My story has to begin where my most prominent memory is. It was my first day of my first year in middle school. Sixth grade.
"Mom, I'm scared. What if they don't like me?" I asked, glancing out the window. "I don't like being the new kid."
"Baby, it'll be okay. Just be yourself. I'm sure you'll make a friend. What's not to like about you?" she replied, stroking my hair.
"My freckles," I answered, turning to her.
"Avery Elliot Santos, you are beautiful just the way you are. I think your freckles are cute and I'm sure there are others who do as well. Now go conqure sixth grade," she smiled and kissed my head.
"Okay. Bye, Mom." I hopped out of the car and shut the door. "You're going to pick me up here right?"
She nodded and drove off.
I turned to face the school and took a deep breath. Maybe my mother was right. I could make friends. I ran my hand through my straight ashbrown hair and sighed. Then I headed into the school. The kids around me were laughing and talking. It was louder than elementary school. The classroom that I needed to be at was all the way at the back of the school. I pushed my way through crowds of people and finally made it. There in front of me stood my new fellow classmates. They all looked terrified except for a group of girls hurriedly talking and a boy with a bored expression on his face. The girls looked me up and down, then continued talking. They must've been the popular ones.
Quietly I went to the back of the line where the bored boy was. I glanced at him and decided he might be one of the popular kids too, so I decided not to talk to him. A group of boys came charging around the corner straight up to the boy in fron of me. I watched out of curiousity.
"Dex! What's up?" asked one boy, smiling.
The bored boy shrugged and leaned against the wall. "I think the teacher's late."
"We wish you were in our class. You're the funniest guy here," laughed another boy.
"I'm not that funny. I just say whatever somes to my mind," Dex replied smirking.
The bell rang and the boys said their goodbyes. Then they ran back around the corner to their classroom.
Dex looked at me. "You're really quiet. Are you new?"
I felt myself blush. Silently, I nodded and stared at him.
"What's your name?" He turned towards me.
As I opened my mouth to answer the teacher appeared and let us all in the classroom. We hurried in and had to locate our names on the desks. I quietly searched for mine, but I couldn't find it. I began to worry. Then I found it sitting neatly on a desk...next to Dex's. He smiled at me as I sat down.
"So your name is Avery?" He pointed at my name tag.
I nodded and put my backpack on the back of my desk seat.
He laughed a little. "My name is Dex. I like your name. It's cool."
I smiled and looked down at my desk.
"Dex Dellosa," giggled a girl.
I looked up and noticed it was the popular girl from earlier. Her name tag on the desk said Tamera. She was pretty and had long flowing blond hair.
"Hey, Tamera," replied Dex glumly.
"What's wrong? Aren't you glad to see me?" She pouted.
"No." He glanced at me.
The other kids around our table, mainly guys, laughed. I couldn't control myself, I laughed too.
"What are you laughing at?" snapped Tamera, glaring at me.
"Hey, that's the only sound I've heard you make," chuckled Dex, grinning at me. "Leave her alone, Tamera."
She grabbed her name tag and switched it with someone else's. "I don't want to sit next to freckles."
I touched my cheek bones self conciously.
Dex rolled his eyes. "Ignore her. I like your freckles."
"You do?" I asked, looking at him.
He nodded. "Yeah. I finally got you to talk."
"Does she not like you or something?" I changed the subject.
He shrugged. "She has a crush on me and I don't like her. We're in sixth grade. There's no need to date at all."
I nodded and smiled. "I agree."
"Nothing. I'm just thinking how we're gonna be good friends. Maybe even best friends."
I couldn't help but grin excitedly. I'd made a friend. He was really nice and I enjoyed talking to him the rest of class. Throughout the day we hung out together. He tried to get me involved in the games on the playground, even if I told him I wasn't good at sports. We shared a lunch, switching sandwiches and puddings. When it was time to go home, I found I didn't want to leave. We waited together outside of the school until both our parents showed up.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Avery!" exclaimed Dex, walking off with his dad.
"Bye, Dex!" I yelled, waving at him.
"Who was that?" question my mom curiously, peaking at Dex.
"That's Dex. He's my friend. He said he likes my freckles," I chirped getting in the car. "He stood up for me when this popular girl was being mean to me."
She grinned. "I knew you'd make a friend. Good job, baby. The first day wasn't so bad, huh?"
I shook my head as she laughed and drove us home.
It was always just my mom and I. My dad had left her when he found out she was pregnant. It made me sad, but I never asked my mom about it. It wasn't something she liked to talk about and it wasn't something I wanted to hear. She'd showed me a picture of him once. I had his hair color. That was it. Other than my hair, I was a spitting image of my mother. She was a beautiful woman. I never could understand why my dad didn't want to be with her. After he left, she focused on raising me. We had the best relationship a mother and daughter could ever have. She took me to the movies and out to dinner for a mother-daughter night when we both had nothing to do. I had fun with my mom. She wasn't super over-protective like many other parents were. Things began to change though once I'd gotten settled in school. Dex and I were best friends, but then my mom began to leave me alone a lot.
"Mom, are we going to the movies tonight?" I chirped on a Saturday morning, bounding down the stairs after her.
"Oh, um, I'm sorry, baby. I have a date tonight. I forgot to tell you," she answered, putting an earring in. "Maybe you can go over to Dex's house and have a movie night. Or if you want he can come over and you guys can watch a movie."
"Okay," I sighed, disappointed at her for breaking a movie date again. That was the third time in the past month.
"I'm sorry, baby," she apologized again, kissing the top of my head. "I really like this guy. I don't want to miss out on a chance. I'll see you later, sweetie."
She headed out the door and to work. She was a waitress at the local diner and people there really loved her.
I trudged over to the phone and called Dex's house. Then I waited patiently for his mother to get him.
"Avery!" he exclaimed into the phone. "What's up?"
"She bailed on me again, Dex," I sniffed, sitting on the kitchen counter.
"Ah. I see. Your house or mine?" He fumbled with something.
"Mine this time?"
"Sure. I'll be over as soon as I can, okay?" He moved some things around. "Which flavor? French vanilla or cookie dough?"
I thought a moment. "Cookie dough."
We hung up. I sat by the window in the family room and waited for Dex. He knew the drill by now since my mom started ditching me to hang out with this new guy. He felt bad that my mom was leaving me for this new guy in her life. When I first told him about what my mom was doing, he said it would only be for a little while, that she was happy. Then it became ridiculous.
The doorbell rang and brought me out of my thoughts. I walked over and pulled the door open. There, standing on my doorstep was my mom's new boyfriend. He was tall and slightly muscular. His hair was neatly combed, like a business man's hair usually was. He wore a nice suit and tie. He looked like some sort of sleezy salesman.
"Hello. You must be Avery. My name is Mark, but I'm sure your mother has told you a lot about me," he smiled self-confidently.
I nodded. "Yup. Mom's talked about you a lot."
He smiled more, clearly proud.
"Unfortunately," I added under my breath.
"Is your mom home? I hoped to surprise her before work."
I shook my head. "Nope."
His smile completely dropped. "Oh. Well I'm gonna go then."
I watched as he turned to make a phone call. He ran a hand through his hair and muttered something.
"Daisy? Yeah, it's Mark. What are you doing right now? Ah, wanna hook up? Same hotel room as before. Alright, let's meet in twenty minutes," he stated turning to look at me.
"You're cheating on my mom?" I blinked.
"You can't prove that." He chuckled turning to leave.
I watched him go, speeding down the street in his sportscar. There was nothing I could do to prove he was cheating. He was right. My mom would never believe me. She had her city boy and, as it turned out, he had his city girl. I still had to try warning my mom though.
When Dex arrived, I pulled him into the house quickly. Without hesitation I told him about what had happened with Mark. Without a word, Dex listened and opened the ice-cream for us both to eat.
"What do I do, Dex?" I asked, digging my spoon into the ice-cream.
"Tell your mom. You're her daughter, she has to believe you over him," suggested Dex, eating ice-cream.
I nodded. "Hopefully."
We put in a movie and ate the rest of our ice-cream. At first, we didn't speak, but then we started laughing at the movie and things felt normal again. Ever since my first day of school, Dex and I had hung out almost every day. My mom didn't seem to care, as long as I had a friend.
"Oh, I forgot to tell you, you know that kid Liam?" asked Dex, shifting himself on the sofa.
"Yeah, what about him?" I stretched out on the sofa, pushing my feet against his leg.
He tickled my feet. "Well, he wants me to find out if you like him."
I laughed and pulled my feet away. "Well...no I can't say I do. Why?"
"He likes you."
My jaw dropped. "Why?"
Dex busted out laughing. "That was the best reaction I've ever seen!" He poked my leg. "He thinks your cute, duh."
My face turned red. "Oh. Well...mayber when we're older."
"Want me to tell him that?" He wiggled his eyebrows.
"I don't care. He's going to get over me because I don't want to date right now," I stated, kicking his leg.
Dex pulled out his cell phone and text Liam. "This'll be interesting. Maybe he'll wait for you."
"Oh please." I rolled my eyes.
His phone buzzed and he picked it up quickly. "Oh dang. He said he'd be willing to wait, as long as he can hang out with you."
"You're lying..." I squinted at him. "Let me see."
He handed me his phone.
Sure enough, there were the words right in front of me. My jaw dropped at the sight of them. Who would do something like that for me? It was shocking and it made me feel special.
"He must really like you," chuckled Dex, taking his phone back. "Want me to tell him to hang with us?"
I nodded, still unable to speak.
"Can I give him your number?"
I nodded again.
"Oh man. You're real shocked, huh?" He laughed texting Liam as he did so. "This will be awesome if it works out."
Minutes later there was a buzzing from my phone. I picked it up and noticed it was a new number. I opened the message and saw that it was Liam. It said "Hey it's Liam. I hope this isn't creepy...LOL." I smiled to myself.
"Someone's in love!" teased Dex tickling me.
"I am not!" I yelled, kicking at him.
As he laughed, I text Liam back telling him it was no problem. It was nice to talk to him. I had other friends besides Dex, but not many of them understood me like Dex did. Liam was the only one who was the closest. No matter what, Dex would always be my best friend. He knew everything about me. He was always looking out for me, keeping me safe and standing up for me. He brought me out of my shyness too. I wasn't afraid to stand up for myself or talk to people.
"What are you thinking about?" Dex got up and went into the kitchen.
"How good a best friend you are." I stretched out on the couch.
He came back with a can of whipped cream. "Really?"
"Well thank you! You're not so bad yourself." He smiled and sprayed the whipped cream on the ice-cream. "So, what do you wanna do?"
There was dead silence as we both thought for a moment. We looked through the movies in the drawer of my television stand but there was still nothing we could decide on. Then we decided to wander around the attic. Quickly we ran upstairs and looked for the drop-down ladder and we climbed up. There were boxes and boxes of things I didn't know about. One box held old baby clothes and another baby utensils. Every box was labeled...except for one.
"I wonder what's in this box..." I whispered, walking over to where it was. "It's not labeled."
"Maybe it's some sort of secret stash!" exclaimed Dex, running towards it. "Let's open it!"
We opened the box and found men's clothes and items. There was a wedding ring and yet another wedding ring and band. I dug deeper into the box and found a picture.
"Who's that?" Dex picked up the rings and examined them.
"It's my dad..." I dug some more and found a stack of letters. They were all addressed to my mom. They'd been opened, so I started reading them. They were letters about how much he loved her and cared about her. About how he was sorry that he got sick and was going to leave her alone with me. About how he wanted me to be named Elliot or at least have my middle name be Elliot. He talked about all sorts of things. He even, in one letter, left my mom a large amount of money to save for emergencies. The last letter requested her to finally come see him at the hospital. He must've not wanted her to see him.
"What are all these about?" asked Dex, picking up one of the letters.
"They're about me and other things. My dad was sick...he never left my mom..." I put the letters back. "Why would she tell me he left?"
He frowned. "I don't know. Maybe she had a good reason to?"
Carefully, I picked up one of my dad's shirts. Underneath it, there was a bottle of his cologne. I picked it up and carefully opened it. The musky scent smelled so good to me. I closed my eyes and tried to picture what his hugs would've felt like. He'd been a really handsome man...and I'd never gotten to meet him.
"You okay?" Dex set a hand on my shoulder.
I shook my head. "I miss him."
He hugged me close and patted my back. "It's okay."
We stayed up in the attic looking at my father's things. Pictures of him lined the bottom of the box under his clothes. After looking at each one of his items, carefully, I loaded everything back into the box and stared at it. Then I decided to keep one of the pictures of him for me. He wasn't a bad man after all and, although I never hated him, I felt a stronger love for him than before.
Dex and I went back downstairs and waited for my mom to get home. He said he'd stay in the room with me if I wanted so that I could confront my mom, but I knew I had should do it alone. The problem was when. So instead I decided to tell her what her precious boyfriend was doing behind her back.
"Avery, I'm home!" called out my mom, rushing through the door.
"Mom, I need to tell you something," I stated, following her.
"Okay, well tell me as I get changed. I don't want to be late for my date," she huffed, dumping her stuff in the kitchen. "Hello, Dex."
"Hi, Ms. Santos," called out Dex, staying on the sofa.
"I followed my mom around. "Mom, Mark came by today looking for you."
"Oh, so you met him! What do you think of him? He's cute, huh?" She winked, slipping on a dress.
I frowned. "Um, sure. I don't like him."
She frowned at me now. "Why not?"
"He's a sleezball, mom."
She rolled her eyes and slipped on a pair of heels. "And what made you come to this conclusion?"
"He's cheating on you. He's lying to you and you won't see it."
She shook her head and grabbed her purse. "Don't do this, Avery. I'm finally happy again."
My fists clenched. "But he is, mom! I heard him talking to a girl named Daisy on the phone! He said it right in front of me!"
"Don't be selfish. You can't always have me to yourself." She left her room and started walking towards the door. "He's not cheating on me. He promised he'd never do such a thing."
"He's a liar! Just like you!" I snapped.
"What are you talking about?" She turned to face me.
I glared at her. "You lied to me about dad. He never left you. You lied to me and tried to make me hate him. He was sick."
She looked taken aback. "How-"
"I went into that box in the attic. How could you?"
"He left me! He never told me that he was sick! He ended up in the hospital one day withough so much as a word that he was sick to begin with! Don't you dare try and lecture me Avery Elliot Santos! Remember who raised you!" She was yelling now.
I felt tears coming to my eyes. "You raised me well, I'll give you that, but you just basically spat in my face."
Her face softened. "When did you grow up?"
"A long time ago, mom. But don't thank yourself. Because of this, I'm finally someone."
She opened her mouth to say something, but the doorbell rang. Quietly, she opened the door and disappeared with Mark.
Dex came forward and placed a hand on my shoulder. Gently, he pulled me into a hug and rubbed my back. "You did the right thing. I'm proud of you."
"Then why does it feel like I did the wrong thing?"
"Because," he whispered. "You're a better person than most."