Something Like Friendship — Two
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.
Since I found out about the Gardner Street house, I’ve been painting ours like crazy. I finished the kitchen in record time and moved to picking out new colors for my bedroom, despite the fact that its old color was only six months in the making. But the moss green, all the sudden, seemed dirty and unpleasant.
I suffer through a long day of school on Monday and then come home and immediately get to work. I crank up my music and lay down a plastic tarp and let my right arm do as it pleases. Jarrod beats mom home, because he’s the first to poke his head into my room.
“Could you turn that down? I’m getting a headache.”
“Everything gives you a headache,” I mumble.
“Nothing.” I turn my music down.
“Thank you. I’m going to go lie down. This weather’s giving me a headache.”
Jesus. He mercifully leaves.
I work for another half hour or so before I give up for the day. I’m covered in splatters of dark red paint. I have no idea how I’m going to balance out the bold color, but I wanted something different. This will suffice. Especially if it gives Jarrod a headache like all the other bright greens, blues and purples I’ve painted the house.
By the time I emerge, cloaked in my uniform of a loose t-shirt and shorts, Mom is home. She’s cooking dinner in the kitchen, the phone pressed to her ear. I try to creep past but she catches my eye and motions for me to wait.
So I do. She chats with Rennie, her favorite co-worker and best friend of forever, about this new house she’s listing and the snotty owners and their possessed cat. After an eternity of complaining and over-analyzing, she hangs up. “Hi, Devon.”
She twists around. “Aren’t we sassy today?”
“Can I go?”
I know I sound whiny. “I just want to go on a bike ride.”
“Wear your helmet.”
I don’t wear my helmet. And I hit Gardner Street in less than two minutes. I expect to find it in the state of nothingness it was in before (because where did thinking otherwise get me?) but I don’t. It has two cars in the driveway and a bunch of wood and tools laying out in the front yard. I find myself staring, a little bud of hope blooming inside of me. Because—finally—it appears someone is doing something with the house! Even though it’s not me, this is still reason enough to celebrate.
“Oh, sorry.” I move my bike enough to allow a guy to pass. My cheeks burn as he heads up the sidewalk toward the house. Which I had been blocking, like I own it or something.
Halfway there, he turns around and furrows his eyebrows. “Can I help you or something?”
“Um…” I shift on the seat. It’s digging into my butt. Ow. “No. Sorry. I was just, um, looking because I’m not used to seeing people here.”
He laughs lightly. “Okay, then. Bye.”
And I speed home, heart pounding, flushed with embarrassment.
For the next few days, I take my work route past the house in order to keep an eye on it. Not much progresses from the outside, but more wood is added to the yard and the cars keep changing. There’s a Dodge, and then a truck, and then a minivan. I don’t see the guy again, thank goodness. I’m risking further mortification by doing this, but I’ve been in love with this place for so long that it’s hard for me to let go.
“So I’ve already met two of the new families that moved in,” Omar tells me.
“Oh yeah? Are they nice?” I’m counting money from the register, but I keep coming up a few dollars short. Ugh. They should have never hired me. This happens all the time.
“One’s a young family, but the other has a boy who’s cute.”
I bite back a smile. Twenty, thirty, forty, forty-five…
“Earth to Devon? You hearing me?”
And dammit. I lost it.
“Yes, Omar. I am hearing you.”
“I said he’s your age. He’s good looking. You should check him out.”
I start counting again, faster this time. “No, thank you.”
"Oh, come on. Why not? Do you have a boyfriend?”
“No, I don’t. And I don’t want one, either.”
“You’re crazy. Boys are fun.”
I have to cough to keep myself from giggling. “So I hear.”
Omar shakes his head and changes the subject. I finally give up counting the money and shove it back in the cash drawer. My shift is almost over, anyway.
“Easy there,” Omar says, not looking away from his iPhone. I studiously ignore him as I tug off my nametag and throw it in a drawer beneath the register.
My bike is where I left it, unchained, by the heavy front doors. Jarrod wanted to install automatic ones a couple years back, but he couldn’t find it in the budget. Which is a load of crap, because we have no budget.
I hope Omar has a backup plan for when his business tanks.
I’m halfway home and deciding whether or not to go by the Gardner Street house when a familiar Chevy rumbles past. I stare at the driver. It’s the guy from yesterday, the one who caught me in his yard. So maybe no one’s there.
I pedal furiously, hoping to beat him there, which I do. The driveway is empty and there is no sign of him coming. I jump off my bike and look around before briskly walking down the sidewalk, hooking a left, and jumping up the steps to the front door.
I consider ringing the bell, just in case anyone’s home, but it doesn’t look like it so I take my chances. I move over and stare in the large front window, cupping my hands around my eyes. There are things scattered all over the beat up wood floors—trash bags, tools, an old broken down couch, a couple of oscillating fans.
“What are you doing?”
My heart leaps into my throat. I whirl around.
“Sorry,” The guy from yesterday apologizes. He’s standing at the bottom of the porch steps, staring. As he should be. Because there’s a strange girl staring into his windows. And she’s been here before.
“I hate to ask the obvious question, but I’m going to ask the obvious question,” He continues, when I don’t say anything. “Are you stalking me?”
My eyes widen. “What? No! Absolutely not!”
“Then what are you doing? This is, like, the fifth time I’ve seen you.”
“This is the route I take to work.”
“Fair enough. So that brings me to the next obvious question: why are you on my porch?”
I honestly can’t think of a good enough explanation for that. “Sorry, sorry. I’ll leave.”
He doesn’t move.
Still not. Great. He’s probably going to kidnap and/or kill me and/or call the police. I’ll go to prison. My friends with desert me. And I’ll have to stare at slate grey cinderblock walls for the rest of my life, praying for a day when I’m allowed a spot of color in my life.
“I’m a painter,”I blurt, as an excuse finally comes to me. Too late.
Two slim, dark eyebrows arch up, high on his forehead. “A painter.”
“Yes. I, uh, when all the new people move in I always stop by and give them my card.”
He’s skeptical. “Really.”
“Especially with these older homes. It’s...a beautiful home.”
“I don’t think we need a painter, thanks.” Finally, he steps aside enough for me to pass. My arm brushes against his, and I jerk away, fearing he’s about to grab me or something. He sees and laughs.
“Dude. You’re not in trouble.”
I start down the steps. “I know.”
“So are you going to give me your card?”
I stop, then pat my pockets. “Oops. I must have forgotten it at home.”
“Well, what a shame.”
“But I can come back by tomorrow with one!” Idiot. I am an idiot.
“If you want to.” He walks up the porch stairs I just came down and pulls a key out of his pocket. “If I’m not here, give it to my Dad.”
“Or Mom. Whichever.”
“You don’t own the house?”
He smiles at me in disbelief. “I’m seventeen. No.”
“Oh.” And then it hits me: this must be the guy Omar was talking about. I study him. He’s not as cute as I would have pictured him to be. I figured he would have to be freaking adorable for Omar to go on about him—he has good taste in celebrity men, at least.
He squirms and I realize I’m totally, very obviously checking him out. It’s the first time I’ve seen him look uncomfortable. But this is only the second time I’ve seen him.
“Bye,” I blurt, and then rush the rest of the way to my bike and make a hasty exit. Just like last time.
I can’t believe it.
“You’re back together?” I squeal. Brianna nods. She has a beaming grin on her face. We’re sitting up in my room, chatting as we wait for the last coat of red paint to dry. She’s left Briley home with her mom, who has a rare day off of work. She’s a receptionist for some eye doctor a couple towns over.
“We talked it through and he admitted he was, like, scared off when I told him I was pregnant. He said he loved me then and he didn’t know how to handle it.”
“Look, I know it sounds like every contrived thing every guy says to get every girl he wants…”
“It’s practically a freaking script, Brianna!”
She pays no mind to my logical outburst. “But we have something. Chemistry.”
“Yeah, so much chemistry he gets you pregnant and then drops you.”
She finger combs her hair. It’s thick and beautiful, as always. “I don’t regret it.”
“I didn’t say you should. But he’s not worth it. His true colors came out.”
“Do you not believe in second chances, Devon?”
I’m startled by this direct question. She doesn’t say it with anger, just like she means it. Like she means it as a question.
“I don’t know. Who’s to say he isn’t going to mess up again?”
“There is no one to say that.” She extracts a Lays chip from the bag on her lap and bites down. Crumbs fly everywhere. Just like that, we’re gigging.
“I am such a pig.” She brushes them off the bedspread.
“Just don’t touch the walls, please.”
“I love you, you know that?”
“You weirdo.” I shove her. “Getting back together with your dumb boyfriend.”
She’s deliriously happy. “I know. But he’s worth it.”
I don’t see how. But I don’t tell her that. It’s her decision, anyway.
We order pizza from our favorite place in town (in total, there’s three: your standard Little Caesars; this place that specializes in deep dish that’s presumptuous and overpriced; and then our favorite: Yummos. It’s close enough that we can leave my beloved, much abused bike at home and just walk there.
We run into two of our classmates, one of whom is holding a toddler on her hip. She and Brianna get to chatting about the cute things their babies do, diapers, ridiculously small child support checks. I stand there waiting in line to pick up our pizza, feeling like a very relieved third wheel. Seriously—in what scenario is it ever acceptable for the norm to be teens standing around talking about their babies, while the non-pregnant, good-girl ones feel scorned?
I cannot wait for college.
I’m paying for our meal when I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn my head around and do a double take. Because it’s the Gardner Street house guy. Standing with Omar.
“Hey, Devon,” Omar says. He’s the one who did the shoulder-tapping.
I look between them, unable to speak.
The guy from earlier crosses and uncrosses his arms. I notice a scratch on the inside of his wrist that wasn’t there before. But the question is not how did he get it, but why am I noticing?
Brianna has finished talking to Preggo #5,678 and is at my side again. She smiles in her flirtatious, surprisingly non-annoying Brianna way and extends her hand to Gardner Street Guy. “Nice to meet you.” She already knows Omar from the store, and they exchange pleasantries.
“Devon,” Omar says, putting his hand on my shoulder. “Have you met Ethan?”
“Yes,” I say, at the same times he says, “No.”
Omar frowns. “Pardon?”
I take Ethan’s lead and shake my head. “Um, no. We haven’t.”
“Oh. Well. This is him. His parents bought the house you love!” He’s excited for whatever misguided reason. I give Ethan a half hearted wave and turn away. Inside, I’m burning with curiosity. Why would he say we haven’t met? Unless he’s too mortified to tell them the whole, strange story. Should I be mortified when the guy who didn’t even do any stalking is?
Brianna faces forward and pokes my side. I know she too is wondering some things. Thankfully, though, she waits until we’re outside with our pizzas and napkins to press me for answers.
“Why were you so rude?”
“I wasn’t rude.”
“Yes you were! Like, you totally dismissed that guy. Do you know him or something?”
“But you said yes—”
“Well, I meant no! Seriously, Brianna.”
She grumbles something about me being weird, and I can’t bring myself to disagree with her.
We go back to the house and eat pizza and drink soda and watch television late into the night. She doesn’t stay over like she used to, though. She says she needs to get home and feed Briley.
You’re always with Briley, I want to say. Hang out with me for a change.
I should know this by now, but it still hits me at odd intervals. That nothing will ever be the same. Briley meant the ends of sleepovers and carefree hours spent throwing away our money on overpriced clothing. She meant the end of our closeness—now Brianna knows more about life than I think I ever will. She created it. She knows how it feels to have a person who exists because of you.
Briley wasn’t a mistake. I know that. But I sometimes feel like everything else is.