“Do you feel like the world’s turning too slow?” Emily asks me. We’re lying flat on our backs on the front lawn, watching clouds drift. Or she is, anyway. I don’t want to get grass stains on the back of my t-shirt and anyway, we’re too old to be doing stupid stuff like looking for shapes in the clouds. So I’m sitting in a lawn chair instead, writing in the journal my dad gave me before he left for the last time, or trying to, anyway. I’m not that great a writer but Dad wanted me to record everything for later so I do it for him sometimes.
“Huh?” I say.
Emily rolls her eyes, which are a more electric shade of blue than the sky, but she repeats it.
“Nope,” I tell her. “If anything, time’s going too fast. Summer’s half gone and we’re – “
The rest of what I’m saying’s drowned out by a truck rumbling down the street. It’s twice as loud as a truck anywhere else would be cause my street’s so quiet.
Emily sits up. “Holy shit!” She covers her mouth. “Sorry. Just… the guy who jumped out of that truck is totally… wow.”
“For you or for me?”
“You, dummy. Come on, Arthur, you know attraction doesn’t work that way for me. Anyway, what do you think?”
I lean forward, squinting more than I need to, to buy myself time.
“C’mon,” Emily says. “The sky isn’t that bright.” I ignore her.
The guy she’s talking about, whoever he is, is gone. I keep looking anyway. The screen door on the next house over squeaks and there he is, hurrying across the grass to the truck parked at the curb. He is cute, with dark curls that are sticking to his face thanks to him being hot and sweaty, and the beginnings of a beard, just enough that I gotta fight hard to stop thinking about what it would feel like to run my fingertips over his cheeks while we kiss. He gets another box off the truck and his muscles practically burst through his tank top, like they’re fighting to be free.
“So?” Emily asks. “Is he your type or not?”
I shrug. “He’s okay.”
Just then, he turns towards us and there’s the beginning of a smile on his lips, but he turns away again. That smile has to be for Emily. It has to be. Thinking anything else is a painful waste of time.
“Right. We need a really good excuse for you to come over there and say something to him.” Emily’s eyes widen. “Got it. Your mom made lemonade this morning and it’s a hot day. How about you go get him a glass?”
“How about I wait til you have to go home, then handle him my way?”
“You mean ignore him til you find out he has a boyfriend.”
“Or a girlfriend. That’s more likely anyway.” Emily scowls at me and I say, “Don’t start getting pushy, all right? If I’m going to do anything at all, it’s going to be my way, not yours.”
Emily’s eyes narrow and she crosses her arms, pressing them tight against her chest. “I can go get a head start on my application essays if that’s what you really want, just so you can have him to yourself.”
“You don’t have to do that. I can catch him later or whatever.”
But Emily’s already swinging her purse over her shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. We’re still best friends. Unless you don’t call me later and tell me everything.”
The new guy’s in his yard again and I can feel his eyes on us as Emily hugs me goodbye and walks off.
I’m content to watch the new guy from the window while I make my lunch and stuff. That’s what I normally do anyway, watch cute guys from a distance. Most of them don’t notice me and I don’t want them to because if they see how I’m looking at them they’ll know what I am, and if they know they’ll tell their friends and by the next day the whole school’ll know and everyone’ll have another reason to hate me.
Anyway, by the time lunch is made his dad’s out there helping him with the boxes and blocking my view so I tell myself watching some guy move boxes is boring anyway and go upstairs and mess around online, looking at hot guys on Facebook while my mom’s not home to ask me what I’m doing. By the time I get bored with that it’s almost time to set the table but first I have to take out the trash and when I do, he’s out there by himself, a cigarette dangling from his mouth.
Ugh. I can’t stand cigarettes. I hate the smell and I don’t think anyone is attractive when they have one hanging half out of their mouth. Besides, who doesn’t know what cigarettes do to you, except for the idiots who yell rude stuff at me and Emily for no reason and make us scared to go to our lockers?
Yep. Cigarettes are for losers.
But I can’t stop staring at the new guy anyway. He’s got this kind of rebel thing going on and anyway when I turn away I can feel him looking at me.
I ignore him, taking the trash to the big can on the side of the house by the driveway. I figure he’ll be gone by the time I come back, but he’s standing there with his head tilted back, almost like he was frozen in place til I got back.
I stare at him for a few seconds while I pretend to be looking for my keys.
He says, “If you wanna take a picture, this is my good side.” I redden and start to turn away, but not before I see the widest smile I’ve ever seen.
“Sorry,” I say. “I was just – “
“Just admiring me. I know. But don’t apologize for having good taste.” He throws what’s left of his cigarette on the ground and grinds it with his foot. I shrug and he says, “And I just sounded totally full of myself, didn’t I? I’m not, I swear. If you come over here I’ll prove it.”
“How?” I take a step closer to the fence.
“For one thing, I’ll ask your name before I tell you mine. But come all the way over to the fence, will you? I wanna get a good look at you.”
My heart beats fast. What the hell does that mean? He’s not flirting with me — is he? I come up to the fence anyway.
“So?” the guy says, looking me up and down. “What’s your name?”
“Arthur,” I say, running my hand through my ash-colored hair to make sure it’s not sticking up in the back while wishing it was as dark and shiny as his. “Jacobs. Arthur Jacobs.” My face gets hot and I shut up even though I feel like apologizing for sounding so ridiculous.
The new guy nods to himself. “Mitch Pellegrino,” he says. “So now that we’ve finally got names and all, wanna tell me how long you’ve lived here? It’s lame, I know, but I kinda wanna know what I’m getting into so if you’ve been here a while…”
“Eight years, almost nine. We moved here when I was in third grade.”
Mitch nods. “Cool. So – “
Just then, his dad calls, “Mitchell! Did you get lost out there or what?”
Mitch rolls his eyes. “Gimme a minute, will you?” He says under his breath to me, “If he shows up don’t say anything about the cigarettes. I’m already in enough freaking trouble as it is.”
I nod even though the only reason I’m not going to tell is that I’m way too old to go tattling to people’s parents.
Mitch winks at me and I shiver on the inside — at least I hope it’s just on the inside, since it’s like 900 degrees out so there’s no reason for me to be shaking. Mitch’s dad calls him again in a tone of voice that shows he’s not messing around and Mitch says, “I gotta run, I guess, but next time I see you, you’d better have as good a story of how you ended up living here as I do.” I watch him walk off, squeezing the chain link fence between our yards so hard that when I finally let go there are creases in my palms.