Lonesome, sunburned girl, feeling itty bitty and solo, sat knees up, back pressed hard against the locked screen door of her new house. Just moved here in time to catch the end of the school year, she woke up each day hopeful, ending the same day hopeless. Queen Bee at her old school clearly did not give her entree to her new one. Confidence had actually had the opposite effect and sitting by herself at lunch and walking home alone had become commonplace. She’d even faced some ridicule when a missed “at bat” during PE kickball turned to a 6th grade mob scene, ugly leering faces saying ugly jeering things. Stoic, she’d made it home before shedding the requisite tears. She determined then, however, staying quiet and in the background was her best bet.
Fade. And she did. Teachers liked her, she was smart, but that was the kiss of death. Opting to forgo raising her hand, she never asked questions And when singled out for an answer in class, she’d speak quietly, eyes down.
The isolation was hard. She wrote a lot of letters to old friends back home.
Thankfully the last day of school was in sight, and school days now held more open time and “fun” activities. She read books and cleaned her desk. Alone and quiet, she could contain and maintain control. Things boded well. She felt certain she could make it through to a new beginning come next fall and Junior High.
This day, though, was the one she was dreading most.
Early May Track and Field Day.
An unexpected all-day event tantamount to certain humiliation. Posters and teachers and students had broadcast the special day since she’d arrived, uncool and unwanted, nearly a month before. Excitement and giggles and shouts of redemption pingponged over her head nonstop. Fasted kid on her old street, she was confident in her abilities. Nobody here, though, knew what she could do. No one asked because, clearly, no one cared. She listened carefully, though, and when sign ups came, lined notebook paper on the bulletin boards at the back of the class, she waited until everyone else was gone for the day before filling her name in a couple of the remaining gaps.
Early May Track and Field Day, in seems, was the great equalizer. Boys and girls, normally at odds, jumped around, squirted water, tossed balloons, and generally made communal mayhem. From the sidelines, she allowed herself just a few more smiles, even a cautious laugh or two, careful not to draw attention.
But for eleven year old white girls, particularly one so transparent she nearly disappeared in bright sunlight, eight solid outside hours fried her skin to fiery red leather. Oh it felt hot to the touch now, but previous daylong exposure to a spring white sun meant even standing later, blood moving through her veins, would be excruciating. The part in her curly blond hair was even burnt. She needed something to drink.
Her cross to bear, she allowed.
At least, at LEAST, she’d shown her mettle, coming from behind, anchoring the last relay of the day to a triumphant win, boosting Miss Catterwoll’s class to 6th grade Champions!
Moving to a new town at the end of the year meant she hadn’t many friends, just the odd kids or those with no friends for reasons unknown, or reasons she didn’t care to know. Girls are just that way, she’d supposed yet again, reason sometimes trumping solitary sorrow. They just don’t know me yet.
Still, the popular girls, the fastest and the cutest….maybe not the smartest….actually gave her high fives for her win. Just the babiest bit of hope tickled the edges of her heart. She couldn’t give it sway, though. Stepping lightly was right. Pushing too hard, getting on the wrong side of just one of those on top of the heap, would send her tumbling down the side back to the bottom where no hands would be there to offer a hand up.
Rattle, rattle, clang. She lightly banged the back of her head against the thin metal at the bottom of the screen door. Mama’d told her she’d be out when the track meet was over. Little Brother had yet another appointment with the allergy doctor. She should feel grateful it wasn’t HER needing weekly shots to stifle rashy scratchy symptoms. But all she really wanted was to get inside to the cool, grab an Otterpop from the freezer (heck, she’d even take one of the yellow ones) and lay spread eagle on the chilly, slick linoleum.
It was her own fault she’d lost her key in the sand under the high jump. Mama’d be peeved. Daddy’d holler.
She could wait for both.
Boredom was setting in. She’d counted the cars going by her little suburban street. That would be three. She tried to match names with houses in her still unfamiliar neighborhood. That would be two.
Scabs on her knees were picked. Eyes were rubbed. Flies were swatted. Back, the lower not-sunburned part, was scratched with a stick from the yard.
No classwork today meant no homework or backpack or books to read or re-read. She’d no idea how long she’d been on the front porch, nor how long she WOULD be. Lots and lots of the same weighed heavy on her eyelids. She wanted a nap.
She wanted something to drink.
In the wiggly heated haze, though, her eyes caught some movement up the hill from her house. Swinging from side to side, then bouncing down the sidewalk on her side of the street, she focused hard, giving her eyes a reason to be alert. Squinting, and finding her eyelids burned, too, she managed to make out the dancing mass headed her way. Not just one thing, but three! The three girls from her winning relay! Coming down her street! Did they live near her? Could they possibly have proximity in common?
She scrambled up, dusting off her backside, feeling just the slightest tinge from the deepening burn.
This was serious! Maybe an opportunity! Maybe friends?
Too soon, too soon, but maybe they’d offer a voluntary “Hello?” They had, after all, high-fived her earlier in the day. No, she couldn’t meet this moment sitting down on the front porch, counting cars.
She stood, tense, waiting for them to near.
Giggles and screeches, mouths behind cupped hands, they were giddily ignorant of their surroundings. They tossed their long straight hair, laughed and pushed each other lightly, they looked neither up nor down, nor anywhere around. Absorbed in their own hilarity, they fairly floated down the sidewalk, nearly to her driveway when something, some movement, some intuition, caught the attention of the tallest and coolest of the trio.
The girl on the porch, overcome, assumed it was a greeting and raised her hand.
Mistaken, sadly so, her heart dropped when the tall girl flipped her mane and looked left and right at the others.
“Hey, it’s the girl from school.”
In unison, choreographed, they stopped short, turned as one and considered the girl standing straight and stiff on the porch
“Look at her.”
“Who GETS that red? Is she sunburned?”
The girl on the porch felt her cheeks redden further, and gosh, it hurt!
“Who is she, anyway?”
Do they not know I can hear them, she thought?
“Who knows? Isn’t she that brainiac in Math?”
“I hate math.”
“Me, too. I think she sits by Barbara.”
“Barbara? She smells!”
“And she never combs her hair! I think she lives outside.”
A smug laugh, then, a head leaned her direction, “She probably smells, too?”
“How would we know?”
Giggles became guffaws. And they weren’t hidden behind hands.
The girl on the porch felt hope drain from the top of her head clear to the bottom of her sneaks.
She did sit by Barbara. And Barbara DID smell.
But she didn’t.
Barbara DIDN’T comb her hair.
But she did.
And she knew Barbara DID sleep outside, in fact she didn’t have a home at all. She’d seen the girl and a woman dash into a large box shelter behind the market.
She’d never talked to Barbara, not one word. And Barbara had steered clear of her, as well. Probably never destined to be friends. But still.
Volcanic, quick and fiery and hot, no attention whatsoever to the sunburned pain she vaguely knew was exploding her skin’s nerve endings, what had been unsure was now known. What had dropped to the soles of her shoes rose quickly and erupted pure and loud and sure!
Surefooted and quick, she leapt, not in a single bound, but two, off the porch, landing square in front of the vicious and now recoiling triad! Smug eyes read fearful now, they felt the boiling wrath in the girl’s eyes.
A growl, like bee’s humming, grew louder, born from that solid strong nugget heretofore hidden deep deep down, then,
“Get off my property,” Quiet, seething, nasty, scary. Then again. Nastier. Meaner. Scarier.
“Get. Off. My. Property.”
Panic, manic, overcame their ability or desire to smirk or laugh or pull rank of popularity.
She stood her ground on the sidewalk in front of her porch, red fists clenched.
And those girls, they hesitated not one moment, turning on their heels, heads down and embarrassed in front of each other. Maybe a new feeling. The three walked single file back up the street.
And the girl from the porch watched them the whole way, not once moving or flinching, or giving ground, or regretting not “stepping lightly.”
She had, she noted, found her voice.
….But what she really wanted right now was something to drink.