The morning Dodie met Braden, she was secretly sulking inside. She sat in the porch swing, swaying a little as she tried to read The Key to Extraordinary to distract herself from her swirling emotions. The aroma of bacon and eggs slowly crept out of the house and found its way to her nose, letting her know what mom was cooking. Usually, breakfast was her favorite meal, but today she didn’t care as much.
How could her mom just give up on her dad and then move forward with someone new so soon? Didn’t he or their family mean anything to her?
Dodie had zero interest in meeting a “new dad” and stepbrothers and sisters tomorrow evening, but she had no choice. She really had little choice about anything in her life it seemed these days.
Some wrens started chirping happily in a tree nearby, so Dodie put the book away so she could put some more seeds in the feeder, which was a few feet from the porch. The wrens and the squirrels always looked as if they didn’t have a care in the world. She wished she was as free as they were.
Returning to the swing, she found that the slow, easy rhythm calmed her nerves a lot. But the bottom of her aqua-colored Nikes kept thumping against the wood surface of the porch. Those thumps came quicker and quicker as she began to swing harder and faster, each thump a secret protest against what was going on in her world.
But then, her golden lab, Finn, barked twice at her, trying to get her attention. He'd been lifting his nose every few seconds to take in the wonderful, familiar smell of crispy bacon. Hopping onto the swing, he began tugging at her sleeve. She pulled her arm away and scowled at him.
“No, Finn. We aren’t going in yet. Sit.”
Finn whined a little, tried to sit obediently for a few seconds, but eventually he got in her lap to stare her down with his big brown eyes. The guilt trip didn’t work. So, he whimpered one final time, then got down out of the swing to lay at her feet.
It was then that she noticed a boy a few yards down the street making his way toward her on a skateboard. He was wearing a short-sleeved Mossy Oak shirt and blue jeans. After a few seconds, he had already made it to the end of the driveway.
“Hey, girl, what’s your name?”
This was always a delicate subject. She'd never liked the name “Dorothy” because it sounded too old school. Her little cousin, Jill, was only two when she'd dubbed her with the name "Dodie." Her efforts to pronounce Dorothy always failed. So, after that, everyone else began calling her Dodie. She was glad cause she liked it so much better.
Now, hiding behind her wire-rimmed glasses, Dodie didn’t look up at the boy nor did she answer him. Irritation was coursing through her brain as she mumbled under her breath… Oh, just go away. Then, she remembered there was no need to be mean. She tried breathed a long deep breath, imagining her veins were filled with cool water.
By the time she was ready to answer him, just go away boy was already gliding back down the road in the opposite direction pretty fast. However, a couple of minutes later, he had made a circle and started heading back in her direction.
Oh lord. She could feel the butterflies rising up in her stomach.
As he got there, the boy stopped short, angling and sliding so sharply that his board skidded a little sideways. What a showoff, she thought.
But he was the first kid around there to even talk to her. Biking, roller blading, and boarding were things most of the kids in the neighborhood did for fun, even the younger ones. It was ok since there wasn’t much traffic on that street and there was a skate park a little further down. The older kids liked to make small ramps to practice their jumps with at home, but she really didn’t know much about their habits other than that. She was always too busy reading, making good grades, planning her future, and basically being a nerd.
And now the boy would be expecting an answer from her…
Dust waffled upward and outward as the boy got off the board and flipped it upward with his foot. She quickly turned her head to the side, hoping he hadn’t seen her looking at him, but he had already begun to walk toward her with confidence in his stride. His hand went up to shield his eyes from the sun as he stopped in front of the porch where she was.
“Hey,” I’m pretty sure I know you. ” His breath was a little ragged and sweat was dripping from his forehead. He wiped this away with his forearm, then flipped his sandy skater-cut hair out of his eyes.
Dodie met his gaze for a few seconds. She didn’t know him from Adam and she really didn’t think she wanted to. But then he pressed a little further,
“I live in a different neighborhood, but my dad's brother works down the street. I know your last name is Johnson because that’s what it says on your mailbox,”
“My brother Drew says your first name is Dorothy. Is that right?”
He chuckled a little and there was a touch of mischief in his voice.
Glaring at him, she replied,
“No, it’s Dodie. Don’t ever call me that name. What do you want?”
“Whoooa, sorry.” The boy threw his hands up , “ No need to bite my head off.”
Immediately, Dodie felt bad for having been rude to a stranger, so she spoke a lot softer this time.
“I’m sorry, I just have a lot on my mind. It’s nice to meet you. What’s your name? ”
“I’m Braden. My folks moved into the green house down by Davis lake a little over a year ago. When I come over to Drew's house, I've seen you outside a few times. He works at the convenience store down the road. You’ve probably seen him there, right?”
“Yeah, I think so."
Glancing down at his board and back at her, he asked,
“Well, do you skate?”
“ No. A couple of years ago one of my cousins left his board at dad’s house and I tried to ride it a little, but right away I skint my knee up real bad. I don’t think skateboarding is for me. But I do have my bike here."
“Yeah, I think I saw you riding it once or twice. So, your dad doesn’t live with you guys?”
Dodie’s chin dropped a little. “No, my mom and dad are divorced. Dad moved out about a year ago. Now she’s got a new boyfriend. He and his kids are coming over tonight for supper.”
“No problem. I understand,” Braden answered, “Don’t worry, it will be ok. You’ll see,” then gave her a thumbs up as if to say, Trust me, it will be fine.
She stood there wishing she had his confidence that everything would be ok. Why did everyone else except her think her parents’ divorce wasn’t that big a deal? The worst part was she sometimes felt it was her fault. Maybe if she’d been a better kid, they would be together. When she first found out, it hurt so much that her breath caught in her throat, almost strangling her. She’d even tried to clean up her own act, hoping it would change their minds, but they still got the divorce anyway. When she thought about a new dad replacing hers, hot anger would always start to burn in her chest.
“I don’t care about meeting this new boyfriend of hers or his kids,” her voice was tight and her eyes glowered as she said it.
“I kinda understand how you feel. A couple of years ago, my oldest sister, Jemma, married this guy and later she divorced him. Mom and her, him, and the rest of us kids were all living together in his house at that time. I was kinda mad at first that we had to find a new place and move after she divorced him. And, weirdly, I kinda missed the idea of them being together after he left. But I realized soon enough that she is better off now without him. I didn't know it then, but the guy was hitting her when nobody else was around. This guy she is with now, Charles, he’s so much nicer to her. She's happy. She talks about him all the time.”
“That’s funny. My uncle's name is Charles, too, but everybody calls him Chuck.”
“Really? That’s weird,” he said with a chuckle.
They both went quiet for a few seconds, but then Braden thought of an idea.
“Hey, do you wanna come watch me at the skate park down the road this afternoon? You’ll love it. It’s pretty rad. There are some pretty sick skaters there. In fact, I’m pretty good, myself.”
His lips curved up into a full grin and his sandy eyebrows arched upward for emphasis when he said ‘sick,” like it was a inside term only for skaters, and she should know it.
“Maybe after breakfast.”
She wasn’t that hungry yet, but she figured if she left the yard her mom would worry unless she told her where she was going. She was very adamant about when people ate their breakfast.
“Hey, I’m sure mom wouldn’t mind you coming in and eating some with us,” she said, “You hungry?”
“Yeah, I’m starving. My mom doesn’t cook most mornings. She’s a big coffee drinker. I usually go back home and make myself a Pop Tart or else some Pizza Rolls after I ride, but we’re out of everything. She gets paid tomorrow.”
So, they went inside and her mom made them each a plate of bacon, eggs, grits, and homemade biscuits. Braden smacked his food. Anyone would have thought he’d never had biscuits with gravy.
“Wow, your mom is a great cook.”
“I know,” Dodie had to hold back her laughter then because right about that time he spilled some gravy on his shirt.
Afterwards, Dodie’s mom said was fine if they went to the skate park as long as Dodie was back around 2 p.m. So, they went back outside, and walked together to the convenience store, with Braden carrying his board the whole way and asking her about her likes and dislikes and telling her his. He seemed to have manners, considering he was a boy. She hadn’t met too many she liked, but he seemed ok.
When they got to the store, he introduced her to his brother, who was standing behind the register, counting change back to a customer. Braden paid for them both a bag of chips and a Coke to drink later if they got hungry or thirsty again, then they were off to the skate park.
Watching many others who were skating there, it was obvious there were some real pros among the kids in the neighborhood. She admired how they could do all the crazy jumps, spins, and other tricks and not bust their asses. She knew she could never be as good no matter how much she practiced.
After finishing his last jump, Braden finally skated over her, then screeched to a stop right in front of where she stood, making her think he was going to slam into her. She jumped, then laughed at herself. Bryan nearly doubled over laughing too, but then he told her he was sorry for scaring her. In spite of how she had been feeling before all this, she was now beginning to feel much better.
“Hey, you wanna try it? Its really fun once you get the hang of it.”
When she said, no, he motioned in the direction of his brother's house.
“Tomorrow, we’ll go down to Drew's house and grab a couple of boards. I’ll teach you.”
The next day, Braden's aunt answered the door when they arrived and invited them both in. Not wanting attention to herself, Dodie waited outside for him to return. After waiting while, she got bored and started playing on her phone. Finally, he returned.
“There’s a concrete slab foundation out back where they were going to build another small house, and just never got around to it. Let’s go back there and I’ll teach you some beginner moves.”
When they got behind the house, he said,
“Ok, the first thing we gotta do is figure out your correct stance,” he said, sounding like an expert.
Once he'd placed the board sideways on the ground, he told her to jump over it while he watched to see which foot she landed on. She ended up landing on her right foot.
“Ok, right foot forward, You’ve got the goofy stance,” he laughed proudly, clapping his hands.
“That doesn’t surprise me, at all, cause I’m always goofy,” she chuckled back.
After a few practice push-offs, Dodie was gliding on the board, amazed that she was actually skateboarding for the first time! She had never felt so free in her life, at least not since learning how to ride a bike for the first time.
As they walked back to her house, Dodie was thinking her mom might be worried by now because it was already about 4 and their company was set to arrive at 6. She was hoping she wasn’t about to get a tongue lashing. Luckily, they were almost there.
As they reached the edge of her driveway, Braden said, “You did great today.”
But then, they both heard a text message pinging from one of their phones. She grabbed hers out of her pocket, but quickly saw there was no messages on hers. Looking back up, she realized that Braden was quickly typing a reply back to someone on his.
“Hey, I have to go. My dad just texted my mom that he and I and my sister have to go somewhere tonight. I didn’t know until now. I have to go home and get ready.” Braden said, seeming apologetic.
“That’s ok. I had fun today. See you later.” She smiled at him and waved as he pushed off on his board. As she watched him glide, she silently hoped that she would get to do this again. They'd had so much fun.
She went inside the house to find that her mother was frantic.
“What took you so long? You know we have company tonight. Now get showered and dressed. You have about 30 minutes.”
“Sorry, I lost track of the time, mom. I’ll get ready now. It won’t take long.”
“Do you even know what you’re going to wear? Please, anything other than blue jeans and a t-shirt. How about that blue dress that looks so nice on you that your dad got you for Easter last year.”
“No way. I'll just put on some nice khakis and that white ruffled blouse, but not a dress.”
“Ok, that’s fine, but do it quickly!”
After getting ready, Dodie made her way down the stairs to find that her mom had made a nice dinner of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, cornbread, green beans, and macaroni & cheese ready at the table ready for the company. It wasn’t a great surprise, because that was one of her mom’s favorite fall backs for their family gatherings. Instead, what did surprise her was who was sitting in the living room, waiting for her.
Sitting on the love seat was a girl named Kim, who was close to her age, but what what really amazed her was who was sitting on the couch right next to her mom's boyfriend. It was Braden, the same boy she had just spent the day with! She smiled really big and said,
"It's you!! I can't believe this!"
Smiling back, Branden replied,
"Yeah, me either. Who woulda guessed this could happen."
After everyone ate, they all sat down to play Uno, then Monopoly, and Pictionary. Maybe she was going to fit into a new family better than she thought. She still loved her dad, and wished things could have worked out, but maybe her mom moving on wasn’t going to be so bad after all.
But then she wondered if Braden had known all along that her mom and his dad were dating. If he did, though, why didn’t he say anything about it?
Sitting down next to him on the couch, she asked, “Did you know already that your dad was my mom’s boyfriend,”
“No, I didn’t,” he replied, ‘It’s pretty wicked, though, huh?”
“Yeah, it’s actually pretty cool,” she said, still feeling a little puzzled about it all.
When her mom’s boyfriend and his family got ready to leave, everyone was hugging everyone else and saying bye. So, Dodie held out her arms to give Branden a hug, too, but, at first he resisted it. Instead, he put his hand on top of her head and started mussing up her hair, teasing.
“Quit that.” She moaned.
“Ya know, you’re not bad for a kid sister. I am one year older than you, so I can call you that.” He chuckled, then put one arm around her shoulders.
“You’re not so bad for a brother either. But one year older isn’t enough to call somebody a ‘kid sister,” Dodie jibed back at him, giggling, opening the front door for them to go outside.
After he left, she thought of how they would be having so many adventures together. This was only the beginning.