Setting: Lakeside boardwalk
He was walking aimlessly, annoyed at the thought of spending any more time with his dad’s new girlfriend or that girlfriend’s stupid daughter. At 12, he knew he should not just be walking away in a crowd, but he didn’t care. He knew this place like it was his own home.
The boardwalk along the man-made lake was more crowded than usual. Not surprising, with it being the 4th of July and all. When Hubert felt sure that he was hidden by the people teeming around him, he glanced behind to make sure he could still find his dad and return to him should panic set in.
But Hubert wasn’t one to panic. He knew the boardwalk well. He knew most of the store owners. If he wanted, he could even talk himself into some freebies from those store owners. They loved him. More accurately, they pitied him.
Most of the locals who knew Hubert and his family knew that his mother lost the battle with cancer late last year. For Hubert, it was a moral gray area, but he knew he could walk into the toy store with a sad look on his face and walk out with some new toy, courtesy of Mrs. Perry, the store owner.
He was about to walk into Boardwalk Toys when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Hubert looked back to see Jackie, the new girlfriend’s daughter.
“Where are you off to, kid?” she asked, not bothering to remove her hand.
Hubert shook her off. “The toy store,” he said, injecting as much venom into his voice as he could.
He really had no reason to hate Jackie. He had no reason to hate her mom, Leigh, either. But he did anyway. What he couldn’t understand at such a young age was that he was angry that his dad would dare to bring these new people in their lives to this place that was so special to his mother. They shouldn’t be here when she can’t be.
Hubert still grieved the loss of his mother. Meanwhile, he couldn’t understand how his dad had been able to move on so quickly.
“What’s your problem?” Jackie asked, following him into the store.
“Nothing. Just leave me alone.”
Jackie was a couple years older than Hubert. But there was no way he was going to let her boss him around. He looked around the toy store for a few minutes, with Jackie hot on his heels the entire time. Finally, he found something he actually wanted. A yo-yo. And it was cheap enough that he could buy it if Mrs. Perry wasn’t feeling particularly generous today.
Hubert walked up to the cash register, where Mrs. Perry was sitting on her stool. “Hello there, Hubert! Happy 4th! It’s so good to see you!”
“Hi, Mrs. Perry,” he said, sounding as sad as he could.
“Who’s your friend?” asked the toy store owner.
Hubert threw Jackie a quick, dirty glare. “She’s nob–”
“I’m Jackie,” she interrupted, “Our parents are dating.”
“Well, isn’t that nice?” said Mrs. Perry as she rang up Hubert’s yo-yo. “That’ll be $3.50.”
Hubert paid and thanked the woman before turning to walk out. He heard Jackie tell Mrs. Perry it was nice to meet her, then she was following him all over again. They made their way to a less crowded area of the boardwalk. “Know any tricks?” she asked as Hubert tied the yo-yo to his finger.
“No,” said Hubert, throwing the yo-yo down and pulling it back up. He did this a few times before looking over at Jackie. “Why, do you?”
She held out her hand, “Do you want me to tell you or show you?”
Hubert rolled his eyes, then handed over his brand new yo-yo. He watched as Jackie easily worked the yo-yo. She put it to sleep. She walked the dog. She rocked the baby. Hubert tried not to look impressed. But he was impressed.
“Is… is that a smile?” Jackie asked, narrowing her eyes at Hubert.
It was, indeed, a smile. It was a slight smile. But as soon as Jackie brought attention to his change in facial expression, Hubert forced himself to revert to an angry and annoyed look.
“Better be careful,” Jackie said, “your face might break if you do that again.”
“How did you do that?” asked Hubert as Jackie handed back the yo-yo.
“Practice. Start by letting it sleep at the end of the string before you yank it back up. Once you do that, you can work your way up to more complicated tricks.”
Jackie watched Hubert as he got frustrated, but she provided as much encouragement as she could, reminding him to take his time and that she didn’t learn how to rock the baby the first time she threw a yo-yo. Hubert actually appreciated the advice, but he did not dare show it.
She decided to sit down on a bench that was close to where Hubert was practicing. She took a deep breath and looked him in the eye. “You know, my mom’s not that bad.”
Quietly, Hubert admitted, “I know.”
“So what’s the deal?” Jackie asked, “What’s with the cold shoulder?”
He shuffled over and sat next to Jackie. “I don’t know. I mean, I know I’m being a jerk. I’m sorry. I don’t know why.”
Jackie leaned over and bumped Hubert’s shoulder with her own. “Mind if I take a stab at it?”
“You guys used to come here with your mom, didn’t you?”
“This place is special and you have a lot of great memories with her. How am I doing so far?”
Hubert looked at Jackie, his eyes beginning to well up with tears.
“Yeah, so suddenly coming here with new people isn’t cool. It’s like it cheapens all these great memories you have with your mom.”
Hubert laughed while wiping at his eyes, trying to cover his real emotions. “What are you, a psychiatrist?”
It was Jackie’s turn to laugh. “No, not professionally. Which is why I’m not charging you for this session.”
This time, Hubert’s smile was genuine. “Can you show me those tricks again?”
She smiled back at him and took the yo-yo, impressing the younger kid once more. Hubert didn’t even bother hiding his smile.
While Jackie performed a rock the baby once more, their parents approached. “Dad! Look what Jackie can do with this yo-yo!”
Hubert’s dad stood there with an arm around Jackie’s mom. The grown-ups watched as Jackie performed the same tricks a couple more times. Then his dad sat with Hubert.
“You’re in a better mood,” he said, messing up his son’s hair.
“Yeah,” said Hubert, “I guess. Sorry about earlier.”
“No worries, kiddo. Come on, let’s go get some dinner before the fireworks start.”
They all walked toward the diner at the end of the boardwalk as the sun grew closer and closer to the horizon. The kids lagged behind while the adults whispered to each other about how glad they were that everyone was finally getting along. Suddenly, they heard Hubert give a cry of excitement and they turned around quickly.
They saw him holding his new yo-yo, performing the difficult rock the baby trick, looking happier than he’d looked in months.
Thanks to Gigglingfattie for this week’s writing challenge! Now that you’ve finished reading this story, head over to her blog to see what she’s up to. She’s another A to Z Challenge survivor, so go by and say hey. Mention my name and you’ll get 10% off your first purchase. I’m still planning to keep this up each week, so if you haven’t submitted your challenge, you can still click here and leave something for me in the comments.