I stepped on the air-conditioning unit to look inside Mallory’s house. Her mom was at the cabinet pouring a drink. Mallory was back at my house. I invited her over because I wanted to make my dad something like a card. But Mallory was shy when she got to my house. She’s always shy. She rang the door and stood there holding her box of books and crayons. When I led her back to my parents’ room to ask Dad what kind of card he wanted, Mallory wouldn’t even come close to his room to hear. He joked with me a little. Then we went to my room and sat down to make a card.
Mallory looked unhappy, like she was homesick. She wanted to draw a cat on the card and didn’t know how. I drew an outline. She started to color it but looked lost. I looked at the yard outside my bedroom window. I love playing out there. When I play alone, I do more interesting things than when I’m with someone else, especially Mallory, who’s quiet and doesn’t really make up her own games.
Mom came into my room and asked if we wanted to bake a cake. Mallory was very quick to say, “Yes.”
We were baking. Mallory was sitting on the stool, holding the measuring cup, following every instruction my mother said. She does what people say. But I tend to like to make up what I do. I was thinking about that — that maturity is knowing a lot about what you want, not complaining, and trying to get it as long as you aren’t mean. I thought about the yard. I love checking the herbs, because I know what you can do with a garden if you’re careful. That’s something I love about myself.
I put down my spoon. “Mom. I’m going to go outside a second.”
Mom raised her eyebrows like I was being rude. Dad came in. “I’ll be right back,” I said. Mallory liked baking — she wanted to, and I didn’t, so I didn’t feel like it was rude.
Since Dad’s been sick they’ve been letting me do strange things like sleep alone in the tent in the yard. At the garden, the herbs looked fine. I kept going and went into the woods. I went almost to the pond, to the road, and it was the back route that lately I’ve been enjoying a lot, then here. Mallory’s mother went over towards the TV. I finally knocked on the door.
She opened up. “Clara?”
I felt sad when I felt like I knew exactly what she was going to say. “Where’s Mallory?” I straddled Sam and pet him hard, not looking up yet.
“Is everything okay?” she said.
“It’s fine!” I felt rushed because I know what’s on her mind before she even talks, and I wanted to get us on a new topic. “I wanted to visit Sam!” I rubbed him hard. “I missed him.”
“Is Mallory with your mom?” she said.
“They’re baking. I just wanted to visit.”
Mallory’s mom put a hand on my shoulder and led me inside. I looked at the floors and the bookcases and was excited that I’d come over when I hadn’t been invited. I love inventing.
We sat on the couch and I pet Sam. Mallory’s mom offered me a drink. I looked behind my shoulders at the glass doors to the pool. “I haven’t been out there in a while.” We both looked at the doors. She was calm. “Can I go?” I said.
She tensed her forehead like I was sad. I wasn’t sad as much as I was excited about being there and the pool.
A couple months ago, Mallory had her ninth birthday party around the pool. I got a headache, and my dad had to pick me up. I waited for him by the table with the chips and cake, and everyone played kiss-twister. When he got there, everyone looked at him because he’s so tall, and he came over and took some chips. The music was playing, and I was in pain and wanted to go. Mallory’s mom came out with a jug of juice. She yelled something to Mallory and fell. The jug crashed into my dad and broke. Mallory’s mom ran inside for something to clean it up, and Dad just stood there like he was hurt. No one did anything. He waited until Mallory’s mom came out with towels for him.
I wanted to jump in the pool. Mallory’s mom came out. “Honey? They’re baking? What are they making?”
“Do they know where you are?” her mom said.
I grabbed the handrail on the pool steps. I looked up. “Is Mallory going to have another party here?”
Her mom frowned like I don’t know.
She was quiet a second. “You want me to call your mom and Mallory?”
I was going to say no. I gripped the handrail. She was frowning like I was sad. But I was thinking of the times I’d been happy and pulled myself out of that pool with the handrail.
“Clara,” she said. She was looking at me like she was pressuring me to cry, and even though I wasn’t upset, I felt pressured. I hate that — I could have cried because she expected it, not because I was depressed. I looked at the ground.
She went inside. I looked in through the glass doors. She got on the phone. She took it into the other room.
A little while later I stared in the glass doors again and saw my mother, father, and Mallory coming in through the front door.
Mallory walked in quietly with her box of crayons and just plopped on the couch. My mom spoke with Mallory’s mom. Their dog Sam went up to Mallory, and she put her hand on his ear. When he barked, she pulled her hand back quickly like she was scared of him. She’s always like that with him.
My dad looked at Sam too but didn’t pet him. Dad hadn’t been to Mallory’s house too many times, so he looked out of place.
I walked right up to the glass doors. I looked in. I waited. Mallory’s mom brought everyone drinks.
I knew they all knew I’d come over there. The dog barked. They were being social.
I pulled open the door and shut it. Mom looked at me, about to talk, but I walked to Mallory. “Why don’t you really pet him? You’re always scared of him.”
She didn’t move, and I straddled the dog. I rubbed him up and down.
Mallory watched as if she wasn’t scared. “He doesn’t like that.” “He’s got to take it!” I laughed.
I controlled the dog, and people saw what I knew — I was confident. When the dog walked off, I swiped his tail.
I turned to Mallory. “Did you finish the cake?” She couldn’t even look at me. “You might be mad. I didn’t do anything.”
“I didn’t say I was mad,” she said.
“I was by the pool.” I finally smiled to my mom. “I love it out there. I just want a little more time out there. That’s okay, right? I really love it.” I also wanted a Coke but then figured so what. “Everyone should come out there if they want.”
This time I went out the front. Our families often hang out in a park in front of Mallory’s house. I didn’t know if that was exactly where I wanted to go. I actually love hanging out in Mallory’s front yard. I almost laughed thinking about how much I love that. I could produce TV ads and set up a desk and run my own business in Mallory’s yard.
I went down the street. I thought of running about a mile to the cemetery.
I pictured myself as if in a movie. I imagined my family running after me from behind. I could turn to them: “Come here! I’m going to teach you.”
My mother, father, and Mallory would run, wanting to learn.
“What are you going to teach us?”
“Sit down!” I pull out a pen.
“I don’t want to sit,” Mallory whines.
I laugh. “You have to!”
I get on the steps to a building. I start lecturing.
I didn’t get to the cemetery. I went to the park we know. It’s a field about three football fields around with trees in the back.
I knew they’d come, and I just wondered how long it would take. They know how thoughtful I am. I thought they might get worried about me.
In about fifteen minutes I saw Dad coming. He was walking, looking down at the ground. He smiled. He’d known where I would go. He was not mad.
Then I saw Mallory behind him, jogging after Sam. Our mothers followed behind with their wine.
When Dad came up to me, he turned me away as if he wanted to talk in private. He walked me forward without speaking right away. It’s funny that I can see my Dad’s a nerd. But he’s a much nicer guy than my friends’ parents. He never tells me that what I do is wrong. Since he’s been sick, he’s had a little less time, but he still always talks to me.
He rubbed my shoulder. “Are you doing okay?”
“Where are we going, Dad?” I was playing.
He didn’t smile but looked ahead. He opened his mouth a little and looked at me but didn’t talk. I felt like he was playing, and I thought I could make him cry by pressuring him, like Mallory’s mom had done to me.
“I want us to talk to each other a little. Maybe when we get home,” he said. “I want to tell you how I’m doing and what the doctors have been saying.”
I asked him if there was something more, more wrong with him disease-wise.
“No. I’m doing fine. Great. But I want to tell you how great.”
“Yeah we can talk when we get home,” I said.
I saw Mallory running. “Look at her. You see her run with her hands open? She’s retarded.” I ran and chased Mallory’s dog. I chased him almost all the way back to the trees. When he tired out, I caught up to him. Mallory strolled over.
I watched Mallory come up and yelled so Dad could hear how healthy I am, which he likes. “You have to make him run hard!” I said. “It keeps him healthy!”
“Look!” I grabbed the dog’s head and kissed it hard. “He’s a friendly dog!”
Next year Dad’ll help take me to a school in a hippie town that has a science specialty. I’m going because they think I have a head for science and so he can spend more time with doctors. But it’s close to home. I’ll come home a lot on weekends.
We have a lot of heart-to-hearts. Dad loves it when the family watches “60 Minutes,” has dinner, and talks about what’s going on with him scientifically. I listen, and sometimes I’m uncomfortable, but he doesn’t go on and on. We have a good relationship.
I could talk to Dad about everything soon, but I didn’t need to now. I held Mallory’s arm and had an idea. I looked down at the dog like he was our child. “Come here.”
She always gets excited about being a part of something secret. I led her back all the way to the trees. We entered a hollow part of the woods. I faced her to scheme in secret. I looked back at my parents.
Mallory’s a good friend, and I really think her shyness is a mystery. She likes to have good times, she’s a good sport, and she’s beautiful. In fact I don’t think she’s as scared of things as much as she’s just too nice. We went on a hike a week ago and almost got lost and didn’t get back until it was dark. I knew where we were going, but we were taking the back route, which took some time. When we got back, our parents were angry. Apparently, they had called the police.
Mallory had been the loudest standing up for us, arguing we were “Fine!” and “Old enough to take care of ourselves!” and I don’t think she was nervous.
I straightened my watch and looked at her. “There’s something I have to say. When I left, and you stayed in the kitchen, did that bother you? I didn’t think it did. In fact. You were fine cooking with my mom, right? I wasn’t trying to be rude. Are you mad?”
She shook no. She was too dumb to be mad.
I then had a vision, and it got me very excited. I felt wild. Happy. I realized something that made us better friends and made life good. At our parties lately we’ve been kissing people in Spin the Bottle, and no one had French kissed yet. I talked to our friend Brian about doing it, and I suddenly realized that at the next party I could. Then I also felt sure that if I did it, Mallory would French kiss someone else. We would influence each other.
I looked at her. She still didn’t know what was coming, but I knew she’d do it.
The dog had started walking away from us in the field. “Check it out.” I ran and screamed his name in two parts: “Sa! Am!” Mallory laughed and everyone looked. When I lost my breath, I stopped and bent over and turned to everyone, laughing.
Dad saw I was happy. “Come here Dad,” I yelled.
I’d finally get Mallory to stick her tongue in someone’s mouth. I loved her.
When Dad got to me, I touched his wrist because I wanted to talk to him before everyone else got there. This was important. I wanted to apologize for being spastic when I’d cut him off before. I was worried he thought I couldn’t talk to him. I told him I wanted to hear about the doctors. I just didn’t think it was the right time.
He looked at me seriously. He never got very mad.
I put my hand on my hip like I had to get my breath again, but I was fine. I pointed to the woods. “I brought Mallory over there because I wanted to tell her why I wasn’t rude. Did you think I was?” I had to ask him this before everyone else got there. “Or even: when I got you all to come out here, was I rude?”
I looked at Dad’s chest. I felt close, but for a second I felt like he wasn’t listening to me.
When our moms got there, I asked Dad louder, “Was I rude?” I wanted him to tell me.
I looked at Mallory. She was petting her dog.
Dad kissed my head.
I thought even if Dad thought yes, I was rude, there was and is some very positive feeling in me. I at least had the guts to talk things out. Whatever happened, I knew I could talk. I saw Mallory try to swat her dog’s tail. I was bolder than most people. I gave Dad a stare and thought about holding his hand. It made me feel he had every reason to love me — I could hold his hand.