Today’s story explores the strange, intoxicating madness of adolescence.
“The very essence of romance is uncertainty.”
― Oscar Wilde
The way the legs twitched made my insides swirl, but I could never admit it. Not with Janelle, Kodi, and Donalda staring at me with eager, screwed up faces filled with fascinated horror.
I sucked in my cheeks, picked up my hand, and shoved the cricket into my mouth. Before I could think about it, I crushed it between my teeth. The sensation was like biting into one of those Halloween candies that have the gooey, red centers.
“Sick!” Kodi said with a satisfied grin.
Donalda grimaced. “What does it taste like?”
Janelle looked away, and for a moment, I regretted all the decisions I had ever made. Then I swallowed and she turned back, eyes flashing with curiosity, and I knew it was worth the dirty film on the back of my tongue. That look said she liked it… liked me.
I smiled at them all, careful not to look at Janelle too long, and shrugged my shoulders. “Really not bad. Kind of like crunchy peanut butter.”
Donalda gagged and pushed off the ground onto her mud-caked sneakers. “That’s it. I’m off peanut butter forever.”
Kodi allowed herself to be pulled up by Donalda’s large, muscular arms, and for a moment, I imagined myself with those arms, picking Janelle up like she was made of feathers, and carrying her off into the sunset. Then Janelle stood, graceful as a deer, and shattered my thought into a thousand face-burning shards.
I stood to join the rest of them. A frog hopped from a nearby mud puddle onto the impression in the grass my body had made.
“I wonder what a frog tastes like,” I said, barely aware that I had spoken aloud.
Janelle squatted down, her long, golden legs folding like origami, and I admired her skin a moment before I realized she was looking up at me.
“You couldn’t eat it alive,” she said softly. Then she looked back down, reached out a hand, and stroked the creature’s back beneath its bulbous eyes. “You’d have to cook it.”
“Yeah, Cara. Breakfast of champions!”
I didn’t bother to give Kodi a dirty look. She had seen enough of them in our three years of friendship to conjure it in her own mind. As I looked on, Janelle gave the frog a push and it jumped away. Then she stood and we were suddenly frighteningly close.
Something between us shifted. My heart jumped into my throat like an ill-tolerated frog pancake as she took my hand for the first time and led me out of the clearing, thanking the universe that the most perfect girl in my sixth grade class was a weirdo, too.