“I went to church yesterday.”
Ronnie leans over and flicks the metal tab of my soda can. I wait for a response. He flicks the can again then looks up at me. “Yeah?”
“It was alright,” I begin. It’s a sore topic, I know, and I have to tread carefully. “At least nobody tried to stone me or anything.”
Ronnie scoffs. “They don’t know.”
“I know they don’t.”
“You were lying to them,” he adds.
“It wasn’t lying; it’s just not full disclosure. Everyone hides things.”
“Whatever.” Ronnie leans back and stretches, his right arm landing behind me on our park bench. I watch him warily, wondering what his next move will be. He smirks. “Hey, check out that chick. Nice.”
Girls. Of course. “C’mon, Ronnie.”
His dark eyes meet mine. “Come on, what?”
“You know…” I can’t say it either. “Anyway, church was weird.”
“I thought you said it was alright.”
“It was. It was actually kinda nice, but that’s what’s weird – that it didn’t suck. I mean, not bad-weird. Just weird, you know?”
He shrugs. “I hate going to church.”
“It’s stupid. I don’t get why you still go.”
“I told you. It’s not that bad. It’s not even that religious.”
“What the hell does that mean? Church is religion.”
“Not really. I mean, the preacher reads from the Bible and all, but he doesn’t mention God much. It’s more about us.”
He chuckles meanly. “Us? Like you and me? Sure, I bet God just loves us.”
“God loves everyone, Ronnie,” I say quietly.
This time he actually laughs out loud. “Are you kidding me? You of all people should know that’s not true. The only reason you’re even allowed in that church is because you’re a goddamn liar. You think they would let you in if they knew?” Ronnie takes a deep breath. “God doesn’t love either of us, Matt. You gotta know that.”
There’s no point in responding so we sit in silence. I drum my fingers and Ronnie half-heartedly watches the girl from earlier. Eventually he sighs and rubs his forehead. “She’s cute, isn’t she?”
“How would I know?” Wrong answer.
His eyes widen then quickly narrow. “You’re a guy, that’s why you should know.”
I open my mouth, not sure whether to defend myself or apologize, when he suddenly grabs my shoulders and shakes me. “You’re a fucking guy, okay?” Ronnie sighs and releases me.
The wind picks up and the dead leaves stir on the ground. I hear Ronnie unzip his jacket and I don’t need to look over to know that he’s taking out a pack of cigarettes. He takes his time, waiting for me to say something. But I don’t want to fight with him again.
I leave him and walk over to the lake. The sun is setting and the lake is a collage of murky water, painted sky, and me. The colors remind me of stained glass windows. I crumple my soda can and toss it into the water. The windows shatter.
“You shouldn’t litter.” Ronnie’s gravelly voice interrupts my thoughts and I turn to see that he has followed me. He stands a few feet back though, hands stuffed in his pockets and cigarette nowhere in sight. The setting sun makes his brown hair red and he looks younger, like from when we were little kids and played cowboys and Indians together on my bedroom floor. We were best friends then.
I shake my head. “It doesn’t matter. There’s crap in the lake already.” As if it proves my point, I toss in a dirty pebble.
“What are you doing, anyway?” he says.
“I don’t know.”
I throw two more pebbles, one for the lake and one to him. He catches it with ease.
“I bet I can skip this further than you,” he says, smirking again. It’s a sweet smirk though.
“Oh yeah?” I say.
“Yeah.” He’s grinning now, eyes shining and eyebrows lifted teasingly.
His comical face confuses me so I bend down to look at the ground instead. I try to find an appropriate skipping stone, although I have no idea what I’m looking for. Ronnie squats down as well and hands me a flat, circular one. “Thanks. Alright, man, let’s see what you got.”
Ronnie makes a big show of winding his arm, baseball-pitcher-style, and sends the small rock flying. It dances across the lake, endless circles exploding from where the earth comes into contact with water. And then, three bounces later, the pebble is gone, sunk far beyond where the human eye will ever see.
“Easy. I’ll make it past that floating log, watch me,” I boast. It’s a bluff and Ronnie knows it. I can’t skip pebbles. No one ever taught me.
I throw Ronnie’s pebble like a Frisbee and we wait. To our surprise, the rock skips once, no, twice, no, three times… before, strangely enough, landing right on the log. And there it rests, atop the gnarly wooden trunk.
“Dude, how’d you do that?” Ronnie asks.
“I don’t know… I didn’t mean to. I’ve never skipped anything like that before. They always sink right away.”
“Huh. Well, that one’s not sinking any time soon.” A strong breeze now pushes the pebble and log further and further away from us and into the sunset. “Well, I guess you won.”
I grin at him. “Thanks to you. It was your pebble.”
He laughs a little. “Okay then. Tie?”
Ronnie’s hand sticks out of his frayed sleeve, hesitantly extended toward me. I watch it waver a little but nevertheless stay there and I can’t help but to remember something I had heard in the pews yesterday. Love bears all things, the preacher said, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. I thought of Ronnie immediately when he said that but knew I could never tell him. Yet now, seeing this uncertain hand reaching for mine, I’m not so sure that I can’t. The wind ruffles my hair comfortably, pulling me out of my reverie, and I shake his hand.
“Tied,” I agree.
Serina Chang, Age 15, Grade 10, Hunter College High School, Gold Key