Irving dumped his backpack on the dusty ground, far too tall to be affected by the plumes of dust the action caused, and pulled himself up easily to sit on the brick wall. He normally walked home from school, like most kids who lived around the school, and this was the path that most of them took. Sometimes the small children would want to climb the wall and walk on it instead of the road. In a sense, sometimes it was safer, like for example, instead of walking on the road. But then again, without an older sibling to watch out for them, who was stopping them from falling off and breaking their backs?
Irving rid the thoughts from his head. He didn’t have any younger siblings so it didn’t really matter. Anyone who took the time to talk to him—which wasn’t that many people, to be perfectly honest—always had siblings, and always asked whether it was lonely being an only child.
He always just laughed it off, shrugging, because he honestly wasn’t sure how to answer that question. Was he lonely because he didn’t have a younger sibling?
He pressed his feet into the ground, feeling the hard soles of his shoes flush against the bottom of his feet. He kind of did have a younger sibling—back in Boston. The thought of his best friend Darius always sent pangs of sorrow shooting through Irving’s veins. Darius would be at the gym by now—they would both be in the gym by now. They always went right after school, before going to hang out somewhere with their friends, or doing homework, or something like that.
He looked down at this shoes. The bright green shoes certainly hadn’t helped him make any friends. Especially not in LA where his family had moved for his dad’s new teaching job—all the way across the country. Even though Irving and Darius promised to meet each other as soon as possible, Irving knew it wouldn’t be possible. Flying? Definitely impossible—plane tickets were way too expensive. And driving that far? That was near impossible, too, with gas being so expensive—no matter how cheap gas prices got, driving that far would take enormous amounts of money, factoring in rest stops, and all kinds of stuff, even if one of them skimped extremely to get to the other end of the country—and Irving did not want Darius driving unsafely.
He sighed. He looked off into the distance—which was blocked by rows of houses. They were far from the heart of LA. This still looked like a small town that his dad might be driving Darius and him through on the way to a camping site, or something of the sort. Though they didn’t truly live in LA, it was close enough and small enough that he felt comfortable calling it that, since most people wouldn’t have heard of the small place anyway, or have cared about it, either.
Other than the occasional jab—sometimes more painful than ignorable—at basketball rivalry—especially once people realized Irving was indeed from the Celtic’s hometown of Boston—it was true that the shoes were literally just so ridiculous. That’s why Irving and Darius had bought them together—as a joke. They knew that neither of them would ever wear them—they were bright green, with white stripes, not even very athletic at all. They were essentially useless—unless you wanted to hail down a UFO.
He wasn’t necessarily bullied because of the shoes. And if he was, he was certain that he could handle anything that came his way. And anyway, shoe bullying shouldn’t be as bad as other bullying. But he wasn’t going to stop wearing them. He couldn’t.
He didn’t want to think about, but at the same time, never wanted to forget the evening—one of his and Darius’s last remaining evenings together—when Darius gave him the shoes. They were housed in Irving’s house because if Darius’s mother discovered that they had bought something so gaudy, so useless—and they weren’t even planning on wearing them!!—she would have had Darius’s hide.
“You need to take them with you to LA,” Darius said.
“What?” Irving has said. “We bought them together. I can’t take them.”
“Well you can’t just take one, and leave the other one here!” Darius said.
“Why not? That’s a perfectly good idea,” Irving said.
“Shut up,” Darius said. “Just take them. I’ll buy my own pair.”
“Fine. We can go right now and get another.”
So, now there was a pair in Boston and a pair in L.A. Irving wasn’t going to wear them—he was just going to keep them as keepsakes. He couldn’t think about going to school without Darius, though. So, now he was the “tall kid with the green shoes” as well as “the new kid.”
He heard rustling, and he idly glanced to one side, his thoughts disrupted. He was slightly glad to be distracted from the painful memories. He saw a girl walking in the grass, flowery skirt billowing beautifully in the wind, white socks perfect, and shoes somehow not getting dirty in the summery grass. She wore a pink sweater over a light blue shirt and Irving looked away abruptly. He recognized her from his biology class. They sat a few seats away from each other. Darius suddenly remembered that he had borrowed a pencil from her and hadn’t given it back.
He also suddenly noticed that there was a little boy walking on the wall. Darius jumped off the wall, slightly disgruntled, so that the boy could walk by undisturbed.
Darius was fourteen, and Irving was sixteen, so there wasn’t that much of an age difference. That was why Irving had no idea where his killer older sibling instincts flew in from when he saw the little boy—in Spiderman shoes, cargo shorts, and a yellow graphic t shirt—scramble a little too fast, lose his footing, and begin to fall. His expression changed from grinning to shock, and before Irving knew what was happening, he was underneath the boy, and had caught him.
He had looked at him in shock for a good five seconds, and then started kicking and screaming.
“Billy, you’re okay!” the girl, Diane, said firmly, rushing to the boy’s side. Irving was still holding on to him, not quite sure what to do.
“You can put him down,” Diane said stiffly, nodding up at Irving. That answered that question nicely.
Irving gently rested the boy down. He clung to his older sister, crying.
“Billy, are you hurt?” Diane asked calmly.
Billy nodded, still sobbing.
“Where?” Diane asked.
Billy took a while to respond.
“Everywhere!” he sobbed.
Irving felt worry rush through his stomach. Had he hurt the child? He was only trying to help? He felt the gazes of the other students like thorns in his back, and some had gathered around to watch the spectacle. Diane glared them all off, looking rather intimidating, despite her tiny frame, no more than 5’4’’ most likely. Irving stayed rooted to the spot, unsure whether he had been dismissed as well.
“Where does it hurt most,” Diane asked Billy, still having a calm and serious tone.
Billy thought for a while, his sobs dying down.
“Actually, I’m fine,” Billy said.
“That’s what I thought,” Diane said, with a nod.
“Can we go home now?” Billy asked, wiping his tears.
“What do we have to do first?” Diane asked, looking meaningfully at Irving. Billy followed Diane’s gaze, having to tilt his head quite far back to see Irving’s face. Irving wondered if he should kneel down or something.
“Thank you for saving me,” Billy said solemnly.
“No problem,” Irving said, hating the way his voice sounded coming out of his mouth.
Then Billy rushed over to Irving and threw his arms around Irving’s waist. Irving tensed, and Diane had an amused expression on her face, which just made Irving flush. He wondered again if his dark skin actually hid blushing, or if that was just something he imagined.
“Alright, Billy, that’s enough,” Diane said, just as the boy let go of Irving and stumbled back a few paces. Irving was about to swoop down and take hold of him again, but the boy steadied himself.
“Cool shoes, mister!” the boy exclaimed.
Irving thought the skin on his cheeks might burn off from the amount of embarrassment he was facing today.
“Thanks,” he murmured at Billy’s back as the little boy bounded away, on the road this time, not on the brick wall.
“Thank you, seriously,” Diane said, bringing Irving attention back to the girl. He had been watching the little boy flounce off.
“It was nothing,” Irving said again, uncomfortable under her brown gaze, that seemed scrutinizing, and hinting at knowledge that Irving could never brush the surface of.
Diane picked up her backpack, that she had apparently flung down in a panic earlier.
“You’re really good with kids,” Irving said, then immediately regretting that decision. Normally he kept his mouth shut, and everything worked out just fine—why did he choose today, right now, to deviate, and be bold?
Diane looked at him again, like she knew an inside joke that he didn’t. “Yeah,” she said, adjusting the bracelets on her wrist.
“I would have panicked, more than the kid probably,” Irving offered. He was already in too deep, right?
“Billy is usually a pretty chill kid.”
“I didn’t mean—“
“It’s fine,” Diane said. Irving nodded sadly, sure that he had ruined this attempt at—what was he even trying to do?
“You usually walk this way, right?” Diane asked.
Irving nodded mutely.
“Will you join us? In case Billy falls again,” Diane asked.
Irving nodded again, this time offering a small smile. Diane returned it with one of her own, and Irving was hit with how cute she was.
“Alright, then,” Diane said smiling. She walked in the direction of her brother, who was way far off now.
“Billy, slow down!” she yelled into the void.
“You speed up!” Billy’s voice sounded softly from in front of them.
Irving walked slightly behind her, so as not to overtake her with his long strides. Billy never tried to climb the wall again, on their whole way back. Diane and Irving talked about biology, and the upcoming football game, and if Irving would be playing.
“I’m not on the football team,” Irving had to say, which he was used to saying, by now.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Diane said.
“It’s fine,” Irving said.
“You must get that question a lot,” Diane enquired.
Irving just shrugged.
“Where’s your house, by the way,” Diane asked.
Irving looked around, and felt his face flush again. They had long since passed it.
“We, uh—“ Irving clenched his hands in his pockets. “We just missed it.”
Diane looked up at him with an unreadable expression. He tried to return her look in an uncompromising way.
“Our house is just around the corner,” Diane informed him.
“Oh, okay,” Irving said. He stood there in front of her, looking down, while she looked up.
“I’ll see you later,” Diane prompted.
“Oh, okay,” Irving said again, walking backwards a few paces. “See ya later.”
“Those are cool shoes, by the way,” she said, nodding down towards them.
Irving couldn’t hide his surprise. “Me and my best friend picked them out,” Irving shrugged.
“Sounds like an interesting guy,” Diane said. “You’ll have to tell me about him sometime.”
Diane smiled, waving. “Bye, Irving.”
Irving felt a thrill at hearing his name. He didn’t remember telling her his name.
“Bye, Diane,” he said in response.
She turned and walked away. He watched her until she disappeared behind the large shrubbery that was in front of every house on this street.
As he doubled back to his house, he watched his feet, clad in the now apparently not so ridiculous green shoes. He wondered what it would be like if he and Diane could visit Darius, or if Darius could come here. He smiled at the possibilities, and thought about what he would text Darius later.
These shoes did okay after all, Darius.