Dad says he has an errand to run before Ella comes.
He changes into a bright white shirt and black shorts before telling me to have a good time tonight with a new friend. I still have mixed feelings about him and what he has told me, but I still smile weakly at him. Giving me a quick kiss on the forehead, he leaves.
A knock on the door minutes after dad's left startles me and I jump up quickly. Ella smiles at me when I open the door.
"Hey," she says and I see that she's changed into a pair of black jeans and a blue tank top. "Ready to go?"
I nod and make sure to grab my keys, my cell phone, and some money that dad left me on the dining table. Closing the door behind me, I catch Ella giving me a once over.
"Good," she says nodding with approval, "you changed. I like that skirt."
I look down at my pink polo shirt and jean skirt that the store I'd bought it at had made the ends look worn and torn. My pink and white flip-flops highlight my pink toes.
"Thanks," I shrug.
Ella starts walking down the gravel driveway and I follow her closely behind. She looks over her shoulder, making her black hair, which I now see is clipped back instead of in a ponytail and her dark blue eye-makeup that matches with her tank top. "I'm going to do this shopping as quickly as possible, then we'll go to the beach."
I stare at her, letting her know that I already know this.
"There's going to be a barbecue on the beach tonight," she responds, smiling and showing me her bright braces. "It's going to be awesome, you can meet everyone!"
That scares me a little bit. Back in Toronto, me and my best friend would have jumped at the chance to meet new people, but here I am alone. The thought of approaching so many people alone makes my stomach churn.
Ella has been watching me all this time, noting the look of fear on my face.
"Don't be nervous," she says calmly. "They really are great."
"Aha," I say.
"Really. I moved here when I was eleven and they all just accepted me," she grins at the memory. "Plus, the guys are really hot... if you don't have a boyfriend?"
"No," I respond, remembering all the dates I'd been on since I was fourteen. None of the guys had ever stuck around. "I'm single."
"Good," she says, laughing, "because then you're free to look all you want." She winks at me and I smile back at her nervously.
Ella guides me through the sand dunes until we reach a large group of people by the shoreline, a huge bonfire burns in the center and a portable barbecue sits off to the side. The guy in charge of the hot dogs and hamburgers and whatever else these teens eat has his red hair in a short ponytail. A girl with wavy brown hair stands beside him with a beer in her hand, smiling and casually touching his shoulder.
Ella had raced through her errands before returning back to her house, a decent sized two-storey house. I noticed that there was an aged sports car in the driveway with a football bag in the back seat. I also saw a mountain bike hanging from the ceiling of the garage. Ella came back from inside her house and tapped me on the shoulder as I looked at all the teen male paraphernalia.
"That's my brother's stuff," she said rolling her eyes.
"You have an older brother?"
She shook her head quickly. "No, he's my twin. Manny. You'll probably see him tonight."
Now Ella is smiling at me, urging me to move forward and greet people. I'm frozen to my spot on the sand, trying hard to not meet anyone's eyes.
"Hey Ella," a girl yells from the other side of the bonfire. Soon a brunette and a blond run to Ella and hug her hard. "Good, you made it." The brunette smiles brightly. "I love your hair, very well done."
Ella grimaces. "You have no idea how long it took me to do," then she turns to me and points at the brunette. "Aly, this is Anna and that," she points at the blond who is tall enough for me to have to look up at her pretty face, "is Joanna. She's the outgoing one."
Joanna laughs, showing off a beautiful smile. "Says you," she turns to me and winks. "New girl, huh?"
"She used to live here," Ella says and I freeze as my eyes catch a blur of brown curly hair. "She's Robert's daughter."
"Oh wow, I didn't know he had a daughter." Anna is saying, looking at me inquisitively.
I follow the guy who's entered my line of sight with a mass of curly brown hair. His big hands push away the hair from his eyes and his smile feels so familiar.
"Don't mind them," Joanna says to me, drawing my eyes away from the reminder of my past that has just walked by. "Anna moved here only three years ago," I look up at her and remember suddenly a short blond girl in my second grade class that would sometimes tag along with me and my then best friend, Dylan, during recesses.
"Oh my god," I say suddenly feeling a wave of relief. "Joanna!"
"Glad you finally remembered," she laughs and hugs me tightly. She turns to her gawking friends and smiles. "We used to go to school together."
"I thought everyone had left this place," I say.
"Nope, most of us are still here," she shrugs. "We all just look different."
I nod my head and again see the same guy with curly hair. "Who's that?" I say pointing my chin towards the awkwardly smiling stranger.
Joanna turns and smiles back at me. "See, we all look different."
I raise an eyebrow and Ella jumps in, eager to have a word in our conversation. "That's Dylan Pintos," she says, calling out to him and waving when he sees us. His eyes widen as he takes me in, before quickly turning around and walking away. "My brother's best friend," she points to a blond guy and he frowns back at us before following Dylan.
My thoughts are spinning as Anna continues to say, "Yeah, he's one the popular guys around here. Every girl's heart broke when he started dating Angela. Then again, popular people always stick together right?"
I'm barely hearing them as I remember Dylan. Our friendship. Our kiss.
Dylan Pintos, the best friend and first love that I left behind.