
“Hello Mrs. Monroe. How are you?” I asked and waited. This ritual was usually short.
“I’m well. Are you here to see Rebecca?” she asked.
I wanted to tell her I wasn’t. I wanted to say I was there to visit with her even though I knew she didn’t like me and never had.
“Yes I am,” I said and continued to stand there and wait.
She looked me up and down. I automatically reached up and flattened down my hair.
“She’s upstairs in her bedroom,” she said and opened the door wider. I walked through it and started to go up the stairs.
“Thank you Mrs. Monroe,” I said.
I heard her close the door. “Rebecca has a lot to do tonight, so please be back here by 4:00,’ she said as she walked into the kitchen.
I rolled my eyes but made sure she couldn’t see them. “No problem,” I said as I sprinted up the stairs and into Rebecca’s room.
She was sitting at her desk. She jumped up and hugged me. I closed the door and flopped down on her bed. I wanted to leave as soon as we could. I felt like I was in jail.
“Are you ready to go?” I asked.
She turned around and smiled. “Yep. Let me just grab my purse. You want to grab some food for our bike ride? We could ride up the trail and there’s a bunch of nice spots where we could stop. Angie lives somewhere near the lake. Maybe we could go over to her house…”
“No, I don’t like Angie. I know she’s your friend but I don’t think she likes me,” I said.
“Oh, that’s not true! She does like you,” Rebecca said. Rebecca only saw the goodness in people. She didn’t like it when I said something unkind or mean. She would always tell me something positive. It annoyed me at times but I had grown used to it. That was just the way she was.
Her door opened and her father was standing there. They never knocked. They just walked in. Rebecca never did anything wrong and I wondered if they were like that when I wasn’t around.
He stood there and I saw he was holding a book in his hand. He had a serious look on his face. I looked down at the book. It was “Soul on Ice” and right then I knew I was in trouble.
“Where did you get this book Rebecca?” he asked as he held the book in front of him. Rebecca looked at it and then immediately looked at me. She blushed when she realized that she had just answered his question without saying anything. She looked back at him and then down at her lap.
“Well? I asked you a question young lady,” he said.
“I gave it to her,” I said. She couldn’t lie to her father and didn’t want to get me into trouble. It was easier for her if I just told the truth.
He looked at me and slowly shook his head. “Did you…read this book?” he asked.
I nodded my head. I felt my face getting red. I knew what parts he was talking about. I looked down at my shoes. At 13 years old, much of the book I did not understand but the sex scenes were vivid enough.
“Do your parents know you read this book?”
“I have no idea. It was given to me. I read it. I gave it to Rebecca to read. It’s just a book and a popular one,” I said. I did not like anyone talking to me as if they were my parents.
“Well I may have to talk to them about. I’m sure they would not approve. I think you are both a bit too young for this type of…book. There are parts that are fine. I stapled the pages that you are not to read Rebecca, but you can read the rest of it,” he said and handed her the book. She took it and nodded and placed it on her desk.
He turned and looked at me. “But the next time you want Rebecca to read something you find so…interesting, please give it to me first,” he said and walked out. He left the door open. I got up and closed it.
I looked down at Rebecca. She was still red and was wringing her hands slightly. “Sorry I got you in trouble,” I said and took the book. I started to take the staples out of it. Rebecca reached over and took the book from me.
“You can’t do that! He said I couldn’t read those parts!”
“So what? It’s my book and he had no right to ruin it. If I want the staples out of my book, I’m taking them out!” I said. I snatched the book back and began to pull out the staples and sneered every time they tore a page.
“You can see the pages that had them and if you don’t want to read them, then don’t,” I said and handed her back the book.
She shook her head. “No, that’s OK. I’ll read something else,” she said and got up and picked up her purse.
I took the book with us. We found a place to eat. I read the parts he told her not to read. Technically, she didn’t read them. I just happened to be reading out loud while Rebecca was sitting there.
I never saw her blush so much for so long. It was worth it. From then on, anything I wanted her to read, I kept in my locker at school.
I could hear her guitar as I came out of my last class for the day. Her last class for the day ended an hour before mine. She had taken up the guitar and would use that hour while she waited for me to practice. We took the same bus home and that gave us time to catch-up on the day. It was my most favorite time of day except my English class because Ted was in it. I had a crush on him since 6th grade and 6 years later, he still didn’t know I existed.
I found her sitting on the stairs near the girl’s gym. She was in her own world as she sat and strummed her guitar. Her hair was almost to her waist. She was wearing a long dress and boots with a headband and flowers pinned into it. The sun was hitting her back and her hair looked like corn silk. I tried to flatten my hair down and forgot for a moment that it was also long. I wore it pulled back most of the time and I could feel the long pony tail hit my waist as I jogged towards her.
She was practicing “Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd. It had been the number one song on the charts for a few weeks. I wasn’t sure if I liked them or not. No one would ever replace The Beatles for me. I walked up and stood in front of her and waited for her to stop.
She looked up and continued to strum her guitar. She was getting better and better. She taught herself much of what she played. She had taken lessons but she had a talent for it. I tried to learn but had no patience. I wanted to pick it up, play it perfectly and refused to practice.
“You ready? I want to have a smoke before the bus comes,” I said. She stood up and walked with me to the parking lot. That was where some of us went to in order to sneak a cigarette.
As we were walking, I heard someone crying. I looked around. “Did you hear that?” I asked Rebecca and stopped. She listened and then we heard it again. We looked around and followed the sound. It was subtle but someone was sobbing.
We saw a girl standing behind the partition in front of the girl’s gym. I had never seen her before. She had her face pressed against it with her hands covering her face. Her body was shaking as she sobbed and tried to be quiet. We looked at each other and walked over to her. Rebecca didn’t know who she was either.
“You OK?” I asked. She jumped back and a slight scream left her mouth. She quickly put her hands over her mouth and nodded her head. She was a mess. Her face was soaked from her tears and they had dripped onto her blouse. Her nose was running.
She was a large girl with hair worse than mine. Hers stood straight up as if she had stuck her finger in a light socket. Everything about her was wrong. She was wearing a pleated skirt that was plaid with a large sweater and knee high socks. She looked as if she had just been transported from the 50’s. I looked to see if there was a poodle on her skirt. She had the thickest glasses I had ever seen and when she looked back and forth at us, only one of her eyes moved. Her left eye stared straight ahead.
Rebecca stepped forward and put her hand on her arm. “What’s your name?”
She wiped her nose on her sleeve and tried to breathe. “Dawn,” she said and attempted to smile. All you could see was a mouthful of braces and she was wearing a head-gear.
“I’m Rebecca and this is Susan. Why are you crying?”
Dawn looked around and then stared at her shoes. She shrugged her shoulders.
I already had a good idea of what happened. She was near the girl’s gym when the cheerleaders came out. I hated those girls even though we had all been friends since 3rd grade. Something happened to some of them during the summer between Junior High School and starting our sophomore year. They had grown-up suddenly and were pretty and thin and popular. Suddenly I wasn’t allowed to have lunch with them or talk to them. My greetings went unanswered or even laughed at as they flipped their hair and wiggled their butts as they walked away.
I didn’t want to hear what they had done. Those girls had turned into demon spawn. Dawn was a perfect target. I grabbed her hand and started walking. “Come with us and don’t worry about it,” I said as I headed towards the parking lot and began to pull my cigarettes out of my purse.
I found a spot to sit where I wouldn’t be seen and could hear if anyone was approaching. I had Dawn sit down between us and lit up. Her face was beginning to dry. She looked back and forth between us. Rebecca picked-up her guitar and started strumming. I leaned back, inhaled deeply and watched the smoke rise in the air.
“What happened to your eye?” I asked Dawn.
She looked at me and I saw a horrible memory pass over her face. I wasn’t trying to be mean or rude but it was like a huge elephant sitting in the middle of a living room and no one was saying anything.
“Some girls picked on me and bullied me for a long time where I used to live,” she said. Her hand went to her eye and she rubbed it. “We just moved here. My dad lost his job, so they haven’t had any money to get me a better eye.”
“A better eye? What does that mean?” I asked.
“This is a glass eye,” she said and pointed to it. “One day, those girls held me down and one of them stuck a needle into it. They laughed. They thought it was funny.”
Rebecca had stopped playing her guitar when Dawn started talking. I looked at her. Tears were in her eyes and her hand went to her mouth. I looked at Dawn as she looked out into the parking lot.
There wasn’t anything left for to say.
I watched the side of Dawn’s face as she gazed at the cars coming and going. Her jaw was tight and her bottom lip quivered. I put my hand over hers and squeezed it.
We were graduating in a couple of months. Rebecca was going off the college. She wanted to be a teacher. I had no plans. I didn’t want to go to school for a while. I wanted to write and be someone. Even then I knew that High School would have a memory that would never die. I sat there and felt the story Dawn had told go into my bones. I knew that it would stay there forever. I would never forget it. I saw what they did to her in my mind and I knew that memory would affect me for the rest of my life.
I was an adult and I didn’t want to be one. I wanted to sit in parking lots and smoke cigarettes and not have to think about what some people did to other people.
I saw our bus pull up. “What bus do you take?” I asked Dawn.
“I don’t. My mom will pick me up in a few. I’m OK now. Thanks,” she said.
I held out my hand and helped her up.
“Rebecca and I meet for lunch under the tree in the courtyard everyday at noon. Be there or be square,” I said.
Dawn smiled and blushed. I chuckled that I now had two friends that randomly looked like beets.
“Would you like some more punch?” Mrs. Monroe asked me. She was smiling and her eyes were still judgmental. I concluded that she was born that way, had lived that way and would die that way. No matter how old I got, the lack of respect in her eyes when she looked at me would always make me feel inferior.
“No thanks. I’m good,” I said. She nodded her head and walked away. I took a deep breath and turned and watched Rebecca continue to open her presents and chat with the other women. She was getting married in a few weeks. She had not forgotten to invite me to her shower even though we had not seen each other for a few years. She had graduated with her degree. I was proud of her for doing what she wanted. Being a teacher was met with approval from her parents and her entire family.
She was doing what she wanted and would soon be married.
“Are you seeing anyone?” I heard someone ask. I looked around and saw it was Debbie who had asked me the question. She was Rebecca’s younger sister.
I felt my hackles go up. Once again I was about to be subjected to the third degree by women who I didn’t know but yet wanted to know all about my love life. I didn’t like Debbie and she didn’t like me. I remembered her as sneaky and quite often running to her parents to tell them something I had said.
“Yes, but no one you know,” I said. I decided it was easier to lie than explain why I wasn’t married.
“Oh, please, tell us all about him!” she said and moved her chair closer. “Rebecca said you weren’t seeing anyone. Is this someone new?”
I wanted to scratch her eyes out. She knew damn well I wasn’t seeing anyone but now was talking loud enough for everyone to hear. A few of Rebecca’s relatives stopped talking and began to listen.
Debbie had a smug look on her face. I wondered for the millionth time if Rebecca wasn’t adopted.
“What makes you think it’s a man?” I asked and batted my eyelashes.
Debbie looked confused for a moment and then she blushed. I could see the top of her head turn red where she had pulled back her hair. She put her hand to her mouth and gasped. A few of the women looked at each other.
Mrs. Monroe stood up quickly. “Would anyone like some cake?” she said and told everyone to go into the kitchen. She glared at me and told Debbie to come help her.
I chuckled as I watched everyone leave the living room. Once they were gone, I leaned back against my chair and looked at Rebecca. She was blushing and shaking her head.
“What?” I asked and started to laugh.
“I can’t believe you said that! You would think that after all these years, I would get used to you, but I haven’t,” she said and laughed.
I knew our friendship was ending. She vowed that it wouldn’t, but she was getting married and moving away. I had met her fiancé Michael and I didn’t like him. He was rude and abrasive. Rebecca never stood up to anyone in her life. I had not been around for the last 4 years to stick up for her and speak for her when she couldn’t. I never told her I didn’t like Michael. She wasn’t going to teach. After all she had worked for, Michael wanted her to stay home. He wanted a family right away.
“You’re going to miss me when I’m gone,” I said and held her hand in mine. She still looked 8 years old to me even with the shorter hair and breasts. I looked down at her hand and back at her.
“What are you talking about? You’re not going anywhere,” she said.
I wasn’t going anywhere but Rebecca was. She didn’t understand how everything had changed over the last couple of years. We had grown up and gone our own way. She was on her way to start a new life and I was stuck in mine. I didn’t have much of a future but she did.
I no longer fit into her life.
“No, of course not. I’ll always be around,” I said. I stood up. “I have to go but I’ll see you at the wedding, OK?”
She hugged me and then stood back, held my hands and smiled. “Yep. I’ll see you at the wedding! I can hardly wait!”
She had a smile that lit up the room and I was the only one in her life that knew that.