However it started, it must have been somewhat like this. Although, truth be told, I’ve long forgotten all the details that make such an experience the type which, as it is happening, makes your mind halt for a moment and note to itself with mild astonishment, “This, I believe, is something I won’t ever forget.”
I do remember how it ended, though. I can recall every tear, every sob, every whisper as I walked through town. If you’ve ever tried to keep a secret among people who have known you in any way more than passing acquaintance, you know it is an impossibility. And to still those wagging tongues whose owners seem to have naught to occupy themselves save reveling in their perceived glorification compared to your gossiped fall from grace takes the skill of a snake-charmer and the will of God.
The days leading up to my moment of reckoning were the same effortless days of childhood that everyone experiences. The delight in attempting to capture crickets in the vacant lot down the street, sitting on the front step blowing soap bubbles and truly believing that you could use them to communicate with your playmate next door, coming home at dusk, covered with grass stains and dust and being whisked off to a hot, soapy bath by a mother whose continuous chatter about cleanliness barely hid her longing to do the same. Days that seem to last forever. Days that never come again.
Sarah, my best friend Jenny’s little, and intensely annoying, sister, had just finished carrying out our cardboard lemonade stand to the curb in from of their blue and white split-level home. She came running back into the kitchen, her platinum blond hair bouncing in its tiny ringlets, panting with exertion and excitement. Jenny was negotiating the use of the “good glasses” with her mother while I sat in the nook, brow furrowed in single-minded concentration upon my task. Our sign had to be perfect.
“Shelley,” Sarah panted into my shoulder, “can I colour the lemons? Shelley? Can I?”
I’ve always been hard to disturb when occupied with a task I was determined to perfect. Poor Sarah may as well been pleading with an Easter Island monolith for all the reaction she garnered from my twelve-year-old form.
“Shelley!” Sarah stomped, turning to her sister. “Jenny, can I colour the lemons? Shelley’s ignoring me again.”
Jenny looked over her shoulder at her sister, her honey-coloured hair falling down her back in shimmering waves. “Shelley?” she softly asked.
No matter how deeply within myself I’d delved, regardless of the importance I’d prioritized a task, Jenny had the uncanny ability to pierced my attention and draw me back to the world at large, or the world we had created for ourselves.
“Mmnh?” I mumbled around a mouthful of chestnut hair as my mix-matched eyes sought out my closest friend in the world.
“Sarah wants to colour the lemons after you’ve finished drawing them.”
I wrinkled my nose at the thought of that obnoxious seven-year-old even going near my masterpiece; but I’d never been able to deny Jenny anything. I could tell from her look and subtle tiredness in her voice that she saw this as a means to an end. Occupy Sarah and we could be free of her for a short spell.
“Yeah, okay.” I said after removing the offending lock of hair that somehow always managed to find its way into my mouth when I was concentrating. Looking at Sarah, I directed her, “but don’t mess it up. I’ve been working on this all morning. Okay?”
This was all Sarah wanted to hear. “Okay! I’ll be super careful, I promise!” and she skipped happily to the other room until she was beckoned to her task.
I rolled my eyes and sighed a little as Jenny smiled that sympathetic grin, which seemed to say, “It’s okay. And even if it isn’t, it’s not the end of the world.” If anyone else had given me that look I would have flown into a rage, hissing like an alley cat. But it was Jenny. Beautiful, even-tempered Jennifer.
Again, I put my head down and that offending lock of hair snaked its way back between my lips. My total concentration broken by the preceding exchange, I could make out Jenny’s conversation with her mother as I completed the finishing touches (leaving the lemons black outlines for Sarah, of course) of our soon to be proud banner declaring: Lemonade 2¢.
“She’s only trying to help because she looks up to you two so much, Jennifer” Mrs. Mitchell said to her twelve-year-old daughter as she smoothed a stray bang from Jenny’s eyes.
Jenny nodded slowly, “Yeah, I know, Mom. But she really gets on Shelley’s nerves sometimes.” She stealthily glanced over at me with that statement, hoping I hadn’t heard her. She’d been my buffer from Sarah for as long as that imp was old enough to start following us on our adventures. She knew how much Sarah irked me, and in her amazingly peaceful way, without ever once complaining about it, understood what it would take to make me happy and made sure it was done.
For that, and a million other reasons, I loved her beyond comprehension.