Ashley and I chatted on IM for only ten minutes before she told me she had to go. When I asked her why she couldn't stay online, she'd mentioned that Robert had stopped by and they were going to hang out.
She said ttyl; I said nothing.
Looking back on the conversation, I found that Ashley had taken longer than usual to reply. She was probably getting all dolled up for him, just like she used to for me. Rob and I were best friends, but when he confided his feelings for Ashley to me a week before I finally asked her out, our friendship was never the same.
Since we'd known each other since we were toddlers, I never thought Rob and I would be the type of friends who became less than close because of a girl. But Ashley was special and, even though I had admitted my feelings first, it was easy to understand why he liked her. While other girls focused on short skirts and tight shirts, Ashley was tight jeans and loose tops. When other girls laughed quietly, a hand over their mouths, Ashley's bark of a laugh would attract attention from all around us.
But now I wasn't there to hear her laugh or try to guess what she would wear to school. Now it was Rob's turn, even if Ashley and I weren't broken up. Rob knew a chance when he saw one, that much I remembered about him when we were inseparable.
Closing my laptop, I decided to head down to the beach after all. I felt like my neighbor and I had spent so much time catching glimpses of each other, it was time to finally introduce myself.
She spoke in a surprisingly throaty voice that mingled easily with the hum of the ocean beyond our spot on the sand. My parents were fast asleep, their bedroom windows black. But her house was lit with so much life, that I itched to enter it and explore what her world was like.
She'd been uncomfortable at first, I could see it in the way she evaded looking directly at me, but when we said our names, it felt like she was welcoming me into her domain. Her full lips stayed puckered as she read, her brow slightly furrowed as she flipped page after page. We sat in comfortable silence for a few more hours before we parted ways. Even though we'd hardly said anything, I knew I had the summer friend I was seeking.
Lexy raised an eyebrow at me when she finally came to the front door, her little sister watching me with wide eyes just below Lexy's arm. Lexy wore a long yellow summer tee that proclaimed "We will not be stopped!" in red bubbly letters and jean cut-offs that showed off her tanned legs.
"Hey," I said, flashing her a quick smile. "I'm here for the tour."
"Tour?" she asked without removing her hand from the front door.
"Yeah, the one you're going to give me of this town."
"Sorry, can't help you there," she muttered before pulling the door shut.
"Wait," I stuttered, sticking my foot between the frame and the door. "Look, I'm new and I thought we could, you know, sorta be friends?"
"Because of last night?" She motioned at my foot with her chin and I removed it. I nodded and she sighed. To my surprise she shooed off her sister, grabbed a bag from somewhere inside the house, and stepped outside, closing the door behind her. "Okay."
The shock must have registered on my face because she simply laughed.
"I could use the fresh air and the change of atmosphere." Her eyes wondered over to her large house and up towards a bedroom window.
She grabbed my hand before I could ask her what she meant, and pulled me away from the house, towards the heart of the town. She smelled faintly of vanilla and lilies, the scent carrying easily in the breeze. When we were close to downtown, she let go of my hand and pulled her long, blond hair into a sleek ponytail.
"So, where's our first stop?" I asked, checking out the bungalows that lined the streets right before the shops began.
She gave me a teeny smile before asking, "Have you eaten breakfast?"
"Too bad," she stopped in front of an old-school 1950's diner and waved her arms like, "Ta-da!" "Because Tinkered has the best breakfast around."
I laughed a bit at that and followed her inside, where most of the tables were crowded with teens our age and families enjoying some time together. A mousy haired girl a bit younger than us smiled at me and asked if we wanted a booth or a patio seat.
"Patio," Lexy and I responded in unison.
The girl shot Lexy a weird look, before guiding us back outside to a small cluster of chairs and tables. The smell of roses, sunflowers, and violets mingled with the salty breeze that drifted over to us and shadows flickered over the streets as the sun played tag with the clouds overhead. We chose a table under a wide umbrella and sat in silence while we considered the breakfast menu.
"Hey," I broke away from the menu and looked up at her. He small shoulders were hunched as she checked out the choices. "Why didn't you want to sit in there?"
For a moment, I wondered if she had heard me, but then she shrugged.
"It's not a big deal," she said. "Why did you want to sit out here?"
"Because it's a nice day."
"There you go."
The waitress, a woman about my mom's age, came by then and brought us complimentary orange juice. Apparently, juice was free here and when I noted the price of the food, I understood why.
"But, why not?" I pressed on after the waitress had left, tapping my fork tines carefully on my paper napkin. "There were tons of kids in there. Weren't your friends in there?"
She put the menu down and gave me a long stare. I shifted in my seat uncomfortably. "No," she responded, an edge to her voice I hadn't heard yet in our brief friendship.
"Oh," was all I could say, placing my fork back down on the table. "Okay."
We were quiet for a moment and I checked out the other stores around us--a sports utility shop, a bikini shop, a small drugstore/food market hybrid, and an ice-cream parlor--before I heard her sigh.
"My life is complicated," she admitted, putting her elbow on the table and placing her head in her hand. She appeared so casual, I fleetingly thought about mimicking her pose. "My friends couldn't handle that, so they booked it."
We sat in silence again, but this time it felt loaded with unsaid words and unexplained reasons. I didn't push her for answers after that. She eyed me as the waitress returned and asked us if we were ready to order.
I had a sense that Lexy was impressed with my lack of questions about the loss of her friends. For once, I imagined her thinking, no one asked her the hard questions about her life.