The two big dogs, Aramis and Athos, sit patiently with their tandem leashes clipped on, panting and all but rolling their eyes as Porthos runs in circles until I snatch his halter and leash him, too. We’re off and running as Mr. W comes to the front door. I wave but have no time or breath to say anything more than, “See ya!”
At the end of the block, as I turn the corner, I can see Dean pedaling along, tossing newspapers. He’s wearing a navy and black plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up and dark blue jeans.
I pull hard at the leashes, making the dogs slow down, somewhat. I take a deep breath, smile, as Dean rolls along side of us.
“Fr..Fran!” he blurts out. I just smile at him and wait as the dogs check out some scented bush. “You, um, got your hair cut.”
“Yeah,” Athos lunges forward and I stumble along behind the dogs as Dean follows. We go another block without saying anything, and all I can think about is how to have a conversation with Dean.
There is a park up ahead and all of us sail through the entrance. I trot a lap around the joggers’ path as Dean parks his bike next to a tree. Porthos veers sharply, right to Dean, with Aramis and Athos, yipping and scrambling to get at him. Amid all the chaos, Dean roughs ears, pats heads and scratches dogs’ bellies. After a few minutes of this, the leashes are tangled and the dogs are one lumpy mess. Dean looks at me, I look at him. For a moment, the dogs are quiet.
Dean leans over and kisses me on the lips. Softly. I take a deep breath and smell him, clean, like shampoo, and a faint sweaty odor that isn’t unpleasant at all. My lips tingle. I want to reach over and touch his cheek, but of course, I can’t, I have three leashes in my hands.
The dogs and leashes are tangled up into one big, squirming mess. Dean picks up Porthos and weaves him under and over and through the leashes, until we have them all straightened out.
“Thanks.” I’m not sure if I mean for the help or the kiss. I can still feel the impression of his lips on mine, and I smile, looking into his eyes. The dogs bolt, and I manage to stay on my feet behind them. Dean catches up to us on his bike and we zip along until we reach the hedges at the intersection when the dogs must read and post messages.
Breathless, I just shrug at Dean when the dogs take off again. Dean waves at me as I turn into the Wessenfeld’s driveway.
“Bye!” I can’t wave but toss my head, in what I hope is a sexy way.
Fortunately, my head did not fly off my shoulders and I remember to latch the gate before letting the dogs off their leashes. Porthos, of course, runs amok, but Aramis, the ever-lasting optimist, who always checks the dog dish for food, stops abruptly and cocks his head to one side. Athos has also perked his ears and stares at the front door.
I expect Mr. W to open it and come out, but he doesn’t, and there is a strange silence about the house. I refill the water dishes and hang the leashes on the nails on the fence. I guess Mr. and Mrs. W went somewhere, and there’s nothing wrong with that, except, like the dogs, I feel something isn’t right. I mean, it’s unusual, but I don’t have time to think about it as I hurry home. I want to have a few minutes to myself to think about Dean.
“I’m back!” I scoot through the door, hoping to make it to my room without being trapped into a chore by my mother.
“Sweetheart, come here!” Granny’s voice comes from the kitchen. “I have something special for you!”
Oh, Grandma. Shoot. It’ll be a forever chit chat about my new hairdo, make-up and what’s happening in my life. As if I could tell her.
“Hey! Granny! Whatsup?” I give my little grandmother a big bear hug.
She pulls away and with a dramatic gesture that would get her an Oscar, she flings her arms wide and then slaps her hands on her cheeks. “My goodness! Aren’t you a hot item!”
I spin full circle, strike a pose and fluff my hair. “Ya like the look?”
“Yes, I do indeed! Except,” she pouts, “you don’t look like a little girl any more. Promise me, you’ll always be Granny’s girl?”
“Oh, yeah, Gran, I’ll always be your favorite.” We laugh at this, our little secret joke; Gran is absolutely fair about gifts and everything among all of us cousins, but when I was very young, four or five, I made her tell me I was her favorite. Of course, she probably said that to all of us at one time or another.
“What did your Mother say about your hair,” and with a wink, like it wasn’t obvious, “your make-up?”
“Oh, she likes it, and I can’t wear make-up to school. Annie got highlights—-dark hair with super light streaks—looks good on her, but I don’t know what she’ll do about school.”
Granny has made me chocolate chip cookies. I take two, then reconsider and put one back. Granny looks at me funny.
“Um, del-ic-ous, Gran. Where’s Mom?”
Granny suddenly gets all serious. “She took Mrs. Wessenfeld to the hospital. George had another heart attack and had to go to the hospital in an ambulance.”
The sugary aftertaste of the cookie went sour in my mouth and my stomach clinched. Please, God, I prayed, let him be okay.
Granny comes beside me and gives me a hug. “Don’t you worry about it, Fran. I have a feeling that Mr. Wessenfeld will be all right.”
Granny can make me feel that it is all right just by the way she says it’s so. “I hope so, Gram, really I do.”
The phone rings and Granny lets me go as she answers it. I’m pretty sure it’s my mother and by Gram’s smile, I think maybe it’s good news, after all.
She hangs up and turns to me. “Mr. Wessenfeld will be in the hospital for a while, but he’s going to be all right. Your mother will be home in a little bit.”
“Oh, great! Gram, I have a few things to do on the computer.” I snatch a cookie on my way to my room.
In my room, I dial Annie on my new celly. “Annie, hi! I’ve got so much to tell you!”
“Fran, tell me about Justin! Isn’t he so cute!”
“Annie, I am talking to you on my new celly!”
She squeals with delight. “Oh, this is the best day of our lives! Fran, you text me!”
Before I can reply, the line is dead, and the phone beeps that I have a text message. The number ‘9’ pops up. I search on line for a list of text message shorthand and find that ‘9’ means ‘parent is watching’.
I go on line to my Facebook (and on Annie’s site) there is a picture posted of me holding a smoking can, and in the background is the bratty bunch laughing, with the porker sneering at me. My whole body chills. Great, just great! Now I’ll have to figure out how to delete it.
The garage door whirrs, my Mom is home. I quickly close the window and go out to the kitchen where she is talking with Gram.
Mom turns to me. “I’m going to make a casserole tonight, Fran. I want you to take some over to the Wessenfeld’s house. I’ve got a key so that you can take care of feeding the dogs and letting them inside for the night.”
I want to stop the world from spinning for just a few minutes and catch my breath, think about things, think about Dean, not think about the bad things. I don’t think it would be in my best interest to tell my mother about the Facebook, so I just nod.
“Can I help with anything?”
Both Mom and Gram give me a look that says, Surprise!’
Really, does she have to act like I never do anything nice? And Gram. Can she, like, be on my side?
“Yes, please, put away the dishes and set the table. Dinner will be ready in an hour.”
Gram has already emptied the dishwasher and she pulls knives, forks and spoons from a drawer and hands them to me. “Here, Fran, you do that and I’ll put the glasses on.”
When we are done, Gram goes into the kitchen, pours a freshly brewed cup of coffee and sits at the island to chat with Mom. I slip away to my room and sit at my desk, cupping my chin in my hands, inhaling the memory of Dean’s kiss. It’s like his lips left the kiss on my lips and if I press my lips just slightly, I can feel the kiss again. And the warmth of his skin on mine. And his smell, the Dean-ness of him.
My phone beeps, and Annie has texted me. “Hve u seen?”
Slow, tip, tap, I’m not as fast as Annie. “yes”
I am left wondering what is happening with Annie, and her parents. Do they know about the day at the park? How much do they know? About the cigarettes and the booze?
My mother is looming in the doorway, obviously not happy. “Fran, we need to talk.”
Annie’s last text message appears. “zomg, im so busted!”
So am I.
“Is Mr. Wessenfeld going to be okay?” I ask, trying to sound casual, yet concerned, hopefully deflecting her for a minute so I can think.
“Yes, he will have to have surgery and have a pacemaker put in. But I am not here to talk about Mr. Wessenfeld. I am here to talk about you. And Annie. And a matter of lying.”
She walks into my room and sits down on my bed, facing me. “Tell me what went on today. Tell me the truth.”
My stomach cramps and I can’t breathe. My Mom can stare holes through concrete and my head begins to ache. “We went to the Tukwila Park and met up with a few friends from school.” I want to add they are not my friends, but then, why would I?
“Annie’s mother called me. I saw the picture,” my Mom lets her little tidbit dangle in the air.
“Well, I didn’t exactly want to be there. I went with Annie to meet up with Marcy.”
“And the boys?”
“Yeah, they were there, too.”
“And the cigarettes?” My Mom leans closer to me. “Look at me, Fran, and tell me why you lied to me about Annie going to the movies.”
Come on! I want to scream. Just what was I supposed to tell her? Ah, by the way, Annie is smokin’ hot and has this thing for Timothy and wants to spend all her time with them.
I pick at a nub on my jeans, working it back and forth. My Mom takes my arm, holding it gently, but looks intently at the bruise. “Who did this?”
I brush her away. Like I’m going to say, ‘Brian the porker’. “No one. I smacked it on the trash can when I threw away the Coke™ can.” I’m knee deep in the muddy half-truths and sinking.
I can at least look her straight in the eye and say, “I wasn’t smoking, Mom. Honest.”
After a pause, a significant pause, she says, “I believe you.” Another pause. “I want you think about this: what kind of friend would ask you to lie for her?”
I shoot her a mean look. Annie and I are friends. Friends don’t betray each other.
“Who posted the picture on the web, Fran?”
I shrug. “Dunno.” I don’t know, but I think Marcy or even Justin might have. Could have been anyone else but me or porker.
“Fran, listen to me. I can understand how you might have gotten into a situation that you didn’t know how to handle, but lying about it, and omitting facts is lying, too. I’m your mother, I love you and I will protect you. Even if you hate me for it.”
I wonder if she’s going to take away my celly and computer. Which is so unfair! I didn’t do anything wrong, really!
“You can’t hang out with Annie anymore.”
“Mom! Annie’s my best friend!”
“Annie can come over here, you’ll see her at school, but you will not be allowed to go to the mall or movies or any unsupervised activity with her.” She stands up but doesn’t go away.
“You’re not a child, but a young woman and you will have to make some hard choices, about friends, boys, booze, alcohol and drugs. Now that you have a cell phone, you can call me if you ever find yourself some place, somewhere, you shouldn’t be. I promise I will come and get you, no questions asked.” She adds with a little twisted smile, “You might want to think about how it would feel to call me from the police station, though.”
She sweeps her hands across my forehead and kisses me. “I trust you, Fran.” She starts to leave, pivots at the doorway. “You’ll find true friends are the ones who stand by you, but stand up for the truth and what is right. Don’t confuse loyalty with friendship, Fran. They are not the same thing.”
Aesop-mother. Always the moralist.
I should feel relieved, I mean I’ve still got my celly, computer and no restriction.
But I’ve lost my best friend. And I don’t know how I’m going to tell her.
I have to practice a solo trumpet piece for my final. I gave up the piano when my teacher retired, and this I have never admitted to my mother, I am glad I had had piano lessons. It has made it a lot easier to read music, and I think, has made it easier for me to master the trumpet. I have to choose between Black Horse and Cherry Tree or Call Me When You’re Sober.
My Dad pokes his head into the door. “Nice, Fran. What’s the tune?”
“Thanks, Dad. It’s getting there. Call Me When You’re Sober.”
“I hope I don’t have to,” he says and ducks out.
I get no text messages or email from Annie and I haven’t sent any to her. I dread Monday morning when I have to face her at school and tell her what my Mom has mandated. And Monday comes a little to soon.
I don’t recognize her at first, even though it has to be her, the brown-haired girl, sans the dark hair with platinum streaks, with Marcy and Sue. She waves me over.
“Your celly is not on, Fran.”
“I know, I’m sorry,” I stop and take another breath, “but can I talk to you?”
We walk a ways toward the classroom. “I don’t know exactly how to tell you, but…”
She grabs my arm. “I got busted, good! I can’t do anything for the rest of the term. God, can you believe it? I can’t go to the mall, I can’t go anywhere after school, I mean, like for what? Smoking? My parents are such hypocrites! And look at my hair!” her voice pitches an octave. “My Mom made me dye it!” Annie rolls her eyes. “Oh, like that’ll make a big diff to me and change my ways!”
I want to tell her that maybe it was a warning, that maybe we should consider ourselves lucky we weren’t really busted by the police, but the first bell rang and Annie broke away to join Marcy and Sue. Dusty came down the hall and waved at me.
“I like your hair! Nice!”
“Dusty! Look!” I hold up my celly and laugh. “The real deal.”
She took out hers from her backpack and waggled it. “Yeah, we’re good to go, huh?”
“Hey, Fran! Are you hooked up with anyone for the last class project due next week?” Dusty slid her celly into her cubby as I had just done.
“No, I’m not with any group. You?”
“Want to do a something on ancient Rome?”
Before the class bell sounded, I nodded and whispered, “We could do, like, a travel brochure!”
“Wow! I like it! Yeah!”
So, two problems solved: I didn’t have to tell Annie I couldn’t hang with her after school, possibly losing my best friend, and I had not only a partner for the year-end school project, but it was someone I liked, and Dusty had asked me.
So I sent a little mental thank you to God. I still wanted to tell Annie all about Dean kissing me, but I figured that could wait for another time and another place when everything had gone back to being normal for us. At least, I thought our friendship could get back to being normal. But funny thing about changes, even small ones: nothing ever is what it seems.