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|Tucking in his red polyester polo in his pants, Mark was booking it down the stairs at amazing speed. His steps created a small thunder from underneath the carpeted staircase. Although his pants were hanging wide open and barely holding onto his thin waist, he didn’t miss a beat all the way down. When he finally made it to the ornate tile below, he quickly zipped up his khakis and tightened his brown belt to one notch less than where he would have normally put it. Having grown about three inches, everything just didn’t quite fit the way he remembered it. His pant cuffs hung dangerously close to his ankle. Mark’s feet felt tight in his plain tan dress shoes, having little room to even wiggle his toes. Even his oversized polo fit better than it ever had. “That’s at least one nice thing about this,” Mark muttered sarcastically.
Scampering to the arched entryway, he stood in front of a large decorative mirror hanging on the wall. Curious as to what its antique brass frame and large oval eye had been over looking for all this time, it glared at Mark when he stepped in front of it. The mirror went blank. For all the lead up, it wasn’t that impressed. Mark’s brown hair was still as shaggy as ever. He was still a light pink and had hardly any muscle to show. All he had going for him were those thick lashes and his green eyes.
Fingering still damp hair over to one side, he swooped his thick bangs off his nose and down the side of his face. It didn’t matter though. Once Mark’s hair was dry it would randomly rearrange itself anyway. Between cleaning up his mess in the bedroom and scrubbing down his body in the shower, he hoped that everything was done. Glaring at his reflection he gripped a gold piece of string hanging around his soft neck. “Got my key,” he checked off to himself.
Mark released it, leaving it exposed over his shirts. Going around the long string, he pulled at the collar of his polo, straightening it up a bit. Moving his hands along, he smoothed out the gold embroidered lion, which was reared up in the pocket position on the polo. Continuing down his waist, he felt some of that new muscle sitting relaxed under his shirt. Although his shape was nothing like it had been this morning, what he did have fit a little more snug in his clothes, making him look a little bigger. No one else would notice, but he did.
Quickly looking over himself one more time, he grinned in approval at what he saw. Reaching down at his feet, he grabbed up his thickly filled backpack and a deflated gym bag that he had set there the night before. Putting on his heavy backpack, and throwing the large red bag with gold straps over one shoulder, he was off.
Opening the large mahogany door, he went from a slight darkness to being bathed in bright daylight. A crisp air blew past him, reminding him that it was chilly but fortunately not cold. Despite a few goosebumps rising from his hairless arm, Mark stepped through the door, noticing Josh standing at the end of the long walkway. By Josh’s demeanor, it seemed that both of them knew he was running late. This encouraged Mark to pick up the pace a little bit.
Removing the string from around his neck, Mark held onto the long gold key at the end of the string, locking the door. The opaque, textured glass on the door wished him off as Mark hurried down the long, cobble stoned walkway. As he approached the sidewalk, putting the key back on his neck, he heard a familiar voice say sternly, “Cutting it a little close aren’t we?”
Mark saw his only friend in the whole world standing in front of him. Josh was similarly dressed with the same uniform on, also carrying two bags with him. The only difference was that Josh was about half a head taller than Mark. Tucking the key under his white undershirt, he sheepishly looked up into his unnaturally bright, aqua blue eyes. The blue and the green seemed to swirl about like waves in the sea. Mark liked that. “Sorry man, I— di—didn’t mean to keep you waiting,” he stuttered out hurriedly.
Mark couldn’t keep his head up. This was the first time he had even been running late. Mark decided to fix his worried gaze on Josh’s ripped forearm. A few thick, conspicuous veins tightly webbed down them, showing off in their own small way just how ripped Josh was underneath. In that brief moment, Mark realized that his friend’s lean body had probably been inspiration for earlier this morning.
Glancing back up, Josh was wearing a peculiar expression. A look of realization passed over his face, bringing him a step closer to Mark and his hunched shoulders. “Hey, could you stand straight up man?” Josh kindly asked.
Mark embarrassingly complied, worried as to what Josh was getting at. Josh held up one of his sport beaten, but still smooth hands. He leveled it with the top of Mark’s head and brought it in to touch his thinly sculpted nose. “Just as I figured.”
“What?” Mark’s voice cracked.
“You’re finally growing up. I could have sworn you weren’t this tall yesterday,” Josh scrutinized in a sarcastic tone.
“But you didn’t see me yesterday,” Mark sheepishly reminded him.
“I know.” Josh cheerfully spat out, “Guess that’s why I just noticed.”
Mark took a sigh of relief that Josh wasn’t suspicious of him. What if his gift scared him, or what if he didn’t understand? They may have been best friends for the past four and a half years, but Mark was still quick to rattle. The butterflies in his stomach would beat their wings harder and harder with each passing year. Though this was of slight annoyance to Mark, he had grown accustomed to their presences.
However, Mark didn’t get to wrestle with these thoughts for longer than a second before Josh quickly rounded behind him, scooting Mark quickly from his house and down the sidewalk. “One thing I do know is that we need to get a move on,” Josh said more seriously into his ear.
Walking side by side now, Josh looked down at Mark with his stark white smile, throwing one bronzed colored arm over Mark’s strap filled shoulders. Mark struggled with trying not to stare at him, but couldn’t help notice a rather large smile that Josh couldn’t seem to wipe off his face. “You know I was kidding before, about the whole ‘cutting it close’ thing right?” Josh asked, trying to reassure his friend.
“Yeah, I know,” Mark chuckled, trying to recover.
“We just have to keep working on your sense of humor is all,” Josh smirked jokingly, still leading the two of them quickly down the sidewalk. “I think you have embarrassment down, but we still need to work on playful banter.”
Mark knew that Josh was right. Even though he was really excited about what had happened this morning, he was having trouble putting it into words. Then again, Josh didn’t really give him a chance to. “I have something for you,” Josh grinned, reaching into his pocket.
“What?” Mark asked looking over, getting a perfect excuse to look up at his beautiful face again.
From Josh’s left pocket, he pulled out a familiar pair of thin framed, oval glasses. Stretching his thin red lips across his face, Josh happily handed the long lost pair over to his friend. “Oh my gosh!” Mark exclaimed, “Where on earth did you find them?”
“In the grass when I was waiting for you this morning. You need to be more careful with this stuff,” Josh playfully scorned.
Mark was glad to have his glasses back, tucking them into another pocket for now. However, he didn’t recall a time that he could have dropped them in the grass; he was always wearing them. Then again, how could he have lost them in the first place? He was just happy to have gotten them back.
“Thanks Josh,” Mark said sincerely, staring back into his eyes.
Changing his tone, Mark added, “This is the best birthday present you could have ever gotten me.”
Through his long dirty blonde curls, Josh glared at Mark in amusement. “Better, my young padawan.”
Chuckling to themselves, the pair was still walking at a fair pace down the sidewalk, passing house after house that looked exactly the same. They were all big, they all had neatly trimmed grass, and almost all of them had a token SUV parked in the driveway. Only the dwarf oak trees that peppered the long necked cove spiced up the monotony. Coincidently, the trees’ halfway glued on leaves were all that provided any sense of color. The lush reds and oranges were much better than the dyed and unnaturally green grass.
As they continued to walk though, Josh opened up his gym bag and pulled out a small box. “However, your glasses were not what I got you for your birthday.”
Taking the small package from Josh, he laughed. The Sunday Comics neatly covered the palm sized box. It wasn’t the jokes that Mark was laughing at though, it was the paper itself.
Years ago, when Mark was about to turn twelve, Josh had only known him for about four months. However, Josh knew he wanted to get his new friend something. He didn’t know him that well, and spent all of his time trying to pick out a gift. By the time he had selected one, it was the morning of and he had no wrapping paper. So, he used what he had. Josh loved reading jokes in the Sunday Comics. Actually, it was more like he enjoyed looking at the funny pictures. Nonetheless, he still had some sheets lying around in his room. So, he quickly wrapped up his new friend’s gift in them like a bag, twisting it together with a twisty tie. Although he had become a more skilled wrapper since then, every birthday since, Josh would always wrap up Mark’s gift with the comics.
“Should I open it now or open it later?” Mark asked.
Josh smiled and slowed them to a halt, taking back his arm. He eagerly nodded at the box. “Now’s good,” Josh said.
Ripping between a frame of “Dilbert” and “The Wizard of Id”, Mark uncovered a plain black box. Crumpling the paper in one hand, Mark took the lid. Inside, he pulled out a thin silver chain attached to a thin pressed symbol. It looked like the letter M with an arrow curling off from the far right stem. The necklace reminded Mark of the one Josh would always wear, but rather than an M, it was some kind of line drawn star with a circle around it. However, that didn’t help Mark figure out what he was staring at.
Seeing the confused look on Mark’s face, Josh tried to explain. “It’s your sign,” he said, “That symbol is Scorpio.”
Both of them were now staring at the smooth, twirling M. “I know that you don’t usually wear jewelry, but when I saw it; I knew you had to have it,” Josh beamed cautiously.
Holding the symbol up to his face, letting the sun’s unhidden light bounce into his eyes, Mark smiled at his new possession. The light that was being reflected at Mark was almost unnaturally bright, as if the symbol was glowing itself. Obviously, it wasn’t though. Besides, even though it looked simple enough, Mark knew that Josh must have put some thought into this. “And it’s silver sterling like mine. Not just some cheap plastic,” Josh joked.
Putting on an old woman’s voice, Josh finished with, “Better to protect you with my dear.”
The funny voice made Mark laugh. “I love it,” he grinned sincerely, “Thank you.”
Josh let out another smile, beaming his perfect pearly whites again. “Do you want me to help you get it on?”
Without missing a beat, Mark enthusiastically said, “Yeah.”
Quickly shoving the remains of the box and paper into his gym bag, Mark held out the silver chained necklace, giving it back to Josh. Josh went around behind Mark. Having to stand back due to Mark’s overfilled backpack; he stretched his arms out and slipped it around his neck. This made Mark’s heart race. The butterflies were back and in full force. His goosebumps also returned, though there was no wind.
“Do you think you have enough stuff in this bag?” Josh jokingly criticized.
“Maybe you should consider filling yours up with a book or two once in awhile,” Mark quipped back, trying to hide the unusual sensation he was feeling.
Josh’s backpack did look fairly deflated, especially in comparison to Mark’s. “Touché,” Josh said, brushing off his defeat, eager to get this necklace on Mark.
His eagerness seemed to make him completely unaware of Mark’s discomfort. Hooking the chain around Mark’s neck, Josh rounded back in front of his friend and took a good look at him. “Perfect,” Josh said complimenting Mark and the necklace.
In its own way, Mark felt a strange since of comfort in wearing the necklace. He looked up at Josh with approval, not only happy that he had gotten the gift, but that Josh thought it looked good on him. There were so many things Mark wanted to say at that moment, but he couldn’t. His denial wouldn’t let him. All he could do was stare down at the silver ornament, before tucking it under his polo.
“Who knows, maybe that thing will bring you some more luck…” Josh said, sounding genuine.
“…short stuff,” he finished with a familiar sarcasm.
Mark took a breath of relief and responded with, “Hey now, you won’t be taller than me forever you know. Being a year older is the only reason you have a head up on me.”
“For your sake,” Josh chuckled, “I hope you’re right.”
In the distance, both guys could hear the familiar sound of a rickety old school bus pulling up to the gates at the end of the street. This sent a wave of panic into both of them, realizing that they might miss the bus if they didn’t hurry.
Running as fast as they could, they barreled down the street past the few houses that remained between them and the gates. Mark fell a little behind Josh. Finally, Josh brought them both to a screeching halt just past the huge black steel gate, which was hanging wide open.
Standing between the decorative brick entitling the neighborhood “Growing Oaks” and the Vanderburgh county school bus, they waited for the thin yellow doors to swing open.
“You would think after all these years, CAB would send better county busses to pick us up,” Josh commented matter-of-factly, staring into the rather beat up metal.
Unlike Josh, Mark was still trying to catch his breath from that sudden sprint. Noticing Mark had hunched over a little bit, huffing and puffing, he gripped his friend by the shoulder. “You should really run more man.”
Craning his head, greeted by Josh’s annoyingly happy face, he huffed out, “You— don’t have— a thirty plus pound backpack on.”
Looking over his shoulder, Josh looked mildly amazed. “Huh, I guess your right.”
The doors were finally opening, allowing the chatter of the bus to escape its walls. Both boys walked toward it. From either the slight lightheadedness or having found a scrap of courage, Mark had made his decision. “You know— there is something I need to show you,” he said nervously.
Putting his arm back around Mark’s shoulders, Josh chuckled, “As long as it isn’t a lung, I’ll agree to see it.”
More seriously, Josh finished, “But now, we need to get on the bus.”
Josh stepped up onto the long yellow shack on wheels, leaving Mark’s side. Mark, on the other hand, just stared up at the bus for a moment and gulped at what he had just said. He wasn’t ready. What would he say? Was Josh going to freak or be happy for him? Finally stepping onto the bus, he thought to himself, Maybe it had been the lightheadedness.
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