How Sweet It Is

Head-banging, screamo music blares from my earphones, and I barely discern Mom banging on my door. Yanking the headphones off my head and tumbling out of bed I manage to crawl to the door but I don’t unlock it.

“Yes?” I mumble, wiping the sleep out of green eyes and trying hard to wake myself up.

“William Robert! Unlock this door. How many times have I told you not to lock any door but the bathroom and the front door?”

My eyes close before I can roll them and I mutter, “A perfect Saturday morning wasted on locking lectures.” I grudgingly give in and more audibly say, “Fine, Mom, but I’m not dressed.”

“Nice try. Be downstairs in five minutes.” I hear her footsteps fade as she descends the stairs and, putting my hands behind my head, I roll back into bed. What can she want to talk about at eight-thirty in the morning on a weekend? Sighing, I jerk a pair of jeans over my boxers and then pull a green t-shirt over my head. I don’t know if we’ll be going anywhere or not but I won’t put socks or shoes on.

Pushing my iPod and earbuds into my pocket I slam my door closed and slide down our stairwell banister and right into the kitchen. I find Mom washing last night’s dishes and my older brother, Chris, sitting at the table drinking coffee and working on his latest sketch.

Glancing up for a moment he says, “Good morning.”

I blink once and correct him. “Bad. Bad morning is more like it.” And then I fall into the kitchen chair closest to me. What the heck am I doing up this early? I can’t function; can’t eat; can’t talk; can’t –

“I woke you up because we’re going over to say hello to new neighbors.” As if Mom’s waking me up is annoying enough, she has to go and read my mind.

I almost roll my eyes into the back of my head. Say hello? To new neighbors? Yeah, right. I still can’t believe I woke up from the perfect dream of a tropical paradise, my favorite music blaring, surfboarding on the beach – just to sound like a preschooler holding my mommy’s hand when I walk up to some stupid neighbor’s door and chirp, “Hi-ya! My name’s Billy!”

“Mom, you’ve got to be kidding –” I turn around to face her but the look she throws me is one that conveys, “If you argue with me you’re grounded for the rest of your life.” I unwillingly shut up.

Ten minutes later I find myself blatantly counting the cracks in the sidewalk as I shuffle down the street beside Mom. We reach a white house with dark blue shutters and a porch swing. Mom knocks on the door while I wish I was back in bed, drowning out the rest of the world with my music, flipping through my sports magazine –

The door shudders open. I glance at the person standing in front of us and back to the ground, jerking my head up for a double take. She is a few inches shorter than I, with red-brown hair flowing down to her shoulders. Dark blue jeans, a yellow American Eagle shirt, and reddish velvet coat outfit her. The coat looks silly and is too big for her.

As soon as Mom introduces herself the girl calls, “Mom, neighbors!” and she steps back, inviting us in. We follow her into their living room; it feels homely enough. The walls are painted a dark orange with vivid colored paintings hanging on them. A sofa and huge armchair sit in the middle of a room, both of them a burnt orange-brown. The carpet is fuzzy; my first impulse is to step out of my sandals and feel it between my toes.

Just then a lady who looks to be about thirty strolls into the room. A long skirt swishes around her ankles, covered with indiscernible designs and patterns. A dark purple shirt sits comfortably around her middle and arms, and her hair, wound into a loose bun, is the same color as her daughter’s.

She holds out her hand, first to my mom and then to me, saying, “Hello, I’m Alex Henderson and this is my daughter, Sofia.”

Sofia doesn’t shake our hands. I see the tiniest smile curl at the corners of her mouth; I suppose that’s all the greeting we’ll get. She looks like an artist, a bookworm, and a writer all rolled in one. I shake my head and try to stop my brain from processing any more stupid thoughts.

“I’m Lilly Prat, and this is my sixteen-year-old, William.”

“Will,” I mutter, thrusting my hands into my front pockets and turning my attention to the paintings. While Mom and Alex talk I circle the room, examining each of the pictures and wondering who the artist is. Turning around suddenly, I almost trip over Sofia. “Sorry,” I mumble, and looking everywhere but at her I ask, “Who did all these?”

“Mom and I,” is the short reply, but she continues. “Dad always loved art but no matter how hard he tried he just couldn’t adopt the knack of it. Then he met my mom…” She pauses and I risk glancing at her. The expression on her face looks uncertain, yet also hard and guarded, as if she doesn’t know if she should tell me the rest.

No matter. I’m not really that interested. “Well, they’re cool.” We both stand there awkwardly until I change the subject by jerking my finger at her idiotically and asking, “Why do you wear that big jacket?”

Sofia blushes, an action that surprises me. Already she seems to me more like the kind of girl to shoot back a reply that will catch me off-guard, rather than the blushing-type. I wonder if she’ll answer my question, and prepare to change the subject once more but stop when her expression changes slightly.

In a calmer and quieter voice she does reply. “It was my dad’s. He used to wear it when he wrote his books.” She stops, and that looks washes over her face again. This time, however, instead of stopping and turning red she continues, “I was writing before you came here; wearing it makes me feel closer to him. And,” she smiles now, sheepishly, “I feel like an aspiring writer when I have it on.”

So I am right. She is an artist, a writer, and obviously a reader because all writers have to read what they write and get ideas from other stories and writers. At least, I assume they do, but I don’t write, so I don’t know.

She doesn’t say anything else on the subject so I ask instead from where she’d moved. “Montana,” she replies. This time, the door opens a bit wider, and we talk about picturesque sights – the towering mountains, the rolling hills, the glassy lakes. All too soon Mom says it is time to go, and we leave with the promise to Alex that we visit again, sometime soon. As we walk home I don’t count the cracks in the sidewalk; rather I wonder if I have found a friend in this strange new neighbor girl.

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