The Bellany’s moved in down the street the summer after second grade. My parents had been watching the moving truck from the window. I heard them sigh and watched them lightly shake their heads. I didn’t understand it at the time.
Later that day, I saw a little girl with pretty caramel skin walking a dog the size of her. I couldn’t wrap my mind around how she was keeping control of the beast. It was funny watching her take wobbly steps, getting tugged by the leash every few seconds. I ran as fast as my seven year old legs could go and started slipping on my sneakers.
“Where are you running off to?” My mom asked, leaning against the doorway to the foyer. She was still in her morning robe, coffee mug in hand, and glasses delicately resting on the bridge of her nose.
“I’m going to make a new friend!” I exclaimed, velcroing down my shoes and reaching for my small baseball cap.
Mom furrowed her eyebrows and looked down at me with pursed lips before questioning, “And who is this new friend?”
“The girl down the street! I have to hurry or else she’ll be gone soon.”
I was out the door before she could respond to me. I listened to my sneakers on the pavement as I sprinted down the driveway, all my attention focused on not falling. Before I had even reached her, the girl was staring at me. Her dog was looking too.
“Hi,” I chirped, coming a halt just feet in front of her. “I’m Payton.”
“Hello Payton,” she giggled, pulling the leash back as her dog tried to leap forwards. She pat it’s head gently and smiled again, replying, “I’m Gianna.”
“Hi Gianna. Can I call you Gi?”
She nodded. “My Mommy and Daddy call me that, too.”
“Payton, hun? Why don’t you come inside and help me and dad make breakfast?” I heard my mother calling from the steps. I didn’t want to go yet.
“Bye Payton,” Gianna said and turned around, her beast following her as she made her way home.
I went back inside but saw that there was no breakfast being made, so I frowned up at my mom. She shook her head down at me. “We don’t associate with people like her, okay Payton?”
What did she mean by “people like her?” Gianna seemed pretty normal to me.
• • •
I didn’t want to disobey mommy, but I also really liked making new friends. So when school started up and Gi was in the same class as me, of course I sat right next to her and gave her the biggest, brightest smile I could. She smiled back.
“Hi Payton,” she beamed and linked her elbow with mine before adding, “I haven’t seen you in so so long.”
“I know, “ I replied.
“I can’t believe summer is over.”
“I know,” I repeated.
Gi giggled and pulled her arm away from mine. I had kind of liked it there, but I didn’t say anything. She didn’t say anything after that either. We went on to learn the class’s names and the teacher’s name. I was scared for third grade, scared for the new math. But my mom always told me how smart I was, so I’ll be okay. Especially now that I had Gi to work with.
We didn’t do anything scary on the first day. I was happy about that. I wanted Gi to come home with me. The school was right down the street from our houses and we both had permission to walk home. So when class was over, I grabbed her hand and we left school together.
I noticed that Gi wanted to skip. So I released her hand and let her skip down the sidewalk. I don’t know why but she made me smile, and I knew that I wanted to be her best friend.
So I grabbed her hand again and we skipped home together.
We walked through my front door and I told her to take off her shoes or else my mom would be really mad. She always went a little crazy when dirt got tracked into the house. Everyone has a thing that ticks them off. Dirt was my mom’s.
Gi kicked her pink and gray shoes to the shoe rack and followed me into the kitchen. I grabbed the packet of Oreos off the counter and placed it on the kitchen table for us to share.
“Oreos are my favorite. But you can have some,” I told her, hoping it would make her smile. She did, and reached her hand out for one of the cookies. I placed one in her hands, brushing her light brown skin with the tips of my fingers. Her hands were really soft, and they were a really pretty color.
“Hun? Is that you?” I heard my mom call from her office a little ways down the hall. I wanted to call back to her, but I had just stuffed my face with a few Oreos. I heard her stilettos coming down the hardwood floors approaching the kitchen.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, coming to a halt in the entrance of the kitchen. “You brought home a friend.”
Gi smiled and waved, wiping her chocolate lips with the back of her hand.
“Payton, come with me for a second, hun,” Mommy gently stated, jerking her left thumb in the direction of the living room.
I slid down off the kitchen chair and padded my way to the living room, leaving all of my Oreos on Gi’s watch. I trusted her with them.
“Hunny, I thought I told you we don’t associate with people like her. I would like you to tell her to leave please.”
I didn’t understand why she had to go. I made sure that she took off her shoes.
• • •
I started getting scared mommy would be mad if I talked to Gi in school. I didn’t want to, but I changed my seat for the second day of school. Although, I don’t think she cared too much. Somebody else sat with her. It was another girl with caramel skin.
I wondered if mommy would let me be friends with this other girl, or if her and Gi were too similar. I didn’t want to be her friend anyway, I just wanted to be friends with Gi.
A boy named Tyler sat next to me after I moved. He was pretty cool and we both liked Monster Trucks, so that’s what we talked about until the teacher walked in. She told us she had assigned seats for us, and I ended up back next to Gi. I was okay with that.
“Okay guys, we’re going to do a refresher to make sure you remember each other. Payton, since you’re on the end there, why don’t you tell us the names of everybody?” Mrs. Rose asked. I nodded.
“Okay,” I turned to Gi. “This is Gi.”
“No Payton, that’s Gianna. But that’s okay, keep going,” the teacher chirped.
“No Mrs. Rose, she lets me call her Gi,” I responded, feeling myself get a little mad. I didn’t know why but my fists clenched.
Mrs. Rose nodded and said, “Okay.”
I looked over at Gi and she smiled, hooking her elbow with mine like she had on the first day of school. I liked it there and this time I wouldn’t let her pull away. Her toothy grin made me smile back at her. She always made me smile.
That’s when I knew I wanted her to come over again today.
I couldn’t wait for the school day to be over now. I wanted to go home and share my Oreos with Gi. Maybe today we could split one. That’d be fun.
So there we were again, skipping down the sidewalk to my house with our elbows locked together. I hoped mommy wouldn’t get mad again. I would make sure Gi took off her shoes and that my mom saw it too.
“Remember to take off your shoes,” I reminded her as we neared the steps up to my front door.
I opened the door, wiped my feet on the mat, and took off my sneakers. I stared at Gi as she did the same thing.
Now Mommy couldn’t get mad. I was sure of it.
I didn’t notice it at first but Mommy was standing right there in the entrance to the kitchen with her arms folded across her chest. She seemed a little mad, but it was hard to read her, especially when she doesn’t look me in the eyes.
“Payton.” Her voice was sharp, cutting through the obvious tension in the room. She only ever used that voice when her and Daddy got into arguments. It scared me.
She made her way over to me and Gi. We were silent. I knew for a fact we didn’t do anything to “piss her off” as she says sometimes. When I say that, I get in trouble.
Her hand reached for Gi. I thought she was finally going to shake her hand and try to get to know my new friend. But she reached for her wrist instead and pulled her out of the still-open door. I followed them.
“Go home,” she snapped down at Gi.
“Mommy, don’t talk to her like that. Please. I think you’re scaring her,” I began to blubber, waving my arms to get her attention.
“Payton, go inside. I’ll deal with you later. I have told you too many times to not associate with this girl. Your father and I will not tolerate it.”
I gripped her leg like I used to do when I was a toddler.
“Why?” I wailed out, wrapping my body around her calf like my favorite animal, a koala.
“Goodness Payton! Do you ever stop asking questions? We do not associate with that dirty skin color.”
I stared at Gi who was staring up at my mom. Tears were welling in her eyes as she scrambled to get out of my mom’s grip. Her skin was pretty, and soft. I didn’t understand. I liked Gi a lot, her skin didn’t change my mind about that. I found myself becoming the bold little boy my dad always told me I could be and I walked up, grabbing Gi’s free hand and pulling her away from Mommy.
We ended up at Gi’s house which meant we didn’t have to run for very long. I ignored Mommy calling after me and threatening to get my dad.
I wasn’t scared of him. I wasn’t scared of anybody.
Gi burst through her front door.
“Payton,” she wheezed, bending over and placing her hands on her knees. “I like you. But your mommy is scary.”
I nodded. “ I know.”
“Can you stay over for a while?”
I nodded again. “Yeah.”
Gi’s mom then walked through an archway and beamed at us. She had the same pretty caramel skin as Gi. “Hi sweetheart. Is this the boy you’ve been telling me about? The one you like. Payton, is it?”
“Mom,” Gi dragged out, embarrassment laced in her voice.
“Please, come in.”
I wiped my feet on the mat that we were still standing on. Gi didn’t though. She watched me with a tilted head. Her big brown eyes were sparkling and maybe I stared just a second too long. I realized how pretty Gi was. I ignored her and bent down to untie my shoes but her mom interrupted me.
“Oh no dear, you don’t have to do that.” She smiled, looking back and forth between Gi and I. “We’re not that kind of family.”