The sun had gone down hours before Melodee and Amir walked out to her backyard. They were headed to her tree house like they did on most nights after school.
“Ladies first,” he said with a smile as he took her hand to help her step on the first wooden board nailed to the tree trunk.
She smiled back, allowing him to hold her hand for a second before slipping her hand free once she was securely on the second board.
The moment she reached the top, she flicked on her flashlight, shining the light through the tree house’s entrance to see where she was stepping.
“You got the weed, right?” she asked as she ducked into the cramped house. Her father, Melvin, received three splinters and a sprained thumb when he built the tree house with his bare hands 10-years ago. She begged him to construct the little wooden house after she watched the children in several episodes of Barney climb in and out of their tree house. At fifteen and just 5’3, she could still fit comfortably through the door and below the ceiling.
“Yup,” Amir answered. He lowered his head and hunched his shoulders on his six-foot frame to walk through the door. By his seventeenth birthday, he’d shoot up another three inches.
The wood planks below them squeaked with their movements, the house shaking a little when Amir dropped his backpack on the floor before leaning the neck of his acoustic guitar against one of the four walls of the tree house. Amir kneeled in front of his backpack to remove the Al Green vinyl album he kept in his bag. He carried the album around not so much for entertainment but to use as a prop for nights like these.
Swatting away spider webs, he walked toward Melodee, clearing his path to join her on the floor.
The fall evening was dark, but it wasn’t late enough for the crickets to chirp. A faint glow from the moon above lit up the night’s sky which they could see from the window of the tree house.
Amir leaned back against the same boarded wall as Melodee. He pulled up the bottom of his hoodie to take it off and the hem of his high school-branded basketball shirt slightly lifted with it. At fifteen, he’d grown into his looks that summer before their sophomore year. He spent a lot of his time with his father, Samir, when school was out. When Samir wasn’t cooped up in his Philly townhouse spinning vinyl’s, he practically lived at the gym. Because of this, Amir took up lifting weights. He didn’t care for it, but he did his best to keep up with his dad while running on the treadmill and lifting heavy dumbbells because he realized that was the only time Samir spoke to him.
Melodee snuck a peek at the toned lines on his defined abs when his shirt hiked up.
She arched a brow acknowledging this was something new. If his body had always been like that, she would have noticed before tonight.
When she thought he’d caught her looking, she forced herself to look away.
“You’re taking forever to roll, A.J. We don’t have all night. I have to study.”
“I have to study,” he mocked. “Such a bookworm. Patience, Mel.”
Reclining farther back, he pushed his hand into his jeans pocket and pulled out a tiny dime bag of Kush he stole from his father’s house along with a cigar.
On the cover of the Al Green vinyl, he also took from his father’s house, he broke up the weed, unrolled the paper from the cigar, and sprinkled the green onto the paper. He rolled, licked, and sealed it before holding it up in her view and asked, “You ready?”
“Is water wet?” She grinned.
Half-an-hour later, the two were still sitting arm-to-arm, passing the joint back and forth between them. They blew the smoke out of their mouths and noses watching as the smolder swirled around them in the tree house before wafting out the entrance and windows.
They were quiet, listening to the leaves scrape against the roof overhead.
After their high set in, Amir reached for his backpack and pulled out two bags of Doritos and a bottle of orange Fanta soda. He handed her, her bag of Doritos and they ate their chips like it was their last meal on earth. Every time they bit down on a chip and it crunched loudly, they’d laugh.
“You chew like a damn cow,” she teased.
He threw a chip in his mouth, leaned in closer to her and bit down on the chip hard so the sound of it crunching could echo in her ear. She shoved him away playfully, and he poked her on her side.
The two had been friends for going on two years, befriending each other in their homeroom class on the first day of high school as freshmen. From the first day they met, Melodee felt comfortable with Amir. Around him, she never had to worry about her hair looking right or saying the right things. To her, that comfort was priceless. Though they had a lot in common, smoking weed was a thing they shared and that brought them even closer during those high school years.
“You wrote any new songs, yet,” she asked as she craned her neck up to empty the crumbs of the Doritos left in the bag into her mouth before gesturing for his orange soda.
“Yup,” he confirmed, opening his mouth wide and tilting the bottle to let the soda fall to the back of his tongue.
“No backwash,” she teased.
“Never that,” he replied, passing the bottle to her. “I wrote a song about you.”
Melodee turned her head to him and swallowed the last of her chips. “Why would you do that?”
“You inspire me. You’re my muse.”
“Whatever that is,” she replied. “Do I get paid for that… being your muse?”
He laughed. “I can pay you when I make it big.”
She pressed her lips together and tilted her head. “I won’t want your money then, A.J. I’ll have my own, duh.”
They were quiet again as he chewed his lip, debating in his mind about if he should say what he was about to say next.
“Can I ask you something?”
The tone of his voice dropped to a whisper low. It made her teenage body react in a way she often ignored whenever she was around him. “Um… okay. What’s up?”
“What do you think about us taking this,” he said, gesturing to himself then back to her, “to another level.”
“What do you mean?”
He sighed. “Come on, you know what I mean.”
She looked at him shaking her head. “And why would we do that? Things are cool between us as is. Why change it?”
“Because I’m feeling you, Mel… a lot. And not as a friend.”
Melodee shifted in her seat and it made the tree house sway on the branches a little. She rubbed the back of her neck when she turned to him. He stared at her as if trying to hypnotize her, making it difficult for her to look away. Many thoughts surfaced in Melodee’s mind but she couldn’t focus long enough to express any of them.
He licked his lips and scooted closer to her, the wood plank below them squeaking. His hand was on the curve of her chin when he leaned in prepared to kiss her.
“Ain’t this a… Melodee Sanaa Delon!” they heard her mother, Deedra, yell from below the tree house, interrupting Amir’s flow. “Little girl… I know your narrow ass ain’t up there smoking, again.”
Melodee cupped her hand over her mouth and she and Amir tried to suppress their laugh.
“Amir, I know you’re up there, too. Damn weed heads. Anita,” she turned to yell toward the open door leading to the kitchen, “they’re out here smoking, again.”
“What? You lying!” Anita said from inside Deedra’s kitchen.
“Mmm-hmm. You got your mama out here looking for your ass,” Deedra added. “And y’all up there getting high. I swear to God, if y’all don’t get y’all asses down here, when I come up there it ain’t gon’ be a pretty scene.”
They scrambled. Amir picked up the now tiny piece that remained of their joint and flicked it out the window behind the tree house.
“Got my damn backyard smelling like a Bob Marley concert. Y’all ain’t moving fast enough. Get y’all asses down here quick.”
“Come on,” Melodee said through giggles as she moved toward the exit.
“Mel,” Amir said. He grabbed his backpack and guitar and walked up to her. “I’m being real about what I said.”
She glanced up into his eyes. When the moment was way too serious for her she lightened the mood by cracking a smile.
“A.J., that weed got you trippin’ again, huh?” she teased. Melodee playfully punched him on his shoulder, “stop playing and let’s go before this woman climb up here, for real.”
A ghost of a frown tried to pull his lips down but Amir forced himself to smile back instead as he followed her out.
END OF CHAPTER PREVIEW