Faven settled herself in the damp grass, leaning against the tall, twisting tree behind her. The rough bark dug into her back, and she ignored it. She plucked a few strands of grass from the ground and let them float away in the breeze.
If only she could too.
Tomorrow she would would begin the first day of high school, alone. All through elementary school, and middle school, her best friend was there. Maybe not in the same classes, but still there. Waving to her in the halls between classes, the bell ringing in the back of their heads. Sliding down next to her at lunch, laughing about the absurd things that happened that day. Swinging in a comfortable silence at recess. But not this year.
She was going to a different school than Jay. Why? Faven couldn’t guess. She had gotten fairly good grades. Her social status was acceptable. She didn’t complain of anything. Why did she have to go to school in the city, which was like thirty minutes away, when a high school was only a few minutes from her house?
But it wasn’t like she could do anything about it.
Faven realized she had been yanking grass out of the ground. A few mangled pieces still lay in her palm, stuck there with the morning dew. Faven wiped her hands on her jeans, and brushed her wild black hair away from her face.
Faven jerked and her arm smashed into the tree before she realized who was speaking. “Jay!” she exclaimed. “Don’t scare me like that.”
Jay shrugged. He was sitting next to her, leaning back on his elbows, ashy blonde hair blowing across his dark green eyes. Faven must have forgotten about him. “You kinda zoned out and your face kinda looked like this," He scrunched up his face and stuck out his tongue, doing the rough imitation of a dumbstruck monkey.
“I do not look like that!” Faven shouted. She grabbed Jay by the shoulders, pressed him into the ground, and sat on top of him.
“Ok, ok, sorry!” Jay pushed Faven off him. She dusted off her jeans and leaned back against the tree again. Jay rubbed his stomach. “Ouch,"
“I’m fine," Faven said. “Sorry about that.”
No one said a word.
Faven watched little birds twirl around in the distance, the sun blazing bright in the sky. Wispy clouds floated dreamily in the background, forming shapes Faven classified as a stick. Or a tree. Or a dragon, if you looked the right way.
Jay broke the silence.
“New school, right?” His voice was tense, as if concealing emotion.
Faven grumbled in response.
“I’m sure it will be nice. Not everyone can be jerks.”
“Most people are.”
“The teachers will be awesome.”
“You’ll make friends.”
“You’re my friend.”
“People can have more than one friend.”
Faven scoffed. “That doesn’t work so well.”
“We can hang out on the weekends, or after school," Jay suggested.
No one said a word.
Faven was content with the silence. It was something she didn’t usually get at home. Her house was mess, because no one really bothered to clean it unless company came over. Her mom was never home. Faven was convinced the only sentence her mom said was, “Sorry, I have to go to work," Faven and her sister, Rosa, shrugged it off. They had a dog, Juniper, who barked at all hours of the night. Even smushing your face into a pillow didn’t help.
When Mom was gone, Rosa took care of most things. Her side of the room was often spotless, and she chided Faven when she didn’t pick up after herself. Three years older, she drove Faven to school. Ever since she got her driver’s license, Rosa had been driving Faven to school. Faven enjoyed it. Walking wasn’t bad, but if she had to choose between riding in a car or walking, she’d choose riding.
Faven loved going to Jay’s house. He had a room all to himself, because his brother also cried and howled at all hours of the night. His parents had to be the nicest people in the world. They always opened the door with smiles on their faces. Their house was kept so perfect and dainty, Faven was often afraid to touch anything.
Jay’s room was very different from her’s. Faven’s room, well, her side of it, was small and cramped. She and her sister shared a wardrobe and shelf. Her bed was shoved in her tiny corner, the the floor was littered with paper. Whenever Faven decided she wanted to write, she usually crumpled up the papers she didn’t like and tossed them onto the floor.
Jay’s room was clean. Not like Rosa clean, but cleaner than Faven’s. He still had music notes everywhere, but his floor was clear, his bed always made. His bookshelf neatly arranged.
Books were one of things that Jay and Faven bonded over. The Hunger Games, and The Fault in Our Stars were personal favorites of Faven. Jay enjoyed sci-fi and action, and Faven liked dystopian and romance. He had tried to get her to read this weird book series where most of the scenes involved death and battle. He failed. When they were younger, they would pretend to be the characters in the stories, or make up new endings. Faven also loved writing fanfictions. Jay thought it was weird, but didn’t say anything. After all, Faven never commented on his obsession with supernatural creatures. She was convinced he thought vampires and werewolves were real.
She and Jay had been friends for almost seven years. She had met him in second grade, when her teacher, Ms. Riley, had partnered them together for a group project. Faven had been a little annoyed, because she had wanted to be with her friend Maia, a wavy haired little blonde girl who moved away to South Dakota a year later. Jay had been the new kid that year, and was having trouble making friends. Most of the second grade had classified him as weird, talks-too-much, and probably an alien, including Faven (don’t judge, they were immature seven years olds).
Jay had approached Faven with a smile on his face, his dark green eyes looking genuinely pleased to be partnered with Faven. She was one of the few people who weren’t mean to him. Even if she thought those thoughts, she’d never say them. Jay had started talking earnestly about the project. Faven, even at her young age, was impressed by how much he knew about the topic, animal habitats. She had joined in the conversation to point out things Jay said she agreed with, like that horses were unicorns in disguise.
Faven and Jay had hung out a lot after that. Mostly talking about stuff most seven year olds didn’t talk about, like books and where to find the best history museum (Faven had gone through a phase where going to history museums were regular Saturday visits).
And all that was ending because she had to go to a stupid school in the stupid city.
At least they weren’t moving. A new house and a new school? That would suck even more.
“You aren’t moving, right?” Jay asked, shattering the silence. Faven almost grumbled at him. But he couldn’t know, could he? He was surrounded by quiet.
“No," she said.
“Good. Moving would suck.”
“You got that right.”
Jay pointed at the sky. “Look at that cloud," Faven glanced up to where he was pointing.
“The one that looks like dog.”
“No, that looks more like a cat.”
“Maybe it’s a cloud cat from the Airborn series you like.”
The sky rumbled. Faven saw dark clouds looming off in the distance. The slight change in the sky beneath them told Faven that it was raining.
“We should go," Jay said, spotting the clouds. He stood up and offered Faven his hand. She took it and let him haul her to her feet. She started to walk down the hill, to a path where their bikes waited. The ground was still slippery from last night’s rainstorm. Faven thought it was odd that was raining so much in September. Didn’t it rain a lot in April? If Jay thought this too, he didn’t voice his opinion.
Faven found her bike waiting by the path, braced against a tree. Jay’s was tossed on the ground, the shiny metal glistening with water. Faven grabbed her bike by the handlebars and guided it onto the path. Jay picked his up with distaste.
“Aw, the seat got wet!” he complained.
Faven smirked. “That’s what happens when you toss your bike on soaked ground.” She threw her leg over her bike and pushed it out onto the main road. She saw no cars. “Jay, come on," She looked back to see Jay wiping down his seat with his sleeve.
“I know, I coming," he said.
“If you don’t hurry that seat won’t be the only thing that’s wet," Faven chided.
Jay hopped on his bike and pulled up next to Faven. He looked both ways and then pushed himself forward, pedaling down the road. Faven went after him.
The road had no sidewalks, or bike lanes, but cars rarely came down this road. Faven wasn’t worried. Then again, when cars did come down the road, they flew by at practically a hundred miles per hour (the speed limit is sixty).
Faven’s bike squirmed under her tires. The road was wet and slippery, and puddles seemed to dance out and under her tires everywhere. Faven yanked her handlebars in the opposite direction to steady the bike.
Up ahead, Jay swerved over to the side of the road. He motioned for Faven to do the same. Faven pulled over and saw headlights blinding her vision. She leaned to the side as the car roared past her, spraying her with the muddy water.
“Hey!” she yelled, to no one in particular. She spat the water out of her mouth and and wiped off her face. “Watch the speed limit!” That car had been going way past sixty.
“Yelling at a moving car doesn’t work that well, from what I’ve learned," Jay called back to her, his own face and clothes splattered with muddy water.
“You think I don’t know that?” Faven called back angrily.
“You seem angry.”
“Shut up, Jay.”
“You’re still talking.”
“No I’m not.”
“Whatever," Faven hopped on her bike and pulled up next to Jay. He grinned at her. Even his teeth had been hit with the water. “Gross," she said, curling her lip in distaste.
Faven pushed herself forward and pedaled down the road. She heard the squeak of Jay’s bike as he followed.
They met no more speeding cars, and no one said a word all the way home.
“See you later," Faven called back to Jay. He was standing over his bike, waving goodbye.
“You too," Jay waved once more and started pedaling back to his house. Faven closed the door, which shut with creaky bang, and headed up to her room. She ignored the mess in the living room, stepping over empty chip bags and blankets. Her mom was passed out on the couch, her wild brown hair spilling over the arm, snoring like a chainsaw. Faven took a quick detour and flung a blanket over her mom’s body. The TV was still on, some old comedy blasting laughter around the house. Faven turned it off.
She crept up the stairs, stepping lightly on the creaky ones. She rounded the corner and walked into her shared room. Rosa was lounging on her bed on her side of the room, reading a book and listening to music. Her bed was neatly made, the pale green blankets folded at the end of the bed. Her floor was clean swept, only a pile of books that were clearly Social Studies homework by her bed.
“Hi," Faven said, walking over to her side of the room. She hadn’t made her bed. The sheets were tossed to the side, her various stuffed animals scattered around the bed. A messy pile of books, one much bigger than Rosa’s, was dumped next to her bed.
Rosa pulled the headphones out and put the book down. Her big, blue eyes looked over at Faven. “How was your adventure with Jay?”
“Fine. Some car drove past us going like, a hundred miles per hour," she gestured to her clothes. “Jay got some water in his mouth.”
“Gross. You should change.”
“My thoughts exactly," Faven grabbed some clothes off her bed, an army green T-shirt and ripped up jeans. She walked into the bathroom, turned on the shower, and peeled off her dirty clothes. She pulled back the shower curtain and stepped in, not waiting for it to heat up.
She watched the mud slither down into the drain, and then decided she should wash her hair since she was in the shower anyway. It had been a while.
When Faven stepped out, she grabbed for a towel that was usually hanging on the hook, but only grabbed air and nearly fell on her face. She opened the closet and found a towel on the shelf. It was a beach towel. Ew.
Faven used it anyway and got dressed. She stood in front of the mirror and started to brush her hair. Even wet, it stayed curly and wild. After failing to brush it, she settled on pulling it back in a sloppy ponytail - her classic hair style.
Faven looked up into the mirror again. She saw a girl with wild black hair and olive skin, sharp features like an elf and blue eyes so dark they looked purple.
Faven walked back to her room and plopped down on the bed. She grabbed a book, nabbed a flashlight, and yanked her fuzzy red blanket over her head. She opened the book, flicked on the flashlight, and started to read.
She wasn’t really reading. She didn’t even know what book she had. She was trying to focus on something other than the new school, and all those other kids asking the same questions. Focus on something other than how hard it would be to connect with all those people, who probably grew up in the city and talked about city related stuff. Something other than… than that.
She had had this experience before. She was the new kid in first grade. No one cared. Just another new kid who had to struggle to fit in. None of the other kids really helped, except for those few kids who were so awkward or weird or rude they had already burned through everyone else. And then burned through her.
Maybe high school would be different. Maybe the kids would be thoughtful and kind and try to help. Maybe Jay was right. After all, everyone couldn’t be jerks.