The Wrong Side of the River
CHAPTER
24
Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love
Romy
Dad’s time started early on Friday because Mom had to stay in town after a big meeting at the magazine. Sage was sleeping over at her best friend’s house, so it was just Dad and me for dinner.
It felt like someone had thrown open every window in the house and let all the sunshine in. I could breathe and dance and feel free.
“Let’s order a pizza,” Dad said.
For a second I counted the grams of fat in my head, but then I shook those thoughts away. “Pepperoni and anchovies!”
The big smile on Dad’s face was worth it. When the pizza arrived, we sat in front of the television with our feet up on the coffee table and ate until our chins and fingers were coated in grease.
“That is the best thing I ever ate in my entire life,” I groaned as I forced one last bite of garlic bread into my mouth.
“It’s not over.” Dad loosened his belt, and leaned forward to put the box on the table. “I got ice cream too.”
“Not yet. I can’t do it, Dad.”
“We could go for a walk,” he said, stretching up to his feet.
“Walking? With our legs? Not possible.” I wasn’t even joking.
“How about a drive, then? I have some things I need to drop off at my boss’s place. You up for it?”
A free trip to Julian’s place and a chance to hang out that Mom would never know about? “Yeah!”
Julian appeared from around the side of the house right as Dad knocked on the door, as if he had some sort of radar tuned especially to my signal. He grinned at me, then looked away, before I even had a chance to smile back. He opened the door and held it for Dad.
“Julian, would you mind keeping Romy company while your dad and I chat?” Dad asked him.
Julian’s eyebrows shot up. “It’s okay if we talk?”
Dad jerked his head back on his neck in surprise. “What? Of course it is, why wouldn’t . . .”
Before Dad could catch up with current affairs as they applied to my mother and her ridiculous rules, I grabbed Julian’s arm and dragged him outside to the porch swing. “Thanks, Dad. We’ll be out here or something.”
That pizza must have had an effect on Dad’s brain, because he disappeared inside with Mayor Griffin without another question. Julian did not look so sure. “What if someone sees? What if your Mom finds out?” he whispered, glancing around like there might be actual spies in the camellias.
“It doesn’t matter right now. Look, Julian, I want you to know that you’re still my friend. This whole thing was Mom’s idea and one day this whole stupid park thing will be over and you and I can be friends like we were again.”
Julian’s face brightened for a second, but then it faded again. “Yeah. I guess. Except Dad says things are getting held up and he has no idea how long for. It could be months and months and possibly even years before we can be seen together in public. You will have forgotten who I am by then.”
I shook my head, hard. “No. I don’t forget friends, and I would never forget you.”
But it didn’t help. We sat there on opposite ends of the same porch swing with heavy heads and nothing much to say. So I went for something safe and neutral instead. “How is Solo doing? Has he learned the double back flip yet?”
Julian rolled his eyes. “I’m having trouble getting him to concentrate. He’s fallen in love with Petunia, the neighbor’s poodle.”
I smiled. “Aw, that’s really cute. Do you let them spend time together?”
Julian’s eyebrows went up. “I need him to concentrate, not follow Petunia everywhere she goes.”
“Oh,” I said. Somehow the thought of Solo and Petunia being kept apart made me sadder than anything else. Sadder than Mom not letting Julian and me be friends. Sadder than the whole town hating each other over some lame park. At least Julian and I had other people, Petunia and Solo only had each other.
Julian wriggled awkwardly, biting his lip like he couldn’t figure out what to say next. I stretched my eyes wide, trying to keep them from getting all filled up with tears.
Then Julian sat up and smiled. “I did manage to teach him the best new trick. Do you want to see? That’s what I was doing when you and your dad arrived.”
I jumped up out of the swing, glad to think of something happy. “Of course.”
We headed around the corner of the house and down to almost the back, to where an ivy covered trellis climbed the wall to Julian’s bedroom window.
“Okay,” Julian said. “You wait here. I’ll be right upstairs in a second.” He waved and ran off around the back of the house, the door slamming behind him. For such a skinny kid, his feet made plenty of noise on the floor as he ran to the window. Even from outside I could hear him.
He threw the curtains back and leaned out over the sill. “Watch this!”
Worried he might throw something heavy down for Solo to chase, I hurried back at least six feet and then waited. Julian ducked back inside, and then reappeared, a very excited Solo wriggling in his hands.
I covered my mouth with my hands, almost afraid to look in case the little dog wriggled too much and tumbled down to the ground. But he didn’t. Julian had him held tight in his arms. “See Romy down there, Solo? See Romy? Go show her, Solo. Go show her.”
I couldn’t see what happened next because Julian disappeared from the window for a moment. Then, he reappeared with a big smile on his face and I heard the frantic scrabbling of Solo’s claws on the front porch.
The little dog came streaking around the corner and straight up to me with a paper rose in his mouth. He sat back on his haunches, front feet in the air, and gave me a doggy smile.
“Is that for me?” I asked. Solo dropped back onto all fours, dropped into a low bow in front of me, and placed the paper rose at my feet.
I gasped and took the rose, giving Solo a great big pet and tummy tickle to say thank you.
“Wow!” I called up to Julian. “You taught him that? That’s so great. You’re really talented, Jules.”
He didn’t blush, or puke—which was a good thing considering I stood right underneath him. “Thank you, Romy. We worked really hard on it.”
Then, I heard another set of paws trotting on the concrete of the front walk. That had to be Petunia the poodle. She was clipped so that it looked like her fur had been replaced with a bunch of glued-on cotton balls, but Solo obviously appreciated her style. He forgot me, forgot the rose, and definitely forgot Julian who was waving frantically at him and calling his name from the window.
Solo didn’t care one bit. He ran over to Petunia, who danced around in dainty little circles, wagging the powder puff that sat where a tail should have been.
Julian came thumping down the stairs and slammed the front door after himself. He ran toward the little dogs, hollering Solo’s name.
I didn’t know a lot about dogs, and even though Solo was super clever, I still preferred cats. But even I could see how happy Solo and Petunia were to be together, and that made me happy too. “Hey!” I called up to Julian, as he went to take Solo by the collar. “Wait. I’ve got something to say.” He took a few seconds to turn and listen to me, his hand on Solo’s collar.
“I think that Solo and Petunia should be allowed to play together. It’s not fair. Dogs must be lonely living in houses with just people and no other dogs. They make people happy, but they should be happy too.”
Now Julian blushed. “Oh, I guess so. It’s just...well it’s just that Solo isn’t fixed, and I don’t think Petunia is either, and the neighbor wouldn’t like Petunia having mixed breed puppies and—”
“And nothing. What’s right is right and they should be happy. You know what else?”
Julian shook his head.
“We can be friends if we want to. We’re okay kids. We don’t do anything wrong and some stupid park is no reason for us to not be friends. Mom will see that sooner or later and until she does, well too bad. You’re my friend. What do you think?”
A wide smile spread over his face. “I think you are exactly right, Romy Madison. And from now on, any time Solo wants to play with Petunia, he can!”
It felt like a very big and very brave thing to say, but it also felt like exactly the right thing, too. Especially when soft flakes of snow appeared in the air around us and drifted softly to the ground.
How could anything go wrong when it was snowing?

Keep Reading

Chapter 25

Where two raging fires meet together, they do consume the thing that feeds their fury Julian

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