Truly Yours (Truly Us Book 1)

Prologue

The boy slouched his shoulders and looked at his reflection in the water. His feet were dangling above the small pond, and he seemed forgetful of his surroundings. He didn’t hear the shrieks and taunts of the other boys and didn’t see the stones that were being thrown in his direction. They hadn’t hit him. Yet. The other boys were just throwing them close enough to get the lone boy’s attention. When I had first walked up, they’d been chanting something, and I didn’t understand it at first, but when I got within earshot, I was horrified.

“Ginger-minger! What’s that carrot top? Ginger-minger, Satan’s ugly tot!” they chanted in unison.

They were saying those ugly things because of his hair. It was reddish-brown, but under the sun, it looked like a flame over his head—longer and wilder than most other kids our age. This wasn’t the first time I’d walked into something like this. Yesterday, in the cafeteria, the boy was being taunted by kids some tables over, but a counselor intervened.

A rock thudded next to the boy, close to his hands, which were extended backward. Only then did he look back to the other boys.

How dare they?

I skipped the last few steps to the pond and picked up the rock, throwing it as far as I could in their general direction. They looked like they would pee themselves while laughing at my attempt.

“Mrs. Williams is coming. She’s just behind me with some other teachers!” I hollered in their direction.

They looked to the trail I’d appeared from, but the trees were too close together for them to see far or judge if I was lying. Mrs. Williams and the other teachers were so far behind me that the boys had time to stone both of us under the water if they wanted to. Luckily, they fled toward the soccer field to find a new victim for their stupid songs.

I sat near the boy and dangled my feet above the pond too. There were tadpoles in the shallow water, and I guessed that was what he had been looking at so intently before. I felt him turn to me, but the sun was in my eyes, so I had to squint to make out his features. He was the first redheaded person I had ever seen in real life. He was also the most beautiful boy I’d ever seen in my twelve years of life. His skin looked a little transparent with freckles all over his face. Come to think of it, I’d never seen freckles either. But it was his eyes that gripped me. They looked like they were made out of gold. I didn’t even know what the name of that color could be, but I wanted to paint it, capturing that precious gold on canvas.

“I can take care of myself, you know?” It was all he said before he looked back to the creatures with their black wavy tails.

“I know. I did it for me. I don’t like them.” I scrunched my nose and shrugged.

He turned his head abruptly and winked at me.

“I’m Delia,” I said, extending my hand. He took it and looked at our handshake.

“Everyone calls me Os, whether I like it or not, but to you, I am Oscar.” His voice was soft, almost unsure, but it made me smile back at him.

“I’m twelve. And you?” I asked, wanting to keep the conversation going. My mom was always pestering me about being able to strike up conversations with anyone and I figured now was as good a time as any to practice.

“Same.”

“What field are you in?” I asked him and started moving my feet in the same rhythm as his were swinging.

“Music. You?”

“Drawing. What do you play?”

“Piano,” he said faintly.

We were quiet after that, and I looked at the watch Mom had given me as a present right before I left for summer camp.

“Do you think they mind it?” Oscar asked, breaking the silence abruptly.

“What?”

“Those peepers,” he said, nodding toward the water. “Do you think they mind being so alike?”

“I don’t think they can tell.” I looked down into the shallow water, trying to remember if a frog had a brain or not.

He picked up one of the rocks that had landed in his vicinity, weighed it in his hand, and then threw it toward the water’s surface, making it skip. One, two, three times. I squealed with delight.

“How did you do that?” I asked him, which caused him to give me a small smirk.

“You start with the right kind of rock,” he explained and jumped to his feet. He took a few steps and paid attention to the ground, a little bit hunched over. I mimicked his stance.

“Here.”

He showed me a couple of rocks that looked like they’d been aged forever and were mostly thin and flat.

“They look so worn out,” I mused and started looking for a few of my own. “This is kind of shaped like a dinosaur.” I picked up a larger one. “I think I might even keep it.”

His fingers touched mine when he reached for the rock. “Pfft, where do you see a dino in this?”

“Look, it’s got tiny little T-Rex hands and the giant head.”

He threw his head back, laughing.

“You have some imagination,” he said, lights dancing in his beautiful eyes. “I think we have enough for now. Come on.”

He showed me how to hold the rock and how to throw it using just my wrist and fingers. I watched his slender wrists, staring in awe at their grace. After a few demonstrations, I tried, but my rock hit the water without much fanfare. He handed me a new one, and that one followed the first, which had him laughing as he handed me a third. No matter how many rocks I threw, I couldn’t get them to skip across the water’s surface.

Oscar promised to practice with me for the rest of the summer.

We didn't meet every day, but we tried to go to as many activities together as possible. He went to swim practice most afternoons since he’d only just learned to swim that summer, and I sometimes went along and helped him practice floating. He doubled down laughing at the bonfire when he realized I wasn’t able to dance and promised to teach me. On Thursday night game nights, Oscar was usually my partner. He was sharp, and he knew a lot of stuff about history and geography, so any group we were in won at trivia.

I made a lot of friends at camp, but none of them were like Oscar. He was wittier, funnier, and better than anyone else. But most of all, he was a brilliant pianist, which I didn’t find out until the camp organized a concert and I heard him actually perform. I clapped so hard for him, beaming my biggest smile and running to hug him immediately after he played. He didn’t even need to ask it.

“You sang like a star. Oh my gosh, I’ve never heard anyone sing that song so well, not even Lady Gaga herself.”

He blushed a deep scarlet and ducked his head, but I could totally tell he was pleased by the way his mouth tipped up at the corners.

One afternoon he came to one of my painting workshops and sat next to me. He didn’t paint anything, just watched me mix colors and experiment with the shades.

“I want to show you something,” I whispered, taking out my sketchpad.

He took it and started skimming through my drawings.

“You’re really good, Delia.”

I felt my heart swell with pride.

“Open it at the middle.”

He looked at the middle pages, which I’d chosen because they offered me a bigger canvas to play with. His brows furrowed for a bit, but then he started chuckling. He read the title aloud.

“The big world of mini tadpoles?”

“I thought about what you said. I think we only see them alike because we’re so big compared to them. I think if we looked closely, we’re gonna see them differently.”

He was still snickering.

“You drew a monocle on a tadpole!”

I snickered and watched his long fingers caress the lines on the paper, as he doubled with laughter again. I’d drawn tadpoles with eyes, mouths, little feet, and arms. All of them were engaged in activities like fishing or cooking, and one was even playing with a dog. I gave them accessories like ponytails with scrunchies along with monocles, glasses, and even walking canes. So even if they were all black and they had basically the same shape—like a comma with a fat head and a long wavy tail—they had bits of color added to them and their own personalities.

“Hey! This one is playing the piano!” he shouted with glee, looking at a figure in a corner.

I smirked, happy he’d discovered the piano player in the giant mass of tadpoles.

“Do you like it?”

“I love it!”

I took the page and gently ripped it from the pad.

“It’s for you,” I told him, placing it on the small in front of him before I returned to fiddling with my colors.

“You have to sign it,” he said, giving the paper back to me.

“What?”

“All artists have a signature. You have to sign it so I can flaunt it around when you get famous.”

I looked at my drawing and thought about it. I hadn’t signed any of my works, not the ones I kept hidden under my bed at home because I didn’t find them good enough for the world, not the ones my dad had framed and displayed proudly around the house, not even the ones my teacher had placed in a school exhibit for a whole semester.

“I never signed myself on anything.” I shrugged and then turned to the colors, worrying at my bottom lip. I mixed them until I got the perfect shade of crimson I wanted. It reminded me of Oscar’s hair, but I didn’t tell him that. I placed one thumb, pressing it so I’d get color on most of the ridges, and I carefully transferred it to the sketch. I repeated the movement, placing my finger in a crisscross motion onto the paper, as I transferred the color into the shape of a little heart. I lifted my hand and inspected the painted heart. It looked a little bit unusual and a little bit familiar at the same time, a heart with white lines and details inside it that made you look twice. I took a brush and used the tip of its wooden part to etch a flowery D into the paint before it dried.

“There, nobody can copy that; it contains my print,” I said, looking at my signature from a distance and thinking about how I would perfect it.

“Genius!” Oscar said and blew softly over the paint to help it dry faster.

“I’m gonna keep this forever, Dellie!”

I looked up to his golden eyes and grinned. No one had ever called me that name before, and I cherished that we had just one more thing that was only ours. That marked the beginning of a new era for both of us. A new kind of emotion circled me that afternoon, the kind that made me sweat and gave me a sweet ache inside my chest.

And so the summer went by, week after week of blissful exploration and friendship. After the sixth week of camp, many of our friends started going home. It was soon going to be our turn, and a sense of doom started looming. I’d go back to Chicago, and he would return to the military base where he lived in Kentucky. We counted the days, wanting to stretch them as much as we could, but we both knew he was leaving a week before I would.

The night before his departure, we snuck out with our flashlights and barely escaped getting into trouble, as our counselors found us holding hands and telling stories near the charred remains of a bonfire that they’d put out hours before.

I woke the next morning when a cabin mate stumbled into the bunk bed’s footing, making it shake. I blinked, taking her in, as she caught herself from toppling over from the weight of her rucksack.

“Gotta go! Keep in touch!” she sing-sang to the room and barreled outside. As the door opened, it became clear that there were names being called into the megaphone outside. Footsteps thumped near my door and there was a state of semi-panic, which completely overtook me too. I’d promised Oscar I would meet him at the bus to say proper goodbyes, and we had postponed exchanging addresses till the last moment.

I glanced in a mirror and saw that my mane of curls was even less tamed than usual. Oh well, there was no time to fix that. I scrawled my address and the home phone number on a piece of paper, which tore unevenly from my sketchpad and ran outside.

“O’Shea!” I heard the voice of a woman call loudly and, like the wind, I ran toward the bus and saw it was packed, a woman crossing names off a list while the few remaining children left. She gently, but firmly, touched their shoulders as they went up, signaling delays were not accepted.

I saw the unmistakable russet hair at the end of the line. He’d probably had time to put his pack in the bag compartment because he had nothing but an iPod in his hand.  He was dressed in shorts and a black T-shirt. I’d never seen him in black, but he was probably sweaty from the run.

“Oscar!” I yelled and ran to him.

He turned, and his brows went from furrowed to raised arches. He took the paper I was holding out for him right before the woman near the bus called again. His eyes bounced between me and the paper, as if he were committing me to his memory right then. 

“O’Shea!” I heard yelled again, less patience in the counselor’s tone.

“Goodbye, Oscar!” I said, lifting my hand and waving.

“Goodbye.” He answered in a weird little voice like he was holding back words I’d never know.

“Write to me!” I yelled as he was climbing onto the bus.

He looked toward me once more and lifted his chin.

Then the bus left, leaving me behind with my sketches and my love for a boy with golden eyes.