The Shape of Us: 07 Golden Sun

The Japanese maples her mother planted years ago shaded the deck so much Angela had to move to the edge of the pool. She’d been cautioned about spending too much time in the sun, but at thirteen, her skin was taking out its revenge on a childhood of sweets and pizza. Her best friend Kylie said that tanning helped with acne and, anyway, the sun was natural, so it had to be good for her. She conceded to the SPF 30 sunscreen her mother insisted she wear, though she rarely reapplied it over the course of the day. She flipped over, wanting to take a short nap before lunch, when she heard the dogs barking.

Her cousin wouldn’t stop talking about the neighbor’s dog and by the time he was packing to go home she was mercilessly teasing him about falling in love with it. She berated him to the point of tears that last day and now, looking back, felt pretty bad about it. For the last few months, and Kylie being her friend was probably the reason for this, Angela had turned into a “petty bitch.” At least that’s what her old friends called her. She turned her head to listen for more barking, feeling the sun sting her cheeks. She thought leaving her childhood friends behind was part of growing up. She didn’t understand fully why she missed them.

The dog barked again. Angela’s curiosity exceeded her vanity and she grabbed her towel. Modesty told her to wrap herself up in the warm terrycloth, but something Kylie said last time she visited chimed in. “Your neighbor is hot. Do you ever talk to him?” Angela hadn’t looked up from her phone and didn’t know which of her two neighbors she was talking about. “No,” she’d answered. “They’re never even there.” She’d kept quiet about her own suspicions about her neighbors’ relationship and felt a sense of superiority knowing something Kylie didn’t, even if it was just speculation. Either way, she was conscious about her own body and let the towel fall to the concrete. She reached the hedgerow and stood on tip-toe.

Taylor had talked about a big, silver dog with soft hair. Without wanting to show her interest, she could only picture a Husky or some kind of winter dog that would be pretty uncomfortable in a mid-Atlantic summer. What she didn’t expect was the sleek brown dog racing along the hedgerow. It zigged and zagged, startling robins searching for worms in the ground. A couple of times it disappeared around the side of the large house, but she could hear it barking far off, like the sound of fun happening away from her on purpose. She watched it zoom around the weird dirt pits that dotted the yard. The dog jumped into one, rolling around, its legs up in the air wiggling like a dead bug. Angela fought against her teenage confusion and disgust but couldn’t help smiling at the sheer joy of it all.

The Doberman spotted her and bolted for the hedge. She took a step back ready to flee if he leapt the five feet to clear the shrub. He looked lean and powerful enough to do it, but as he approached, he sloppily came to a halt and sat down, his tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth. He panted and tilted his head to the side. She could almost hear him asking “Who are you?”

She raised her hand and waved. “Hi dog. I’m Angela.”

The dog gave a soft bark as if to say, “pleased to meet you.”

The stared at each other for a long time, the dog panting and the girl shivering, her body slowly being consumed by goose bumps. She thought longingly of the towel a few feet away. 

“I thought you were a pretty silver dog,” she said. “Is there another dog here?”

The Doberman closed its mouth and turned its head back to the house. She followed his gaze and saw a tall man walking down the steps. He was carrying a suitcase awkwardly. Angela watched him put it next to a sloppy pile of luggage that was gathered in the middle of the driveway. She’d seen this man before, but not dressed like this. His long hair was tied back in a ponytail and his normal suit had been exchanged for a t-shirt and jeans. The t-shirt was a weird neon pink. Angela could just make out a palm tree on the front. The Doberman barked loudly and then turned back to her.

The man looked their way and waved. Angela waved back and asked, forgetting she was talking to a dog, “where’s the other one? The young one?” She stared at the dog and felt the goose bumps prickle at her spine. She’d encountered dogs before and understood how perceptive they could seem, but she preferred the company of cats. Their aloofness was an attitude she aspired to and their size made them easy to cuddle. The Doberman’s gaze held something else, an understanding that was at the same time weirdly electric and also, to her growing annoyance, dismissive. She saw a child reflected in those golden eyes and nothing more. Angela chuffed, before lowering herself down to a flat-footed stance. All she could see was the top of the hedge and the upper floors of the house beyond. 

There was a soft bark and a rustle. She heard the tall man shout “you helping me or not?”

She hugged herself, feeling the chill of this shady spot in her back yard. She went back for her beach towel and quickly folded herself into it. Angela felt that some understanding had been conveyed, though, she would have been less confused had her chance encounter not been with a dog. She peeked over the hedge one last time. The Doberman and the tall man were gone. She watched for a few minutes. He must have brought the dog into the house, she thought. Keep him out of the way. Dogs and children, her mother had once said, were always in the way. That was why they didn’t have a dog. That was why Angela preferred cats.

As she was about to leave another figure appeared on the porch. It was the younger man, wearing only shorts and sneakers, carrying a much larger suitcase, more like a chest you see in those old movies. He easily brought it to the rest of the luggage, taking a moment to straighten up the pile that was already there. She wished he’d been the one she talked to. He seemed closer to her in age, and so cool. She remembered a motorcycle at one point and thought that he wore an earring. She kept watching him, wishing him to look her way, thinking how cool it would be to have him walk over and say hello. Maybe she could get him something to drink. The other man must certainly be working him too hard. She wondered if he would sit with her by the pool. He must be hot. 

Angela fantasized about telling Kylie how she’d spent the afternoon with her hot neighbor. He walked back to the house. He stopped, his foot on the first step. He turned toward Angela and waved. Instead of waving back she ducked down behind the hedge row trembling. That wasn’t a “oh hi there” wave, she thought. That was a “see you later” wave. There was recognition in that wave, and she tried to remember if she’d ever seen the young man up close. Had she seen his eyes? What color had they been?

Angela dropped her towel and dove into the sun-warmed water of the pool. She stayed under until the goosebumps disappeared and her sunscreen melted away.

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