Bounce. Bounce. Bounce.
“Jason, stop hitting that ball against the house!”
He sighed. Jason hated summer. He didn’t live near any of his school mates, and even if he did, they weren’t his friends. All the kids in his neighborhood were too old to play with a six-year-old. He had nothing better to do than watch the big, buff movers carry things into the checkered old house next door. His chocolate brown skin glistened with sweat from the hot sun.
Nothing exciting ever happened in his neighborhood. Kids could play outside without supervision, and nothing bad would happen to them. So, it was okay that Jason was sitting alone on the porch.
An old, rusty car swung into the driveway. This interested him. He hadn’t seen the new neighbors yet. He scooted to the edge of the porch, peeking between the bars of the railing.
A woman with a mess of fiery red hair got out of the car. Jason noticed she was wearing slippers-fuzzy green ones.
She walked to the side of the car, opening the door. A small girl that looked Jason’s age climbed out. She was clutching a teddy bear that was missing one of its button eyes.
She had sleek, dark hair that was braided perfectly down her back. She looked at the house, her face expressionless.
“Let’s go check out the house, okay?” The woman said, taking her hand and leading her to the porch steps. Jason leaned forward to keep watching them, and his ball tumbled from his fingers. He watched it roll towards the checkered house.
The girl noticed it, and her hand slipped from the woman. She picked it up, and carried it over to him. She held it out for him. When he didn’t take it, she pushed it through the bars into his hands.
“Here.” She said, “Do you live here?”
He nodded. He wasn’t used to talking to strangers.
“Jason.” He whispers.
Her face broke out into a smile. “Our names sound the same!”
He frowned. “No, it doesn’t.”
“If I call you Jay it does! Can we be best friends? Forever?”
Best friends? “Okay.”
“You have to promise.” She held up her pinky. “Best friends forever.”
“Okay.” He agreed.
Knock knock knock.
“Just a minute!”
Kathy, May’s aunt, opened the door. Jay found it fascinating that May’s hair was always perfect, but Kathy’s was always a mess. He liked that about them.
They had been living next door for almost a year. They were in the same fourth grade class, and did everything together. Jay’s parents and Kathy were friends too, and let the two kids go back and forth between the houses.
The other kids at school didn’t like them, but they didn’t care. They only needed each other.
May burst out the door, almost tackling him in a hug. “Jay!”
Her hair was in pigtails today. She grinned at him, and he gasped. “You lost your tooth!”
“Yeah!” She lowered her voice. “And I know how to help you get yours out!”
“Really?” He had been trying to get the tooth to fall out for a week. He was willing to try anything.
Though, fifteen minutes later, he regretted it. They had tried to tie a string to a doorknob and his tooth, and slam it shut, but it just made Jay run into the door, and hurt his lip. He did lose the tooth, though.
He had an ice pack to his mouth, his eyes brimming with tears. Kathy was scolding May, saying that, “just because you saw it on tv, doesn’t mean it really works.”
When May trudged into the living room where Jay was, she apologized.
“It’s okay. Promise you’ll share your tooth fairy candy?”
She grinned at him, holding up her pinky. “If you’ll share yours.”
They linked pinkies.
Tap tap tap.
May looked up from her desk, and smiled. She got up, and pushed the window up.
“Hey, Jay.” She said, smiling at him.
“Nope. That’s old. It’s May again.”
May had decided she hated her name, and wanted to be called something else. So far, she hadn’t stuck with any. (Malia and Medea were Jay’s favorites.)
“What’re you doing?” He asked her.
“Nothing. Want to go to the diner?”
“I can’t right now. I’m working on a project for Mr. Anthony.”
Mr. Anthony was their sixth grade art teacher. May was one of his favorite students. She was a great artist, which Jay definitely wasn’t. He was better at sporty things, though he didn’t try out for any teams.
“Can I come in?” He asked May, and she nodded, holding the window up so he could climb through. The window was low, and there were bricks stacked beneath it for exactly that reason.
Jay layed on her bed as she drew. They started talking about their classmates, and Jay casually mentioned liking a girl in their class.
Her head whipped around. “Scarlet? Why her?”
“Why not? Do you not like her?”
“No one likes her. She’s a snob, and she only likes herself. And her dumb posse isn't any better. Do you like her?”
“Okay. I’ll help then.”
“You don’t have to.”
She waves a hand. “It doesn’t matter. I’m already committed.”
“Committed to what?”
“Helping you. Are you going to ask her out or something?”
“What? No. No way. No, no, no.”
Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.
Jay ignored the texts on his phone. He knew May was probably looking for him. But he was way too embarrassed. He stuffed popcorn in his mouth, chewing mournfully.
Why would I do that? Of course, she was going to say no.
His phone rang, but he didn’t answer. He was hiding in the corn maze at the Halloween fair, which was where the eighth graders were having their dance. Jay finally got the courage to ask Scarlet to dance, and went up to her with a rose. But then someone bumped into him, and he splashed water on her. She yelled at him, and stormed away, and Jay ran off.
He tried to hide deeper in the tall grass, but May’s face appeared in front of him.
“You left a trail of popcorn.” She told him.
She crawled into the grass with him. He buried his face in his knees.
“I messed up so bad, May.” He mumbled. “Everyone was laughing at me.”
“No, they weren’t. They were laughing at Scarlet, not you.”
“It doesn’t matter. Scarlet probably hates me.”
“Why do you care?”
“I mean, no offense, but she didn’t know you in the first place. We’ll just go back to normal. Everyone ignoring us, and wishing we weren’t there.”
“No one even remembers stuff like that. If anything, they’ll congratulate you.”
“So, let's go back to that party, and act like nothing happened. She’s totally not worth your time.”
“Yeah.” He smiled at her. “Yeah, you’re right.
She helped him up. “By the way, I think I figured out a name.”
“Like a corn maze?”
“No, like-well, it does mean corn, but whatever. I like how it sounds. M-A-I-Z-E.”
Pick. Pick. Pick.
Jay’s fingers pulled at the loose strings of his ripped pants, refusing to look up at his parents.
“Jason, apologize to him.” His father said.
Jay said nothing.
He deserved it.
Liam, a kid he’d known since kindergarten, started making fun of Maize, who had cut her hair. He told her she looked ugly, and Maize looked so ashamed, Jay punched him.
Right now, Liam was really working the tears, holding an ice pack to his right eye, and sobbing. He did the same thing when they were kids. They were sophomores in high school, and he was still doing it. The principal, Liam’s mother, and Jay’s parents were all buying it.
“Jason Russell Parek.” His mother said firmly. “Apologize to this boy right now.”
He glared at Liam, who smug for a second, then started sniffing and wiping his unharmed eye.
“Sorry.” He spat.
“Sorry for?” His mother prompted.
He scowled. “Sorry for not punching your other eye, too.”
“I told you he did it on purpose.” Liam wailed.
“Jason.” His mother said, appearing appalled.
“I hope you know you’re grounded.” His father snapped.
Jay scoffed, crossing his arms, and looking away. He heard the principal say something about a suspension, then his parents apologizing to Liam and his mother.
When they left the office, Jay saw Maize waiting outside. She gave him a worried look, but his parents directed him away. He pulled away from their touch, and followed silently.
Later, he snuck out of his room, to go to Maize’s house. She seemed to be waiting for him-she had a bowl of cereal on her desk that she pushed towards him.
“Why’d you punch Liam?” She asked.
“He was messing with you. He shouldn’t have done that.”
She sighed, glancing at the mirror on the back of her door. “I kind of do look like a boy.”
“Mai, you don’t.”
Kathy had reluctantly cut it for her, and it stopped at the bottom of her neck. The front hung in her face now, over the glasses she discovered she needed in ninth grade.
“What did your parents say?” She asked, changing the subject.
“That I might have anger issues. They want me to see a therapist.”
“Did Liam get in trouble?”
“No. He faked cried his way out of it.”
“Of course he did.” She sighed again.
“I’m suspended for three days. And grounded for a week.”
“Was it worth it?”
He smiled. “Definitely.”
“Just don’t do it again.” She told him.
“Promise?” She held out her pinky.
He linked his with hers. “Promise.”