Melted Gold, Frogs Tongues, and Candy Bars

Tammy Allinson and Jeremy Almar walk home from school together every day.  They have been best friends all their lives.  Tammy lives at number 17 Thompson Drive.  Jeremy lives at number 18.  They both have Mrs. Pastory as their fifth grade teacher.  Jeremy sits in the last seat of the first row of desks.  Tammy sits directly in front of him.  The seats go in alphabetical order.  Tammy’s bedroom faces Jeremy’s and at night, sometimes, they have flashlight conversations in Morse Code, which Jeremy’s grandfather taught them. Conversations are short but not matter how hard their parents try, they can’t seem to follow them.

Tammy has blonde hair, which Jeremy describes as looking like melted gold.  Jeremy hates the glasses he got last year, but Tammy reassures him they are way cooler than Mike McColsters braces.  It makes Jeremy feel better.

Sometimes, Tammy’s parents throw parties and invite Jeremy’s mom.  Jeremy joins her and gets to hang out with Tammy all night.  She tells him all about her fights with Melissa Plough and Amanda Richards.  Jeremy doesn’t like either of those girls.  He says they have frog noses.  His mom usually yells at him when he makes fun of people, but the truth is, she doesn’t care for those girls much either.  They are mean and spoiled.  And Amanda’s mom slept with Jeremy’s dad.

Tammy’s favorite movie is “Meet Me in St. Louis.”  She makes Jeremy act out scenes with her in her basement, which has been decorated, in one corner, to resemble an old time trolley.  Jeremy’s favorite movie changes every week.  Last week, it was The Natural.  Next week, it’s going to be Batman.

Tonight, Tammy is going to tell Jeremy she loves him.  Jeremy is going to tell her his mom and him are moving to Albuquerque.  Both will be crushed.

School gets out at the same time as usual, 3:40 PM.  Mrs. Pastory tells everyone to watch the news and write down one story that they will read to the class the next day.  Twelve of the nineteen students will read the same story about an alligator escaping from a zoo in Miami.  Two will tell the story of the President hosting a dinner where he dances a fox trot and falls down.  Mike McColster will forget and make up a story about stolen jewels. Neither Tammy nor Jeremy will be there.

Tammy wants to enjoy the day before she professes her true feeling to Jeremy.  She asks if they can take the long way home.  Jeremy doesn’t mind at all.  He is avoiding bringing up the move.  His mom says they have to go for her to work.  He doesn’t understand why she can’t just work in Point Harbor.  He almost starts crying, thinking about it, as they pass the train tracks on Commerce Road.  He is so distracted he trips and to catch his balance, grabs Tammy’s hand.  Her heart jumps and she nearly squeals a small “I love you” right then.  But she holds back.  She has something special planned.  She has invited Jeremy over for dinner.  Her mom has given her permission to cook a candle light dinner for the two of them.  Later, her mom will question Jeremy’s mother about not telling them she was moving.

They stop along the bridge for a few minutes and watch a frog chase a fly.  It gives up quickly and Jeremy makes a joke about having a frog tongue.  Tammy pictures kissing him for the first time.  Jeremy pictures himself with a frog’s tongue.  When they start walking again, he doesn’t take her hand and Tammy feels a bit let down.  She asks if he wants to get an ice cream from Penguin’s, “My treat,” she says.  Jeremy never passes up free ice cream.  And Penguin’s has best Oreo Swirly in five counties.  It’s probably the best anywhere, but the owner, Mrs. Petunia Hardberg, doesn’t like to brag.

Tammy orders two scoops of Cookie Dough in a cup.  Jeremy orders three of Oreo in a waffle cone with M&Ms, whipped cream, and a cherry, which he gives to Tammy.  The ice cream calms Jeremy’s nerves and he almost slips up and tells her about the move.  But, at the last second, he chickens out and tells her he likes her new shoes instead.

Tammy finishes her ice cream first.  Jeremy doesn’t finish until they turn onto Thompson Drive.  She reminds him about dinner and says she is “super excited.”  Jeremy promises to be there and suddenly feels horrible.  He wants to cancel and just move without telling her.  Maybe his mom can just tell her mom and he won’t have to do it.  But, when he gets home and asks, his mom says he has to tell her.  He gets upset and tells his mom she is ruining his life.  He runs to his room and throws his favorite binoculars against the wall.  The binoculars don’t appreciate it at all.  Neither does the wall.  His mom sits on the couch and cries for a moment, wishing there was a way for her to stay, but this move is about more than work.  She can’t stay in Point Harbor any more.  There are too many painful memories.  And next week, Amanda’s mom and Jeremy’s dad are announcing their engagement.  Everyone will know and everyone will look at Jeremy’s mom differently.  She wishes she could explain.  But, Jeremy is nine.  He just wouldn’t understand.

Jeremy walks to Tammy’s for dinner at 5:23 PM.  Tammy’s older sister answers the door.  She brings Jeremy to the back porch, where Tammy has dinner set up and is wearing a brand new, red dress with white lace around the trim.  Jeremy says he likes it.  Tammy smiles and turns as red the dress itself.  She grabs her hair and tries to twirl it the way her sister had taught her how, but she is a bit nervous and her sweaty hands make her hair stick to them.  Jeremy doesn’t notice.  He is too busy looking at the food and trying to figure out if he should break the news right away or wait for dessert.

Tammy’s mom comes out with plates and silverware and tells them to have fun.  Jeremy grabs a big piece of chicken and a ton of mashed potatoes.  He is so excited Tammy left the skins in the mashed.  He loves them that way.  He looks closely, hoping there is cheese in them as well.  His wish comes true when he takes a bite and tastes the sharp cheddar mixed in with the unpeeled mashed potatoes.  Everything is perfect.  Tammy is smiling and barely able to eat.  Every time Jeremy says he likes something, she tries to say it.  And every time she takes a bite, Jeremy holds back from telling.

After dinner, Tammy brings out two Hershey’s Chocolate Bars in her hand and something hidden behind her back.  She says she was going to have ice cream, but they already went to Penguin’s after school, so she just got candy bars.  Then she pulls out a grocery bag and reveals nine different types of candy bar.  Jeremy is so happy with the choice he can’t eat.  He needs to tell her.  “I’m moving –“

“I love you – “

It was the perfect moment to say something, proved by the fact that both spoke at once.  “What?” They laugh, now talking in unison.  Tammy tells him to go first.  He refuses and wants to hear her announcement.  This goes back and forth until Jeremy finally says it.  “I’m moving. My mom got some job and we’re moving next month.  In three weeks.”

Tammy can’t think.  She can’t speak.  She doesn’t understand what she’s feeling or why or how to change it.  She wants to run to her bedroom, but she prepared this dinner with something to say. She stands as tall as she can, trying to look as grown up as she can with a bit of milk-chocolate smeared on her upper lip, she looks down at her bright red shoes and her new red dress; she takes a deep breath and she says, “Jeremy, I love you.” Then, she walks into the house and finds her sister.

Jeremy walks home in confusion and sadness.  He wishes he could do something, change something.  He wonders if he should’ve said it back, but he doesn’t quite understand what it means.  His chest hurts and his legs aren’t really working and he doesn’t know why.

Tammy is crying in her sister’s arms.  She can’t speak or breathe.  She feels her world has fallen out from under her and her sister doesn’t really know how to help.  Her mom comes in and offers some extra support.  Jeremy’s mom is asleep.  While Jeremy was at dinner, she had a glass of white wine, which always knocks her right out.

Jeremy climbs to his room and grabs his flashlight.  He can’t see if Tammy is in her room, so he sets the light on it’s highest setting, and as carefully as he can, he sends a message to her that he promises to send every night, no matter where he is.  “Tammy, I love you and will shine my light to the sky every night so the stars and the moon know it.”  And for the next sixteen years, until Tammy and Jeremy run into each other at a modern art museum in Chicago, Jeremy does exactly that.


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