Sidewalk Chalk

One

The house was exactly as she remembered it. The walls were the same musty colour and the sofa was just as lumpy; the garden was just as overrun with flowerpots and the smell was just as homely. Courtney had spent more of his childhood in this house than she had her own. The only difference was the absence of her grandmother.

It had been a long nine days since her father broke the news. Courtney was sat in her bedroom, watching the sunset through the trees that lined the back of their house, and he had gently approached her with a cautious tone he saved for special occasions such as this.

Now they paced back the three hundred and fifty miles that Courtney could never forget in her mind. The three hundred and fifty miles that lead her home to Muskoka.

She had spent more than half her life in Montreal, but it didn't have the same feel, the same fit. It wasn't where she had learnt to ride her bike in the summer or where she had learnt to sled in the winter. It wasn't where her family was, her friends. It wasn't home.

Courtney was unpacking her boxes of school supplies, tucking them into the empty desk in the guest bedroom of her grandmother's house. She thought back to all the nights she had slept in this room when her parents worked late, watching the stillness of their little town outside of the bedroom window until the stars were twinkling above her head.

There was a knot in the pit of her stomach, pulling her every which way. Ten years was a long time to be away from her home, so why didn't she feel comforted by the fact she was back?

"Courtney," her mother calls up the stairs. "Court, come down here."

Courtney got to her feet, tucking the half-emptied boxes away from the door. She followed her mother's voice to the bottom of the staircase where she found both her parents standing by the open front door. They were accompanied by two people Courtney didn't recognise; an older woman, around her parent's age, with short blonde hair wearing a fitted maxi dress to help combat the summer heat, as well as a younger girl, presumably her daughter around Courtney's own age, with the same blonde hair only longer and pulled back into a loose ponytail. She was wearing a bikini top and board shorts, and she watched Courtney with a grin on her face as she descended the stairs.

"Courtney, this is Maxine and her daughter Bridgette, they live next door," her mother explained. "You and Bridgette used to go to school together."

"Uh…Hi." Courtney thought for a moment, trying to picture her elementary school classroom but over the years her school memories had become fragmented.

"Bridgette's offered to show you around town, try and get your bearings again." Courtney raised an eyebrow at her mothers encouraging smile.

"Oh, thank you," Courtney smiled back. "I've still got some boxes to unpack-"

"We can sort all that out later," her father assured her, his hand on his wife's shoulder.

Courtney chewed on her lower lip. She didn't think she was going to be thrown back in the deep end of making friends as soon as she walked through the door, but she understood her parents encouraging smiles. They had worried about her for the last ten years, spending too much time to herself, so for their sake, Courtney sucked it up and agreed to spend the afternoon with Bridgette.

Twenty minutes later, Courtney found herself in the passenger seat of Bridgette's 2008 Honda Civic, a breeze in her hair with all four windows rolled down to compensate for the broken air conditioner and the smell of the ocean surrounding her even though they weren't close enough to the beach yet.

"Your parents own the surf shop, right?" Courtney asked, eyeing the surfboard laid awkwardly between the trunk and the folded down seats in the back.

"They used to," Bridgette explained, her smile wavering for a moment. "They sold it when my dad got sick. He's okay now," she quickly added. "But the shop was a lot for them to handle. Geoff moved here that year and his parents bought it off them, that's kind of how we met, and then school started, and he just fit right in."

Courtney's gut twisted. She remembered being told about Geoff after her move and had imagined him slotting right into the empty space Courtney had left in their class. It had broken her heart when she was eight and couldn't imagine why it would break her heart now, but his name felt like a sucker punch and she hadn't even met him yet.

"Okay, so here we have the main street." Bridgette gestured broadly with her hand out the window. "A lot of shops have shut down over the years, but something always pops up in its place. That's where the chocolate place used to be, do you remember that? It's a bookstore now. And just around that corner," Bridgette pointed about halfway down the street. "Heather's dad opened up a second one of his chain restaurants here, it's always so busy in there."

Courtney tried to picture the main street as it had been last time she was here, but all she saw was what was in front of her. She did remember the chocolate shop, or at least she remembered her grandmother taking her there when she was young. She remembered the antique store with the furniture she wasn't allowed to touch, and the children's play centre she was just about outgrowing when she had moved away.

Out the window the red-brick buildings blurred into one, rolling down the hill further into town. Beyond that was another residential area and beyond that was the sea. Courtney could remember small things, like where the fire station sat perched between houses, and the path from the elementary school to her old house, but sitting in an unfamiliar car in a town that seemed unfamiliar to her, she felt very disconnected from the world she had craved to live in.

Bridgette came to a sudden stop, her foot catching the break just in time as a man ran out onto the road in front of them. Courtney jerked forward slightly but luckily Bridgette hadn't been driving nearly fast enough to cause any damage.

"What the fuck, Duncan?" Bridgette called out her window, surprising Courtney with her language.

The young man grinned, running a hair through his green hair before jogging up alongside Bridgette's car. He let himself in, settling himself uncomfortably around the surfboard.

"Must you carry this thing in your car always?" He huffed, lifting his sunglasses from his face.

Courtney stared at him intensively, trying to picture what he might have looked like as an eight-year-old, but the boy in front of her was clearly a man now.

"You were driving slow, thought I'd scare you," he chuckled, lightly pulling on Bridgette's ponytail. "Why are we driving so slow and who is this?"

"This is Courtney, she moved at the end of second, remember?"

Duncan scratched his chin, looking her up and down. "Oh yeah, I remember you, Princess," he grinned. Courtney raised a sceptical eyebrow, leaning herself away from him. "You were the girl who always demanded to play Princess Peach, right? We used to play together in the basement on my brothers old Wii console, man those were some fun times kicking your ass."

"Only because you cheated," Courtney scoffed, recalling the little blonde boy who was determined to play as Bowser because why-would-you-want-to-be-Mario? "You used to use the shortcuts that none of us knew about."

Duncan laughed, throwing his head back and Bridgette rolled her eyes.

Courtney settled back into her seat properly, waiting for Bridgette to move the car as she was still stopped in the middle of the road, but she made no such move.

"Did you see the new painting on the side of Burger Shack?" Duncan asked and Bridgette shook her head. "It's the ocean with a wave and some sea animals; very much your vibe, Bridgey."

"They're painting buildings?" Courtney asked, moving her head between the two of them.

Bridgette shook her head again. "No, someone is painting things around town. No one knows who but it's been going on all summer."

"My dad's determined to bust whoever it is, but no leads so far. I'm sure everyone's gonna be talking about it tonight," Duncan said, reaching for the door to let himself out. "That and you of course."

"What's tonight?" Courtney asked, whipping her head back around to face him.

"Oh, I haven't told you!" Bridgette squealed, her smile back on her face. "It's the last party of the summer tonight, Geoff throws one every year on the weekend before we go back to school, you've got to come."

"I don't know, I'm not really a party person…"

But Courtney still found herself that evening in Geoff's kitchen, a red plastic cup in her hand like some bad teen rom-com, and to her surprise, she didn't hate it. Particularly, she didn't hate Geoff. Of all the ways she expected him to be, she hadn't anticipated on the bear hug she got the moment he saw her and the friendliness he had given when touring her around the house.

Between the couple, Courtney had been introduced to nearly everyone. She remembered some more than others, and not everyone at the party had been in the same elementary, having come from neighboring towns to attend Muskoka High School.

Courtney's nerves were disappearing the further she got into the night, enjoying the company Bridgette kept her surrounded by.

Even after Bridgette and Geoff had snuck away from her side, Courtney didn't feel uneasy, but she did feel overwhelmed; someone stopped her at every corner of the house, asking her questions about life outside of their small town.

She managed to find her escape through an open door leading out into the backyard. Immediately beyond the door was a large in-ground swimming pool and Courtney narrowly avoided falling feet first into. She took a step back and followed the wall of the house around the edge, perching herself on a sun lounger far enough away that no one would see her in the shadows.

The music of the party raced around her, and she could still hear the yells and laughter coming from inside, but no one had made an attempt to follow her.

Courtney titled her head up, watching the stars above. In all the ways she had imagined coming back home this wasn't anything like she pictured. She always imagined she'd be an outcast again, thrown to the side. When she had moved to Montreal, she had found it very difficult to make friends. By third grade most people had their friendship groups cemented in place; there wasn't any room for an outsider. The same worries had plagued her mind every day since she knew she would be coming back here; everyone was older now, they had their friends, knew where they stood in the social ranking, but a few hours with Bridgette had eased her worrying, and being in the middle of a summer party, where being the new girl was like being the main event, she didn't remember what she was worried about.

Across the pool, she heard a noise, the rustle of paper and the distinct noise of a lighter sparking. Courtney could see a figure sitting a little bit further down than her on the opposite side of the yard, also perched on a sun lounger, their back to the green garden behind. They didn't appear to be watching Courtney or have noticed her presence in any way, but Courtney watched as they lifted their cigarette to their lips and inhaled deeply. She had to bite her tongue to stop her from calling out how bad a habit that was; she didn't feel like she was in the position to start arguments with people before the school year had even begun.

They stayed like that for a moment, Courtney watching through the shadows. She was sure this wasn't someone she had been introduced to yet, though in the moonlight, and at a distance, it was hard to distinguish any features that may have been recognisable.

"There you are." Courtney turned her head to see Bridgette walking towards her from the house. She held in her hands Courtney's jacket and she placed it on the lounger between as she sat down.

"My curfew's soon," Bridgette explained, tucking a loose curl behind her ear. "I thought we should start walking home if you're ready to leave."

Courtney turned her attention back to the person across the pool, who took a final drink from their own red cup before stubbing out the cigarette on the floor. She watched as they got to their feet, strolling towards the garden fence.

"Who is that?" Courtney whispered, bowing her head towards Bridgette.

Bridgette followed Courtney's line of sight to where the mystery person was letting themselves out of the garden gate, and she sighed.

"That's…That's Gwen."

"Gwen," Courtney repeated. "Gwen Price?"

Bridgette nodded. "You two used to be friends, right? I was kind of relieved today when you didn't ask about her."

"Why would you be relieved?" Courtney asked, confused.

"I don't want you to think she's avoiding you on purpose, or anything, she's kind of been avoiding us all since freshman year."

Courtney looked back at the gate, but Gwen had already disappeared into the darkness. She felt her chest constrict again, her nerves returning as she remembered her childhood best friend. Courtney had tried so hard not to think of her, not to wonder what it would be like when they were reunited, but now curiosity was getting the better of her and she wanted to know more.


A/N: I didn't really know how to end this chapter but here we go! A lil bit of mystery…maybe?

I'm really enjoying writing this! Please let me know what you think!

Love,

ChloeRhiannonX