She knew she should unpack and start a load of laundry, but the Texas heat was unbearable. She’d unpack later in the evening when the heat subsided just a little. She hadn’t been home more than 12 hours but she was itching to get out. Not that there was much to get out to. The ranch house was five miles away from anything resembling a town, and there was nothing to do in the town anyway.
There was one thing to do. The Country Club pool was open and chances were that she’d run into friends. Actually, chances were slim that she’d run into any friends, because she had only a handful in town and those that she had weren’t likely to be at the pool. But chances were pretty high that she’d run into people she’d just graduated high school with and small talk with them was as good as anything she was going to get.
Her best bikini was still packed though and finding it meant unpacking. She had last year’s suit tucked away in her room but she didn’t feel much like digging for it either. She decided she wasn’t going to swim and she’d go to pool in her t-shirt and cut-off jean shorts instead. Plus, she still had the earrings she got on her trip, and she didn’t feel much like taking them off. She’d sit on the edge and dip her feet in instead. She grabbed the keys to the old truck left out in the drive way, wrote a note for her parents to find and left it on the kitchen counter.
The old truck was unbearable on the best days, and excruciating to get into on a hot day like the day she was currently experiencing. The air conditioner wasn’t in the best of shape and took forever to cool down the interior, but she took her chances anyway and plodded her way to pool.
Her friends, as expected, weren’t there, but some familiar faces were. Chad Henderson was manning the lifeguard tower. A few kids that Tara had spent considerable time babysitting and their parents happened to be hanging by the pool. She smiled and waved to a few. Christa Summers, a grade younger than her and someone who didn’t make her want to tear her hair out was lounging in a patio chair by the pool. She was as good a person as any.
“Oh my god Tara, you’re back.” She almost shrieked. Tara sheepishly waved and made her way. “When’d you get in?”
“Last night.” Tara smiled. “I should be unpacking but…”
“It’s too hot.” Christa smiled and laughed. No matter what everyone’s differences were in the town, every single one of them could agree that 115 degrees and 78% humidity was too hot. “So how was the trip? How is DC?”
“Very awesome.” Tara smiled. “I got to see the Smithsonian and the White House. It was an incredible experience.”
“Let’s get the good part shall we? How were the boys?”
“So cute.” Tara enthused. She said, playing with one f the earrings one of the boys she’d met at the conference had given her. She was about to tell Christa all about it, but Christa could sometimes be a freight train, and she had her own tracks to adhere to.
“I’m gonna take a dip. Join me in the pool?” Christa said suddenly, getting up from her seat. That’s when Tara spotted his car. Jake Tankersly’s corvette pulled in next to her behemoth of a truck, music blaring. Jake and Scott Pierson got out. Tara tried not to groan audibly. Out of the people Tara wanted to see, these two she could’ve gone the whole rest of the summer without seeing. She’d just graduated with them both and for the most part she didn’t care if graduation was the last time she’d see either of them. That wasn’t true exactly. She’d probably miss Scott a little, but truth was, she’d been missing Scott, the old Scott who would come over and ride horses with her, the Scott that helped her with her fifth grade science project, the Scott that use to be her best friend, but she hadn’t seen that Scott in years.
“Can’t. Haven’t unpacked my suit.” Tara shrugged. “But I’ll sit beside the pool while you swim if you want.” She was hot and dipping her feet in seemed as reasonable a way to get cooled off as not. Christa quickly took off her cover-up and climbed in the pool, shivering as she adjusted to the temperature. Tara tried to find a dry spot on the concrete and sat down, dangling her feet into the cool pool. She tried her best to ignore Jake and Scott as they made their way to a couple of free patio chairs and dumped their stuff on it.
“Hey Christa. What’s going on girl?” Jake said, flirting with Christa, hugging her briefly.
“Nothing. What have you been up to today?” Tara could hear the flirty lilt in her voice. Why she’d waste flirtation on Jake Tankersly of all people, Tara would never understand.
“Me and Scotty just finished clearing my uncle’s property. Thought we’d cool off for awhile until Jeffrey Mcgrewer’s beer bust.”
“Jeffrey’s having a beer bust tonight?” Christa said.
Tara couldn’t help but roll her eyes and smirk. “When isn’t Jeff having a beer bust?” It came out more condescending than she’d planned, but so did just about everything.
“Tara.” Jake said, finally addressing her in a monotone voice.
“Jake.” She returned his flat monotone. There was no love lost between the two of them. Jake had always been a bully to Tara until he wanted something, either to cheat off a paper or to try and bum money off of her. This was about as cordial as it had gotten between the two of them.
“Just cause your never invited doesn’t mean you should knock on them.” Scott said from behind her, sitting next to her.
“I wasn’t knocking on them.” She said, giving Scotty a dirty look. “But since you mentioned it, I wouldn’t say I’m missing much either.”
“So little girl goes to the big city of DC for a month and then she thinks she knows something all of the sudden?” Scotty said.
“I never said that either.” She said, anger rising in her voice.
“No, but your scholarship to Princeton implies it, now doesn’t it?” Scotty said.
“Implies it? Aw looks like somebody was paying attention during English vocabulary. Good job kipper. Although, in the future, you should leave the three cent words to people who can wield them right.” The person spouting those words was not the person she was a week ago. A week ago she was calm and composed and capable of handling an argument without degrading a person in a single sentence. This was the person she was four years ago up until right after graduation; acid-tongued and short-fused. The town brought it out of her whether she liked it or not. She didn’t like that person and enjoyed escaping that person as much as possible. She hoped she’d put her away for good when she went to Princeton in a month. But here she was again, rearing her ugly head and spouting her mean words.
“You’re such a bitch you know that?”
“And you’re such a blank space Scotty, that I won’t even miss you when I leave.” She sneered. It was cutting, but it wasn’t the truth.
“Maybe you should leave now, via the pool.” In one swift movement, he grabbed her arm, flopped into the pool, dragging her in with him. Instead of hitting the water face first, she had just a split second to move her face so that her left side hit the water first. It was cold and disorienting. She popped up and gasped, then caught Scott’s eye and squinted at him.
“I’m not wearing a suit today jerk.” She said and then turned, making her way to the ladder to get out of the pool.
“What’s a matter Tara? You can dish it fine, but you can’t take it?” Scotty said, blocking her view.
“In case you didn’t notice, we graduated. Grow up.” She said, staring him down. There was something about the look on his face that unnerved her. It was a look she’d seen a thousand times growing up. It was all at once vulnerable and angry. She had hurt him, probably deeply. She didn’t mean to, and she hated that she could, and that she did without even thinking about it. This capability she used so carelessly upset her and she started feeling tears that she couldn’t suppress. “See you around.” She said maneuvering around him to the ladder. She took a second to compose herself, her back to the pool and to as many onlookers as she could manage. She just wanted to get to the truck. If she could just manage to get to the truck, then she’d allow herself to cry.
She put her hands over her eyes to try and stave off part of the onslaught. Then she felt her ears. She was missing an earring. Tears gave way to panic. She felt around her t-shirt, patting herself down.
“Christa, do you see an earring in there?” She said, still not trusting herself to turn around and face them.
“What does it look like?” Christa said.
“It’s tiny gold bird with three blue beads dangling from it.” Tara said, finally able to turn and look in the pool. She still didn’t trust herself to look n Scotty’s direction. “These earrings are really important to me.” She said, the tears threatening to return. She watched as Christa submersed herself in the water. She returned to the edge of the pool, searching the pool with her eyes for any sign of it.
“Sorry Tara. I don’t see anything.” Christa said finally. Tara was torn between diving back in and searching for it herself and just leaving. She didn’t think she could conduct the search while Scotty and Jake sneered on.
“Thanks for looking anyway.” Tara said. “If you find it, could you call me?” She said, her voice wavering.
“Yeah sure.” Christa said, nodding.
The tears had returned and she couldn’t take it any longer. She grabbed the keys and made her way to the exit. “Tara wait.” Someone was running after her.
“What?” She turned. Her heart leapt for a split second, thinking maybe someone had found the earring. It was Scotty, decidedly the person she did not want to see.
“I’m sorry about your earring.” Scotty said.
“I’m sure you are.” She almost scoffed, keeping her face from meeting his eyes.
“I just apologized and you’re still giving me attitude?” He said, turning her around to look him in the eyes.
“What does it matter if I am Scotty.” The loss of the earring and the years of the loss of his friendship started pummeling her all at once. “I mean do you really care if I give you attitude. Do you really care about me at all?” The second her eyes met his face, the tears streamed down her cheeks. “You stopped caring about what I thought or what my attitude was toward you the second we hit high school. I stopped mattering to you a long time ago.”
“Is that really what you think I think of you?” He said, the vulnerable yet angry look was still on his face.”
“Yes. And it’s fine. I get it. I mean I guess I get. I don’t get at all actually. But there are a lot of things I didn’t get all through high school. I didn’t get why I was bullied all the time, a lot of the times by your friends in fact. I don’t get why I wasn’t invited to any of the beer busts or why everyone was so mean the one time I did attend. I don’t get why you said so many mean things to me and I don’t get why I said them in return. It was different between us once and I especially don’t get why it’s like it is now. I don’t get why you had to throw me in the pool just then or why I had to lose that earring. It was one of the few souvenirs I had from DC, not that it matters. But its par for the course isn’t it. Anything good I get, this town has to belittle or strip it from me.” She looked him at him again, returning his gaze and then she turned away, the tears returned, she started making her way to the driver’s side door of her beaten old truck.
“Tara, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry for all of it. I had no idea.” Scotty said, grabbing her by the arm and facing her. There was an earnestness in his face she hadn’t seen in years.
“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry too.” She said, looking at him earnestly. It hurt too much though, to continue standing there, licking old wounds. “I better go.” She said. It was all she could manage. It felt odd to leave him like that, to leave things like that. And yet that the most earnest conversation the two of them had had in years. It felt so odd to have said that. She tried to put paid to all of it, all the petty things she’d experienced, once she graduated, but she hadn’t. That was obvious. Maybe she’d forget about it once she went to college, but what she had currently experienced proved to her that her emotional scars were still pretty visible.
The rest of her day was pretty uneventful and mundane. Tara got back home and changed. She took her remaining earring off and placed it in her jewelry box, remorsefully. Thinking on it as she unpacked, she realized that the earrings and the boy that give them to her didn’t mean as much as she thought they did. Because her emotions were never as strongly tied to those things as she found her emotions were tied to Scott and their friendship that had been in the dumps for years. Why did he still have this power over her? Were the memories she had of him during her formative years still that strong? She didn’t understand.
She pulled her swimsuit out of the bottom of her luggage, balled it up and tossed it into the laundry bin in disgust. She stayed in her room, thumbing through magazines and watching the television, trying not to think too hard on what had transpired, but she kept thinking about it. He actually apologized, for all of it. That was so unlike him. He spent so much time ignoring her or making snide comments in her direction that she thought the old Scotty, the one who apologized for everything, that was always so concerned with her feelings, was practically non-existent. But there he was in front of her again, the old Scotty, with the earnest face and the fragile heart.
Finally dinner came, and another opportunity to try and forget about the day presented itself and promptly failed at doing its duty. She sat at the dinner table, glumly eating her food and answering her parents’ questions as quickly and vaguely as possible.
Somewhere between dinner and desert, everyone at the dinner table heard the unmistakable sound of tires on gravel. Someone was driving up the gravel drive. They quietly looked around the table at each other, when they silently agreed that none of them had been expecting company, they left the table to see who it was. She watched as her parents squinted at the screen door, trying to make out who the vehicle and to who it belonged
She didn’t have to squint, and she didn’t have to guess. It was Scotty’s truck. She’d recognize the old behemoth anywhere. The truck parked behind the truck Tara was driving earlier, the dust settling behind it. Scotty stepped out and made his way to the front door. Tara’s father opened the door . “Well Scott Pierson. This is quite the surprise.” He said as he extended his hand to Scotty. “It’s been a long time since you’ve been in this neck of the woods.”
“I’ll say.” Tara muttered under her breath, not looking Scotty in the eyes.
“Yes sir, it has been. I hope I’m not interrupting anything.” Scotty said, taking her father’s hand and shaking it.
“Of course not.” Tara’s mom interjected. “We were just about to sit down to dessert. We’re having strawberry shortcake. Come on in and have a slice.” She said.
“I can’t ma’am. I’ve got to get back to my mom’s own home cooking or I’ll be disowned. I was just hoping I could talk to Tara a moment.” Tara looked up from the hole she was burning in the floor and mustered up all her strength to keep her jaw from hitting the floor.
“Yeah sure.” Tara finally said. She stepped out from behind her parents and stepped through the door out onto the porch. She pulled the heavy wooden door shut behind her and closed the screen, wanting to keep this conversation as private as possible. She walked quietly to the patio on the side of the house and quietly motioned for Scotty to take a seat, not trusting herself to talk. She sat down and so did he. “What are you doing here?” She said finally.
“I came to return this.” He said. He grabbed her hand, held it open and dropped the bird earring into it. It was a bit mangled, but still in one piece.
“You found it.” She said, trying to fake some excitement she didn’t feel. “How, where?”
“It’s a long story. I had to convince Chad to check the filter. It’s a bitch cause it’s in the 12 foot section, but we were able to find it.”
“Thank you. You didn’t have to.” She said.
“Yeah I did.” He said solemnly. “After everything you said, I just did.”
“But this earring, it’s just a silly piece of jewelry. It doesn’t matter.” She said, holding back the tears. It had stopped mattering to her the second she realized just how much had been lost when she considered their lost friendship.
“But you matter. Your feelings matter. It took me forever to realize that, but I realized it today. Four years too late.”
“Yeah, me too.” She said. She remained silent for a little while. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Yeah sure.” He said.
“How’d we get here? How did what we use to have become… this?” She asked, finally looking at his face, which sometimes said more than words could.
“I don’t know. I was wondering the same thing. I mean I know when I stopped being your friend, but I’m not sure when we became so mean.”
“When did you stop being my friend? I mean that’s what I don’t understand, We were still friends part of the way through freshman year and then it felt like right at Homecoming you just stopped, you turned on me.” She said, watching him trying to put together pieces of a long forgotten and dusty puzzle.
“Well when you returned my note asking you to the homecoming dance with a no and you went with Trey Richards instead, I thought he meant more to you than I did and its silly, when I felt my feelings weren’t returned, I just didn’t want to have anything to do with you.”
“What note?” She asked listening to the explanation. “Hold on what feelings?”
“The note I asked Trey to give you in third period computer science.” He said, ignoring her second question.
“I never got a note from you.” She said, shaking her head.
“Yeah you did, because I got it back and the word NO was on it, underlined three times.”
“That might’ve been but it wasn’t underlined by me. If I’d have received a note from you asking me to the dance I would’ve said yes. And I definitely wouldn’t have accepted that horn dog’s invitation simply because I didn’t have anyone else and I didn’t want to go alone.” She said, almost laughing at it. She was surprised that all of this animosity stemmed from unrequited feelings he’d once had, feelings she had at one point wanted to return.
“Trey. That asshole.” Scotty said, shaking his head.
“Tell me about it. You’re not the one he tried feeling up in front the whole school during a slow dance.” Tara shrugged.
“You’re kidding?” Scotty said, laughing.
“Wish I was. He was so handsy I can’t even tell you. I was so embarrassed the rest of the dance. It was horrible.” She shrugged.
“I’m sorry. If Trey were still here I’d kick his ass.” Scotty said, shaking his head.
“After he told Christie Johnson I actually slept with him after the Homecoming dance, you’d have to get in line.” She laughed.
“I had heard that rumor.” Scotty nodded.
“Did you believe it?” Tara said seriously. She still felt the wounds of all the gossip and rumors that were directed at her. She’d gossiped and spread rumors herself, which she regretted because she knew the pain those little words had caused her. She looked at him earnestly.
“At the time I guess I did.” Scotty said sheepishly. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine. It’s whatever.” She said trying to shrug it off, but tears threatened to stream down her eyes. She looked into the distance, then down at the ground, anywhere but meeting his eyes.
“If our little run in at the pool has taught me anything, it’s that you really don’t believe its fine, that all these little things that have happened cut you pretty deeply.” Scotty said.
This surprised her. She looked into his eyes as the tears came. She was unable to do anything about it. It was the truth, the very essence of her being but she thought she was hiding it well. Now, talking to Scotty she realized it was just a thinly veiled façade she’d been wearing. “Am I that obvious?” She asked, giving him an earnest look.
“To me you are.” He said with a smile. “You always have been.” He said, reaching his hand over, wiping away a few stray tears. For just a second, they were kids again. Tara remembered the day she fell off her bicycle as they were riding in front of Scotty’s house. She scraped up her knee. Scotty ran to her side, picked her off the ground and hugged her. It’s the way he used to be with her, how he always was. He was somehow in tune with her emotions and always gave her what she needed.
She backed away from his touch. “Why now Scotty? I don’t understand.”
“Me neither.” He shook his head and looked down at his watch. “Crap. It’s late. I have to get home for dinner.”
“Yeah OK.” Tara said, nodding her head.
“I still want to talk.” Scotty said. “Do you remember that spot we use to go to as kids out by the pond?”
As if Tara could forget. After the many summers they spent out at that rock, it had become her favorite place. She still went there as often as she could even though it was on Scotty’s family property. It was the one place around town where she truly felt at peace, where the town and all the petty crap could just melt away. “Yeah, I think I remember.”
“Do you think you could meet me there later, say 9?”
“I think I can try.” She nodded her head yes.
“OK.” He said. He promptly got up from his seat and left. For only the briefest moment he stopped to look at her once more. “Bye.” He said and then walked away.
“Bye” she said, silently, still shell-shocked at what had transpired. A few years ago they were best friends, a few months ago they barely acknowledged each other’s existence, a few hours ago they were fighting, and just then, what were they doing exactly? She had no clue.
She became antsy and expectant. She told her parents she was going into town to see her best friend. She called her best friend and told her that she wouldn’t be able to make it, but to cover her if her parents asked, with the caveat that she’d explain it all later. Then she got into the old pick- up truck and started driving. She knew the country and gravel roads from her ranch to his by heart. It was like auto-pilot, finding her way back to their rock. She stopped thinking it of their rock and considered it hers once they stopped going there together, but it would always be their place, what with their initials forever in the cement at the base of the concrete pond. She parked a little ways before the cattleguard and gate that marked the entrance to Scotty’s ranch. She carefully slid under the metal gate and nimbly walked over the cattle guard. It was harder to navigate in the dark, but she managed the feat using the little flashlight in the truck’s glove compartment.
It was a good quiet, a calming quiet. She found the rock with her hands and set down, turning off the flashlight so that her eyes could adjust to the dark. It wasn’t the smartest thing, being out in the middle of the brush at night. It was rattlesnake season after all, but she felt as if there was nothing to fear that night. She sat there for a long time by herself. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been out there, alone with her thoughts when she heard some rustling in the brush.
“Tara?” She heard a voice say.
“I’m up here.” She said, recognizing Scotty’s voice instantly.
“Coming.” The voice responded. She saw Scotty clamber up the small dirt mound of a hill.
“Hey.” She said with a smile.
“Hey.” He said, slightly out of breath. And then, before she even had a second to react, he kissed her. It was sweet and soulful, the way Scotty was.
“Wow.” She said, when they finally parted.
“Sorry.” He said somewhat sheepishly. “I’ve wanted to do that for five years now.”
“Really?” She said, a small giggly laugh threatened to erupt from her.
“Yes really.” He said easily enough and then found her mouth again. It felt warm and comfortable and easy, kissing him. And it made her mad suddenly that she had found this wonderful, sweet place when she was so close to leaving. She pushed him away.
“Why now?” She said, breaking away from him.
“Why now what?” He asked.
“We had all this time to try and be together, to have this, and we didn’t. Why now, when I’m two months away from moving a dozen states away? Why are we mending our friendship now? Why are we kissing now? Why does everything feel so right, right now when it’s all wrong?” She said angrily.
“I don’t know.” He shook his head. “Do you remember that time we decided to play hide and seek behind my house and we had gone really far out into the brush, and then my mom called us home for lunch and when it took me forever to show and you and my mom freaked because you thought I got bit by a rattlesnake? But then, after half an hour of you guys screaming after me, I found my way back?”
“Yeah.” She said, still angry but intrigued.
“I guess I’m just like that. I get lost, and it takes a long time for me to find my way. I was so angry over something so stupid for so long that I couldn’t see what was right in front of me. I’m sorry I got so lost.” He shrugged in the dark.
The answer was perfectly Scotty and made its own sort of sense that she couldn’t help but forgive him. She kissed him again. She felt so perfectly at peace in his embrace that it took forever to part from it. She sat back down on her rock and he joined her, holding her as they watched the stars twinkle. “So what do we do now?” She said finally breaking the silence.
“I don’t know.” He shrugged his familiar shrug. “I guess we try to make the summer count.”
“I guess so.” She returned his shrug. The answer was as good as anything. They had the summer to figure it all out, and right then that’s all she needed.