Better off Friends

Page 3


He laughed. “Yeah, it’s so funny.”
“Uh-huh.” Emily wrinkled her nose. “It’s adorable that you have that in common.”
“Common!” Levi crowed. “I know I ain’t the queen o’ England, but I ain’t common.”
This was another line from the show.
“A common nuisance, you are!” we both finished.
Emily looked at us like were aliens. Danielle seemed amused.
We talked a little more about our summers, and when it was time to go, I made sure Levi knew where he was going next. This time when he said, “See ya later,” I found myself not dreading the idea. It was pretty cool to have someone around here who didn’t like the same things as everybody else.
Emily laughed as we put our trays on the conveyer belt. “So you and your new boyfriend seem to have a lot to talk about.”
“Stop it! You know he’s not my boyfriend.”
“I know that, but everybody else in the cafeteria seemed to notice your little lovefest.”
She was probably right. People were most likely making comments about our overanimated conversation. But I really didn’t care. It would be a welcome change from everything else people had whispered behind my back over the past year.
Uncle Adam was waiting for me after school to take me home. He was always excited to see me, even if he’d dropped me off only a few hours ago.
“How was your first day?” he asked while his arms wrapped tightly around me.
“Good!” I reassured him.
“All right.” He grabbed my backpack and started walking me to his car.
Levi was getting into an SUV with a woman I assumed was his mom. He said something to her and she started to walk over to us. With some reluctance, he followed. A knot began to form tightly in my stomach. I always got defensive whenever anybody met Adam for the first time.
Uncle Adam is an amazing person and everybody in town loves him. He’s friendly, outgoing, always willing to lend a hand. But he was born with a speech deformity, so when he talks, his speech sounds a little slurred. I’m not exactly sure what it’s called, but the back of his throat doesn’t close properly, so it can be difficult to understand him sometimes.
When I was little and I asked what was wrong with Uncle Adam, Mom made it clear that there was nothing “wrong” with him, he spoke differently because of a birth defect. So I took it at face value. Then, two years ago, I was walking home from the park when these boys started asking how my “retard uncle” was doing. I yelled, “He’s not retarded, he just talks funny.” I came home in tears and told my dad what had happened. That’s when he informed me that Adam was developmentally disabled. My parents thought I already knew. But what did I know? He drives, has a job, and lives in his own house (right across the street from ours). His life isn’t really that different from ours.
I held my breath as she introduced herself to Adam and me, worried that, like some other people, she’d do something wrong. “Hi, Macallan, I’m Levi’s mother. Thank you so much for being welcoming to Levi today. It’s hard to move halfway across the country and start fresh at a new school.” She had the same long blond hair as Levi, but hers was pulled back into a high ponytail. She had on yoga pants and a hoodie. It looked like she was coming back from the gym. Even without makeup on, she was absolutely gorgeous.
“Mom,” Levi groaned, no doubt trying to prevent her from telling his whole life story.
She turned toward Adam. “And you must be her father.”
Uncle Adam grabbed her hand, and I saw her flinch slightly at his grip. “Uncle.”
“This is my uncle Adam,” I said.
“Very nice to meet you.” She gave him a warm smile as he and Levi shook hands, too. I tried to find some hesitation on Levi’s part, but it wasn’t there. He was probably more focused on getting his mom back to the car.
I found myself nervously overexplaining. “Yeah, my dad sometimes has to work late even though he owns his own construction company, so sometimes Adam leaves the hardware store to take me home.”
“Well, if you ever need us to take you home or stay with us until your dad or uncle is done, we’d be more than happy to have you.”
I stood there silently for a few seconds. I was used to Midwestern politeness, but here was a woman who’d just moved to town and I’d just met, and she was already offering her home to me. And she was doing it out of niceness, not because she knew about the accident.
“Great! Wednesdays are always hard,” Uncle Adam said before I could stop him. He usually worked from seven in the morning until two, so he could pick me up from school. Except on Wednesdays, when he had the late shift. Last year, I either stayed in the library or got a ride with Emily or Danielle after their respective after-school activities.
Levi’s mom didn’t hesitate. “Why don’t you come over on Wednesday? Only if you want.”
I glanced over at Levi, who looked at me and mouthed the words she’d just said — only if you want.
“Sure!” Uncle Adam agreed.
“I’ll give you my number, and Macallan’s father can call me if he has any concerns, okay?”
Levi pointed to the button on his bag, his eyebrow arching in a playful manner. I imagined us watching Buggy and Floyd together.
I do, I mouthed back.
The two adults exchanged phone numbers. The negative me said Levi’s mom was doing this because she thought my uncle was unfit to look after me. The positive me said she was a nice person who wanted her son to have friends.