Author's note: This story is a sequel to "Letter to a Girl." While it can be enjoyed as a standalone story, certain characters and events that appeared in LTAG may make an appearance here. Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy! <3
When I first saw Andrew Collins, I thought he was a girl. I don’t feel bad about it, though. It’s his fault for being so damn pretty.
The summer after my sophomore year in high school was initially set up to be pretty boring. My best (and tragically only) friend, Tessa Martínez, was going on vacation with her family. She invited her girlfriend, Anna, along for the ride (guess I know how I rank in her list of affections), and while those two were busy laughing it up on some beach at Lake Erie, I was left to rot in Briarsburgh, Pennsylvania, a town that can be best described as America’s sweatiest armpit.
My own family never went on vacation. The last time I remembered going away was when Dad took me and my siblings to Dairy Queen for two hours to give Mom a break from our bullshit. I was ten years old at the time and I got the squirts afterwards.
So there’s that.
The only plans I had for the summer was getting my license, and then hopefully a job so I could start saving for a used car. I was sick of being carted around in the family minivan. At some point, a man needed his own shitty hunk of metal to drive around on the shitty roads in his shitty hometown. It was a rite of passage.
The day after Tessa left for the Great Lakes didn’t start well. As soon as I cracked open an eye, I knew it was going to be hotter than Satan’s balls, and probably just as sweaty. My bedsheets stuck to my skin, and my pillowcase was already soaked through with perspiration. Dad always refused to turn on the air conditioning until it was at least seventy-five degrees outside. I rolled out of bed and checked my phone. It was seventy-three.
That cheap old fart.
“Can we please turn on the air?” I grouched when I shuffled into the kitchen. Everything was uncomfortably bright; my mother had a habit of pulling up all the blinds in the morning, and the sunshine was streaming unapologetically onto the granite countertops, igniting them into white fire and blinding my sleepy eyes.
“Do you plan to pay for it?” Dad asked without looking up from his breakfast, a healthy mix of bacon and ham slices drenched in maple syrup.
“No, but my bitching comes free of charge,” I said, plopping down into a free seat at the table and propping up my cheek with my fist.
“Owen, watch your language,” Mom said, taking a moment to look up from refilling the coffee pot.
“Yeah, Owen, it’s too early in the morning for that bullshit,” Octavia said, grinning at me from across the table. As usual, she was way too energetic for this early in the morning. She was already decked out, looking like she had some place to be, wearing a mauve maxi dress with spaghetti straps, and matching lipstick and eyeshadow. She had silver hoops in her ears and several bangles on one of her wrists. She’d curled her hair, too. It hung to her waist in honey-colored ringlets. Clearly this was a person who needed to be taken down a notch.
“Nice eyeshadow,” I told her. “Will you be introducing us to your pimp later?”
“Excuse me, dick cheese, but this look happens to be really in right now.”
“For who? Circus clowns?”
She made an angry noise through her nose. “I wouldn’t expect the guy who sleeps bare ass up in the wind every night to know much about being classy.”
“How do you know that? Been taking photos?”
“I need some way to pay for college, don’t I?”
Dad laughed, choking on the ham he’d been cramming into his mouth.
“Don’t encourage them, Mark,” Mom sighed, bringing the coffee pot over to the table just as my brother Otto stumbled into the kitchen, rubbing his glasses on his tee shirt before sticking them back onto his face. He had the worst eyesight of anyone I knew; nobody had known how blind he was until last year, when his teacher caught him repeatedly squinting at the board. For years we’d just assumed he was dumb because he did so poorly on tests. Turns out he just couldn’t see the material and had no idea what to study.
“Hi there, four eyes,” Octavia said as he slid into the seat next to me. “You could at least comb your hair before you come down.”
“People could do lots of things, Octavia. Like shutting up, for instance.”
“Don’t be such a brat.”
“Don’t call me four eyes.”
“Then take off those stupid fucking glasses. You look like a nerd.”
“Why do you care what I look like?”
“Because she doesn’t wanna be associated with someone smart,” I chimed in, helping myself to the coffee. “Then none of the dumb jocks she likes will want to sleep with her, since just the faintest whiff of intelligence would make their teenie weenies shrivel.”
“Shut up, Owen!”
“What, and deprive you all of my wit?”
“I’m sick of being slut shamed by your dumb ass.”
“I’m not shaming you for being a slut. I’m shaming you for being a bitch. Sometimes it’s a delicate line to toe, for sure, but true masters of the craft can manage it.”
“I’m not a bitch!”
“Years of experience of living with you would beg to differ.”
“It’s delightful mornings like these that almost make me thankful we had so many kids,” Dad said, slurping his coffee.
Mom rolled her eyes. “Yeah, almost.”
“Yeah, well, maybe you should’ve used condoms,” Octavia said, throwing me a filthy look as she reached across the table to help herself to the plate of bacon in the center of the table. “Instead of that Marquette thing.”
“Martha, is a lousy teenager trying to tell us how to responsibly engage in sex?” Dad said.
“Sounds that way to me, dear. I wonder where she gets off?”
“Hopefully in her room with the door closed,” I said. “Otherwise we’re gonna have to have a rather uncomfortable conversation about boundaries.”
Octavia ignored me and looked at our parents.
“You can’t convince me that four kids born only one year apart were all planned.”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure you were an accident,” I said, blowing on my coffee. “I mean, just look at your nose.”
Octavia clapped her hands over the offending organ, and gave me a horrified look. “Oh my God, why would you even joke about that?”
“I hope that one day you get a venereal disease that rots your dick off.”
“If anyone’s getting genital warts, it’ll be you.”
“Alright, you guys. No sex talk at breakfast,” Mom said.
“Why should breakfast be different than any other time?” Octavia said, which was fair enough.
My parents were infamous over-sharers, and the glories and downfalls of human reproduction were no exception. When I was eight, I asked my dad what a “BJ” was. Not only did he inform me (in clinical detail), but he threw in a free explanation of a “handy” too. Then he asked me if I was familiar with the terms “pecker” and “hickey.” I did mention that I was eight years old at the time, right?
“Speaking of which, Mom, what’s a ‘sloppy toppy?’” Otto asked earnestly. “I read it in a book the other day.”
I choked on my coffee. Octavia wrinkled her nose.
“C’mon, Otto, I’m eating oatmeal here.”
“So? Never mind. I guess I can Google it later.”
“Absolutely do not do that,” I said.
“Yes, don’t do that, dear. Who knows what will come up?” Mom said. “I’ll tell you later. Just not while we’re eating.”
“Or Octavia can tell you,” I said. “She’s probably pretty familiar with the term.”
My sister raised her juice glass to her lips, giving me the finger as she glared at me from over the rim.
“How’s your cold, sweetie?” Mom asked Otto after we’d all managed to be quiet for a few minutes.
“Not great,” he grunted, laying his head down onto his place mat.
“Can I have his breakfast?” I asked.
“Close your mouth when you chew, Owen,” Octavia said. “You’re disgusting.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Princess, does this bother you?”
“Will you two stop making your mother consider getting her tubes tied?” Dad finished the last swig of his coffee and stood up. “I’m heading out. See you later, babe.”
“What do you want for dinner?” Mom asked, kissing him on the cheek.
“Sounds good to me.”
“I can’t have beef. I’m a vegetarian,” Octavia announced.
“Since when?” Otto said, frowning at her.
“Since she read about it in the latest issue of Vogue,” I said.
“Eat my ass, Owen.”
“You guys can pick dinner when you get a job and pay the bills,” Dad said, pushing back his chair. Mom followed him out of the kitchen to say goodbye at the front door. “Saying goodbye” for my parents was code for making out. I wasn’t sure what those two did to keep the spark alive over the years, but it was a fucking inspiration.
“Do you really have a cold?” Octavia asked Otto. “I thought you might be fibbing to get out of helping Mom weed whack the yard yesterday.”
“Why would I lie to her?”
Octavia rolled her eyes. “Oh yeah, I forgot who I was talking to for a sec. Father Otto and his scruples.”
“Yeah, be like your big sister and have noble life goals, like planning to lose your virginity in a grocery store parking lot,” I said, stuffing a forkful of scrambled eggs into my mouth.
“For real? You’re not even in high school yet,” Otto said. Octavia blushed and threw her fork at me in fury.
“I will be in a few months. Anyway, that’s not the point. Ugh, Owen, you are such an asshole.”
“Oh right, my bad. It was in a dark alleyway behind a bar, right?”
Octavia slammed her palms into the table, pushed back her chair, and stomped out of the room. Otto gave me a weary look.
“She really isn’t going to do any of that, right?”
“I dunno, man. We’re talking about a girl who once skinny-dipped in a golf course pond in broad daylight. I don’t think discretion is something she’s terribly concerned about.”
Otto grimly shook his head and then winced, raising his hand to his forehead. “My head hurts.”
“Did you take any meds?”
“I’ll get some later.”
“How’d you even get a cold anyway? It’s a billion degrees out.”
“I must’ve picked up a bug at the church picnic.” He sneezed, then glamorously wiped his nose on his sleeve. “And Olivia kept me up half the night blaring music through the wall, so I doubt that helped.”
“I thought she quit doing that.”
“She did…for a while. I wonder if something is bothering her?”
“Did you ask?”
“Yeah. She offered to insert her guitar into my widest orifice if I didn’t leave her alone.”
“Sounds about right.”
I chewed my fork thoughtfully. Olivia was only fourteen, but she was already displaying an array of highly admirable personality traits, including, but by no means limited to, a sarcastic mouth, a sour face, and zero tolerance for anyone who tried to get her to talk about her feelings. She spent most days in her room, listening to music or strumming away on her sad teenage guitar.
“I think I’ll just go back to bed,” Otto groaned, sliding off his chair and walking sluggishly towards the door.
“Take something to help you sleep,” I called after him.
He gave me a noncommittal wave and vanished around the corner. I munched my breakfast in silence, enjoying the rare minutes of solitude, before it was interrupted by the appearance of Olivia. She shuffled in looking like she had just run her thick brown hair through a weed-wacker. There were big bags under her eyes, and she was wearing the same clothes as yesterday: gray sweatpant shorts and a black tee shirt.
“I’m touched you dressed up on my account,” I said.
She pulled a jug of orange juice out of the fridge, chugged it noisily, then wiped her mouth with the back of her hand as she glowered at me with heavy-lidded eyes. She turned and started to walk out of the kitchen.
“I enjoy these morning chats of ours,” I called.
She jammed her middle finger into the air as she swayed out of the room without comment, still holding the jug of orange juice.
I snickered and returned to my eggs. When I got up to put my empty coffee cup in the sink, I glanced through the bay window and saw, with some surprise, that a moving truck was parked in front of the house across the street. I watched, curious, as two thick-looking moving men hauled several pieces of furniture up the sidewalk and through the open front door.
That house had been empty for almost an entire year. It used to belong to an old lady named Violet Franklin. When she died, the house went to her son, who promptly put it up for sale. I hadn’t been surprised when month after month marched by, and there were no takers. The asking price was way too high for the area. Plus, it was a weird-looking house; it was divided into five chunky sections, stuck together like red-brick ice cubes, and surrounded by a wooden fence that was more moss than wood at this point. The right side of the house was covered in snaking tendrils of dark ivy, while the left looked like it could use more than a few new bricks. I wondered what kind of person would buy such an architectural monstrosity.
I watched as the movers took a few armchairs into the house, and when they came out again, they were accompanied by a slender black woman wearing tangerine capris and a white tank top. I couldn’t see her face; she was too far away. But I did notice that she had very long hair, which she was wearing in a single braid that hung all the way down to her thighs. Something flashed brilliantly at her throat when she moved her head---a necklace, maybe? After a few minutes of talking to the movers, she strode back into the house. I went over to the table to get another piece of bacon, and then I returned to the bay window to spy some more.
The woman was standing in the front yard again, and she had two more people with her. One was a silver-haired man, stretched tall and lean like a piece of taffy. Standing next to him was what appeared to me to be a teenage girl. She was slender, like her parents, but she didn’t seem to have inherited their height. I squinted through the window and tried to size her up. Maybe five feet, four inches? Five feet, five inches, tops. I smiled. Adorable. Maybe I’d go over and introduce myself when they were settled in.
I finally turned away from the window and promptly forgot about the new neighbors. That was the first and only time Andrew Collins ever left my mind once he’d entered it.