Wendy sat on the curb outside of her house bored, hot and sticky. The Creamsicle she had taken out of the freezer melted slowly in her hand. The orange ice blended with the vanilla ice cream slowly dripped like an IV tube in someone’s arm who was bedridden in the hospital. The mythological, but all too-real “dog- days” of summer were upon them. Even a thoroughly frozen popsicle couldn’t stand up to the ravages of the 99 degree and climbing weather, with a heat index of 105. Humidity was crazy in this State and exacerbated the rising heat, making everyone a sweaty, sticky mess; melting like the popsicle in her hand.

This summer was supposed to be different! They were supposed to be enjoying a week at the Jersey shore. Jumping into the ocean as the waves attacked and drew them down in a refreshing douse of salt water, riddled with remnants of shells and sand; there was nothing like that first wave! Drying off on the beach, she’d soak in the golden sun and become a blonde tan goddess, who later would walk the boardwalk, catching the eyes of similarly tanned boys. The rides and games of chance along the long, crowded boardwalk; the inside arcades, with the Skeeball games, and electronic fortune tellers in little windowed boxes were now melted away. The scent of every type of food, from Jersey made pizzas, or as some called them, tomato pies; Philly cheesesteaks, copied from their neighboring city of Philadelphia’s famous recipe; soft frozen custard ice cream cones and cold lemonades beckoned them nightly. There was nothing like a deep, peaceful sleep after a day in the sun and water, and refreshing ocean breeze at night. And popsicles didn’t melt down the shore!

But here she sat, sweating along with her popsicle, on the curb, outside of her aunt and uncle’s suburban house, with nothing to do. Every other 14 year old was either away, or at Rob's pool party. She had been invited. However, she wasn’t allowed to go because if her aunt and uncle had to “pay for summer school, and give up a week down the shore”, she would be denied anything that “took away from her studies”. The party had started at 11 a.m. while she had been in Summer School trying to figure out the reason x+y = 64 or whatever other silly equation was thrown at her. What was that going to do for her in life anyway? She’d never use it. She wanted to be an actress, singing on Broadway and living in the big city, New York, NY. It wasn’t fair but as her aunt would say, “nothing in life is fair, Wendy".

Was it fair that her dad had died when she was 5 and her mom was in that fatal car accident years ago? Was it fair that her aunt and uncle unintentionally reminded her every day that she was lucky to have them? Was it fair that she had to move to this mosquito-ridden State away from her beautiful western state of Colorado? Away from all her friends and Robert, the love of her young life, she was uprooted and replanted in this densely populated city of highways, malls and giant mosquitoes that drained the blood out of you and left you scratching in the most obnoxious hard to reach areas of the body.

Of course she was close to New York City and her dream. She did love the Jersey Shore, when they visited, and she loved her bedroom and her aunt’s and uncle’s house. But she missed her mom so much. Basically, she thought “I’m an orphan, at the benevolence of my relatives, my mom’s sister and brother in law. I’ll never live that thought down!” She took a lick of the melting popsicle, savoring the flavor of orange ice and vanilla ice cream. She closed her eyes and remembered a day in the summer years ago when mom and her friends had taken a ride through the country and stopped to get ice cream on the way home. It had been the perfect day, mom, friends and ice cream, in the country singing all the way and telling silly jokes.

A tear dripped down her sunburned cheek. She looked to the side and saw Jim O’Connor standing there. “Is there room on the curb for me too?” “Sure, have a seat. It’s public property. I thought you were at the pool party with everyone else,” she said. “I was supposed to be ”, he responded, “but during the night my dad suffered a heart attack. We’ve been at the hospital most of the night and day. I needed to get some air and go for a walk. Well whatever they call this stuff you breathe in Jersey at this time of the year. Don’t mind me. I’m just in a foul mood.”

Jim told her all about how frightened he had been last night. The ride to the hospital, the suspense and terrible thoughts he had while they waited for the doctors to attend to his dad. It was an emergency surgery and everything went through his mind, but he tried to stay brave for his mom. His dad was going to be ok but he had a long road ahead of him; a lot of rest, healthy diet, giving up cigarettes and physical therapy. Life had always seemed so safe and secure and now this happened.

“How did you handle it all Wendy? I’ve always looked up to you after you moved here.” He looked up to her?! What had she ever done to inspire anyone. She even failed Algebra and ruined this year’s vacation at the shore. Jim went on to explain how he admired her resilience and resolution. He loved her beautiful singing voice and the way she wasn’t like any of the other girls, afraid of betting on chances, or taking on a dare. He told her that her aunt and uncle were always bragging about her and saying how much she was like her mother. She had always thought they were ashamed of her. “They’re proud of you. They just have to be a little tough on you cause you’re what your aunt calls "a girl with a mind of her own.”

Wendy explained how she’d been feeling so depressed with the heat, and summer school and just about everything. Now she told him she couldn’t imagine how he felt last night and how brave he had been to take care of his mom all night. She guessed that he’d have to do that for awhile now with his dad recuperating. And hey, she could help him through the rough spots. She understood his fear to an extent. Wendy was amazed when Jim talked to her about his desire to be a mathematician and how he loved numbers. He offered to help her get through her Algebra problems and any other math problems in the future.

She suddenly realized she had finished her Creamsicle and had to go wash up. Suddenly she heard her aunt’s voice calling out. Jim’s mom had called her to tell her about his dad and Jim was staying for dinner while she visited his dad tonight at the hospital. “Maybe after dinner I can introduce you to the marvels of Algebraic concepts” he teased. “Great” she said. Hey do you want a popsicle. Mine half melted and I suddenly feel like another!”

They walked into the house together, two friends on a mission to help each other discover the wonderful world of friendship coupled with frightening, fateful events, learning new things and popsicles that sometimes melted in the hot “dog-days” of summer.  

August 07, 2020 20:56

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