When I saw her that day by the side of the road, I smelled lemons. It was the color of her hair that hung by her shoulders and held through the citrus freckles over the bridge of her nose. I'd gone walking that morning because of Laurel's baby whose sobs had been waking me before dawn all six weeks since she'd been born. We were crowded now in my mother's house. Mom, Laurel and her baby, mom's fat boyfriend Frank, our little brother Grady, and me and the dog. When you added my mother's awake-time hollering, Frank's night time snoring, and the baby's all-the-time wailing, it just seemed like too much.
That morning, I walked toward her standing there in the distance, all lemons and beautiful. Her name was Callie Anderson and she had been in my seventh period the year before. She was waiting for something. I tried to imagine what it was. It was still early, although the sun was completely out. The air had that rarified summer-morning smell where promises live until they get burned away by afternoon. I liked how long it took me to get to her. It gave me lots of time to wonder her up and down.
She smiled a few feet too soon. It took me off guard. She waved down by her waist with her wrist bent awkwardly. I nodded and she looked back passed me down the empty street. I still wasn't close enough to her to say her name. I glanced over my shoulder to see what was coming while Mal ran ahead to where she stood. I didn't see anything on the horizon except the dead gold of the hills and the pale blue of the sky. When I turned back around Callie was bent over the mutt, patting her over the eyes and making a sucking kissy-face with her lips. I stopped when I reached them.
"Hey Callie," I said.
"Hi Adair," she answered. It sounded good to hear her call me that. No one ever called me Adair, except my mom or Laurel when they were about to yell at me. Everyone called me Sonny.
I was quiet then while she finished up with Mal.
"What's its name?" she asked.
"Mal-o-mar Jackson," I answered.
"Seems like too big a name for a not-so-big dog," she said, and I liked it that she said it.
"We just call her Mal."
"That's good. She seems like a Mal." Callie crossed her arms over her chest and looked down at the dog sitting, looking up at her.
I watched her for a minute to see if she was going to say anything else. When she didn't, I cleared my throat.
Then she shook out her hair like she'd been someplace else and said, "You going somewhere?"
"Yes and no," I answered.
She nodded and sort of shrugged.
"You?" I asked.
"Nah. Just waiting," she replied.
"Nothing," she said vaguely.
"Want to walk for a bit?" I asked her.
"Sure," she said. I saw her eyes scan the horizon again before she turned to me sighing and then smiling.
"Unless you need to wait." I said.
She shook her head. "Nah."
We started to walk. We didn't say much. We went down by the docks at the lake and talked a little about fishing. Callie said that someone once caught a fish around here that no one had ever seen before. She said maybe around World War II and that they never caught another one. She said that there was a museum over in Dauberville where they had it mounted and everything. I told her we should go see it sometime and she smiled at me. It was the most whole-faced smile I'd ever seen, the kind that you can't help but smile back to.
I liked her story about the fish and I told her. It made me look at the lake a little differently.
We didn't say much else. Mostly we just walked and threw sticks and rocks into the water that Mal kept trying to catch.
"I have to go home," Callie said when we got to the edge of the old Porter property where some kids went to smoke pot and others went to make out. I couldn't tell if she was afraid I was going to try to kiss her. It felt like the wrong time of day for kissing with so much sun everywhere.
"Okay," I shrugged.
She looked at me with squinted eyes. "You want to walk me?"
I shook my head. "I think I'm gonna go for a swim," I told her.
"Well," she said, "maybe I can come right back. I just have to run home for a minute."
"Okay," I said.
I watched her walk away. She took steps that seemed too close together, not very economical. I figured for a second it was because she probably knew I was watching her. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine seeing her without her knowing she was seen. Her body was long with steady legs, swaying her hips around. I'd seen her walking a million times. When I opened my eyes again she was almost to the warehouse where she'd turn out of my line of vision.
I looked out over the water. The grass everywhere was white-lit and fiery. Mid-summer had already sucked all the green out. I sat down by the edge of the lake and tucked my knees up. I thought about what it would be like to kiss Callie Anderson.
I'd never spoken much to Callie unless it was something about school. I liked her. She was mostly quiet but when she talked it was always full of ways to look at things I'd never thought about. Teachers often told her she was wrong and you could tell it really rattled her. Mrs. Dunlap even made her cry once when Callie said that the Robert Frost poem seemed more like it was about finding something bigger, even though it seemed like he meant everything was small. Mrs. Dunlap shook her head and said, "No, Callie. Look at it again."
I always liked what she said. Usually I liked her answers better than the right ones.
I laid down in the stiff grass and Mal came and licked my face. I half patted her while I pushed her away. She huffed down in a heap beside me and we stayed that way for a while.
It was the part of the day when the air has about sweat itself out and is ready to call it quits. I was standing up to leave when I heard her call, “Hey!”
"Still feel like swimming?" she asked as she approached.
"Sure," I said.
I watched her pull her shirt over her head. She was wearing a red bikini top. I tried not to stare as she took off her pants, so I threw a stick for Mal.
“Where’d you go?”
“I had to pick up the kids for my stepmom,” she answered.
"Oh," I said. "My parents split up too."
"Let's not talk about that," Callie said flatly.
"Okay," I agreed.
She dove in. I followed. Callie splashed and kicked water at me. I chased her but she was slippery and kept getting away. She was laughing really hard and breathing deeply. I almost caught her but she ducked under and came up near shore. She walked out with her long limbs shining and her hair dripping water down her back.
She turned to face me laughing.
I wanted to watch her like that all night, dripping with lake water, laughing.
"I want to dry off while there's still a little sun left," she called.
I dove under and swam towards shore. I climbed out and laid down in the grass beside her. She was up on one elbow looking down at me.
"Adair?" she said.
"I like your name."
"Why?" I asked.
I raised my eyebrow. People usually said it sounded like a girl's name.
"I mean I always thought your name was just `Sonny.' But then in fifth grade, Mr. Kinley only ever called you Adair, remember?"
"That's right," I said. "I think I took a lot of heat for that."
"Well, I thought it was beautiful, and my stepmom had a baby name book around because she was trying to have a baby, so I looked it up. It means oak tree by a ford. Did you know that?"
I shook my head.
"See? It's a really strong name."
I was staring up at her and she was looking down at me. I raised myself up onto my elbows. Her stomach made a noise and she looked down at the ground. When she looked back up she bent forward and kissed me quickly then she pulled back a little.
"Is it okay?" she whispered.
I nodded and swallowed.
She came in close again and pressed her mouth against mine. I felt her tongue lick the space between my lips. I closed them together then opened them again and felt around a little for her tongue. Her arms wrapped around my shoulders. I dropped back down to the ground pulling her with me. I listened to the quiet sounds of her kissing noises. She kissed all around my mouth and then back on my lips. I rolled her onto her towel and held her head in one hand and touched her face with my fingers. The sunset light was purple and orange and she looked like she was made out of glass.
She pulled me in so that my head rested just below her chin. I closed my eyes and felt one of her hands tangle itself up in my hair while she rubbed my shoulder with the other.
She said softly, "I was waiting for my mother this morning."
I moved my hand to her hip and squeezed her there.
"She left when I was ten."
We didn't move and suddenly our position felt awkward. I tried to listen closely to what she was saying and not think about it.
"We were in her car and she pulled over, right there on that street where you found me." Callie's voice was steady and slow. "She told me to get out. She just said, `Get out.' And I didn't even say 'Why,' I just did."
I ran my hand down her thigh and let it rest on her knee.
"We were on our way to the grocery store. I thought she'd be there so I walked all the way to town, but I couldn't find her. So I went back to the place where she'd dropped me off and then went back the next day and everyday that whole summer and waited, like she'd just dropped me off but that she'd come back to get me."
I turned my head so that my lips could touch the skin by the bone below her neck.
She said softly, "I heard somewhere once that if you lose something, you should go back to where you last saw it."
I picked up my head to look at her.
Callie shook her head. "What else can we talk about?"
I replied, "My sister's baby cries all the time."
Callie grinned looking straight into my eyes. "I think it's funny that we all come out crying but it takes us some time to learn how to laugh."
I leaned down and kissed her softly. I kissed her cheeks and her eyes. She let her head fall back and I kissed her neck. The sun had almost completely set. I picked Callie up in my arms and pulled her onto my lap. She draped her arms around my neck and leaned her head on my shoulder. I breathed the lemons in her hair.
We sat like that until the stars came out.