The next year, school got worse because I couldn’t make friends, and I couldn’t do my work like the other kids. When the math wasn’t just counting, it got harder, but I could still do it. When it didn’t fit on my fingers anymore, I asked my teacher why we couldn’t take our shoes off to count on our toes, and everyone laughed at me.
Home was better, though, because I was big enough to ride the small bike in our garage, and Uncle Jeremy helped me learn to ride it without training wheels. When I could finally do it, everyone came out and cheered me on, because I was the first in the family to learn how to ride a bike since Weston. Mom and Dad even took me -- just me -- out for ice cream that night and told me that they loved me and they were proud of me.
By second grade, when I was 8, I was really sad most of the time because my sisters were no fun to play with and the only thing I really liked in life was Pokémon and bike rides with Uncle Jeremy and being in my backyard. Just when I thought that I couldn’t take it anymore, I made a friend.
I was sitting at my desk reading a Pokémon book when a boy in my class came up to me. “You like Pokémon too?” he asked.
I nodded, and we talked about Pokémon so much we got in trouble with the teacher for talking all the time. Even though I didn’t learn his name, which was Tor, until later, he was my first friend ever and my best friend. Tor had friends named Akita and Rocco who also liked Pokémon, so he introduced me to them.
“I know you,” I told Rocco, seeing the yellow Pikachu shirt in my head. “I tried to be friends with you in kindergarten, but you walked away.”
Rocco laughed and claimed I was making it up, but he and Akita became my friends anyway.
On the weekends I went to Tor’s house, and we played Pokémon and Mario and Kirby and old games like Galaga. Sometimes Akita and Rocco came too, but Akita didn’t like playing video games and Tor only had two controllers anyway. So Akita started bringing her coin collection, which only Rocco liked. Akita’s grandpa helped her collect coins, so she had a lot of them, and she helped Rocco start his own collection.
There wasn’t as much to do outside at Tor’s house because he lived in a neighborhood and he had a small backyard. He did have a playset, but there were only two swings and one slide, so we all had to take turns.
“If we went to my house, we could play outside more,” I told Tor one day when Akita and Rocco weren’t around. They didn’t like being in Tor’s backyard as much as Tor and I did.
“Do you have a playset?” Tor asked.
“No,” I said, “but I have a pond and a creek and trails we can explore. Plus we have a hammock where we can play your DS.”
“That sounds fun,” Tor said, smiling. “I don’t know if my parents will let me, though. I’ve never played at anyone else’s house.”
We made a plan to ask Tor’s parents, and when we did, they said that he could come to my house if they came over and met my parents. I asked my parents, and they said that was okay, because they were glad I had a friend.
Even though Tor and I kept reminding them, his parents were always too busy to come to my house. Finally, after school was over, they cleared a Saturday to come to my house. I waited anxiously in the dining room after lunch, because I could see our driveway from there. After a little bit, I finally saw Tor’s blue car coming down our driveway.
“They’re here!” I yelled.
“I’ll be done with the dishes in a minute,” Mom called from the kitchen.
I ran through the kitchen and went out to the garage. I opened the garage door which was at the end of our driveway, so that they could see me and know where to park. When they got close, Tor waved at me with a big smile.
My parents came outside as Tor and his parents got out of the car.
“Your house is huge!” Tor said, running over to me. Our parents shook hands and talked.
“C’mon,” I told Tor, then ran towards the pond.
“What’s over here?” Tor asked, catching up to me.
“The trail to the pond,” I said. I stopped running when we got to the grass.
“Whoa,” Tor said when he saw the trimmed trail between all the weeds in the field. “I didn’t even see this when we drove in.”
“It’s really cool,” I said.
Tor and I walked until we got to the pond, and then I led him to the edge. “If you look close enough, sometimes you can see tadpoles and other little fish.”
“Awesome,” Tor said, leaning close to the water. “Have you ever swam in here?”
“No,” I said. “Could be fun though.”
“Yeah,” Tor agreed.
“Let’s go to the backyard,” I said.
I showed Tor the hammock, which he loved, and then we ran out to the back trail.
“There are two directions to go because it’s a loop,” I explained. “I usually go right because when I walk with my grandparents it’s less uphill and it’s easier for them.”
“How long is the trail?” Tor asked, bending down to look at one of the purple flowers growing alongside the trail.
“It’s really long,” I said. “When I play by myself it seems shorter though, because I walk faster than my grandparents.”
Tor laughed and stood up. “I wish I could take a picture of this flower.”
“Why?” I asked. They were all over, and I saw them all the time.
“It’s just really pretty.”
We kept walking the trail, and when we came to a part where it branched off, I took Tor off the loop path. “There are little circles in this part,” I told him.
“What for?” Tor asked.
“I don’t know, but my dad always mows them.”
“I bet it would be perfect for camping.”
“Camping?” I asked.
“You’ve never gone camping?”
“It’s when you get a tent and you make a fire and you sleep in the tent outside.”
“Oh,” I said. “That sounds fun.”
“Maybe you can come with me and my parents this summer,” Tor said. “We always go with my cousins at Lake of the Ozarks.”
“I could really come?”
Tor shrugged. “I can ask my mom and dad.”
We continued on the trail until we got back to my backyard, and then we laid down on the hammock. “That was a lot of walking,” Tor said.
“I told you the trail was long,” I said.
After we caught our breath and cooled down in the shade of the trees, Tor and I went inside to see our parents. They sat in the dining room with Grandma and Grandpa, talking.
“This must be Tor,” my grandma said when we walked in.
Tor blushed and waved.
“Don’t be shy, Torro,” Tor’s dad said.
“There’s lemonade in the fridge,” Mom said. One of my sisters screamed upstairs, and she smiled sheepishly at Tor’s parents. “Better go see what’s going on.”
Tor and I went into the kitchen, and I poured us some lemonade.
“This is really good,” he said, taking a big gulp. “Better than the stuff my mom gets.”
“That’s because my mom makes it from real lemons and real sugar,” I said.
“My mom always gets the powder.”
“My mom’s lemonade is the best.”
“Can I meet your brothers and sisters?” Tor asked.
I looked at my cup. “If you want, I guess.”
“Why not?” Tor asked.
“I said you could. They just won’t play with us so you don’t have to know them.”
“I want to.”
When we finished our lemonade, Tor and I went upstairs. At the top, I pointed to my left. “That’s my parents’ room. Amy’s crib is in there, but when she’s older, she’ll share a room with Kiara and Mady.”
“Where’s that room?”
I pointed to the right at Kiara and Mady’s room. The door was open, and we could see them playing with dolls and stuffed animals.
“Can we say hi?” Tor asked.
I led the way to their room and stepped in. Tor stayed in the doorway.
Mady pointed at us and screamed, but Kiara put her doll down and came over. She gave me a big hug. “Hi Gray!”
“Hi,” I said. “This is my friend Tor.”
“Nice to meet you,” he told Kiara. She looked back at Mady, who stopped screaming, but stared at us while she sucked her thumb. “I’m Kiara, and that’s Mady. She’s a crybaby, but I have to play dolls with her because Amy is too little and Gray won’t play dolls.”
Tor smiled. “Boys don’t play dolls, that’s why.”
Kiara crossed her arms. “Well he has stuffed animals and he still won’t play those with me.”
“I have before,” I said.
“We can sometime. I’ll bring my bear,” Tor said.
I stared at him in disbelief. “Let’s go see other people, Tor.”
“Bye,” Tor said to Kiara and Mady.
I knocked on Lisa and Mary’s door, which was closed. “Mom?” Mary asked through the door.
“No, it’s me.” I said.
“My friend wants to meet you and Lisa.”
“Lisa’s at Cindy’s.”
I shrugged at Tor, and the door opened. “Hi,” Mary said.
“I’m Tor,” Tor said.
“I’m Mary. Nice to see Gray has a friend. But I’m busy, okay? So not now.” She shut the door.
Tor shrugged at me.
“I’m telling you, sisters stink,” I said.
I showed Tor the bathroom, then we went downstairs to Uncle Jeremy’s room and my grandparents’ room, which were across from each other with a bathroom in between.
“Uncle Jeremy is at work, and my grandparents are out at the table.” I explained.
Tor nodded. “Where does he work?”
I shrugged. “He used to work at a grocery store.”
“What’s that door?” Tor asked, pointing at the door behind me.
“The basement,” I said. “Where my room and Weston’s room is.”
“You live in the basement?” Tor asked. “Cool.”
I smiled. “ I get my own room, too. Weston wouldn’t share.”
“Is it big?”
I shook my head. “Smallest room in the house. That’s what Weston said. But it’s okay, because I don’t have to share with my sisters and me and Weston have our own bathroom.”
We went down the stairs.
“This is your room?” Tor asked in disbelief, looking at the concrete floors and walls and all of the boxes.
“No,” I said, laughing. “This is just the basement part.”
He turned his head to the left and saw the walls to me and Weston’s rooms. “Oh…”
I laughed, and he laughed, and I laughed some more. “You thought I lived in a box?”
Tor laughed so hard that he couldn’t answer.
When we stopped laughing, I showed him the bathroom, which was really small, but still had the best shower in the house. “It’s better because it’s the newest,” I explained. Then I knocked on Weston’s door. There was music coming from inside, and then it stopped. Weston opened the door. “Hey.”
“This is my friend Tor.” I said, smiling.
Weston smiled and stuck his hand out. Tor shook it, and they both said, “Nice to meet you.”
“Want to see my room?” Weston asked. Tor and I nodded.
Weston moved so we could walk in, and Tor’s jaw dropped. “A lava lamp?”
“Pretty cool, huh?” Weston asked. Tor marveled at the posters on his wall. “My parents don’t let me put tape on the wall,” he said. Weston laughed. I looked at his computer, which was open on his desk. Last time I had seen it, his background had been him and his girlfriend, but now it was a red logo.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“It’s where I’m going to college, remember?”
“Oh yeah,” I said, my heart sinking. Mom and Dad had left me and my little sisters at home with a babysitter while everyone else went to Weston’s graduation. Mary said it was extremely boring and that I didn’t miss anything, so that was okay, but since Weston was going to college, I would be the only boy left in the house. “Are you sure you can’t stay?” I asked.
Weston laughed and put his hand on my back while Tor looked at the lava lamp up close. “You’ll have to hold down the fort for me, okay? I promise I’ll be back on breaks. Besides, we have all summer, right?”
I nodded, but I didn’t know what to say. Weston and I never did anything together except watch Planet Earth.
He must have noticed me frowning. “Hey, it’s okay,” he promised. “We can hang out, all right? Next time I mow, you can sit on my lap or something. I think you’d like it.”
I smiled up at him, and he hugged me. I hugged him back, almost crying, because it seemed like he was giving me a chance for the first time since he tried to play baseball with me.
When Tor was done looking, we went to my room. I showed him everything, including the small fossil I had found by the creek and the Pokémon poster that had come in one of the big card packs I got for Christmas. When his parents came downstairs, we were looking at all of my Pokémon cards. I had one hundred and eighteen, but Tor said he had at least two hundred.
“It’s time to go, Tor,” his dad said, leaning against the doorframe.
“Help Gray clean up first,” his mom said from behind.
“I don’t want to leave,” Tor whined.
“Your mom has to get to her meeting,” his dad said.
“Only Mom has to go.”
Tor sighed and set down my Pokémon cards. We both stood up.
“Can he come over tomorrow?” I asked Tor’s parents.
“Please?” Tor asked.
“We can talk about it later,” Tor’s dad said, looking him in the eye. He turned to me and smiled. “It was nice meeting you, Gray.”
“You too,” I said. They turned to leave. I followed them upstairs and said bye to Tor at the door, then watched them drive away.
Mom came up behind me and touched my shoulders. “They seem nice,” she said, then kissed my cheek.
I went downstairs to put my Pokémon cards away, and before I knew it, Mom was calling me up to dinner.