The Water Bottle
Justin Lo, 7341
For as long as I can remember, Kaydi has been there like a little sister: energetic, annoying, and, most of all, always there. She’s that kind of person who is always clinging to you as if her life depended on it – and to be honest, it probably does. Even though it’s endless fun to humor her and tease her, I can’t help but see her the same way I did when we first met some brisk autumn day of second grade.
It would be foolish, of course, to even consider for a moment that she could be the same little girl as back then; after all, as I learned in fifth grade when I went to her birthday party for the first time, Kaydi’s actually older than me. But you wouldn’t believe it if you saw her – she’s rather short, her shoulders slanting naturally so that they lack that adult-like confidence, and she wears her hair in two little ponytails that are almost embarrassingly childish. But I suppose her stubborn refusal to change the way people see her is her way of defying authority, so I don’t talk to her about it anymore.
I think that the one defining characteristic about Kaydi is that each day, no matter what happens, she always needs at least one favor from me. It could be lending her some gloves, letting her copy some of my homework, helping her find some keys that she dropped, anything of that sort.
And so it came as no surprise today in the cafeteria when she approached me, decked out in winter clothes and carrying her trademark Nalgene bottle, clasping her hands together and asking, “Ah, Miles, I forgot my lunch at home … could I have a part of yours, pretty please?”
She was so cute – well, she always is – and the way her eyes glittered in the the dim fluorescent lights was hypnotizing. I handed her a piece of my sandwich as she lifted her legs over the bench to sit down beside me. She set her water bottle, which was always peculiarly full as if she never drank from it, down onto the tabletop, using her free hand to graciously receive my gift. It amused me to no end that she could remember to bring the water bottle she never used, yet simultaneously forget the lunch that she always ate.
“Ahrm, thrnks,” she managed while gobbling down my sandwich. After gulping down the last bit in a fit of uncivilized delight, she pulled out a wide, somewhat battered green binder.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s for my AP Biology project. I need to take photos of organisms from different classes and kingdoms.” She picked up the binder, opening it to a random page and shoving the whole splayed thing into my arms, which were still occupied with holding my silverware.
I looked at the photographs. They had good intent, but they were decidedly unfocused and certainly lacked compositional value.
“They look nice,” I lied, nudging the binder back towards her with my wrists, hoping she’d realize that I had no free hands with which to remove it from its perch that blocked the route between the food and my mouth.
Kaydi scowled, punching me on the shoulder. “No, they don’t, you liar! They’re quite bad.”
I could tell from her subsequent change of facial expression exactly what would come next.
“Do you think you could show me how to do it right?” Kaydi’s eyes had a bit of a gleam to them; there was no shame in sight – no consideration for me whatsoever – yet also no hint of selfishness either in her voice.
“Yeah, yeah, after school today,” I conceded.
“Yay!” she cheered, hugging me as she always did.
After school was out, we walked together on the sidewalk, side by side, and it could have been any other day for the past nine years. The sun shone brightly onto her slightly frizzly hair, but it was hardly strong enough at this time of year to help the apparent temperature much.
“It’s kind of cold, isn’t it?” she commented, twirling her outrageously long scarf around with her fingers.
“Yeah, it is,” I agreed.
“Let’s take a right here, okay?” she suggested. “This is where I found the good things to take pictures of.”
“Alright,” I said, turning onto a sideroad with her. She began skipping along, whistling “Row Row Row Your Boat” a bit off-key. “Hey, join in!”
I whistled along with her, but it sounded perfectly awful because she was neither steady nor in tune. Fortunately for her, none of that mattered at all to her ears; she was simply happy and happy being simple. And there was definitely some wisdom in her philosophy.
All of a sudden, she vanished from sight. I looked over my shoulder and up ahead, then into the road, but everything was as clear as the cloudless sky. By process of elimination, I figured she had darted into the forest, probably on some whim – something silly caught her eye and whisked her, in her naïve entirety, somewhere far, far away.
“Kaydi, wait up!” I shouted in no particular direction.
“Shush a moment!” came the reply. “There’s something here that I don’t want moving.” I heard a few leaves rustle and then a loud thud.
“Owww,” she blurted out, sounding somewhat like a hungry stomach.
I ran into the forest and found her sprawled on the moist leaves that had become slippery as the ice half-melted for the afternoon.
“You should be more careful,” I said, lending her a hand and lifting her back up.
“Ah, ow,” she said, rubbing her calves.
“Are you hurt anywhere?”
“I dunno,” she replied, attempting to walk forward but quickly losing her balance as her right leg gave. I glided over to her side to catch her.
“Ah, we should forget this project for now,” I advised. “Why don’t I help you home and we can finish this later?”
She protested, “No! I have to finish it now. It’s due tomorrow. By the time I fix my leg, it’ll be dark already and it’s no good to take pictures in the dark.”
“We could just use a lot of flash,” I said.
“No, no!” she said, pouting – I swear she was on the brink of throwing a juvenile tempertantrum. “It’s no good to do that.”
“Fine, then what do you want to do?” I asked, more crossly than I intended.
“I’ll do the pictures now.”
But in the end, her good intentions were not enough to heal her back to her usual mobility, and I ended up taking all the pictures, bringing each one to her for approval. At long last, I finished the task and walked her home, her body draped around mine the whole walk back.
“Oh, you ended up doing all the work,” she said, her left-legged hopping adding peculiar accents to her speech.
“Just take care of yourself better,” I said apathetically. I had said this so many times now that it no longer carried any worries or emotions; it was just a reflex that I knew would be ultimately ignored. “Here we are – your house. You can get to your front door by yourself?”
She nodded and I turned to return to my own home.
“Wait,” she said.
“Yeah?” I replied, turning around.
“Wait, I need to tell you something.”
“I’m waiting!” I cried exasperated.
“Good, wait some more,” she said, sitting down on her lawn.
“The grass is all wet, you know,” I remarked.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “These are just regular pants anyway. No, listen. Miles … I love you.”
“Oh, I love you, too,” I replied. We’d said these words to each other since elementary school whenever the situation caused us to feel any appreciation for each others’ company.
“Not like that. Not the way little Kaydi used to love you. I mean the way Kaydi the sixteen-year-old loves you.”
“But -,” I began, but she cut me off.
“No, don’t say anything yet,” she said. It was the first time I had heard her being so assertive and dominant in a conversation, throwing me into a speechless stupor as she continued onwards. “I know that you don’t see me as anything more than a friend.
“And we’ve been friends long enough that I know what kind of girl you’re looking for. You’ve told me enough times that it hurts a little, okay? You don’t need to tell me again. I know that you want to find a girl who can do everything on her own and take care of you instead of the other way around. I know that.”
I didn’t know how to reply, so long after she had said her last words and shut her lips together, I could only stand there, the brilliant orange-red sun wavering and then fading; and soon, Kaydi was gone and I was still standing there. She hadn’t even said goodbye.
Abruptly, it ceased to be “the way it has always been.”
The new morning brought windy snows, reminding me of an odd day many winters ago that had begun in much the same way – I had been walking to school alone, lunch box in hand, wearing sneakers that were wholly inappropriate for the levels of snow that had already built up on the unshoveled sidewalks. On that day, I had succumbed to an odd case of nausea at school that no one knew how to handle. It was rather embarrassing, waddling around like a drunkard until the school nurses got fed up and forced me to lie down on those brown beds that were leaking polyester fuzz at the seams.
I remembered my classmates surrounding me as if I were a circus attraction, some of them laughing, some of them asking me if I was alright. I could barely respond at all, though; I was so sick!
Fortunately, I thought with a smile, those hours of misery were ended with such a simple solution – a couple sips of juice, of all remedies. I closed my eyes to imagine the taste of the sugary water that on that day tasted more like the most golden of maple syrups. But the only thing I could taste was the blisteringly cold snow on my lips and tongue that stung more than it soothed.
The cold, unfeeling snow seemed to rub off on Kaydi, who avoided me completely, only leaving a brief, unemotional post-it note on my desk to thank me for my help on her project. What did I care about that now?! The project – any schoolwork for that matter – seemed so far away and inconsequential now. Had I lost this little sister who had always been there to bother me every day, walk with me every day?
The change to the status quo was so startling that in spite of myself, I was distracted the entire day. I had no intention of dating this girl, yet I could not stand not having her presence in my face all day long. But even when we were just a desk aisle apart, we could not even make eye contact.
After school, I approached her as she stood alone in front of a brick wall. I could tell from the mud on her pants that she had not bothered to grab new clothes this morning.
“Kaydi, we need to talk.”
“I don’t think so. Here, just take this. It’s probably the first favor I’ve ever done
She handed me a slip of paper that simply contained a name, laughing to herself.
“Who’s this?” I asked.
“Your dream girl,” she said. “She’s single, too, so confess to her already.”
With that, Kaydi started onto the sidewalk, still limping slightly. I decided not to push my luck with talking to her for the rest of the day. Instead, I just leaned against the brick school wall, looking over the paper: “Mariel Undine,” it read in a messy, androgynous scrawl.
Despite my wishes to do otherwise, I ended up spending most of the afternoon asking my friends if they were familiar with this Mariel character, and most of them were shocked that I had never heard of her. True, Mariel was a grade above mine, but only because she had skipped seventh grade way back when. The more I listened to their descriptions, the more I found myself drawn to her, and by the time I climbed into bed and pulled up my sheets, I made a resolve to acquaint myself with her personally the following day, somehow, to decide if my friends were all just pulling my leg.
The next day, it seemed that the snows had stopped, but en route to class, the snow suddenly began to fall again, much more quickly and in denser flakes than on the previous day. Upon arriving at school, an announcement came onto the loudspeaker declaring that we would only have a half day of classes due to the unusually inclement weather. Many students began cheering; I simply sat at my desk, trying to figure out how to find Mariel with only an old yearbook photo to go on.
I grew more and more lost in thought, ignoring the teacher completely as he droned on and on, trying to pretend that it was just a normal school day. The world seemed to fade out slowly, replaced with a monochrome static. The next thing I knew, I was on the ground, my head spinning. Was this going to be just like the last time? I clutched my head, curling into a fetal position.
“What’s going on?” asked the panicked teacher to some other student, but I couldn’t make out a reply.
“What should we do?!” said a girl whose voice I couldn’t recognize.
“Maybe he needs to see the nurse,” replied a boy whose voice I also couldn’t recognize.
“Ah, you idiot, Miles,” said a different girl whose voice I could recognize all too well.
I faintly made out a form kneeling down in front of me.
“Open your mouth, like this: aaaahhh,” she said. I did as instructed, too dazed to refuse. “Okay, now hold still.”
I felt my lips press against plastic ridges, and then I tasted a sweet nectar that trickled, flowed, gushed down my tongue into my throat; I couldn’t gulp it all quickly enough, and I began to sputter everywhere.
“Ack, what the heck are you doing?!” I shouted.
“Hmm, I have no idea, but you seem to be cured, huh,” she replied, holding that water bottle as she always had.
I just stood there, fully conscious and fully overwhelmed. I felt myself trembling, and the next thing I knew, I was burying my face in her shoulder to try to head the tears from the public (in vain, of course). It is hard to describe exactly what happened at that moment, or what I was feeling. All I knew was that something that had been knocked out of place had fallen back in; something that had gone astray suddenly arched back on course.
“I … love you too,” I said softly so that only she could hear it.
That day, after classes ended at noon, we walked back home on that same sidewalk like we always did, my lunchbox in my hand and her water bottle in hers. But this time, with our free hands, we held onto each other tightly, and I’m afraid to report that our “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” duet was canceled that day because our mouths were too busy occupying themselves with a different sort of duet, if you catch my drift. I didn’t have a care in the world – I never did meet Mariel in the end, but after all, she wasn’t the one who knew me well enough to write that two-word note for me. Only one girl could change me so much in just two days, two snowy days when things briefly spun out of control and then settled back again, upside-down.
Today, whenever people ask me how I came to fall in love with my wife, I simply reply that she happened to be carrying a particularly attractive water bottle at the time. And to anyone else, of course, this would leave them utterly confused, but I hope that at least you now understand what I mean.
~ Fin ~