2015 Barrett Winner
2nd Place Brittney Arafat
His skin is a soft golden brown; sun kissed my mother calls it. "If the sun can't resist laying her lips on those summer boys, what chance do we have?" She is always saying things like this. I scrunch my nose at her not really caring what kind of boys she is interested in kissing. We are watching the television in the kitchen, my mom chopping carrots while I pour liberal amounts of dish soap onto the sponge, then lift a grime covered spoon and dip it into the water. Some ad is on with two young people dancing on the beach. The boy smiles, his commercialized pore-less skin lighting up beautifully in the sunlight.
My mother sighs. She looks sad and perhaps lonely; her blue eyes an ocean of un-spilled tears. She gets this look a lot these days since my father left. When she sees me watching her she plasters on a smile. "Yes, I'd love to plant my lips on that one. But you can’t trust those summer boys. They’re like your father, always chasing down a new wave."
I pull a pan into the sink, submerging it into the foamy water as I drag the sponge over its steel sides and bottom. It’s hard to admit it, but I know where she’s coming from, as I watch this summer boy walking across the television screen. He is, in every right, absolutely beautiful. I want to know him, want to press my lips against his shimmering brown skin too. I envy the sun. I look back over at my mother, an emotionally broken soul, standing in the kitchen. I reach for the hand towel, drying my hands before retrieving the remote control and flipping the television off. Summer boys are like the sun, they only burn you in the end.
“I want to go see a movie.” Mom announces after dinner. “There’s a great clip playing down at the dollar theatre, a love story.”
“Gross,” I mumble, and she just smiles. I love it when she smiles. I change from my house clothes. I choose a lose pair of jeans and a t-shirt, arranging my brown hair in a tight bun at the top of my head. Mom is in a short denim skirt and a pink tank top. Her dyed blonde hair cascades down her shoulders, swaying back and forth as she walks. I slide on my tennis shoes and wait patiently as mom straps herself into her six inch heels, then head out of the apartment into the night.
Mom’s heels click when she walks. They make a loud clomping sound against the pavement. The frogs down by the river are croaking, calling to their mates from across the waterways. We walk down to the gas station on Main St. It has become a tradition to buy snacks there before the movies to hide in our purses because the popcorn and sodas are always too expensive at the theatre. The night air is thick and humid; I wipe my hand across my brow, sighing in relief as I push the door open and am hit with a cool breeze from the air-conditioner. The bell chimes, announcing our presence.
“Hey Zoe,” says the boy behind the register. His name is Luke, the perfect embodiment of a summer boy with tanned skin and dark hair. He goes to my high school and has been my crush since we moved here when I was eleven. I smile at him, my eyes trailing to the floor when his cinnamon colored eyes meet my gaze.
“Hey,” I say. When I glance back up he’s grinning and watching me. I quickly escape down the candy aisle, my cheeks burning with heat.
“Hey cutie!” says mom. She’s still at the front of the store with Luke.
“Hey Mrs. Miller, what are you guys up to tonight?” Luke asks.
“Going to catch a movie, you want to tag along.”
Luke laughs, “I would but the cash register isn’t going to watch itself.”
I grab a handful of candy bars and a bag of chips, and head back the register. Mom is leaning across the counter, the contents of her shirt clearly visible to Luke. “I got the snacks. You want anything else mom?” I ask. Mom doesn’t reply. Feeling irritated I nudge one of her heels with the toe of my shoe. She only ignores me.
She’s moving her hips back and forth now, like a cat, ready to pounce across the counter onto Luke if he makes any sudden movements. Luke doesn’t seem to notice, or if he does, he’s ignoring her. I feel a pang of embarrassment. Why does she have to act like this?
“Hey Zoe, I was wondering if you have time, could you bring by your science book? We have that test on Monday and I totally forgot my backpack at home.”
“Sure, I’ll do that right after the movie.” My voice comes out like a shrill and I quickly clamp by mouth shut.
“Could you study a bit with me too? You know, if you have time.”
I nod, not trusting myself to speak again. I feel like my heart is exploding in my throat from excitement.
“You going to be stuck here all night?” Mom purrs.
“Yes Ma’am.” Luke replies.
“Maybe I’ll come back and keep you company too, would you like that?”
My brief sense of euphoria is squashed, like a bug against a windshield. I slam the candy onto the counter, and leave the gas station, bell chiming loudly as I leave. I can hear mom’s heels clicking as she tries to catch up.
“What is your problem young lady?” she snaps, yanking on my shoulder and spinning me around.
“What’s my problem?” I scream, “That’s Luke, the boy I’ve been telling you that I liked since the 5th grade.”
“Yes sweetie, I know I was helping you.”
I shake my head in disbelief. “Helping me? You were flirting with him.”
“I wasn’t” she argues.
“I get why dad left.” I growl. Movie forgotten, I run home.
I can hear the water running, and mom crying in the bathroom. She always uses the water to try to drown out the sound of her tears. I cover my head with my pillow. I want to be mad but then another part of me wants to comfort her. She cries so often these days about dad leaving. Knowing I’m the source of her pain tonight makes my stomach turn sour.
I set the pillow down and leave my room, walking down the hall to the bathroom.
“Mom,” I call, tapping my fingers against the door.
“One second sweetie,” she says. The water turns off. A few moments later she opens the door, her face red and splotchy from the crying.
“I’m sorry,” I say, but she just shakes her head. She looks like she might cry again as she pulls me tightly into an embrace.
“No sweetie, I’m sorry,” She says, her voice shaking.
Mom puts a kettle on the stove, hot water whistling from the spout as she prepares two cups with tea bags and sugar. She pours the water into the cups, a sweet aroma lifting in wisps of steam.
“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” She asks, as she slides a cup to me from across the table. “There is a handsome young man in need of your textbook.”
I smile as my mom winks conspiratorially at me, but I shake my head. “No, Luke’s a summer boy. As soon as another wave comes by he will forget all about me.” I laugh, but the sound catches in my throat when I see the look on my mom’s face. It’s a mix of utter shock and sadness.
“Oh sweetie, what have I done?” She says, covering her face in her hands. “Luke is a summer boy, but he’s not your father. Not all the summer boys are like your father. I see the way that boy looks at you. You are the only wave in his ocean.”
I can feel color rising in my cheeks, as I stand and walk around the table to wrap myself into my mom’s arms. She holds me tightly, her hand brushing against my hair. When she finally releases me I grab my backpack, and head out the door.