Turning The Page

Steve Delancy dragged himself home sore and exhausted from another summer morning football practice at Green College. The incoming Freshman on scholarship thought he was in pretty good shape but he was ill-prepared for the rigors and punishment of summer practices on the college level.

"Hey, Steverino!"

Steve heard a voice calling to him and he glanced across the street to see Paige Stenson waving at him from her front porch.

"How's it going!?" She yelled.

Steve waved, barely able to lift his arm above his head. All he wanted to do was go inside his house and crash.

"Come here!" Paige said with a laugh.

Steve had been willing to do what Paige had been telling him to do for years so he almost automatically walked across the street to the Stenson's house without a second thought, even if he was exhausted.

"How's it going?" Paige asked when Steve arrived on the front step.

"I feel like I just got run over by a stampede of Buffalo," Steve replied in all honestly while giving his neighbor an appreciate look.

The college junior looked more amazing than ever with her frizzy black hair sitting on her shoulders. Because it was about 90 degrees out, all she was wearing was a thin light blue cotton summer jumper that barely reached her thighs and featured a plunging neck V.

"I never see you anymore," Paige pouted.

"Where is everybody?" Steve wondered.

"Who cares?" Paige laughed. "Why don't you come in? I'll make you a grilled cheese like the old days."

"The old days," Steve sighed with sentimentality as he followed her into the familiar house, his home away from home.

"The old days are gone, aren't they?" Paige realized sadly as she led Steve into the kitchen, him unable not to notice her swinging hips through her thin summer jumper.

"You don't realize you're aging out of childhood and adolescence until you wake up one day and discover you're an adult," Steve observed as he took a seat at the kitchen table.

"I still remember the day you moved in," Paige grinned as she took a frying skittle out of one of the lower cupboards.

"I was nine," Steve recalled. You were twelve, Terry was ten and Abby was eight."

"Do you hear from Terry?" Paige asked with interest. "I can never get him to text or e-mail."

"Not too much anymore," Steve admitted. "But I'm sure he's busy down there in Texas."

"I guess he's moved on with his life being in the Air Force now," Paige agreed with a sigh. "I miss him."

"Me too," Steve smiled.

"Terry was the best athlete in the neighborhood until you came along," Paige noted.

"He never forgave me for that!" Steve laughed.

"But you still became best friends," Paige reminded him. "Playing on all the teams together and all that."

"It was a never ending competition," Steve said.

"It was like that for all of us," Paige said as she grilled the bread and cheese in the skillet. "It's what got you accepted as the new kid!"

"I adapted quickly," Steve agreed.

"It was easy to razz you!"

"Which you did unmercifully," Steve complained.

"It was easy to ridicule you!"

"That's what made me feel welcomed," Steve smirked. "You guys included me in all that stuff from the start."

"We were happy you were around to pick on, mock, taunt, tease, torment and make fun of!" Paige boasted.

"I took it in stride," Steve said proudly. "You guys toughened me up."

"Even though you took great delight in beating us in any and every game and contest," Paige said as she prepared the sandwiches.

"You were the smart one who used your intellect to keep me in my place though," Steve pointed out.

"I thought it was my sex appeal," Paige laughed.

"That too!" Steve admitted. "You were always more mature than me, right from the start."

"Well, I was in junior high and you were fourth grade when you moved here," Paige reminded, putting a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches on a plate and placing it in front of him, along with a bag of chips.

"Is this still the only thing you can make?" Steve smiled.

"That and Marconi and Cheese out of the box," she laughed. "Shut up and eat it."

Paige got a couple of sodas out of the refrigerator and she sat across from him.

"I was in awe of you from the start," Steve admitted, giving her a long admiring look.

"I know," Paige smirked. "That's what made you so easy!"

"Terry was the brash one, always trying to be the tough guy to gain the upper hand," Steve said.

"Not exactly a bully but assertive and aggressive enough to establish his presence and standing," Paige concurred.

"You two were always sparring," Steve said.

"He didn't like being shown up by his older sister," Paige explained. "But you two did too!" She added. "Terri hated losing to you, whether it was on the athletic field or on at a board game."

"Mostly because I was a year younger," Steve said.

"And then there was Abby," Paige said, taking a bite of her sandwich.

"She used her baby of the family status to her advantage," Steve laughed.

"Always trying to catch up, fit in and be accepted by the rest of us," Paige said.

"But usually ignored and slighted so she flirted and played the sweetness card to get her way," Steve noted.

"Especially with you!" Paige grinned. "I always thought you two would end up together."

"She's too flighty and silly for me," Steve said. "Besides, she's with Gomer now anyway."

"He's the dumbest guy I've ever met," Paige admitted.

"Where's Brain by the way?" Steve wondered.

"Brian," Paige corrected him.

"Brian the Brain," Steve clarified.

"He's kind of moved on," Paige announced.

Steve nearly choked on his sandwich. "Jesus," he said with surprise. "You guys were together since what, tenth grade?"

"As you pointed out before, we've aged out of our old ways, haven't we?" Paige asked, staring at him long and hard.

"I guess," Steve shrugged. He gave her an interested eye. "I was pretty lucky to move into this neighborhood, across the street from you guys, though," he said.

"Yeah."

"Your family was welcoming and accepting," Steve said. "Inviting me along on your family things, all those backyard cookouts, all those rainy day Monopoly marathons, eating over once or twice a week, and having me over on the holidays."

"We knew your home life was kind of difficult," Paige said with sensitivity.

"It was tough being an orphan at nine," Steve admitted.

"That's why we took you in under our collective wing," Paige said proudly.

"My grandparents just weren't ready or able to raise another kid," Steve sighed.

"I'm sure they did the best they could," Paige reasoned.

"They did," Steve remarked. "But I was grateful for you guys. For my first two years in Hillsboro, me, Abby and Terry were at the same elementary school so we walked to school together," Steve recalled. "Then Terry went off to junior high, leaving me and Abby behind for a year.

"She had you all to herself," Paige teased.

"Then I found myself in junior high on the same campus with you and Terry, although I didn't see you all that much.

"I was a sophomore," she said. "I couldn't be seen with junior high kids!"

"Junior High was when I truly excelled in competitive sports and established my reputation," Steve bragged. "Then Terry moved on to high school and Abby joined me in the junior high wing of the building."

"She got you all to herself all over again," Paige laughed.

"It was actually the first time all of us were all on the same campus," Steve said. "You were a junior and although the junior high kids were kept separate from the high schoolers except for common areas like the cafeteria, auditorium, and gym, I'd still see you from time to time."

"I couldn't be caught dead talking to a Freshman in public!" Paige laughed.

I liked being a Freshman because I saw you more even though you were a Senior who wouldn't talk to me in public!"

"Image is everything," Paige said.

"Then Abby became a freshman and me, her and Terry were all together in the same school again just like we had been for a few years in elementary school," Steve said.

"But I was off at college," Paige said. "I was always way ahead of you guys."

"I liked it when you drove us to school before you graduated," Steve reflected. "Then Terry did it and finally it was me driving Abby to school in my grandfather's ancient Cadillac."

"I'd say you settled in these parts pretty well," Paige said.

"I did," Steve agreed.

"Do you remember your life before you moved here?" Paige wondered with interest.

"It's been fading away," Steve said with a heavy sigh. "My mother was a single working mom. We lived in a small apartment. Somebody was always watching after me when she was working."

"What about your Dad?"

"He took off when I was two," Steve revealed.

"And then your mom got sick."

"Some fluke fever thing," Steve sighed. "But she didn't have health insurance so she held off going to the ER until it was too late."

"That's so sad," Paige said sympathetically.

"Sometimes, my life with my mother feels like it was a completely different existence," Steve said. "I still think about her but in the new reality of my life, it was being a part of your family that mattered most to me."

Paige nodded with understanding. "How 'bout another sandwich?" She suggested.