A/N: Wow. -Looks at the many, persistant, yet appreciated reviews- Yay! I'm pop'lar! Hah, but seriously, who'da thunk? Not me, that's for sure. I would have never known that a lot of people would like this story...it makes me smile. But enough of this self-conscious, repetitive junk.Back by pop'lar demand:
Alex Murray took a bite from his peanut butter and jelly sandwich and looked up at his father.
"Daddy, why does Ms. Stowe hate you?" he asked innocently.
Mr. Murray looked up from the boring newspaper had had been reading, his eyes wide from surprise.
"Where did you get that idea from, William?" Mr. Murray asked his small son, quietly.
Alex shrugged and took another bite from his sandwich. "I don't think she likes me," he declared, thickly as his mouth as full of sticky peanut butter and gooey jelly.
"Don't talk with your mouth full," his father told him sternly, his eyes finding the boring newspaper again.
"But why, Daddy?" Alex asked when his mouth was empty.
"Because it's rude and disgusting--"
"No, not that," the little boy said, exasperated. "I mean why doesn't she like us?"
Mr. Murray sighed and folded up the newspaper. There was a tiny crease in the middle of his eyebrows he got whenever he couldn't think but tried to think at the same time. Alex observed his tired-looking daddy thoughtfully.
"Because….Daddy did some very mean this to Ms. Stowe, thing he regrets very badly," Mr. Murray answered sadly.
"What kind of things?" Alex inquired, frowning in bewilderment.
"Things that you won't understand until you're older, son," Mr. Murray replied firmly. "now, hurry up and finish your sandwich so you can go outside."
Alex walked into his unusually neat bedroom. He strolled over to his CD player and turned the power on. It began to play I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning by Bright Eyes, his favorite band. But he barely heard the insightful, familiar songs as he crashed on his neatly-made bed. He pulled a picture of a pretty girl off of his dresser and stared at it. Aryssa. In the photograph, she was sitting on her porch swing, looking at something to her left. He couldn't remember what--or who--it was because the of the closeness of the shot. But whatever it was, it made her frown. Still, she looked beautiful to him, her skin glowing golden in the vibrant aftermath of the setting sun, her brown eyes turned to topaz, thoughtful, and sincere. He had taken that picture two years ago, and after, she had chased him all down the street, because she hated having her picture taken.
Alex's face broke out into a smile as he remembered it.
"Alex, you get that thing out of my face NOW!!"
"But Reese, you so pretty…"
He almost died that day, by the fury of a beautiful woman and yet his was undeniably happy. Then and now. Reese had finally broken up with Wizzy. Alex cringed in disgust. Wizzy. Really, the only thing Aryssa could have seen in him must have been the attention. The misguided attention that Wizzy bestowed on her in reason of getting her into his bed. But now the fool had ruined all of that by fooling around behind Aryssa's back.
Alex closed his eyes in a prayer of thanks. Glad it was someone else and not Reese. Glad she got out before he could find excuse to commit a self-righteous murder.
Aryssa didn't need Wizzy, but she did need Alex again and for that the dark-haired, pale boy was grateful. The two of them could go back and be uninterrupted again, like they were kids.
On the CD, Conor Oberst was singing, This Is The First Day of My Life and Alex began to sing with him.
"This is the first day of my life. I'm glad I didn't die before I met you…"
"Leave me alone, Wizzy!" Alex heard Aryssa scream. He looked around and saw her running away from a little black boy on the swinging bridge that connected the two giant, yellow slides.
"Just one kiss, Reese, please," begged the boy called Wizzy.
"No!" she yelled and slid down the firefighter pole, scrambling quickly away as soon as she touched the wood-chipped ground.
Alex scrambled off the tire swing and ran to help his distressed friend. He found her in the tunnel that was underneath the second slide. She gestured for him to come in. "Hurry!" she whispered. He obeyed quickly and climbed in beside her.
"Are--you--okay--Reese?" he asked her breathlessly. She shook her head with a pained look on her face.
"No. Wizzy wants to kiss me, 'cause he thinks I like him!" Aryssa explained to him in a loud whisper. Alex stared into her mortified face.
"But why would--"
"Shh!" Aryssa cut him off, wide-eye. Alex closed his mouth, then heard a distant voice call out,
"Reese, oh, Reeeeeseeee! Where you at, girl?"
"Oh no!" Aryssa whispered, afraid. "He's gonna find me!"
"No, he won't, Reese. I'll protect y--"
"Reese!" shouted Wizzy, looking in the tunnel on Aryssa's side. "There you is!"
Alex and Aryssa screamed and began to scramble out of the other side of the tunnel. Alex had already climbed out when he heard Aryssa cry,
"Alex, help! Help me, Alex, he's got me!"
Alex looked into the tunnel and saw that Wizzy had a hold of Aryssa's leg and was trying to pull her out the other side. Aryssa was trying to hold on to the tunnel's sides, but her hands were slipping.
"Help me, Alex!" she screamed again.
Quickly, Alex grabbed both of Aryssa's hands and pulled her toward him. Wizzy saw what was happening and gave Aryssa's leg a great, hard tug. Alex cried out and was pulled into the tunnel, but didn't let Aryssa go.
"Al--ex," Aryssa broke his name into two, wavering syllables. Alex looked at her and found out that he didn't want to ever fail her. He gathered all the strength his small body possessed and pulled Aryssa out of the tunnel.
They both fell on the wood chip covered ground and Aryssa ended up on top of Alex. They stared at each other, until Wizzy's voice broke them apart.
"Hey, white boy!"
Aryssa and Alex stood up, fast and turned to look at the approaching, mad-looking boy.
"Hey, white boy," Wizzy repeated, stepping up to Alex. "What you doin' with my girl, huh?"
Aryssa moved in front of Alex and crossed her arms. "I ain't yo' girl, Wizzy," she shouted in his face. "And his name is Alex!"
"I don't care what his name is," Wizzy yelled back. "All I know is he better not mess with my girl!"
Aryssa pushed him to the ground and kicked him in the leg. Wizzy howled, cradling his wounded limb in trembling, clutching hands. "I ain't yo' girl, dummy!" she repeated. Then she grabbed Alex's hand and ran with him to the see-saws.
His cell rang. He took it out his pocket, glancing at the display screen. He frowned at it, then he turned down his player before answering .
"William," came his name in a long-accented gush. "Miss me yet?"
He looked at his ceiling. "I just saw you less than thirty minutes ago."
She giggled profusely in his ear, and Alex waited patiently for her to finish.
"You're so cute. You know you miss me. Admit it."
Alex sighed, rubbing his face that had just so suddenly gotten so tense. "I miss you," he mumbling, glancing at the picture of Aryssa.
Joelye laughed again. "Now was that so hard?" She didn't wait for a response. "Now, listen, baby, I think I'm going to have to cancel our date on Saturday. I'm going to the beach instead, to visit my grandmother in the hospital."
Alex made a derisive sound in his throat. Visiting her grandmother? Joelye Madison hardly had the heart. No, the only reason she was going to the beach was so show off her size two physique with the rest of her friends of naivety.
"What?" she asked abruptly.
"Huh?" Alex responded. Inwardly, he was getting a kick out of it.
"You said something--"
"No, I didn't."
"Oh, ok then," Joelye answered rather hesitantly. "We'll talk later, promise. Love ya, bye!" She hung up as the words were barely out of his mouth.
Aggravated by the intrusion Joelye made with that call, he decided he desperately needed new air. He got off his bed and left his room. As he was on his way downstairs, the front door opened and his father walked in, carrying two brown bags.
"Hey, Dad," Alex said, reaching the bottom of the stairs and following Mr. Murray into the kitchen. "What's for dinner?"
"What? Oh, hi, William." His father was slightly breathless, and his cheeks were red.
"Dad, you okay?" Alex asked, slightly anxious. He also wanted to ask, "Why are you acting so weird?" but thought again.
"Yes, William, I'm fine." He set the begs on the table, walking over to the sink to turn on the faucet. "We're going out tonight," Mr. Murray informed his son before splashing his face with cold water. He wiped his face with the dish towel that hung above the sink, looking less red and more pale. Alex watched him carefully.
"But what's in the bags?" He glanced at them, perplexed, then back at his father, his expression never changing.
"Nothing," Mr. Murray retorted sharply, then added more softly, "It's just some old things from the office that's all."
Alex nodded slowly, not really all that convinced. Still, he decided to change the subject. "Um, can I invite afraid to come along with us tonight?"
"Oh. Yes, that'll be fine." Mr. Murray was suddenly all bright and smiling. "Who do you have in mind?"
The son thought for a moment, then said rather slowly, "Aryssa Stowe," then, quickly, judged his father's swift change of mood. Mr. Murray was looking at his son in a mixture of surprise and anger.
"Dad, it's not…" Alex paused, sighing. "It's not what you think. It's just that she just broke up with her boyfriend, and I don't think she should be alone tonight."
But Mr. Murray was still eyeing his son suspiciously. "What about your lady friend, Joelye Madison?"
"I don't think I'm planning to take Aryssa on a date, Father," Alex said dryly, and Mr. Murray looked satisfied.
"Oh, all right," he gave in. But added anyway, "Just be careful."
Alex shook his head with an amused expression on his now cheerful face. "Of what, Dad?" he muttered as he turned away.
"Ooo, I hate that Wizzy Jackson," Aryssa declared as she rose in the air on the slightly rusty see-saw.
"My daddy says that you shouldn't hate anybody," Alex said seriously. "It isn't nice." He pushed off the ground and watched Aryssa go downward.
"I don't care," she replied in a truly careless tone. "That boy think he owns me--like a baby doll!"
"Well…you do kind of look like one," Alex grinned.
"No, I don't!" Aryssa looked up at him. Alex just shrugged.
"Well, anyway, I think he likes you. A lot."
"Yuck," Aryssa said as she sot up in the air. "Well, that's too bad for him, because I'm never gonna fall in love with some boy."
"'Cause they dogs. They think they know everything and can do anything they want and never think about nobody else."
"No, we don't!"
"That's what my mommy said."
Alex didn't respond to this, and it was Aryssa's turn to shrug. "But no matter what my Mommy says, I'll never think that about you, Alex," she told him simply. Alex looked at her, all of a sudden happy, and smiled crookedly at her.
"Because I like you too much."