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Us and Them

By @ZoeAmber


Friday / September 25th / 4:28 PM

My hands sizzle while pressed against Hayden’s abdomen. I can feel the clearly defined muscles under his thin long sleeve sweater.

I see my neighbourhood coming up and I’m devastated to see him go already. When I see a place to get off a few blocks from my home I place a palm on his back to get his attention. After I point in the right direction, I look back over his shoulders and notice how broad his back is, seemingly shrouding over my small frame.

When he slows, the wind dies down and the smell of mint and citrus fills my nostrils. He pops down the kick stand turns around to help me with the straps again. When he lifts the helmet I quickly rush a hand through my hair, terrified it’s stuck up from the ride. Hayden jumps off first so I can swing a leg over and once my feet hit the ground, the fantasy is over.

He sits back on and smiles at me. “Well, I’m officially in enemy territory.”

I laugh, melting at those green eyes I missed during the ride. “Yeah, we’d both better get going.”

I thank him for the ride and watch him speed back onto the main road. Before I know it, he’s gone.

• • • • •

“Sweetheart, can you pass me the potatoes please?” My Mother asks me as Charlie and Georgie chase each other around the long dining room table.

Rae sits at her usual seat dressed as a giraffe and I let out an exasperated breath as Melanie and Eli enter the kitchen with smart devices in hand. My parents hate phones or tablets at the table and have a tendency to take them if need be. I hide mine away as soon as I get home. They think it’s me trying to be a good role model but I shudder at the thought of someone finding out my secrets.

My father joins the table and gives my mother a kiss, turning the twins’ faces in disgust.

Everyone digs in and I dump a dollop of mashed potatoes on Rae’s plate before all of it is gone. In this family, you need to fight for a place at the table.

“So, Mason family, how was school? What’s the hot gossip?” My Dad says, before taking a bite of chicken breast.

Oh not much, I just sat in a room alone with Hayden Cassidy for an hour and then accidentally groped him during my ride home on his motorcycle. 

I would love to just blurt that out and see what happens. There are so many things I want to tell them, thinking maybe I might change their minds.

I want to tell them about the way he cares about his family and the kindness in his eyes that make me feel like I’m the only person in the room. And that he treats me like a normal person and not a soldier from the enemy lines. But they won’t listen, so long as the story of our great-grandfather reverberates within our family history.

The blood that courses through my veins may as well be a life sentence.

Georgie starts talking about their substitute teacher and how the gauges in his ears were a big topic for discussion between his classmates as Eli finally puts his iPad down to eat.

“I heard Adrian Cassidy got caught for possession again.” Melanie says, cracking a smug smile and barely avoiding eye contact with Dad. Like she’s trying to bait him and see how he reacts. I freeze and look at him, seemingly conflicted for a second. The only tiny clangs and screeches of cutlery come from the little ones.

“Well, just let that be a lesson to you kids.” He says. “It’s too bad he’s got himself wrapped up in something like that.” 

I hate this. Even before we were raised to despise them, my father has never missed an opportunity to look down on the Cassidys. I wonder what the view looks like from up on that high horse of yours, Dad. Just because Adrian Cassidy got caught up in something, doesn’t mean you get to automatically decide that he has sh**ty parents.

I feel my jaw tighten and hide my fists under the table, gouges in them from my fingernails. If they’d seen the rage in Hayden’s face when he found his brother today, they’d just chalked it up to bad parenting too, or those alleged steroid rumours going around. I always reacted to situations like this, but after spending a little time with Hayden, it’s pi**ing me off much more than usual.

“Those kids don’t have a crying chance with a-” He doesn’t finish, because of the sudden clinks and clanks of my cutlery as I stand up from my seat. My family silently watches in surprise as I take my napkin, slam it down on my plate, excuse myself and stomp toward my room.

• • • • •

I log onto Facebook and pull up Hayden’s profile for the first time. Looking through his photos, there’s a lot with Jonah Parker, a freshman, and some other guys on the football team. I click to the next photo of the team, all together with black stripes under their eyes, except for Jonah, who’s face is painted the school colours, red on one side, and yellow on the other. Hayden’s smile in this photo is weak and tame. Not the full capacity 100-watt kind I saw today.

After a few more photos, I find the next one is of his family, Christmas morning, all in their pyjamas. Looking around the photo, I see Adrian on the couch in the background stifling a laugh at his younger siblings, Matt and Dean, shaking presents together. Elle, one year younger than Adrain has a giant Frosty the Snowman hat on and is mid-jump on the couch. Hayden, the closest person to the camera, is frozen in a funny grin and tickling the youngest Cassidy, Addison, who is sat on his shoulders.

I smile to myself wishing a little that I could press play and see a bit more of that day than just this one snapshot.

Lastly, my eyes find Anne and Stefan Cassidy, Hayden’s parents. I search their faces, frozen in a sincere smiles. Anne, with two mugs of hot cocoa and Stefan’s arms wrapped around her. Hayden’s father looks like he would be kind judging by the smile lines under his eyes.

The tightness in my chest is gone, but I want to talk to Hayden again. I’m tempted to talk about what it was like seeing him in the halls on my first day of freshman year and have all those memories come flooding back from grade school.

I open the chat box in the bottom corner of the page and start typing.

“How’re those knuckles doing, Mike Tyson?” As I hit enter, my brain tells me it was a mistake. But before I can close the page, I hear him respond.

“Well, looks who’s making the first move, is it Sadie Hawkins day?” His reply reads. I bite my lip and cringe a little.

“Shut up.” I write. A weak rebuttal.

“That’s twice in one day you’ve told me to shut up.” He writes.

“Stop being a smart ass and I’ll leave you alone.” I say.

“Ah, well we can’t have that.”

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  1. Kathleen Fazio

    Feb 2, 2022

    omg I love it so much! you are an amazing writer.

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    0 Replies Feb 2, 2022
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