As soon as Bus 30 drops me at the end of our long gravel driveway, I get the mail and race up the hill to my house. My best friend, Janie, waves from her propped down window, “LYLAS! LYLAS! Love Ya Like A Sister!” and continues to bump along the one lane road to her house around the bend. We have all afternoon and yet no time at all. My younger brother chases after me in his Mickey Mouse shoes and Michael Jackson t-shirt, but he knows it's no use: No Boys Allowed.
I change from my “good school” clothes into my “around the house” clothes (my parents can be so lame sometimes) and I'm off. We always meet at my Uncle Jeff's pond and skip rocks and talk about boys and try to figure out why this one girl in our class hates us both so badly. And then we make fun of her, cause making fun of her together – alone – by the pond – makes it easier to bare when she makes fun of us – in front of everybody – at school. It is 5th grade and we are best friends.
We run across the fields, dodging cow pies and thistles. The farm is sprawling – our kingdom. My hair is summer, blonde and bright, skin browned and freckled. Janie's hair is autumn, burnt orange and bright, skin white and freckled. Running together, we are a beautiful Indian Summer.
We turn cartwheels, jump rope, taunt the bull from behind a woven wire fence. We throw our smiles back into the sun and send its rays back with a message: Nothing is brighter than our futures.
We walk through rows of tobacco, tall and leafy, sticky and sweet smelling. It covers us, our fortress, as we sit in the dirt and talk about how cute Kurt Williams looks with a buzz cut and how life-threatening it will be if I have to get braces.
We sit cross-legged under the shade of the tobacco, stalks thick yet hollow looking, and Janie cries. She misses her dad. He drives a truck and he's been gone two weeks... California and Idaho and a Dakota. I hold her hand, caked in dirt and tobacco gum, and feel guilty that my daddy tucks me in every night.
“Every time we pass a Big Rig, I pull my arm up and down as hard as I can,” I fiercely demonstrate, elbow crazily slicing into the humidity, “just in case it's your daddy.” She sniffs, and smiles.
I pull out an eraser, big and purple, the kind you stick on the end of a pencil, the kind that cost me 25 cents from the big gray dispenser by the principal's office. “You're my best friend,” I say. She wipes her eyes and nose on the sleeve of her t-shirt. “I saw Laura Beth and Becca do this at recess today. You rub the eraser as hard as you can over the back of your hand... rub it til it bleeds. Then we put our hands together, moosh 'em around, and we're Blood Sisters. Best Friends Forever. It's like a pact. Makes us family. Real sisters.”
She gulps. “Does it hurt?”
I shrug and give it a few rough back-n-forths.
“Owwwwwwwwwwwww!” I throw a cry down every row of tobacco. I scare foxes from their holes!
“It hurts,” I confirm.
We sit in silence. I blow on the back of my hand, feel stupid, defeated.
And then, Janie stands up and rips a leaf from a stalk next to her.
“Since when are we like those stuck up city girls anyway? We're farm girls, country girls. Tobacco Sisters.” She rolls the leaf up and squeezes, the stickiness dripping down on the back of her hand and then mine. She rubs the leaf on her hand, hard. Passes it to me. My hand is still raw, but this feels better... feels right.
I stand next to her, not as tall as my uncle's crop, and we rub the back of our hands together.
“Sisters,” she says.
I look at her blue eyes and see my own reflection, smiling. “Sisters.”