See You Tomorrow

by R.J. Catlin

“See you tomorrow?”

“See you tomorrow.”

Naomi nodded once, then turned on the toes of her rubber boots and marched through the deer path between the tall, damp grasses at the end of the informal cull-de-sac. She breathed deeply, trying to calm her heart and cool her flaming cheeks. When she reached the dirt road, she kept walking, passed a few houses, and squished up the muddy driveway to her home. She’d have to mow again once the grass dried. Naomi kicked the smooth basketball in her path into the garage, aiming between the side of the junky silver sedan and the wall of the garage. She leaped onto the porch, skipping the two creaky steps. Kicking her boots off, she propped them out of the way of the door next to a pile of shoes.

“Naomi, is that you? I forgot to get the mail,” her father’s voice called as soon as the front door squawked open. Naomi paused, one sock on the threshold and the shoulders of her rain slicker hanging on her elbows. The crackle of grease in a pan and the salty smell of bacon filled the air.

“Got it,” she hollered back, letting the door slam shut again. She hunched the coat back up and shoved her boots back on, grimacing when they pinched her toes, and tromped to the end of the driveway. After a fight with the rusted mailbox door, Naomi flipped through the assortment of junk and bills as she walked through the yard, creaked up the steps, and kicked her boots off.

Well, she tried anyway. When they didn’t come off with the normal shaking of her feet, she looked down from the mail in her hands. The boots were on the wrong feet, which accounted for the pinching and the stuck nature of them. Naomi set down the envelopes and yanked each boot off, significantly less concerned with where they landed than before. Gathering the mail back up, she trudged through the hallway to the dining room, dropping the envelopes on the kitchen table. She slung her coat over the chair back, wiping her misted face with her sleeve.

“How was work?” she asked her father, who whisked batter in a metal bowl. The griddle was heating on the old gas stove next to the skillet of sizzling bacon. He glanced up at Naomi, then over at the table.

“Thanks,” he said and scooped a measuring cupful of batter onto the hot metal plate.

“Where’ve you been?”

A smudge of black grease above his right brow marked where he had absentmindedly rubbed his face while at work.

“By the pond,” she said. She put her hands on her cheeks, cooling them with her icy fingers. Thankfully, her father didn’t look up from cooking. “Lucas was reading to me.”

“Aren’t you a little old for that?”

“Dyslexia doesn’t go away when you grow up. It’s kinda nice to have a break. Besides, it’s basically tradition, now.”

Naomi’s father grunted and nodded. He glanced up after flipping the pancakes. His eyebrow quirked inward a little, and then the corner of his mouth tweaked up.

“What?” she asked, her cheeks heating up again.

“Go get your brother for dinner. He’s in his room.”

On her way back through the unlit hallway, Naomi ran her finger across the top of the frame that held a three-year-old photo of her mom. She wiped the gritty dust from her finger on her pants as she tromped up the creaky stairs. A sliver of wood caught in her right sock just as she reached the top. She pounded on her brother’s door. A scuffle of papers and feet muffled behind the door before it clicked and flung open.

“What?” demanded Ben, puffing his skinny chest and sticking his chin out. Naomi straightened from removing the splinter, dropping it on the floor. She glanced over Ben’s head to see a sliver of comic book peaking from under the homework pages and laptop on his bed. She smirked.

“Suppertime,” she said. “Pancakes and bacon.”

Ben’s eyes widened with a grin. He slammed the door shut behind him, following Naomi as they both thundered downstairs.

It only took about fifteen minutes before half the stack of pancakes and all the bacon were gone.

“Thanks, Dad,” Naomi said. Her chair screeched against the floor as she pushed away from the table to clear the dishes. Ben echoed her, a last mouthful of syrupy pancake muddling his words.

“The dishwasher’s broken,” her father said as Naomi walked into the kitchen.

She turned on the hot water, and it splashed into one of the basins. The dish soap bottle made a farting noise as she squirted some into the sink as it filled.

“Ben, you can dry,” she said as he made a beeline for the hall.

“I’ve got homework.”

“Dry the dishes, Ben,” their father said, setting his empty glass of milk down. “But Dad!”

He dried the dishes, but not without plenty of faces at Naomi. She returned them, then rolled her eyes and said, “Real mature.”

The next day after school, the bus squealed to a stop at the beginning of Naomi’s street.

She got off with a wave to her bus driver and beelined to her porch. She dropped off her backpack along with the mail and switched her tennis shoes for mud boots. Ben’s shoes weren’t on the porch yet.

Naomi’s boots squelched in the mud as she marched through the deer path and squatted under the big oak tree, leaning her back there. A family of ducks bobbed for critters in the pond several yards away. She pulled her raincoat hood over her ponytail. Raindrops spattered against the pond’s surface. Geese flew in the classic formation on their way south, shouting out directions all the while. A few invisible crickets clicked to each other.

Naomi wiped her nose on her damp jacket sleeve. She checked her watch. The already flat gray sky grew a darker, flatter gray. Too dark to read by.

She stood, turning in a slow circle. Nobody was in sight. The corners of her mouth pulled down involuntarily. She ambled to the deer path, glancing over her shoulder.

“See you tomorrow?” she said to the tree.

Nobody replied.

Naomi wandered back through the tall grasses, up the street, and home. Kicking off her boots, she squeaked open the door.

“Naomi, that you?”

“Yeah, Dad,” she said as she peeled her jacket off, hanging it on the nob of the coat closet.

Someone had brought her backpack and set it on the hallway floor. She left it there.

“You’re back.” Ben sat on the top step, a notebook in his lap. He got up, gathered his things, and disappeared. The slam of his door reverberated down the walls and clattered the picture frames. The picture of her mother smiled blankly as she passed it down the unlit hall.

“I just put supper away,” her father said when she came into the kitchen. “PB n’ J?”

“Oh. Um, yes, please.” Naomi sat down at the table, the chair’s feet vibrating against the hard floor. Dirty dishes rested in the sink, waiting for her to clean them. She got up and shuffled over to the sink.

“Eat first,” her father commanded, handing her a plate with the sandwich he had made. She took it, sitting back down at the table. He sat next to her and put on his black plastic-framed readers. A pile of bills and receipts sat in front of him.

“What happened? Where were you?” her father asked when she had gotten halfway through the sandwich.

She finished chewing.

“Lucas never showed up,” she mumbled. Naomi set the sandwich down. Her father frowned.

“I’m sure he’ll be there tomorrow.”

“Yeah, but he’s never not been there without telling me.” Naomi picked up the plate, found a plastic baggy in the kitchen to put the rest of the sandwich in, and started washing the dishes.

“You were waiting outside for four hours.” “He’s always there, Dad.”

“Did you check to see if he was at home?”

She stopped, staring at the void of black that was the window behind the sink. The plate in her hand slipped back into the sudsy water.

“Gosh, I’m an idiot,” Naomi whispered, picking up the plate again, giving it a good scrub, then rinsing it. Ben appeared beside her and, taking the clean dish, wiped it dry. She frowned at him. He stuck his tongue out at her.

“Now you know where to look if Lucas doesn’t show up tomorrow,” her father said, frowning at them over his glasses. “He probably wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to get his friend sick.”

“He asked me to prom.”

“Ah,” her father said with a knowing sort of look in his eye. “I said no.”

“I see,” he said. “I suppose you have some things to think about then.”

“You don’t sound surprised,” Naomi said.

“I’m not.”

School didn’t go by fast enough the next day. Every class lasted half an hour longer than it should have, and her free period was twice as long as normal. She spent the majority of it having a staring contest with the wall while her homework sprawled in front of her. At the end of the day, her algebra teacher called her to give some feedback on a homework assignment, which she barely listened to as she watched the clock tick.

The bus left without her.

Naomi stood alone outside the school on the sidewalk. A bitter breeze rustled the last of the dying leaves that hadn’t fallen from the trees. It pulled at whisps of her hair that had escaped her ponytail and slipped down the back of her jacket. Looking at her phone, she hovered her thumb over the call icon on her father’s contact. Then she opened their text thread that had last been used a week and a half ago when he had asked her to check the fridge for what groceries they needed on his way home from work. Naomi texted him to pick her up on his way home. She sent it and wiped her nose on the back of her sleeve.

She glanced up. The sky swirled puffy white and gray clouds in its cold blueness. There was a hotness in Naomi’s eyes that she blinked away. She sat on the cracked brickwork that held the skimpy landscaping back with only mild success. Several headless dandelion plants had victoriously settled deep between the brickwork and cracks in the pavement.

Naomi pulled a schoolbook from her bag. Early American Literature stared back at her. She spent the next hour buried in its depths and was able to finish her English homework as a silver sedan grumbled and puffed and parked in front of her. She hazily looked at it. Naomi put her books in her backpack and opened the passenger door.

“Everything okay?” her father asked once her door was sufficiently slammed and they had driven down the street.

“Yeah.” Naomi absently counted the trees and houses as they passed. The clouds became thicker and cast a fine layer of shadow over everything.

“You never miss the bus.”

“A teacher called me after class to go over some homework, and she was very… long-winded.”

“I see.”

They pulled into the driveway, stopping at the end to get the mail first. Naomi began heading into the house, but her father stopped her.

“Give me your backpack,” he said, his hand outstretched. “Go check to see if Lucas is there.”

Naomi slid her backpack over to him and trudged down the street. She stood just before the deer path and took a deep breath. Walking down the path, taking her time to avoid the wild rosebush, the several thistle plants, and the divots in the ground that filled with rainwater, she shoved her hands in her pockets and swept her eyes across the scene. Ducks conversed in the pond, gray sky reflecting off the surface, a woodpecker tapping away in the tree, and no Lucas under the tree.

Naomi’s chin wobbled involuntarily. She squatted, curling her arms around herself, and put her head between her knees. When her breaths came evenly, she stood. Wiping her eyes, Naomi marched home, not bothering to miss the puddles which soaked her tennis shoes. She stomped up the porch steps, kicked off her shoes, dropped her jacket, slammed the door behind her, and pounded up the stairs. Naomi went into her bedroom and flopped on the bed, face down on the pillow.

“What happened?”

Naomi sat up, scrubbing her face. She said, “He wasn’t there,” to the wall. “Did you check his house?” asked her father. She shook her head.

“Did you call him?” he asked.

“Phone’s in my backpack,” she mumbled.

“For pity’s sake. If you had his number this whole time, why didn’t you call him or text him?” Her father thumped downstairs and back up, dropping her phone on the dingy pink quilt next to her. He crossed his arms.

She hiccupped and choked on a laugh. Her face got hot. She hiccupped again, reaching for the phone. She opened Lucas’s text thread. There were only three other texts in the thread. The first two said “hi”. They had exchanged phone numbers three years ago when she first got a phone. They had seen each other nearly every day since then, so they hadn’t really needed to text or call. The third was from Lucas and it said “how r u.” It was dated right after her mom died.

“You know what? No,” said her father. “Don’t text –call. We’ll get this over with quicker.”

Naomi quickly finished the text she had started and sent it.

“Too late,” she said.

“Naomi—”

“Dad, I hate calling.” The phone bingled with a text message. She opened it.

It was from Lucas.

Her eyes widened. She dropped the phone and brushed past her father, running downstairs and shouting, “He’s here!”

Naomi flung open the door, panting.

Her friend was there, also breathing heavily. The sun wiggled through a crack in the clouds, making the browns in Lucas’s hair as warm as a sunset.

“Hey—”

“I’ll go! To prom, I mean.” The words tumbled out of her mouth. Naomi’s cheeks reddened. It wasn’t what she’d meant to say, but it was good enough. Her father’s right hand landed on her shoulder, and with his left hand, he pulled the door wider open.

“Come in.”

Lucas looked at his shoes, his cheeks also pink. He nodded, shoving his hands into his jean pockets, and said, “Yes, sir.”

When Naomi and Lucas were sitting in the kitchen and her father had ushered Ben out of the room, Naomi stared at Lucas’s right shoulder. Lucas’s chair creaked as he shifted in it, and he crossed his forearms on the table. He was wearing a plain black T-shirt.

“It’s kinda cold out,” Naomi commented. “I guess, yeah. I ran, though. So, it’s fine.”

Naomi studied the yellow flowers on the white fabric of the valence overhanging the kitchen window. She picked at her fingernails. “You weren’t at the tree yesterday.”

“I was at the hospital with my grandma,” Lucas said. “She was having heart problems.”

“What?”

“But she’s okay now,” he explained. He rubbed the back of his neck. “They gave her medication, and we brought her home this afternoon. She was asking about you earlier, so she’s definitely feeling better.”

Naomi leaned back in her chair. “I’m sorry.”

“There’s nothing you coulda done.” Lucas shrugged.

“No,” she said, shaking her head, “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you.”

“Yeah…” Lucas rubbed one of the table scratches with his finger. He shook his head and glanced at her. “Did you mean it?”

“Mean what?” Naomi looked down at his fingers. They stopped rubbing the scratch on the table.

“You’ll go to prom with me?”

“Yeah,” Naomi said, smiling at the knot in the grain of the table. She looked at Lucas. A grin spread across his face. She giggled. “Yeah, I’ll go with you.”

Lucas stayed for dinner and entertained the family with stories of his grandma’s shenanigans in the hospital. Naomi walked him to the door. She stood in the doorway as he walked down the drive.

“See you tomorrow?” she called. Lucas smiled over his shoulder.

“See you tomorrow.”

R.J. Catlin

R.J. Catlin is a twentysomething homeschool graduate from the shores of West Michigan. She recently moved to Appalachian Ohio for a writing apprenticeship where she is growing her craft and her relationship with Jesus. When she's not writing, R.J. enjoys going on adventures with her friends, quoting movies, and reading books.

R.J. Catlin

R.J. Catlin is a twentysomething homeschool graduate from the shores of West Michigan. She recently moved to Appalachian Ohio for a writing apprenticeship where she is growing her craft and her relationship with Jesus. When she's not writing, R.J. enjoys going on adventures with her friends, quoting movies, and reading books.

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