Friendship Teens & Young Adult Contemporary

Morrison Middle School’s playground is a little outdated. They still have the heat conducting metal slide that you stick to as it sears off skin layer by layer. The see-saws are a million splinters held together by chewing gum, so you’re bound to get a shard of wood stuck somewhere before you’re done creaking your way towards the sound barrier. Speaking of creaking, there are the black, rubber, butt pinching swings that hang from the bent A-frame. There’s a basketball court of busted, uneven pavement with grass growing up through the cracks. No nets on the hoops. The court is covered in pea gravel. Pea gravel is everywhere. It’s a sea of pea gravel. There are tether ball poles, but no tether balls. There’s a chain-link fence around the playground that does a poor job of keeping kids in and strangers out. But if you're looking for solitude, it's a place to go.

Michael Westbrook rides his bike through the opening on the far side of the fence to cut through the playground on his way home from the pool. He sees Holly Carpenter, a friend from the neighborhood, sitting on a swing kicking at the gravel. Mike slams on his brakes and skids to a stop in front of her.

“Why weren’t you at the pool with the rest of us,” Mike asks.

Holly shrugs her shoulders, not bothering to look up from the swing.

“I’m going to change. Then we are all going over to Jamie’s to hang out in the basement, play some Xbox. Do you want to come,” Mike asks, politely extending her an invitation.

Holly looks up with a long, sorrowful face. She shakes her head no, her natural ringlet curls bouncing.

Mike lays his bike in the gravel and straddles the swing next to her like it’s a horse. “What’s the matter, Holly? You’re usually up for anything.”

Holly looks at Mike sitting next to her. His hair is a mess, and his shirt is all wet, but he looks genuinely concerned. She can’t stop the tears from coming. She’s not going to let herself start bawling, not in front of her friend, but some tears are going to roll. “My parents are divorcing,” she says with a crack in her voice.

“Oh, Holly, I’m sorry. I remember when my parents divorced. Come here,” Mike says as he pushes his swing into hers. She leans into him, resting her head on his chest and sobs a little before straightening herself up and wiping her eyes. “It is rough at first, but after a while it all becomes normal.”

“Neither of my parents want me!”

“Oh, I’m sure that’s not true. They love you.”

“My mom wants to travel with her new lover. She said she won’t have time for me. Dad says she can't just leave me with him. He doesn’t know how to take care of me.”

“Harsh on your mom’s part, but what do you mean your dad doesn't know how to take care of you? Is he as scared and confused by the change as you are? And what is there to take care of, you’re thirteen. You pretty much take care of yourself.”

“I know, right? I mean there are responsibilities he will have to manage. I can’t drive. He’ll have to do all the things mom used to do like grocery shop and get me to doctor appointments, but for the most part I manage myself.”

“Maybe those extra responsibilities scare him. Maybe he doesn’t know how he’s going to juggle it all. Maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with you.”

“Maybe. He wasn’t around much before. It’s going to be weird just me and him.”

“What’s your mom’s deal?”

“She decided she’s gay. Or realized she’s gay. Whatever, I don’t know how that works. She has been having an affair with her receptionist, some pretty little thing in her twenty's, for like over a year now.”

“How did your dad find out?”

“Mom dropped it on us at dinner last night, all casual like it was normal conversation,” Holly says, her tone becoming angrier. “What I don’t get is, how do you not know? How do you not know you’re gay until after you’ve been married to a man for fifteen years and have a child with him?”

“I think it happens more often than we realize. I guess it’s because gayness wasn’t widely accepted when people that age were growing up and they were raised by people who demonized it. So, they hid it, pretended to be straight to avoid any sort of persecution.”

“Where did you come up with all that? Are you defending her?”

“No, I’m definitely not defending her abandoning you. I’m just saying there are probably reasons for it not coming out until now. I have a gay uncle. That’s how he explained it to me. Maybe it’s the same with your mom. Or maybe she felt obligated to you and your dad and was worried about leaving you two.”

“Obviously not. I get it. She’s gay. That’s who she is. She needs to be herself in order to truly be happy. But can’t she be there for me and dad. Can’t she finish raising me before traveling around with that, that…uh,” Holly exclaims with a cringe as she begins to slowly swing.

“Have you tried talking to your mom?”

“Yeah, but she just pushes me away, and it hurts. We used to be so close and now she’s so distant. She has been growing more and more distant over the past year. Now I know why.”

“The receptionist.”

Holly skids to a stop and looks Mike in the face. “You’re damn right the receptionist. She’s practically a kid herself. She isn’t ready to be a parent. She doesn’t want to compete with me for attention. She put mom in a position where she had to choose, and mom chose her. I would bet a million bucks that is what happened.”

Mike sits silently for a moment, watching Holly as she angrily rubs her foot into the gravel until dirt comes up. Then he says, “Talk to your dad. Connect with him. I really don’t think it’s a case of him not wanting you. It’s more than likely a case of his life falling apart and not being sure what to do.”

“I’m the kid! Shouldn’t he be coming to me, comforting me?”

“He found out last night. Has he had a chance to talk to you?”

“I guess not. Him and mom fought. I listened through the walls until I fell asleep. When I got up, they were both at work. I came up here because I got tired of sitting around the house with all the false memories and lying pictures.”

“Your mom will come to her senses, probably sooner than later, and realize that she needs you in her life in order to truly be happy. Then it’s on. Two birthdays and two Christmases. Remember how you used to only get half the things you wanted for Christmas. You get them all now. It doesn’t make up for the hell they put you through, but it’s a start.”

“I could care less about the stuff. I just want things back to normal.”

“I know, but as I said before, you’ll adapt to the changes, and you’ll have a new normal.”

“I don’t know if I will be able to forgive my mom if she comes crawling back.”

“Well, that’s between you and her.”

“Yeah. I am going to talk to my dad tonight, though. I think you're right. You’re a pretty good friend Michael Westbrook. I don’t think any of my other friends would have sat here in the heat and talked it out with me. Not seriously at least.”

“Hey, if you ever need anything…”

“Are you still seeing Maddie Brandt?”

“No. Why? You want to be my girlfriend,” Mike asks, sarcastically.

“Since you're asking, yes, I do.”

"What about Alex Brady? I thought you were all sweet on him."

"A lot can be said for a boy you can actually talk to. Besides, you're awfully cute with that messed up hair and those red cheeks."

They smile at each other. Pushing swings together they kiss.

“Does this mean you’re feeling better,” Mike asks.

“Yes, I am. Thank you. But it’s gawd awfully hot out here. Do you still want to go over to Jamie’s?”

“Yeah, if you do.”

“Great! I get the bike,” Holly yells as she races off the swing.

Mike throws his hands up in defeat. He is just happy to see Holly back to her cute, playful ways. He doesn’t mind jogging next to her as they leave the playground to hang out with friends. Something that no matter what happens will always feel normal to anyone. 

April 15, 2024 04:53

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LeeAnn Hively
00:08 Apr 17, 2024

From the moment you reminded me of the matching scars on the back of each of my thighs from a day in Florida at age 6 on one of those blasted slides, to the first pangs of puppy love on a playground, you put me into the story. Well done :)


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Alexis Araneta
16:36 Apr 16, 2024

Mike spitting out wisdom beyond his years. Hahahaha ! Splendid one, Ty !


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Mary Bendickson
00:49 Apr 16, 2024

Tough love.


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Trudy Jas
17:28 Apr 15, 2024

How do kids get to be so smart? A wonderful story, hit the nail on the head, Ty.


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Unknown User
16:38 Apr 16, 2024

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