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A New Summer
“What do you mean, you’re going to New York this summer?” Luke gaped in disbelief. He braked hard on his red gear bike that he’d been pedaling slowly along next to his best friend, Moxie, who was walking.
“I mean I’m going to New York. To live with my dad.” Moxie scowled and scraped one beat-up flip-flop against the ground. “Sucks like hell, I know.”
“I don’t know, Luke, do I?” Moxie snapped. “Some whacked-up custody arrangement. I don’t give a crap.” She let her short-cropped brown hair fall over her face to hide her red cheeks and stinging tears.
“This was supposed to be the best summer!”
“I know! You don’t have to rub it in. It’s not my fault. They divorced each other, and pretty much divorced me in the process.”
“What the heck are you talking about, Moxie -”
“I mean that as soon as they were rid of each other, they got busy with their new lives; my dad with his filmmaking and trying to make it big in NYC, while dating every twenty-something chick in the business, my mom with her business and her pretty-boy lawyer husband -” Moxie sat on the curb and spewed every nasty, venomous thought she’d had about her parents since the divorce – six years’ worth.
“And while they were busy living big, who’d have time to remember Moxie, who’d bother to care about the one remnant of their old life, the life they’re trying to forget – they just punt me back and forth across the country, count down the days till I leave again, so they can get back to their new lives.”
“Mox, that can’t be true -” Luke was shocked at what she was saying.
“You know damn well it is, Luke, don’t be stupid. I was a complete accident, they were too young when they had me, and I’ve had to look after myself from the start, living in a trailer and listening to them argue and get drunk and make up and then start yelling again…”
Luke realized now why Moxie preferred coming to his house, and how she couldn’t help but stare when his parents kissed each other or hugged him good night, because she’d grown up so differently.
“This – this isn’t like you, Moxie…”
“No, it’s not. Usually I sit and take it, because I know I can leave soon and escape with you and our friends for a while, and just have fun, and not worry… But not anymore.”
“Well, you can have fun in New York City,” said Luke bracingly. “There’s tons of stuff to do. It’s a big city.”
“Puh-lease. I’ll be stuck in my dad’s apartment, watching reruns and eating Kraft E-Z Mac while my dad’s over at his current girlfriend’s place. No ‘kids’ allowed. Honestly, like I never saw him and Mom doing it when I was little -”
Moxie noticed that Luke was looking a little uncomfortable, feeling that this was getting into TMI territory. Tactfully, she moved on.
“His girls always look like such sluts. I swear, the neon-green miniskirt on that last one would have been small on Tinker Bell. I hate meeting them, they treat me like I’m a little kid. No difference to how everyone else treats me,” she added sourly.
Luke pulled Moxie up by the arm. “When are you leaving?”
“Day after tomorrow. Short notice, I know.”
“Where are we going?”
“Leon’s. You’re in desperate need of chocolate ice cream.”
“You know me too well, Luke. Got no cash, though.”
Luke waved a hand. “You never do. Save it for Fifth Avenue. My treat today.”
“The usual transportation?”
“Are there any cops around?”
Moxie shaded her eyes and pretended to peer around the residential street. “All clear!”
“Get on, then!”
Moxie carefully stood on the back frame of the bike and cursed herself inwardly for wearing sandals. She held on to Luke’s shoulders and shrieked as he started off, pedaling hard. “Not so fast!”
“Are you kidding?”
They laughed, exhilarated by the ride.
A few minutes later Moxie locked up the bike while Luke bought the ice cream. Moths and mosquitoes ricocheted off the big neon sign as Luke returned with a slip of paper. “They’re really busy, they have to call our number when it’s ready,” he said. Leon’s was a drive-through and walk-up only, not a sit-down place. Lots of teenagers went there to pass the slow summers, devouring cone after milkshakes after cone while sitting on the metal fences and rails. It was particularly popular because the relaxed employees turned a blind eye to any less-than-appropriate activities taking place in the vicinity.
Soon enough, Moxie walked up to the window and handed the cashier her receipt. “Your boyfriend’s real cute,” said the cashier with a wink. “You better keep an eye on him or someone’s gonna snatch him up.”
“Oh, we’re not a couple!” said Moxie, surprised. “We’re just friends.”
“Really? I figured you two must be together, the way you were ridin’ on his bike a lil while ago.” She leaned forward conspiratorially. “Here’s my advice: You grab him quick, ‘cause like I said, some girl’s gonna steal his heart, and then where will you be? Just a short step from friends to more-than-friends, my friend!” The cashier cackled like wasn’t that just the cleverest sentence in the world.
Moxie nodded politely, trying hard not to roll her eyes, and took the ice cream cones to the bike rack – double fudge chocolate for her, butter pecan for him. She couldn’t wait to tell Luke what the busybody cashier had said; it would give him such a laugh. Then, as she handed Luke his cone, she thought maybe the lady had a point: Luke was kind of cute.
Moxie was no expert on boys, and she never dwelled for hours over a movie star or singer like some girls, but there was something appealing about Luke’s thick blondish-brown hair. Usually she thought it looked like he’d had his head thatched, but now, in the parking lot’s half-light, it looked sweet. For the first time she looked, really looked at his eyes, and saw they were a deep sea green. Just like the Pacific in the summer, she thought. She liked the way he looked at her straight-on when they were talking, never arrogant or distracted, always eager to hear what she had to say. The round, freckled, boy-next-door face she knew so well was different now – thinner, darkly tanned by the California sun in mid-June, with more prominent cheekbones. Although Moxie could look down on his head when they first met, he towered over her now. He still had a little-boy innocence that could never be missed, but that made him all the more endearing. He was the same Luke that had befriended her years ago when she moved with her mom after the divorce, but the rest of the world saw him like this.
Wow, thought Moxie, talk about reality check.
Luke and Moxie sat on the bike rack, not talking. Most of the other customers dispersed, and soon the only sounds were the slurping of ice cream and the humming of the neon sign. Moxie didn’t want to say anything, didn’t want to spoil this evening with her best friend, didn’t want to break the spell, and didn’t want to leave. Luke seemed to understand this implicitly in the way that best friends do, and they stayed still and quiet long after they had finished the treat.
Finally Moxie spoke. “Thank you,” she said in a near whisper, “for the ice cream.” They had been here often, hundreds of summer nights alone or with other friends. Why was she saying thank you now? She never said thank you, not to Luke. Why, then, did tonight feel so different? Why did tonight feel like the last night?
Luke did not say anything. Instead he linked his arm with Moxie’s. “Since when do you say thank you for anything? I’m your best friend, remember?”
Moxie groaned. “How the hell am I supposed to survive in New York? No Leon’s, no bike rides -”
“On my bike -”
“No Foxbrook Beach, no friends, no soccer, and no you. What am I gonna do without you there saying, ‘Now, Moxie, be rational about this’? I’ll probably blow up and do something stupid if you’re not there to calm me down.”
“Mox, it’ll be okay. Just call me. E-mail me.”
“Watch what you say. I’ll be calling you 24-7.”
“We talk 24-7 when you’re here. It’ll be like you never left!”
Moxie laughed. “How can you stay so cool? I always get so hot and bothered over the smallest things.”
Luke shrugged. “Just my personality. I’m the quiet, rational type. I figure out all the options before I do anything. You, you’re impulsive – you never want to wait, always action, right away.”
“I wish I had good sense like you.”
“I wish I was exciting like you. I’m too good, too boring. You know how to have a good time.”
“Don’t put yourself down. I’m too wild.”
“You’re not too anything. Besides, you have me to balance you out.”
Moxie kicked her heels against the railing. “Okay, you’re kinda right.”
“I’m always right.”
“No need to be smug, Mr. Smart-A**.”
“Hey, I’m stating a fact. Oh, and another fact: my head is a good bit smarter than my admittedly good-looking a**.”
“Whatever. And what are you talking about, your a** looks like a big fat jiggly bowl of Jell-O!”
“It does not! Just look! Admire it!” He hopped off the railing and wagged his behind at Moxie as she laughed her head off. For one brief moment, in the warm night air and pale neon glow, she forgot her anger and bitterness as she laughed and laughed.
“You know, Luke,” she said, trying to catch her breath, “life sucks sometimes.”
“Sucks like hell.”
Moxie was startled; Luke didn’t normally swear. He left that to his fiery friend. “But it hurts a lot less when I’ve got a best friend like you.”
Luke smiled his wide, piano-toothed smile. “If I didn’t do that, I would consider myself a failure as a best friend.”
Moxie gave him a hug, breathing in his smell of bug juice and saltwater and the sweet mint gum he was always chewing. “You’ve never failed a test in your life, and you haven’t failed this one.”
Luke smiled again and started to take the lock off his bike so they could ride home. As she climbed onto the frame and gripped her friend’s shoulders, Moxie was sure she saw the cashier wink.
She started to roll her eyes reflexively, then stopped. She watched the wind ruffle Luke’s thick hair and felt it lift her own. Moxie shrugged and gave the cashier a wave. Hey, it was summer. Anything could happen.