Chapter One: The Text
Chapter One The Text
Summer and I read Spread Your Wings magazine the way some people read mystery novels—in one big, exhilarating gulp. Summer’s favorite part was the essays at the end, written by other Spread Your Wings readers like us. In the September issue, it was the four chosen Flyers who wrote them. My favorite was the Ask Amelia advice column. It was like always receiving the right diagnosis and treatment to life’s problems. Crush doesn’t like you back? Diagnosis: broken heart. Treatment: remember how great you are anyway. (And if that doesn’t work, throw eggs at said crush’s house.)
I imagined writing egg house into the yellow notepad I’d have when I grew up and became a therapist, mending broken hearts.
“This Flyer was on the US national swimming team. How do we compete with that, Elena?” Summer asked. Her words rushed out like a fast-moving train. Hyper-speed was her default setting.
She twirled a red chunk of hair tight around her finger. We sat on my bed with a bag of Bugles and last year’s September issue of Spread Your Wings in front of us. Even though we both had our own subscriptions, we still liked to flip through one copy together. Summer kept hers safe in a plastic bin underneath her bed.
“You done?” Summer would ask when we read.
“Almost,” I’d say.
Summer read fast. I liked to do things carefully, absorb each word and let it sit in my brain until I was certain I understood what it meant.
“We compete by being number one fans.” I pointed across the room. I didn’t keep my issues in a bin; Summer and I cut them up and taped them to my baby blue wall. Pages from the past two years of Spread Your Wings covered every inch of space, pictures and articles and Letters from the Editor, Akshita Balay. Bright pink (Summer’s) and yellow (mine) Post-it notes glowed in between the pages with our thoughts written on them. Practice for if we were ever picked to be Flyers and got to write our own essays for the magazine.
“Yeah, but.” Summer inhaled a Bugle. “Only one of us should use it, we can’t have our applications looking the same.” Crumbs fell from her mouth and onto the comforter. She brushed them away with the back of her hand. Best friends aren’t grossed out by things like that, especially best friends since birth. Especially best friends who live right next door to each other. Our parents liked to tell the story of the first time we met, in our strollers, at the spot where our yards connect. They say we looked at each other like we knew we were being introduced to someone important.
We both stared down at the pages for a second. The paper was so glossy I could see the silhouettes of our heads almost touching.
“You can use the wall,” I said to the recipe for banana cream pudding.
She lifted her head and I could feel her looking at me.
“No, I couldn’t, it’s your wall, you should use it.”
“I want you to,” I said, eyes glued to the recipe.
When I snuck a glance at her she was smiling, her left dimple peeking out. I called it her Truly Happy Dimple. It warmed me up like actual summer. Like sunshine and salty air. The light at the end of a dark winter. I would’ve done anything to make Summer smile. Teachers told her to slow down when she talked. And when she took tests. And when she burst down the hallway like a red-haired hurricane. But I liked being the only one who could keep up with her. I was her personal storm watcher.
Even if that storm had been hitting a little harder lately.
“Thanks, Elena, you don’t need to use the wall to get chosen anyway, you’re great enough without it.” The sentence was a gushy blur.
“Yeah, right.” I studied the recipe. Three bananas, 1 cup of sugar, 1 tsp. of vanilla. If there was a recipe for me, Elena Martinez, it would be three tablespoons of dreams of becoming a therapist, five ounces of family, and one million cups of socially awkward. Summer was the only person I could talk to without my face blushing cherry red. Her recipe would include one pair of running shoes, ten bags of red Skittles, and unlimited scoops of the stars above our houses when we talked from our windows at night.
Summer looked over, and her long ponytail skimmed the pages.
“Don’t say that,” she said. “You are the fabulous Elena. The best student in our whole class. The most perfect penmanship I’ve ever seen. And my best friend.”
I leaned my shoulder into hers. I knew she’d understand it meant thank you. The next page of the magazine was the “Have Your Best First Day of School Ever” article, which was funny because we were only a month away from the last day of seventh grade. Instead of rereading Spread Your Wings’s tips on locker organization and cute lunchboxes, I thought about how in one month it would be vacation, full of long, school-less days with Summer. No different schedules keeping us apart, no classmates driving wedges between us.
“You done?” she asked a few minutes later.
“Almost,” I said.
A buzzing sound came from Summer’s bag on the floor. She rolled off the bed and landed on the carpet with a thud.
“Are you okay?” I asked. I leaned my head over. Summer was sprawled on the ground, reading a text.
“Yup,” she said. The Truly Happy Dimple reappeared in her cheek.
Summer stood up from the carpet, hair in her eyes. She picked up her backpack and started throwing her things inside. The half-finished bag of Bugles, her sunglasses, the Spread Your Wings we were reading.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Didn’t I tell you? I have plans with Riah.”
Riah was in my language arts class, and was on the cross-country team with Summer, but she wasn’t someone Summer had ever rushed out of my room to hang out with before.
“No, you didn’t tell me,” I said. “I thought we were going to work on our applications.”
“I’ll do some of it at home and then we can finish another day.” She swung her backpack over her shoulder.
“But you need a picture of the wall,” I said, hoping I didn’t sound whiny about her leaving.
“I’ll take one later, Elena.”
She seemed annoyed and her smile was fading. It pricked me like a sharp pin. I could tell I was latching on to Summer too hard, like a tick, like something she couldn’t get rid of. She pushed her feet into her running shoes. My name was scrawled in purple marker on the toes. Summer asked me to sign them before her all-county cross-country meet last fall, for good luck.
“Sure. We’ll do it later,” I said, trying to keep my voice light. As much as I wished she would flop back on the bed, turn to the next page of the old September issue, and spill Bugle crumbs everywhere, I was determined not to be the annoying friend.
A pink Post-it fell off the wall and fluttered to the carpet like a leaf off a tree as she turned toward my door. There were leaves all over the ground at the all-county meet, and when Summer ran past me, she left a trail of their fire-colors behind. I’d held my sign straight up in the air, purple with letters written in silver glitter: RUN, SUMMER, RUN.
“Yes. Later. Obviously.” She kissed the air. “Love ya.”
Each of her footsteps down the stairs punched a new hole in my chest.
“Love ya,” I mumbled to the door.
“Not staying for dinner, Summer?” I heard Mom ask from downstairs.
“I can’t tonight, Mrs. Martinez, but thank you.”
“Stay, stay, stay,” my brother Edgar’s shrill, two-year-old voice begged. One of his toys played music. Most likely the plush clownfish that sang about life underwater.
Stay, Summer, Stay.
“I’ll see you later, Eddie,” she said sweetly.
Our front door closed too hard, because Summer didn’t know how to do anything softly.
I went to the window and pulled back the curtain. It was blue with clouds printed on it. The clouds were gray instead of white, like my room always held the chance of rain. I watched Summer cross the stretch of grass between my house and hers and disappear through the side door. A minute later she was at her bedroom window, directly across from mine. She looked over at me, waved once, and then her blinds dropped down quick as a blink.
I stepped away from the window and went to my closet. Past my row of dresses and the stacks of shoeboxes was a paper bag from Arthur’s General Store. I used most of the brown bags to cover the textbooks teachers assigned us on the first day of school, but not this one. I pulled a small notebook and feather pen from inside. The cover was deep purple suede and the spiral binding was shiny. On the inside, in what Summer had called “the most perfect penmanship” she’d ever seen, I’d written Lyric Libro. My lyric book, named in half Spanish and half English, like me.
If I was putting that Elena Recipe together, there would be a secret ingredient. A sprinkle of songwriting.
Writing songs was different from writing papers. I wasn’t trying to get an A. I was catching words that glittered like stars in my head. I thought about writing music on my future therapist notepad. A different kind of medicine for broken hearts.
Is there even a cure
For not feeling sure
A way to treat
A slamming door
The rhyme wasn’t quite right, but that was okay. I whisper-sang the words, trying to put a melody behind them. My voice was soft even though I wanted to belt out big, beautiful notes, wanted to know if I even could. I’d never tried to sing my songs out loud. Or any song, really. In chorus class, I’d move my mouth without making a sound. It was too scary not knowing what would come out, whether my voice would crack in front of everyone.
I wondered for a second if I should send one of my songs as the writing sample for my Flyers application. But I knew I wouldn’t. I’d send the essay I wrote in English class on why I wanted to be a therapist, and keep my Lyric Libro hidden in the paper bag in my closet where no one would ever find it.