Nona, Freshman Welcome
On a late summer afternoon, Danny and Nona sat at 'the ledge' of the river bank along the bicycle path by the Blue River, drinking from soda bottles and eating Suzy-Q cupcakes.
It was warm enough so that their clothes stuck to their skin. Danny's hair was summer scraggly and he was well tanned from the season of sun and his activities of mowing lawns and delivering papers, the last throws of easy work of a fourteen year old. Soon, he'd age out of those responsibilities and take on more structured jobs at the pizza parlor or grocery store, or maybe even washing dishes at Johnny C's Diner.
"Summer's almost over," Nona said with a sigh as she dangled her feet over the edge of the bank.
"Yeah," Danny sadly agreed.
"School will be starting soon," Nona noted.
"Freshman year," Danny said. "Scary times!"
"Are kids talking about me?" Nona worried.
"About what?" Donny asked.
"No," Danny said. "Not really."
"Not really?" She frowned.
"You can't worry about what other people say or think," Danny advised.
"I'm tired of being the kid that kids talk about," Nona grumbled.
"High School will give you a new start," Danny predicted.
Nona let out a sigh to express her doubt.
"Your lipstick is melting," Danny laughed, giving her a look of amusement.
"So what?" She shrugged.
"Can I kiss it off?" Danny asked hopefully.
"Shut up," she giggled.
Danny was hoping she'd say 'go ahead' and he wondered if she'd ever give him a chance.
They'd known each other since kindergarten and Danny was the one who stuck with Nona through thick and thin – her father's fatal heart attack when they were seven and her mother's car accident death when they were twelve.
Now that they were about to enter high school, Danny was fantasizing that perhaps Nona would see him as something more than her lifelong guy pal.
Wasn't she at the age now when she'd be at least thinking about kissing a guy? Instead, she sat on the bank wiping her lips with the back of her hand instead of letting him kiss the lipstick off as he had requested. Why couldn't it be him?
Danny stared at his friend sitting next to him and he shook his head with regret. "Geez, Nona, I could have done that for you."
Nona raised her eyebrows. "I don't think so."
"I bet you'd let stupid Kyle do it to you," Danny said unhappily.
"Shut up," she said with embarrassment.
Danny gave her a forlorn look. "You know it's true."
She scowled. "You don't know nothin'."
"I know summer's almost over," Danny said.
And he knew that he'd been crushing on Nona forever. The thing was – he knew she knew how he felt about her and it frustrated him that she never acted upon it. It hurt to feel so much want while realizing he didn't have a prayer with his gal pal – at least not yet.
Neither said anything for a minute but then Danny stood. "I guess I'd better head home," he announced. "Is your Aunt or Rick home yet?"
"I don't know,' Nona shrugged.
"You could come for dinner at our house if you wanted," he offered.
"I've already done that too much," Nona replied. "I'll wait for them."
"What if they don't show?"
Nona stood too. "There's stuff I can warm up."
Danny shrugged. "What about Nellie's annual traditional end of summer pool party?" He wondered.
"What about it?" Nona teased.
Danny waited for her to ask if he was going too but of course she made him stand there awkwardly like a fool.
"I'm going too," he finally said.
"That's good," Nona smiled.
Danny felt relief that she was pleased.
"It's going to be different this year," Nona told him.
"How so?" Danny asked as they stared out at the river in front of them.
"No parents," Nona revealed mischievously. "Nellie's mother is even going to be there this year. Girls will be wearing bikinis instead of one piecers. Boys will be ogling them."
"You wanna go together?" Danny asked.
"Sure," she agreed easily.
"Great," he said with happiness as they walked to their bicycles they left parked a few feet away.
They had been debating as to whether or not they had outgrown their bikes as a mode of transportation, wondering if they were too old now to be pedaling around on their ten speeds because it was no longer considered cool.
"It still beats walking," Nona reasoned as they headed for home.
Nona's house was first so she peeled off from Danny and rode her bike into her driveway, waving at Danny as he headed to his house two doors down. He waved back before disappearing behind his house.
Nora let out a sigh as she parked her bike in the cluttered garage, feeling guilty about Kyle Meeks and chagrined that Danny once again brought up his name. Yes of course she liked Kyle – all the girls did. The teachers too!
Kyle was the tallest boy in their class with penetrating eyes that Nona felt were x-ray vision in nature – almost as if he could tell what she looked like underneath her clothes. He was popular, the kind of kid other kids wanted to be seen with and accepted by.
Nona knew she had no chance with the guy – but she liked the excitement she felt thinking about him knowing that Danny wasn't going anywhere and would wait for her forever.
Nona could depend on Danny – who had already been there for her during the darkest moments of her life – but that didn't mean that she couldn't think about Kyle, did it?
She shrugged as she walked toward her empty house. There was never any guarantees when her Aunt Amelia would show up, let alone Auntie's boyfriend Rick.
The two had moved in after Nona's mother died to look after Nona. Amelia was the younger of the two sisters, almost closer to Nona's age than she had been to her own late sister.
Amelia and Rick had been living in a dump apartment down by the canal so moving into the Albertson house was a step up, but they weren't exactly parenting material and sometimes Nona wished she could have moved in with Danny's family instead.
Danny's parents were nice to her, especially so after her mother died, just five years after her father. The Traynors fed her and asked her if she was okay or needed anything. Maybe that's one reason why she sometimes considered Danny more of a brother than anything else which maybe wasn't quite so fair to him.
Auntie Amelia wasn't the greatest housekeeper and Nona's parents were probably spinning in their graves at the slow decline of the house's condition and appearance. Truck driver Rick wasn't a handyman and Amelia wasn't interested in keeping up with the day to day chores and other responsibilities.
It was usually Nona who made sure the dishes were washed and the laundry done but that was about the extent of her contributions.
"I feel like I'm in a television show where the cast is all new but the set is the same," Nona told Danny recently. "It's still my parents' house but other people are living in it and I'm the only holdover from the old show."
Standing in the cluttered kitchen, Nona debated whether she should wait for Amelia or Rick to show up or just have a bowl of cereal on her own.