I felt the mid-morning sun shining on my face as I lay in my bed, slowly waking up from a restful night of sleep without dreams. I squeezed my eyes shut as tight as I could, trying to postpone reality as long as possible; it turned out to be a worthless effort.
I kicked the blanket that was wrapped around my legs onto the floor, and let the cool air wind it's way around them before getting up and walking across the room to my antique dresser.
"Ugh." I examined my straight, black, shoulder-length hair in the mirror. It was flat and lifeless, the static from my pillow causing it to stick to my face. A shower, I knew, would improve things a bit.
I looked at the reflection of my small, diamond-shaped face. The dark freckles sprinkled across my nose and under my eyes stood out from my light complexion like the chocolate chips in chocolate chip cookies, except I never got quite as tan as the cookies did.
One thing about my face, though, was out of place. My eyes were still bright green as usual, but they looked different… sad, almost.
It was finally the day before the first day of summer, also known as the last day of school.
Anticipation is hanging in the air; all the kids are eager to finally get out of the classroom for the next couple months. Most of them already have plans with their friends, and they can hardly wait for no more teachers and homework assignments.
At least, that's how my best friends Sam and Connor always described it.
I had been home-schooled my entire life, so I'd never felt the same kind of anticipation. I was usually more excited because now Sam and Connor wouldn't be in school all day, and we could hang out more.
This particular last day of school though, was one filled with more dismay for me than excitement. This day meant that tomorrow my best and closest friends were leaving town for the entire summer. I was excited for them, yes, but I would also miss them both like freaking crazy.
I was one of those people who, in the entire, rather small city of Pensacola Florida, had only a couple close friends.
It's not that I didn't fit in at church or my small group or anywhere else I went; I actually had plenty of "friends". You know, the ones you say hi to, ask what's up and exchange a few meaningless sentences, and then move on…. Yeah, I had plenty of those. I got along with almost everybody.
It was just with Sam and Connor, we'd all become best friends way back in the kindergarten Sunday school class, and we didn't plan on ending that friendship any time soon.
We just had to spend this summer in completely different places. Sam would be in Ireland with her aunt and uncle, Connor would be staying with his grandparents in Utah, and I'd be here at home.
When I got the news, they both tried to cheer me up by telling me that we would all do something together the day before they left.
The whole "cheering up" thing worked… as long as I only thought about that day, and not anything after it. I kept on a happy face though, to keep my parents, friends and pastors from worrying about me. That was one of the last things I wanted.
So, it was finally the last day of school, and Sam and Connor would be out by noon today. I had no idea what we were going to do, which was a problem since I was supposed to be the one deciding. I hated deciding, and they knew that. Losers.
I had been slightly pre-occupied the last few days, what with testing for college classes for my last two years of high school, babysitting every day that week, helping a neighbor with a yard sale, working in the nursery at church and fitting that all in between my Bible-reading and prayer time in the morning and before I went to bed, I hadn't had a whole lot of time to think about how I was going to spend my last day with my best friends before they abandoned me. Sadly, it hadn't been one of my top priorities.
But on this particular morning, or rather half the day, I had nothing to do. So after I showered and got dressed, I thought about all the possibilities while eating a bowl of cereal.
Both my parents had already left for work earlier in the morning, but I had decided to sleep in, and it was already nine o' clock. Being alone, I probably would've ended up talking to myself, so I decided it was good I was eating.
The beach was a possibility, I knew. If it was just me and Sam, we might've gone shopping. If it was just me and Connor, we probably would've gone golfing or…
"Boating!" I dropped my spoon into my bowl and left my cereal sitting on the kitchen counter while I went into my room to get my cell phone so I could text Sam.
She'd said she wouldn't be doing anything important today, and she told me to text her when I knew what I wanted to do.
Well, I knew what I wanted to do.
Connor had just gotten his boating license a few weeks ago, and he had promised to take us both out. Well, that was before he found out he was going to Utah, but now he still could!
I was actually pretty proud of myself for coming up with this idea. I knew Connor would love me for it. Or at least thank me. He was really bummed when he found out he wouldn't be able to put his boating license to good use this summer.
I text messaged Sam and told her about my inspiration. I also made sure and told her not to tell Connor, because I wanted to be able to personally tell him when they came to pick me up. She understood and agreed, and told me she'd do her best to act surprised when I told them both. I thanked her and then went to the kitchen to finish my cereal.
And I would have finished it, if it hadn't turned into mush while I was in my bedroom. I had been almost finished with it anyways, so I turned on the garbage disposal and washed the rest of it down the sink.
I spent most of the morning getting ready for the rest of the day. It was sunny that day with absolutely no clouds, which was in itself, a miracle. I finally decided on my favorite swimsuit, yellow tank top and cut-off jean shorts, and pulled my hair into a ponytail.
I grabbed my cell phone and sat down on the couch to read a new book I'd gotten a couple weeks ago for my birthday. I hadn't gotten very far when I realized I'd forgotten to put shoes on.
This was typical, unfortunately. I sometimes made it all the way to the car before I felt the concrete underneath my bare feet.
I ran back to my bedroom and rummaged through my small closet, attempting to find my sandals in the clutter that collected every couple of weeks.
I had a small square bedroom with walls that were a pale, creamy yellow like the inside of a banana, and one window facing the east and the street that ran in front of our house, caressed by two jet black silk curtains, handmade by my mom when I was five. I was thankful for the curtains on weekends when I could close them at night after turning out my light, so the sun couldn't wake me up, and I could sleep a couple extra hours.
Underneath my window was my desk, on top of which sat my laptop (close to becoming obsolete, what with all the new technology that was continually being spit out); my few school books and a considerably large stack of recreational reading books, with a broad range in subjects; frames that held pictures of Sam, Connor and I at all our sixteenth birthdays; and my MP3 player, which I used often.
To the left was my bed, which was really only two twin-sized mattresses, set on top of wooden planks, held up by twelve cement blocks, two under each corner and four supporting the middle; it was my idea, and at the time we had done it, it was less expensive than buying a frame.
Across the room from my desk was the door and my antique dresser, which held my jewelry box, a random assortment of facial and skin care products, and a ton of old clothes and random junk in the drawers. In the corner at the end of that wall was my bookshelf, full and overflowing with books stacked on top of it because there was no room left to shove any more onto the shelves.
Beside my bookshelf and across the room from my bed was my closet, from which I finally emerged, desired sandals in hand.
I stopped by the bathroom and grabbed a can of spray-on sunscreen. No need to start my summer off with a sunburn if it could be avoided
I went back to the couch and sat down again to read my book. Once again, I hadn't gotten very far at all when the thought occurred to me that my parents would probably want to know where I was going to be. I decided to call my mom at the bank on her cell phone, and leave a message if she didn't answer.
And, of course, as I'd predicted she wasn't on her lunch break yet, so she didn't answer; it was barely eleven thirty. I left her a message telling her what my plans were and that I'd try to be home by at least seven. It seemed reasonable to me.
I figured I had at least an hour to fill, maybe more. I decided to try reading my book again. I was totally engrossed in it, not even aware of the time passing by, when the doorbell rang.
I dropped my book on the couch and ran to get the door. Just as I'd figured, Sam and Connor were standing in front of my door, Sam trying not to bust out laughing at Connor being so oblivious, and Connor, well, being oblivious. I was glad he was though, because then I could surprise him.
Of course, he'd owe me big time, but that's not why I wanted to do it. I just wanted to make him happy. After all, he was going to have to spend his summer in Utah, though none of us understood why.
"'Sup?" I tried to sound casual, and apparently it worked, because Connor didn't suspect anything.
"So do you know what you want to do yet?" He asked the question as if he thought I still didn't know, which didn't surprise me.
He walked into the house and walked right through it into the living room as if he lived here himself, Sam walking beside me, following Connor at a distance so he couldn't hear her snickering.
"Yes, actually, I do," I said as Sam and I entered the living room. "I'm surprised you haven't figured it out yet." My tone was slightly sarcastic, but Connor quickly understood. He wasn't slow, like me.
"Thank you, Alyx!" He jumped up from where he had just sat down on the couch, wrapped me in a bear hug and spun me around. He was on the football team, very muscular and probably twice as big as me, and I laughed as he crushed me.
"You're welcome," I said when he finally put me down. I could tell he was genuinely happy from the smile on his face. I was satisfied.
"Well what are we waiting for?" He turned to Sam. "Do you need me to stop by your house?"
"Yeah, I need to change. Great idea Alyx, by the way." She winked at me, and I smiled in return.
"Well, let's go then," Connor said. "You ready, Alyx?"
I grinned at him. "Absolutely."
Success. My plan had worked; Connor was definitely happy. I was glad, and I knew we'd all have a good time. It made me even more depressed inside though, that they were leaving. But luckily for me, I was good at keeping it inside.
"Are you sure this is what you want to do?" Connor's voice was filled with doubt. "You don't have to do this for me, you know."
"Yes, I'm sure this is what I want to do, Connor. And it wasn't entirely for you, if that makes you feel better." I was sure he could at least hear the smirk in my voice, since he couldn't see it on my face.
I was laying on the backseat of his car, my head resting on the passenger side of the seat, and my feet propped against the opposite window. I could see the side of his face as he leaned back against the seat, moving his eyes with his right index finger as he traced the steering wheel.
He didn't look convinced. He looked… guilty? I wasn't sure.
"I swear, Connor, you think better of me than I deserve. I'm more selfish than you think." I was being dead serious, but I kept my tone joking to try and cheer him up.
Ah, sweet, sweet success.
"I always said that you'd be the one to take over the world someday. Looks like I was right. And it's just like you, starting with your best friends. Shame, shame, Alyx; what would Sam think if she knew what you were planning?"
I laughed at the thought of Sam not being in on anything. It was pointless trying to keep secrets from her. "She'd be laughing at you, again, for being so oblivious."
I sat up in the seat and looked at Connor in the rear-view mirror. He'd stopped tracing the steering wheel, his hand frozen at the top, directly in the middle. His right eyebrow was arched, and his turquoise eyes were questioning. He looked so adorable when he was confused.
Somehow, and I wasn't quite sure how, I managed to keep from laughing at him.
"Sam's always been my partner in crime, didn't ya know. Doesn't surprise me though, that you never figured it out. Not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, now are we?"
"Ha, ha. You're hilarious Alyx, really." He stuck his sarcastic little tongue out at me.
"Oh, very mature Connor."
He rolled his eyes and smiled.
It was quiet for a moment while I thought about how much I was going to miss Connor and Sam. We'd been together every summer, all summer, since 3rd grade. I'd completely forgotten what summer was like without them. I had no idea what I was going to do.
I thought back to 11 years ago when I first met Connor, and then Sam a month later, both in the Kindergarten Sunday school class at our church. I had only been 5 the first Sunday we attended, and that was the day I met Connor. I didn't make a fuss about my parents leaving me like some of the kids did, but as soon as they dropped me off in the 4- and 5-year-olds room, I walked hesitantly over to the toy bucket, grabbed a doll with blond curls and a frilly dress, and went and sat in a corner at the far end of the room.
I didn't mind if nobody noticed me; I'd become a pro at self-entertainment since I was a home-schooled only child.
I was sitting in my safe corner, talking to the doll and smoothing out her hair when something obstructed the light that had been reflecting off of her curls. I looked up, annoyed, but my irritation quickly made way for surprise when I saw a boy with light brown curls and bright, turquoise blue eyes, standing right above me, smiling.
I smiled back.
"I'm Connor," he'd said shyly, still smiling.
"I'm Alyx." And after that, there was never a day when he left my side as long as we were both in that room. And I never thought of leaving his. We were like siblings, only closer.
When Sam joined our class a month later, it was a very different situation, but the same, strong, instant connection. When her parents dropped her off the first time, Sam came right up to Connor and I, and asked if she could play with us. It was like destiny. And a very cool destiny, I must say.
My reminiscing was interrupted by a loud knock on the passenger window. The sound startled me and I jumped. Connor laughed at me, and I realized he'd been watching me the entire time. The thought made me smile, but also a smidge uncomfortable.
I looked up as Sam opened the passenger side door and got in.
"And we're off!"
"So," I said to Connor, "Utah?" I was sitting on the front of the boat, my legs stretched out in front of me, saltwater droplets drying on my legs, leaving white spots.
"Yeah," he said, shaking his head, "I don't really know. My grandparents don't even live in Utah." He was sitting in the driver's seat, his short brown hair still dripping and sticking out every direction possible. I couldn't help but notice his perfectly defined abs. He was in the best shape possible, and an absolute health freak. It was unbelievable.
"Supposedly I'm going to be surprised." He made quotation marks with his fingers. "But, I dunno. I mean, what the heck is in Utah except desert and some 'Salt Lake'?
"Like I would know. The farthest west I've been is Louisiana, and that's still in the south. Not even the southwest. It's Cajun."
"What?" The confused look on Connor's face was priceless, and Sam was giggling as she dried her hair with a towel.
I just laughed and rolled my eyes. "Nothing. So you honestly don't have any idea why you're going to Utah?"
"Nope. I got nothing." He sighed. "But you know, I hate leaving you here behind like this. It sucks that you have to stay here by yourself. Well, with your parents but, you know…"
"Yeah, I know. This'll probably be the most boring summer on record for me. But… oh, Sam!"
"Promise me something?"
"Take tons of pictures?"
"Of course! I'll have to carry my laptop around with me so I can empty my card every couple minutes."
I laughed. "Good."
"So," Connor said, standing up, "you dry Alyx?"
"Pretty much, yeah. Why?" I was completely oblivious, which was very typical, and not so good for me.
"Just making sure." I saw the left corner of his mouth creep up into a half smile.
"What do you mean, 'making sure'?" I had no idea what was coming.
In three long steps he was right beside me. It took less than a second for me to catch on, and in what seemed like a split second Connor had one arm beneath my legs, and the other one supporting my back.
He carried me to the edge of the boat, and before I could protest, I was being catapulted through the air, and before I could get out a good scream, I hit the water and crashed through the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.
The water felt cold to my skin that had been warmed by the sun, and as much as I loved the ocean, I didn't know what was in the water beneath or around me. I frantically pushed at the water surrounding me, trying to heave myself upward, towards the surface.
I came up coughing water and immediately started to yell at Connor, though I knew it wouldn't do anything except amuse him.
"You so did not just do that Connor Elijah Anderson!"
He laughed, probably more at my reaction than at me. "It sure looks like I did, don't you think Sam?"
"Don't be a pain in the brain, Connor," Sam said in my defense, but even though I couldn't see her face, I could hear a hint of the laugh in her voice that she was trying to hide.
Connor leaned over the side of the boat with a huge grin on his face and stretched his hands out in my direction to help me up. All my irritation melted away instantly.
I grabbed his hands and, somehow, he pulled me up and onto the boat. I walked around him to where I had been sitting and grabbed my towel and started drying my hair.
There was no way I could still be mad at him, but I decided to mess with him a bit.
"So, I decide to go boating for you, and this is how you thank me? I see how it is now." I was glad he couldn't see my face; because there was no way I could keep from smiling. This was always so much fun, and he fell for it every time.
He took a step towards me. "Come on, Alyx, you're not still mad at me, are you? Grudges aren't your thing ya know." It always amazed me how he could be so annoying, yet so… sincere.
I flipped my head back up and showed the smile I couldn't hide. For a tough football player, he could be an absolute sweetheart.
He smiled the same half smile he had earlier, except now there was no mischief in it.
Gah! My best friend is so good-looking, not gonna lie.
"Well, aren't you two adorable now," Sam said in a "western" accent, stepping out from behind Connor's massive, muscular frame.
I just rolled my eyes at her, but I saw Connor look down as he forced a laugh.
Sigh. Sometimes I wonder if you can read my thoughts. Well, if you can, I didn't mean anything by what I just thought. That's why I thought it, instead of saying it. Sometimes Connor, you can make things so complicated for me without even trying.
I stood back and watched quietly as Connor and Sam bantered back and forth about something I'd missed, as usual.
That was the key word here, though. I just wanted everything to be normal, none of this complicated, boy-likes-girl-who-just-happens-to-be-his-best-friend stuff.
Right then, with them arguing, and nothing going on between Connor and I, and both of them here, not everywhere else… it felt right, and that was how I wanted it to stay.
I don't need anybody else but the ones I've got. Nobody could be as amazing as the people I know.