Lou and Karen were happy children playing in the backyard, looking at the clouds in the sky and imagining the white puffs as various objects based on their shape and size.
"Butterflies!" Karen exclaimed as a couple of fluffy beauties floated above their heads. "I want the butterflies, Louie!"
Her friend laughed and patted her head, smiling at her innocence. "We'll get you butterflies when we get married," he said.
"Married?" Karen asked, wide-eyed. She knew what that word meant even at five years old and she gladly accepted Louie's proposal as he handed her a flower with a butterfly perched on top of its petal.
But that cute little scene happened a long time ago and the two friends didn't go chasing butterflies together anymore even though they grew up in the same neighborhood and their families remained friends through the years.
Both sets of parents sent their children to the private Green Academy Charter School, a small and elite school that made for close friendships and an intimidate learning experience. Karen thought she and Lou would be the best of buddies through the years. After all, Lou's sister Alley was best friends with Karen's sister Kath. Plus Karen, her sister Karyl, and Lou had been close growing up in the neighborhood too.
But somewhere along the way, Lou became a butthead pompous jerk and Karen began liking him less. She didn't hang out with Lou as much in middle school when he started behaving stupidly and she never forgave him in eighth grade when he put earth worms in her spaghetti, causing her to vomit all over the table once she saw the squirmy creatures wiggling on her plate.
Karen wanted nothing to do with Lou after the worming incident even though deep down she still loved him as her soul mate. On the surface, she kept him at arm's length and the two continually verbally sparred at every opportunity. It became a secret game between them – Karen pretending that she hated him and Lou pretending that he didn't care. Of course, they didn't fool anybody with their little mind games and most of those at Green Academy and around the neighborhood were certain that the two adversaries would end up together some day.
Karen and Lou were high school seniors now and time was running out. Lou was heading for Emerson College in the Fall while Karen was staying local attending her home town Green College. Karen and her sisters were also living on their own for Karen's high school senior year– their Dad was in the National Guard stationed in Afghanistan and their Mom was on a tour with the Peace Corps. Green College student Kath was left in charge while Blue County Community College student Karyl was second in command.
The Hodge Sisters' home took on the air of a seniority house with the neighborhood gang frequenting dropping by the house unannounced which only furthered the opportunities for Karen and Lou to spar. Lou lived across the street and he was in the Hodge house just about every day, including this day when Lou and his cousin Alex joined the Hodge Sisters yet again for another dinner and Karen wished Lou would eat with his own family so she wouldn't have to put up with him so much.
"Hey, could you pass the salt please?" Lou asked.
Karen frowned but she gave him the damn salt anyway. She didn't felt comfortable eating with Lou since the earthworm incident even though she knew it was stupid to hold on to that resentment after all these years. Karen didn't like getting caught up in Lou's conversations either, finding him an infuriating bore and so on this occasion she took her plate into the living room to watch some television and avoid Lou.
"Mind if I join you?" Lou's cousin Alex asked.
"Alex!" Karen screamed. "Geez, don't sneak up on people like that!" She complained with annoyance. "I almost had a heart-attack!"
Alex stepped around the couch and sat without comment. Although he was Lou's cousin, people often mistook them as brothers since they looked so much alike. Alex's hair was darker and their personalities were definitely different but they were best friend cousins just the same. Alex also served as a foil for Karen because she would use him to make Lou jealous or to get under his skin. She treated Lou like dirt while acting like she had a school girl's crush on Alex knowing this drove Lou crazy, which is why he was in the living room a few minutes later.
"What do we have here?" Lou laughed, putting his arm around Karen's shoulders and leaning in closer from where he stood behind the couch. Lou had his eyes on the television but Karen knew he was waiting for her to move, fight, or say something.
"Get your hands off me, Lou." Karen ordered, reaching her hand up and prying his fingers off her shoulder one after the other but he kept on sticking them back on.
"Why?" He asked with a smirk on his face.
She raised an eyebrow and prepared her elbow for a meet-up with his chest but before she could she heard Alex speak on her behalf.
"Maybe you should keep your hands to yourself, Lou," Alex suggested.
Lou snickered but he took his hands off of Karen's shoulders.
"Yeah, don't harass my sister," Karyl teased with a laugh as she joined the group in the living room. "I taught her a few self-defense moves!"
Lou didn't take Karyl seriously and he kept his attention on Karen. "So, Karen, are you going to do that tutoring the teacher was telling you about?"
"You're an asshole, Lou," Karen groaned.
"What?" He asked innocently.
"Thanks for mentioning the status of my grades in front of everybody," she complained.
"Oh, am I embarrassing you?" Lou asked with a grin.
"I don't need a stupid tutor's help, thank you very much," Karen let him know.
"Oh yeah?" One of Lou's brows was raised and he was smiling that wicked smile of his.
"How can you be so annoying with just two words coming out of your yap?" Karen wanted to know.
"I have plenty of other words if you'd like." He winked.
"Shut up," Karen growled. "And I'll have you know I'm doing just fine in all my classes."
"Now why don't I believe that?" Lou laughed. "Hey, Karyl, do you believe that?"
"Leave me out of this," Karyl said from where she sat in one of the easy chairs. "Karen is responsible for her own grades."
"So maybe I'm having a little trouble in Math," Karen admitted unhappily. "So what if I'm not a genius like you!?"
"A lot of people don't understand Math," Alex offered in Karen's defense.
"Yeah, but I'm not one of them!" Lou replied smugly.
"Yes, everybody knows how smart you are, Thurston," Karen groaned. "You remind us every frigin' day."
Alex looked at Karen. "I can give you some lessons."
She was embarrassed by the kind offer. "I don't need help," she resolved. "I can pass it on my own."
"Then why did Rodgers humiliate you in Math Class the other day?" Lou asked with a dart.
"Rodgers humiliates everybody in Math Class," Alex remarked.
"He doesn't humiliate me!" Lou laughed.
Karen sighed. "Okay, Alex, maybe you can help me."
"What!?" Lou protested. "Oh, come on, Karen. I'm twice as good as Alex in Math."
"Yes, but Alex is twice as nice," Karen rebutted acidly.
"Give me a break," Lou muttered.
"Great, let me know when," Alex said with a grin, tossing his cousin a victorious smirk before standing and starting for the door. "Coming, Lou?"
Lou gave Karen a long look. "You know I can do a better job helping you with your Math," he said with annoyance. "I thought we were friends."
"You thought wrong," Karen replied smugly.
Lou shook his head before reluctantly following his cousin out the door.