“We must reach out our hand in friendship and dignity both to those who would befriend us and those who would be our enemy.” ~Arthur Ashe
That Monday, the day of our first detention, Alivia and I followed behind the lunch crowd at a distance. Jimmy, Marcus, and Hayden were all ahead, catching up with others in our lunch group. Whenever they’re around, I don’t let Alivia help me; they’d just make fun of her.
Since they didn’t seem to care about me much anymore, I gratefully allowed her to carry my backpack for me. Our pace was slow, neither of us wanting to run to the office for our punishment. She hadn’t said a word since we left the art room.
On top of that, she wouldn’t even look at me. I didn’t make an effort to make her open up, I was nervous about what she would say. Was she mad at me for getting us detention? Or did she just not know what to say to me?
Eventually, we made it to the office in an uneasy silence. I hurried and grabbed my lunch from the cafeteria while she dragged our bags into Mr. Wimble’s office.
No one came up to talk to me while I waited in line. I received a few glances from people, but not much other than that.
When I made it back to the office, Alivia was sitting in one of the chairs beside the windows in the presence of Mr. Wimble. He watched me while I sat down next to her. I balance my tray on my knees and started to eat.
“Listen, I don’t want to sit here and babysit you guys, alright? I’m gonna go to the cafeteria on lunch duty. Just don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone, okay?” he instructed, getting up to leave.
“Yes sir,” I said.
He left, shutting the pair of us in silence.
I was halfway done with my pulled pork sandwich (featuring a soggy bun and meat that may or may not be pork), when Alivia finally said something.
“Tin Tin, can I ask you something?” She sounded timid, maybe even nervous.
I swallowed and turned toward her. Her gaze met mine.
“Sure, anything,” I replied softly. Tucking her hair behind her ear, she put down her apple and prepared to ask her question.
“Are you... Are you ashamed to be around me?” she blurted, wringing her hands.
I opened my mouth then immediately shut it, breaking our stare and replacing it with my lunch tray instead. While I’m trying to protect her from her former bullies, she thinks I’m ashamed to be around her. I’m not, I was no better than her. I didn’t believe that. Did I?
“Because you never let me even talk to you when you’re with them, you know? And I get it if you think I’m poor or whatever, but I thought we were friends--”
“I’m not ashamed of you Alivia,” I interrupt her. She nodded, seeming relieved. “My friends just like to make fun of people and I don’t want you involved in that. I don’t even know if they’re my friends anymore.”
“Oh,” she said, smiling a little as I gazed back at her. “Well, thanks I guess.”
“You’ve already done a lot for me, so I suppose this is me trying to return the favor,” I reasoned, shrugging and taking a swig of Dr. Pepper.
“You don’t have to pay me back, I’d go through everything again if I had to,” she replied. “Us being friends is enough.”
I felt heat rise in my cheeks. A grin I’m sure made me look like an idiot formed on my mouth.
“I try,” I said awkwardly and she laughed.
“So, while we’re stuck here, what do you want to do?” she asked.
“What do you mean? We’re in detention!”
“Want to play truth or dare?”
“What are we, in third grade?”
She raised her eyebrows and shrugged. Sitting back in her chair, she stared straight ahead, then started to laugh.
“What?” I asked, laughing a bit myself.
“I mean, when I was in third grade I never thought I’d end up here in detention, you know? I just thought highschool would be really hard and terrible but detention isn’t actually too bad,” she said, grinning.
I nodded and tilted my head a bit at her.
“I thought highschool would be a party with Annie Carson as my girlfriend,” I said in a daze, remembering how the two of us played on the jungle gym everyday at recess before she moved.
“Awe, how cute,” she teased and I rolled my eyes playfully.
I sipped my pop and thought about her suggestion for her little game.
“Alivia, truth or dare?”
  
We went through detention for the next couple of days eating and talking, continuing to grow closer as friends. I think I was beginning to look forward to our lunches together. It just made the long days at school more bearable.
I was walking into Principal Wimble’s office, excited to have another day with Alivia. I began to worry about what would happen after this week, I didn’t want to go back to eating with my old lunch group. The desire to sit with her after detention was rising above going what people expected me to do.
Our school’s principal wasn’t in there, and the strange thing was Alivia wasn’t either. She went to the bathroom as we were coming down, but I already went through the lunch line and thought she’d be there.
It was weird being in there by myself. I felt like I was trespassing. Cautiously, I moved to get settled in my usual seat. I was about to text Sawyer to ask where she was when Alivia came in, her face pale and eyes wide.
“What?” I asked, a little unnerved by her surprised expression.
She broke into a smile, then dug around in her backpack for something. What she pulled out shocked me a little. She held the paper’s above her head in victory.
I stood up on one foot, moving my tray to the seat beside me, and started clapping. She just laughed and pretended to curtsy which made me laugh too.
“Congratulations Alivia Olson, you just pulled your first prank,” I stated, sitting back down as she shoved the sheet music back into her bag.
“Sawyer’s going to kill me,” she half-whispered, grinning. “But why have a big brother when you can’t prank him every once and a while?”
“True,” I said. “So if he plays instruments, why isn’t he in the band? You just stole his music from his room?”
“Bright and early this morning, yes,” she replied, “I wouldn’t call it stealing, I’d just call it borrowing for amusement.”
I laughed. “You’re so technical.”
“Eh, it happens.”
Right after she said that, she plopped down on her usual seat, right onto my lunch. A look registered on her face and we both realized at the same time-- she just sat on my lunch. She began to laugh and so did I. As she put her face in her hands, I caught a glimpse of her blushing furiously.
“Sorry,” she managed, looking up at me with her cheek against her palm while her elbow was on her knee.
“You’re fine, it’s good. I wasn’t going to eat it anyway,” I said.
We looked at each other straight in the eye and I bursted out laughing. I couldn’t take it anymore, she just sat right down on my lunch without even a glance at where she was sitting.
After a few minutes and I still hadn’t quit laughing, she slapped me on the shoulder lightly, which just made me laugh harder. I forced myself to swallow another laughing fit and looked at her. She still hadn’t stood up.
“Maybe you should stand up?” I tried, covering up another laugh with a cough.
“It’s gonna look like I peed my pants,” she whispered, ears burning red with embarrassment.
“At least we’re the only ones here.”
Laughing nervously, she stood up, wiping the baked beans and gravy from the open-face turkey sandwich off her jeans. I handed her a napkin, biting my tongue but not suppressing my grin. It looked like she just had a serious case of number two in her pants.
“Is it bad?” she asked timidly, turning around in a full circle.
“Yes,” I stated. She sighed and closed her eyes momentarily.
“Tin, what am I gonna do?” she asked, sounding desperate.
While this situation was extremely funny, there was also the fact that my friends were sort of out to get her. If she went out there with baked bean sauce and gravy all over the back of her pants, she would probably get ridiculed about it.
“I don’t know..,” I admitted, looking around for something to possibly help.
“I need something to tie around my waist,” she said, wringing her hands.
The bell rang, signaling for lunch to be over, and she froze.
“Do you have a jacket?” I asked, throwing my tray and the napkins into the trash.
“Sawyer does, but he’s probably halfway up the hall by now.”
She looked completely panicked. We both knew how awful it would be if people caught sight of the food soaked into her pants. I glanced around then looked down. My flannel--
“Here Alivia,” I said, letting my crutches fall to the floor and keeping my ankle above the ground. I took off my red, blue, and white flannel and quickly handed it to her.
“No, it’s okay! I don’t want to--” she began.
“Take it! I can always wash it anyway. Take it,” I insisted.
Hesitantly, she reached out and took the flannel from me and tied it around her waist. She picked up her teal backpack while I gathered my crutches and my own backpack.
“Okay,” she said to herself, “okay... How do I look? Okay? Does it look okay? That’s all I’m going for, is at least an okay.”
“You look...,” I started.
She spun to me and crossed her arms over her stomach in her shyness. Her sparkling blue eyes bore into mine while a slight smile rested on her lips. With her hair pulled back, I could really see her facial features more clearly. My breath was taken away. She looked pretty great with my flannel.
“Wow,” was all I could say. She raised her eyebrows and looked down at herself.
“Is it really that bad? I know I’m not the prettiest person.”
“Wow as in you-look-nice wow,” I said quickly.
“That’s even better,” I blurted.
Then she blushed again as we were going out the door. We were about the last one’s in the hall and she started laughing again.
“I’m so dumb,” she groaned, but she was still smiling.
“Aren’t we all?” I pointed out.
“I suppose. Hey Tin, do you want to come to my house Friday? A few kids from our youth group are coming over for a bonfire. I know it’s sorta last minute, but I didn’t know how you would take it...”
“Sounds cool. What time?” I asked.
“Just come home with Pan -- sorry, Sawyer -- and I after school. If you want to come, that is,” she added.
“Of course I want to come,” I said. Anything to get out of the house. “Thanks for inviting me.”
“Well I mean, we are friends right? Why wouldn’t I invite you?”
I felt my heart swell a little. At least she considered me as a friend.
Even if I was a terrible one for letting her sit on my lunch.
  
As Friday approached, it felt like the days were moving even more slowly than I would’ve liked. Before I knew it, I was riding in Sawyer’s truck to his house. I told my mom and my grandma about where I was going and that Pearl would have to ride the bus.
Mom didn’t care as long as I worked out the details. Grandma was really excited that I was invited over by a girl someplace. Honestly, so was I. I tried to play it off, but after spending detention with Alivia, I realized that she was a really amazing person and I enjoyed spending time with her.
I jumped out of the truck on one foot and Alivia hurried to grab my crutches from the backseat for me.
“I feel so needy,” I said as she took my bag also. “You don’t always have to do that for me-- Wait, are you wearing my flannel?”
“Am I?” she asked acting like she was surprised. She looked down at herself and grinned. “Well won’t you look at that, I am.”
“Girls,” Sawyer groaned sarcastically. “Agonize over every detail of their outfit but don’t even remember what they’re wearing later.”
I laughed as we entered the house.
Eventually, after a quick hello to their parents and we started on our homework, Sawyer and I go outside to start the fire. I helped him drag wood over from behind the shed and stack it up beside the fire pit.
“Do you have a thing for my sister?” Sawyer asked suddenly, placing some logs on the old ashes from previous uses of the pit.
I looked at him, shocked by the sudden change in subject. I’ve never talked about girls with Sawyer at that point, but then again, I hadn’t known him for too long either. Plus it was his sister. I guess if I knew about some guy and Pearl, I’d be interrogating too.
“Well, kinda... I don’t know, she has a boyfriend, right? I mean, whatever makes her happy-- I wouldn’t mind though... You know?”
“Yeah I get it,” he laughed. He stopped working for a minute to look at me. “Just wondering.”
“Okay. Any special ladies in your life?” I asked, wiggling my eyebrows.
“No!” he laughed.
“Just wondering,” I said and I saw him roll his eyes a bit as he went back to concentrating on the fire.
A car pulled into the drive and two people stepped out. One was way younger, he looked like he was in middle school. The other was tall with blond hair spiked up and hands in his jean pockets. As they walked over, I saw that they were probably brothers.
“Hey Tanner, Frank! What’s going on?” Sawyer greeted them, getting up to meet them halfway across the yard.
“Nothing really, glad that the week’s over,” the older one replied. “I hope you don’t mind that I brought Frank along, he really wanted to come.”
“It’s fine, we possibly like Frank a lot more than you, Tanner,” Sawyer smirked, patting the younger one on the shoulder.
“Wow Sawyer, and I thought we were friends,” Tanner shot back, grinning.
“Not when you’re dating my sister, we aren’t,” I caught Sawyer saying under his breath. I laughed a little and he grinned at me and shrugged. “It’s true,” he whispered to me.
The four of us looked back at the house to see Alivia coming towards us.
“Hey Liv!” Tanner shouted, breaking into a perfect, “golden-boy” smile.
So this was Alivia’s boyfriend. Figures.
When she reached us, the pair hugged and Frank made gagging noises. I smiled a little then looked to Sawyer who was glaring at Tanner. At least he seemed to like me better than Tanner.
I found myself immensely jealous of this guy and I had only met him five seconds ago. Just him taking possession of Alivia was enough to get under my skin. If she mentioned him at all, it was like she was talking about a ghost. I didn’t think she actually had a boyfriend and he was a real person.
Clearly he was. But whose flannel was she wearing? Mine.
“Babe, I missed you,” Tanner mumbled into her hair as she pulled away with their hands clasped.
“Missed you too,” she said, smiling.
I wished she smiled at me like that.
Sawyer was already walking back to the fire so I followed him. No need to look at this guy who I shouldn’t be concerned about. She was happy and that’s all that mattered.
Frank hurried beside me, pushing his glasses up his nose. While his brother was the clear ‘dream boy’, Frank was a little, scrawny, geeking looking kid, which automatically made me like him better. Just because he wasn’t with Alivia, I liked him better.
I think I was losing my mind.
“Babe, where did you get your flannel, I like it!” I heard Tanner say to her from behind me.
“Well, I--” she started and I grinned to myself. Sawyer looked back at me with an amused expression. I dared to look over my shoulder and saw Alivia scrambling for an answer.
“Tin Tin gave it to me,” she finally replied.
“Tin Tin?” he said in surprise. I could only imagine her nodding with flushed cheeks. His voice dropped, but I still managed to hear the phrase, “Isn’t that the guy you keep talking to me about? Didn’t you sit in his lunch and go to the cross country meet?”
He sounded irritated and that made me feel alive.
“Yeah. He’s nice, you’ll like him. Tin!” Alivia called to me. I spun around, more than ready to confront this guy.
“This is Tanner,” she said. I noticed she had let go of his hand.
“Her boyfriend, we’re together,” Tanner said, throwing an arm around her and pulling her close. She looked really uncomfortable and quickly slid away.
“I noticed,” I deadpanned. “I’m Tin Tin, and yes I do hang out with her. Sorry to disappoint if I’m not what you expected,” I said cooly, crossing my arms over my chest.
“Okay, Tanner, I’m gonna go get the lawn chairs, I’ll be back!” Alivia informed, starting up the little slope to the shed.
“Alright,” he responded. He stepped closer to me and narrowed his eyes. “Listen, I don’t want you taking my girlfriend.”
“And I don’t want you taking away my friend, so you can just get out of my face and back off,” I shot back.
I don’t exactly know why I was being so defensive. I guess I felt like I had to prove I was just as worthy to interact with Alivia as he was.
“Fine. But leave her alone would you? She’s only being nice to you because Sawyer is. You’re just another guy to her, got it?”
“Tanner, stop,” Sawyer said suddenly, appearing at my side.
Tanner raised his eyebrows innocently as Sawyer stared at him with a blank expression.
“C’mon Tin, let’s go bring out the table for food,” he said, turning away.
I followed without a second glance back at the guy, knowing it would only get me into more trouble than he was worth. As I crutched along beside him as he entered the house.
He stopped at the island in the kitchen and sighed.
“If I’m being honest with you, I like you a lot more than him,” Sawyer blurted, taking out hotdogs from the fridge.
“Thanks,” I mumbled, looking to the floor.
“Tanner just... He has a lot of pride and Alivia thinks she can fix him. Just keep in mind that not everyone who goes to church is a Christian.” He grabbed hotdog buns from the cupboard and looked me in the eye. “And not everyone who doesn’t go to church is a complete hopeless case.”
“Okay,” I said, mulling over the words.
“So just because he acts better than you, doesn’t mean he is. He’s just mislead and... Yeah.” Sawyer shrugged, setting the food for our meal on a tray to carry outside. “I personally struggle to keep my patience with him, but just steer clear of him. Don’t let him pick a fight with you, that’s his favorite game to play.”
“Oh and,” he said, pausing in his search for chips, “he’s jealous of you because you’re such good friends with Livvy. Don’t let that stop you though, make your own decisions.”
“Maybe I should just write you an instruction manual,” he joked.
I cracked a grin and we went outside again. Alivia had to end up helping Sawyer retrieve the table since I couldn’t really do much of anything. About five or eight other kids showed up and I didn’t recognize any of them. Some of them would glance and greet me.
“My name’s Diego, what’s your’s?” one guy asked, sitting in the lawn chair beside me. His black hair was swept to the side of his face with an olive complexion and he had a Spanish accent. He was very articulate with his English.
“Tin Tin,” I replied, forcing a smile. I shook his hand, which he was a little awkward about doing. “It’s nice to meet you.”
He nodded and beamed at me.
“How old are you?” I asked, trying to be friendly.
“I am, uh..,” he began. He paused for a moment and seemed to be thinking for a second. “Eighteen. Like Sawyer.” He gestured to where Sawyer stood with a few other kids who were talking loudly and laughing.
“Oh cool. I’m seventeen, like Alivia.”
“She is very kind,” he said, his voice softening a little bit.
“I agree,” I said, smiling as I looked over to see her laughing with another girl that looked to be our age.
Eventually we all ate and roasted marshmallows. As night fell, the temperature dropped, making it a little colder than I anticipated. The group played a lot of games, some of them I didn’t know. Most of them I couldn’t participate in because of my ankle, but there were a few.
Diego continued to hang out with me. It didn’t seem like he knew anybody else, but neither did I. Alivia came up to talk to us as everyone was sitting around the fire.
“Hola Diego, Tin,” she said cheerfully, playing with the cap on top of a water bottle.
“Buenos tardes, Alivia,” Diego replied, nodding to her with a small smile.
“Are you guys enjoying it?” she asked, looking around the circle of people.
“Yeah, it’s cool,” I said.
And it was. Whenever my friends hung out, we ended up gossiping and talking trash about anyone we could think of. Here, it was very open and playful. I felt like I was accepted, not judged. Besides meeting the Olsons, this was this first time I had felt that way. I didn’t want the night to end.
“Awesome,” Alivia said, grinning from ear to ear. She seemed content here as well. “We’re going to start singing here in a few minutes.” She took a seat next to me and crossed her legs.
“Singing?” I asked.
“Yeah. Usually when our youth group gets together we sing a little. I’m not a good singer, but I don’t think God minds too much.”
“So they’re like... Church songs?” I asked. That’s when I started to feel a bit out of my comfort zone. I wasn’t used to singing period, let alone singing to God.
“Yep. I hope it doesn’t make you too uncomfortable. Does it?” she asked, sounding concerned.
“I’ve just never sang to God before,” I replied, my voice going quiet.
“Have you ever been to church?” Diego asked.
“No,” I answered. My heart suddenly felt heavy. Not going to church never really occurred to me, but now it felt like I was missing out on something.
“It’s alright amigo,” Diego said with empathy. “I just became a Christian about three years ago.”
“Maybe you could come with me sometime,” Alivia invited, setting a hand on my knee. I looked up to see her eyes filled with compassion along with fire dancing in them. I wondered what that felt like, to be full of emotion and kindness like that.
“Maybe,” I said, nodded once. My dad never allowed me to go, so there had to be a good reason for that, right? But did I have to agree with him? Have I ever? And I didn’t have to tell him if I went, right?
I set my hand on top of Alivia’s and smiled shyly. She took my hand and squeezed it before letting go. Tingles shot up my arm and a thought prodded at my conscience.
While I’m not a Christian, Alivia didn’t mind. She invited me here because she cared about me and wanted me to experience a group like this. In that moment, I remember being grateful for her and Sawyer for taking a chance with me. I was one of the worst people to them, but they still wanted to be friends with me anyway.
“I’m not a very good singer,” I admitted to Diego.
“I’m sure you sing well,” he assured me.
“Alright!” Sawyer clapped his hands and stood up. Everyone fell silent and I noticed Sawyer looking more alive than usual. “We’re gonna sing a few songs to wrap up the night. If you have a suggestion, just throw it out there.”
He nodded to another boy across the circle and he started singing a tune that was unfamiliar to me. I didn’t participate in the first two, but by the third, I had caught on that these songs were kind of repetitive.
Especially toward the end, people were closing their eyes or swaying to the music. I didn’t get even a hint of what they were feeling until the last song. It repeated in my head over and over until I fell asleep that night after Sawyer had, once again, given me a ride home.
I felt empty. I felt frantic. I felt like the answer was right in front of my face, but I didn’t understand. I’m not sure I even understood fully what the song meant. All I knew is that we were singing about someone, I assume God, who would never run out and abandon me like I was used to.
As I sung the words, I began to feel truly wanted.
Your love never fails
Never gives up
Never runs out on me