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Grade
8

Avery sat upside down on the couch, his feet propped up on the top, and his head hanging off the end of the cushions. His arms crossed loosely over his chest, his eyes pointed at the TV playing a program that had been there when he’d turned it on. He wasn’t at all interested, just passing time until five o’clock, like he’d been doing all day. His head turned sideways towards the clock on the nearby microwave, which could be seen through the doorway through the kitchen and the living room. Four forty-five, it read. Avery sighed, unwilling to wait any longer. You know what? Close enough, he thought.

He quickly stood from his place on the sofa, twisting to get his feet on the ground, eager to leave his lonely apartment. He grabbed a gray hoodie from the coat rack by the door, guessing that the weather would be characteristically windy. He slung his doodle-covered messenger bag over his shoulder, snatching some earbuds from the coffee table and stuffed them in his pockets. He debated whether to

take the sketchbook that was lying next to it, then gave in and shoved it into the bag. He would probably find something he’d like to draw while he was out, he always did. He slipped on some flip flops and flung open the door of his ground-floor apartment, getting a cool breeze in response as he headed out.

 

Half an hour later, he made his way toward Western Avenue, absently kicking at stray piles of sand that had been blown across the street from the nearby waterfront. It wasn’t a bustling beachside city, but the much smaller town of Muskegon on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. The early summer wind blew grains of sand at his face, a few catching on his glasses and obstructing his view. He took them down to clean them for the umpteenth time today, his vision going blurry for a moment.

He continued strolling downtown, sometimes glimpsing the lake in the distance between the buildings. He would be there soon, but he had somewhere else to go first and needed to get it taken care of before his meet-up by the water. He turned a corner, coming upon something that he didn’t really want to see.

When Avery was younger, third grade maybe, he had been downtown with his mother, and they’d come across what had seemed to him like a mini parade. There was a group of roughly several dozen people, gripping signs and shouting things he didn’t understand.

“Good for them,” his mother had said, looking proud. “Fighting for what they believe in.”

At the time, Avery didn’t know most of the words on the posters that they were hoisting up in the air, but there was one with just a few words that he could easily read, and clearly remembered: Gays Are Poison! Avery only had a vague sense of what the word “gay” meant back then, but he didn’t see what was so bad about it. His mother seemed to be on their side as well, which bothered him even more. This is wrong, he had thought to himself. He wasn’t entirely sure why, but he knew that it wasn’t fair to whoever they were making fun of.

Now, of course, Avery knew that it was much more than just mocking. And as he turned that corner, he was even more aware of that. Once again, there was a gathering of people marching, though he could now make out their insulting words and read the negative signs. If he could, he would teach them all a lesson; it was so frustrating how they didn’t care who they were hurting. He briefly wondered if his mother was one one of the protesters, it wouldn’t be too surprising. However, he didn’t want to take time to find out. Besides, he hadn’t talked to her for a couple of years, after moving out as quickly as possible when college had started. He doubted a reunion would have a good outcome.

He stuffed his hands in the pockets of his sweatshirt, searching for the earbuds he had taken with him before leaving. He soon found them and rummaged through his bag for his phone. He plugged them in, his thoughts turning brighter as the Jackson 5 started playing, drowning out the marchers’ voices. Avery’s step took on a noticeable bounce, and he whistled along as he took his time walking to the Western Market, the protesters forgotten.

A line of tiny shops lining the road came into view, each one no bigger than a garden shed. Racks of clothes and shelves of different foods stood outside them, people going in and out of the small buildings. However, Avery wasn’t here to browse, he knew what he was looking for. He maneuvered his way through the small crowds to a bright red painted shop with T-shirts hanging in front. He had found one a couple of days ago that he particularly liked, and knew exactly who it would apply to; he just hoped it was still there. He filed through the shirts, feeling a short burst of excitement when he found that the one he wanted was still there, the phrase on the front saying, “Opinions are like mixtapes: I don’t want to hear yours.”

He dug a handful of cash from his pants pocket, and paid for it at the counter inside. The woman standing there laughed as she checked it out, handing him his receipt.

“You have good taste,” she told him with a friendly smile.

“Yeah, well, it’s not for me,” Avery responded, giving her a slight chuckle.

“In that case, I hope it’s appreciated.” He nodded as he folded up the shirt and placed in his bag, offering a wave as he left. He looked around for a bus stop when he stepped outside, dashing across the street to the nearest one. If he wanted to be on time for his date, he wouldn’t make it by walking. A bus pulled up next to to the sidewalk, and he climbed the stairs to find a seat on the crowded vehicle.

 

A short while later, Avery stepped off the bus at Pere Marquette Park. The lake in front of him glittered blue, the near-setting sun reflecting off of it. The beach before it was almost deserted, only seagulls scuttling around. The only sound was their occasional squawking and the lake’s small waves lapping up to the shore. Avery set down his bag on the white sand and dropped down next to it, taking out his notebook and a pencil. He knew he had arrived early, so he had some time to himself.

He drew his surroundings, the rippling water, the soft sand underneath him, the seagulls swooping overhead. He was just adding some finishing touches when a hand on his shoulder and a voice behind him made him jump.

“Whatcha drawing?” the voice asked, its owner crouching down beside him.

“Milo!” Avery scolded once he composed himself. “Quit doing that!” He tried to sound annoyed, but he knew that even a total stranger would be able to tell that he wasn’t really mad. Milo laughed and folded his legs underneath him, slinging off the backpack he carried.

“Sorry, you know I can’t help it,” he said, unzipping the bag and taking out some Tupperware containers and a couple of forks, handing one full of macaroni and cheese to Avery. “Here. Truce?”

Avery took it from his hands, grabbing a fork. “I’ll be the judge of that,” he declared, twisting off the lid and taking a bite. He nodded to Milo and held out his hand to shake. “I officially deem this macaroni and cheese satisfactory, and I agree to your truce request,” he said in a goofy British accent. Milo shook his hand and grinned, a chuckle leaving him as he scooped up his own pasta. They ate quietly, Milo sometimes throwing a noodle or two at a seagull if one happened to come close. Once he finished his meal, he tried to nab a forkful of Avery’s.

“Hey! Don’t touch my mac and cheese!” Avery complained, jerking his arms away from Milo, keeping his food out of reach. Milo moped, instead picking up Avery’s notebook to take a look at the picture he had been working on when he arrived.

“Hey, this is really good,” he commented, nudging Avery in the side, who was finishing his last bite.

“Thanks. I still want to color it though,” he replied. He then remembered the shirt in his bag, and pulled it onto his lap. “Oh yeah! I got you something, by the way.” He took out the top and handed it over.

“Wait, seriously?” Milo held it out in front of him, mumbling its message to himself. He laughed out loud, a wide smile gracing his face. “Ha! I love it! Thank you.” He wrapped an arm around Avery to give him a sort of side-hug.

“Yeah, I thought you might like it.” They sat comfortably for a few moments, before Avery remarked that it was getting a bit dark.

“Hey, you want to stay over? We need to catch up on Game of Thrones,” Milo suggested.

“Sure, more than happy to.” They cleaned up their small mess of “dinnerware,” Milo deciding to simply put on his new shirt over his other one. The boys managed to catch the last bus of the day, which was packed with people both coming home from work and heading to their night shift jobs.

It was almost completely dark when they got off, the low light making the tall downtown buildings seem more ominous. They were some of the few people milling around as they headed to Milo’s apartment, some late shoppers going in and out of the stores that were still open. A group of women passed them, and Avery noticed that one of them was carrying a piece of cardboard by her side, the words on it similar to the ones that he had seen earlier that day. Milo had apparently seen it too, visibly cringing as he he watched them go by.

“Yikes. You see them protesting?” Milo asked, shaking his head. “It was awful.” Avery only nodded, frowning at the memory of the scene. It was obvious that they had come to the area where the march had been; there were several tattered poster-board rectangles laying on the street, some of the disbanded marchers still hanging around and chatting with each other. He tried to keep his head down, not wanting to make eye contact in case any of them were-

“Avery? Is that you?” His fears were confirmed when a female voice reached his ears, and he immediately recognized it.  A woman standing among a couple of others, also holding a forgotten poster, had taken notice of the boys. She turned to face them, and Milo gave Avery a confused look.

“Who is that?” he inquired. “Avery, what-”

“Just keep walking,” Avery grumbled, putting a hand against his back to keep him going. When they kept moving, the woman scrambled after them, refusing to be ignored. She locked her hand onto Avery’s shoulder, spinning him around to face her.

“Avery! It’s so good to see you!” she exclaimed, wearing a cheeky grin to match her tone. However, Avery was not feeling the same excitement, and the lady’s smile quickly faded when she saw his stony expression. “What’s wrong? It’s been so long, aren’t you glad to see me?” she asked obliviously. Avery let out a dry laugh.

“Do you really have the right to ask that question?” he contradicted. The woman opened her mouth to speak again, but Milo cut her off.

“Uh, sorry to interrupt,” he said awkwardly. “But, Avery, would you mind introducing us?” Avery rolled his eyes and sighed, then reluctantly gestured to the woman in front of them.

“Milo, this is my mother, Victoria,” he stated. “Mom, this is Milo.”

“Please, call me Tori,” she held out her hand to Milo, who hesitantly took it.

“I don’t think I will . . .” he trailed off, seeing the burning glare that Avery was shooting her.

“Mom, what are you doing here?” he interjected. “I was having a really good day, you know.” Victoria looked offended, taking a moment to collect her thoughts.

“W-Well, I just saw you, and . . . I thought you might want to talk,” she explained slowly.

“You really think I want to talk when you’ve got that on you?” he asked, nodding to the sign in her hand, and she tried to hide it behind her.

“Don’t tell me you’re still upset about our last discussion . . .” she pouted.

“Discussion? That’s what you call it?” he shook his head in disbelief. “You told me to leave!”

“Oh . . .” Milo paled, glancing at Avery.

“I didn’t make you leave,” Victoria remarked. “I just said that you should take some time away until you got yourself back in line.”

“Unbelievable,” Avery muttered. “I don’t have time for this.” He turned and started off in the other direction, Milo close behind. As they continued down the sidewalk, Victoria struggled to catch up with them, calling Avery’s name repeatedly.

“Just leave me alone!” he shouted over his shoulder, hoping that, for once, she would listen to him. There was no answer, but whether she had simply given up trying to talk to him, Avery was just happy she was gone. He grumpily marched along, staring bitterly ahead. Once in a while, Milo would sneak a curious look, but said nothing. Ave

“Discussion? That’s what you call it?” he shook his head in disbelief. “You told me to leave!”

“Oh . . .” Milo paled, glancing at Avery.

“I didn’t make you leave,” Victoria remarked. “I just said that you should take some time away until you got yourself back in line.”

“Unbelievable,” Avery muttered. “I don’t have time for this.” He turned and started off in the other direction, Milo close behind. As they continued down the sidewalk, Victoria struggled to catch up with them, calling Avery’s name repeatedly.

“Just leave me alone!” he shouted over his shoulder, hoping that, for once, she would listen to him. There was no answer, but whether she had simply given up trying to talk to him, Avery was just happy she was gone. He grumpily marched along, staring bitterly ahead. Once in a while, Milo would sneak a curious look, but said nothing. Avery was grateful for the silence; talking was the one thing he didn’t want to do right now.

Milo held the door open for him upon reaching the complex, and they rode a rickety elevator up to his floor, neither of them saying a word as they rose to the third story. They stepped off and shuffled down the hallway, Milo whipping out a key when they got his apartment. When the turned the lock and the door cracked open, Avery stormed in and threw his bag on the nearby coffee table, slumping into a matching chair. He ran a hand over his face as Milo sat down as well, then he raised his head to meet his gaze.

“Sorry you had to see that,” he said finally, Milo lifting an eyebrow at him.

“Come on, you know that wasn’t on you.”

“Yeah, I know,” Avery sighed. “It’s just . . .my mom is ridiculous about that kind of thing. She expects me to be just like her, and does everything in her power to make it happen. It gets on my nerves.”

Milo nodded sympathetically, then stood up and continued.

“Well, don’t let it get to you. It’s over with, and you’ve still got me, right?” he ruffled Avery’s hair, getting a small smile out of him. “Now come on, we still have Game of Thrones to get to.”

 

 

State
MI