Like everything is not enough, she had to go and hurt her foot and a better one is never coming back and now the walk to school takes years.
At first I wished I were so strong that I could carry her there and back but now I want to leave her for the heat and the coyotes. I asked mom for a gym membership and she said no just like to all the other things. It’s tight right now like always. I lifted cinder blocks in the back yard until I met Sam, who has a home gym behind his house under the overhang his parents set up by the garden.
It makes it even worse my parents named her Noemi, because people are always asking what that is. I don’t know, my mom just liked it. We just live here. We live a few blocks from the college, close to the soccer field, where everything is brown, including us. The field is green but it is fake and that, unlike the rest, is new. We have lived here for so long we don’t know where we’re from, or we’re just from here for good.
It makes me really hate my mother. Did she lose all her good sense with me? My name is Danny and that seems fine and explainable. If you are going to have a brown kid you had better name it something fine like Sarah or Janae. They are always asking after these things like it matters anyways—the tests we take in spring, the forms for if you want to go to college, kids on every corner of the blacktop seem to have to know.
For the record we aren’t Mexican or Indian and we definitely aren’t Hindu. Even I know that’s a religion and not a race. I am tired of the turban jokes and I am tired of the pow-wow jokes and I am definitely tired of being pulled over on the days when my father picks us up from school. All that is old news at this point, not an uproar or a thing to change but just a thing to always have to stand. I don’t know what we are but we are tired of always standing, like you get tired of the heat or bugs—like how you can’t do anything but burn and itch and hate and hate and wish and wish and wish it wasn’t here anymore. That’s how I feel about it, anyways. My mom and dad—they’ve never said a word.
At some point it gets not so bad but then that is even worse. The worst part is that you end up practicing hating all the time. And that is why I hate so much how Noemi has this stupid foot, because I hate it all the time, and then I hate her all the time, because it’s part of her and then I’m always wishing that it and she weren’t there at all. I get that it’s a smaller thing—not covering all our bodies or defining how we fix our house or don’t—but the other stuff I can pass by and this thing really slows me down.
My mom found her a rowing machine at a garage sale. It makes this awful scraping whirring sound, like if you drug a turned-on fan across a pebble concrete patio, and Noemi does it while grandpa watches TV, which is most of every afternoon. I know my mother got it at a garage sale but it still makes me wonder about the gym membership, like can’t we even get a crappy one of those.
When I ask her about it, about if this means she will get me a gym membership now, she nods down towards my two feet, her chin stretching bossy-like over the heavy box of paperwork she’s carrying across the kitchen, and hisses:
“You go use those two right there. You go on a run and it won’t cost you or me a single cent more.”
I stomp my two feet off to Sam’s house, which is only three blocks over but also worlds apart. Blocks can be so big. His mother has a whole room for her Nordic Track and they have an entire shed outside to keep all kinds of extra food. If I had met more rich people I could say they are the most inviting rich people I have ever met. For all I know, all rich people might be so inviting, but I haven’t met any others but the Berghoffs. But maybe that’s because no other rich people have invited me to meet them.
Sam invited me to his house for the first time after we climbed the knot rope in frosh-soph P.E.
“That’s so old-fashioned,” his mother said and poured us juice and sliced up cheese for crackers. She nods at Sam. “Your father had to do that back when he was a kid. Don’t they do anything else new in P.E. these days?”
“They have us use a heart-rate monitor,” Sam says.
“But that’s only for the testing day,” I say. “And we all have to share and do it one by one.”
Sam’s father is a dentist and his mother stays at home. She helps out at church a lot, the church right around from both our corners with a big needly steeple on it. I used to think that if a skydiver or a hang-glider ever got caught in a bad breeze and lost control, they could land on it and get skewered like a diver-glider shish kebab. I think about this because there are a lot of hang-gliders gliding off the cliffs on the mountains by our town. I can see the spot they launch from, a square patch in the middle of the hills. It must be a good place for them because they’re always there, even sometimes on the weekdays. But usually they just float over the soccer field and land in a clearing past the school.
Sam’s mother smiles at me with her perfect teeth—you have to have perfect teeth when you are a dentist’s wife. Sam has braces of course, and the colors are teal and black to match our school’s.
“I’d have loved that if we’d had those when I was in P.E.” She means the heart-rate things. She swings aside her long brown curls and puts two fingers to her clean white neck. “We had to do it the old fashioned way.” She teaches us how to use the clock above the kitchen archway to count our pulse in ten seconds, then times it by six. We eat our snacks, and then Sam gets up to go outside.
“We’re going to go work out,” Sam says.
“You use that after lifting,” Sam’s mother says, and holds two fingers in the air. “And see just how much blood you move.”
Sam pulls his stool over to the kitchen archway, grabs the clock.
“Can I take this out, so we can see the seconds?” He climbs up on it without waiting for an answer.
“Sure,” she says, and smiles big.
I’ve been going over every day—it gives me a reason to hurry up Noemi, gets me a good excuse to drop her off at home and turn around and leave, and I’m finding all the lifting’s making me feel better, giving me release. I’m not thinking so much about hating her when I’m thinking how my own guns hurt. You give yourself a new itch or burn so you leave the other ones alone, and I guess they start healing up okay. And besides, I’m in and out so quick, and Mom’s so busy with her stacks of papers, that she barely has time to open her mouth to me anymore.
“Hi Danny,” she says, eyes up over her laptop. “Hi Noemi. How was school and everything today?”
“Sam’s,” I say, and grab my bag, and bustle out the door. I do it every day, leave her to hear Noemi talk about how hard school is when you’re a slow and ugly cripple.
One day she stops me. She gets up from that gas-lit desk, leaving Noemi to sort through her backpack by herself, and tracks me over to the door.
“How come you’re never home so much?” she asks, and leans her hand and head along the door frame. She looks tired, sad.
“I’m using my two feet,” I say, and nod my head down to my shoes.
She sighs and says:
“Well, can you at least start coming home for dinner?”
I’ve been avoiding dinner, too. I figured it’d help mom not have to work so hard. Plus, the Berghoffs are always having such good food. They don’t mind me being over, I always ask with Sam to know for sure. I find him in the morning once I’ve dropped Noemi off at her classroom. She never says goodbye, just glares like I abandoned her again. She never has a right. I always pick her up on time.
I used to almost feel bad for her. When we were still in grade school she was signed up for the Catholic Youth basketball team, and she would have been real good. She’s tall—my daddy’s tall—and I think she’d have gotten even better. Nothing ever wrong with her till now. But maybe it’s good anyways, since grandpa got here and all that extra fun and exercisey stuff was the first on the list to go. Hence me being so mad about the rowing machine.
But either way she hasn’t gotten over it and she’s still casting glares and grumbles. So every day I leave her there by A-12 and I head over to find Sam and every day he says okay. And every day I go to his house after I take Noemi home and we do the gym and dinner. Homework sometimes but usually I spend all day Saturday to get it done.
The Berghoffs got to know me real well real quick. Before I’d even started coming over every night, they’d covered all my life in questions, wrapped my existence up in interest.
“Where do you live?”
“Just around the corner.”
“Oh! Brown. What do your parents do?”
Construction and administration, I said, which is true even if I don’t know all the details.
“Do you have any siblings?”
“Yeah, a sister,” I said. “Noemi.”
Mrs. Berghoff nodded and kept grating lemon peel for lemon bars. She didn’t ever ask if anything was wrong, so I didn’t have to tell her.
By the third week that family knew more about me than any teacher at my school, or my doctor, or all my grandmas and grandpas combined. I felt already like part of their real life. When they know everything about you right away, you have more time to start feeling like their son.
Having that to go to after didn’t make the walking easier or shorter. Noemi lagged and lagged. We had to take breaks all the time and I had to wait. The one time when I left her, a couple years ago by now, mom came to school in the rain and pulled me out of class by hand and yelled at me all soaking wet and crying. I could barely hear her over all the pouring sound but her face was like a raging hawk’s. That night dad slapped me cross the face when I was on my way to bed, and without him saying a single word I knew never to leave Noemi ever again.
She talks and talks and talks to make up for the lack of speed below her waist, and none of it is good. She is only thirteen but she is already all mad she can’t get a boyfriend, or she’ll never get a boyfriend, or not even a girlfriend if things get that bad. I told her there are plenty of guys with no arms or legs who would be happy to be with her, and girls too. All she has is a kind of clunky foot, she just needs to go find the paraplegic ward and everyone there will think she is hot shit. Well of course she doesn’t like this so she pouts and then it just takes longer. On the days where the hate burns worse I wish that she was actually retarded. It would make more sense, it would make so much more sense.
On one day I am finally sick of it.
“Sam,” I say, and peel the slice of orange away from the rind. “I want to kill my sister.”
He nods like it is business, and it is.
“But you can’t,” Mrs. Berghoff says, when she puts taquitos in the microwave for us. They are the crappy kind from Costco. They are chewy. “You’ll get over it.”
I feel like a dog eating pig ears. I ask for salsa and she goes and gets it from the fridge.
“Once I shut my sister in an ice chest and now we work at church together every day. We’re practically best friends.” She opens up a jar of this Tostitos stuff. “And all the cousins are, too.”
I dip my rolled-up pig ear in the sauce and try and chomp away. She notes my obvious disdain.
“I bet your mother makes it better,” she says, her brown eyes sparkling.
I raise my eyebrows and Sam laughs.
“He isn’t a Mexican, Mom,” he clarifies, and I’m glad that I don’t have to. I thought we had established this a while ago when I told her my last name was Hankson.
“Oh,” she says. “Then what kind of name is Noemi?”
Sam pats me on the shoulder, shoves his taquito in his mouth, and pushes his chair out to get up.
“My mom just liked it,” I say, and put my half-chewed taquito down on the counter. I get up and follow Sam to the home gym outside.
“Does she know my sister’s crippled?” I ask him when he lays down on the bench.
“No,” he says. I think he means it. I figured they told each other everything. “And that’s not true about her sister. I mean the ice chest part maybe, and that they work at church, but definitely not that I’m friends with Chad and Arie. They just sit and play electronic hockey on their phones all day.” He fits his hands around the bar.
“But does your mom and aunt get along?” I ask, and help him spot.
“They get along,” he says. “But mom still can’t stand Aunt Janie. She’d never say it. If she heard me say it it’d be trouble.” He pumps a rep. “The first time she told me that ice chest story—”
He pumps another rep.
“—she was sad at the end, like she hated grandma for making her open it back up.” He pumps another, and another, and another. I watch.
He sets the bar back on the rack.
“So what about Noemi,” he says-asks and gets up.
“I think about it, sometimes,” I tell him and lay down. “I guess I haven’t really been around her too much in a while, except for walking to and home from school. But if I get home that early and hear the rowing machine, and see the way Mom looks when she tells me to make sure Noemi gets to class okay, I just wish that it was different.” I feel the textured metal on the grip sections of the bar. It should be light like lizard scales but instead it’s dense and heavy. I should know that by now but I am always surprised.
“I think you’re serious,” he says, and watches me start going. “I think you really want to kill her.”
“Of course I want to kill her,” I say, and pump and pump and huff.
“Alright,” he says. “So how?”
He pulls the bar up from my hands at the top of the rep and sets it back on the rack without me. I feel a tingle in my lower back, a warm one. It moves up behind my head and I think.
“What if,” he says, “we throw her in a ditch.”
“No,” I say.
“It can’t be something obvious, you’re right. It has to be an accident.”
I nod. It has to not be our faults. I reach up and pet the scaly grip part of the bar with my two pulse fingers.
“I know,” he says, and sweeps the gravel with his feet. “Have you ever been to Fuller Ridge?”
“No,” I say, and bring my fingers down, lace my hands behind my head. “What’s that?”
“It’s hiking,” he says, and he’s looking at me in the eyes, all upside down. “You know the hill where all the hang-gliders come down from?”
Yeah, I think, and nod. You can see them from our house, you can see them from the soccer field. On spring and summer days especially, all of them launching off that patch on the mountainside, all kinds of funny little packs and kites and colors coming down from there and going somewhere else.
“It’s this trail right up in there. Across from the ravine where their launch location is.” He’s looking out from behind the backyard overhang and looking right at it, I can tell, even though I don’t get up from the bench.
“She can’t hike,” I say.
“That’s why it’s perfect,” Sam says, and takes the 10-wheel off the bar. “We’ll teach her how. We’ll help her.”
“You know how early we leave just to get to school.” I am imagining Noemi on a hike and it is the opposite of avalanche. Worse than turtles mixed with snails.
“We can go on Saturday. You have Saturdays free, right?”
I think about my homework.
“Yeah,” I say. “How do we get there? How far away is it?”
“My mom’ll drive,” he says. “She’ll even make us snacks.”
I swat at a mosquito. It hasn’t even bitten yet so there’s no blood, but it is flat against my leg all splayed. Sam sees and points.
“That,” he says. “Exactly.”
On the way home from Sam’s that night, I practice. I practice stomping bugs and killing spiders. That night in bed, I slap a moth against the wall. I rub my thumb and index finger together and feel the silky dust between.
On our first hike, I practice hunting lizards. It takes me long enough, but Noemi is as slow as we’d thought and slower, so I get all kinds of time. I get good at catching them and when I get bored of practicing that, I switch off different ways of killing them, putting them in creeks underneath rocks or swinging them by their tails until they fling off into distance. Noemi doesn’t notice, or Sam. Noemi’s too busy with her foot, and Sam’s too busy with his knife.
“I haven’t hiked since we went to the Grand Canyon,” she says, and troggles round a bush.
“Oh yeah?” I hear Sam ask. He’s stopped and chipping at a stump. “When was that?”
“I think when I was eight,” she says. “Dan was just a little guy too.” She has to use her hands to lift and pull her left leg over a tree branch in the path. “Dad had to carry him over on his shoulders, but I walked the whole way by myself.”
I can hear Sam smile from the back of our line. He is in full gear—has a backpack, three canteens, and a machete. I told him first there’s no need for a machete in the kind of southern brush we have round here, or when you’re walking on a path. He told me just in case. I told him it might scare Noemi. He said the sooner she knows we’re tough, the less she has to guess about us. The more she trusts us when we’re showing her the way. They talk and talk and every now and then I hear Sam slice a bush or branch, and he helps Noemi pass, and I make sure to step down hard when I go over it to tail things up.
When we get to the actual ridge, it is really scary. It faces the flat landing-pad they’ve made across the ravine for the hang-gliders to jump off of. They somehow get a truck up there and all this other gear, but we walked here all ourselves. There’s a million foot drop between us, though, and all of the valley if we turn and look behind. We turn and look behind, because that’s where the hang-gliders are going, out, away from the cracks and the crags and the hills, out into the air above the fields, over homes and sports and tar and farms and things and otherwise.
We get so stuck watching the hang-gliders take off that we almost forget we have to cross. It is a thin, shallow path that runs next to a wall of dirt that’s fallen, so tree roots are exposed. It is a tiny stair and the next step is the million feet down. If you stay real close to the wall you’ll be okay, but if you try to be a donkey on the thing, or if the dirt is dry and slips, you’ll head down there headfirst next.
Sam slips a bit at first and I actually get worried but he holds on okay. Noemi looks at him and he beckons with his hand, offers it to her like help. She looks back at me.
“I don’t think this is a good idea,” she says, and looks down at her foot.
“Just hold on tight to the tree roots,” Sam says, and points with his machete. She looks at him again and goes.
We go to Fuller every week. Every time we pass the ridge I hold my breath as Sam and I hand-guide Noemi across another time. By the fifth time, by October, I have cleared the ridge of lizards, and once even took my time over a big raccoon. It was dead already, but I used a stick to see inside.
Sam never runs out of things to talk to Noemi about, somehow.
“It’s part of my shtick,” he says when we are at the gym outside. “It keeps her mind pre-occupied. Makes her think we’re friends. She can’t suspect us in the least.”
“What does it matter,” I say, and whack at the weeds with my sweat towel all wrapped up like a whip, “if she’s dead?”
“In case the fall doesn’t kill her all the way. She has to believe it really was an accident.”
“In case the fall doesn’t kill her?” I am almost shrieking and I don’t know why.
“Just in case,” he says.
“It has to kill her,” I say, and tie my towel around the bar, pull it tight like choking.
“It will, it will,” says Sam.
Mrs. Berghoff comes out with popsicles.
“It’s kinda hot out here today,” she says. “I thought you’d need a treat.”
It’s hot out here every day, I think, but take one from her hand and lick the bottom where the drips are falling off. Sam pinches his own belly like he’s got something there to grab. We’re both skinny as bean poles even with all our working out.
“I guess I can have one,” he says, and takes his.
“What are you guys yelling about out here?” she asks. God, Mrs. Berghoff. The woman doesn’t miss a beat.
Sam looks at me. I sigh.
“I’m just mad about Noemi,” I tell her.
“What’s wrong with Noemi?”
I hate her ‘cause she knows. She’s been driving us this whole damn time and hasn’t said a word. Which is surprising, when I think about it, all that talking they all do. But now, it feels like she’s playing dumb, so she can win at smart. I don’t know what kind of smart she’s after, here. Everybody knows Noemi gets my goat and I feel kind of bad about it but I hate her just the same. I glare at Mrs. Berghoff.
“You know,” I say.
“Are you blind?” Sam says, still loud like we were before. “She’s got that foot.”
Mrs. Berghoff has this look on her face like something I’ve never seen on my mom. It’s like there is a can of worms inside her cheeks, and she doesn’t know if it’s grosser or just more physically inconvenient that it’s all inside her mouth. Like she can’t decide if she wants to spit them out or adjust it so it fits. She sighs and shakes it off, turns the face into a smile, and heads back toward the house.
“Ugh,” Sam says. “She’s next.”
“She’s what?” I ask, but he grabs his towel and follows her inside. We’re done for the day, I guess. I pick up my things and head out the back gate instead.
That Saturday, when Mrs. Berghoff drops Noemi and I back off at home after our hike, she invites us to her church.
“Okay,” Noemi says, before she even checks with me.
“I’ll pick you up at nine.” She smiles more—no worms this time. Sam waves goodbye through out the back.
When Mom finds out we’re going to church, she looks at us like we are mad, and then like she is mad, and then like all disgusted.
“You can’t wear that,” she says. She pulls a light blue button-down from my father’s closet and hands it to me.
For a minute I am confused a little. I really thought, especially just then, she wouldn’t let us go, and now she’s making it a scene.
“Go find a dress, Noemi. One that doesn’t show your shoulders.”
I hold the shirt up.
“Mom,” I say, “It’s way too big.”
“It’s a smaller one,” she says, “one he doesn’t wear any more.” She makes a motion around her belly like to show a gut and grins. “I’ll help you tuck it in just right and no one will be able to tell.”
Sam’s minivan pulls up and I hear the door slam outside. I am glad Mom made us change because even Sam has on a tie.
Our mothers shake hands, exchange formalities, though in Mrs. Berghoff’s case they always feel so casual.
At church is fine. Noemi crosses her legs so the bad one is up, and then again so the bad one is underneath, and then up again, then underneath again. It’s like she can’t decide.
They say and sing a bunch of things and I mostly look around to pass the time. At the end they pass around a brushed velvet bag and when it gets to me I’m thinking only of the hang gliders. I put my hand in and a dollar bill comes out. I put it in again and twenty.
No wonder, I think, thinking of Sam’s house, and put them in my pocket.
NEXT WEEK, Sam writes in his Book of Mormon and underlines, on one of the back pages that are blank. I don’t say anything or write back. I don’t look for a pen.
Next week grandpa has a crazy spell before we leave on Saturday to hike. Mom will not let us go. Sam’s mom shows up at the door.
“Can they still come to church?”
Sam looks at me from the front seat of the van with eyes so desperate. I look right back but don’t even shrug. Noemi comes to hug Mrs. Berghoff hi and stays to wave as they pull away.
At home instead I get on Mom’s computer and look at pictures of the hang gliders. I search for them and click on one. One-time flight or lesson, it says. $180. Oh man, that is a lot. Noemi walks past and her clunk foot hits the table leg. She doesn’t even flinch.
I go to the nice pants I wore at church, still hanging on the edge of a drawer that’s open on my cabinet. I pull out the bills I got. $21. Okay.
“This week,” says Sam, during lifting after school. He means about Noemi.
“No way,” I say. I try to think of something right to say. I pump the bar. Sam isn’t even spotting, really. “We’re close,” I say. “Real close.”
Sam steps on a dandelion growing in a crack under the pull-up bar.
“Okay,” he says. “Okay.”
On Saturday the hike is ages. Noemi is chattering up a storm of course but it doesn’t even matter that not Sam or I are talking back. I keep my body between hers and his the whole entire time.
I don’t know if I can keep up lying for long so that second week at church I take out all the cash there is. That week they give us Bibles and all kinds of other things to read. Noemi signs on something with her name and number—a girls’ group.
When we get home Noemi asks Mom if Mrs. Berghoff can pick her up before school to go to church on Tuesdays too, and Mom says no.
“Isn’t Sunday enough?” Mom asks from at her desk. She’s got pink and yellow carbon papers in each hand.
“Plus,” Noemi says and stares, without an eye-bat or a twitch, “I wouldn’t have to walk.”
This hits Mom hard. In a second they’re both yelling, about the foot and everything.
“I said I’m sorry,” Mom is saying.
Of course Mom caves and then Noemi gets to go. Mrs. Berghoff picks her up on Tuesday morning and I walk to school all by myself. I go so fast. I get there so early there is still dew on the backfield, nobody out in front of A-12, nobody at the place at all.
After just one Tuesday of this stuff Noemi already gets invited to a tea or something on that Saturday so she can’t make it to the hike. I find this out from Sam—still two good days of walks to school and I find out from my friend instead of her—on Friday, when we are lifting weights again.
“We should have switched off drivers.” He’s strapping on a pair of biker gloves he’s been using lately when he lifts. “Your parents should have driven some weeks. So my mom didn’t get all attached and get Noemi to become a church girl.”
We couldn’t do that, I think. Dad has the car for work on Saturdays, like every day.
“And also,” Sam says, “Noemi’s actually pretty cool.” But, he says, now she won’t be anymore. She’ll be just like all the other church ladies. “She’ll get all weird just like my mom.”
I think of Mrs. Berghoff and how she’s never been anything but nice to us. Even bought Sam that machete. Talk about trust. I think about my mom and her cardboard banker boxes full of envelopes and papers, about her trying to fix the printer again and again. I think of all the bugs I’ve swatted lately, think of all the lizards dead and gone on hikes. I realize I don’t know what Noemi is, or what she should be. Even Sam, who’s actually trying to kill her, knows her better.
“I think the hiking plan is over,” he says. “We’ll have to find a different way.”
I look at him, still tugging at the bottom of those gloves.
“You still really wanna make her dead?” I ask.
“Yeah yeah,” he says, and sniffs.
At church that Sunday I take out all the bills from the little velvet bag again. I count them at home and I have too much, so when I’m at the Berghoff’s that week lifting, I slip them back into Mrs. Berghoff’s purse. She won’t notice.
Sam and I don’t really talk much anymore when we lift, at least not about Noemi lately. Everything’s kind of on hold except our bodies. There are other girls in school, and these college neighbor girls who sometimes lay out in tiny swimsuits behind their chain-link fence, and even once say hi. They do not have a pool and the one who lives there is fat, but she has a skinny friend, and there isn’t much more you can ask for around here. We live in a college town I guess but no one comes here for a beach.
One day Sam goes in to use the restroom—number two I guess, since we usually just go on the wall by the roses—Mrs. Berghoff comes out. She’s got just an icy Gatorade, just one for me.
“You know,” she says, and towels its condensation off with the hem of her long skirt before she hands it to me, “we really like having Noemi around so much.”
I twist the cap and don’t say anything.
“There’s a Thursday morning group for young men,” she says. “Sam goes, you know.” I know because I don’t meet Sam in the hall on Thursday mornings. He gets there later because some other family drops him off. “Has he invited you?” she asks.
No, I think. Sam has only talked about how much he wishes that he didn’t have to go. Getting up so early for all this preparing to be young men, preparing to go out on their trips for when they’re older later. He never stops complaining, especially on Thursdays when he meets me in C-8. He’s practically dis-invited me.
“Stay away from it,” he said, way early on. “Do yourself a favor. If you don’t have to, don’t.”
“Yes,” I tell Mrs. Berghoff. She smiles but without the teeth, like some scrap of that worm can is still stuck inside her cheek. Like it hurts.
“Well,” she says, and pats my arm, “you should come sometime.”
I look at her hand and she crosses her arms across her chest real quick.
“See you Sunday?” she says.
“Actually,” I say, “Noemi has a doctors appointment.”
“On Sunday?” she asks, like someone’s dying.
“A specialist,” I say.
“Did something happen? Is it getting worse?” She’s genuinely worried.
“Just… physical therapy,” I say. Mrs. Berghoff looks relieved.
“You could still come with us, then.”
I shake my head.
“I wanna be there for her.”
She looks at me and kind of beams.
“See,” she says, and puts her hand firm on my sweaty knee. “That’s the kind of thing I knew you’d start to see.”
I don’t know exactly what she’s talking about so I just nod some more.
“Well, next week, then,” she says, and leaves.
Week to week, this is getting draining. School is really picked up by now. Noemi’s been staying up nights alongside Mom to get her work done. She’s already obsessed with college, which I guess you kind of have to be when all you’ve got to think about is that foot all day. I don’t think she needs to think of it for years. She’ll have no problem getting in, with that foot sob story and her grades.
“Plus, you can check the ethnic box,” I tell her one night when she’s worked up and Mom is trying to calm her down.
“But we’re not ethnic,” she complains.
“No one will know,” my mother says. “Check it anyways. But honey, Danny’s right. You don’t have to think of this right now. Do something else tonight.”
In the bathroom I see something too bright in the trashcan with the Q-tips. I pick it out and it’s a flyer for Brigham Young, BYU. I fold it and half and bury it again, this time under all the wads of toilet paper too.
I don’t come over on that Monday, for the first time since we met, but I’m back to Sam’s on Tuesday.
“How’d the appointment go?” Mrs. Berghoff asks, and sets out ranch with carrot sticks. I look at her like really? She saw Noemi this morning, I know, and I know she asked. She knows there’s no appointment.
“What appointment?” I say, and chug a glass of lemonade, and run out back. Sam follows.
“This week, man. This is it.” He jumps onto the bench.
“What?” I say, and look at him.
“Hiking,” he says, and it doesn’t sound like him. “We can hike again. Noemi’s finally going down.”
“You’re still on this?” I ask.
He looks at me, all down the bench. Same look I gave him at first—business.
“Yes,” he says. But his eyes have even dulled in twenty seconds. I don’t know why he’s even brought it up. We’re past it and besides, he couldn’t do it. I know he loves her. If we even go at all, he will make me do it. Say it was my idea. And of course I won’t have any of that. We will fight, up there on Fuller Ridge, and one of us will fall.
“Mom,” I say that night, and pull the shoddy ottoman up to her table. “Here’s what’s got to happen. Here’s what I need you to do.”
She puts down her hands of papers and brings one up with its elbow on the table so she can set her chin in it while she hears me out, like she’s so tired she can’t hold her face up on her own.
“I need you to help me lie to Sam.”
She brings her other elbow up to the table, her other hand up too, and rubs her eyes.
“Danny,” she says, and looks at me, “okay.”
“Okay,” I say, and scoot the ottoman closer, so my knees are touching the side of her leg. “Sam’s going to be coming over for our hike on Saturday. I need you to say we’re gone, maybe even that we’re gone for good.”
She nods to me.
“You can say we have to leave for grandpa. You can tell him we’re going to move away, move somewhere where the weather’s not so hot.”
“That sounds good,” she says. “What about if his mother asks?”
“Can you say the same thing?”
She twists her lips up and nods slower.
“I guess.” She turns her whole torso to me in her chair, so now the tips of our knees are touching each other. “But have you thought about how you’re going to have to keep this up?”
“Mom,” I say, “I never had to see them before. I can find a way to not again.”
She looks at me like she is kind of proud, but also sad, and thinking.
“What about Noemi?”
I didn’t want to think about Noemi. I guess I’ll have to really tell her.
“I’ll take care of that,” I say. “I’ll help.”
On Saturday real early, before it’s even light out, I wake Noemi up.
“Get up,” I say to her. “We’re going hiding.”
She turns over in her blankets and does the morning mumble through the cracks between her pillows.
“We don’t have to leave til nine,” I think she’s saying.
“Hiding,” I say, and pull the pillow off. She covers her face up with her hair and squeezes her eyes shut. “Not hiking.”
“Go,” she says, and scrunches to the wall.
“Sam wants to kill you,” I say. She is quiet for a second and doesn’t move or budge or talk. Then she sits up slowly, sees me. I give her my hand to help get out of bed and she looks like she could cry.
I take her walking and it takes a while, and she’s quiet the whole time. We walk out past our school, out to the college, out to the college soccer field. We hop the fence—I had to lift her up on one side, then climb over quick to be there on the other to help her get back down—and lay down in the center circle, in the cold and morning sun. I give Noemi my sweatshirt and it isn’t long before she is asleep. I can tell from the way the ground by me seems colder, like it gave her all the warmth it had. I scoot a little closer so I can pick up any radiation, any heat she’s sending out. I hope that when she wakes the hang-gliders will fly, and I can show her that way, tell her, “That’s you some day, that’s you.”
When she is laying down her feet look normal. I feel the dollars in my pocket, all $180 of them. It is like I have a chunk of pages from an old, falling-apart phonebook in there, a chunk that came off after we left it on the porch so long out in the rain and then the summer sun to dry—but not to dry, it just dried, why would we ever think to do that, why would we every do anything on purpose like that, why would we ever do anything besides just find the pieces later and make of them what they are. I kind of fan them, kind of rub them, but it’s so thick you can’t do either. Rich, I think, is this: too much to move, sometimes.
Melissa Gutierrez is an artist and writer living and working in Northern California. Find her online @mmgutz