We live near the water, in Wilmington, North Carolina. In our backyard, my dad built a boardwalk, and I like lying there at night watching the stars with my calves dangling so that my toes would touch the water. I'm the kind of girl who likes to be alone but still I am an open book to everyone. I rarely keep secrets to myself, only if I have to or when it is not my secret to tell. I can keep others' secrets but not my own.
The night after the Snowflake ball, I got my sleeping bag and spread it over the boardwalk. I was tired and I can't believe Chad is holding my feelings. I said in my letter that I liked him, a lot. If he doesn't like me back, I would not hold it against him, but I hope he does like me. He should tell me how he feels, but when January comes, I'll treat him like a usually do. Maybe less like a pseudo-girlfriend though.
My thoughts were too loud that I didn't hear someone walking over. "Aren't you cold?" Oliver said.
"I didn't notice." As soon as I said those words I felt the cold so I rubbed my shoulders.
"Here." Oliver handed me a thick blanket and sat down beside me. "So, you finally told Chad." He said sounding surprised. "Good for you."
Oliver is like the older brother I never had. I have a brother but he and I usually tease each other and we have separate worlds. Timothy Renz, or TR, is two years younger. I've always wanted an older brother.
"I didn't actually say anything." I admitted. "I was about to, but I lost my courage so I just gave him a letter then Patrick came."
"Oh." He said.
For a few minutes we just stayed there silent. "Oliver. I have known you my whole life, as long as I've know Callie, and even if I don't like it that much, I know that 'oh' has a thought behind it. Spit it out."
"Did you ever think that maybe you didn't have the courage to tell him because he is not the one?" I kept my mouth shut motioning for him to continue. "I mean the first time you were infatuated was in middle school to a guy who was about to move away, the next was Mr. Lawrence the Algebra teacher."
"Please get to the point." I told him.
"Callie always agrees with you when it comes to boys, so I have to be the devil's advocate for the both of you." He said.
"You go for guys where you know there's no chance of a good relationship."
"What?" I sat up and looked at him. "You think I have no chance with Chad?"
"No, that is not what I'm trying to say." Oliver said.
"Then what are you getting at?"
"You have a huge chance with Chad. We have almost all classes together, and the girls are always all over him but from what I see you are the only one who gets his guard down." I smiled at this. "But I know you, and you'll just be bored."
"With him?" I asked. "Chad and I have been friends and we talk about a lot of stuff." I started to get up and I gave him back the blanket. "I know you're just trying to be a good brother to me and I appreciate it." I really did. "It's getting late, I should go back if you want to stay just return my sleeping bag tomorrow."
"Okay, goodnight Erin Lae." He called. "By the way," I turned to face him "Katrina said yes. We're going out, that's what I came here to tell you."
"That's good." I smiled at him. "Please tell our moms immediately." He laughed.
Katrina is a friend of Callie and mine. She was smart, number two in class and ever since the naked shower debacle, the first sleep over she had with us, she's had a crush on Oliver.
That was the longest conversation I've ever had with Oliver. It felt good to talk to him, like I could say anything without being judged, or yes I'm being judged but I know that he cares for me like a brother.
The four of us, Callie, Oliver, TR and I grew up together. When we were younger Callie and I would have sleepovers while Oliver and TR camp in the backyard. I still sleep over at Callie's, but TR and Oliver didn't hang out that often ever since TR started high school.
Winter break didn't last very long and aside from club work and holiday greetings from Chad, I never received any message from him. Although, we were supposed to give each other presents once class starts again. I guess that's something to look forward to.
I do not know what will happen when I come back to Cape Hill High. What will happen if we see each other? I told him I wouldn't treat him differently, that I'd still be crazy old me. What if he doesn't treat me as before? What if he avoids me?
It turns out, I didn't have to worry. When the day ended, our club had a meeting and the two of us had to stay behind to sort out some paperwork. "Erin, Happy Holidays!" he said, handing me a rectangular box.
Smiling at him, I got a bigger box out of my bag. "Thanks!" I handed him my gift and excitedly said "Open it!" It was a burned copy of ten seasons of his favorite show. It was a stack of twenty DVDs. Upon opening it and seeing the label, he smiled at me. That precious smile, the smile that literally takes my breath away, the smile that makes all the effort worth it. "I wouldn't say 'Happy Birthday'." I said smiling back at him.
"You remembered." His birthday was a huge secret, not even his closest friends know when it is. I only know because there was one time he asked me to keep his wallet, and so I looked at his driver's license to see. He knew what I did, I told him afterwards and promised not to tell anyone.
"Of course, I did." I told him.
"I feel so touched." He gave me a different kind of smile, which I cannot accurately describe.
"So, should I open mine?" I asked him.
"Up to you." He is so not sure of what to get me. I kept telling him, anything that requires effort and thought, and it does not have to be expensive.
"I'll open it at home then." Give me some space to fill all giddy and squeaky after opening his gift.
I went home to drop my things and headed over the swing in the Peters' backyard where Callie was waiting. "Erin! I am so glad your here… I have a crisis."
Everything was a crisis to Callie. "What is it?" I asked while launching myself forward in the swing set.
"I can't do Little Siblings this weekend, and I know it's short notice but can my Sib just hang out with you?"
"No problem, I was going to take mine tree planting with the VolCorps so there will be someone to watch over your Sib aside from me." I told her and she smiled. "Where are you going anyway?"
"The dentist." She said.
"No one spends the whole day at the dentist." I yelled while my swing was going down.
"I know, but I'm getting my wisdom tooth plucked out and the dentist said I may feel under the weather afterwards." That's why I didn't like dentists or doctors. "Anyway, how are things with Chad?"
Placing my foot in the sand, I stopped swinging and my spine went rigid. I told Callie that he gave me a gift and I haven't opened it, that I'm saving it for tonight, so that I'll have something to look forward to. I also told her that there was nothing different about the way Chad treats me, it's like the letter didn't even exist.
Then Oliver went to call Callie for dinner. Callie asked him to give me a ride to Little Siblings on Saturday, Oliver groaned but agreed to it.
The week passed by and nothing changed about the way Chad treated me. He drops me off at home after our meetings, and even though we were alone in his car he never mentioned my letter, it's like he never read it. I do not bring it up because maybe he just wanted to pretend like it never happened, that he never received it that we could still be just friends. So I just followed his lead and never mentioned it.
The weekend came and Oliver dropped me off at Little Siblings, I already asked Chad to pick us up from there to the tree planting site, it was on his way.
It was a new season so everyone would get a new sibling. Anna, the clerk, was handing out names to us and I told her that only for today I'd be also taking care of Callie's little sib.
Little Siblings is actually an orphanage. They house about twenty children, some of them are really sweet, some are thoughtful but some are just the complete opposite. So as I was walking towards the room of Callie's little sib, I silently wish that our sibs would fall into the really sweet category.
"Good morning, Kevin." I announced, entering his room.
"You're not Callie." He told me. "You have dark hair. Callie's blonde and beautiful." I smiled at this. "You're ugly and fat." I frowned at this.
"I'm Erin, Callie's friend. She couldn't make it today, and since I was coming anyway she asked me to take care of you." I told him sternly. "I can take you to get your eyes checked if you want."
He looked confused and said "I have twenty-twenty vision."
"I'm not he thinnest person, but I am certainly beautiful. Must just be your taste then." This got him laughing. "Anyway, I'm taking you tree planting so just wear something comfortable and I'll be back."
This is going well, I thought. I really wish my sib is sweet. Her room was only two doors away from Kevin. "Good morning, Kylie."
"Hey, Erin right?" She stood up all ready and excited. "I know that we're going tree planting and I am so excited."
"Yes, I'm taking you and Kevin with my club. So you'll be meeting a lot of new people. I hope that's fine." I told her while helping her out with the bag.
There was a look of consternation in her face. "I'm fine with it all. Just not the Kevin part."
"You don't like him?" I asked her.
"He keeps on teasing me." I wanted to say that maybe he just liked her, but I really hated that when other people match up little kids. I mean, shouldn't they prioritize studying or something?
"Don't worry." I said. "There'll be a lot of people there, I'll ask one of them to take care of Kevin so you wouldn't be around each other that much. Still, for the ride there, will have to share the same car." She blew air from her mouth and shrugged her shoulders.
When we got to the lobby, Chad was already waiting. He stood up upon seeing us. And Kevin tugged at my sleeve. "Your boyfriend?" He asked, and I just smiled.
"Erin." Chad walked up to us and took the kid's bags from me. "Let me take this to the car. Then I'll drive up the entrance."
"Don't be silly, we could walk there." He just smiled. "This is Kylie and Kevin, by the way."
"Hello, Kylie and Kevin! I'm Chad."
We walked to his car and I helped the kids get settled in the back and took my usual shotgun seat. Chad entered the highway and after ten minutes I asked the kids if they've eaten their breakfast.
"It's not like there's no food there." Kevin said.
Kylie clucked and asked "have you never gone tree planting before?".
"What?" Kevin sounded horrified. "There's no food?"
"Oh, believe me, there is but it's going to be way too expensive." I told him and I opened the bag in my lap. "Just to be sure though, I brought sandwiches. PB and J, or Ham and Cheese?"
"Ham and Cheese." Kevin said, pushing Kylie to her side of the car and placating himself between my seat and Chad's.
"I know you're hungry." Chad told Kevin. "But be a gentleman."
"Apologize to Kylie or I won't feed you." I ordered him.
"Jeez, it's not like she's hurt." Kevin said then added "I'm sorry, Kylie" just to get his sandwich. He sat back behind the driver's seat and finished eating his sandwich in under a minute.
"So are you guys dating?" Kylie asked and to my surprise Chad smiled. I'm definitely not answering that question, because I didn't like the real answer and Chad just keeps smiling, which at times is cute, but this time it's just infuriating. "What's up with you guys grinning at that question, it's a simple yes or no."
"I don't think they're dating." Kevin told her conspiratorially.
"Or they haven't D.T.R.-ed yet." Kylie said.
I don't want to listen to this so I asked "Kylie, do you want a sandwich?" while trying to see the expression on Chad's face. "What's DTR anyway?"
Kylie ignored me and they continued talking. "Define The Relationship. We're twelve not five."
"If they can't DTR we should do it for them by the end of the day." Kevin told her.
"You know how that would be more effective?" I asked them.
"How?" They both asked at the same time.
"If you're subjects didn't know you were testing them." Chad told them and gave them a look in the rear view mirror.
"What do you mean?" Kevin said.
"If we want to manipulate the results, we can act a certain way to get the answer we want." I told them.
They remained silent for a second. "If you want the truth, you'll act like usual and not overthink this." Kevin said with finality.
I didn't want to push the subject so I tried to ignore there whispers throughout the ride until we got off the freeway. "Thanks, by the way." I told Chad.
"No problem, it was on the way anyway." He said.
"Your gift too." I laughed. "I love it." Chad gave me a bottle with pieces of paper with various quoted and tasks I had to do.
"I had a hard time thinking of the perfect gift for you."
"A good book would have done the trick." I told him.
"You wanted something which I put a lot of thought and effort in to." He said and looked at me as he parked the car.