by Valerie Ngai, Age 21, USA
Artwork by Lucy Zhang
The fiction prompt for July required the authors to start their submissions with the following line: “It was the last thing I had expected to happen on the first day of summer break.”
It was the last thing I had expected to happen on the first day of summer break.
It was raining. But I love rainy days. Not that I love interrupted picnics and ruined hair-dos, but I love how when you step outside on a rainy day, you can’t help but wonder, “Is this the same world, but just wetter?”
So today, I was outside, letting the rain spatter me, spatter the sidewalk—loving everything about today—until the door to the house across the street opened and a boy stepped out. He swooshed his blonde hair and, upon casually spotting me, began to make his way over.
“Hey,” he called.
“Hey,” I said flatly, because if I could describe Casey in one word, it would be annoying. My friends say I should be thankful he doesn’t live here all year, but if your doorbell was ringing off the hook every summer and your neighbour across the street was constantly appearing without fail while you were running around the block or reading in the backyard—or standing on the sidewalk enjoying the rain—you’d probably wish he lived in Timbuktu.
“Nice weather,” Casey said.
“Yeah,” I said, seeing if his body language was giving indication that he’d be leaving soon.
“You know, I love rainy days,” Casey said.
“No way,” I said in monotone, checking the windows of his house for any movement that could remotely pass for someone calling him in.
“Yeah, I just like how they’re different.”
That got my attention. “Really?” I said.
“Yeah, the light’s all different and everything looks like it’s in high-def—I like it.”
He stepped closer with that “it’s all cool” half-smile of his, but I wasn’t fooled. There’s a reason why I still think of my room in pre- and post- Hurricane Casey terms and still check for meatloaf in my milk.
“I…have to get the mail,” I said as the space between us started diminishing from a one-minute-casual-encounter-on-the-street distance to a two-people-starting-to-have-a-conversation distance. And with that, I took off like a shot down the sidewalk.
The plan was to turn the corner, go past the mailbox, and hide in the shrubbery beyond it, but Casey was right behind me before I even turned the corner, and I’m the fastest person on the school track team.
“You’re pretty fast,” Casey commented as we slowed down in front of the communal mailbox and I silently lamented the failure of my plan. Now I had to actually get the mail.
I didn’t say anything as I opened our mailbox, taking out a stack of junk mail and a smaller key. I opened one of the larger mailboxes with the key and pulled out a medium-sized package addressed to me.
“Do you run much?” Casey asked.
I ignored him—mostly because anything I said could and would be used against me— and put the mail on top of the package, ready to make a break for it. Bad idea. The second I started running, the mail slid off the package and flew in a hundred different directions.
“Oh—augh!” I’m probably the only kid that has bemoaned getting a package. I couldn’t put the package down because the street was too wet and I couldn’t pick up the mail because the package was so unwieldy.
And that meant that I couldn’t make a speedy getaway from Casey.
“Hey, let me help you,” Casey said, bending down and gathering up the stray mail—probably the first non-annoying thing I’d ever seen him do. He stacked the damp catalogues and envelopes and held them out to me. “They’re a little wet, but…” He shrugged. “You can say that a rabid dog almost ate the mail, but you saved it.”
I started to laugh, but then realized what I was doing and stopped abruptly. I awkwardly shifted the package under my arm and took the mail.
“Here, why don’t I take that?” Casey said. And before I could protest, he had the package.
So that was the plan. If I knew Casey, he was going to run off with the package while sticking out his tongue and leaving me holding the stack of damp mail. Or he would toss it into the air and accidentally break whatever was inside before I even opened it. And he definitely wouldn’t be able to resist trying to balance it on his head even though it would probably fall into the gutter.
But Casey just tucked the package under his arm and started walking back up the sidewalk with me.
“Do you run much?” he asked again.
I briefly considered taking that opportunity to dash home, package or no package. Sure, Casey had kept up with me to the mailbox, but he couldn’t if he was carrying a big, unwieldy package.
But my grandma has a reputation of sending super awesome presents, so I answered, “I do track at school.”
“Really?” Casey said. “I do too. I’m hoping to make it to state next year.”
I stared at the ground, watching rain spots appear on the sidewalk, interested despite myself at this unexpected development. “Me too,” I finally said. “My coach says I have a good chance.”
Casey shifted the package and cleared his throat. “You know, I always used to see you out running around the block and wondered if you liked running. I guess I should’ve just asked instead of…I must’ve been pretty annoying.”
“We had to replace our doorbell after you left last summer,” I said.
The corner of Casey’s mouth twitched. “Sorry.” Then he grinned. “But, you know, meatloaf-y milk isn’t half bad.”
The look on my face must have conveyed the unspeakable horrors associated with that fateful night his family came for dinner, because he laughed.
“Kidding,” he said. “I actually tried that later.” He made a face. “It was…really bad.”
I let myself grin a little. “Definitely.”
As we stopped in front of my house, I watched Casey look up at the sky and asked, “Do you really like rainy days because they’re different?”
“Oh yeah. They make you look at things you see every day and see them differently.” He held out the package to me. “Today was different, wasn’t it?”
I paused, the package in mid-transit between us. I looked up at the same face that I had avoided for the past three summers—same half-smile, same messy blonde hair, same mischievous eyes—but thought that, maybe, I didn’t see the same boy anymore.
“Yeah,” I said, taking the package. “Today was different.”
Casey started heading back across the street but stopped and turned around. “You know,” he cleared his throat, “I was thinking… maybe you’d like to go running, like, you know, to stay in shape during the summer?”
I hesitated, but finally said, “That sounds kind of fun.”
He nodded. “I guess I’ll see you around?”
I smiled and felt the raindrops falling on my skin, making dark spots on Casey’s shirt, spattering my package. I took in how everything around me looked so deliciously different and wondered if maybe, just maybe, this summer would be different too.
Valerie says, “As an Arizona-native, I’ve always found rainy days to be a treat; although luckily, I’ve never had a neighbour as annoying as Casey.”