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Spring is our favorite. Gabriel and I sit cross-legged in our secret field, and even though the grass is scratchy and I know my legs will be bumpy and itchy later, it's better than resting our butts on the hot sidewalk or street that will make our tailbones sore.
I am drawing a picture of him as he sits across from me. It's part of my assignment for English to present a project about a friend, and since Gabriel is my best friend, and since I am the best artist in my class, I am here drawing a picture of him in our secret field.
'Look ahead, look at me,' I instruct him, but he keeps getting distracted. He's plucking and twisting grass and he doesn't mean to, but he keeps looking down.
My picture is fairly accurate. His nose is on the small side but other than that it is one of my best, and I am not even done with it.
Gabriel rolls his head and starts fidgeting with his pocket.
'Gabriel, please, I'm almost done,' I'm begging. I drag my pencil over the top of his head to make his hair. Short strokes that touch his butterfly wing ears on either side of his face.
I look up, and Gabriel has a pink bubble covering half of his face, like a candy balloon. I frown but only for about a second because it's okay because I'm done anyways.
'Ta da!' I announce, and I flip my sketchbook over so he can see.
His bubble pops. Gabriel leans forward and scratches his chin, smacking his gum. 'I don't have any eyebrows. Or lips.'
'Lips are for girls, and eyebrows don't even matter,' I say.
'Anyways it's probably my best drawing I've ever done, so you better thank me because it's a picture of you.'
'Then shouldn't you thank me?'I ignore him and set my sketchbook beside me. He crawls over to me and we sit side by side. He is still smacking his gum but it's quieter and he smells like spearmint and maple syrup and I remember the day he kissed me in our secret field. It was last year when I was in the second grade, and we never talked about it again.
I thought it made us boyfriend and girlfriend but he gave Brittany a Valentine that year and this year Lisa gave him a lacy heart that said 'Be Mine?' and Gabriel said yes, so I don't know what's going on exactly.
It bothers me sometimes. I wonder if he ever kissed Brittany or Lisa and I could ask, or I should ask, but instead I am happy enough that he is my best friend so I don't want to ask and have him be mad. I don't think it bothers me that much.
'I'm bored,' Gabriel announces. 'And my legs itch.'
I don't want to leave just yet. I am happy just sitting here with Gabriel and looking out for rabbits. ''Cause you wore shorts.'
'This is boring,' he repeats.
'Do you want to watch the clouds maybe?'
'Let's go buy some sodas at 7-11.'
Gabriel isn't allowed to drink soda at his house so he always wants some whenever he's not home. My mom always tells me not to go to the 7-11 because there's too much traffic to cross the street and it's shady anyways.
I look at him. 'That doesn't sound like a good idea to me, Gabriel.'
He turns, stares back at me. I try to figure out what color his eyes are, and they are really more gold than anything else, but I know yellow isn't an eye color. His eyes are squinting at me now. 'Are you really gonna be a baby about it?'
'Let's watch clouds.'
'You can, I want some soda and I have two bucks in my pocket, so see ya if you don't want to come.' Gabriel gets to his feet.
'No,' I say, and I rise clumsily. 'I'm coming, but if anything bad happens I swear you better tell my mom it's all your fault.'
He's already walking away, and I shove my sketchbook into my backpack. I have to run to catch up to him. 'I said, you better swear.'
'I swear, whatever. Gosh,' he smiles. 'I swear I wish you weren't so chicken.'
We cross the line of willow trees to get back to the cul-de-sac. 'I'm not chicken,' I insist. 'Who are you doing for your project?'
'Nat,' Gabriel says proudly. Nat is his older brother, sixteen with a car in high school. I feel kinda stupid doing a project on Gabriel when Gabriel isn't doing a project on me.
'It can't be your brother, it has to be a friend.'
'Nat is my friend.'
Gabriel isn't listening, he's walking on the curb like an acrobat, one sneaker in front of the other, deliberate and steady. 'How much money does a tight-rope walker make?'
'Gabriel, I thought I was your best friend.' I don't mean to say it in such a small voice, and I know I sound lame and like a girl, which Gabriel always complains about.
I see 7-11 in the distance.
'I know,' he says, but his mind is somewhere else. His concentration is on his feet and the arms held out like a giant T.
'Are you Lisa's boyfriend?'
His right foot catches onto the pavement and he stumbles for a second, but he find his balance quickly. 'Hell no!'
I feel my ears get hot hearing this. Gabriel has started to curse a lot lately. He returns to the curb, daintily like a little bird, one two, one two, one two.
A car pulls up next to us. I don't even notice it, and I'm scared because Gabriel is so close to the street and I hope he doesn't fall under the tires. It's a little green car and it looks dirty and dusty. I stop walking but Gabriel keeps going.
The tinted window rolls down. A man with a scratchy beard is behind the glass. 'Hey boys, are you interested in buying some caramels?'
I am insulted. 'I'm a girl,' I correct him. My backpack is purple, for gosh sakes.
The man seems embarrassed but lets his car roll up so he's even with Gabriel. 'Hey, son, you want to look at some of the treats I have?'
Gabriel doesn't stop. 'Sorry, we're going to buy sodas.'
I hurry up so I am next to Gabriel again, walking steadily beside him. The man lets his car move very, very slowly. I never knew a car could move so slow. 'Say, where are you going to buy those sodas?' His voice is soft but gravelly.
I proudly say, 'We're going to 7-11.'
'I've got soda, and I bet they're tons cheaper than 7-11.'
Gabriel stops walking. 'How much soda can I buy with two bucks?'
'Uhm, about six bottles.'
Gabriel looks at me, his mouth hanging open, and then turns back to the man. 'You're kidding me!'
'No, I'm not.'
Gabriel pauses. 'Wait, what kind of soda do you got?'
The man pauses. 'What's your favorite kind?'
'Say, I got tons of Pepsi!'
The man nods, licking his lips. I just notice now that there is another man sitting next to him. He does not have a beard but he is skinnier than my classmate Krista, even. He is watching me carefully. He leans forward. 'If you buy six, I'll even give a free soda to your little girlfriend.'
Girlfriend! I look to see Gabriel's reaction, but he's pulling out two crumpled bills from his pocket. The bearded man looks sharply at the skinny man, and then back at Gabriel. 'Go ahead and open the door and get the sodas for yourself,' the bearded man says.
'Don't you want my money?' Gabriel asks first.
'Give it to my friend when you pick it out,' he instructs.
Gabriel opens the door and leans inside. He folds his chubby legs into the car, and I hear him clicking open a cooler. 'Gabriel,' I say, 'get me orange soda!'
'I don't see any soda,' Gabriel says.
The skinny man squeezes himself into the back, saying, 'Are you looking in the right box?'
I am standing on my tip-toes, hoping that Gabriel gets me the right kind of soda.
The skinny man shuts the door.
'Gabriel?' I say. Why did he close the door?
The bearded man has rolled up the window, and the car screeches, and it pulls away. What just happened?
The car is going fast, it's around the corner now, and I am standing completely still. Move, move, I should move, I should go, I should follow. Where's Gabriel? My feet won't move, they feel like they are stuck. I feel the air in my nose going in and out, faster and faster. This is wrong, this is bad, something terrible has happened.
I have to tell Gabriel's mom and my mom that Gabriel is gone so what am I doing falling on the ground, my legs folded Indian-style underneath me, feeling like jell-o and refusing to stiffen so I can walk like I know I need to.
My arms feel like robot arms, or more like, they don't feel like anything. I see them move in front of me and unzip my backpack and pull out my sketchbook and some colored pencils and I start drawing what they looked like because I can't forget and they show drawings of people like this on TV all the time.
I need to tell my mom and Gabriel's mom but first I need to do this before I forget.
This is bad, those men were bad and I need to draw this so everybody will know what they look like so Gabriel is okay.
I draw a huge circle for the fat man's face, draw his mushroom nose, draw a straight line for his mouth, draw little circles for his eyes. He had a beard but not really, so I make little dots all over his face.
I flip the page, new page.
I draw a long circle for the skinny man, draw another mushroom nose, draw a straight line for his mouth, draw little circles for his eyes. He had a mustache so I squiggle it above his mouth.
This is good, this looks exactly like them, and I don't even take my backpack or my colored pencils even though I know somebody will steal them. It's okay though because I know that my pictures are good and what I've done is good.
I run home holding only my sketchbook but I am not so worried because I know Gabriel will be okay because the pictures I drew will find him, for sure.