Road passes beneath the tires and the dead grass is a blur as I stare out the window. Swirls of hay bales and lone trees flash by as my father steps on the pedal. I think he just wants this drive over as soon as possible as the rest of us.
I peek over Crystal’s shoulder and see she’s sketching a pretty orange shirt adorned with silver sparkles on the shoulders. I’m assuming she wants to be a designer. Me, I don’t know yet. I haven’t gone through enough to figure out what I want. Just as long as I end up with Gabriella, I could be living in a cardboard box playing tunes for all I want.
My attention is brought back to the outside world whirling as we travel further down the line. How is it possible that no one lives here? It’s just dead land, but with the population being what, seven billion, you’d think some people from crowded places can come live here. They’d have all the space they want and they can pretty up the landscape.
A small black bird catches my mind. How jealous I am of it. How easily it can take off wherever it wants to go. If I was a bird, I’d fly straight back to her. This painful knowledge of possibly never seeing her again, even though we promised that one day we’ll reunite, is burning brightly and I just wish I could have last night on repeat forever. To see her face, the one I’ve known for all my life, the smile that never fails to make me smile, the words she says when I have a bad day. Why can’t I have that with me every day? Oh right, it’s because of my father.
I glare at the driver’s seat. This man is making me doubt that I, that we can survive this separation. I know I will never stop loving her but I don’t know if she can say the same for me. I hope to God these years will just pass by extremely quickly.
When it’s around evening time, I spot a tree that seems to be glowing on fire under a ray of light. I yell to Mom for the camera, a nice Canon that she acquired while Crystal and I were growing up. Snapshot after snapshot, I go back and see how well the quality is despite the car moving at an illegal 74 MPH. I keep the camera with me in case there are other remarkable land features.
Crystal wakes up with an orange colored pencil in her left hand. “How many more hours?” she asked warily.
“We just got in the city. About twenty minutes. You kids hungry?” My father turns around to glance at us, but neither of us dares to make eye contact. Silent treatment works when we’re both in it together.
“Okay then.” He returns to the front. I really don’t feel hungry after all. My stomach keeps churning every time I think of her.Gabriella.
Boulder City, Nevada, is nothing special. It’s one of two cities in the state that prohibits gambling. As if I’d have trouble in there. Unless I wanted to hit a jackpot for a plane ticket to see Gabriella… We pass Madeline Garrett Middle School, where I’ll be attending eighth grade there, and then Crystal finds her own school, Boulder City High. Apparently our colors are the same, navy, but mine as white and hers as gold. There’s a small park right around the corner of the grocery store and the playground looks very used and probably has a ton of bird poop on the monkey bars. Overall, this is not nearly as spectacular as Clovis, California.
Finally we pull into a long driveway that connects to the first two-story house I’ve ever lived in. White bricks, gold wooden shutters, the door painted navy to represent the city’s colors. It looks brand new. I wait for Crystal to pop out and then stretch my legs. I’ll probably get the smallest room.
And I’m right. Well, she can have it. All I need is a pen and paper to write to Gabriella.
Since we skipped dinner, we go straight into unpacking the necessities for tonight. The first thing I grab is my frame. If I wasn’t looking outside, I was gazing at us, smiling at the camera, age ten and without a care, knowing no possibility that anything could split us. Sadly I grin, remembering the day it was taken.
The last day of fourth grade was spent with construction paper caps and Sunday clothes and receiving useless papers for our accomplishments in the school cafeteria. I went first, taking up the A/B honor roll sheet and returned to my seat. About eighty students later, Gabriella hits the stage in a lovely blue frock and a long side braid to tame her curls. Some principal handed her just about every award you could get- perfect attendance, straight A’s, role model, you name it. When she’s in a good mood she likes to boast about how she’s going to make it into an amazing school.
When the ceremony was over and everyone is ushered back into class, I attempt to congratulate her, but the class clown Carson beats me to the punch. I saw Gabriella blush as he’s telling her mindless things. Rejected and crushed, I shrink back to my desk and tidied up my things. I guess she never suspected that I liked her. Being my only friend, I was most comfortable around her. I didn’t have to worry about feeling stupid because we could be stupid together.
And now I miss that.
I’m so exhausted from the trip that I don’t bother to get my proper bed. I lay out my blanket, put my head on my pillow, and hug the frame close to me.
In two months the house slowly becomes like the one in Clovis, but nothing is the same. The stairway curves instead of going straight up and the ceilings are caved in a weird way. At least Crystal and I finally have a personality in our rooms, now that we’re not sharing. I’ve taken down the boring posters and replaced them with the pictures I took on the drive here, and added several others from that old park nearby.
At dinner the night before school starts, I ask Mom if I can have a camera like hers.
“Your birthday is coming up,” she muses.
“It’s possible, Charles.” Again, I become irritated that he’s called me that. “I recently got a raise for working so late this summer.”Good thing,I thought.You keep doing that.
“I heard there’s a new model of a Nikon coming out. Maybe we can start with that?”
I’m shocked they’re even considering it. Isn’t thirteen a young age to get into photography? I know I won’t begin like a pro, there’s no way. But maybe, just maybe, I can take a scene and people will be awestruck by it.
Tonight I open the first letter Gabriella has sent me. I read each word like it’s the last thing I’ll ever see, and relish in seeing something familiar for once, her handwriting. Kids actually claimed it’s really similar to mine, but I’m sure they’re just trying to make small talk and find a way to copy off her paper.
By the middle of the letter, I’m clutching it so tight I’m afraid it’ll crinkle. This one sentence bothers me in particular.
She’s dating that weed Carson.
Turns out Carson asked her out two weeks ago when he admitted he liked her since first grade. She said yes immediately and they went to get ice cream with several other friends. Gabriella goes on about how nice and funny and charming freaking Carson is, and how he paid for her treat. She even got our favorite, cotton candy mixed with bubblegum pieces. We never stuck to the plain flavors like vanilla and chocolate, we wanted to be adventurous. But it’s almost a slap in the face when she got that because we always got it together.
I struggle to finish the rest of the paper without my tears latching onto the parchment. She signs off with an ‘I miss you!’ and I can barely set it down. Why haven’t I told her about my feelings before? Maybe then she wouldn’t contemplate on Carson and think about me instead. I know I can be rather shy and emotionless, but the rush I get when I see her, everything just wakes up. She’s my sunshine, my fresh breath of air, the new flowers in the spring. If I just told her that, a very different letter would be sent…
There’s nothing I can do but write back saying I’m happy for her. Sometimes it’s best that there’s no way she can see my torn face now. Carson probably doesn’t cry. He just makes everyone laugh, swoons the girls. I never once pulled on a happy expression around him. He always seemed like he was headed for trouble the way he acted in class, to his teachers.
We’re 459 miles away. All I am able to do is look out the window, into the stars, and wondering if she’s watching them with me.
There’s no place to sit in lunch. Everyone already knows each other, probably from kindergarten. I’m fresh meat. The way they dress, it’s so weird. Plaid shirts, short lacy skirts, tight skinny jeans, high tops, it’s almost as if they all dress each other in the morning. Little town and all means not as much clothing stores around, but I expected them to all have a different taste of style. I search for a spot near no one and plop down right next to a wide window.
Eating my meal very quickly so I can drop by the library, I’m chomping on a carrot when a boy my age comes up to me. Chubby middle, spiky black hair, beady dark eyes, tan skin. And of course, a red plaid shirt with black jeans. He’s also eating green grapes and keeps shoveling them in without chewing. “You’re new,” he says bluntly.
Are people here that sharp? Three kids earlier looked at me like I suddenly became visible.
“Yeah. Been here for a few months, after school was out.” I swallow quickly, nearly choking on those stupid little bits.
“It’s nice. No one moves here in eighth grade. You either stay here your whole life or graduate. We’re a small place.”
“I’ve noticed,” I say, thinking back to the disgusting park. Small place, yet no one bothers to clean it up.
He’s done with his grapes and his cheeks aren’t bulging anymore. He holds out his hand for a shake. “I’m Chucky.”
It’s a firm shake. Wonder where he learned it if he has such bad eating manners. “Charlie.”
“Lunch’s almost over. Wanna go back to class?”
I’m surprised at how nice he is compared to the other kids. “Sure, I’m about done.”
The halls are wide, I guess, if no one else is walking through them. The walls are plastered with artwork and bright neon flyers to join new clubs. I scan them for any interest, but maybe my hobby hasn’t hit them yet.
“Mr. Luther? Oh, good luck with him.” Chucky points to his door. “I had him this morning, and let’s just say, he’s got the hormonal range of a pregnant woman.” I stifle a laugh. I know Chucky’s being nice, and I need to not push him away, but I tend to do that. Gabriella was an exception because we knew each other from the very start. Literally, we’re only a few months away from each other.
There’s a whistle blow around the corner and I know I should get inside before I get trampled by crazy, look-a-like eighth-graders. If you had a hit and run here, you wouldn’t be able to find the suspect.
“See you around,” Chucky smiles and goes to the room that’s across the corridor and disappears inside. I do the same and find a girl already in there, without the teacher.
She’s pretty. Not in a right-there-in-your-face pretty, but there’s something about her that you can tell she is. Narrow nose, smooth porcelain skin, pink rimmed glasses, straight blond hair that doesn’t look one bit dyed like most girls I’ve seen today. She looks natural.
“Aren’t you early.” The girl closes her book and looks up at me. She takes in my off-beat green polo and faded blue jeans that are not tight in any way. My rusty brown hair is combed to the side, which I protested to but Mom did it nonetheless. After thirty seconds, she sighs. “You’re interesting.”
Bluntness again. Maybe everyone is like this, even back in Clovis, but I’ve been too shy to notice.
“Uh, can I sit with you?” She’s got more potential to be friends with at the moment. She nods. I set down my worn out backpack on the floor and slide in next to her at the table. For some reason this place doesn’t have desks or proper chairs, so there are six couches that are either solid green, plaid, or a strange brown color. Luckily she had picked out a green one. I question the stains on the brown couch. Maybe a preschool donated them.
“Bay,” she says.
“What?” Oh wait. That’s her name. “Charlie. Is it short for Bailey?”
“No. I was born on the coast when my parents were on vacation. They couldn’t think of a name so they just named me Bay,” she says tiredly. Lots of people must ask that.
“Well, I like it. You’re interesting,” I add, which makes her smile. She has perfect straight teeth, but her mouth is crooked. One corner is raised higher, and her light blue eyes crinkle happily.
Kids begin pouring in, obviously tagging along with their friends. The ones that sit on the disgusting brown couches didn’t notice the spots. Why should they? Their friends will distract them.
The day is actually quite successful. I have two acquaintances that I’m proud of myself for getting out of my comfort zone and the teachers seems alright. Except for Mr. Luther. He was like a chimpanzee bouncing on the walls, emotions running out as if they were burning him. He’s only an hour of my day, so I shrug him off.
Lying on my stomach on the floor, I begin scribbling down a bunch of words but end up throwing four sheets away. How do I tell Gabriella about Bay? I don’t want to mislead her that I like Bay, but for some reason, the jealousy stirring inside me, makes me want her to think that. That I can have a girlfriend when she has a boyfriend. In the end, I just say I met some people and became friends with them.
I crawl under my sheets and stare out the window, fixated on the same star I’ve been watching every night since I moved.
Does she ever think the same as me the way I think of her?