Twenty Boy Summer

By: Sarah Ockler

For Alex, my best monster and number-one favorite person in the whole wide world.


Frankie Perino and I were lucky that day. Lucky to be alive — that’s what everyone said. I got a fractured wrist and a banged-up knee, and my best friend Frankie got a fat little scar above her left eye, breaking her eyebrow into two reflective halves. Up one side, down the other. Happy, sad. Shock, awe. Before, after.

Before, all of us were lucky.

After, only me and Frankie.

That’s what everyone said.


It was just over a year ago.

Twelve months, nine days, and six hours ago, actually.

But thirteen months ago, everything was… perfect.

I closed my eyes, leaned over my candles, and prayed to the cake fairy or the God of Birthdays or whoever was in charge that Matt Perino — Frankie’s brother and my best-friend-that’s-a-boy — would finally kiss me. It was the same secret wish I’d made every year since Frankie and I were ten and Matt was twelve and I accidentally fell in love with him.

Frankie, Matt, and their parents — Uncle Red and Aunt Jayne, even though we’re not related — celebrated my fifteenth birthday in our backyard with Mom and Dad, just like always. When all the singing and clapping and candle blowing stopped, I opened my eyes. Matt was right next to me, beside me, sharing the same air. Mischievous. The back of my neck went hot and prickly when I smelled his apple shampoo — the kind from the green bottle he stole from Frankie’s bathroom because he liked how it made his hair look — and for one charged-up second I thought my birthday wish might finally come true, right there in front of everyone. I didn’t even have time to think about how embarrassing that might be when Matt’s hand, full of birthday cake, arched from behind his back on a not-so-slow-motion trajectory right into my face.

While cake in the face was clearly progress from the previous year’s Super Bowl coach–style shook-up soda over the head, something in the wish translation was still getting lost as it blew across my candles into the sky. I made a mental note to clarify my demands next year in bullet points with irrefutable examples from Hollywood classics and screamed, shoving both hands into the mangled confection on the picnic table.

I scooped out two giant corners overloaded with frosting flowers. Then, I charged.

I lunged.

I ran.

I chased Matt around the yard in laps until he dropped to the ground and wrestled the extra pieces from me, rubbing them into my face like a mud mask. We went at it for ten minutes, laughing and rolling around in the grass, Frankie and our parents cheering and howling and throwing more cake into the ring, candles and all. When we finally came up for air, there wasn’t much cake left, and the two of us were coated head to toe in blue rainbow-chip frosting.

We stood up slowly, laughing with our mouths wide open as we halfheartedly called a truce. Dad snapped a picture — Matt’s arm around my shoulders, bits of cake and colored chips and grass clinging to our clothes and hair, everything warm and pink in the glow of the setting sun, the whole summer stretched out before us. It didn’t even matter that Matt was going to college in the fall. He’d be at Cornell studying American literature, just over an hour away, and he’d already started talking about my and Frankie’s weekend visits.

When the novelty of the birthday cake wrestling match finally faded, Matt and I went inside to clean up. Beyond the sliding deck door, shielded in the cool dark of the house from everyone out back, we stood in front of the kitchen sink not saying anything. I stared at him in a sideways kind of way that I hoped didn’t expose the secret thoughts in my head — thoughts that, despite my best efforts to contain them, went further than I’d ever let them go before.

His messy black hair and bright blue eyes cast a spell on me, muffling the chatter outside as if we’d been dunked under water. I held out a sticky hand and threatened him with another gob of frosting in an attempt to break the silence, afraid he’d hear my heart pounding under my T-shirt. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump-thump-thump.

Matt scooped some frosting from my outstretched hand and moved to close the space that separated us, changing absolutely everything that ever was or wasn’t between us with a single raised eyebrow.

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