[This flash fiction piece won first place in the 3rd round of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction competition and got me into the finals. I had to write a romance that took place in a junkyard and involved a saddle.]
This was the 37th day in a row that Delia and I had accidentally-on-purpose ridden out together. She was the accidentally and I was the on purpose, but I was working on that.
Since the first day of summer break, I’d fixed her bike twice and shared my granola bars and CheezIts every day. By now we had an “our place”: the dump. Well, not the official dump two townships away. This was more a scrap yard where people took stuff they couldn’t throw in their burn piles.
On day fifteen she was trying to break into the trunk of one of the cars and I’d brought her the crowbar that’s always attached to my bike, handing it to her so she could do the job.
I’d fed her, fixed her transportation, and given her the tool she needed and respected her enough to let her use it. If we were grownups in a movie, she’d be mine. But this was real life and we were only thirteen.
It might have something to do with what she did with my crowbar: she beat the living shit out of that car. I mean, she totally lost it. It was beautiful to watch for a while, but then I noticed it was one of her old family cars. Her family was like mine, people and stuff always breaking down and getting tossed out, so I let her be ‘til she was tired out. But it wasn’t until four days later that she met my eyes. Not that I’m counting looks or times our fingers touched or anything. For the record, the fingers touching number was nine.
Today was going to be a big day. Maybe it would be The Big Day.
Four days ago, we’d found an old saddle. It was so dirty even I thought it was gross. The leather was cracked and peeling and pulling up from the stitching, but you could still see the embossing, still see that it had been a beauty once. Delia might not be like any other girl I knew, but she was as into horses as every other girl in eighth grade. This was my big break.
I got my older brother to drive me and two buckets of water out to the dump that night and I got to work right away, moving the saddle out of the weather, cleaning it, stealing as much meat grease as I dared from the can on the stove to get the leather as soft as I could. For three days I stole out there by myself, hoping I wouldn’t run into her, and acted like I didn’t know what happened when we couldn’t find it again.
Now everything was ready. So, of course, she didn’t want to hit the dump.
“You can do what you want.” She pumped harder and pulled ahead of me. “I’m going to the stream.”
Her dark blonde hair whipped in the breeze she created by riding so fast and I just watched her for a few seconds before pulling up next to her. “We can do the stream.”
“There is no ‘we.’”
I stared up the road without saying anything. Was that her talking? Or had someone seen us and teased her? I know I was hearing it at home.
We were on 86th, a long, straight stretch with trees thick on either side, so it was like riding into a tunnel that looked like it got narrower and narrower. Like my chances with her, at least today. So I bailed. “See you later,” was my brilliant line. She probably thought I was super-hurt because I sprayed her with gravel when I spun my bike around, but what could I do, turn back around and say, “I know there’s no ‘us’ but I’m not mad or anything and the whole gravel thing was a total accident”?
Not even I’m that dumb about girls.
But I’m still an idiot: I went to the dump in case she went there after the stream. A double idiot because it was too hot to sit in any of the cars, and they were the only source of shade.
Hours later, I was throwing rocks against the side of an old pickup, making as much noise as I could, when Delia gave me a heart attack, sneaking up on me and yelling, “Did you do that?”
I crossed my arms and shrugged and tried not to study her face to see whether she liked it.
She walked around the barrel I’d put the saddle on, her fingertips trailing along the restored leather, not saying anything.
“You can get on it. Whatever.” My heart was beating like it wanted to escape out of my throat. I went back to my very important rock throwing. When I risked a peek, she was on the saddle with her eyes closed. She liked it. In my head, I whooped and ran around and then slid behind her and put my arms around her. In reality, I said, “I gotta go,” and took my perma-grin back home.
The next day, she smiled at me. She. Smiled. At. Me. We took turns sitting on the saddle, pretending we were in a Western, acting like we were six again.
The day after that, she smiled at me and bumped my shoulder with hers. On purpose.
The fourth day, we raced each other to the dump, laughing the whole way.
But the saddle was gone. We searched for it, in case someone had hidden it, but it was gone-gone. I was so hopeless, I didn’t even get a thrill when she stood really close to me.
It wasn’t until I felt her lips on my cheek, and heard her whisper, “Thank you,” that I came back to life.
I turned my head and kissed her. She tasted like road dust, which I discovered was the best thing ever.
What kind of girl liked a gift better when it was gone?
Delia. My girl.