It is the end of a summer afternoon and the sun will be setting soon, our favorite part of the day. We’re eating Popsicles, cherry ones. My shirt is sticking to my back, and my hands feel sugary and warm, but my lips are cool. The sun is turning that fiery pink I love, and I turn to Mark the way I always do.
I look at him, really look at him. We have sat under this tree, our tree, a hundred times or more, and he’s always been the same Mark—the Mark I have known since we were five years old and I told him my mama was a whole lot prettier than his. But today, at this very moment, he is different, and it’s not even something I can explain. But I feel it. Boy, do I feel it. On the outside, everything looks the way it always does, but on the inside, it’s like some little part of me is waking up.
His hair is hanging in his eyes, and his skin is brown as toast. He smells the way he always smells in summer—like green grass and sweat and chlorine. He’s watching the sun turn its different colors, and he’s all quiet and hushed up. He turns to me and smiles, and in that moment he is so dear to me I hurt inside. That’s when I feel it—like my heart might burst right out of my chest. This is it; this is the exact moment when he is supposed to kiss me, the kind of moment movies are made for. He’ll look at me, and he’ll know, just like I know.
Everybody knows that twelve is the perfect age for your first kiss.
Except, he isn’t looking at me anymore. And he’s talking; the big jerk is talking when he should be kissing. He’s going on about some mountain bike his dad is going to buy him for his birthday. “Man, it’s gonna be sweet. We’re gonna go on the Tuckashawnee trail—”
“Hey, Mark,” I interrupt. I’m giving him one last chance to make this moment up to me, one last chance to see me the way I see him. I will him to look at me, really look at me. Don’t see the mosquito bites on my legs, don’t see the ketchup stain on my shorts, or the scabs on my elbows. Don’t see the girl you’ve known your whole life. See me. See me.
“Yeah?” He’s looking at me, and he doesn’t see me at all. I can tell he’s still thinking about that bike and hasn’t even thought of kissing me. His mouth is cherry red from his Popsicle. He looks like he’s wearing lipstick.
“You look like you’re wearing lipstick,” I say. “You look like a girl. A girl with really bad taste.” I laugh like it’s the funniest thing in the world.
He flushes. “Shut up, Annemarie,” he says, wiping away at his mouth furiously.
“I bet Celia has some eye shadow that would look terrif with that lipstick,” I continue. Celia is my big sister, and probably the prettiest girl in our town, maybe even the state.
Mark glares at me. “You’re just jealous because Celia’s prettier than you.”
I bite my lip. “You should let Celia give you a makeover,” I say. My eyes are starting to burn. When the two of us get started we don’t quit until one of us leaves crying. Usually it’s Mark, but this time I am afraid it will be me.
Please, please don’t let it be me.
“You’re the one who could use a makeover,” Mark says cruelly.
“You are really ignorant, Mark, you know that? You’re a real troglodyte. You’re so ignorant, I bet you don’t even know what that means.” It means a primitive person who lives in caves. I only know because I looked it up after Celia called me one when I tried to eat grapes with my toes.
“So what? I bet you don’t know what it means either. I bet you copied it off your mom or your sister.”
“I did not. I happen to be gifted. I never copy off of anybody, unlike some troglodytes I know.”
Last year I caught Mark copying Jack Connelly’s homework on the bus. He pretended like it was no big deal in front of his buddies, but when I threatened to tell his mama, Mrs. Findley, he started boohooing like a little baby. The dumbest part is that Jack Connelly is easily the least smart person in our grade. If Mark’s a troglodyte, Jack is king of the troglodytes.
Mark gapes at me and shakes his head disgustedly. “Geez, Annemarie, why’d you have to bring that up? You started it.”
“I was just foolin’, and if you weren’t so dense, you’d know better than to criticize a girl’s looks. It’s degrading, and it’s, well, it’s sexist.” I raise my eyebrows high and dare him to disagree.
“What a load of crap. You can say whatever you want to me, and I can’t say jack to you?” Mark says, shaking his head again. “That’s dumb.”
“That’s the way it goes,” I say. “And anyway, you didn’t have to rub it in about Celia. I know she’s prettier than me.”
My sister Celia is the kind of girl whose hair curls just right in a ponytail. She is smaller than me, the kind of small that boys want to scoop up and hold on to real tight. I am too tall for even my daddy to scoop up anymore, much less a sixth grade boy. Boys like Celia; they go crazy for her sneaky smiles and sassy strut. They are always calling the house and making Daddy frown. Mama just smiles and says, “the boys buzz around my Celia because they know she is sweeter than honey.” I sure wish boys would buzz around me.
On every Valentine’s Day since the fourth grade, Celia has come home with pink carnations and solid milk chocolate hearts and at least one Whitman’s Sampler. She always lets me eat the square ones with caramel inside, even though they are her favorite too. The most I ever get on Valentine’s Day are the valentines the class got for one another because they had to, the Scooby-Doo or Mickey Mouse kind that come twenty-four to a box at the drugstore.
Mark gives me his “I’m sorry” look—his half grin–half grimace that’s supposed to look like real remorse. He looks like he always does when he has messed up, like a puppy that’s peed on himself and is sorry, but will inevitably do it again. Mark Findley has been saying sorry to me his whole life.
“Sorry, Annemarie,” he says.
I scowl at him. “Yeah, well, you should be.”
He’s still giving me The Look, and then he gets on his knees. “Forgive me, Annemarie! Please, please forgive me!” he begs, swaying back and forth with his hands clasped in prayer.
He is so dumb.
The thing I hate worst about Mark is that I can never, ever stay mad at him. I can hold a grudge better than anybody I know, but with Mark it is truly impossible. He always finds a way to make me laugh.