Our mothers introduce us. Nothing can replace Nicole from the old neighborhood, but Molly is tan and thin and athletic. She plays the piano and softball. She dances and just started saxophone lessons. Molly is good at everything.
She has an in-ground pool with a diving board. In the deep end, the water feels like it came from the hose. But I jump in. I ignore the goosebumps that pop up all over my body and the way the veins in my hands look like blue threads.
We are on the same softball team. Sometimes my mother gets off the phone and says Molly isn’t available to play. I don’t call it playing anymore though. We are teenagers. We hang out now.
Molly’s parents throw a party at their big house. Kids are allowed to come. There are board games and chicken nuggets for us in the basement. Potato chips with onion dip sit on the coffee table in front of a large television screen that only the little kids actually watch.
We talk about boys, the ones from my new middle school. I haven’t met many of them yet because it is still summer, but all these boys are Italian, Molly tells me. Italians who have not been to Italy.
I haven’t been to Italy either.
Just Florida. And Bahamas once. And the Poconos.
These boys have first names like saints and last names with more syllables than mine.
When some guests leave the party, my parents stay and I’m so happy. I don’t want this party to end. I will not even ask them what time we are going home. That would prompt an answer. And then they would stick with that answer and make me leave. Or worse, my mother would look at her Movado watch—the one my dad got her for her birthday—and realize how late it is.
This party is great. We ran out of chicken nuggets long ago, but who cares? If this is what the new neighborhood is like, then I want to stay forever. And I’ll stop being mad at my parents for making me move.
The adults roar with laughter. You can hear them from the basement. They are so loud. They sound like fireworks. There are less people upstairs and yet somehow, they are louder. My mother and father don’t like when me and my sister are loud.
I listen at the bottom of the stairs.
What are they talking about, Molly asks. Her small voice close to my ear.
Softball, I think, I reply. And who shouldn’t be on the tournament team.
They should kick me off. I don’t want to play anymore. Her face is sad.
Suddenly, Molly’s mother calls her upstairs. She hangs her head and sighs softly. Coming, she calls back.
Halfway up the stairs, Molly turns back to me and says, Come with me.
I get up so fast I almost trip on the carpeted steps. I grab her hand and we walk up the stairs together. We enter the kitchen and I see plates piled on the counters. Small plates with small food left on them, uneaten. If this was my mother’s house, all this mess would be cleaned up already.
Molly’s mom comes in the kitchen and grabs a glass. She fills it with tap water and hands it to the woman swaying behind her.
Here you go, Molly’s mom smiles. Why don’t you have a seat?
The lady giggles and says thank you. She almost misses the chair completely when she sits down at the kitchen table.
Molly and I nearly burst like overfilled water balloons. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another mom stumble like that. Maybe she is sick. I hold my breath to keep from laughing but then I notice that the lady is laughing too. She is laughing with Molly and me. This is too weird. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed at an adult who laughed back and didn’t scowl or give me a lecture about how I shouldn’t laugh at people…even when they do something funny.
If my mother were here, she would have given me the look. The no phone time for you this weekend look. And I hate missing phone calls.
Molly’s mom spots us giggling. Molly, she says, come with me. Elizabeth, you can come too.
The adults are gathered in the large living room. Molly’s parents just had their house redone. They have a shiny kitchen and floors like mirrors. My mother says they worked with someone who picked out their furniture. The furniture at my mother’s house matches because it all came together in a set. Molly’s living room doesn’t match but looks pretty all the same. Like a bouquet of flowers.
Molly goes over to the piano and sits down. It is bright and white and takes up a lot of space. A large crystal vase with pink peonies sits in the windowsill. The peonies haven’t opened yet, so they look like tight pink baby fists.
Molly takes out sheet music and starts playing.
Her father interrupts. Play the new one, the Chopin, he says. His voice sounds the way my father’s voice sounds when he’s on the phone with work.
Molly pulls out different sheets and I can see—even from far away—that this music is harder. There are many more notes and lines and squiggles.
I need someone to change the page for me, she tells her father. Molly’s mother looks directly at me. I’m the only other kid in the room.
Elizabeth, do you know how to read music?
Yes, I lie. I want to turn the pages.
I played violin in elementary school. Fourth grade. I hated practicing thirty minutes a day. And the sounds were scratchy and stunted. The violin made sounds like I was hurting it. I could never glide the horsehair bow over the strings the way the orchestra teacher showed us. So, I told the orchestra teacher that my parents couldn’t afford the rental fee for the instrument. And I quit playing violin.
My mother was angry when she found out.
I had lied. I didn’t want to do something, so I lied.
My mother even told my father about it. He came up to me and said they have programs for people like us, she said. People like us, she repeated the phrase a few times. I’m sure he saw the car and thought we were horrible parents.
Her voice sounded like me practicing violin.
My father shook his head. But I didn’t feel bad. I didn’t have to play violin anymore. And I don’t think my parents were that mad. Because how mad can you be when you drive a brand-new Lincoln? One with leather seats!
I stand next to the piano and I am nervous. I really don’t know when to turn the page. The music notes and lines and figures on the sheet might as well be Chinese.
Molly begins playing and I’m entranced by how her fingers move across the keys. The adults are silent. I wish my hands could do that. The keys obey her and make lovely sounds. Nothing like thirty minutes of noise on the violin. That hollow wood pinched awkwardly between my chin and collar bone.
The song slows down, and Molly looks up at me. Her eyes are wide, and I realize I’m supposed to flip the page. I fumble but do it quickly. The music regains its strength, its tempo rolling ever forward.
Molly glances up at me again and I bite my lip.
She knows I can’t read music.
I begin to feel my heart beat faster than the song.
But Molly smiles at the sheet music and then again at me. I watch as her eyes dart gracefully between the keys and the paper. Her feet even move to the pedals without being told. And when she nears the end of the sheet, Molly looks up at me and nods. I flip the page exactly on time. We smile at each other. And I know it’s silly but when the adults clap at the end, I feel like they are clapping for me too.
Kristin Sample’s work has appeared in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Parents magazine, Read Write Think, and Thrive. Her debut novel North Shore / South Shore was one of the first kickstarter success stories for fiction, and her second novel STAGECRAFT is currently under review with several editors.