Sydney Harp remembered very specifically waking up, as a two-year-old, and fixedly pawing at the latch to her crib. Eventually, by some miracle, her fingers caught the latch and her crib fell open. From there, she pushed herself off of it, and landed on the ground, harder than she had intended.
After a brief, silent cry, she stood and tottered off, heading to the window. Because that was the source of her current fury.
She couldn’t make it to any of the windows in her room, but the Harp family living room had a couch she could climb up on, that would give her a view out of the window and to her neighbors’ house. Also, luckily for Sydney, her parents always left her door cracked, so they could hear her if she began crying.
Which she never did, of course, but it made them paranoid that she was a crier, they were just missing it. And so she could use her two-year-old hands to pry open the door, and slowly stumble towards the kitchen. From there, she moved to the living room and then spent around 10 minutes working herself up onto the cushy couch.
Then, another 10 minutes to get up to the top part from one of the arms, so she would walk along to the side by the window, and press her nose against it, peering out towards her mortal enemy.
Because out there, in the darkness of the night, a baby was crying. She could see his window, and Sydney was sure it was a he, the house to their house’s left, with a light in one of the uppermost windows, as he was left to cry himself to sleep every night.
“Syd, sometimes I wonder if you aren’t trying to run away from home.”
Sydney jumped, spinning around. Her 10-year-old older brother stood behind her, hands on his hips, superman onesie zipped to his chin.
“I’d come with you, if you were,” Zack, her brother, added. “I’m tired of all the vegetables in this joint.”
Sydney frowned but said nothing. She could speak but had only practiced it in secret, because she was aghast at how slurred her words sounded. She resolved herself that she would only speak when her English was perfect. So she pointed violently, out the window towards the lit up window in the house next door, insistent.
Zack crawled up next to her, humming. “Oh, the Ghosthound kid. Yea, he’s a whiny baby. Careful you don’t end up like him. You know he’s your brother, right? So you are a crybaby like that too.”
Wide-eyed, Sydney stared at Zack, drinking in every word. He nodded, clearly satisfied with the attention. “Ask mom and dad. You two were born on the same day, right next to each other. So you are connected. And that’s that.”
And so it was.
Sydney was fascinated by this strange relative that her parents hadn’t told her about and watched him carefully for the next three years. All in all, she found him profoundly unimpressive.
His hair was always messy, he always looked at the ground, and when he spoke he mumbled half his words, so he was impossible to understand.
So, when they coincidentally had a birthday party in the same park, at the same time, because of course their birthdays were on the same day, and they lived in a small town, Sydney resolved herself to make contact with the sloppy boy. Inform him that if they had to be related, the very least he could do is practice his speech a bit.
Everything went wrong immediately. Sydney had approached the boy, Randidly, and dragged him to the sandbox behind the hedges. There she had demanded an explanation, and he just looked at her dumbly. He also just backed away as she advanced towards him, until he tripped and fell on his butt.
Then, his eyes crinkled, and a telltale look went over his face. Sydney’s heart filled with dread; he was about to cry.
Her hand shot out and grabbed his mouth, yanking him forward until they were nose to nose.
“Don’t you dare. You are better than this.” Sydney whispered, her eyes narrowed. And to his credit, he didn’t cry. Randidly just stared at her. But then, just as she escaped disaster, things took a turn for the unforgivable.
“Ha! I found ‘em, mom. They are kissing back here,” Jack called over his shoulder, a 13-year-old who was too cool for his sister’s party taking out a bit of his angst on her. Sydney leaped backward, away from Randidly, but it was too late.
Sydney’s mother and father walked over, chortling, looking over at the two of them with the most disgusting eyes that Sydney had ever seen.
“It’s good to be young,” Her father said, kissing the crown of her mother’s head.
Her mother laughed. “It’s a little early, but… those two have a special connection, don’t they?”
Sydney knew they were saying something, but she was still a bit too young to be able to parse apart what. So she just stayed silent and stayed away from Randidly. And she did research. By watching Disney movies.
About a month later, horrified, Sydney stomped into her parents’ room. “You think I love Randidly?!?!”
Her mother looked up from her book, a mild expression on her face. “Now what gave you that idea?”
“You… you…. He’s gross!” Sydney grasped for words, and then just blurted out the first thing that came to mind. It wasn’t clever, or eloquent, and she hated how childish she sounded, but goddammit, it was
. Randidly was gross, and she couldn’t believe they had believed Jack when he had said she had been kissing him.
After laughing quietly, the older woman picked up Sydney in a huge hug. “Aw, he’s not that bad. Honestly, I think he’s kinda cute. Here, look at him.” And with that, her mother took Sydney over to the window, and they looked out it together.
Outside, Randidly had drawn a line in the dirt and was throwing a ball at a tree from that line. Sometimes, Randidly would hit the tree, and then he would walk, pick up the ball, and then throw it again. More often, he missed the tree, and he would just chase down his little ball, and then walk back to the line.
“He’s an idiot,” Sydney said scathingly. Then she winced, as her mother pinched her cheek.
“That’s not nice to say. But you aren’t wrong.” Sydney’s mother looked at the boy, then up to the house beside him, which was silent and empty. Her eyes took on a pained look. “Still… there are worse things in the world to be than dumb. Dumb might be unexciting, but it’s predictable, dependable.”
“And,” she added, her face twisting into a smile. “At least he’s not ugly.”
Sydney nodded, absorbing this lesson. She watched her mother’s face shift again, becoming bitter. “And… sometimes there are forces in the world more powerful than the choices you make, Sunshine. Sometimes…. Sometimes you just need to do the best you can with what you are given because everything else is too much. Even when you are otherwise so strong when otherwise you are so loved…”
Her mother trailed off, and Sydney’s gaze turned from her face to the boy below, throwing balls at the tree.
A month later, both Sydney and Randidly started 1st grade at the same school, although much to Sydney’s relief, they were assigned to different classes. Later that week, Sydney was told by her mother that her father had gone away to someplace called Rehab, so he could adjust his diet because he had done too many unhealthy things.
He would never come back, because before Sydney had turned 6 he had relapsed, and died of a heroin overdose. During that same time, Randidly’s father and mother were divorced. During the summer after that year, again, Sydney would go to the window, and look out it at her neighbor. And, as always, he would be there, throwing the ball at the tree. He hadn’t even gotten noticeably better, which drove Sydney insane.
Yet she still would watch him.
Predictable, dependable. Every day, she watched him.
Due to the timeliness of their trauma, they both began acting out in class during 1st grade, and often spent time together, forced and terse time, where they barely spoke. But he was always there, by her side.
Sydney, Jack, and her mother moved away before the start of 4th grade. She didn’t bother to say goodbye, which she regretted for a whole 8 months. They were now in a different state, after all. The chances they would see each other again were so small that not even Sydney’s mother would have suspected they would meet again.
In the summer after 6th grade, Sydney discovered boys, and would spend her days hanging around the baseball park that was in her neighborhood, whispering with her friends as boys walked by.
One day, a girl dragged her over to one of the little league games, to watch a team getting creamed. Bemused, Sydney followed. And then she sat down, transfixed, the entire game because she recognized that boy. She knew every idiosyncratic twitch in his throwing form. It was Randidly, and he still hadn’t gotten any better at throwing the ball.
After the game ended, she followed him back to his car, ditching her friends. His dad was there, his heavy hand on Randidly’s shoulder, guiding him back to the car. And when they were safely hidden between cars, Sydney heard the loud and echo-y sound of a hand hitting flesh.
Peeking around a red SUV, she saw Randidly, lip trembling, standing in front of his dad. Sydney’s heart seized. Jesus, not again-
But then Randidly gulped it all down, and his face went blank and numb. His dad nodded, approving, and they kept walking.
Sydney’s wheels whirred. That… hadn’t gone how she had predicted it would.