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On the Berm

She sits on the berm with her arms folded over her knees, her chin resting atop her forearm. In posture, we could be twins. We both have our knees drawn up to our chests as we look out over the pond.

The pond is hardly worth its name, a man-made body of water perhaps two city blocks long and one wide. At some point, it was stocked with carp that attack the surface of the water when anything falls in. This time of year, they are mostly disappointed. The dragon and damselflies haven’t arrived yet. Pink blossoms fall upon the water from the cherry trees that have bloomed early. The carp usually spit the buds right back to the surface after discovering they’re not newly discovered insect delicacies.

These are among the only disturbances on the water, the cherry blossoms striking from above and resurfacing again. Barely visible circles ripple out from the entry points. Otherwise, only the occasional breeze disturbs the placid surface.

She and I appear just as placid. There’s still a nip in the air and we both have on windbreakers. I am dressed in black chinos and a short-sleeved knit shirt of red with yellow stripes. She wears khakis and a kelly green knit shirt with a giraffe over her heart. Within an hour, we’ll both be manning cash registers, taking money from parents trying to placate their children, I at McDonald’s, she at Toys R Us.

We don’t look at each other or speak today, although we usually do. Both of us just stare out over the water. I don’t expect to find any answers there, but it’s less troubling than looking directly at her and having the questions forced on me. Perhaps her silence is for similar reasons.

It’s not usually like this. On any given day, she’ll talk of a midfielder on the soccer team or I’ll wonder about a cheerleader for the JV football team. We’ve known each other since we were five. In times when no one else has given us any attention, we’ve always been able to get it from one another.

Sophomore year is coming to an end. Our jobs are still fairly new to us, both of us having gotten our work permits within a week of turning sixteen. We’d talked of working since we were twelve. I had plans to buy a Sunfish sailboat. She had plans to buy a car. Now we have the jobs and our bank accounts are slowly expanding.

It’s easy to wonder what might have been, harder to imagine what might yet be. Would she still go to college? Harvard suddenly looks much less attainable.

I chance a glance at her. We have been social pariahs since appearance started to matter around fifth or sixth grade, so it’s easy at times to forget what she truly looks like. Until now, I hadn’t noticed that signs of the woman she will be are starting to shine through. Neither of us has matured well into our bodies until now. Too many zits, awkward limbs, everything my parents try to convince me is normal for a teenager.

She’s starting to grow into it, though. Her face is catching up to her nose, which has always been a bit too big. Her braces are off, and her teeth are straight and white. She’s bobbed the hair that was never quite under control, and the face that is exposed is—I blink in surprise as I realize it—cute. When did that happen?

Noticing the change for the first time, I find myself less able to focus on the pond. We’ve always been friends—more than friends at times—but I’m feeling something I haven’t felt before, not even when we
experimented together.

The experimentation, of course, is the problem. We’d begun to despair of ever catching anyone’s attention, that we’d be virgins until graduation and beyond. It was only natural that we’d sacrifice our virginity to one another. At the time, it felt like little more than an extension of the games of doctor we’d played when we were littler.

Now, however, it seems much more serious. It’s caused questions. Perhaps it’s caused feelings. I’d like to think the feelings existed before the realization that she was becoming attractive. Did they? I wish I knew, but I’m still getting accustomed to the idea that I’m thinking of her as something other than my best friend.

Does she have similar feelings? Would it matter even if she did? We still haven’t broached the subject of what she’s going to do. She hasn’t asked me what I want her to do. I’m not sure I know. Worse, I’m not sure it would matter if I did.

I find myself sneaking looks at her stomach. There’s nothing showing yet. I guess there wouldn’t be. She never seems to notice the looks I give; she continues to stare out over the water.

Finally, she checks her watch, stretches, and stands. “It’s time to go to work,” she says. I get up, too, brushing grass from my slacks.

“See you tomorrow,” I say. Looking directly at each other for the first time since coming to the pond, it hits me harder. She’s really cute, almost pretty. I feel like I’ve been elbowed in the stomach.

She smiles just a little bit. “See you tomorrow.”

I watch her walk away. I want to call out to her, to ask the questions aloud.

“Are you going to have the baby? Are you going to keep it? Do you want me to help raise it?”

But I don’t ask. I’ll see her on the berm again tomorrow.