Olive drummed her fingers on the wood grain with suffocating impatience. 

“Well it’s obvious what we should do.” she said at length, “We ought to organize a playdate so we can spy on him. Simple.”

“Playdate?” Gabe scoffed, “What are we, four? Besides, he’s sixteen! Why would he  want to hang out with us?”

“Two years difference isn’t so bad,” Olive defended, “My parents are four years apart in age.”

“Yeah, that would be great advice, if we were planning to marry him!”

Olive sighed. “Did we have any other jobs?”

Gabe shuffled through the papers. “Yeah. All from her royal highness Penny Jenkins.” He slapped the pile on the table and stood. “Forget this bounty hunting stuff. Can’t we just sell lemonade like everyone else?”

“It’s not bounty hunting.” Olive corrected, “It’s freelance.” 

“I’d love to hear the difference between those.”

“One has class.”

Gabe ran a hand through his curly mess of hair. “Okay, so why don’t we ask adults? They’ll give us real work, with real money.”

“Yeah, yardwork.” Olive rested her chin on her hand and gazed out the treehouse window. “But Penny’s got actual spy stuff. And if that doesn’t work out, we can always go to Ashley’s and-”

“No.” Gabe smacked the table, making Olive jump. “We’re not going to go to that witch’s gambling parties again. I think it’s been thoroughly proved that you’re about as lucky as a dead raccoon. And you know Ashley’s a cheater.”

“I know, but- I mean, there’s still a chance-”

Gabe gave her his skeptical look. Olive shook her head. “Fine. Fine you’re right.”

“As always.”

“How about I just stick to the Penny jobs, and you do the yardwork stuff.”

“You’re stupid, but I’ll take it.”


Olive Glanced back at the papers as her friend descended the crooked ladder. Penny may have been young, and difficult, but she was richer than frosting, and almost as deceiving in appearance. Her mom would never guess the kind of allowance she’d been slipping to kids who offered to do her homework. But this assignment was different. All Olive had to do was figure out if Penny’s older brother had a girlfriend. Reportedly, he’d been spending a lot of time with a girl, though he refused to admit anything was going on. Penny’s nosey nature couldn’t resist, but she lacked the basic skills of spywork. In the sloppily written letter, she promised at least twenty bucks. That certainly would put a dent in Olive’s debt to Ashley. 

Yes, that cheeky brat’s underground gambling club had cost her sixty dollars. Unfortunately, Olive’s parents had caught wind of this just around the end of December, when the family was forcing New Year’s Resolutions on Olive and the rest of her siblings. When asked about her resolution, Olive squirmed and offered that she’d always wanted to learn how to cook. That had earned her a smack over the head. 

“You’re going to repay your debt to that Ashley!” Her mom said, “And until then, you’re not getting an allowance.”

“Then how the heck am I supposed to pay it off?” She whined, to which her dad intervened that she would get an allowance, but only for the chores she did. To anyone else, this would seem reasonable, even easy. Except for the fact that Olive was lazier than molasses. 

By some miracle, Gabe agreed to help her win the money back, plus thirty extra he would get to keep. That added up to ninety dollars that had to be earned between them. 

Well, May had sprung up already, and they’d only earned about thirty so far. Most of this was from Gabe doing chores, and Olive agreeing to Penny’s homework. It was progress, but they needed something faster. And Penny’s bigger problems might just be the answer. 

Olive grabbed her phone from the table and leapt from the treehouse, determined to get her twenty bucks by sundown. 

As one might expect from a girl with a doctor for a father, Penny’s house took up a massive amount of space. Its slanted roofs, and beige surface stood tall and proud among Minnisota’s numerous conifers. The road leading to it was even more plain and friendly, with freshly paved streets that slithered in winding paths, and the only traffic seemed to be minivans. Were it not for the bratty, rich white kids, Olive would have biked here more often. 

She turned into the driveway, and up the slope, finally parking her bike beside the garage. Penny’s brother was a tall, quiet boy, christened with the unfortunate name of Floyd. Everybody just called him Red, though, for his fire-engine hair. Everytime Olive went to their house he would hide downstairs and play Skyrim. 

So she was pretty sure this guy was single. Still, she needed evidence besides his lack of social skills to convince Penny.

When Olive rang the doorbell, she heard a scampering of feet and a child’s voice announcing, “I got it, I got it!” Before the door swung open and the smell of rich people wafted into the crisp air. 

It wasn’t until Olive saw Penny that she felt severely out of place. The ten year old wore a loose sundress with flip flops, and her blonde hair had been pulled into a tight braid running down her back. Suddenly Olive wondered what she must look like, with her clumsy firgure and basketball shorts, coily, tangled hair barely controlled by a paint-splattered bandana. She felt this, too, when Penny gave her a brief, but surprisingly judgemental once-over with her big, green eyes. 

She hated getting that look from white people. 

“And what are you here for?” Penny demanded. Olive took a deep breath, gathering the last of her patience that had mostly been destroyed during the last week of school. 

“I’ve come to accept the job,” she told her. “The one about the girlfriend.”

“Oh. Well come in already.” 

She didn’t step aside, so Olive just shuffled past her into the wide living room, where Penny’s mom Sharon turned the corner to greet her. 

“Olive!” The chubby woman embraced her in a clean-smelling hug. “What brings you here? Not doing Penny’s homework, I hope.” She shared a disapproving glance with her daughter. Olive attempted an awkward laugh. 

“Of course not. I’m just here to- to-” She glanced at Penny for help, but in return received nothing but a blank stare. “To hang out.” she finished. “If that’s alright with you, anyway.”

Sharon flashed her a confused smile. “Why wouldn’t it be? I’m just so glad you two are such good friends!”

Olive resisted a cringe as Penny took her hand and dragged her to the basement. Friends. Yes, her and Penny spent time together, but only for money, and grades. 

The basement was carpeted, and clean, aside from the area just in front of the TV, where a tall redhead laid on his stomach, sheets of calculous spread before him, stained with hot pocket grease. On every one of Olive’s visits, this was Red’s go-to spot. She noticed him about as much as the couch behind him he never took advantage of.  

Olive turned to ask Penny what plan she’d concocted, if any, but found no one. And that wasn’t just because Penny was exceptionally short- she’d managed to slip away as quickly and quietly as a fart. No problem with that, Olive decided. If anything, this would make things easier. She could now go about this her own way. 

Only problem was, she didn’t have a plan. 

“Trigonometry?” she tried after a deep breath. She felt her face burn upon realizing her voice cracked. 

Red snorted, and glanced up. “Yeah. Know how to do any of it?”

“Uh- no.”

“Lucky you.” He turned back to his papers. 

“Wait, do you- they make you do homework in the summer?”


An awkward silence followed. Olive slowly settled into the leather couch, which emitted a squeaking noise with every inch she sank. “So, uh- why are you doing it?”

“Mom wants me to practice. She says video games are gonna make me forget everything over the summer.”


At last, Red turned over on his side to face her. He pushed his glasses up his nose and frowned. 

“Wait, hold up- why are you here?”

Well, this guy certainly didn’t hesitate. Neither would she. 

“Your sister is paying me to spy on you and find out if you have a girlfriend.”

Red rolled his eyes. “Of course she is. When will she learn to mind her own business?”

“So… do you?”

“Do I what?”

“Have a girlfriend.”

He gave me a look worthy of challenging one of Penny’s in a sass battle.

“Do I look like I have a girlfriend?”

“I’m not going to answer that.”

“Good. I don’t want to hear it.”

Olive bit her lip. Would that be enough for Penny? She needed that money. This would have to do. 

Olive watched, wide-eyed, as Penny slapped a twenty dollar bill in her hand. 

“Good work, Olive. Maybe you can get more out of him tomorrow.”

“Wait- tomorrow? You already got an answer.”

“What, you think that’s it? That he’ll just tell you the truth and be done with it?”

“Well, yeah. That’s what he did.”

Penny put her hands on her hips. “Let’s just say my brother is a bit of an onion when it comes to these things. And anyways, why on earth would he tell the truth to you? You need to get close to him, and become friends. Then you’ll get a real answer.”

Olive tried to keep her jaw closed, but somehow ended up closing her fist around the twenty dollars instead. “By then, I’ll probably be his girlfriend!” she growled. Penny flashed a devilish grin. 

“And then we’ll have a solid answer, won’t we? So is it a deal or not?” Olive glanced at the bills in her fist. 

“Will I get paid again?”

“Of course.”

She sighed. “Deal.”

“You said yes?” Gabe smacked his forehead. 

“Of course I said yes, you fart bag, I need the money! Besides, this is a lot easier than sweating for two hours over someone’s patch of hay they call a lawn.”

“At least I’m getting actual work done!” He defended, “Do you seriously not see it? That little demon spawn is paying you to go out with her brother! The whole thing was a set up. There was no suspicious girl he was hanging out with. As far as we know, he probably spends all his time in that basement! Just think about it- you’re getting money back you lost while gambling by being someone’s hired friend? Do you have any idea how pathetic that sounds?”

Olive rolled her eyes, and took another decisive bite of her cookie. “Who cares?” she said, her voice muffled through the food, “I’m getting paid to play video games. And this plan of hers will never work.”

Gabe clenched his fists, then unclenched them. “Fine. If you’re so confident in your money making scheme, what do you need me for?” Before Olive could react, he was already out the door. 

Idiot. What was his problem? Olive considered the other half of her cookie a moment, then shoved the rest into her mouth. Whatever it was, it wasn’t her problem any more. She could earn the money herself. Easy. 

The following afternoon, instead of telling Sharon that she was there to spend time with Penny, she told her that her and Red had plans to have a Mortal Kombat tournament. This didn’t seem to bother Sharon too much, aside from the fact that they didn’t own Mortal Kombat. 

“Oh! Uh- I don’t remember what it’s called- it was something.” Olive stifled a look of pride at her own save. Sharon seemed to accept it anyway, as long as they kept the door to the basement open. Olive pretended to be oblivious to the meaning behind that last part. 

“Back again?” Red asked without glancing up from his video game. “I suppose Penny wasn’t satisfied with your answer?”

“Not quite.” She plopped onto the leather couch behind him. “She says you won’t tell the truth until we become friends.”

“So she’s paying you to hang out with me?”

“That’s about the jist, yeah.”

Red released a dorky, shameless laugh. “Funny, I’m pretty sure Mom was gonna start doing the same thing.”

Olive couldn’t stop a chuckle, at both the joke, and the strange chortling sound he made. 

“Well, since you’re here, wanna play smash bros?”

“Yeah, alright.”

The week continued with a mostly consistent schedule: Olive would do her chores, watch youtube, head to Red’s house, play video games, then come home and sit curled up on the couch and mull over the fight with Gabe. She missed her best friend, but somehow drinking soda and playing video games with Red temporarily numbed it. 

She began to notice things about Red, things she’d never thought of before. His laugh was the first thing. The second was that this guy was competitive as heck. Even more so than Olive, which was truly saying something. 

When playing alone, he slouched against the back of the couch, his movement restricted to his thumbs on the old gamecube controller, and the occasional flick of his head to get the carrot-red hair out of his eyes. But when playing against Olive, he leaned forward, tensed up, and the trash talk commenced. No one could stop him from winning. That Olive was almost sure of. Until, at the end of the week, he biffed it, and she actually managed to beat him in Super Smash Bros. 

“What?!” Red leapt to his feet, dropping the controller to the carpet. 

“Finally!” she gasped, and collapsed backwards into the couch’s plush leather. It was nerve racking, and energy sucking, but she’d done it. She’d finally beat him. Olive threw her hands up in victory. Red stared at her, dumbfounded. “Don’t look so surprised,” she teased, “It was bound to happen at some point.”

“Only because I slipped!” he laughed, and smacked her shoulder. Olive pouted. “You just think you’re so superior, don’t you?”

“At video games, yes!”

“Oh, and what would happen if we played basketball, hm?”

“I don’t know. I’d probably have a heart attack and die.”

“What, you never exercise?”

“That is correct.”


“Exercise is pointless.” he slumped back into his usual position in front of the couch. That was another thing about Red- he loved to take the side in an argument that was so clearly wrong, and defend it with everything he had. 

“Exercise is not pointless.” Olive lectured. “It’s healthy, and keeps you in shape.”

“So? Who needs to be in shape?”

“Anyone who plans on living past the age of forty.”

“Ew. Not me.”

“You’re just saying that because you hate life. You’d love it if you exercise. It makes you feel happy.”

“Yeah, and so does six hours of watching Gravity Falls. What’s your point?”

Olive sighed, and got to her feet. 

“What are you doing?”

“I’m tired of sitting. Don’t you want to- I don’t know, play pirates, or rob a bank?”

“Wow. You really are fourteen, aren’t you?”

Of course. He was sixteen. No wonder he didn’t want to do anything fun. Gabe would play pirates, even though they were way too old. Gabe would go on a hike, and hunt for treasure. Gabe wouldn’t get upset over a video game. He’d just lecture her when she did something stupid, like hang out with some loser for money. She turned to go.

“Hey,” Red didn’t even turn around. “If you’re planning on taking a crap, don’t forget to use the febreze.”

Olive laughed. “I’m leaving you, Floyd. And I’m taking the children.”

Oh no, not the children,” Red whined in a high-pitched voice. “Dang this stupid level.”

Well, that was Olive’s cue to go. And she knew just where her next stop was. 

“Wait!” there came a shriek just as Olive’s hand reached the handle upstairs. She froze, and whirled around. 

“What, Penny?”

The girl stomped up to her, hands on hips, scowling. “Why are you leaving so early?”

“Because I’m done, Penny. I’m going home.”

“Don’t you want this?” the girl held up a wad of cash and waved it in her face. Olive stared at it. The rest of the week’s pay. The last of her debt to Ashley. Finally.

Then she thought of Gabe. 

“Friends don’t need money to be friends.” she said, and walked out the door before Penny could stop her. 

She stepped out into the cool, drizzling grey outside and breathed deep. She was wrong, and somehow it felt good to acknowledge it. But she couldn’t stand here forever. The time had come to give her best friend an apology.

January 24, 2020 01:01

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RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

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