The Wrong Side of the River
For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.
I returned to school wearing red and carrying a bundle of fliers to pass out for Mom. The red made me look like I had a fever, but I didn’t even care.
What really hurt was carrying those fliers asking everyone—man, woman, and child—to be at the final council meeting on Christmas Eve. She wanted everyone to forget everything that mattered on Christmas, like home and family, and concentrate on the stupid park. Worst of all, it meant not being at home for Dad’s traditional Christmas Eve treats like hot chocolate and reading the Night Before Christmas to Sage and I before bed.
I wondered if that might be the whole point.
At least half the kids smiled at me now that I was showing my colors. Bethany and Charlotte joined me, taking a third of the pile each and helping me hand them out.
“I’m so proud of you, Romy,” Bethany said. “It takes courage to proudly show what you stand for.”
I thought it had taken more courage not to.
The kids wearing blue looked like they were as disgusted with me as before. I let my mind wander and stood there passing out one flier after another until they were all either taken and folded away for safe-keeping, or lying around in screwed up bundles on the floor.
“You are the best friend I ever had, Romy,” Charlotte said, hugging my shoulders.
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t smile. Friendship wasn’t supposed to be about changing what you thought to make your friends happy. At least, I had thought it wasn’t. Lately, it kind of seemed that the only way for anyone to be happy was if I chose sides. Everyone except me, that was.
The bell for class rang, and we left our post at the front door. That’s when I saw Julian. He stood by one of the stair wells, wearing a bright blue sweater and carrying a pile of fliers as big as mine had been. He managed to look even more miserable than me.
He must have felt me looking at him because he looked up and we stared right at each other for a second. His eyes looked twice the size they usually did—wide and sad, like a cartoon character. It hurt just to look into them, so I looked away fast, before Charlotte or Bethany noticed.
“We can all sit together for lunch today,” Charlotte said. “Just like old times.”
I stared at the floor as we walked. It took a lot of effort not to tell her that the old times were not all that long ago and that I had only eaten lunch with Julian once. But it wasn’t worth it. Arguing never got me anywhere.
“We can strategize,” Bethany said. “A few of us Northside kids have been trying to get organized. We need to make a plan. And one of the suggestions is that we spray paint the—“ Charlotte elbowed Bethany hard and hissed, “Ixnay on the aintspray. We don’t know where everyone’s loyalties lie for sure, just yet.”
I stopped dead in the middle of the hallway, my books clamped to my chest and let my face contort into an ugly scowl without even worrying if it would give me wrinkles. “I beg your pardon?”
“It’s okay, Rome, I trust you.” Bethany patted my shoulder.
“I do too,” said Charlotte. “But we have to be careful, you know? You’ve only been back on our side for one day. We can’t afford to take any risks. It’s just too important.”
I wanted to argue and tell her how not important a stupid park was, but I didn’t have the energy to argue. Just like my mother, Charlotte would have an answer for everything.
Every class was the same, divided down the middle with red on one side and blue on the other, except for Avery Wheeler who wore purple as a sign of neutrality and sat alone and got ignored because of it. I wished I had thought of that. Being alone seemed kind of like the better option.
At lunchtime, I let Charlotte and Bethany herd me to our table. Bethany handed out our sushi packages and smiled, waiting for us to open them together. I watched for the cues, got ready to flip open the clear plastic lid, and then, I hesitated and watched as the other two realized I missed.
“It’s okay, Romy,” Bethany said. “It’s been a while.”
“Yeah.” Charlotte smiled. “You’re just a little out of practice.”
Not opening my sushi on time felt like the best thing I did all day. My life could not get more pathetic. Except, it probably could.
Julian arrived in the cafeteria late and sat with his friends out of the way, right in the back of the blue section. Every time I glanced up, he was looking back at me. He had turned out to be a far better weapon than I ever meant him to be, and I wished he wasn’t. Being friends with Julian might have made Mom mad, but it hadn’t fixed anything and only made me more miserable. Julian too.
I thought of Mom’s angry face as she drove us home, and the way she blamed it all on Dad. I thought of Dad’s tent and how the weather was getting colder at nights. I thought of the fliers and the red blouse and all the boring council meetings I had sat through. Most of all, I thought of my own mother telling me I couldn’t be friends with someone as sweet and as fun as Julian.
Then, I made a decision.
I stared at Julian and waited for him to notice. It took about thirty seconds.
When our eyes met, I smiled.

Keep Reading

Chapter 23

You kiss by the book Julian

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