“My turn,” Marla says.
“Okay,” Annie says as she licks a giant spiral lollipop the size of her head. She stops licking for a moment and coughs.
“Come on Annie. You had your turn,” Marla says.
Annie takes one last long, leisurely lick and hands it over. “Here you go.” Marla takes it and immediately starts running her tongue around the circumference. After a few trips around, her tongue follows the spiral all the way to the center.
She hands the lollipop back to Annie as they turn the final corner on their walk home from school. Marla runs her hand through the ivy overgrowing the fence along the sidewalk.
“Mr. Johansson was so funny today,” Annie says between licks. “I love how he says everything twice.”
“Now listen up class… listen up class,” Marla imitates giggling. “This’ll be on the quiz… on the quiz.”
“He’s always looking at the board and then turns around to look at us and says it again like we didn’t hear him,” Annie says.
“The commutative property says that… says that six times three equals three times six… three times six,” Marla spurts out, laughing now.
Laughing too, Annie slurps at some sugary juice running down the stick onto her hand and starts to choke. She starts coughing, sputtering, and laughing at the same time.
Marla whacks her on the back.
“Owww!” Annie says.
The two girls stop at a gate. Annie flips the latch open without looking away from the lollipop, holds the gate open for Marla, and pushes it shut behind them as they head up the front walk. The sounds of someone playing piano scales, gradually faster and faster, can be heard through the open front window.
“Shhhh,” Annie says. “Daddy’s practicing.”
Annie quietly opens the front door and they go inside. When she closes the door, the hinges creak. They freeze and hold their breath. The piano scales keep going up and down. They exhale slowly as Annie finishes closing the door.
As they cross the foyer to the stairs, Marla looks into the parlor and sees Annie’s dad intensely hunched over the keyboard, head down, and eyes closed. He reminds her of Linus from Peanuts.
The girls kick back on Annie’s bed. Marla’s on her stomach alternately kicking her butt with her heels. Annie’s propped up against a stack of stuffed animals with her feet resting on Marla’s back. They are passing the lollipop back and forth, one lick apiece each time.
“God your feet stink!” Marla says.
“I know,” Annie giggles and then coughs. “Marla?”
“What?” Marla asks.
“You’re not mad at me, are you?” Annie asks.
“What do you mean?” Marla asks.
“About me flirting with Marc… You still like him?” Annie asks.
Marla is quiet. She stops kicking her butt. Actual music starts drifting up through the floor and they listen.
“Liszt. My dad’s favorite.” Annie says. “Whenever he plays this, I always feel… I don’t know…”
“It’s okay,” Marla interrupts as her feet start kicking again. “I think Marc really likes you a lot.”
“But you went out for a long time,” Annie says starting to lick the lollipop again.
“I was thinking about maybe going with Tom anyway. You can go with Marc if you do one thing,” Marla says.
“What’s that?” Annie asks.
“If you let me have that,” Marla says and starts tickling Annie until she frees the lollipop from her grasp. Annie chases after it for one last quick lick.
Marla gets off the bed with her prize. “I have to go pee,” she says.
Out in the hall, Marla stops and looks into the master bedroom. Annie’s mom is standing by the window, motionless, staring outside.
Marla leaves Annie’s house and Annie remains standing on the front threshold.
“Bye,” Annie says.
“Bye,” Marla says walking to the gate.
Marla opens the gate. “Bye.”
“Bye,” Annie says. “Bye,” she says again, starting to giggle as Marla starts down the sidewalk.
“Bye,” Marla giggles back.
At the house next door, Marla turns up the front walk. “Bye,” she says. Annie laughs.
Marla opens her front door and says, “Bye.”
Annie says “Bye” laughing so hard now that she’s crying. They both close their doors. A few moments later, they both open their doors at the same instant and poke their heads out.
“Bye,” Annie says.
“Goodbye,” Marla laughs.
Marla is in bed. A bit of light and an icy breeze flows in through her slightly open bedroom window. She shivers and rolls from side to side. Her blanket is in a ball around her feet.
There is a faint “pop” sound and she opens her eyes. She listens. Her eyes start to close and then it happens again. “Pop … pop.” She opens her eyes again and listens.
Marla wakes up. It’s morning and the blanket is now covering her again up to her shoulders. There are sounds, but not the usual morning sounds of birds chirping. She looks up and her mom is sitting at the foot of her bed. She looks distraught.
“What’s wrong mom?”
Her mom doesn’t answer. She just slides across the bed toward Marla and takes her in her arms.
There is a sound of car doors outside and Marla ducks out of her mom’s arms and goes to the window.
Marla looks outside. Annie’s house is surrounded by bright yellow tape and there are police cars and police officers everywhere. Marla sees Annie’s mom sitting in one of the police cars. Then she notices Annie sitting in another. Marla runs from the room, evading her mom as she tries to stop her.
Marla runs down the stairs and out the front door. She reaches the sidewalk and stops. She watches the police car with Annie drive away.
Marla walks down the sidewalk alone carrying a binder and a math book. She turns the corner and runs her hand through the ivy covering the neighbor’s fence. She stops to watch four men with a dolly as they wrestle a piano down the front steps of Annie’s house.
Marla coughs and sniffs twice. “I shouldn’t have licked your lollipop Annie. I think I got your cold.”