"Wendy!" I squealed, throwing my arms around my best friend in the whole wide world.
"Jules! Whoa, since when has Juliet DiMarco been a babe?" she screamed, bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet and scanning me from bottom to top. "You look amazing. And you've lost weight. Good job, told you those treadmill sessions would pay off." I grinned and rolled my eyes at the same time. Little did she know that I hadn't lost that much weight and that there was still a lot more to lose.
"Enough about my voluptuous figure," I excused, waving her off and picking my luggage up. "Where's this awesome family we're off to see? Plus the little boogers, of course." She pointed to a small gathering of people by the door. I dragged my bags (running, not to mention) over to the exit of the terminal and attacked Sara first. She laughed at me, ruffling my hair as she pulled away. She didn't look much older than I last saw her, except for a few more grey hairs and smile lines around her mouth.
"Nice to see you haven't changed much since I last saw you, Jules," Sara giggled, trying to take one of my bags from me. I shook my head.
"No, no, I'm the one burdening myself on your temporary house, now. I'll take my own bags to the car. Thank you so much for letting me stay with you guys this summer. There would have been nothing to do if I were back at home. Aside from my birthday." I still had a lot of time for my birthday: it was mid-June and July 21st was a long way away. "So where'd we park the classic Campbell family SUV?"
"Just outside," Peter answered. His smile was just a little bit less wide than Sara's. I assumed this was because he was getting over his drinking issues still. I followed them outside and lugged my cases into the trunk. Honestly, if any family could have a car any bigger, I don't know what I'd do.
As we filed into the car, my eyes fell on the squirts. Also known as boogers, brats, vermin, Rugrats, and ankle-biters. Over the years, and please don't tell anyone this, I'd forgotten their names. It wasn't like I didn't know them, it was just that, out of babysitting, all Wendy and I'd ever called them was all listed above. The girl was a little bit more mature than the boy, as it'd always been, but they were so big now. No longer ankle-biters, but belly button-biters or something like that. Nah. Ankle-biters had such an original ring to it.
And then there was Matt. Poor kid.
He was paler than I last saw him, and skinnier too. He had that dreadfully tired look about him, with dark circles under his eyes and a layer of sweat always coating his forehead. Otherwise he looked pretty happy about me being there, but tired, too. Thankfully his hair had grown back in and he was doing some kind of different radiation treatment now. Cancer was awful and Matt and I were the ones who would know best.
But that's a story for another day.
Anyway, Matt patted my shoulder enthusiastically and shone me a grin.
"Nice to have ya with us, kid," he joked. My eyes narrowed. He was going to play that card, now was he? "You know," he added, digging himself a bigger hole with every word his mouth formed. My fists clenched. "For how long it's been, you haven't gotten much taller, Jules." I pinched his arm. "Ow! I didn't say the S word!"
"But you were insinuating it. And we don't use the S word. We all know I am vertically challenged." The words came out in hisses and I turned away from him. Wendy snorted.
"You two argue like a brother and sister," Sara remarked, shaking her head. "You haven't been together for ten minutes and already you're at it." Her happy green eyes met mine through the rearview mirror. "Before you know it, he'll be pulling her hair and she'll beat him with her Barbies."
"Just like in kindergarten," Wendy sang, trying to get the boogers to stay orderly. Peter laughed richly, his hands shaking on the steering wheel.
"Just exactly like kindergarten." I was sniggering too, but deep inside, I felt nice. There was no better family to go to Matt than the rest of the Campbells. They were so...well-rounded, sweet, clean-cut. So American. A flash of the past crept into my head.
Bases loaded. Two outs. Three balls, two strikes. The ninth inning. Losing ten to seven.
The pitcher took the windup, kicking out his leg before a flick of the wrist, and the ball was fat, juicy meat, even as it swerved to the outside corner. My arms extended. The bat cracked against the Wiffle ball and it soared past the left fielder's head. My legs were thick and burning as I screamed around the bases. I roared back into home plate with my arms in the air.
"This game is rigged!" Matt yelled mock-angrily, throwing his plastic glove against the fence with a rattle. "I don't believe it!"
"Believe it, Mattie!" I teased him, dancing to Sara's little makeshift table, with cups of icy cold Gatorades and enormous slices of watermelon. "What's going on, barkeep?"
"Good hit. You stink."
"I know. The price of being a stud," I boasted, throwing down the Gatorade like...well, Gatorade. Wendy cocked an eyebrow. "Hey, it's not my fault I was born with a natural athlete's genes."
"You are too much, Jules," Wendy pointed out the obvious, rolling her eyes. "And yes, you are a natural athlete. We all know it."
"And you should."
Ah, all those summers ago. Good times, real good times. They were an American family if I ever saw one. I bet they'd stick together no matter what happened. I bet...