There’s a house at the corner of Oxford avenue and Dill Weed street. It’s not spooky. It doesn’t give you a shiver down your spine every time you drive past it and make you wonder what kind of ghostly spirit lives in it. In its youth it was ranch style and had red paint. Deep red. With white shutters atop of the flower beds that sat on two small windows. The flower bed on the left was filled with the most amazing purple petunias I’d ever seen. They were so vibrant your eyes hurt after staring for more than a few seconds. They even stained your skin a bit to the touch. While the one on the right was filled with red roses which matched the ranch house, those were just alright. But now the red paint is a faded pink, with the exception of a few white stains. The shutters are ripped clean off. The red roses were murdered and my petunias are gone. Not to mention, there is half of an oak tree living in the master bedroom. The front door was once a tan border with a stained glass center. It is now just a border. Noah and I call that the portal.
My mom thinks Tuesdays and Wednesdays are for religion class. She’s really adorable cause everyone knows children are only legally allowed to be forced to endure religion one day a week or else they will die. Noah and I take religion on Tuesdays. We don’t sit together anymore. Our Lady of the Perpetual Tears is right on Oxford Ave. Noah's mom drops him off wherever he wants whenever he asks. I always tell Noah his mom’s the best, but he says mine is. There’s one thing we’re sure of though, Wednesday nights are our favorite.
The thing is, WednesDAY. The earliest 8 AM I’ve ever felt. And to add to that? Tomorrow would be the last day of 5th grade. So naturally I forget my times tables, I read less closely, Stanley makes fun of the way I pronounce “Ketchup” my lunch gets squashed, and then five weeks later the class day ends . Noah and I give eachother glances all day. No words. Not even smiles. I like to think our plans are far too confidential, but it seems nowadays, Noah’s embarrassed of me.
The most difficult part of my day is the car ride to “religion” with my mother. She loves to bombard me with things to hand to the church director, a heavy book bag to carry about and a note to the nurse. Most of which I have no intention of attending to. They go into the heavy bag and make a cameo appearance on Tuesday when I truly am in that building. The most difficult part of this all is making it look like I went in the building. All experts know if you get lost in the crowd, mothers drive away. However, today… class was cancelled.
I had no knowledge of this. I wasn’t signed up for that class, how would I?
“Terese.” My mother’s voice could be of an angel or devil. This particular ‘Terese” was a strong inbetween.
“Are you sure there’s class today?” There was stress on the ‘‘sure’’, as though I was getting a second chance. Second chance declined.
“Yeah Ma, I think it started early today… I better hurry on” And just like that, before she even could say anything, I freed myself of the light grey Toyota which was keeping me imprisoned. The walk from her car to the two stained glass church doors was infinite. I continued to look back the further I walked to make sure she was still there. She was. The whole dang time. At one point I must have looked frantic cause the final time I turned around she began to open her window as though she was going to tell me to get back in the car. I must say though, God was really at that church cause the door was unlocked and she disappeared the second I got in. And then? I left the church thanking God with every step taken.
Which leads me to the red house at the corner of Oxford and Dill Weed
“Where were you, Knight?” Noah lay behind an oak tree on the wet grass of our house, his dark hair which was stuck to his forehead had a few pieces of grass embedded in it. I plopped down beside him, picking the grass out of his head.
“My cover was blown and I looked death in the eyes.” His eyes widened a bit. This was not dramatic of us. Lying is a sin. My mother was that death.
“How’d you escape?” As he leaned closer to show just how interesting my terror was, I could see the green in his eyes matched the grass in my hands. Most of the time you see dark, maybe even black eyes. But when the light catches, they’re neon. I wish I had cool eyes like that.
“Luck and the grace of God.”
“Oh yeah. Sure.”
“Alright, Burns, no need for the rude ‘tude.”
“Hmmm,” He let out as though he was pondering for a second. And then his eyes widened so suddenly. As if he were being possessed. As if it were happening. Slowly getting up off the wet grass he stared down at me.
“What?? What is it? Do you need your-” I began looking around frantically for his bag. Until I saw a huge smile on his face.
“RACE YA!” And he was off before I could even get up, trailing our portal.
He made it before me, up the three creaky stairs and through the hole of our broken door. Out of my sight for a second. I was close behind, nearly tripping through the door. Light was still glowing through the cracks of the boarded up windows and the hole. My buddy sat in the middle of what was the living room. “Slow poke like always.”
I know a lot of things for a 10 year old. I know silly bandz are completely overrated. I know I’m too old for Barbies. I know I’m supposed to go to church every Sunday (even after religion classes end). I know where babies really come from. And I know that Noah Burns wouldn’t be my friend if he wasn’t the way he is… but my mom always says not to think about the “if”s.
“Oh come on, Burns, you’re a big old cheater and you know it!” There’s something empowering about calling a peer by his last name. Almost as empowering as it is to be called by your own.
“GASP. I don’t know nothing about that word. It ain’t in my vocabulary!”
“Real funny, cheater face.” I punched him in the arm as hard as I could before pulling him up and dragging the poor boy along.
The hurricane had destroyed the exterior of the house but aside from dirt, a lacking of furniture, and a tree through the master bedroom, the interior was fine. I ran up the red carpeted stairs. There were three cases of stairs after another. They were all connected in one though the walls opened at certain points so you could exit towards your left or right. This was my only true home. The dirt embedded in the steps got on the bottom of my white Sketchers but it was fine. They were dirty anyways.
“Come on!” He was slowing down behind me. But I didn’t care, I was too excited to go to the pink room at the top level. By the time I reached the top of the steps and was able to look down at him it was too late. His olive skin was now the color of bleach. But he didn’t stop charging on. He was just a little past the second level when he decided to sit down.
“Hey!” I ran down the stairs at lightning speed, almost tripping on a few stairs until I made it to him. His eyes were shut and his left leg was twitching slightly. And then, like magic, his eyes opened and he stood up. He almost looked proud of himself. That was the littlest tic yet.
I remember the first time it happened. It was 1st grade and we had Ms.Lukah. She was a first year teacher and always seemed a bit overwhelmed. (I wouldn’t blame her though). It was the first day of the third week of school and I was trying to make friends everywhere I went. I would compliment girls on their ugly bows or boys on their lame action figures. But for some reason whenever we played tag, I was deemed “it”. And we played tag a lot.
Though through all my effort there was one boy I never tried to talk to. He was so quiet, I was scared he would cry if I spoke to him. He was much thinner than me and super short. He wore a short sleeved dress shirt tucked into cargo pants everyday and had a “Justin Bieber” haircut. The problem with that was he had dark curly hair. Not the best look. I, however, looked amazing the first day of the third week of school. My mother had just given me a golden cross necklace made of real life gold and I wanted everyone to see it. She dressed me in a plain white dress with pink pantyhose and a matching pink hair tie which held my light brown hair in a ponytail. I felt like the prettiest little girl in the whole school, and I was just sure the world around me would agree. I was ready for everyone to see my amazing outfit that day. Then maybe I would finally get to run from whoever was “it” on the playground instead of chasing the other kids.
When I got to the classroom that morning, Stanley Schutzman ran up to me and said a few words I’d remember forever.
“Terese, you gotta see this. Come look quick!” And just like that, I felt included for the first time in those three weeks. Someone wanted me to look at something! But when the crowd let up it was as though the room fell into slow motion. There sat in the middle of Ms.Lukah’s classroom, a little skinny boy, his skin the color of bleach, his head smacking into his neck repetitively. He looked like his skeleton was trying to climb out of him but couldn’t find a proper exit. Class was dismissed early that day.
The next day at school the skinny boy was allowed to sit in a special comfy chair to keep him relaxed. I didn’t think it was very fair. It didn’t seem like anyone else did either. Recess was his nightmare. I’d never heard the word “Spaz” more in my life than that day. There was a change now, I wasn’t “it” anymore. Spaz Burns was. I would have done anything to be “it” again.
We all got a letter home for our parents about the Burns boy. My mom told me his angel sometimes steps away, and it will continue to until he’s a little more grown up. She also said if I wasn’t nice to him, she would take away all my toys. The other kids didn’t seem to get it like I did. So I decided I would be his angel.
It worries me that he won’t need me soon. I’ll be lost without my only friend.
“Do you want any-”
“Tee, I’m fine.”
“But you-” And right before my eyes he continued marching up the stairs, his color returning with every step he took. I dragged behind until we reached the white door, paint peeling off which revealed the dark wood it was made of. When we opened the door my favorite place in the whole world was revealed. Three of the four walls were painted a soft pink. The fourth wall was originally white, though Noah and I attacked it with a build up of our crayola paint sets. There were splatters, circles, polka dots, and little paint doodles all over the wall. It was a mess in there to say the least. Board games opened and decks of cards sprawled across the carpet. And of course, the closet. The “magical” closet which where once we went in we would come out a different person. (In other words, we both brought the contents of our dress up chests and left them there). Noah hopped in and out of the closet, he chose a police officer costume which only meant one thing for our night… cops and robbers. And I, was the robber. We giggled and screamed the whole night, throwing paint and cards at one another as we ran circles around the pink room. Finally Noah laid in the center of the room.
“Given up so soon?” I decided not to lie next to him. I paced the room instead. Dragging my hand along the wall as though I was counting how many corners it had.
“Would you stop pacing like that”
“It’s making me nervous, I might even-”
“Don’t joke like that.” I stopped pacing and sat next to him. Noah Burns was no longer that skinny little boy in a button up dress shirt who had to sit in a special chair. I don’t know when it happened, but he was an inch taller than me now and even a little wider. He had long dark eyelashes, short black hair with curls only on the top now, and a smile brighter than God himself. Not only his exterior had changed, but his tic disorder was named “transient” by his doctors. Its going away. I decided to focus my eyes on a more distracting matter, our white walled painting. But I couldn’t stop thinking, and thinking, and thinking. I was never one to keep my thoughts quiet--
“Can I ask you somethin’?”
“I guess.” He sat up, leaving us both clutching our knees, and staring at our masterpiece of random color.
“Are you scared for next year?”
“Well. Not as much as I would be. You know, I’m gettin’ better and all, so it won’t be too bad. I have my buddy Stanley.”
“Your buddy Stanley?” I repeated.
“Yeah and the other guys.” My eyes were shut tight as I faced my fear of my best friend abandoning me for a twat like Stanley. Just choke up the words Terese.
“Do I embarrass you?” It was a mumble.
“Am I an embarrassment to you, Noah?” I sat up now, repeating my words in a confident manner.
“What are you talking about? I’m with you every Wednesday night and-”
“Why don’t you talk to me in school Noah? Or in religion? Why are you ‘buddies’ with Stanley?” Before I could continue my speech I felt tears rush out of my eyes. My words now coming out in squeaky gibberish.
He didn’t need his angel anymore. Spaz Burns was gone. It was obvious he would be the king of middle school, he was perfect.
Aside from the sound of my squeaking, the room was silent. Noah stood up and stood before me.
“I come to your old house every Wednesday. Your old, smelly, dirty, house, that was broken up in a hurricane, and isn’t even your house anymore. We play games that we could play in either one of our houses. I make my mom bring me here with no solid reason. I hang out with jerkface boys and glitter butt girls, and I tell them all how great you are! I’m not a doofus. I know what I’m doing and I know who matters. OK?”
He was trying to pay me back. To get the other kids to see the good in me, like I saw in him. My squeaky tears came to a mute.
Suddenly he turned to his SpiderMan backpack. I pretended not to notice, but of course I was violently curious. Remaining silent, I decided to trace the loops of paint with my eyes when-
“I found this in the lawn”
And there in his hand, a purple petunia, just for me. I touched the petal, and it left a light dust of purple on my skin. We both stared down at it. Suddenly, I heard a three loud beeps. Noah broke off his stare from the flower. The neon eyed boy leaned down and gave me a kiss at the top of my head, sending my pale skin into a “mom's famous tomato sauce” red.
“Wave to me from the window?” He swung his Spiderman backpack on to his shoulder with a smile across his lips, making his way to the doorway before stopping abruptly.
“You’ll always be my angel Tee”.
I stood in the same spot for a few minutes, twirling the flower in between my pointer finger and thumb. My heart was punching my ribcage like a practice dummy. What the heck was going on? Did I have a crush on Noah Burns? God, middle school was going to be different. I didn’t even want to go to the window. But I knew it was the right thing to do. As I lifted up the drape we had put over the window, I was taken back. Noah and his mother's car was gone. But what I saw was a new flower bed. Filled with purple petunias to match the one in my hand. To match the ones my father had once planted here for me. So vibrant my eyes hurt.