“Seventeen,” I say out loud to myself. That was the seventeenth car that went by since the time my mother swore she would be here.
I look at my watch for the thirty-first time. It’s after 6:45, so it’s starting to get dark and chilly. As I shiver, I pull my old sweater tighter around my shoulders and shove my hands in my pockets.
I hear a door close and look next door to see our neighbors’ son heading out to go for his evening run. He looks in my direction, smiles, and waves. It’s a real smile. Not like a pity smile, as if to say, “My parents think you and your family are super weird, and we feel sorry for you people. So, to make myself feel better, I’ll just pretend to like you.” The fake smile method is what I get from most people, but not him. Every time we meet, he flashes his award-winning smile.
He never says anything, but I can see what he’s thinking in his eyes. His big, brown eyes betray his thoughts. I know everything about the way he thinks of me from years of his eyes. I got a new hairstyle once and when he saw me, I could see he was disappointed that I changed it. I’ve never changed anything about my appearance since. His favorite color to see me wear is yellow. His favorite outfit of mine is a yellow sundress from a few Easters ago. He likes when I wear my contacts because he can see my eyes better. He thinks I look nice in heels, but thinks I look better in sneakers. Most importantly, he thinks I deserve better. We get each other in ways no one else does. He’s the closest thing to a friend I have.
We have this little tradition going on. The first day I’m back at my dad’s, there’s always a book waiting for me with a letter marked “Don’t open until finished!” The letter contains his thoughts of the book and some things to think about. When I drop off the book in his mailbox, before I leave, I write my own letter for him, along with a new book. He gets both books when he gets back from his run and reads them before I get back in a week. I can always count on this–he’ll always be here when I need someone. He really seems to care about me in a way no one else does and it feels nice to have someone like that in my life.
I hear the door open behind me and feel my father silently judging my mother’s lateness. Again.
“You really should come inside, Nyla. It’s getting late,” he says.
“She’ll be here,” I mutter. “She always shows up.”
“Yes, but you don’t know when—” He gets cut off by the distinct sound of my mother’s car engine. I stand and keep my “I told you so” to myself.
“Hi, sweetie. Sorry I’m late,” my mother says to me, through the car window. “I had some things to take care of.”
“Bye,” I say, kissing my father on the cheek. I grab my suitcase and hop down the stairs to the car, as the trunk opens. I toss my bag in and slam the door close, making my annoyance apparent. I get in the passenger seat and put on my seatbelt. As we pull off, I wave to my father, who is disappointingly watching us.
“Ready to have some fun?” my mother asks smiling at me.
I nod, desperate to get away from my father’s criticizing gaze.