I meet M outside the school once it's over. My head is swirling, reeling from the quadratic formulas that were shoved into my hippocampus, I think? Whatever. My head just feels watery.
She’s leaned up against a tree, back pressed against the rough bark of the trunk. Her hair is down by her shoulders now, having been taken out of its ponytail. It falls beautifully around her shoulders in thick, golden coils. I want to reach out and just..touch them. I’m worried that if I did, they would disintegrate and fall through my fingers like the sand on Myrtle Beach. Her eyes flick up to me as I approached, and her emerald green irises spark with life. She pushes away from the trunk, shaking the branches just a little bit. Leaves flutter to the ground, spiraling with the last bits of life they can manage to hold onto. At that moment I sort of forgot it was fall.
“Did you get to your classes alright?” I suddenly feel a little ache shoot up my right leg-the shorter, tighter one. I try to keep my expression calm.
M nods and gives me a little grin. “Yeah. It really isn’t that hard to get around when you got the room numbers down pat.”
I snort. “The only hard part really, is getting to class on time. No one ever has the sense to move over and make room, y’know?”
She giggles. “You all are just packed in so tight, like sardines. You know, like the game?”
I shake my head; great, three sentences in and I’m already lost. The corners of her lips fall and she tilts her head to one side all over again. “You never played Sardines? Come on, not even in elementary school?”
Elementary school. I never really liked any of the kids in my grade; I found it nicer to just play with the roly-polies that ruled the blacktop. They didn’t point out that I didn’t have any friends, or that I daydreamed during class. Hell, do they even have brains if all they do is, like, roll around? That’s their job, right?
I shake my head again. She shakes hers in return and grabs my hand. Before I can even react, we’re marching down the sidewalk, and after a few minutes of pounding the grey pathways, the grout turns into browning grass. I’ve never been around here before. As we enter the new landscape, I feel the sun grace my scalp with its rays. I feel a hint of a smile start to form.
“I’ve been living here since I was eight. Never been ‘round here,” I mutter to myself.
“You must not be very adventurous, then.” M says as she releases my hand from her grip. It falls limply by my side. She speeds up a little bit, leaving me to awkwardly stride behind her. The grass became longer, and poked at my shins when they were blown wayward by the passing breeze. The grass became dirt, freshly wetted by the storm that made its way through the night before. We finally stop at a tree with a thick, peeling trunk that is so exposed, I could see its skin-beige and red, and smooth. I reach out to touch it, and in that moment, I find myself connected to a world beyond my bleak jungle.
“What, are you a tree-hugger now?” M’s voice tinkles funnily against the inside of my head. My eyes snap over to her. She’s rocking back and forth on her heels, hands in the back pockets of her jeggings. She gives me a little smile..but it’s different, it’s..piteous, maybe? Am I reading too much into it. Yeah, yeah I am.
“What’s so bad about that?” The words fall from my mouth easily, smoothly. That’s new.
“Nothing. It’s just..you look so cute. Your eyes are sorta like a puppy’s, big and wide.” She steps closer to me for a second, and the tension is like concrete. I can see her, but I can’t see around the feelings we share. She bends down toward the base of the tree and digs around in the knothole that’s gnarled and weathered. Out of it comes a big Altoids tin. One of the little hinges is broken. She looks up at me, and her emerald irises have morphed to a jade color. Excitement, I think. She flips open the top to reveal a neat little row of rolled up..things, cradled in wax paper. Candy.
“Why are you hiding these?” I ask. “It’s just sweets,”
“My parents don’t allow them at home. I know, I know this seems extreme, but I already tried to hide them in my room. I swear, if we had the money, they would splurge on like, a K-9 unit.” She rolls her eyes and holds out a purple wrapped piece. “Care for one?”
I burst into laughter. “T-That’s so..stupid!” I howl, holding my belly ‘cause it’s starting to hurt.
This girl that I thought was so rebellious and mysterious is nothing more than someone with insecurities and worries like everyone else. I pop the forbidden fruit into my mouth and let the processed flavoring coat my tongue. She isn’t M. She’s Melody, who gives off more light than any person I’ve ever met. She starts laughing, too.
“I wish I didn’t have to come all the way out here to hide ‘em, but the adventure’s worth the wait.” She pops a pink one into her mouth and chews hard-they’re sorta sticky.
“Oh, so you were trying to build suspense,” I swallow the malformed lump and lean back against the half-naked tree. She rolls her eyes and grabs my hand yet again. But this time we aren’t going anywhere else. She leans in and presses her lips to mine, and..that’s it.
For a moment, I don’t know what to do. My cracked lips don’t fit with hers, but still, I kiss back. Our teeth bump and scrape a little. She tastes like radioactive sugar and strawberries. I probably taste like old Nivea butter balm and grape. We pull away, and just stare at each other, trying to process what just happened. We barely know each other and we just..did that.
Awkwardness settles in, or at least, it starts to trickle. I cut through it with the only words I can think of.
“Is this how Sardines work?” My voice is gentle. Melody reaches out to cup my cheek in her palm. “Oh, Lu, Of course not.”
We embrace again this time with snickering floating up towards the sky. I don’t want to ever go back to the bleak jungle ever again.