I heard Michel run in the opposite way behind me and for a split second I wondered if he would somehow get lost instead of returning home. I had barely registered what he had said about ice cream tomorrow and I let fresh tears rush down my face.
Kelly had lived with just her mom since she was five, when her father had left them. I knew that she had always looked at my family with curiosity and envy, but I would have never guessed that her need for a family would go this far.
When I finally reached my house I froze in front of the front door, too scared to go in. Just then the dark blue door opened and my dad stood in front of me with a large traveling bag in his hand. I could see that sweat was plastering his dark hair to his tanned forehead and the fact that he was avoiding my eyes did not escape me. I sidestepped him as he walked out onto the porch and walked into the house, but before the door closed, dad stopped and turned around to face me.
"Laurie," he said quietly. "This has nothing to do with you. You'll always be my baby girl even if we are apart, okay honey?"
I let his words drift between us while holding on tightly to the front door.
"I love you Laurie." He came up to me and went to pat my head like he had always done, but I pulled away quickly. "Laurie?"
"I hate you." I said slowly.
I looked up at him and saw that he was still avoiding my eyes, in his face I could see Gabrielle's features, but this man would never live up to his son. "I don't think you do." This caused him to finally look me in the eye. "I have no father after tonight."
"Laurie!" My dad scolded before I slammed the door in his face.
Neither my mom or Gabrielle asked me where I had gone last night. I knew that I was alone now, and even my mom and brother sensed it.
I ignored the alarm clock as it shrilled its early morning warning to me. I lay in bed with my eyes open and let the sound fill up the noiseless emptiness of my house. Mom had mercifully not awoken me and any previous angsts about my math quiz had evaporated with the morning dew. I felt the day passing by as I stayed in my bed, the covers slightly pulled over me, and my pillow was tear-stained from my sleepless night. This was it, my family was broken and my heart couldn't break any further.
The sound of my brother's voice downstairs entered my reality briefly before it too vanished into the silence that I had created for myself. Mom, I know, must have been somewhere around the house but I had also sensed that she too was grieving in a way that only a woman would grieve for a lost love.
I moved my legs occasionally to fight off the paralyzing sense of sleep from them, but that was the only movement that I made. My windows were still open so I could hear the faint sounds of fall as it continued its process of preparing us for winter. Swift cold winds blew through and once brought in several abandoned leaves through the windows, their rustling intermingling with the thick nothingness of my room.
When the clock on my desk flashed five o'clock at me I closed my eyes. Why did that time look so familiar? Why did the burning red numbers urge me to become whole again; to live a life that is meant to be lived? When nothing happened by five-thirty I let my thoughts wander back to my predicament. I couldn't stay like this forever... but maybe for a bit longer.
I heard footsteps approaching my room and I prepared myself for the barrage of questions that I was surely going to receive. I could just imagine Gabrielle with his jersey depicting number four and his wind-misshapen hair walking angrily through the door and telling me to snap out of it. I closed my eyes as someone knocked on the bedroom door. I kept them close as I heard the doorknob turn and someone entering. This intruder smelled of strawberries and a hint of chocolate, their footfalls were lighter than my brother's, but heavier than my mom's, and their presence sent chills up my spine.
When I opened my eyes I nearly let out a shocked gasp. Michel Logan stood in front of me holding a waffle cone with a ball of strawberry ice-cream and a twin ball of chocolate ice-cream. He sat on the floor beside my bed and looked up at me.
"I figured," he said, "that you wouldn't be ready for an ice-cream date, so I brought the ice-cream to you."
I stared at him wide-eyed and he continued talking.
"I know that you obviously aren't ready for any of this, my mom has always told me that I have horrible timing, but I want to try." Before I could object he put his thumb on my lips. "Your mom let me in, she knows that I am up here."
He had mistaken the reasons for my sudden reaction, so I gently removed his thumb. "No, I'm not scared."
"Oh," he said, "well, that's always good."
"Yeah," I couldn't help but take in his forest green eyes and gentle wrinkle of worry that creased on his forehead. "It is."
"Laurie," the ice-cream cone sat idly in his hand so I unfroze, to my surprise, and grabbed it. "I didn't know what flavor you liked."
"Vanilla," I answered while staring at the simple cone in my hands.
Michel laughed and the sound of it felt like it could easily overtake our fragile home. The day that he had started at our school had been just like any other day. He had introduced himself moodily, making eye-contact with no one, while Zack had made sure that he was the center of attention. I remembered wondering what life was like for Michel living in the shadow of his twin brother, but seeing him beside me laughing over something as simple as ice-cream made me crack a smile.
"Wow," Michel observed, "ice-cream does help heal, huh?"
"I guess so." I said quietly, unable to stop smiling. His long legs were stretched ahead of him, nearly touching my dresser that sat beside one of the bedroom windows. His faded jeans helped contrast the tan on his forearms as he stretched beside me. "Thank you Michel."
"Ah, about that, I didn't think that you knew my name."
"That would be weird," I said, nudging him on the arm. "You coming in here while thinking that I didn't know your name?"
He shrugged. "It happens."
I stared at him, unable to disconnect my eyes from his thick blond hair and his pointed nose that made his appearance sharp and determined. I remained as I was, sitting up and staring at him, when he suddenly turned to face me. "Your ice-cream," he pointed to my suddenly cold hand. "It's melting."
I looked at the cone in my hand and quickly began working on the mess that was his afternoon treat, with my mouth. I paused when I felt his hand touch my back, which was arching forward in frustration.
"No worries, I have napkins!" He pulled out several wads of tissues from his pockets and I couldn't help it any longer. I started laughing, louder than I had in a long time, while he stared at me with confusion drawn on his face. I nearly dropped the cone in my moment of lunacy, but Michel grabbed it before any severe accidents could occur.
He sat there beside me until the night darkened and the winds continued to pull summer and fall away. He never said anything in the silences that we had because he somehow understood that I felt alone, and his presence was all I needed. Without my knowing it and through some of the most horrible events of my life, this boy, this Michel with his studded ear and air of mystery, became someone important to me.