The summer air is hot against my face and there is no breeze; just sweat and sun sitting on my cheeks and forehead. I’m blinking slower than usual as I lay on the deck. The boards are scratchy and worn; I can feel them through my thin shirt. I’ve already got a splinter so I sit up and squint at the unrelenting sun.
The wind-chimes sing and I close my eyes and wait for a gust to hit my cheeks. It’s only a tickle against my heated face—disappointing.
“Are you gonna lay there all day?”
It’s Jerry; I can tell by the off-putting nasal quality that seems to be stapled to his voice.
“It’s too hot.” I answer with a tone that says I don’t want him here but he ignores it with practiced ease.
He moves to sit beside me but there’s not enough room between the bannister and where I’m sitting on the top step. I can tell he wants me to scooch, but I don’t move. We stare at each other until he scrunches his nose to push his glasses up and his watery blue gaze breaks from mine.
“Did your dad want you to pull the weeds?” He’s staring at the small pile of dirt and crab grass on the sidewalk like it’s a novelty. His face is too red and he’s sweating too much. Jerry is a heavy boy. He wasn’t built for standing in the sun.
“It’s too hot.” I repeat myself and Jerry stares at the weeds for another moment before looking back at me.
“Do you want me to do them for you?”
I don’t know how long I just looked at him blankly before my gaze travels around his spongy, overweight body and lands firmly back on his soft face.
I can tell by the way his face molds into a ball that he knows what I didn’t say.
“You don’t think I can do it?” His voice isn’t exactly sharp, but it is defensive and I blink at him slowly to make him uncomfortable. I don’t want him to know I pity him, but I’m sure he does. It’s nasty when people pity you. You always think it would be nice for people to know how bad you got it too, up until the point where they look at you like that and then you feel like a beetle some kid tipped on its back. All angry and nothing to do about it.
So I say, “How’s about we do it together?” and I knew it was the right thing. His face widens up and he immediately squats down and starts pulling dandelions like a menace.
“Sure thing Ms. Claire!” He warbles from the ground and I sigh and get back to scraping my fingernails through the soil in search of roots. The sun puddles on our lower backs as we work with our knees in the dirt. It must’ve been hours under that repulsive heat until I finally wobbled to my feet and offered Jerry some cheap lemonade.
“That sounds real nice Claire.” I look over at him and he’s filthy and unattractive in the late afternoon sunlight. I see next to him that he’s pulled a large pile together. Too large.
“Jerry, you pulled my mom’s daisies up.” I say carefully and watch as his face becomes unnaturally pale and blotchy red.
“Oh no.” He whispers, “Oh no.” I’m not sure if he’s talking about the daisies or not. His eyes are showing too much white and I kneel down next to him, my damp jeans pulling uncomfortably against my dirty knees. I put my hand gently on his round shoulder.
“It’s alright Jerry, my mom won’t be mad. You know her.” She will be mad. She’ll say that this wouldn’t have happened if I had just done my chores on my own. But she doesn’t know Jerry and she doesn’t know this pity snaked around my stomach.
“Do you think we can put them back?” He mumbles in a tone that says he already knows the answer. I look at the mangled pile of daisies he’s ripped up and press my lips together.
“I’m sorry.” He says.
My heart shreds up a little as I look at him. He’s sorry for everything, I know. He’s sorry he’s unattractive and overweight, sorry he’s liked me since we were in second grade, and sorry about the damn daisies. He’s a sight too, plump and slumped over his pile of dead plants, soaked through and useless. I don’t want to feel bad for him. That’s not what he wants but I can already feel my throat clogging up and my hands, slick and twisting with one another.
“I can buy your mom new ones. And plant them too.” His hand grasps the stem of a broken daisy and he stares at it for a long time.
“You don’t have to do that.” My voice is scratchy and ugly. I’m still sweating. The sun is beginning to dip beyond the tree line.
“I should do that at least.” I know he’s right, but I don’t want him to have to deal with this. I want him to put this in the back of his head and never think about it again.
We gather up the plants without talking and roll the wheelbarrow to the woods for dumping. Jerry doesn’t try to take the substantial weight from me like I know he wants to and instead watches me push it in heavy silence.
“I’ll buy the daisies when I get my next paycheck.” I didn’t even know Jerry had a job.
We sit on the porch and drink lemonade while the sun sets in a flutter of scarlet and gold. The bullfrogs start up their chorus and Jerry starts breathing a little heavier. I don’t look over, just in case he’s crying.
“You know, I really like you Claire.” His voice is strung so tight that I want to go inside the house and never hear it again.
We finish the lemonade off and Jerry sits on my porch like the loneliest person alive. It’s dark now and I noticed that he’s shaking, just a little, just barely.
“I’ll have those daisies Sunday.” He says, “G’bye Claire.”
I watch his big back retreat across the street to a little white and burgundy house before I go inside and lean heavily against the wall. How sad, I think to myself in the darkness of the entryway.