Unable to bear the heartbreak and ignorance of those around her that she loves, Ana ran away in self-imposed expulsion. Too bad one of her friends found her and is intent on finding out why she ran away in the first place.
It feels desolate here. And I'm content with that. In a city with only a population of only 128 something, something, something thousand, Barrie is bustling already in early May, despite the lack of activity on the lake. But it's virtually cottage-country-isolated compared to my hometown. I wonder if anyone else back home cares about me now that I've left from there. Then I realize that they probably do now, because of what I've done. My actions now have given me the attention I've been waiting years for, but it's too little too late.
I curl my arms around my legs in front of me, the patio swing creaking softly at the change in the distribution of weight. The morning dew hasn't lifted yet and there's still a chill in the air. From where I sit, I can see the vastly wide blue lake in the background, clear as day behind all the roads and condos. In the early light, I can faintly make out three joggers running on the beach. I glance down and notice the goose bumps on my arms and legs. It isn't because I'm clad in only boxer shorts and a ratty band t-shirt, though it may be a contributing factor. It probably has to do with who came to visit me at nine-thirty in the morning, for the weekend. In my self-imposed exile, which I went to great lengths to secure my solitude including my location from my family and friends, he somehow managed to find me here?
I didn't want to have to deal with this crap. That was why I came here, feeling dejected and desperate, begging my uncle and his partner to let me stay at their summer home. I even made them swear to secrecy in not telling anyone that I was here with them. I can still remember Uncle Chad and Ted's faces when I asked them for sanctuary. Even though it was only three weeks ago, they still give the same glances over the dinner table now. I came because I was sick and tired of being ignored, of having shit dumped on me when I still had my own to sort through first. Ted was the most understanding, and they both gave me more than enough space, which I was thankful for. But that didn't mean they weren't cautious and curious.
A gust of wind from the lake blows and gives my face a cold slap back to reality. Right, he's still here and I've got to figure this out. I've got to diffuse the situation before my half-cooked plans get blown to hell. I'm grateful that Uncle Chad and Ted have left for work already; though I still have to show up at work in an hour. A mop of carrot-orange hair pokes out from the glass sliding door that connects the backyard patio to the kitchen and I'm very nervous suddenly.
"Hey, there you are," he chuckles ruefully. His brown eyes search my face for some kind of recognition. I can feel it; he's still the same guy who fell in love with me three years ago, and who will still look at me with the same adoration after all these years of saying no to him. I just never felt that way, and why was he rushing to tell me anyways?
"Hi Josh." I reply bitterly. I'm mad at him now, because he's effectively ruined my weekend by showing up here.
He seems to get the message and says nothing in reply yet. He shuffles awkwardly through the small gap in the door, walking towards the empty spot next to me. He accidentally hits the glass table on his way and mutters under his breath. He sits down in a huff, sighing, "look, Ana, I know you're… expecting me to explain how I found you… but, you gotta understand though… I came because I was concerned."
"Yeah, right." I chuckle ruefully this time around. He was probably hoping to score brownie points and get a pass out of the friend zone. I had more on my mind than Josh, suffice to say. Like my parents.
"I have to get ready for work." I abruptly announce. I get up, taking my half-empty cup of orange juice from the glass table on my way to the kitchen. I can hear Josh sigh one more time. He looks to the view of Lake Simcoe, and I go upstairs to get dressed.
Even after my shower and my other morning routines, Josh is still here, except this time, he's in the kitchen as I come downstairs wearing my uniform. He looks up at the scuffling and notices my black shorts and white t-shirt. I'm tying my ridiculously long dark brown hair into a ponytail as I walk into the kitchen. I didn't have time to straighten my hair this morning and my waves look kind of alright today. I'm grabbing my purse off the sandy-coloured granite countertop when Josh clears his throat and I turn around to face him.
"Waitress?" Josh asks emotionlessly. He has a binder sprawled out on the kitchen table and a Physics 2009 Edition textbook that looks like it's been barely cracked open.
I nod and just as quick as he came into my fortress of solitude, I exit in a similar fashion.
Throughout my shift at Bass Grill, all I can think of is whether Josh has left or not. He pervades my thoughts so much that I nearly mess up a regular's order, and barely catch my mistake of undercharging a rambunctious family of six's bill. It's not like business is bustling on a Thursday anyways, but the locals love coming here, and the place barely makes profits every month, so I have to be careful. I have to.
When I arrive at Uncle Chad and Ted's place, which is always kept immaculately clean and contemporary that I wonder how they ever have the time to maintain it, I wait with baited breath to see if maybe, just maybe, he left.
The kitchen is empty. I feel a surge of safety come on before I realize that he knows where I am now, which is followed by a tide of fear and loathing. My mind is racing, trying to figure out my next move. I'm wondering-
"Miss me yet?" Josh's voice breaks my train of thought as I stare at him through the wide gap in the glass door to the patio, where he's camped out on the patio swing with a book. He looks comfortable, which oddly, bothers me. I don't want him staying here. He seems to have changed clothes as well; the jeans and grey t-shirt he wore earlier this morning has been replaced with swimming shorts and a white tank top. The tank top isn't doing its job though; he still looks stick-thin with his frame. Not a single curve of bulging muscle on his arms. Matt had really good arms- oh damn, I swore myself I'd stop thinking about him, after what he did with Abby.
"I thought you left." I replied nonchalantly, glancing at the clock in the kitchen. It's five, which means the guys will come home anytime. And I have to explain his presence to them. Oh joy. "My uncle and his partner's coming home anytime now. I'd really appreciate it if you could leave now," I ask sternly, fixing myself a cup of water and walking out onto the patio.
"No can do. My bus ticket says I'm going back on Monday. And it's the only one that comes up to Barrie all week too," Josh grins mischievously, adding, "and, I guess I'll just have to meet these people and introduce myself."
"Why is this happening to me?" I mutter under my breath. Josh chuckles in response.
"Come on Ana," his voice drops into the husky region. He gets up, and grabs my shoulders with his hands in a tender movement. "I'm not going to rat you out to your parents and friends. As a frie- no, as your best friend, I'm here for you. Now, like it or not, I can't go anywhere else. I can't even afford a hotel either. Now, what do you say we go get some ice cream or something?"
I scoff. He's here for me? Really? The same redhead Josh, who, not only is infatuated with me, tells me everything that goes on with him, including his parents' recent divorce and him losing his virginity to a slut last month, asking me to help him solve his dramas? "Really, you're here for me?" I asked, my tone becoming more cynical by the second.
This is where Josh surprises me for the first time. I have never seen this side of him before; his brows furrow subtly, his lips curl in a tense motion, and his eyes scream seriousness. He licks his lips, which I stare at for the longest time, before he replies, "I'm sorry. Whatever I did. I probably haven't been as much of a good friend as you've been for me. I know I've got a lot to make up for, but let me start by getting you ice cream. My treat?"
I'm caught off guard. This is what I've been waiting all along for; for someone to finally hear my screams, to spot me drowning in the sea, but never in a million years would I imagine Josh being the first one to do just that. Hell, I'd peg Abby for being that type, maybe even my parents, but definitely not him. My stomach growls unexpectedly. I've barely had anything to eat today besides breakfast and a Greek salad at Bass Grill's, and the prospect of ice cream on a warm sunny day sounded heavenly to me. It's free, might as well, right? Plus I had to figure out how Josh found me.
"Sure…" my voice cracked slightly.
And there we were, eating ice cream, walking on the beach, on a Thursday evening.
"So what else is there around here to do for fun?" He asks, eyeing the people sitting in the outdoor patios of restaurants across from the beach.
"Swimming… sports… movies… I dunno." I shrug, licking my vanilla ice cream cone, which is nearly done. Josh has already eaten his, in five bites or less, which is crazy. He did always like to devour his food quickly.
"Then why don't we do all these things? Might get some fun and activity out of this weekend before exams kill the rest of my brain cells," he laughed, kicking the sand with his flip flops. "Oh-" He adds in a quiet murmur.
"Don't worry, I have to come back for exams eventually." I reply, filling in the blank for him. I squint my eyes in the bright evening sun; it isn't sunset until around seven-thirty, but even at six, the glare is brutal when the water's reflecting it twice as much.
"So…" He mutters, obviously thinking of the next thing to say. "What have you been up to?"
I stare at him. He wants to ask that question? Fine. I'll throw the little pup a bone. I roll my eyes as I reply, "gee. Besides work, I've been studying. Reading. Writing. And posting angsty poetry on my blog."
"Good, you've been keeping up…" Josh nods. "Wait, blog?"
"Sarcasm," is my response. I deleted that blog years ago; it's horrendously riddled with tweenism.
Another awkward silence hangs in the air between us.
"Why are you really here?" I ask him curiously. We've reached the end of the beach and I stop to face him.
"Come on, Ana." He chuckles, shuffling his weight between each foot. He glances down briefly before meeting my persistent gaze. "I care about you. I miss you. We were good and… now, we're just… not."
Blunt and to the point, I say, "yeah, who's fault is that?" He freezes and frowns. "Yeah, it's true. You didn't think I was also going through some shit of my own when you were ragging to me about your parents splitting, or you and Mandy?" Ah, what the hell? I just might as well sit down on the sand while he processes this information, because, judging by the look on his face, he's shell-shocked. And I still had more bombs to drop.
"Wh-why… well… I-" He stutters, before sitting down next to me. I can feel his gaze on my face, but I'm stubbornly staring ahead, my head resting on my arms which are clutching my legs. I seem to find myself in this position a lot. "I had no idea. Goddamnit, why didn't you just tell me that when it was happening?"
My throat feels tight now. "I don't know. Because it-, you, I just felt way too pressured to be that perfect person for everyone. Because I wasn't in my right mind ever since I found out Abby and Matt did the tango in bed."
"Shit." Josh groans as he runs his hands through his short wavy locks. The end result was an even messier mop of red hair. "When did that happen?"
"Few days before I left." I replied quietly. "Apparently it's been happening for a while before then. Even when I was… dating him." My eyes are getting watery now, and this is only going to make me look even weaker. So I muster all the energy left, which has to be nearly non-existent after the day I've had, and channel it into not crying, damnit.
"Shit, I'm so sorry Ana. I had no idea Abby would do that. And Matt." He curses. He kicks the sand again. His knuckles are squeezed tight, nearly turning white. What he doesn't know is that I did all those things when I found out, plus a few more. Like trash my parent's kitchen. Cry for days in my bed. Gazed lovingly at my shaving razor before being disgusted by the gore of it. Listened to angsty music. And much more. I couldn't even look at the tub of chocolate ice cream in my freezer without thinking of the time I shared a tub of the same flavour with Matt. The memories hurt more than I thought they would.
"Yep." I murmur. I am waiting for the next question to answer in what seems to be a bout of confession but what Josh does next surprises me even more. He leans over, one arm wrapped around my shrinking frame, and pulls me even closer to his body, head touching mine and staring out at the lake as well. His body is warm and inviting, and I feel my body unconsciously molding to fit his, my head dropping down to rest on his shoulder. He says nothing but his actions speak for himself.
We sit there in perfect silence, watching the sun drop closer to the horizon. After only a few minutes of calmness, I feel myself getting more and more sleepy. And then my phone starts ringing loudly, shattering the air of mediation.
I glance at the caller ID and quickly flip the phone open, answering with a sharp "hello".
"Dinner's nearly ready. And bring your friend." Uncle Chad's voice fills my ears. Wait, my friend? How the hell did he know that?
"How did you-" I begin, but I've been countered with a dial tone. He hung up on me?
Josh shoots me a quizzical look, gesturing to the cellphone in my hand.
"That was my Uncle," I answer, standing up slowly. "You've, um, been invited to dinner with us?"
He gets up quickly, shaking sand off his shorts. He takes one arm and moves it in the air in a chivalrous manner, saying with an air of confidence, "after you."
Very odd, indeed.
I've got at least ten questions formulated in my head as we arrive back at the summer house and I unlock the front door with my personal key. We step inside and I lead Josh to the kitchen where I can smell pizza and see the table set up for four people. Huh.
"Hi guys?" I announce half-heartedly. "We're… home?"
Ted pops out from the side entrance, envelopes in his hands. He's immaculately dressed in a sharp black suit sans jacket, though his mint green blouse has the first three holes from the top buttoned open and his black tie loosened. The fact that he's wearing teal blue socks with Spongebob on them is what throws the stereotypical air of the working man out the window. He was always one to challenge stereotypes anyways.
"Chad, they're here!" Ted yells in a sing-songy voice. Chad pops out of the stairs leading to the basement carrying a bottle of wine. He's dressed in grey sweatpants and a white t-shirt, walking barefoot.
"Hello there. Who's this?" Chad asks innocently, setting the wine down on the kitchen table.
"Cut the crap, either one or both of you called him. By that logic, you'd know who he is." I roll my eyes, waiting for the reasonable explanation.
Ted lets out a sheepish grin. "I might've… looked him up from your Facebook profile. He seemed to be the only one who… corresponded with you the most… appeared in a lot of your early albums, and, starting from last month, leaves you a wall post nearly every few days."
I turn to face Josh in light of this news. I haven't been on Facebook in over a month, but that level of dedication that Josh has… it just scares me a little.
"You disappeared, I had to try." Josh shrugs. "Now, you must be Ted," he points at the correct male and points again to the next, saying, "and you're Chad?" They nod. He shakes hands with both of them in a formal fashion.
Looking at both of them now, Chad with his sandy blonde hair and blue eyes, and Ted with his dark brown neat hair and his piercing green eyes, they looked unnaturally beautiful, yet when they stood together, they looked even more intimidating as a couple. Grown women would weep at the sight of them together, knowing they could never have a chance with one of them. I would know. My older girly cousins even lament over them, which is disgusting to the point of incest. They however, have no shame in bragging about their hot uncles to their friends.
"Now you two, sit and eat," Ted commanded, moving over to the island countertop and plopping a box of local pizza down on the kitchen table. "Bon appétit!" He added with a flourish, pulling the lid off to reveal a pie covered in veggies and meat.
After the casual dinner we had, in which conversation was kept to small-talk only, I felt more than ready to go to bed and pretend the day never happened. Even after Uncle Chad and Ted set up the guest room ready for Josh, he followed me around like a flea tick on a sick dog. What was probably even weirder was the stern glares my Uncles gave Josh and when they whispered to him the rules of the house, including 'having the door open at all times', and never going into 'my room'. Oh yeah, I totally heard them. Like I would let Josh take advantage of me in my sleep. As if. But even as gay men, they were better fathers than my dad back home right now.
"Can you stop following me, please?" I ask, huffing, as I put on a sweater and opened the glass door to the patio, making a beeline for the swing. Even if I couldn't see him, I could smell his faint deodorant lingering in the air behind me.
"Nope." Josh chuckles as he sits down next to me. "Gosh, it's pretty out tonight," he murmurs, glancing at the lake. The half-moon hangs just nearly in the middle of the sky and despite the cloudiness factor, still manages to illuminate the ripples of the lake. Ok, yeah, it's pretty and it's the shit. But who cares now? He nudges my elbow, trying to encourage conversation. "Oh come on. Don't tell me you're not mesmerized by its idyllic pulchritude?"
"Whuh?" I turn to face him. When did he start using a skilled vocabulary? "Did you just… saying mesmerizing and idyllic in the same sentence effectively?"
Now he gives me a sheepish grin, turning to face the view again. "You forgot pulchritude. Oh yes I did. You don't know me all that well now, do you?"
"No, guess not." My voice cracks slightly. I stare in silence. I'm waiting for him. Something. Anything.
"Ok, give me your best shot. Seriously, tell me what's going on with your life – anything and everything," he blurts out suddenly, leaning back into the chair and looking at me intently. "Come on!"
I stare at him with great skepticism. He wants more? Okay.
"I'm… pissed. At everyone. Including you," I reply bluntly. "And I'm sick of all the fucking pressure you guys put on me?" I add apprehensively.
Josh nods, not saying anything else. He nods again in encouragement. I'm scared to go on at this point. If I don't stop now, everything will come busting wide open.
I deploy my excuse, "I-uhm, I'm tired and I'm going to bed", and walk away immediately, leaving Josh no room for arguments. As I close the sliding door on my way back in, I glance briefly at Josh's face, one that haunts me later in my dreams that night. It is the look of a beautiful disaster, paradoxically full of pain and hope.
I did not sleep well that night. Three guesses why.
I was looking forward to having a good breakfast in the morning, but of course he'd ruin that too. Because my shift doesn't start until later on in the evening at Bass Grill, I'm stuck with him all day. And I most definitely did not want to bring up last night's discussion anytime soon. As I walk grudgingly down the hallway of the second floor, I pass the guest room, the door wide open as promised, and Josh is sprawled on his stomach, sheets tangled in his legs. He's facing away from the door, so all I can see is the mop of bright red hair, the pale freckled skin of his back and… woody woodpecker boxer shorts. He's wasting his time, I think to myself. He can't rescue me, I repeat to myself, going downstairs.
I eat my breakfast in solitude, swaying back and forth on the swing while staring at the view of Barrie at ten in the morning. My easy-over eggs taste bland and my orange juice tastes sour. I get lost in thought trying to recall the last time anyone in the house went food shopping. A loud clatter from the kitchen startles me and I get up, taking my dishes and going inside to inspect the ruckus.
I catch Josh with a hand on one of the cupboards. "I couldn't find the cups?" Josh asks impishly. I sigh, dropping the dishes in the sink and going over to another cupboard, opening it and giving Josh a tall glass. He fills it with the sour orange juice from the fridge and I say nothing. Maybe it's just me who noticed.
It is then that I notice josh is wearing a white t-shirt and black gym shorts from our high school. He gulps down the orange juice in a flash and is quickly filling up water in his own personal yellow bottle.
"Are you going out or something?" I ask curiously. I expected Josh to be tagging me all day, not the other way around.
He scratches his head absentmindedly, "yep, going for a jog. You want to come with?"
I kind of want to, because I haven't exercised in a while and summer is around the corner. It'd feel good to get some fitness in. Although I'm uncomfortable with how easily I just threw away my mantra to avoid Josh as much today. I'm still a bit hesitant going with Josh though. Why the hell not. I nod, saying "ok".
I'm surprised to find myself keeping pace with Josh. I am leading the way slightly because out of the two of us, I am the only one who knows where we're going. Thankfully, the sidewalk is long enough for the both of us to jog side-by-side, and the soft thuds on the concrete from our rubber soles is soothing to my frazzled nerves. He says nothing the whole way – he is completely and utterly silent as a grave, so to speak.
When we have finished fourty-five minutes of sweating and jogging, we arrive back at the house, collapsing on the patio swing with our bottles, gulping away fishily.
Josh has been just incredibly different the whole morning. Just when I think he would use the running as an excuse to start talking, he doesn't. He's not that physically fit, but he kept running with me, even when I could tell he was dying on the inside. He never gave me any sad or forlorn looks, but smiled and faced the road ahead. No mp3s, humming or whistling to carry a tune. Nothing at all. He was a good running companion, that was for sure, but I wasn't sure why he did it anyways. I was the one who wanted to join him – it made me wonder why he wanted to run in the first place; it wasn't like he needed to lose any weight. I know I've said it to myself before, but for crying out loud, he was- no, he is gloriously stick-thin.
"I, uh, came here because everyone wasn't leaving me alone." I blurt suddenly, looking at his face.
Josh doesn't say anything yet. He must know I'm going to start rambling on or something. I feel I owe him something and besides, there's something trustworthy about him, even if he was part of the problem. I'm intrigued and petrified of how easily I'm abandoning my defenses around him.
I inhale and exhale deeply. I can feel it coming, and my mouth opens and spews forth a world of verbal angst and ranting. "You kept haggling me about your parents, Mandy. Abby was my friend until I found out she and Matt… I miss Matt, but how can I forget what he did? My parents, my mom, having a baby when I'm seventeen for fuck's sake, acting like I have to be more responsible and helping around the house, when I'm already doing more than I can. Dad doesn't even pay attention to me, and all I keep thinking is, they did a shitty job raising me, how can they raise another kid?"
A breeze from the lake blows and cools the sweat beading on my skin. It sends a chill down my spine and I shudder involuntarily.
Josh composes himself, that much I can see. "Fuck, I'm sorry. I had no idea that much was happening. But Ana, you say we're all to blame, but we had no way of knowing unless you told us. Did you even try to speak to your parents about the pregnancy?" Josh asks carefully.
I chuckle in bemusement. "No. They just up and announced it and ordered me around some more. Every time I tried to bring it up, something would come up – like my mum not feeling well, or going shopping for baby clothes. Never came around to it, I suppose."
Josh leans back into the swing cushions. "Try again. When you're up for it, give them a call. They're worried sick about you. They called all your friends, including me, probably from our Facebook accounts, asking where you were or if we had any idea where you went. Your mom called my mom for fuck's sake. Something tells me they still love you."
"Not after this anymore, they won't," I counter. "Besides, I can't call them because they have caller-ID. They'd find out where I was and come get me against my will."
"Call from a payphone then," Josh shrugs. "When you're ready. It doesn't matter if you have to keep trying – because you will get through to your parents sooner or later. You've got their attention now, Ana. Now you have to find the right words to tell them what you want to say."
What to say to my parents? There's so much. I doubt they'll listen to me – even if they're ready now. Maybe it's just the cynic in me, but there's no way I could ever get through to them.
Josh touches me lightly on my shoulder, snapping me out of my fog of thoughts. "I don't know about you, but I'd die to go swimming right now. There a pool around or is the beach good?"
"Um, the lake is still too cold from the winter…" I remember. "There's a community center a few blocks down the road – they have a pool."
"Then let's go!" Josh grins. "After we get our bathing suits, of course." He adds, ushering me up off the swing and inside the house. On my way in, I briefly glance at the patio swing, our butt sweat stains imprinted on it.
As I'm putting my black bikini on in my room, the door closed of course – hey, that's the only time we're allowed to close it, and it's temporary anyways – I'm suddenly self-conscious. Out of all my possible friends, Abby is the only one I've ever gone swimming with, and the guy friends have never seen anything more of my bare skin other than my arms, legs and neck.
Matt and I never came close to anything sex-related, because, let's face it, I was a prude and maybe that's why he did it with Abby. But he was the only guy to see me in my underwear and bra when I had to change at his house once. And he accidentally came in that time. Just thinking about Abby or Matt makes me sick to my stomach now that their names are synonymous with sex and each other. Abby and Matt. Matt and Abby. It rolls off my tongue like a stinky fish.
I tried to give myself a boosting pep talk but that failed miserably. I wasn't thin like Abby or Josh, but I wasn't overweight either. I'm average. I've got love handles and belly fat that pooches out just a bit, but they're more like curves. Then I thought about the situation again. It's just Josh. He's not my boyfriend. He'd seen me after we ran, all sweaty and fritzy. And I'm sure he was just feeling as insecure as I was right now, because his friends were muscular and good-looking with girlfriends. We both could be insecure teens together, and that'd be just fine with me. I felt myself growing a little bit confident.
Just as I'm putting on a long ratty red t-shirt over my head, one I borrowed from Ted a while back, which I have yet to return, there's a knock at the door. I open it and Josh is standing there, wearing plaid swimming trunks and a different white t-shirt.
"You ready?" Josh grins.
I tug awkwardly at my red shirt, which falls just below my butt. My toes wiggle in their flip flops. "Yep…" is my timid reply. I grab my sunglasses and leave the room feeling… off. "Are we missing something… oh, towels!" I exclaim, running down the hallway to a closet and pulling out 2 large beach towels from it, tossing him an olive green one, while keeping the red one to myself.
Five minutes later, we're inside the community center, staring at the pool from our seats. There's a lot of people here – kids, parents, grandparents, and a few teenagers, though most of them were just laying on their chairs talking.
I clear my throat to begin talking to hopefully break this awkwardness, but Josh suddenly yanks his shirt and kicks his flip flops off, throws me a 'see you later!' glance and jumps right into the deep end, awkward flying pose and all. He breaks through the surface with a loud splash that spills over to the teenagers sitting nearby, drawing a shriek from one of the girls, a few annoyed stares from the elders, and one little boy who claps in approval.
I can't help but smile. His flaming red hair pops up out of the deep end and even through the water, he's damn bony-ass skinny.
I take off my shirt, although more carefully than roughly like him, put my flip flops neatly under my chair, and quickly hurry over to the pool edge. The warm air conditioned air mixed with chlorine from the pool gives my skin goosebumps from parts of my skin that were rarely exposed.
"Get in!" Josh splashes my legs. I jump and fold my legs into the prime position for a cannonball. My thighs hit the surface of the water exactly as so, though it hurts like motherfrickin' hell, and sends a huge shower of chlorine-infested waters over Josh's head.
When I resurface, Josh looks disappointed. "I didn't know I was friends with the Cannonball Queen," Josh mutters, feigning the pain of being hurt.
"Shut up!" I chortle, splashing more water at him. We spent the rest of the morning being goofy.
Maybe it was earlier this morning, or maybe it was at the pool, but now it felt easier to talk to Josh. Call it fate or coincidence, but maybe all it took was just a day or two to get things set in motion. Walking back to the summer house, I felt oddly talkative.
"How's your little sister by the way?" I ask Josh. I still remember meeting Natalie the one time I came over to Josh's place. Last time I saw her, she was twelve or something and had the same red hair, freckles and bony frame just like her older brother.
"Nats? She's good. Though for a fourteen-year old, she's surprisingly down-to-earth compared to those label-whore-wearing girls she hangs out with," Josh reminisces. "Oh! And she got braces."
"Ouch." I grimace. "How's she handling it?" We enter my uncles' house and go to the deck outside to hang our wet towels over the railings.
"Pretty well," Josh notes, leaning on the railing and looking out. The beach is already crowded from as far as we can see, despite the cold water.
"Do you mind if I shower first?" I ask Josh, seeing as how there's only one shower in the entire house. Maybe Uncle Chad and Ted can live with being smelly together, but I'm a girl and my needs include hygiene.
"It would be my greatest honour madam," Josh curtsies. "And I bid you a happy and aromatic shower."
"Thanks?" I shrug awkwardly and leave him alone on the deck again.
One hour later, we're back on the deck eating toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The conversation has died down slightly.
Josh quietly takes our plates and goes into the house's kitchen. Clattering sounds follow soon thereafter. Then he reappears with one hand behind his back.
"What's behind your back?" I inquisitively ask, craning my neck to see around his body.
"Not yet!" Josh warns. He sits next to me on the patio swing, kicking with his feet so we're swinging rather rapidly. "Um, so, I think that you have every right to be here. However, besides me and yourself, no one else knows your reasons why."
"Ok?" My voice apprehensively speaks out. I'm skeptical.
"As your friend, I feel it's imperative that you take the first step," Josh begins slowly. "And, I think you should start with your parents." He adds, brandishing what he hid behind his back; a thin blue cellphone.
"But-" I begin, before he raises his hand to cut me off.
"It's my cellphone. They can't trace it. Not unless they're the CSIS or FBI," Josh jokingly adds, handing me his cellphone. "And I think they deserve to hear what you have to say. Go on." He ushers, putting the phone in my palm. My fingers grip around it awkwardly. I haven't used a phone for a while, even my cellphone, which I purposefully left behind in my room back home.
My throat has suddenly gone dry like a desert in the Sahara. Or like dry-swallowing a disgusting vitamin. The phone just sits there in my hand, calling out to me to use it. I can feel Josh looking at me closely, but all I can concentrate on is the eclectic blue phone in front of me.
Before I can change my mind, I start dialing my home number. Josh gets up to leave, presumably to give me privacy, but this is a situation I do not want to be alone in. I clench at his t-shirt's hem with one hand while the other holds the phone to my ear.
"Stay," I whisper to him. He is slightly confused, but he sits back down and out of courtesy, he just looks at the ceiling and closes his eyes.
The phone rings three long times. "Hello?" A female voice answers on the other line. Crap. I was hoping they wouldn't pick up. "Hello? Hello there?" It asks again.
"Mom." My voice is barely above an audible whisper.
"Ana, is that you?" Her voice rises. "Mark! It's Ana! Get the other phone!" I hear her shout in the background.
A click on the line as another phone is picked up. "Ana?" My father chimes in. I take in a sharp inhale.
"Dad," I reply curtly.
"Ana, where are you?" My mom's concerned voice asks.
"Nowhere you need to know," I mutter under my breath. I hear Josh chuckle in the background.
"How could you just go and leave, without telling us?" My mother's shrill voice kicks in, and I fear the worst has yet to come. "We've been worried sick about you!"
"The doctor advised us that your mother can't be under any more stress Ana." My dad chips in. "Well?" His icy voice translates loud and clearly across state and province borderlines.
I turn to face Josh, clutching the phone tightly to my ear. He opens his eyes, turns over, and nods in encouragement, mouthing the word 'go' over and over again.
"I'm lonely, okay?" I finally admit. "You and mom, having a baby, now? You were barely parents to me. What makes you think you can do the same for my brother or sister?"
"What are you talking about Ana?" My mother incredulously asks.
"I'm talking about the fact that you were never there for me!" My voice raises. "I'm sick and tired of you two telling me to do this and that, and never appreciating what I do! You're always criticizing me! No wonder I came out this way!"
"Ana." My dad's icy voice breezes in.
"We care about you, what are you talking about? Of course we criticize you. We're your parents. We're supposed to do that!" My mom interrupts, followed by a sigh from my dad.
"Ana, we've had this conversation before-" My Dad begins, before I scoff.
"No, Dad, you mean you had this conversation with me and I wasn't talking. Face it, you just want another kid to replace me when I go to university in the fall." I sigh.
"Not to replace you," my mother corrects, "we just want you to have a sibling, and this pregnancy came a little later than we'd hoped. We were trying for years… and we didn't want to tell you until we had good news."
What the fuck? "Years? Why wouldn't you tell me anyways?" I ask, astonished.
I could hear sniffling on the other line, and took it to assume my mom lost her composure. My dad cleared his throat, and the line clicked as a phone, probably my mom's, was hung up. Oh, of course she's upset now. Always.
"Ana, it's a very delicate issue with her... we love you very much, and we'll still love you even with this baby," my dad's voice echoed in my head.
"I don't even understand-" I began, before my dad cut me off.
"Just come home Ana, please," my dad pleaded. "We can talk more about it when you're home. We'll tell you everything. Whatever we did to cause you to feel this way… we're very sorry. We really are. And, we'll, um, put in more effort in making you happy."
Ironically enough, the intimidating father I always knew with the icy and dry voice had the right words to melt my heart like raw cookie dough. And goddamnit, I could feel my eyes welling up.
"Uh, ok. Thanks Dad." My voice cracked slightly.
"Whenever you decide to come back home, give us a call and we'll pick you up wherever you are. You got that Ana?" My Dad asked in earnest. "Wherever you are." He added cryptically. As if he still wanted to know where I was.
"Thanks. Again." I muttered.
"Love you, sweetie." He adds.
"Love you too. Bye." I hang up. I hand the phone back to Josh and sigh deeply. My mind is swimming with the words my parents said, trying to figure out their meaning.
"So…" Josh's voice wakes me back to reality. I turn to face him. He nods downwards and it isn't until a few nods that I get what he's aiming for: my hand, which was still clutching his t-shirt, the whole time.
I let go abruptly, chuckling softly. "Whoops!" I add. "My bad!"
"No, it's fine. You did great." Josh smiles once again and I swear my heart skips a beat. "See, I told you it'd be fine. And you told your parents exactly what you felt. Even if it was… a bit of yelling. I'm proud of you."
"Thanks." I lean back and sigh once again. Josh puts an arm around my shoulders and pulls me closer to his body, and I rest my head on his shoulder. We interlock like two matching puzzle pieces. We sit in silence.
Josh has been incredible in the short amount of time we have been here. It's occurred to me that I've never known him that well, and maybe that's why I always laughed off his infatuation with me. But now that I've seen different sides of him, there's a faint glimmer in my chest that swells every time I look at his face. It feels confusing, and I know I'll have to get around to sorting them out after I sort out my own personal mess first.
I reached my left hand out to grab his, watching carefully. He accepts it, lacing my hand with his intimately. I smile slightly and Josh gives my hand a comforting squeeze. We both look out to the view of Lake Simcoe in the Friday afternoon sun. I can't feel any breeze and the humidity makes my hair cling to my face like lovers. It's unusually warm for May, as I feel beads of sweat trickle down the back of my neck. Josh's only here for two more days, but I know I'll see him again at home.
Thinking about home puts a lump in my throat because I have to go back and face the consequences of my actions and the shit will hit the fan, as always. But Josh brought up a lot of valid points, and for the first time in a long time, I feel different now. I finally feel ready to face home. And I have him to thank for the subtle but forceful shoves he's given me.
Out on the horizon is a very faint outline of a sailboat. It's hard to tell the size of it when the lake is reflecting the sunlight, glimmering and sparkling like a kaleidoscope of blue and gold. It hurts so much, so bad, to look at it, but the vibrancy of these two contrasting colours highlights the dark shadow of the sailboat, as odd as it seems. With each passing moment, it looms closer into view. Perhaps they've been out on the water for hours, days, weeks or even months and they're just about to arrive home. Maybe they're anxiously waiting to find their ground and their loved ones, as always, waiting on the shore for their safe return.