LeeAnne Sawyer was a beautiful girl with a tanned body to match the color of her face, detailed with a fine dusting of blush and freckles. She was stretched out on a large beach towel, next to her best friend, Nicole, after an afternoon of swimming. Together they were practicing the age-old beauty secret of lying in the sun and allowing it to toast their skin to a hue of golden perfection. Being eleven-year-olds, they didn’t yet worry about skin cancer or premature aging.
Nicole was a skinnier, more scared version of her friend, with long legs and knobby knees. She opened her eyes to see LeeAnne smiling, as if she knew something.
“What are you thinking?” Nicole asked.
“I was just thinking of my damn stupid neighbor.”
Nicole smiled a little herself. Nicole liked to say damn when her mother wasn’t around. “What about him?”
“Well, my neighbor is a ‘her’, first of all.”
“Well, what about her?”
“She got a ticket on our street this morning,” Nicole said, sitting up a little and looking at her friend. “She had just backed out of her driveway and a cop was waiting there for her.”
“What did she do?” Nicole lifted her hand to shield the sun from her eyes. She could see LeeAnne’s face, glittering with blush sparkles and peppered with freckles. Her earrings were turquoise ornaments, dangling stylishly from her lobes, trembling every time Nicole moved her head.
“She took off down the road looking for the damn fire, like she does every day! The cop was waiting there - in the shade of the Herman’s tree - to bust her. He was tipped off by all of the other neighbors.”
“What do you mean, ‘tipped off’?”
“All the other neighbors were complaining that our street was becoming unsafe with her driving so fast.”
“Oh.” Nicole closed her eyes again and lay her head back down on her towel. The sun was warm on her face, but she would have to lay out quite a bit to catch up with LeeAnne’s tan. She wasn’t too interested in the story of the neighbor and her speeding ticket, if it even happened. LeeAnne was well known in the fourth grade for lying and Nicole knew better than to believe everything she said.
“It wouldn’t be so bad if she were just by herself. But she has those twins, you know. She gets into her car and throws them in their car seats without even buckling them in. Most of the time she’s drunk.”
“How do you know?”
“How do I know what?”
“How do you know she doesn’t strap the twins into their car seats? How do you know she’s drunk?”
“I just know, dummy.”
Nicole was embarrassed for asking, especially since LeeAnne reacted to her question by calling her dummy. It meant that LeeAnne might not be her friend anymore and maybe tell vicious stories around the school about her. She could make up some pretty wild stories. She opened her eyes again and looked at LeeAnne, who was back to lying down and tanning.
“Besides,” LeeAnne said. “Cops don’t go around stalking normal sober people just to give them a traffic ticket on their own street.”
“Yeah, I guess not.”
“You guess not? Who do you know that has gotten a traffic ticket on the street that they live on? Have you ever heard of that happening before?”
Nicole was feeling attacked and grimaced in the sun, never once allowing her eyes to open. “No.”
“Well, okay then.”
The sound of the sliding glass door opening made both girls sit up slightly and they saw Mrs. Sawyer, dressed in a short sundress with high heels coming out with a tray of drinks and snacks. Nicole was thirsty and was about to get up when LeeAnne spouted off to her mother.
“Mom! We don’t want drinks now, we’re tanning!”
Mrs. Sawyer set the tray on the patio table next to the pool umbrella. “Don’t be mouthy, young lady,” she corrected her daughter. “Maybe Nicole is hungry or thirsty.” She laid out two napkins on top of the tray and turned back toward the house, her red, bouncy hair swinging behind her. “It’s not all about you, LeeAnne.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Sawyer,” Nicole said, softly. Mrs. Sawyer flashed her a smile about the same time LeeAnne let out a heavy sigh and rolled her eyes.
“You’re such a damn kiss-up!”
“Why do you say that?” Nicole was starting to think about going home. She liked LeeAnne, but her attitude was so destructive. Sometimes she wondered why someone so fun could be so angry.
“My mom comes out here to spy on us, see if we’re talking about boys or whatever and she brings a little lemonade and you’re like, ‘Thank you, Mrs. Sawyer…’” LeeAnne mimicked Nicole’s voice as high and insincere.
Nicole sat up and readied herself to leave. “I have to go.”
LeeAnne didn’t even move from her spot. “This is why you’re so white. You don’t stay in the sun long enough. If you lie here for fifteen minutes, you’ll be brown before you know it.”
Nicole looked down at her long, spindly legs. They were, indeed, very pale. LeeAnne’s looked brown and lovely next to hers. She had a point, but she was being mean, so Nicole got up just to prove a point.
“Goodbye,” LeeAnne yawned. “Don’t forget to sip on that lemonade before you leave out the side gate.”
“Don’t you want to walk me back to my house?”
“Nah. I’m going to tan for at least another half-hour.”
“It will be dark soon.”
“No it won’t.”
“It will be twilight soon, then.”
“Whatever.” LeeAnne lay still, as if she didn’t care if her friend stayed or left.
Okay. Goodbye then.”
Nicole turned to leave, then saw Mrs. Sawyer’s snack tray. It was set up so darling, with two hot dogs and marshmallows on sticks, dipped in a blue frosting and decorated with a goldfish. Nicole could tell she had made them herself.
“Look at these,” Nicole said, in a tender voice that made LeeAnne sit up.
Nicole lifted a dipped marshmallow on a stick and showed LeeAnne, who was scowling into the sun to see what Nicole was holding. When she did, she made a groan and returned to her towel.
Nicole set the marshmallow back down on the plate. She turned back to LeeAnne and considered her. She was a beautiful girl, looking at least a full two years older than Nicole. Even so, Nicole took it upon herself to say something.
“Why do you do that?” Nicole asked her friend.
“Why do I do what?”
“Why do you act like everything I say is nothing? This is cool, you know. Your Mom worked hard on these. “
“Ha! Shows what you know. We made those marshmallow treats together this morning. In fact, I did all the work. Mom just shopped for the ingredients. Those were going to be a surprise for you before you went home but now you’re acting all offended and weird.”
“You made these together?”
“Yes!” LeeAnne looked up at her friend, scowling again. For a moment Nicole believed her, but then she knew better.
“How did you get the blue frosting to coat the marshmallow?”
“With a knife, retard.”
“Why are there no knife marks?”
LeeAnne screamed to herself and sat up quickly, then got to her feet. Nicole stood her ground, thinking her friend was going to charge toward her. Instead, LeeAnne picked up her towel hastily and walked toward her house. As she passed Nicole, she said with tears in her eyes, “If you’re going to leave, just leave.”
She opened the screen door with a violent jerk, marched in and then slammed it behind her. Nicole looked at the tray and wondered if LeeAnne would come back out for it. It would be a shame to leave the treats outside to spoil overnight. For a moment, she considered taking hers with her, but then walked toward the gate, wondering if she and LeeAnne were still friends.
The walk home was long and warm, the sky filled with the twilight she was expecting, erupting in purple and rose hues that were breathtaking. Even so, all Nicole could think about was her beautiful, angry friend who was so oddly incapable of telling the truth. She dreaded the thought of seeing her in school the next day.