Rudolph and Danielle couldn't be better friends. But Dani acts as if that isn't true.
I sit in the sand and watch two gulls fight over the remains of a hotdog bun.
The gull with the black face spreads its wings, wailing, and takes off with the bread in its mouth. The smaller one lets out a screech, causing it to drop the bun, and scuffles over to feast. I watch the Caspian tern- the bigger one- circle for a moment before leaving, perhaps to rob somebody else of their food.
"I was rooting for that one." Dani sighs, breaking the silence.
"It wasn't fair. That one was so much bigger." I comment, eyes following the bird as it becomes smaller and smaller. It's heading for the west, where the sun is just barely starting to sink into the ocean, turning the once blue waves pink and orange.
"Yet the smaller gull won." She's turned her gaze now, glaring at the scrawny bird as if angry at it for stealing the bread.
"Look how scrawny he is. He needs it more."
We watch the immense star sink, turning the sky darker yet more stunning as it goes. Eventually the water starts to return to its original color.
"Your mom probably needs you." I sigh.
"Ugh." She replies, not budging.
"Now. Seriously." I remind her.
"Ugh." She repeats.
"Ughhhhh." She draws it out this time but gets up, brushing the sand off her shorts and grabs my hand, practically dragging me to our bikes.
"You want me to take you home?" I ask, hopping onto mine. She does the same before realizing she hasn't unchained hers, plopping off and letting it fall.
"Alright. Now unchain it, you won't get far like that."
She swats my arm and I laugh.
"Dani! Wrong way!" I snort for the second time. "Trying to get lost?"
"Maybe." She responds, speeding up to go back over a bump in the road.
Rudy's short for Rudolph. People back in forth grade called me a reindeer, so now I'm just Rudy. That was a while back, though.
She starts going another way, still wrong.
"C'mon, idiot. I swear to god one of these days I'm gonna attach a trailer to my bike and you'll travel that way." I tell her.
"Sure, that sounds fun!" She chirps, circling me for a second until I speed forward and nearly crash into her, causing us both to erupt into squeals and then laughter.
"Aye, girls!" A third voice.
"Aye, Aspen!" Dani mocks.
He's in his dad's pink Peugeot with no roof, blasting music from the 70's obnoxiously loud.
"Need a ride?"
"We're good, thanks." She says, giving me a look. I nod in agreement.
"Your loss," He says, but he's frowning. "Maybe next time, though?"
"Maybe." Dani replies, glancing down as she re-balances herself and starts pedaling again at a steady pace. I follow and she speeds up, and we continue on our way.
In the distance we can still hear David Bowie.
And I'm floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there's nothing I can do
The bell rings and I snap out of my dozed state. Finally we're free, although none of us were really paying attention to Mr. Joseph lecturing us on how to make a cloud look fluffy.
"Any kids who were sniffing sharpies, rather loudly, I might add, need to stay in late so I can talk to them." He announces, and a few kids snicker.
"Does it count if it was a different brand?" Abe raises a hand, completely seriously, and causes more laughter.
"Yes, Abe." He replies calmly as he collects our papers.
"Awe." He sighs. I stand up, collecting my stuff and then Dani approaches.
"Hey. Don't forget the chain today." I greet, smiling, and turn around. She isn't smiling.
"Um, yeah. I can't really ride with you today. Dad's picking me up." She says, rather halfheartedly.
"Awe, what's going on? Plans?" I ask, slipping on my backpack.
"Not really. Family stuff. I don't really want to talk about it."
I pause. "I'll call you tomorrow?"
"See you Sunday?"
"Oh. Alright." I frown. "Let me know why when you feel like it, kay?"
"Uh-huh." And with that she leaves.
"What's her problem?" A boy, one of the marker sniffers, asks loudly.
And then I discover it isn't as fun riding a bike when you're alone.
It's Sunday. The weekend inexplicably whizzed past, leaving me stunned and struggling to finish the unreasonable amounts of homework that were assigned.
Seriously, though. Why do I need to know how to find X? Math is supposed to be numbers! Not letters! Next thing you know they're gonna be teaching you how many times fifty can go into a semicolon.
The sun is setting, forcing the blue ocean salmon and lilac until the colossal star has drowned. A disturbing but beautiful ritual.
I pull out my phone. Contacts, scroll past Angel and Dad. Dani. I call her and hold the phone to my ear.
Riiing. My bare arms have no shelter from the wind. Riiing. My feet feel something, a piece of a shell, perhaps, in the sand. Riiing. I cross my free arm across my chest. Riiing. The sun drowns. Riiing. The waves turn orange. Riiing.
"Hello?" Not her voice.
"Uh-huh. This is her mom. This isn't the time, sweetie, I'm sorry."
"I just want to talk to..." And I trail off because with the phone up to my ear the beeps drown out my voice, the waves, the wind. The ocean fades back to blue. To black. And my mom calls me inside because it's cold and windy out. With the sun's death comes the stars' birth. And now it's the moon's turn.
Oh, the dreadful thing that many compare to hell itself. But instead of fire there are books, and instead of demons screaming there are teachers jabbing pencils at you and practically vomiting assignments.
Pretty much the same, I guess.
I ride my bike to school, as usual, but alone.
Aspen passes and challenges me to keep up with his "Barbie Car." (People at school mocked it's color and he absolutely loved the name) I do, for a few seconds, but he hits the gas hard and I'm out of breath before we're even a block away from the school.
"Bring Dani over after school, I bet she could do it!" He smiles.
"If she's willing to, sure thing." I give him a salute and he's off after returning one himself.
I don't bother going through the line. Dani usually brings one from home and I'm honestly not terribly hungry for wet cat food and burnt pumpkin bread today.
I scan the room for her, and spot her sitting alone. She must have seen me coming, because her expression changes from sober to actually upset. Mad? Disappointed? I can't tell but I see frustration in her glare when I sit down, as if she wants me to take a hint, but is willing to wait a while. I, however, am furious.
"What's your deal?" I growl.
"I haven't been doing anything." She watches her food now, as if she expects her sandwich to do some sort of interpretive dance.
"You've said about six words to me in the last four days, your mom hung up on me when I tried to call you, and now you're acting like nothing's been going on?" I hiss. She stays silent, her face is expressionless.
"Rudolph, I'm not doing anything."
"Exactly! And that's exactly why I'm upset! It's like you don't even..." I let out a small, stunned laugh because it really is ridiculous. "Did you just call me Rudolph?"
"Uh-huh." Her expression still doesn't change.
Now I'm really pained. I stare at her sandwich along with her for a minute or so, and then sigh.
"Could you just meet me outside? By the wall covered in birds?" It's a brick wall that our first art teacher got permission to decorate. She covered it in different types of gulls and added other ocean creatures, a mural that represented our home, our ocean, our seaside.
And I painfully sat through lunch until we were free to go. Now I'm outside, leaning against the paintings on the wall, staring into an especially detailed caspian's eye, like the one I saw the other day with Dani. I guess I didn't really know, or maybe I did, and just didn't mind, but I realize she's been standing beside me for about twenty minutes.
"Tell me what's going on." I pretend that I've known the whole time.
Silence, and when I turn to yell at her, to let out my frustration that has been building up for oh so long now, I see tears.
She's crying. And by instinct I step forward to take her into my arms, hug her, and let her cry. But I stop awkwardly, and I wonder if she'd even want to be comforted by me. We both hesitate. She decides, apparently, that she doesn't hate me, and allows herself to be embraced.
"Dani?" I sigh after a few seconds. "I'm worried. What...What's going on?" I repeat.
And yet again, I gain no response. We stay like that, silent, let the cool breeze remind us that autumn is coming up. It ruffles our hair and makes me only slightly chilly.
"Nuh-nothing." She mutters.
"Really. If it was nuh-nothing then would you be acting this way?" I glare at her and wait. "Dani!" I finally snap.
"What!" She hisses back, pulling away from me.
"You're seriously such a pain lately!" I cross my arms. "You could just tell me what on earth is wrong, but no, you have to make it even worse and hurt me and confuse me!"
"Well I'm sorry! I don't exactly have a choice!" We're yelling now, and a few faces watch from the distance.
"Well, why not?" I quiet down.
She stares at me, we're both tense.
"My parents just divorced." She starts and takes a breath. Before I can yell at her for not telling me, she tops it all off with a final, shocking statement.
"Dad's moving to the other side of the country and dragging me along on Wednesday. Mom was like an anchor, she hated traveling, she hated any place that wasn't here. And he left her because of it. And he's leaving seaside because of it." The words are finally pouring out, answers that I regret pressuring her for.
I'm shocked into silence. It seems like she might be, too, and I'm the first to shatter it.
"Wednesday." I repeat. Three syllables that only increase the growing ache in my chest.
"Yeah. To Florida." She whispers.
And the bell rings.
I realize why she did it. She had ignored me so I would get used to it, maybe not grieve as much when she left. Instead I would be mad, mad at her for not talking, not telling me. She hadn't planned on telling me.
She doesn't show up the next day.
Or Wednesday, of course, or any day after that.
And on Saturday I call her, my heart in my throat, and it rings. I squint against the sky, the sun is bright and while it's only two for me it's five pm for her.
"I'm sorry, it appears this number has been deleted, your connection is unstable, or you have been blocked. Please, try again later. Goodbye." A robot tells me. Now it beeps, drowns out my thoughts. My heart falls from my throat straight to the underworld.