She looked so different just then, before we started running. As if the fun we'd had earlier in the day hadn't happened. She looked so sad that I wanted to make her laugh, anyway I could. She was my friend, even if our friendship was a brief one, and I wanted her to smile and be carefree. She offered a way out of the melancholic mood by suggesting a race, which she must know she had no chance of winning.
After splashing and floating on our backs until our fingers were wrinkled, and our eyes were sore from the salty water, we spent a languid afternoon on the sand, just staring as the day shifted into early evening and the red, orange, and yellow hues of sunset seeped into the sky. The colors washed over the ocean, slowly pacing themselves towards us.
My mom called me for dinner and I left a quiet Lexy on the sand. Later, when I stood showered in my bedroom, facing the bare window that overlooked the beach, Lexy was still sitting there, her mind lost to the Floridian sky.
Sometimes I wondered as I lay on my bed or the sand outside my house, what Ashley was thinking when she was hanging out with Rob. Was she thinking about the time I took her to a flea market that had deals barely anyone knew about, laughing like kids when we found strange clothing? Did she contemplate what we would be like as a couple if I hadn't of moved down here? But what nudged at my conscience most of all, was if she even thought of me.
As the days passed and the week came to an end, the phone calls from Ashley became less frequent. It had only been a week since I moved down here, yet she was already bailing on me? Rob hadn't even called me once and I restrained myself from calling him.
Spending time with Lexy was becoming like second-nature, even if we barely knew anything about each other. She had that air about her that told me it would be a while before she fully trusted me. When she confessed about what her best friend had called her, I learned that she needed a friend about as badly as I did. While I was willing to bare myself to her, I knew she wanted patience from me.
That's why I stayed quiet when she started crying after our movie and a dinner hangout. The movie, some comedy about a family coming together over a summer vacation, had just finished and the room was nearly empty. I sat still, waiting for her to make the first move, but then she let out a sob. Her shoulders shook as she cried and cried, but I didn't say anything. I didn't touch her, or try to sooth her. Even now, after only a few days, I knew she wouldn't want my sympathy.
She pretended like her breakdown didn't happen, and I played along. We walked home in silence that night and spoke nothing of it the next morning.
Sometimes I did wonder however, what happened when she shut the front or back door to her house. Why were all the lights in her house on nearly every night? Why did she sometimes have grey-blue shadows under her eyes? And most importantly, why was she in so much pain?
The first Monday since I'd moved here, Ashley called me. It was so early that the sun was still hiding just beyond the horizon, and brisk cool morning air still lingered outside my windows.
"Did I wake you?" She whispered.
"No," I lied, rubbing my eyes. "What's up?"
"I'm coming down there."
I sat up, suddenly alert. "What? When?"
"Soon," I could hear the smile in her voice. "I'm still working my parents."
"Yeah, so I was thinking I'd stay a week?"
I bit my lower lip, thinking of the fair that was coming to Pueblo in a day or two. Lexy had told me it was the single best thing to happen in Pueblo. Naturally, we had to go. But the awkward thing is, I hadn't told Lexy about Ashley and vice versa just yet. I don't know why, but whenever I was about to reference either one of them to each other, I always stopped myself. Lexy was cool, gorgeous, and wicked smart, but I loved Ashley, even if she was acting distant.
"Yeah, a week sounds good."
"Great," the sound of shuffling paper broke through our connection and before I could ask about it, Ashley returned to the phone. "I'm pretty sure my parents will okay it by tonight. I'll be down there by the end of the month."
I let out a heavy breath and Ashley mistook it for disappointment. "Don't worry babe," she soothed. "We'll see each other soon."
When we hung up, I lied back down in bed. The ceiling was white with a few beige freckles sprinkled here and there. Downstairs my parents were making breakfast and dad was about to leave for the office. Mom would spend the day planning how to decorate the house, which was now way too big for her, and I would lounge around on the beach with Lexy.
"What's your favorite fruit?" Lexy asked me while she dug a messy hole in the wet sand with her heel. Even though we acted like friends, I couldn't help but notice her lean figure and the brightness of her blond hair.
"Kiwi," I respond, moving my much bigger foot over and helping her with her sandy hole.
She wrinkled her nose and shook her head at me.
I laughed and asked, "What's wrong with Kiwi?"
"Too many seeds," she responded with a smirk.
"Alright, fine, what's yours?"
She looked up in concentration and I forced my eyes away from her long, bare neck. "Oranges."
"Why?" she gave me a genuinely confused expression and I started laughing.
"You were born and raised in Florida, something had to stick."
She smiled wanly. "When you put it that way, it is pretty sad." She picked up a handful of sand and chucked it onto my knees. "It's your turn, ask me something good."
I narrowed my eyes and asked, "Why did you call yourself a social pariah?"
She stiffened and I almost took the question back, but then she responded quickly, "I told you, because Becca called me a loser."
I shook my head. "Someone like you shouldn't be ignored just because one person called you a loser."
She bit the inside of her cheek and resumed her hole digging, her foot moving faster now. "I guess I did it to myself. I pulled back, so everyone else did too."
"Everything changed the summer I turned sixteen. My mom--" She took a deep breath. "My mom got sick and suddenly, I didn't give two craps about what my friends liked. I just wanted to do my own thing without worrying about them and their stupid conversations about boys and makeup."
A clap of thunder broke our silence, but we ignored it.
"My mom needed me here; not at some stupid party, not fawning over the perfect dress. She needed me, so I chose her. I never told Becca about mom, I figured she would just know something was up. But instead of asking, she just went with the crowd and cut me out, even insulting me in front of everyone when I wouldn't go to her party.
"Logan, all I wanted was the company of a book, or a pen. I wanted to write everything down and catch every moment I had with mom, I felt like I needed to hold on to the present in case the future eluded me."
"Is she still sick?" I asked, remembering her tears and the sad look on her face last week.
"Yes," she whispered, her voice nearly drowned in the cacophony of the ocean around us.
"Me too," she responded.
And then it started raining.