The waters in in the Argenous Creek were always fast in the spring, even this late in the season. The sound of the waters rushing and splashing on the rocks had always been calming, but there was an urgency to his step. Frank made his way through the trees and underbrush. His boots slid in the mud, but he was certain about what he was hearing. It was a girl, and she was crying. No self-respecting gentleman could let a girl cry, especially if there was anything he could do about it. And what kind of gentleman would he be if he didn’t even try?
As he cleared the tree-line, he saw the source of the sobbing, and she saw him. Her rounded cheeks lost what little color they had. It looked as if this girl had been keep inside all her life, with a pallor that only comes from denying yourself the joy of the sun. Her face shifted into shock and surprise. The fishing pole she held, initially bent and taught, fell from her hands as she jumped at his sudden appearance. She was about his age, but was a little bigger than he was. The extra weight of youth had never been given a chance to melt away, so it still clung to her, rounding her edges and giving her a softened look.
To her eyes, he was almost alien. When she heard the sounds of something rushing towards her through the brush, her mind conjured images of a bear coming to eat her. When it was a boy, her surprise grew even more. Having moved from the farms to the south, in Pennsylvania, she had never seen a black person before, except on television. Now, here was this chocolate lad, covered in mud and leaves, smiling at her and walking right at her with purpose.
The TV shows had rarely painted people of color in a positive light, so she had some worry about what he was doing. He had come into yard of the home her parents had just bought with no concern or regard for borders. His intentions were absolutely unclear. None of that mattered, really. She would have welcomed the bear. It would have freed her from the torment her parents created for her. Instead, it was a person, and that meant she could feel embarrassed.
Her mind was pulled from what had been stolen from her by the surprise of his arrival. At first, a bear was conjured, and now, her mind compared him to the animal. His arms and legs were strong and muscled. His deceptively slender frame hid his bulk well, and when he was hunched forward, he did look almost like a bear. His skin matched the fur color, and his puffy clothes matches the shape. She fought the smile for just a moment, having almost made herself laugh.
As Frank stepped on the dock, she turned to face him, clumsily reaching down for the fishing rod she had dropped. He offered the brightest smile she had ever seen, his white teeth contrasting against his tan lips. Before speaking, he grabbed up the pole and gave a light tug on the line.
Greet, introduce, and find the problem, he reminded himself. “Hi, there. I’m Frank. I haven’t seen you around before. Hmph. You’re not getting this out just by pulling,” he said, testing the line to identify how it was snagged. “The current pushed you between rocks. Don’t worry, I’ll get it out for you.”
“Liz?” Her word sounded more like a question than an introduction. Unfamiliar and uncertain, it was soft and rose at the end. “Elisabeth, but my friends call me Liz. Well, when I had friends.”
Compliment, offer assistance, show interest, his father’s words continued in his head. “Pretty name. Well, normally it would be. It’s not pretty enough for you, but it’ll have to do.” He offered a cheeky smile, and she blushed back. The tears had stopped completely. The gentleman teaching his father had given him was working. The tugging he had been using to test the snag had also paid off as well. “Don’t worry, this is nothing to cry over. I can get this out, no problem. Even if I gotta get a little wet.”
Liz blinked, immediately driving that sneaky smile from her face. She hadn’t given it permission to be there. She put the sad scowl back in place. “It’s not the lure,” she explained, “it’s here. This place. We moved away from all my friends.”
Sweeping his arm far over the water, and leaning to extend his reach, Frank worked at the lure in the snag. Liz gasped, covering her mouth. She didn’t want him to fall in. “Your family just moved here? Well aren’t you lucky! You have a Creekside house, all the fishing you want, summer swimming, and you already made your first friend. You’re good at this whole new-in-town thing.” As the lure dislodged from the rocks, Frank lifted the line, steadying himself on the dock. He checked the hook and paint and nodded.
“No! No I’m not,” Liz protested. “I hate it. And who said we’re friends? You just barged in and started talking to me. I don’t even know you.”
“Frank shrugged and smiled. “Best friends who just met. I live just up the street, and you’re gonna love it here.” Walking to the tied-down where a boat would go, he assessed the water. “Now, you don’t want to cast out there. The fish are looking for a place to hide. You want to try… here.” With that, he dropped the line into the water, not even a real cast. He waved her over.
As she approached, that pesky smile returned. Furling her brow, she scolded the insubordinate expression. It would need to mind itself. It can’t just come out whenever it wanted to. She was angry and upset, and her face would show it, if she had anything to say about it. Frank set the fishing pole in her hand and started moving it side-to-side with a twitching movement.
“I don’t even like it here. How am I supposed to love it here? And you! You can’t just decide who my friends are… and are going to be! My parents chose for me to lose the friends I had, where’s my say in-“
Her words cut off as the fishing pole tried to leap from her hands and into the water. Frank’s hands immediately pulled back from it as an excited squeal escaped her. With tugging and splashing, the fish, a smallmouth bass, tried to run for deeper water. “You... you take it, I can’t!”
Frank shook his head and stepped back. “You got it, Miss Liz! Get ’im, get ’im!”
She couldn’t help smiling and giggling as she wrestled with the fish on her line. It was strong at first, but tired out and she was able to bring it to the side of the dock. Frank lay himself down to reach for the fish, lifting it out and showing it off to her.
“Like I said, best friends. That big smile o’ yours says it all.”
“Ten years,” Frank said, “and here we are. Getting ready to move on to real life.