It is almost sunset but it is still too hot. She sits next to me and passes over a mason jar of crushed ice and lemonade and I take it gratefully into my hands. Instead of drinking it, I rest it against my forehead and allow the condensation from the glass to drip down the sides of my face with closed eyes. I take more of it with my fingers to drench the back of my neck, but my palms burn more for it. When I sigh because this small jar does not alleviate my apparent and immediate threat of heat stroke, she laughs at me.
She is my best friend. There was a never conscious moment that I made that decision, it just happened. Before she'd joined me on her concrete stoop I'd been turning over the idea of whether or not there was an exact moment that I'd perceived her differently, but could not pinpoint it. I’d been eyeing the patches of dirt and dead grass scattered within her yard, listening to her hum If I Ain't Got You out of tune, mumbling some of the more repetitive words here and there, picking out the sounds of her fetching things as she sets them on the counters of her run down kitchen. I try to guess what she is doing as I am hearing it, but feel unwilling to join her. It is even hotter inside her house since her air-conditioner is broken. We are devastated.
After a moment of silence she narrows her eyes against the sun tells me that she misses him. I nod, but say nothing. Three of us sat here last year and suddenly the heaviness of his absence rests between us. She quickly changes the subject and tells me she wants to start jogging because when school comes back around she’ll be thin, for sure. “I’m going to be so ****, I’m not even joking.” I smile at her determination. She talks about a girl in our year that everyone calls pretty, but I shrug. She asks if I think she is pretty. I can only nod my head. I can’t compliment her properly because I haven’t found the right words to tell her that it’s not about being thin. That is not what makes her perfect. Not to me.
I never liked her lemonade, but I begin to drink it anyway, thankful that some of the ice has melted fast enough to be a bit watered down. I don’t mind. It made it less sugary. The first time she’d given me lemonade, her father had laughed and said, “If you eat the ice, it’s like a dessert,” not knowing that dessert was literally the last thing I ever wanted. I have never been fond of sweets.
She laughs a little and crunches away on her ice and I cringe. She knows I think it’s an awful sound, but I’d grown so accustomed to it after the years of hearing it. For her, it was a typical summer treat. It wasn’t even real lemonade. In her freezer were small cylinders of an odd, condensed yellow mush that they’d dump into a plastic pitcher and then add water to. Remembering this, I no longer feel like drinking it. I hand it to her.
“Don’t want it?” she asks. I shake my head, watching neighbor girls sit under a tree with a small dollhouse as I wait for her to finish both jars. I don’t like the way it leaves the back of my throat feeling dry anyway and I never feel less thirsty after drinking it. She sets the empty jars between us and we talk about where we’ll go this summer, what movies we’ll see —lamenting that there really haven’t been any good ones recently and that maybe it’d be way more fun to see if we could convince her parents to let her join my family at the lake house. She doesn’t want to swim at all but seems excited to lay on the dock and get a bit of color.
She wants to take pictures. She rises from the stoop to return the jars to her kitchen sink and grab her camera and we walk through her neighborhood. I trail behind her consciously as she raises it to her eye, letting my fingers run along her neighbor’s chain-link fences, dreading the moment she finds a way to somehow sneak me into the frames of her photographs. She’s seemed more eager to try and capture me now that I am taller. I have grown so much in just a few months that I’m not sure how to handle my limbs just yet. They are too long and too thin and I am strangely aware of them —but even more aware of where she points her lens.
We find out that there is construction behind her neighborhood and sneak past the half constructed fences, large barricades, and signs (Keep Out, Construction Ahead). It is an odd place for nicer houses, we decide —right next to the ghetto. She laughs at the brick wall and shakes her head. “That’s not going to keep them out.” But it looks intimidating anyway. Maybe that’s the point.
In the middle of the area rests newly planted trees shading a small, wooden gazebo. They overlook a manmade pond, just large enough to swim in. She knows me too well. My first instinct is to jump in so she dares me to. Practicing self-restraint I tell her all I want is the shade and I lean against the railing of the gazebo instead. I watch her snap more photos —of leaves, of ripples, of her feet, the construction. She asks again if I want to join her and shrugs at my reluctance. She dips short legs in the water and casts a teasing glance in my direction. Her pink hair looks silly against her warm face and I smile. She tells me she knows I want to, that I’m a *****. I shake my head. She draws it out mockingly and threatens to take a picture. (I cover my face with my hand.) “Paaaaansssyyyyy.” She laughs and tells me to just get in. “You gunna just take that?” I was a lot less eager to break rules, but no. I wasn’t going to just ‘take that.’
So I jump in, glad to be cool. The momentary weightlessness frees me for just a small space of time. I feel it cling to my skin when I surface, but my clothes make me feel twice as heavy. I want all of my thoughts to feel the way your body does underwater. Light. Careless. Far away.
Suddenly, behind us, someone is shouting at us in an indistinguishable accent. We trade horrified glances, swearing we catch the word cops, and we bolt, leaving a frantic trail of water and wet foot prints to evaporate behind us. We don’t stop running until we get back to her porch, the sun fully set, and we collapse against her concrete stoop out of breath, laughing much harder than we should. “Oh my god,” she repeats over and over again with exasperated giggles and small gasps for air. My heart cannot be tamed, like it's run ahead of me. I’m sure I won’t be able to find it for a while.
“Oh my god...” She tells me she doesn’t want to run anymore and I cast her a confused glance and tell her we’re definitely in the clear, but she shakes her head. “No, I mean all summer. Forget being thin,” she says. Suddenly I feel her in that missing section of my chest. “Who wants to run in this heat?”
I'm so sorry for the length.