The first time Becca meets him he’s at the park. Everybody else plays and it’s cold so she pulls her sweater around her because that is what she, Becca Leeman, does. Her feet swing above the ants. She wants to play with someone, but they are all set together. They are all friends and that’s okay because it’s good to just see people laughing and if she tries to play too, they might not let her and then they won’t be smiling anymore. Then they’d be frowning. And when people frown meanness comes. So, that’s why she sits on the bench and swing her feet and just watches.
Britney Spaulding and Megan Jordan come over.
“Whatcha doing Becca? Hiding from us?” Britney asks. She snarls like a mean dog.
Becca shakes her head and pulls her legs up to her chest. She tries to make herself invisible, but somehow whenever she wants to be invisible, she never is.
“She’s such a wimp girl,” Megan says. “Check out those clothes. Lame.”
“Double lame,” Britney adds. “You dress like you’re five or something.”
Becca bites her lip and shrugs. “So?”
“What a freaking loser baby,” Britney crosses her arms over her chest. She nods at Megan. Megan pops her gum, reaches out and sticks it on the end of Becca’s shoe.
They giggle, link arms and walk away. After a minute, Becca reaches down and grabs a stick. She pulls off her shoe and starts working on getting the gum off. It’s disgusting. Still, it’s better than going home.
The big tree above Becca’s head protects her from the sky. Leaves cover it and they turn orange like fire or like Britney Spaulding’s Halloween kitty shirt. Peek-a-boo hints of blue sky smile above the leaves that whisper in the wind.
Blue sky is good, but sometimes it’s bad because it reminds her of her mom’s eyes and sometimes her mom’s eyes are good but sometimes they are bad, too.
That’s the way everyone is, isn’t it?
Good and bad.
Like Becca is good when she’s quiet and she hides in the bathroom for a while and sits on the toilet seat that’s covered with the fluffy pink thing.
Like she’s bad when she walks too loud through the house or when she stares out her window at the stars at night and doesn’t go right to bed. Like she’s bad if she eats too much of her Kraft macaroni and cheese too quick. Like she’s bad if she doesn’t eat her Kraft macaroni and cheese quick enough.
She is bad a lot at home. She is bad more and more.
But the sky right now hanging above the trees is not too scary blue. It makes everything beautiful and a little bird with a white belly hops along the branch and ducks her head. She doesn’t bird scold. She bird sings and then flies away.
That’s when he sits on the bench. A boy, not a bird.
He sits on the bench with Becca and she peeks at him only out of the tiniest corner of her eye. She wonders if he’ll stick gum on her shoe or make fun of her clothes. He doesn’t look like a gum sticker. He has the look of lonely, like her, like me, like most every female in this ridiculous family.
He waits. He’s got hair the color of tree trunks. He’s little like her. Probably third grade. Maybe fourth. She turns her head so she can see him a little more and he catches her and smiles real big. Before she can think about it, she smiles back.
Not smiling at people when they smile at you is rude, her mom says.
Smiling at strangers is bad, her mom says.
She can’t grab her smile back though, because she has already smiled and a good, good glow takes over everything inside of her. She feels like a tree leaf that changes to orange. She feels like a Halloween kitty shirt that makes everyone go, “Wow!”
Then a woman walks by and a shadow passes over Becca because the woman has blocked out the sun and Becca takes in a big breath and remembers who she is. Another girl rushes to her mom and her mom squats down real low to the grass and reaches out her arms. She is not Becca, but Becca wishes she were her. This girl, Molly, she’s in Becca’s class and she’s never mean to her like Brittney and Megan, but it’s like she forgets Becca is there. Although, once in kindergarten, she told Brittney to leave Becca alone when Brittney was making fun of Becca’s clothes. Becca likes Molly because of that, even though usually she doesn’t see her.
Molly rushes into her mom’s hug and almost knocks her over. But her mom just laughs and kisses the top of Molly’s head. She laughs and hugs her and Molly laughs too. Becca swallows big.
The boy clears his throat. Becca doesn’t look at him. The leaves are beautiful.
The boy sniffs in through his nose, which sounds like a puppy Becca used to have before the puppy was bad and ate the newspaper and peed on the floor. The boys sniffs in again. Becca can’t help it; her whole head turns towards him.
“Hi,” he says and smiles. “Hi.”
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