The Life of Annie

STILL THE SAME

AUTUMN 1978

 

It was too warm for October, everyone was saying so. The leaves on the maple trees that lined the passing streets had already changed to an autumn blur of reds and oranges and browns, and the grass on the front lawn was losing that shade of green that comes from sunshine and sprinklers and the growl of a lawn mower passing by the window every week.

 

Summer had already been over for months, the fireflies and barbecues pressed to the back of our memories behind the math equations and history dates and the vocab words that would make up part of English test next Tuesday.

 

But it didn’t feel like it. It felt like summer was back, like if I blinked I'd still be building forts with Ava in the backyard. Jean jackets were tossed over the backs of the bus seats as my classmates leaned across the aisle to show off whatever they had to show off, and some kids in the back were already pulling down the bus windows, trying to ease out the heat and stuffiness caused by metal and vinyl seats and too many bodies. Every few minutes we could feel the bus slowing and hear the hiss of air as it braked to drop some kids off before we did it all again tomorrow.

 

“When did that start happening?” Ava nudged my shoulder.

 

“When did what start?” I asked, my eyes trained on the back page of the newest issue of Teen magazine that Julie McCarson had brought in at lunchtime. We read our horoscopes every month, wondering what the future would tell us and where it would take us. I made a face. I didn’t like the sound of mine..

 

“Listen to this,” I said, folding the magazine so I could point at my horoscope. “Virgo: Someone close to you isn’t telling you something, and though it may not be any of your business, you still feel a little betrayed.” I paused and looked up. “What aren’t you telling me?”

 

“Nothing. I tell you everything.”

 

“Maybe that’s not my real horoscope. Let me see what Leo says…”

 

Ava shifted on the seat beside me so that her back was against the metal siding of the school bus, one leg tucked beneath her. The buttons on her jacket scratched against the vinyl seat lining, and I looked up to see her stretching her neck to look over the high back towards the rear of the bus.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

“Watching your sister,” she replied. “Look — no, don’t look!”

 

“Why, what’s she doing?”

 

“She’s talking to Christopher Bartlett.”

 

“So?”

 

“So she’s talking to Christopher Bartlett.”

 

“What’s so weird about that?” I asked and flipped the magazine closed. “He’s our neighbor."

 

"And Connor’s brother.”

 

I felt my face grow warm. Ava peered over the seat again, and I glanced up at her before peeking my head into the aisle. Audrey and Christopher Bartlett were leaning towards each other, Audrey’s perfectly white shoes scarcely touching the tips of Christopher’s black and white sneakers, and every so often, she’d tuck a piece of brown hair behind her ear.

 

The bus stopped again, and one of Audrey’s textbooks slid beneath the seat in front of her. She dragged it back into range with her foot, and when she reached for it, she looked up and saw me watching.

 

“What?” She snapped, though her cheeks began to redden.

 

“Nothing,” I said. “Hi, Christopher.”

 

“Hi, Annie,” Christopher grinned and leaned back against his seat. He didn’t look like Connor, though they both had the same blond hair. Christopher was taller and thinner, and he wore thick-framed glasses that somehow made his eyes look smaller, and I wondered if that’s how Connor would look when he turned fourteen.

 

Audrey just looked like she was going to kill me.

 

I whipped my body back around to Ava, who grinned back at me, her eyes wide and bright and looking like they do at lunchtime when we’re talking about riding our bikes past the park where the neighborhood boys play baseball or when she learned that Judy Taylor came in 8th place at the science fair.

 

“See?” she whispered loudly. The bus came to a stop again, and she picked up her books from the seat between us.

 

“When did that start?” I asked, stepping into the aisle so she could pass.

 

She shrugged. “You’re the one who lives with her.”

 

We were the first bus stop in the morning and the last in the afternoon, a dozen of us getting off on my street corner and dispersing in four directions. I looked over my shoulder as the bus pulled away, waiting for Audrey to catch up so I could laugh at her or she could yell at me — whichever came first — but she was standing in the street, her jacket over her arm and books in her hands, talking to Christopher again.

 

“What do you think they’re talking about?” I fell into step beside Connor as we walked towards our houses. He followed my glance back at his brother and my sister, who were trailing behind, their footsteps so slow that I wondered if they were even walking at all.

 

“I dunno,” he said. “Maybe about school?

 

“They’re not even in any of the same classes.” I knew this because I had asked Christopher to give Audrey a book after she’d gotten off the bus and became lost among the throng of students entering the high school a few days ago. He had told me that he probably wouldn’t see her until lunch, but that he promised to find her. Then he pushed up the rim of his glasses and smiled a smile that looked just like Connor’s and said “later,” and that had been that.

 

I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe that was their beginning, like Audrey forgetting her book and me picking it up and asking Christopher to find her and give it to her was somehow how they started sitting across the aisle from each other on the bus and walking so slowly down the street. I wondered if I would ever have a beginning like that. I wondered if someday I would forget a schoolbook on the bus and someone would find me, and then all of a sudden we would be eating lunch together and sitting next to each other in class and waiting in line for the buses.

 

“Want to come over and work on our history project later?” Connor asked. I realized that we had already reached my house and in just a few seconds, he would continue on to his.

 

“We’re eating at my grandma’s tonight,” I said, and I thought how Audrey can’t kill me now for spying on her and Christopher because we had to go to Grandma’s, and maybe somewhere between our house and her house three blocks away, my sister will have forgotten all about it.“Tomorrow after school?”

 

“Okay. See ya later!”

 

And then Connor was running towards his house, and Audrey and Christopher were still walking step by step towards ours, and I stood at the end of my driveway, somewhere in the middle.

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