“He’s coming tonight to see you. Can you believe it?” My best friend’s green eyes bore into mine, her face so close I can see every freckle on her nose, smell the cotton candy on her breath. The delight she expresses at my good fortune is both endearing and disorienting. “Promise you’ll stay and talk to him.”
I hesitate, wanting to ask if she’s sure. If she doesn’t mind. “I promise.”
Piper’s face softens into a grin, and suddenly she doesn’t look like a tenth-grade math whiz but a woman, beautiful and confident. I wonder when that changed. When we changed.
She squeezes me around the neck. “This is your chance,” she whispers. “See you when you get off!” She spins and runs, the soft white fabric of her dress disappearing into the crush of people.
“Customer, Lor!” my sister calls.
I lift sweaty hair from the side of my face and slip back behind the register. My feet ache inside the tennis shoes. My lower back throbs. I am 100 years old and counting. “What’ll it be?”
“Jumbo dog and a root beer float!” a gap-toothed child hollers up at me.
The line at our booth grows, snaking around the Ferris wheel and down the row of prize games. But the sun is setting, an orange burn behind the Merry-Go-Round, and my heart lifts at the signal of impending freedom. String lights flicker on across the fairgrounds like fireflies. Just another hour and the food stalls will close, and I’ll find him. I’ll learn the truth for myself.
“Lori, quick. I need more plates.” My sister touches my shoulder. Her eyes are hollow, face ashen. Her cotton shirt, soaked with sweat, stretches over a protruding abdomen.
I sprint to the pickup truck parked behind our stall and race back. The line never slows. The orders blur. I’m pouring lemonade over ice when I finally see him. He’s with the twelfth graders at the basketball shoot-out. Blonde hair, jade eyes, and a sharp jaw. He’s the tallest one. The most self-assured. Likes science fiction books and fishing with his brothers.
Piper and I have both been more or less completely in love with him since the seventh grade, though we’ve never said those exact words out loud. To put our feelings into audible descriptions would’ve been as outlandish as confessing plans to set sail for the moon — beyond improbable for a pair of girls beset by braces and shy personalities.
But now he likes me. Piper’s words buzz through me like I’m a light bulb about to spark to life for the first time. I glance at the giant clock over the picnic area. Fifteen minutes.
Behind me, my sister groans.
She sighs and sags against the counter. “It’s fine.”
“It’s not fine. He’s never there for you.”
“Don’t, Lor.” She wipes at her forehead. “He provides the food we sell. The truck. We’re making ends meet because of him.”
I look away from the fire in her eyes. I wonder if our mother looked like that when she was pregnant with me. Defending a lie and calling it the greater good.
“I can pack up,” she says. “Go have fun with your friends.”
I hear our mother’s voice when she says this, a martyr from the past. I glance back at the basketball games. Piper is there now. She looks at me, then over at him, and winks. She taps an imaginary wristwatch, but I can see the tightness in her expression masquerading as cheerfulness. She could hide her true feelings from someone else but not from her best friend. Not from me.
“I don’t feel like hanging out with them anyway,” I lie, hearing my mother’s voice once again. I turn away from Piper’s questioning gaze. Some people are worth more than reaching for the moon. Worth more even than a boy with jade-colored eyes.
I think of my mother’s funeral last summer, and the evening after, sitting cross-legged on the front porch. Piper brushing coral polish across my toenails. Want to talk about it? I touch my sister’s arm. “Let me load the heavy stuff.”
Elizabeth Lyvers grew up in the hills of West Virginia, molded by books, trees, and basketball. She recently published a novel called The Honest Lies and writes for her blog, Dear Life. She lives happily in Texas with her husband and young son, writing during nap times.
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