The Next Day

The morning came too quickly. I woke up with the sun breaking through my window and resting directly over my eyes. At first, when I blinked myself awake, I was angry. How could I leave my curtains open last night? It was the worst feeling to wake up with the bright afternoon sun rays assaulting me. Though, moments later I remembered that Dakota had stayed but the space next to me was empty. He must have slipped out earlier, explaining the status of the curtains and window.

I sat up and stretched before climbing out from under the blanket. Brushing my hands through my hair, enjoying the fact that my new conditioner kept it smooth overnight, I moved for the window. Maybe twenty feet from my house sat Dakota’s in its faded blue glory. His house is similar to mine. Paint sun-bleached and peeling, shutters around the windows were either missing or broken off and his porch was more untrustworthy than mine. It wrapped around the entire rickety two-story and had lawn furniture scattered about it. Where my driveway was gravel, his was paved and a skinny concrete path led the way to his front door. I couldn’t see any of that from my window, but I could hear the echoing sounds of someone tinkering with a car. Something that immediately brought up memories of sitting in my window; a hot mug of coffee in my hands and listening to those sounds. Why I was suddenly struck with the desire to see him again, I related to nostalgia.

I dressed quickly in a simple tank top and jeans, and then became frustrated when I couldn’t for the life of me find my hair band. I jerked my hair up into a messy ponytail, ignoring how irritating it was to have the ends brushing the back of my neck. Downstairs, I discovered that my mother was gone and assuming that she went to work, that was the last thought I had about her. Without any type of breakfast, I skipped out the door and following the clanking of tools right up to Dakota’s small garage.

“Hey you.” I copied the smile he gave me when he looked up from the engine.

“Two days in a row we speak. We may be going on a record, my dear.” Dakota slid the back of his hand over his forehead, effectively streaking some sort of black engine muck across it. His hair was out of his eyes with a grey band that I had a feeling is mine.

“Whatever,” I said with a laugh. “We could talk more but you had to go and get a job and leave me behind.”

“Well I’m off today,” he countered, leaning back against his junker and wiping his hands on a rag that had been over his shoulder. The wrench was forgotten on his engine and he took a few steps towards me. “So what can I do for you, Rebecca?”

I shrugged, my eyes checking out his car and the pieces that surrounded it. Sometimes I wished I knew cars better; I think it’d be fun to work on one with him. “It’s been too long since we’ve spent time together.”

“Mmhmm?” he prompted me when I didn’t continue. I could see some excitement spark in those endless midnight blue eyes. “What are you suggesting?”

I rolled my eyes. “Spend the day with me. What else would I suggest?”

He grinned and motioned to his car. “The car’s out of commission, I’m afraid.”

“Obviously. Do you still have the posts set up in your backyard? We could play a game.”

“Of course I do. The grass might be a little high though. It’ll be difficult trying to kick around the ball.” Now his smile was more pronounced as he slung that rag back over his shoulder and a single eyebrow raised in anticipation of my response.

“All the better.” I smirked. “I can still kick your ass.”

Dakota laughed. “Yeah, yeah. I let you win all those times, you know that, right?”

I stuck my tongue out at him, a childish gesture that apparently never left me. “We’ll see, now won’t we?” I moved to him, yanking the rag off his shoulder and brushed it over his forehead. Dakota didn’t move, a smile still in place and he let me wipe the muck away. I adored him for that, letting me fuss over tiny things about his appearance. God, I’ve missed him.

“Let’s go then, since you’re all cocky about it,” he said, taking the rag back from me and tossing it over the wrench on the engine.

Dakota’s backyard was overgrown, the grass around my ankles, trees with vines that seemed to grow up the trunks and then branch out and intertwine themselves with the vines from other trees. It was a lot of space and the soccer goals, once solid white with the nets attached were now just metal cage-like posts, the nets non-existent. But I didn’t care. The second Dakota dropped that soccer ball on the ground, toying with it under his shoe and smirking as if he owned the world, I felt ecstatic. It took me back to when we were younger.

Every day after school, I was over here in this backyard. Of course, back then the grass was softer and instead of crunching under my shoes when I ran, the blades would fold to me. The trees were smaller, full with leaves that we used to rake and then dive into, scraping our knees on the rocks underneath it all. Being smaller in stature then, his huge backyard was another world to us. We would zigzag through the trees, climb them as high as we could go. Towards the back where a wooden fence used to stand (now rotten wood lines the property) there’s an incline to the yard and we’d use that to roll down.

At first, it was almost too much to be out there with him, laughing and trash-talking each other like we did when we were kids. I wouldn’t admit it aloud, but this strange feeling flooded over me. I truly missed Dakota. The conversations we used to have into the dead of night, comforting after those horrid fights with his uncle. Him rescuing my sanity after fights with my mother. How could I have let that all go? Guarantee, I hadn’t at first, as previously mentioned. But I could’ve tried harder. The boy lives right next door, for crying out loud, how hard could it really have been to keep in touch?

It didn’t take long for me to remember why.

“So, tell me, Becca.” Dakota plopped down next to me in the grass, bouncing the soccer ball between his hands. “You gunna marry Alex?”

I gave him a look. “Really? Please, we’re still in high school. For all I know the guy could be pining for another girl or something.” I didn’t really believe that, it was supposed to an exaggerated example.

“What if he is?”

This time I shifted myself to look at Dakota properly. The tone in his voice irked me, as though he knew something I didn’t. “What’s this about?”

He shrugged, pushing the soccer ball away from us and leaning back on his hands. “I don’t think he’s good for you. I think there’s more about him that you don’t know.”

“I’m sure there is,” I said carefully. “He doesn’t have to tell me every moment of his life.”

“He should.”

Aggravated without knowing why, I pushed up from the ground. Dakota watched me as I brushed the dirt and dead grass off and then shot him a glare. “Now I remember why we haven’t been talking much these past six months.”

“Becca…”

“No, stop.” I held up my hands and backed away. “You did this the last time we hung out, picked on Alex and everything he does. No one is perfect, Dakota.”

Having straightened up when I stood, now he followed my suit and rose to his feet, eyebrows contracted together with concern. “That’s not what I mean when I try to talk to you about him.” He combed a hand through his hair and released a frustrated sigh. “You always do this.”

“Do what?” I snapped, halting my retreat.

“This! I’m trying to tell you something-”

“Well, you have a seriously roundabout way of doing that. You tend to piss me off first.”

“Because you’re so damn difficult!” He moved towards me. “I hardly know how to talk to you anymore.”

The glare felt permanent. “And whose fault is that?” 

Dakota huffed in frustration. “Will you just listen to me for a split moment without that judging look? This has nothing to do with us or any animosity I have with the guy. I’m trying to – gee, I don’t know – look out for you.”

I honestly don’t know why his words had me so pissed. Probably because I’ve been noticing Alex acting a tad distant at school, never wanting to stay the night with me like he normally did in the beginning. I’ve watched his eyes drift more towards other girls rather than me. I’d chock that up to my paranoia and jealousy. Now Dakota was challenging my thoughts on everything between Alex and I and frankly, I didn’t want to hear it.

So I walked away.

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