Summer, the season where school was let out, the bids were in the sky, and kids ran riot in their back yards. It was also the time where families seemed to drop everything and make tracks towards the nearest body of water. During the last week of fourth grade, Maryanne Schmidt wouldn’t stop boasting about how her family was going to take a vacation cruse in the Caribbean and Lula Ibrin kept talking about how you got a tan in the Mediterranean. The quiet red panda in the back of Mrs. Avar’s class, however, didn’t have any plans, although she wasn’t going to tell them that.
“Hey Xiao,” one of the girls spoke up. “What are you going to do on summer vacation?”
“Huh, me?” Xiao blinked, trying to think of a story to tell, “I-uh. I’m going vacation, of course.”
The girl smiled as she rolled her eyes, “yeah, but where, Xiao? Where are you going?”
I’m staying home because mom says we can’t go, she thought.
“Oh, you know. I’m going to… uh,” she trailed off, her mind going blank as she struggled to think of something. “England, I’m going to England, of course.”
“England? Why would you want to go there,” the girl sounded both offended and disgusted. “The people there aren’t any fun!”
“I’m not going for people, I’m going for the sights. The people are just going to be looking at me and how fabulous I am,” Xiao smiled, the routine of her bravado kicking in easily. “Why would I care about the people, huh?”
The girl smiled. “Not as fabulous as I am.”
Xiao opened her mouth to retort but the teacher put a quick end to the argument before it began. The girl stuck her tongue out at Xiao before turning back around in her seat. Xiao stuck her tongue out at the back of the girl’s head and the teacher happened to notice. That was a fun hour after school spent in detention. One hour on the last day of school, how unfair could you get?
When Xiao was finally allowed to go home, the same girl was waiting outside, talking to a teacher. Xiao didn’t bother sticking around to say hi, since the girl was more of a pain in the tail than a friend. The teacher she was talking to, however, wasn’t talking about school, really.
“Claire, if you want some extra credit, we can always go back to the classroom. I’m sure I have some assignments I can work on with you,” the teacher smiled.
Claire heartily agreed, flashed Xiao a wink and a smile before heading back into the main hall of the school. Xiao shuddered and crossed the street, not bothering to head to the crossing guard. She was usually a good girl, tried to get good grades, keep out of trouble, not pull on other girl’s hair, but every so often she had to do something to make sure she didn’t have another episode. She had periodic episodes of anxiety that she took medication for, and was usually made fun for it, but she ignored it as well as she could.
It was five-past-four by the time she got home. The house was empty, as it had been the last time she came home. Mom and Dad worked until night, the office employees that they were. Xiao hiked up the stairs to her room, deposited her backpack and headed back down to the living room. The remote for the TV had slipped between the couch cushions again, and the channel was stuck on football until she could retrieve it. She didn’t care much for sports, instead changing the channel to cartoons. She had watched “Tim and Jermey: Amazing Adventures in Time” for all of five minutes before the phone rang.
Mommy usually said that she wasn’t supposed to answer the phone, but she hated the noise. It hurt her ears, really, and she picked up the receiver.
“Hello,” she said, bringing the receiver to her mouth. “Who is this?”
“Xiaowie! Hi, it’s Britney,” the voice on the other side of the phone chirped.
Xiao smiled and looked up towards the ceiling. “Hi Brit-Brit. What’s going on with you?”
“Mom grounded me, so I’m stuck here. Is it true that you’re going to England?”
“No, I’m not. I made that up to get Claire to leave me alone.”
“Aw, and you looked so confident too. Hey Xiaowie, think I can come over and swim in your pool for a bit?”
“You just said you were grounded.”
Britney laughed. “Mom left for an hour, so I get to sneak out.”
Xiao looked towards the back sliding door towards the porch and the fenced-in pool. She frowned and bit her lip, thinking: Did she want to spend time with her best friend, or did she want to stay and watch cartoons? Eventually, she came to a decision.
“Uh, s-sure. Come on over, I’ll try to unlock the gate.”
The phone clicked as Britney hung up in response. Xiao stood up on her tiptoes and placed the phone receiver back on the dock and headed back upstairs. Her swimsuit was sitting in her closet since last summer, the emerald-green cami top and bikini bottom almost appearing scandalous on a 9-year old kid, although she liked it. If other people didn’t like how it looked on her, then they could look away.
She rubbed at the back of her head, wondering just how easily it was for her to be the hyper-confident, I’m-better-than-you girl that she pretended to be. She didn’t want to end up acting like Claire, or Mallorie. They were bad girls anyway. Xiao shut the door of her room and stepped out of her school shoes, letting her toes wiggle against the carpet before unbuttoning her shirt. She wasn’t developed enough to wear a training bra, although her nipples were still puffy enough to make her want to pretend.
She wasn’t going to pretend tonight, though, since that was reserved for when she wasn’t with other people. Britney, the loving 11 year old kid that she was, loved to tease her about it- to say nothing about how she found out in the first place, and Xiao didn’t want to endure another anxiety attack when swimming. Considering she nearly drowned the first time, it was a miracle that she was still willing to go near water.
She slipped her foot-paws into her sandals and headed back downstairs. The doorbell rang and she pulled the door open, revealing Britney in her royal-blue one-piece and red sandals. The taller blonde hugged Xiao and Xiao hugged back, burying her face in Britney’s neck.
“I can only swim for half an hour. Then I have to run back home,” Britney smiled as she and Xiao walked through the house. Xiao stopped and shut the door before running to catch up with Britney, who had already made it to the back door and slid it open before walking onto the back porch.
“Did you get the gate open,” Britney glanced back at Xiao.
“No, I got dressed before you came. I didn’t have time to do that.”
Britney nodded and headed for the gate, noticing the lack of a padlock. “Well, easy-peasy. Come on, Xiaowie. Last one in is a rotten egg!”
Xiao smiled and took off running, her sandals flying off as she leapt into the pool, Britney following in a close second.