I don't really know when I stopped thinking of Sidney Reese as my mortal enemy. It was somewhere between the time that he broke my arm by pushing me off the playground in sixth grade and when I kissed him in junior year, but I couldn't pinpoint a certain moment. Somehow, in all my feelings of hatred toward him, something else had bloomed. It was something so unspeakable that I began to refer to it as That-Which-Cannot-Be-Named.
The first time I noticed That-Which-Cannot-Be-Named (or, more appropriately, TWCBN) was when the summer before junior year was beginning to wind down. There were still a few days left before we were subjected to imprisonment at Rosedale Senior High, but you could already feel the finality of it hanging in the air; no more long lazy days in the sun, no more late nights out in town. I'd have to say goodbye to the parties, the barbecues, and the sporting events (as if I ever went to any) and say hello to the four S's of the school year: studying, stress, Sparknotes, and overall suffering. Notice how "sleeping" was conveniently left off of the list.
The problem was that I didn't really have much of a life to begin with. I had about two-point-five friends and parents that kept me on a short leash, especially during the school year, when I was expected to bring home straight A's every semester and get only the best test scores, social life aside. I just wanted to enjoy the rest of summer, that small amount of freedom that I was granted, and it was beginning to look like I wouldn't be able to even do that.
That's where Sidney came in, with TWCBN trailing behind him. Only I didn't notice it then, because I didn't really notice him back then, either. At least, not any more than I had to. Sidney would've made my life a living hell if I let him, and I wasn't about to give him the chance.
"Can we get this?" Kellie asked me, grabbing for a packet of gummy worms with one of her pudgy hands.
"We're just getting milk for Mom," I reminded my younger sister for about the twelfth time in the last five minutes.
Kellie ignored me and reached for a package of M&M's when I heard it, as loud and clear as a bell. Or as a jackhammer pounding against my skull, which was probably more appropriate when describing Sidney.
"Lauren McCrary," he said, appearing at the end of the aisle. He leaned against the rack of Twinkies, conveniently blocking the way to the dairy refrigerators. He had a way of doing that, being in the way. I'd always sort of seen him as this incredibly annoying roadblock in my life, ever since I met him in the third grade. It had been the beginning of our long and tedious hate affair.
Naturally, I had to wonder what he was planning to do to me. Our relationship tended to consist of attacks and retaliations. He cut my hair; I super glued his hands together. He put a worm in my desk; I put a tack on his chair. Usually I was the one sent to the principal's office, despite him being the instigator, but over time we'd become more subtle in our attacks. He told his friends that I was pregnant; I told his friends about the time that he dressed up as a princess for Halloween, pictures included. So on, so forth.
He smiled at me. I frowned back.
"Could you move?" I asked him. I didn't bother to hide my irritation–I never did with him.
"Not until you tell me that you're coming to my family's barbecue tonight," he said, watching me in amusement.
"What barbecue?" I asked innocently.
It was a total lie, of course. The whole reason we needed the milk was because my mom offered to make a cake to bring. Due to some terrible twist of fate, Mom was great friends with Sidney Reese's mom. Despite the fact that they had lived down the street from each other for several weeks, they first met each other in the principal's office of Rayview Elementary School. They were supposed to be discussing appropriate punishments for me and Sidney, but I always suspected that they had spent most of the time gossiping together. They had become inseparable since.
Sidney cocked an eyebrow at me, the corner of his mouth curving up just a fraction. He didn't believe me for a second and we both knew it, but he wasn't going to let me go that easily.
"You know, the barbecue we've had at the end of summer vacation every year since I moved here?" he asked, then waved the comment away playfully. "Never mind. You probably don't remember because every year all you do is sulk in the corner and fantasize about how much you wish you could be a part of the Stud Club."
I scoffed, rolling my eyes at him. The Stud Club was something he had made with Isaac, one of our neighbors, and Craig, my older brother, back when they were all in elementary school. It was their witty invention to keep me from hanging out with them during the annual barbecue. The Club had one rule and one rule only: no girls allowed.
"As much as I'd love to talk about my social ineptness the borderline-homosexual club you created with perhaps the two gayest men on the planet, I've really got to go," I said, glancing past him to where the refrigerators were waiting, untouched. They were calling me. They were saying, We have milk and freedom.
"It's just chance that they ended up being gay…" Sidney replied defensively, then shrugged. "Come on. Just tell me you'll be there."
"I would, but I've got to babysit Kellie," I told him, giving him a fake look of disappointment. "Guess you'll have to go on without me."
It wasn't a complete lie. Mom had said that we'd need to find someone to take Kellie home at eight to get her to bed, and I was a willing candidate. Anything was better than watching Sidney walking around shirtless with one of those annoying "Kiss the Cook" apron's wrapped around his waist. He thought it was an attractive look, and I was cruel enough not to point out that it made him look like a total tool.
"I'm sure Kellie wants to come," he said, looking past me to where my younger sister was balancing several bags of assorted candy in her arms. "Don't you, Kel?"
"Put those back," I ordered before she could answer him. I wasn't about to let my only excuse blow it for me.
Kellie pouted but didn't argue as she began to put the bags back on the shelf. I turned back to Sidney and his hideously green Price-Mart uniform right as he was saying, "You know, I think Zac is going to show up this year."
Well, that was enough to stop me in my tracks. Zac Wells was arguably the hottest specimen that had ever walked the halls of Rosedale Senior High. For some unknown reason, he also happened to be the best friend of one Sidney Reese. He'd never come to one of the barbecues before, though. Trust me, I would have noticed if he did.
"Really?" I asked.
"Would I lie to you?" he countered, giving me that annoyingly easy smile.
Yes, yes he would, but I didn't say that. Instead, I huffed in halfhearted irritation and said, "Okay, whatever, I'll think about coming. Just let me get my milk and go, okay?"
"As you wish," he said with a smirk, standing up on his own just long enough to give me a sweeping bow before slouching against the shelves again.
"Idiot," I muttered, grabbing Kellie's hand and marching past him. But even though I said it, I didn't feel the same fire of hatred toward him that I usually did.
That should have been the first clue, I know. Hatred was my default reaction to every situation that involved him. It just happened. Even when we were joking around or pretending to be nice, there was always that little voice in my head that told me to strangle him while I had the upper hand. When I walked by him in aisle three on that summer afternoon, I didn't hear that voice. I didn't hear anything but the hum of the refrigerators in front of me.
I grabbed a carton out of the fridge and headed back toward the cash registers. It took three more reminders to Kellie that we didn't have the money for junk food before she submitted to dejected obedience and we were finally able to make it to the front of the store.
"Will this be all for you?" asked the cashier, an older man that I didn't recognize.
"Yes," I replied, ignoring my younger sister's pleading look.
I gave the cashier a five dollar bill and pocketed the change before Kellie could notice it. I grabbed the carton in one hand and Kellie's hand in the other and started toward the door. I almost made it, too, when I heard his voice again.
"McCrary," he called from behind me, and I had to resist the urge to groan. There he went again, keeping me from the one thing that would make me happy: getting the hell out of that store.
But I sucked it up and turned to where he was leaning against one of the abandoned conveyor belts.
"You forgot something," he said, tossing something in my direction.
I was a little reluctant to catch it. I couldn't immediately tell what it was, and knowing our history, it was probably something explosive or disgusting. Or both. It was only on a whim that I reached out and snatched it from the air before it could hit the ground.
When I looked down at what I was holding, I raised my eyebrows in surprise. It was a packet of M&M's.
"I'll see you guys tonight," he said, giving Kellie a wink before he turned away and headed back toward the aisle he was supposed to be stocking.
Walking out the door that summer afternoon, I didn't notice TWCBN. I didn't even notice the absence of revulsion toward him, not really. Because in that moment, all I detected was the smile on my sister's face as she tore open the packet of candy and the fact that, for a second, I didn't really mind Sidney Reese all that much.
Author's Note: Just a new story I decided to play around with. It'll probably be one of those feel-good stories more than anything, but that doesn't mean there won't be conflict! It's also one of the only stories I didn't completely figure out the plot before writing, so we'll see how it goes. If you read and think of any suggestions you might want me to consider, you can put it in a review and I will consider it, because hey, I'm going with the flow for this story.
Comments, critique? Let me know!