She looked down at her scuffed boots and smiled. A small smile, but it was there.
Brand new neighbors.
She got up slowly and brushed off her skirt.
A boy her age.
She walked to the window and pressed her forehead against the cool glass.
Introduce him to everyone.
The group was waiting, she knew that. She needed to get a move on. She mindlessly grabbed her phone from the table and walked out the door. The cold air swirled around her, her pale skin reddening slightly. Her skirt swished past her legs.
How long could she keep it from them?
She reached the meeting place and plopped down on the grass beside her ‘friend’.
“When are we starting?” she said, lazily picking grass from the ground.
“Lene you know we start when everyone gets here. Is everything okay?”
“Hm? I’m fine, everything’s fine…” she said in a small voice.
Would he be tall or short?
“Okay, looks like everyone’s here. We can start.”
Would he be a nerd? A theater geek maybe?
“Alright….Chiara, you first, what news do ya got?” Chiara, whom they all called Chichi, tucked her long ginger hair behind her ear.
“The Levisay’s are having a baby soon,” Astra noted it on her sleek black clipboard.
Would he have a sense of humor?
Would he be introverted or extroverted? Daring and loud, or quiet and calm? A sportsy kinda guy, or a more sit in and read type? Maybe he collected something. Marbles? Comics?
“Lene? Are you there?” Astra waved her hand over Lene’s face, her light grey eyes sharp and focused. Lene’s own blue ones were far from it.
“I have no news,” she said, letting go of a fistful of grass.
Astra clicked her pen and narrowed her eyes. She clicked her pen again.
“What time is it?” Lene asked, glancing thoughtfully at the sun, seemingly bright but not shielding them all from the bitter cold of the constant wind.
He’d be there soon. When could she escape and meet him?
“Check your phone,” Fia said, looking at Lene through her mascara-coated lashes. Lene did, pressing the home button a total of three times, too lost in thought to register the numbers the first two times.
Only about fifteen more minutes. Would she make it?
“I have to go,” she blurted without thinking.
“Go where?” Chiara asked, tilting her head to the right.
“Just...somewhere,” Lene looked down at her chipped nail-polish and scratched away another piece.
What if he didn’t want to talk? Didn’t want to meet her?
“Lene, you’re being awfully mysterious,” Astra clicked her pen once more, leaving her thumb on the pen for a couple of seconds before releasing it.
“Am I?” Lene stood up, brushing off her skirt. She checked the time again. She started walking back in the direction of her house.
She could still make it if she ran a little.
“Lene-you can’t just-” Chichi started to get up.
“Leave her,” Astra held her hand out, blocking Chichi, who huffed and sat back down.
Lene half-walked half-ran towards her house. Towards his house. Her cold fingers were growing quite stiff, and she nearly dropped her phone.
Her familiar red brick house soon came into view. She stopped running and moving altogether.
In the driveway of the house beside hers, she saw a small grey car-one that hadn’t been there before. The engine turned off.
She was just in time.
She smoothed out her skirt and collected herself as the door of the car opened.
Out walked a boy.
A boy of medium height. He wore glasses, not the thick-lensed type, but the type that was slightly fashionable. He had somewhat well-defined cheekbones framing his light-skinned face. His deep brown hair swept a bit over his brown eyes. As soon as he exited the vehicle, he stuffed his hands in the pockets of his bright yellow hoodie, out of place on the dreary day.
Lene took a sharp intake of breath and step by step, walked towards the boy. As she got closer she noticed that freckles lightly peppered his nose, and his eyes had slight flecks of gold.
The boy’s eyes landed on Lene and they widened.
What should she say?
“Hi!” she smiled. “Welcome to the neighborhood.”
“Hi,” he said, and the corners of his mouth lifted ever so slightly.
“I’m Lene,” she outstretched her hand. The boy took one of his out of his pocket and clasped it.
Not too firm of a grip. Keeping eye contact. Interesting.
They shook hands and Lene let go, letting hers drop to her side and watching his inch their way to his pocket again.
A pretty name…
“Where are you moving from?” Lene cocked her head to the side.
“You know….Around….” Lene’s eyes glinted with delight.
“I love a mystery. Are all your things already here?”
“The boxes are. Everything still needs to be unpacked,” Ethan said, unsure of why he was still standing there, talking to the strange girl in the skirt.
“You can do that later, though, right? Come with me.” she grabbed his arm and pulled him towards her house. He let her guide him, stumbling along until they reached Lene’s door.
Lene opened the door and let go of his arm. She walked in. Ethan followed, his eyes scanning the living room. Lene closed the door lightly. She rubbed her hands together, glad to be inside.
She led Ethan to the stairs, and they walked up them all until Lene reached her bedroom door.
She turned the knob and went in. She sat on her bed.
“Ethan?” Lene called out, liking the way the name felt on her tongue. He walked in, finally releasing his hands from the prison that was his pocket. His eyes drifted to the walls, and then to Lene. “So…..” Lene’s fingers traced the patterns on her bedspread. She didn’t really know what she was going to do when she brought him in.
“Come sit,” Lene said, afraid of letting the silence stretch for too long. Ethan made his way to the bed and sat, not exactly next to Lene, but not too far from her either.
“Can you tell me about the neighborhood? Is it friendly?”
“My friends are dying to meet you,”
“New faces are a big deal here,”
Not in a good way.
“You’ll love it,”
Would he though?
Lene smiled again, but it was shaky. If Ethan noticed, he didn’t say.
“How’d you know I was coming?” he asked, thinking about whether or not his father would worry that he wasn’t in the house.
“Oh, my mom’s your landlord. I knew a little bit ago.”
Were they on their way?
“Oh.” Silence thickened the air until Lene was practically choking on her own breath.
“Give me clues.”
“About where you’re from.” He pushed his glasses up his nose and shifted his position on the bed to be a little more comfortable.
“It’s not too far.”
Same state most likely.
“Oh? Hmm, did you arrive by plane or car?”
“Car. Road trip.”
“Do you have any siblings?”
She hadn’t checked the back of the car.
“No, only child.”
That’s one similarity. Would there be more?
Lene opened her mouth as if to say something else, but clamped it back shut.
“Would you like to play a game together?” she asked him, fidgeting with her fingers.
“What sort of game?”
“We could play...truth or dare.” There was a pause.
“Okay.” He let his hair fall into his eyes.
“Truth or dare?”
What did she want to know?
“What’s your favorite color?” It was silly, she knew, but she wanted to know everything about him, starting with the basics.
“Green- the kind like the grass.” Lene rubbed her fingers together.
“Truth or dare then?”
“Truth.” Lene’s eyes blazed with newfound fire. Ethan found he had questions-thousands and thousands of questions for the girl with the skirt. How could he wait to have them all answered?
“How long have you lived here?” Lene’s thoughts flowed like rivers, streams of memories, and experiences swirling together.
“My whole life.”
“Do you like it?” she paused and looked right into his eyes, staring at the golden flecks.
“You only get one question per turn.”
“Truth or dare?”
“Truth,” he answered again, because what if she wanted to know as much about him as he did about her?
“Do you collect anything?” he nodded. “What?”
“Ah-Only one question per turn. You’ll have to wait. My turn.” Lene tucked her hair behind her ear. “Truth or dare?”
“Dare.” Because why not try something new? Ethan racked his brain for something interesting.
“Would you show me around the neighborhood?” Lene’s blood ran cold. She stopped tapping her fingers against the blanket, which she didn’t even know she was doing.
“You’re not supposed to ask a question for a dare.” It came out a little icier than she intended.
“Well then-Show me around the neighborhood.”
They’d still be there. They weren’t after her yet, so they were still there, she was sure of it.
“I- I can’t do that.” her voice was quiet, and the fire in her eyes had been put out by the elephant that had suddenly entered the room.
“You can’t back out of a dare- you’ll lose the game.”
“Then I’ll lose it.”
“But then the game would be over.”
“So be it.” her eyes were now sad.
“Instead, I’ll ask you three truths. It’s only fair.” that way he could rack off some of his questions a little faster. She smiled.
“Do you like it here?” he asked again. And just like that, her smile vanished.
“I-don’t hate it.” and he didn’t press on because he wanted to kindle the fire in her eyes again. It was cold enough outside.
“If you could have a pet, what would it be?”
“A tiger.” She made note to ask him the same question later.
“A tiger? Why?” She seemed like a cat type of person, sure, but not that big of a cat. She shrugged.
“Okay, last question then-” but they were interrupted.
“Lene! Are you up there?”
“Uh-yeah!” It was too bad, the fire was almost back.
Lene got up from the bed and walked towards her door to see her mom standing at the tip of the stairs.
“Sweetheart, there you are. What are you doing?”
“Well-I-invited the new guy in-Ethan’s his name- and I was just getting to know him.”
“Oh good, his dad just spoke with me. Are you ready to show him around the neighborhood now?”
“Show him- But-”
“We agreed, remember? Go on.” Lene’s legs felt like lead as she walked back into her room.
“Come on- You didn’t get to say your last question, so I….have to do your dare.”
Still there, still there, still there…
He got up and followed her back to the front door. She watched his hands as they walked out, and into his pockets they went.
The wind had subsided, for the most part, leaving only biting cold behind. Lene didn’t mind though.
“Well?” she held her hands in the air, "What do you want to see first?”
“Surprise me.” She blinked twice and sighed.
Could she stall? Or would they stay there waiting?
“I’ll take you to the ice cream shop first. Then…..I’ll show you the-the houses around the block.”
“Ice cream? In this cold?”
“It’s never too cold for ice cream.” And because the fire had begun to blaze again in her eyes, because he didn’t want to do anything to make it go away again, he followed her as they walked towards the tiny Ice Cream Parlor run by the old woman with the always greying hair.
“Truth or dare?” she asked as they went on.
“What ice cream flavor are you going to get?”
“Couldn’t you have asked without the game?”
“It’s no fun like that.”
“Well, I’ll probably get lemon.”
“Lemon? You’re awfully yellow.” He didn’t laugh, but his eyes twinkled, and that was enough. Lene stopped walking and stared up at the small shop.
“This is it.” He knew. It was a little hard to miss the big ice cream decals besides the name of the shop, Eney’s Ice Cream. He licked his cracking dry lips as they walked inside.
The cold somehow followed them in, or maybe it was just because of all the freezers around them.
Ethan made no move to remove his hands from his pockets. He rolled back on his heels as Lene walked up to the front and tapped the small bell. An old woman with grey hair going in all directions came out of a door in the back. She was quickly tying an apron behind her waist.
“Lene! Darling, what can I get ya?”
“One lemon cone, and one vanilla.”
“Lemon?” her eyes scanned the small shop and landed on Ethan, who hadn’t moved at all. He managed a small wave, but hastily put his hand back where it belonged, in his pocket, clasping the other for extra warmth. “You new?” he nodded.
The old woman prepared their cones and handed them both to Lene, who held her phone underneath her arm and took both cones in separate hands. Once they were outside, Lene let out her breath.
“You know you’ll have to take your hand out to hold the ice cream.”
“I know.” he reached one out and took the lemon cone from hers, his fingers lightly brushing her thumb.
They walked back towards their houses, silently licking away.
“So you’ll show me the houses now?”
“Yes.” She took a small bite of the vanilla and let it melt on her tongue.
“Why vanilla?” she smiled. She was waiting for him to ask.
“I get a different color of the rainbow each time I go. Last time I got blackberry, so today is vanilla. This is my house, as you already know.” They stopped in front of her red brick home. He nodded.
“This is...well this is your house.” They continued walking. “This is the old woman’s house.”
“The one who owns the shop?” Lene nodded, licking her ice cream. They went on.
“This is nobody’s house.”
“There’s someone named nobody in your neighborhood?”
“Might as well be. Never seen anyone coming out of that house in all my life. Come on.” They skipped a couple houses.
Closer and closer……
Lene forced herself to continue.
“This is Fia’s house.” and they went on. He didn’t ask who Fia was. A small droplet of vanilla dripped onto her fingers. She began to clutch the cone so tight, she was afraid it would crack.
They turned the corner.
Her cone cracked, vanilla seeping through the cracks like blood.
Astra smiled, her white teeth gleaming like snow. Ethan licked his ice cream.
She tried to just keep walking, but she knew it was in vain.
“Lene! Who’s this? Do introduce us all?” Astra got up from her place on the grass. Lene clenched her teeth.
“This is-” she didn’t want them to hear his name, it was special, "E.” She finished, letting her crushed cone drop to the ground.
“E? How very interesting indeed.” Fia batted her eyelashes innocently, but she could have been sharpening a dagger. Ethan took a small bite of his cone.
Chichi’s hair billowed in the wind that had suddenly decided to return.
“Where are you from?” Chichi asked, but it was somehow different than when Lene had asked him.
“Around.” his voice cracked like Lene’s cone.
“You won’t give us answers, hm? That just won’t do.” Astra was short, so why did it seem like she loomed over him? Her grey eyes scanned him, from brown hair to lemon ice cream to his run-down nikes.
“Probably not. Those shoes…” she wrinkled her nose as if it pained her to even see someone wearing shoes like that.
“Leave him alone.” Astra turned to look at Lene.
“I said leave him alone.” her voice was a little louder that time. Astra laughed like Lene had said an inside joke only they understood.
It was an inside joke with herself, perhaps.
“E? Is that your full name?” Ethan nodded, taking another lick from his cone. Why he nodded was beyond him.
“We have to get going now.” Lene had a new fire in her eyes. It was different, but fiery nonetheless.
“Oh? So soon? We haven’t even started getting to know E.” A chill ran down Ethan’s spine, and it wasn’t from the wind, or the ice cream either.
“You’ll get to know him later then.” There wouldn’t be a later involving the group if Lene could help it.
“The present is always a better time than the future, don’t you agree Fia?”
“Of course you agree. Now, either you two stay here until E answers all our questions or-”
“All your questions? We’d be here all day.”
“Or we can walk with you to wherever it is that you’re going in such a rush.”
The only rush was to get away from them, so they’d never get there.
“None of the above.”
“That wasn’t one of the choices.”
“I make my own choices.” And for a moment they just glared at each other, the wind taking Lene’s hair in all directions, but her stance didn’t waver.
“Now you listen to me-”
“No, you listen to me, and listen close because I know you like to hear only what you like. E and I are going to leave, and you aren’t coming with us.”
“Oh really, and who’s going to stop me?”
And that was all it took.
Lene walked off with a flourish.
Ethan followed, taking one last bite of his cone before dropping his hands into his pockets again.
And off they went.