The Space Between Us(7)By: Anie Michaels
“My mom isn't making me walk to school with you, Charlie. Can't I just want to walk to school with you?”
“Hey,” he said as he crouched down to get me to look at him. “What does this mean?” He shrugged his shoulders at me in an exaggerated way. I exhaled loudly and turned to start walking towards the school.
“I guess I just don't understand why you would want to walk with me.”
“My best friend just moved away and I use to walk to school with him every day. I guess I just thought maybe you were looking for a new friend as much as I was. I'm sorry.”
Regret and shame washed over me. It hadn't occurred to me that he might have needed someone to be there for him. I was too wrapped up in my own unhappiness to even consider that perhaps, the boy who lost his friend as well, might have needed me to be his friend.
“No, I'm sorry, Asher. I'm not good at meeting new people and making friends. I've never had to. I lived in my old house since the day I was born. My friends back home have been my friends since I was born. I've never had to make new ones. I'd really like it if we could walk to school together.” I looked over at him, hoping the sad look was gone from his face. I was rewarded with a dimpled smile.
“Great. I hate walking alone.”
Asher and I walked to school nearly every day until, finally, we were old enough to drive.
It was the Saturday before the first day of high school, and even though I had spent a wonderful summer with Reeve, I was anxious for the summer to end because that meant that Asher was coming home. A month before school let out, we walked to school and he dropped the biggest bomb my 13-year-old self had ever experienced – well, besides my mom's cancer.
“So,” Asher said as we slowly made our way towards the middle school. “I have something to tell you.”
“Ok,” I said, drawing the word out to emphasize my apprehension. “You're being very cryptic right now.”
“My grandfather called my parents last night and told them that he needed help on his farm back in Oklahoma. He asked my parents if I could come and help him for the summer.”
I stopped in my tracks and turned to face him.
“You're going to Oklahoma?” He winced a little and nodded his head. “For the whole summer?” He nodded again. “You're kidding. Asher, this isn't funny at all.”
“I'm serious. I guess one of his farmhands quit and my parents think it will build character or something if I go and do farm stuff all summer.”
“But we had plans this summer! You were supposed to teach me how to skateboard! We were going to ambush Reeve with water balloons every day! We were going to fish in the creek under the bridge in the park. Asher, this ruins everything.”
“I'm sorry, Charlie. There isn't anything I can do about it. My parents bought a plane ticket last night. I leave the Monday after school gets out.”
“We've got to cram a whole summer's worth of plans into one weekend?”
He laughed. “I suppose.”
“So not funny, Asher. I love Reeve, but I can't imagine spending all summer with her. Her idea of summer vacation is laying on her front lawn in a bathing suit and flirting with boys,” I said as I kicked a rock that was in my way. The rock skittered across the pavement farther than I planned and I winced as it came dangerously close to a parked car.
“You're not going to do that, are you?”
“Lay in her front yard in a bathing suit.”
“Oh, um, I don't know. Probably not.” Then, suddenly, it was tense. This had only happened a few times before with us. We would be talking or hanging out, and suddenly out of nowhere one of us would say something or do something that was new to our usual friendship dynamic. A few weeks ago we were sitting in his garage and we decided to walk to the store to get smoothies. He reached both of his hands out to me and helped me up. He pulled a little too hard and I rocketed into his chest. Not only was I closer to him than usual, but he didn't let my hands go for a few moments. We stood there, chest to chest, holding hands, and it felt – different. My heart sped up and my lungs hurt because I was breathing so fast. I didn't understand it, but I didn't hate it either. After a few moments he dropped my hands and stepped away.