It was sunny that day. Thirteen years old Maria was sitting on the pavement in an unfamiliar neighborhood, unsuccessfully trying to fix her cousin’s bike, with her bare hands that were now dirty due to lube from the bicycle chain. She was frowning and little sounds of annoyance were escaping her mouth, as her long and brown hair kept getting in her way. She wished she could cut them or at least tie them. Her last tie broke this morning, leaving the girl with no option but to keep them down. The sun was at its highest peak, making her sweat and feel thirsty.
Suddenly, she found herself hidden in a shadow, cast by a person who was clearly standing in front of her. She looked up and her eyes immediately met with green ones.
“Do you need any help with your bike?” the girl asked and Maria automatically broke the eye contact, saying a quick “no, thanks”.
“Are you sure? I’ve been observing you for a while now and I don’t think you can cut it,” the girl continued.
“I’m… doing… just…” Maria huffed as she struggled with the chain “fine! ow!”, she hissed.
Maria could feel something warm drip onto her knee to drip off her leg. She slowly looked down to see a cut on her forearm and blood leaking from it, creating a small puddle on the pavement.
“You’re bleeding,” the girl said in a matter-of-fact way and Maria could feel her cold hand firmly pressing the wound.
“Come with me.” Maria feeling drowsy and woozy from the sight of blood, got up with the girl’s help and let her show the way.
As soon as they stepped into a cold house, she could hear the girl calling for her mom while sitting maria on the wooden stairs, her hand never leaving the injury.
“Now, now. What do we have here, huh?” A woman crouched in front of Maria and took her forearm into her own hands. “Natasha, you’ve done so well, baby. Go wash your hands.”
Maria slowly looked up and saw a brunette, examining her cut but not touching it. Maria didn’t cry. She wasn’t supposed to. Or at least, that’s what her brain made her believe. She allowed the woman to inspect her injury, her presence, and gentleness calming Maria down.
“I’m gonna be right back, don’t move your hand, sweetheart,” she said and left maria for what felt like an eternity.
She could feel someone’s eyes on her and when she looked to her right, she could spot the girl, Natasha, observing her from the kitchen sink. Now, when Maria could finally see her clearly, she realized, the girl had blue hair with visible red roots.
“I like your hair,” Maria said quietly but loud enough for Natasha to hear it.
“Thanks,” the girl smiled timidly at her, and flicking water from her hands, she came closer to Maria, “how are you feeling?”
“It hurts, but I think I’m okay,” she answered, smiling softly.
„Now, let’s get it fixed,” the woman, possibly Natasha's mom, came back with something that looked like a first aid kit.
“What’s your name, honey?” she asked and Maria moved her eyes away from Natasha, catching an unguessed look on the girl’s face, before turning her attention to the woman.
“Nice to meet you, Maria. I’m Melinda, Nat’s mom. I’m gonna disinfect your cut right now, so it might hurt a little.”
Maria nodded at her and hissed when she felt a buzzing feeling on her forearm. It hurt really bad but she didn’t want any sob to escape from her lips.
“Pain only makes us stronger,” she heard Melinda say as she strapped her forearm.
“All done,” she said and smiled at Maria who let a sigh of relief.
“Do you need me to call your parents to pick you up?” The woman asked, already making her way to the phone attached to the hallway's wall.
Maria froze for a second.
“Please, don’t. Don’t call my dad.”
She could feel Melinda and Natasha observe her quietly. She shouldn’t have said that. However, she didn’t want her father to find out about this situation either. She shouldn’t have bothered anyone. She…
“Okay. Do you want some juice? Nat, sweetheart, could you grab some juice?”
Natasha quietly left the hallway, still observing Maria over her shoulder. Melinda helped Maria get up from the stairs and a few minutes later, all three of them were sitting by the table, drinking their own drinks.
“I’ve never seen you here before,” Natasha said suddenly.
“I’m here for the summer, dad and I are visiting his brother,” she answered and let the silence once again consume them. “He lives twenty minutes by bike from here,” she added.
„Makes sense,” Natasha nodded, playing with her glass.
The silence was the fourth guest among them.
„Nat, why don’t you show your room to Maria?” Melinda asked and smiled at them. “Natasha has a lot of posters of Michael Jackson on her walls, she’s crazy about him,” she laughed
“Mom, stop” Natasha sighed and got up from her chair. “Come if you want to, Maria.”
Natasha was peculiar but Maria tried not to really think about it and give Natasha a fair chance, without any biasing. After all, she was helpful more than any other people Maria met in her life. She caught up with Natasha and together, they took the stairs up. Maria let Natasha go first and open the door to her left. Natasha's room was… pretty, although it didn’t look like she spent a lot of time in there. Everything on her shelves was neatly organized, her bed made with precision. The posters were there as Melinda said, but not much of them. They were pinned to the wall right next to Natasha's bed, attached neatly as it was done with a ruler.
“Your room is really nice,” Maria said awkwardly.
“Thanks,” Natasha replied, taking a seat on her bed.
Only now Maria realized she had her shoes on meanwhile Natasha didn’t. She looked down at her beaten-up trainers and back at Natasha.
“You don’t have to take them off,” the girl said as she could read Maria’s thoughts. “Dad makes us take them off. Something to do with a family tradition. But you’re good. He isn’t home anyway,” Natasha said, making more place on the bed for Maria to sit.
They sat in awkward silence, Maria taking in Natasha's bedroom. She spotted a couple of books she’s read herself and so she turned back to Natasha, starting a small talk about Harry Potter.
“It’s okay so far but Harry annoys me,” Natasha shrugged.
“I feel like you don’t really want to spend time with me. It’s okay, you don’t have to do that, just because I hurt my arm,” Maria said unexpectedly.
Natasha looked at her, not replying for a few minutes like she was calculating her answer.
“It’s… not that. I just… don’t really do that often?”
“Help random people on the street?”
“I don’t have conversations like that. Small talks. To be honest, I don’t really have friends, to begin with”.
Maria let that sink in. She didn’t answer for a couple of minutes, not because what Natasha said shocked her. She was a loner herself. She didn’t have many friends back in Chicago, not to mention any best friends.
"We’re the same then,” she replied.
They sat in silence, but it wasn’t awkward anymore. They just sat and enjoyed the comfort of the presence of one another although none of them would admit it.
"Hey,” Maria broke the silence. “Do you want to be summer friends?”
Natasha didn’t reply back. She had the same look on her face when Melinda was taking care of her forearm. She was analyzing what Maria said or at least that’s what maria thought she was doing.
After a moment, Natasha replied
And that’s when the amazing summer of 95’, that both of them would remember forever, began.