Sloane, Age 8
André, Age 9
The damp southern breeze blew past my ratted blonde hair, sending sweat into my hazel eyes, causing me to fall against the ground beneath me, my fingers splayed against the mossy dew coated grass of my grandmother’s back yard.
Nothing compared to an early morning run through the valley that separated my grandmother’s house from the Heirro’s house next door. I grew up without my parents, for no reason other than they loved booze and drugs more than my older brother, Mitchel, and I.
I never felt deprived of anything, not until much later in life would things grow cold and distant. I never second-guessed the love my Grandma gave me.
In the distance, I noticed someone running down the hill, where the Heirro’s two-bedroom house sat, with faded white paint, and shutters hanging on for their lives. There was nothing fancy about their house. The Heirro’s had three children, two boys and one girl. Their rundown van sat in the driveway, with treadless tires and a broken back window.
I remembered when one of the boys busted it out, because I heard the whopping he got from my grandmother’s backyard. Mr. Heirro was a mean old mister. He wore a frown like a favorite baseball cap, and always seemed on edge.
But it didn’t scare me enough to stay away from his kids. Maybe if I had been older, or smarter, I would have stayed away, but you can’t change the past, only mourn over it.
My smile brightened as André’s head of ebony hair, blowing in the wind, came into view as he raced down the hill, his tanned legs moving quicker than mine ever could.
He was a year older than my eight, and protected me from the bullies on the playground at school, one because, he was a bully himself. Not to me, to the mean ones. I liked that he said what he thought, and didn’t take any crap from anyone.
“Hey Tinkerbell!” he shouted, stopping several yards away. His knees were bruised, and bloody, probably from a recent fall. I always chalked up his injuries to being a rough little boy, and it’d take a few years before I realized otherwise.
André didn’t have new clothes, which neither did I, but his had holes and white spots. The kids at school talked about him sometimes, but he didn’t seem to care.
I liked that about him, too. I wished I didn’t care. Even at a young age, I knew I was a people pleaser. I wanted everyone to like me. I’d regret that.
“Don’t call me Tinkerbell!” I shouted, placing my small fist on my hip. “Or I’ll give you a knuckle sandwich!”
“Estoy temblando en mis botas!”
I hated when he spoke Spanish, so I whipped out the only word I knew. “Cállate!”
A smug smirk tugged on André’s mouth, making me want to smack it off, or kick him where it hurts. “Want to go to the creek?” he asked.
“You always want to go to the creek! Let’s go to the jungle gym. I want to slide.”
He stood yards away, but I could envision him rolling his eyes and mumbling in Spanish. “I can’t go that far today,” he said. “My dad said no.”
I huffed, normally getting my way being the baby of the family; I folded my arms across my flat chest, and pursed my lips. “Chicken! How do you say chicken in Spanish?”
He flipped me off, causing blood and warmth to rush to my cheeks. I didn’t know what it meant, but I knew I wasn’t supposed to do it. Grandma always said she’d ‘break it off if I ever did it to her.’
I believed her.
“That’s not nice,” I called out to him. “I’m playing by myself today,” I lied.
André tossed his arms into the air dramatically. “You’re such a bebé!” he shouted, stalking over toward me, until there was little distance between the two of us.
André stood taller than me, his shoulders broad, even as a young boy. His dark eyes always looked wise, his tanned skin grew darker in the summer, and left me jealous that it took me an entire month to get a tan.
He blew at a few stray hairs fallen onto his forehead. “Let’s go to the jungle gym, but only for a minute.”
I turned and raced him toward my grandmother’s house. The jungle gym was one of the only things in the back yard, which was given to her by someone at our church. She couldn’t have afforded it on her own.
We played tag, the minutes ticked by slowly to us, but before we knew it, my grandmother came outside, the familiar creaking of the screen door stopped me in my tracks.
“Come on in for lunch,” she said, catching sight of André. “You can come on in, too! I made grilled cheese sandwiches, and brownies.”
André’s face paled. I watched him wipe the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand, and look over his shoulder in what looked like fear. “I have to go,” he said quickly, hopping down from the slide, he hit the ground running.
Grandma shrugged her shoulders at me, but a familiar chill rushed down my spine, and when I glanced back I knew why.
In the distance, I noticed who I thought was Mr. Heirro, standing on top of the hill, something swinging from his hand.
I wouldn’t know until later what it was, and what that meant for André.
“Estoy temblanda en mis botas” = I’m shaking in my boots.
"Cállate" = Shut up.