First Summer Back

First Summer Back

flash fiction by Navya Dasari, age 17

Biking at the park isn’t as thrilling as she remembers. There’s a part of the path that swoops down the hill like a question mark, and she used to hold her breath as she pedaled up to the peak, waiting for the rush. Now she thinks of chapped lips and the sun on her shoulders. It’s her first full summer back home since she left for college three years ago; she’d finally convinced herself that she deserved a break from the endless research projects and internships. Then, in a fit of nostalgia, she’d decided to spend the summer here.

In the first few weeks, she had reconnected with some of her old high school friends. They went out for drinks, watched a couple movies, and caught up. She’d even rekindled things with an ex-boyfriend, started to imagine a future together.

But then it all fizzled out, and she couldn’t really work out why. She stopped texting him back when she realized she had nothing to say in reply. After a few days spent listening to music in her room and binge-watching reality TV like she was sixteen again, her mom had urged her to take her little brother to the park where they used to play tennis.

This morning she discovered with a shock that her brother—now thirteen and taller than her—no longer played tennis. She knows he must have told her at some point: it was one of those things that had slipped through the gap between them, a gap that now spanned half a country. They’d brought their bikes instead.

She turns her head slightly now so she can see her brother on the path behind her, so small in the distance that she can imagine him as a five year old again. “Hey, slowpoke!” she calls, teasing. “Gonna catch up with me or what?” For a moment she thinks he hasn’t heard her, but when she turns to face forward again, he calls back.

“You’re gonna regret asking!”

Grinning, she pedals harder, suddenly relishing the sting of the wind against her neck and cheeks, the clean dryness of the air. She remembers, inexplicably, when she was nine and thought it would be funny to take her baby brother out of his stroller at the amusement park and carry him around to different women, asking if he was theirs.

The first two had laughed and told her she was cute, but the third—a mother herself—had called park security, and her frazzled parents had sentenced her to a month without television. She had sulked for about a week, but when her parents weren’t looking, she’d given her brother a hug and told him she was sorry.

A sudden clatter breaks through her thoughts and the morning quiet, and she whips around, kicking the dirt. Her brother’s on the ground, groaning, his bicycle beside him.

“So stupid,” he growls when she reaches him. “Should’ve seen the ditch.”

“Are you okay? Oh no, your knee,” she says breathlessly. There’s already purple blooming across the side of his right knee, and the scratches at the center are bleeding. She grabs her pack off her shoulder and pulls a bandage out, but her brother starts to stand up.

“What are you doing?”

“Going to the water fountain to wash it off.”

“I have a water bottle right here,” she says, pulling it out of her pack.

He rolls his eyes, then gets down on one knee. “Alright.”

She pours water on the cuts and watches as he brushes the dirt off his shin. He’s wearing a long-sleeved shirt, but it looks like he fell on his elbow. “Are your arms—”

“It’s just my knee,” he interrupts, then stands again, leaning over to pick his bicycle up from the dirt. He climbs on and stares at her, waiting.

She turns her head to look at the place where she’d dropped her bike a few yards away. She feels suddenly nauseous. She’s not sure what she thought would happen when she came back home, how she thought things could be the same.

She walks back to her bicycle without turning around, then tips her head back to finish the rest of the water bottle. She returns it to her pack, swings the straps over her shoulders, mounts her bike. There’s a faint sweetness in the air, a freshness.

They must have chosen some trees that flower in the summer when they built this park, she thinks. They must have thought of girls like me biking through the wind and heat. She closes her eyes for a second, thinking of nothing but the rhythm of the ride, when she realizes she’s climbing—pedaling uphill.

“Want to go get ice cream later?” she hears herself ask. And then, before she can stop herself: “I’ve missed you.”

She’s suddenly aware of her heartbeat racing as she plunges down over the hill, the wind whipping her hair behind her, the rush.

She hears her brother’s voice, carrying through the air: “Yeah,” he’s saying. “I’ve missed you too.”

2015 Scholastic Writing Awards Gold Key

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