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Sophie lives across the street. Her house is the size of mine but lost its will to live a long time ago. The window shutters hang off of their hinges and the paint has chipped away all over their house. The grass is all dead. Mother said it’s because her parents don’t take care of it. She said Sophie’s father is a friend of the bottle. She said she knows this because once we got a letter addressed to Sophie’s father in the mail and when she went over to her house to give it to them, Sophie’s mother opened the door and Mother could hear him inside yelling for another beer. And it wasn’t even 12 o’clock yet.
Mother said I shouldn’t play with Sophie but she’s my friend. Mother just doesn’t know her like I do. She acts really sad a lot and her eyes remind me of my uncle’s basset hound. Her clothes have more holes in them than Swiss cheese and they are always old and faded so even those look sad. But she listens when I talk and is fun to play with. She’s smart too. She helps me with my math. She has the best grade in the whole class.
“Want to go to the store with me?” I ask Sophie. “Mother’s baking and needs more milk.”
“Sure,” Sophie replies. I want to ask why she’s sitting alone outside in the middle of winter but don’t. Questions like that are rude.
When I walk to the store with my friends we throw snowballs at each other. Sophie never throws snowballs, even when the snow is perfect. When it’s like that it becomes our clay for us to do whatever we want with. Sophie says she can’t hold the snow because she doesn’t have mittens like the rest of us. She said her hands get too cold if she holds the snow for too long. It doesn’t bother the rest of us though. My friends and I love when the snow is easy to mold. When it’s good, we smash together the delicate crystals through our rough mittens and make all sorts of things. Sometimes our fingers get numb and the wind bites at our faces, but we don’t care. My favorite days are when the snow is still falling softly. Those days when the flakes swim through the air gracefully instead of falling down straight and heavy. I always stick out my tongue and try to catch the icy flakes. They dance away from me but I just stand there until one dares to land on the tip of my tongue. When I close my mouth the snowflakes melt away but they always leave the same wintery taste.
We get to the store and go inside. Sophie looks at all of the food with big eyes. She looks like a hungry kitten. Her wet hair clings to her face and through her thin coat it is easy to see how she is skinny like a pole. Her big blue eyes are full of longing as she stares at the shelves and shelves of food. She rubs her hands together to warm them up. They are tinted a purplish blue like the blueberries Mother buys in the summer.
So much food, I hear her whisper under her breath. It makes me uncomfortable because there really isn’t that much. This is a small store. I don’t correct her though.
After I buy the milk we go back outside. I hold the milk away from my body because it is so cold. We walk for a few minutes when I feel a snowball hit my back. I turn around, wondering who it was because it couldn’t have been Sophie. She doesn’t have gloves.
But when I turn around, I see she is standing a few steps behind me, looking as happy as my sister when she found out that my parents had planned a surprise party for her. Sophie’s hands are hanging by her sides, each encased in a red mitten
“Where did you get those?” I ask.
“From the store,” she answers, shrugging.
“I thought you said you didn’t have any money with you.”
“I don’t.” Sophie’s face gets red like her mittens and she starts walking again. I follow behind quietly and listen to the soft crunch of snow and ice under our feet. Our footsteps are intruders on the natural silence surrounding us. The bottoms of my shoes are worn out and I can feel coldness coming from the ground. When we get to our street we both go back to our houses without saying anything.
Right as I’m about to open my front door I turn around.
“I like your gloves,” I say across the street to Sophie.
She smiles at me. “Thanks.”