Something Like Friendship — One
This is a mild PG-13. Slight cursing, mention of teen pregnancy, and the mention of gay in relation to someone's sexual orientation in a non-derogatory way occurs.
It’s still just as weird as it was the first time when Brianna calls and asks if she can bring Briley over.
“Our air conditioning’s broken,” She groans over her phone. It’s staticky. The reception here is perpetually awful. That’s one of the reasons you won’t find a satellite dish in any yard. All of us TV watchers (so basically everyone) relies on a complicated network of underground cables. But there’s no way to do that with a cell phone, so Brianna hardly ever calls. She just comes over.
Or, well, she used to. After she had Briley a year ago, she started asking. I keep telling her it’s okay—just come over, seriously—but she doesn’t want me to feel like I’m being taken advantage of.
“Yeah, sure,” I reply, dipping a bristle brush into a half-full gallon of yellow paint. Bree knows about this. She’s not one of those psycho fumes-are-gonna-kill-my-baby moms, so it doesn’t matter if Briley spends all her time over here breathing potentially toxic chemicals. Which she does, because I’m always painting something. Last week it was the bathroom. Mom and Jarrod don’t care, as long as I pay for the supplies myself and warn them before I begin a project. I always do.
We hang up and I step back to admire my work. Two hours into it and already I have one wall done. It’s so much better than the slate grey of before. I may not even have to do two coats.
My obsession with painting started a few years back, when I was thirteen. We’d had the same rose wallpaper in every room for as long as I could remember. Mom was never the home improvement type, so I took it upon myself to make our house better. Brighter. Beautiful.
The paint really helped. It took me a couple months to do every room, then another month of obsessive touch-ups. It made me happier, to walk from room-to-room and be surrounded by vibrant, clean colors. Mom was so impressed that a year later—by the time I’d grown bored of the browns and blues that composed our household and wanted to try something new—she didn’t even care.
I pride myself on my eye for design.
Jarrod claims he gets headaches from the constant paint smell, but I ignore him because I know he’s just being a drama queen. My stepdad is exceptionally good at that. He really should have gone into acting.
But if he had, he wouldn’t be here with us.
The doorbell rings just as I’m pressing the lid on the paint can back into place. I yell for Brianna to come in. She does, balancing Briley on her hip.
“Hey, Dev. Oh my gosh, this looks awesome!”
I stand up and turn around, running a hand through my floppy bangs. I’m sweating and I realize I forgot to turn our air conditioner on. Brianna, who has come dressed for the impossibly frigid cool our system puts out when in action, is already reddening in her lounge pants and loose hoodie.
“Thanks,” I say, and shuffle into the living room to turn the air conditioning on before she can scold me. It may be September, but it’s burning up out there. A rarity for Vermont. This never happens, but it is, so.
Brianna shrugs out of her jacket and hands Briley to me. I smile at my best friend’s baby. Best friend’s baby. Argh, that’s weird. It’s still so weird.
When Bree told me she was pregnant, I could hardly bring myself to believe her. She’s careful by nature—we both are. We scorned all the other preggos in our school. And there were plenty. It seems to be a thing here: grab a boyfriend and accidentally get pregnant. It’s almost unbelievable, how stupid these girls are.
Brianna wasn’t one of the stupid ones. I still refuse to believe she is. She’s explained it to me many times since; not in explicit detail, since that creeps me out, but just that the pharmacy here doesn’t offer any form of pregnancy prevention (which I know, everybody does) and at the time she and her boyfriend weren’t worried about it.
I was surprisingly level headed about it all. Maybe because it wasn’t me. I told her okay, and assured her I wasn’t angry. I agreed with her that, yes, she should keep the baby. I felt a bit better about the whole thing when she told me she hadn't even let Mike know yet. I still came first, despite the fact that she was now having his child.
They’re not together anymore. Mike moved out-of-state to go to college. He sees Briley every once and a while, which I find an awful shame. She’s the most adorable thing in the world, and I’m glad for her. I know Brianna is, although we both wish it hadn’t been this way, Because when we graduate next year, she’ll go to community college and work, like, three jobs the same as all the other teenagers who get pregnant. I may go to community college, but I won’t be working three jobs and taking care of a child. Just one job.
The idea still depresses me.
“So guess who texted me this morning?” Brianna asks, flopping onto our couch. I’m left to deal with Briley but I really don’t mind. I sit down in the chair opposite my friend and balance the one-year-old on my knee. She busies herself with pulling on the rubber bracelet I’m wearing.
“Bingo!” Whenever Brianna is distressed about someone texting her, it’s always Mike. Also because everyone else knows better than to text her with the aforementioned reception here. Mike does, too, but he’s an idiot and doesn’t care.
“It came in three days late because I went to Walmart this morning for diapers in Havenstown and I had about fifty thousand texts from him.”
“Oh yeah?” I play along, although I don’t care about their drama. Not because I’m some horrible friend, but because he’s just not worth getting worked up over. She still does, even though she knows better.
“Yeah, so apparently he was in town this weekend to see his mom and he wanted to get Briley for a few hours. Only I never got the text and he didn’t just freaking call me like a normal freaking person, so because I didn’t text him back I got a whole slew of angry messages.”
This happens more frequently than one would think possible. “What did he say?”
She hands me her phone, foot tapping the carpet impatiently. A struggle to balance Briley in one arm and the phone in the other ensues, until Brianna sighs and comes over to take her from me. I’m left with two very relieved arms and am free to scroll through. Again, it’s nothing new.
“Aren’t you tired of him yet?” I ask, sighing over the utter patheticness of it all.
“Then block him in your contacts. Just don’t deal with him.”
“It’s not that easy, Devon. We have a baby together. We have to think about what’s best for her.”
“Yeah, but is having a dad like that really best for her?”
“I’d rather she have a dad than not one at all.”
I didn’t, and I’m fine, I want to say, but I don’t because Brianna didn’t either and look how she turned out. We both know what’s going through my head, though. Bree stares off to the side of my face, pretending to inspect the muted orange walls. They’re the color of a pumpkin pie with lots of cinnamon in it. It took me forever to find the right shade.
I finally give up and go to sit beside her, wrapping my arm around her shoulders. “You’ll be fine. He doesn’t matter, and some really hot guy is going to show up fairly soon and sweep you off your feet.”
“Will he be rich?”
“Extremely. And he’ll love babies.”
“He’ll have black hair, too.”
“Of course.” Her favorite shade on guys. And girls. Hers is the color of crow feathers, only warmer.
“Plus a really hot body.”
“Excuse me, twelve pack.”
She jiggles Briley on her knee. “So guess what she did the other day?”
And just like that, the melancholy feel melts away. Brianna is exceptional at getting over something. She claims it’s because of my cheer and willingness to help, but I know it’s just her.
I work at the grocery store Jarrod co-owns with a guy named Omar. Omar is super cool and not that much older than me. He inherited the business from his father when he turned eighteen, and now he’s almost twenty. He’s extremely good looking and possibly gay, which is both disappointing and kind of a relief. Because how awkward would it be to have a crush on my boss? My dad’s business partner? In theory, it’s creepy.
Instead, we spend our days talking about interior design and cute guys.
So yes, he’s definitely gay. I just hate to say it, because he hasn’t said it.
“So I heard three new families moved in town the other day,” Omar tells me as he oversees my stocking shelves. We have a new system we’re introducing to be more like Walmart. Jarrod hopes it’ll get us better business.
“Oh yeah?” I ask, frowning at the paper in front of me. It goes by row and what to place in each one. Isle 4, Row 2: canned goods. Asparagus, beans, blueberries, carrots, cherries. And so on.
“This makes zero sense,” I groan.
“I can see that.” I liked it better before, when vegetables were grouped together in one place and the pie fillings in the other. This is definitely not like Walmart.
“Did you hear me say three new families moved in the other day?”
“Yes. I did. I’m still horrified by the shelving system.”
“Two moved into the apartment complex and one in that really old house.”
“What really old house?”
“On Gardner Street.”
I spin around. “The Gardner Street house?”
“That’s the one.”
Oh. My. God. No.
I am in love with that house. It’s old, and brick, and deteriorating. I would love to get my hands on it.
“Do you know who moved in there?” I hop down off the stepstool I’ve been standing on. Omar’s already shrugging. He’s impossible.
“I really don’t know.”
“They aren’t demolishing, right? Just renovating?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you know?”
“That they moved in yesterday.”
“Oh, gosh.” I put my hands on my forehead and squeeze my eyes shut. “I’m obsessed with that house.”
“How can you be obsessed with a house?”
“You just can. It’s beautiful.”
He scoffs. “Girl, you’re insane.”
“Maybe I could give them my business card.”
“You don’t have a business card.”
“But I could make one.” I mean, technically, the only other house I’ve painted outside of mine was Omar’s a while back, but that shouldn’t matter. He really liked it. It’s one of the reasons he hired me at the grocery store, because it certainly wasn’t Jarrod’s idea. I think one of the reasons he loves working here is to get away from me.
We’re not estranged, exactly. There’s just zero connection.
“Can you imagine painting that house? Oh, gosh.”
“Yeah. I can’t. I really can’t.”
I ignore him and go back to shelving. I’ve done the virtual walkthrough of the ancient brick building online many a time, composing whole rooms full of gorgeous, period colors and modern furniture. It was my plan to eventually buy it one day, if I ended up staying here after college. I could be happy there.
It’s been on the market for eleven years. I guess I never expected it to sell.
“Devon?” Omar asks. “Are you crying?”
But my eyes are watering, because now I have no place here. Nothing to fall back on—a part of me hates this town. And if for some reason I never leave it—God forbid—I could have bought that cheap house and remodeled it and absolutely loved waking up every morning.
Not now. But that’s how life goes.
When I get home a few hours later, mom is surveying the kitchen. She has one hand pressed over her mouth and nose, but she pulls it away as soon as I walk in.
“Mom,” I complain. “Not you, too.”
“Sorry, Devon. But it stinks.”
“I know it stinks.”
“No, really. It smells awful. What did you do?”
I widen my eyes in exasperation. “I bought VOC free paint.”
“VOC? What’s that mean?”
“It means there aren’t any cancerous fumes in it.” I kick off my shoes and open the fridge. “But the kind I bought was stinky, anyway.”
“So it’s safe to breathe?”
It doesn’t seem like she believes me. “...I guess I should cook dinner then.”
“Jarrod said to tell you he’s working an hour over.” I pick out a coke and pop the tap. “He’s trying to get everything reshelved before tomorrow. It was absolutely chaotic today.”
“Aw, well.” She opens up her laptop and sits down at the table. “I have some news for you.”
I already know what she’s going to say. “Omar told me.”
“How did he know?”
“He just does. He’s the town gossip.”
She slides the computer over to me with an air of trepidation. There, on the screen, is the listing for the house. Only now it’s says SOLD across the top in bold, capital letters. Opposed to FOR SALE.
I let out a quiet breath. Seeing it like this—so final—is more upsetting than I would dare to admit. I mean, it’s just a house. But it was my house. Sort of.
“Rennie told me it sold yesterday. I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s okay.” I wave her concern away. “It’s just a house.”
“I know, but…”
I take a sip of coke as her sentence tapers off. We’re silent for a few seconds.
“What do you think of the kitchen?” I ask at last.
“It’s so bright and beautiful. It’s your best work yet.”
I glow with this praise, but I don’t let it show on my expression. I keep that neutral, carefully controlled. “Thanks. I’ve got to go. I told Bree I would babysit for her tonight.” Which is true. She’s going to meet up with Michael to discuss things. I think she’s stupid for it, but I love her anyway.
“Call me if you need anything.”
I set out to walk the three, short blocks to Brianna’s house. Only I purposely take a longer route than usual. One that allows me to walk past the Gardner Street house.
There is no air of activity about the place. It looks much the same as it always does. I don’t know what I expected but standing on the street opposite it—trying to see through the sad windows for any sign of life at all—is ultimately depressing. I show up at Brianna’s all pouty and upset.
“Are you sure you don’t mind watching Briley?” She asks as she’s already heading out the door.
I shake my head. “No. It’s fine.”
As soon as she leaves I go into the kitchen and take two ibuprofen. So what if Brianna’s stuck here?
At least she’s knows where she’s going.