It was a random Tuesday, and still a hotter summer than anyone could recall in living history. Everyone walked around grumbling about global warming, but I was outside in my backyard soaking in the rays. I was trying to work on a tan. My goal was to enter college as that aloof and super attractive girl. It wasn’t me, to say the least. I was five foot three, and skinny. Without makeup I could easily be confused as a middle schooler. I went inside to grab more ice for my lemonade that was slowly starting to boil in the heat and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror above the sink. I screwed up my nose at the multitude of freckles forming there as I rebraided my reddish brown hair. It used to be more red but as the years went on it thankfully darkened to brown. I let my hair grow out long – too long Mom always said before begging me to sit down so she could just trim the edges. Just trim. Please? I’d give in to her demands every couple of months because it did get pretty annoying to take care of- especially in the shower and when I decided to straighten it. But I would never dream of cutting it short for fear that I would end up looking like some version of Orphan Annie- all short and little with my hair framing my entire head like a helmet and too many freckles to count.
I retook my place outside on the deck chair and closed my eyes whilst tilting my face to the sun. Just then I heard a squeak and the back door opened and Brooke walked out.
“Hey,” I welcomed her, my eyes closing again. “I thought you were out.”
“The store closed early today,” Brooke replied, placing her bikini clad butt on the lawn chair next to mine. Brooke worked random days at a bakery around the corner, which is where she learned all the tricks to decorating baked goodies.
She started rubbing sunscreen lotion all over her exposed limbs. Brooke and I couldn’t have looked any more different. Whereas I was small and freckled with my auburn locks, Brooke was pale, like vampire level pale, with thick black hair that she liked to keep short. She was around the same height as me but was way curvier, something I was envious of.
She finally settled down and we enjoyed the quiet for a bit. The sun was starting to get too hot though, and I nudged Brooke wanting to go do something a bit more exciting.
“Parker!,” she murmured, trying to avoid the shade I was purposely throwing on her. “Let me sit in peace!”
“Ok, but soon let’s go somewhere indoors. I’ve been sitting outside for hours already, I’m ready for some AC.”
She nodded and promptly started snoring. Brooke always fell asleep in the sun. It was a miracle she was as pale as she was. I adjusted my bathing suit, pulling the straps to the side so I wouldn’t end up with a tan mark. A bird sang in the distance. This was my definition of summer.
My eyelids felt like they were burning, so I sat up and put on my sunglasses that were chilling next to me on a chair.
Our backyard was a luxury not normally found in Brooklyn homes. The remnants from childhood were scattered all over, with a trampoline and a swingset. A plastic car sat in the corner gathering dust, one that I could only fit in when I was three, and Brooke used to sit on the hood and make me give her rides. It made me happy to look at it all, knowing there was no reason to have it, but still glad we hadn’t thrown it away.
The deck we were sitting on was a new addition. Here we had lawn chairs and a BBQ grill, along with a table and a stack of normal plastic chairs. When the weather was nice – not too hot or too cold, Dad would come out and grill hamburgers and we would all hang out until Mom said she was going to bed and Dad followed her soon afterwards. Then Brooke and I would stare at the stars until we were too tired to keep our eyes open, finally falling asleep and making our way to our beds later on in the night.
Those dinners were fewer, and further in between. Mom and Dad were working on building their marketing business, recently making a few risky choices and hoping the returns would be worth it. I didn’t really know so much about what was going on since I was the youngest. I had a feeling that no matter how old I would get nobody would ever tell me anything, always thinking of me as the baby. I only knew the result which was that they were barely home anymore.
But it was fine. I always had Brooke around. She graduated from high school two years ago and was in the process of being the coolest girl ever. She had nixed college, deciding to follow her dreams which were… well, everything. She wanted to write songs, become a bodybuilder, start her own catering business. She was my inspiration.
I was going to college because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I needed money to do so, and getting a degree seemed to be like a good place to start before getting a job. Brooke encouraged me to leave the house, spread my wings. I was quiet, preferring to stay home and cook a nice meal and then sit down to watch a movie, versus going out with friends.
It was another reminder how we couldn’t be more different.
Brooke had countless friends who wanted to hang out with her but for some reason she chose to spend time with me.
Speaking of spending time with me, Brooke finally opened her eyes and gestured to me to help her up. I swung my legs over and helped drag her into a sitting position. Her body squeaked as it disengaged from the chair.
“Alright, where do you want to go?,” she yawned widely and her yawn made me hungry.
“Let’s go out to eat!,” I suggested enthusiastically. We both ran upstairs to get dressed, not feeling bathing suit attire was appropriate for brunch.
I was downstairs another couple of moments later, my skinny limbs sticking out from a pair of shorts and my favorite tank that said ‘Eat Me’ above a slice of pizza pulled over my bikini top.
Brooke was a little longer to get ready. She was so beautiful that I don’t know why she bothered but she always put effort into her appearance. She said it was important to give a good impression, and therefore was more likely to wear flowy dresses and strappy sandals than shorts and flip flops.
Sure enough when she came downstairs she was wearing a short loose dress in gingham print with ruched sleeves, her feet encased in high espadrilles. I wasn’t sure if we were related.
I grabbed the credit card that Dad always left for us and Brooke and I got into the car.
“So, where are we going,” Brooke asked, fiddling with the radio dial.
“Allow me,” I made her focus on the road and chose an FM station.
“Let’s go get sushi!”
“Sushi?” Brooke glanced at me suspiciously. There was a reason she believed something was up. I refused to eat sushi, anything with fish made me nauseous. I found something to eat when we ended up there but it was definitely not one of my first choices.
“Let’s just go”. I said no more until we got to the one closest to us.
Brooke parked as I jumped out, claiming I was going to grab us a table.
But really I was looking for him.
Brooke made it inside before my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting and I could see behind the counter.
“Come, let’s sit here”. I let her lead me to a table in the corner and we both sat down, my eyes darting all over the place. She watched me for a few moments saying nothing. Then-
“Who’s the new beau? Is it the one making the sushi?” I wheeled around in my seat and glared at her. Joben was the resident sushi chef, known for his specialty rolls and the fact that he must have eaten all of his knowledge. He was a good boss though. At least I’ve heard it said. I blushed and Brooke saw, nudging me with her foot and looking around furtively.
“Cute guy behind the counter?” and I saw he had come out from wherever he had been hiding, smiling politely as he helped a customer with a takeout order.
“Shhh!” I motioned Brooke to look back around. “Stop staring!”
“Oh, but I wasn’t joking! He is cute!”
“Yeah, yeah, he went to my school, he’s been working here all senior year and I figured through the summer as well.”
“Have you ever spoken to him!”
“Of course!” I declared huffily. “I’m not pathetic!”
Brooke’s eyes twinkled mischievously. “Oh, I’m sure you’re not. That’s why you should go say hi.”
My stomach immediately started doing backflips. It felt like a circus down there. Brooke knew she had gotten me.
“Let’s just order”. We motioned a waiter over as I looked down at my menu and chose what I always ordered- fries.
Brooke got her favorite- as spicy as they would make it with extra wasabi. It didn’t matter the type of fish, she liked them all.
Just then, he came to our table with our order.
“Why hello,” Brooke said slowly in her favorite posh drawl. “Thank you so much,” she glanced closely at the name tag, “Jeremy”.
I shook my head frantically, hoping she would notice. It didn’t matter, he just corrected her.
“Hi there! I’m actually wearing Jeremy’s apron today. Mine is in the wash. My name is Scott.”
“Well, thank you then Scott”.
“You’re welcome. Enjoy your food ladies.” Scott gave a little bow as he walked away from our table, barely even glancing at me the entire time he was here. He never noticed me. I was a background fly, barely even giving off an annoying buzz. Especially sitting next to Brooke I had no chance. Not that I was even sure I would want one.
Brooke was eating her sushi daintedly, with the chopsticks held in the precise position and her soy sauce neatly poured into a bowl. She slowly chewed and finished her bite all while I shoveled fries into my mouth, fast. She finally finished, put down her utensils and gave me a look.
“Scott?” she asked scornfully. I wasn’t sure what the question was but it didn’t sound good. “I mean come on, who these days are named Scott? It’s a stupid, full of yourself name”.
I had no response to that. I stayed quiet and continued eating.
“You deserve better. Stop being so… obvious”.
Well, that was a burn that Brooke didn’t so often dish.
“Whatever,” I rolled my eyes, trying to disguise my hurt. “He’s in a couple of my classes and he’s really smart, OK? Of course he’s also all those other obvious stuff, and I know we would never amount to anything, but he does make rather nice eye candy”.
“That you’re right”.
She looked at him almost as if she was studying him, trying to figure out what made him tick. And then, abruptly, she was up and out of her seat, paying at the register, then back at the table placing down a tip.
“Come on Pancake,” she said, coaxing me up. “I have a better idea of how to spend this day”.
I followed her, but not before grabbing another handful of fries as we made our way outside.
We got back into a car that had just gone through a double broiler and a stint in an industrial oven. It was so hot I refused to touch the belt buckle until the AC cooled the place down a couple of hundred degrees. Brooke consented to letting me ride unfastened and drove a corresponding two miles an hour. Eventually we made it to where she had decided she wanted to take me. The mall.
“Um, no”. I did not need another pointless window shopping trip since everything I had was being used towards college next year. It’s not like I was interested in shopping regardless. I wasn’t what you would call a ‘girly girl’. Everything nice I got as a hand-me-down from Brooke and that was good enough for me.
“No, Parker. Turn your eyes. I mean, what’s next to the mall?”
I had no idea what she meant and let her lead me inside to the wonderfully air conditioned interior and cold refreshing Slurpees.
Behind the counter was the most magnificent man I have ever seen. This was no Scott-Boy-Wonder. This was Keep-it-in-the-pants-make-you-stupid-Man-hot. I was hitting puberty all over again at the age of eighteen. This is what it was like to graduate high school and prepare for college. I found myself staring and quickly caught myself and looked over to Brooke. She was browsing in the far left section, still with a perfect view to the front.
I made my way over. “You evil devil! So this is what you’ve been doing all those times you just say you’re out to get slurpees with friends? Well, he is certainly worth it. Has he fallen for you yet?”
“Ha, no. I haven’t spoken to him more than three words, all of which have been where’s my change?”
“But, why? You’re amazing, who wouldn’t want you?”
“I’m just kind of taking care of myself right now. Hanging out with my little sister before she goes to college, you know? Not in the mood for a relationship and you know my view on one night stands”. Brooke had too much belief in the purity of monogamy to do any such nonsense. She was above it all. She wasn’t snooty about it, it wasn’t something she shared with everyone. It was something she told me, her little sister, when she was in her ‘Impart Sage Advice’ mood.
“So you just come here to check him out?”
“Ain’t nothing wrong with that. I also love the Slurpees,” she said deviously, and went to go get us cups.
“I want a large one!” I called after her, knowing she wouldn’t settle for less anyways. What was the point of a Slurpee if you weren’t going to get the biggest size?
We snapped a selfie as we walked out of the store and I remember thinking we looked like a Postcard, two girls with arms linked, heads thrown back in laughter, our faces shining in the heat and not a care in the world.
A week before the semester started had me throwing a hissy fit, tossing all my shoes all over the room.
“Where is it?!?,” I yelled anxiously, turning over a bag that had already been packed with a bunch of toiletries.
“Honey, relax. Where did you see it last?” Mom tried calming me down but I was already gone. Granted, I was super nervous about starting college, but also Brooke had been absent the whole weekend and I didn’t have anyone to distract me from my butterflies. So I had stayed downstairs, clicking through stupid shows, trying to find anything interesting that would deflect my panic.
But tonight my laptop went missing. My brand new laptop I had saved up the past year to buy specifically for college.
I wasn’t even sure why I decided I wanted it. All of a sudden I had a need to confirm its whereabouts and it was nowhere to be found. If Brooke was here she would make me relax and probably find it and make me a meal. But she was refusing to answer my texts and I was getting worried about her, even though Mom said she had spoken to her this morning and she just had bad reception on the road.
A couple of her friends who she sometimes sang with had decided they were taking an end of summer road trip. They were going to hit up a bunch of random bars along the way and offer to play for free to get their music out. I tried hinting to Brooke that I wanted an invite but she had acted purposely obtuse. They left early in the morning, her friend Simon coming to pick her up in his old and noisy truck and she didn’t even say goodbye.
She was only going to be gone a couple of days but I was still upset with her.
Now, trying to find my laptop, I let myself wonder for a second if perhaps Brooke could have taken it. She knew I didn’t need it until the semester started, and she probably assumed that I wouldn’t look for it until she came back. I know sometimes she used one of her friend’s laptops to make her music sound clearer or whatever. I was so angry at her for something I assumed she did that I could barely think of her in a positive light. I was so angry it was like a furnace in my gut and I could barely unclench my fists.
Mom was gone, downstairs I assumed to do some more laundry or cooking and I was left to lie on my bed in despair, pining for something nameless.
Outside I heard a car pull up, one with a distinct sound and engine.
I was determined not to talk to her when she came in, I was going to freeze her out just like she had done to me.
The front door opened and I heard her voice calling out something indistinguishable, and then it shut and Mom welcomed her back home.
I turned onto my side to face the wall so I could pass off sleeping when she came up. I heard her footsteps on the stairs and my heart beat faster and then they walked past my room to hers without even pausing by the doorway.
My eyes squeezed out a couple of tears and I silently pushed open my bedroom window and climbed out onto the roof, a place that had become my comfort since I could manage the act. The roof sloped down, and I had to be careful to stay as near to the house as possible in order to avoid falling off. But it was a nice place to be. Right now the weather had cooled a bit and I could look up at a night sky that was too bright to show the stars and just be. I would never tell Mom since she would immediately say I was never to do something so dangerous and it was something even Brooke didn’t do, since she had a fear of heights. So I was alone for the time being and I could stew by myself.
Stewing got old quick, though, after the fourth mosquito flew around and managed to bite my foot before I had a chance to crush it. I resolutely pulled the window up and climbed back inside, ready to face my sister again.
“Brooke?,” I said tentatively, knocking on her open door.
“Hey! Parker! I was just about to come around and say hi! Sorry I wanted to come in before but I smelled so bad I couldn’t stand another second with the revolting bar stink still on me.”
Sure enough her hair was wet, hanging about her head as if she had tousled it dry.
I wanted to know everywhere she went and all the fun she must have had but it also was an ache in my chest thinking of how she had done all those things without me.
I was tempted to just turn away without saying anything else, the lump in my throat making it impossible and then Brooke said, “Oh, and I got you a present!”
Present? I did love getting gifts. Quickly, I blinked away the tears that had welled up in my eyes as Brooke turned to lean over her open overnight bag.
“Here,” she said, thrusting a box wrapped with newspapers into my hands.
It felt strangely heavy for its size but not so heavy that I suspected books.
I tore it open nonchalantly, showing her I wasn’t so eager to see whatever it was that she had bought for me.
But I wasn’t expecting what was inside. She had gotten me expensive noise cancelling headphones, the kind that are so comfortable it feels like you’re wearing clouds on your ears in addition to the fact that once you put them on you can’t hear anything going on.
“I was thinking they would be perfect for college,” Brooke said, watching my face closely. “This way you could put them on and even if you’re in a packed study room or something no one can bother you.”
“They’re.. They’re,” I was too overwhelmed to say words. They were perfect, and Brooke knew it as well. She walked over and gave me a hug, allowing me to pretend I wasn’t crying by not requiring me to say anything.
“Thank you Brooke,” I said quietly into her shoulder, as she squeezed me tightly.
“This way when you get good marks you’ll have me to thank,” she joked. “Oh and I almost forgot. Mom said you couldn’t find your laptop. Don’t you remember you put it in my closet. For so-called ‘safekeeping’, since you didn’t want to open it up until the night before you left?”
I did remember and immediately I felt stupid. I was just overwhelmed and feeling like I wasn’t ready for any of this, especially without my sister who always knew what to do and led the way.
“Oh,” was all I could say in response though. Mere moments ago I had been so angry at her that I didn’t even know if I would be able to look at her. And now she was reminding me of who she was and buying me presents so I just felt confused. I held onto the feeling of abandonment when she left me to have some sort of self righteousness.
“We’ll talk tomorrow? I’m exhausted.” It gave me a perverse sense of pride to blow her off like that, instead of sitting up with her all night to hear what she had to say. She looked a little put out, but nodded and let me go back to my room where I stayed up half the night looking at my spinning ceiling fan and trying to relax.
I woke up the next day late as usual feeling much better. My temper had alleviated over the night and with a new day came calmer emotions.
Brooke was still not up yet, I had swung past her room to see if she was still there and heard the slow sounds of deep sleep emanating from within.
I decided to make eggs, feeling particularly hungry this morning and in the mood for a big brunch.
I was going to make Brooke breakfast as well. I started off toasting some bread and cheese and cracked a couple of eggs into a big bowl. Then I decided to get very fancy and sauteed some onions and garlic, turning this into a tasty meal. The final cherry on top were milkshakes, each made to order in regards to our preferences. Brooke got double chocolate chocolate with chocolate drizzled on top while I opted for a more subtle mix of pistachio and strawberries. I heard clomping down the stairs as the blender was whirring. Brooke entered the kitchen looking like she hadn’t slept in weeks. Her eyes were ringed in purple, the bags beneath them bigger than any I was bringing with me to college. She held back a yawn as she rumpled her short black hair.
“Wow,” she exclaimed, picking her nose up and sniffing the air as the smell of freshly brewed coffee I had put up last minute wafted towards her. “This is all extremely fancy and unexpected coming from you.”
I shrugged. “I’m feeling good this morning and starving. Come, let’s eat!”
I pointed to the eggs that had just come off the stove. “Those are still hot for the next couple of seconds and the bread is perfectly toasty and cheesy.” Brooke clapped her hands delightedly like a child and grabbed a mug to pour herself a generous dose of caffeine.
“I’m starving as well. And this is delicious!” The last part was said over a mouthful of eggs, shoved into her mouth and washed down with the milkshakes. “I feel like I haven’t eaten real food since I left. I know I was only gone for like four days but it felt like forever. And Simon brought his new girlfriend.” she rolled her eyes. “It seems like every couple of days there’s a new girl that he brings, all ready to party and be part of a band until she realizes how lame he actually is.”
I laughed without being able to help it. I loved hearing her stories and even though I was still dismayed at my being left out of her gang, I conversely wanted to know everything about it.
“We need a picture of all this food!” Brooke grabbed her phone out of the pocket of her pajama shorts and urged me into it, snapping a picture of the spread of food with us at either end of the table, making silly faces and digging in. That was one of my favorite pictures of the summer. It reminded me of our friendship, the fact that no matter how upset I was with her she could always make me laugh, the fact that food was bountiful back then, we were both rumpled from sleep, not showered or dressed and yet looking as beautiful as we had ever been.