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I was surprised when Ali called and invited me to the movies. We weren’t very good friends, though we orbited in the same social solar system. But Harkins had given her some free tickets to a prescreening of “The Island,” and she had to go with someone. It was mid-July, and our rich friends had ditched the white hot Arizona sun for islands with delicious names. Barbados. St. Bart’s. Turks and Caicos.
Anyway, I was convenient leftovers, and I wouldn’t say no to a free movie, especially if it contained Ewan McGregor kicking major clone booty astride a futuristic motorbike. It was the summer before high school, so my parents had to drive us. We picked her up at her place. I remember that we accidentally wore the exact same shade of green, and that she looked better in it than I did.
“So, Ali, how are your parents?” That was my dad.
“Oh they’re great, Mr. Ramos! We’re all having a great summer!” Her normal modus operandi is so determinedly cheerful that it seems pharmaceutically enhanced, but she is really just that happy. I remembered why we weren’t better friends.
“And are you looking forward to high school as much as my daughter?”
At this one Ali and I exchanged a glance.
“Um‚ I don’t know.”
Maybe she wasn’t so bad.
“You should be jumping up and down. It’s the best time of your life, you know.”
Another glance. “I suppose.”
With their duty as inquisitors fulfilled, my parents turned up the music, leaving us free to indulge in real conversation – a.k.a. talking about guys.
Both of us were madly in love with upperclassmen‚ Cole and Brandt, respectively. It was just about the only thing we had in common, the might of our crushes. They left battle scars: Ali’s narrow shoulders sunburnt from hours spent watching Cole from her roof, my fingertips callused from learning jazz guitar to impress Brandt.
But even the minutiae of our potential love lives weren’t enough to last the whole drive. Casting around for a topic, I landed on high school.
“So, you’re about as thrilled as me about being a freshman, huh?”
Ali laughed. “You have no idea how many parents I’ve had tell me it’ll be the best time of my life … and how many high-schoolers tell me it’ll be the worst.”
“I know, right! I’m totally terrified. It’s like, you have to get a job, get a car, get a boyfriend, get involved, get great grades so you can get into a great college so you can get a great job.”
“Exactly. What happens if you don’t get it all?”
There followed a nervous silence, but it was mercifully cut short by our arrival at the theater. In all the bustle of finding seats, we could almost forget about it. Almost.
The movie wasn’t very memorable, a standard summer orgy of explosions and chiseled actors. Afterwards there was about a half hour before my parents’ movie got out, so we needed to find a way to waste time.
We walked out of the theater to wait in the thick, hot night under the dim orange lights by the wall of upcoming movie posters with the clusters of other middle school kids. All of us were trying to look as though we weren’t being picked up by our parents, like we didn’t even know such things as parents existed – we just popped out of test tubes and were spared all that embarrassment. It was awkward.
Ali and I had run out of safe, superficial things to talk about before the movie. I mentioned the already thoroughly dissected subject of our high school expectations, and we found five minutes worth of material, talking too happily and too loudly in our relief. All too soon we were quiet again, and in my desperation I said, “I wish …,” and could not think what for.
I looked around for inspiration, hoping that it lurked somewhere in the stifling, aching night. What could I say? I wish for everything? It was true, but not right. Sweat trickled in that hideously unpleasant way down the small of my back, and suddenly I knew.
“I wish it would rain.”
Unbelievably, impossibly, miraculously, out of the blank black sky a solid wall of water whumped down on us. Heat lightning fractured the horizon, and thunder came so loud it pulled at our ribs. The heat that had smothered the sienna desert pulled away, and that wet dirt mineral smell filled the air. For a moment Ali and I merely goggled at each other, matching green shirts and matching expressions of wonder. Then we screamed and danced like dervishes in the warm rain, shouting all our other wishes to the sky, more than half believing that they would come true too.