That Kind of Love I Lost and Found
I was seven and I remembered asking my parents every day when my baby brother was going to come out. I’ve been waiting for what felt like forever for a playmate.
“She’s going to be a baby sister, Chad.” My mom said with a smile. She was running her fingers through my wavy blonde hair while I pressed my head against her big tummy.
“But I want a baby brother—how can we play with my trucks and my guns and…” I would trail off, wishing for a baby brother instead.
Then that day came and I would never forget how my father looked as he hurriedly drove us to the hospital, my mom panting in the backseat, her sweaty forehead on my lap. I knew something was wrong. In my young mind, I knew something bad was about to happen.
The bell rang and it sent us to our feet. Lunch seemed to be the highlight of our day in eighth grade. It wasn’t because the food was good, but hanging out with the guys was always fun. We usually end up messing around in the cafeteria and once or twice we’ve been sent to the principal’s office because of it. Having learned our lesson, we kept it down to making empty paper cup towers instead. That one day I met her though, everything changed—including how I spent my lunch time.
She was trying to get a tray and it seemed like she’d been there for a few minutes, struggling with her heavy backpack while the other eighth graders were always getting in front of her. She couldn’t assert herself. I looked at the scene for a while and it was easy to see that no one else saw her, and it was almost like she didn’t want to be seen by others too. She didn’t seem to notice me approaching either.
Like any other eighth grader would do, I took my tray after most of my friends got theirs but I stayed behind and handed it to her. The look on her face made me feel like I did something wrong—she looked at me like I was an alien.
“Here, take it.” I told her, giving her the tray and getting another one for myself. She looked at the tray and then back at me like I was contagious or something.
“My name’s Chad. You’re new here, I suppose?” I smiled at her, still giving her the tray. This time, she took it and her face took on a more curious rather than scared expression.
“I’m Emily.” It was all but a whisper, how she said her name—but I heard it clearly, like I’ve been waiting to hear it for years. From then on I knew she was going to be a part of my life.
We picked our food beside each other in line and it was quiet for a while. I was looking for something to say to her, to make her feel comfortable. I felt how nervous she was, being new and all. I was on my way to my friends’ table when she called to me, a little louder and said “Thanks” while drumming her fingers on the side of her tray.
I nodded, smiled, and went to have lunch as usual. Only it wasn’t “usual” anymore, given how my lunch started with Emily and the tray.
“So… who’s the new girl, Chad? She your girlfriend? She’s cute!” Keith asked me jokingly.
“Her name’s Emily, and no. She’s not my girlfriend.” I said the words and I knew it was true. I also knew I didn’t see her the way Keith did, and it bothered me somehow that he found her cute. He must’ve seen the change in my mood because he kept his mouth shut about her after that.
We had our Maths class after lunch and as usual, it bore me to death. I was never good at Maths. My head was flying and I always wished I were home instead. That came along just a few hours later and that was when I came across her. Again.
She was walking a few paces ahead of me, taking every turn I usually took on my way home. This went on for a few minutes and she never noticed I was behind her. It must have been creepy when I called her name as she walked towards their house—which was right next to ours.
“Oh! Gosh, I… uhm… it’s you.” She blushed and her long blonde curls covered half of her face.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were our neighbor. I didn’t know Mr. and Mrs. Banks had a daughter.” I knew for a fact that they didn’t. It was a surprise to see her casually strolling into the front steps of their house.
“Yeah, no one really knew I was here before. No one knew I was here before lunch today.” She said with a shy smile on her face.
We heard Mrs. Banks from inside the house, calling her, and a few seconds later she was out of the door to meet Emily.
“Chad, hi! I see you’ve met our Emily.” She wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled Emily close to her.
“Hi, Mrs. Banks. Yeah, we go to school together.” That was all I could muster.
“Well, we’re about to have some cake. Would you like to come inside and join us?” Mrs. Banks offered cheerfully. She was a good woman, but I still don’t understand where Emily figured in. I declined her offer and said I had some Maths assignments to do. My disgust for the subject must have shown because she insisted on me having cake with them, but I chose to go home instead.
That night over dinner, I asked my parents about our neighbors and they were surprised that I just found out about it. As it turned out, Emily had been there since school started and that she was the orphaned daughter of Mrs. Banks’ older sister. Her parents died in a house fire while she was in school. I told my parents that it was the first day I saw her in school; she couldn’t have been there for months already.
“She’s been there son, believe me.” This was all my dad said, still quite surprised that I didn’t know about our neighbor.
I couldn’t sleep that night. How could I not have noticed her before? That was when I realized that she needed a friend and that I was probably the only “friend” she had in school. I also knew how weird it was going to look to my own set of friends, me befriending the new girl—but I had to try.
That weekend, I decided to go over to the Banks residence and bring them some cookies my mom made. Mom gave me a little knowing look before asking me what was up with me. She’s never seen me that way before.
I explained the cafeteria incident and she listened closely. She was smiling, but she paused before asking me: “Chad. Do you like her?”
“NO!” I said with full conviction. Then I thought about how I felt and continued to explain to her.
“I like her… but not the way boys like girls.” It was all I can say then, but my mom didn’t ask me any further. Moms have their way of knowing things and that was one of the days when my mom knew how things were before I even knew for sure myself.
“Here are the cookies. Go say hi to our Emily now.” Our Emily, she said. It made me wonder why she said it that way. I left feeling a little nervous, but I knocked on the neighbor’s door anyway.
Mrs. Banks answered the door and immediately beamed when she saw the cookies. I felt like I needed to explain myself so I said I was just trying to make friends with Emily since she was always so alone in school. Mrs. Banks wasn’t a mother but she gave me a smile which meant she knew what I meant. Her being quiet disconcerted me though, so I pressed on.
“My mother… she was… I was seven when we…” I was stopped by a soft hushing and I felt Mrs. Banks’ hand on my shoulder.
“I know you mean no harm, Chad. From the moment I saw you that first day you two met, I knew you were going to be good to her. You don’t have to explain about your mother and what happened, I know and I understand.” She said kindly.
It was a relief to hear her say that. I wasn’t ready—I used to never talk about that day. Since I met Emily though, I began feeling a distant yet very similar feeling that I once had. Mrs. Banks led me to their backyard where they had this small wooden bench under a tree. I waited there, the cookie container resting on my lap. I wasn’t nervous anymore.
“Hey,” came her soft voice, the wind blowing her curly blonde hair onto her face. She was smiling. She looked different—peaceful, not on guard. It caught me by surprise. She looked so much younger without the nervous look on her face.
“Hi. Emily. I… Oh, right. Cookies.” I gave her the container and waited for a reaction. I was waiting for that look on her face that made me feel like an out of this world creature. There was none of that. Just a really big smile as she took the cookies from me.
“I love cookies! Did you make them?” Her voice was becoming clearer now. I liked how it sounded. Then, I thought maybe I should bring her more cookies if it would make her talk louder.
“Naww. My mom. I asked her to make them though. I suck in the kitchen. I’ll burn our house down if I touch anything in there.” I wasn’t careful. I shouldn’t have said it and I regretted it the moment the words came out of my lips.
It was like watching someone turn to stone. She was suddenly very pale and it reminded me so suddenly of how my mother looked when the doctor told us my baby sister didn’t make it. I was trying to make this girl laugh and I ruined it with this quip. I couldn’t say anything and I remember feeling like a little kid once more—I couldn’t do anything to comfort my mom or my dad then, and I couldn’t do anything to comfort Emily now.
“Thanks for these.” She spoke in a hushed whisper while she took a step back. Her head hung low as she tried to speak some more.
“Assignments, I… I need to…” I didn’t hear her finish her sentence because she turned quickly to enter their house. I showed myself out and buried my face in my pillow once I got to my room. Stupid. Insensitive. What was I thinking?! That’s it. I wasn’t. I just let those words out and ruined her day because I wasn’t thinking.
I dedicated the rest of the day thinking of ways to make it up to her. I had a feeling another batch of cookies might work.
Monday came and I waited nervously for lunch with the cookies in my bag. I wonder if I’d find her in the cafeteria. Sure enough, I found her—but before I got to her, the girl next in line to her spilled her juice on Emily’s shirt. She and her friends had been pushing each other around and making loud remarks about their makeup when this happened.
“Watch it!” I heard one of the girls say, blood rushing to my head as I walked closer to them.
Emily just looked down and tried to wipe away the juice from her shirt. The girl didn’t stop at just yelling at her although one of her friends began helping Emily out. The same girl who spilled her juice on Emily pushed her aside and was about to go about lunch as if nothing happened when I stepped in.
“Apologize. Now.” I was angry at this girl; she was from another class and was notorious for being a rule breaker around campus.
“What? Apologize to who?”
“To Emily. The girl you spilled your juice at?” I was doing my best to control my temper. Emily was looking at me while the other girl stayed beside her, offering her handkerchief to her.
“She knocked into me. I’m not apologizing.” It was thanks to her friend that I was able to stop myself from bursting with anger.
“Becca, you know she did no such thing. I saw it.” The brown-haired girl beside Emily said.
Scoffing, Becca said something along the lines of “Watch where you’re going next time,” but didn’t apologize. She left and her two friends followed, the brown-haired one with a reproachful look on her face as they left Emily and me behind.
I looked at Emily and it looked like she was going to cry. I took her food tray and led her to the nearest unoccupied table. I didn’t know what to say. Whatever I planned on saying before seeing her vanished and I just looked at this girl with a feeling I couldn’t quite explain. Then I remembered the cookies.
She still wasn’t talking and she had her eyes on the table. “I made you these.”
I pushed the container with the cookies inside them and waited for her reaction. She looked at the cookies for a few seconds before looking at me questioningly.
“You. Made these?” Was it just me or did I really see a little smile on the corner of her lips?
“Yeah. I did.” I said with the straightest face I could pull.
“What are these, exactly? Mutilated gingerbread men?” Now she was really smiling.
“I guess you can call them that.” I watched her as she opened the container and took a cookie. She examined the mutilated gingerbread men and her face began to look like we had no walls between us. It felt good. I felt good making her smile. It felt good standing up for her like that.
She ate half of the cookies I made and we talked over lunch. I had to say it or I would never have been able to forgive myself. “Emily, about the other day. I’m sorry.” I stopped at that, fearing that saying more would only make things worse.
Her face didn’t turn into stone as I brought it up, but she had a little sad smile while she said it was alright. That it had just caught her by surprise and it wasn’t my fault. That it was nobody’s fault and there was nothing anyone could have done about it. She opened up to me and she began talking like I’ve never heard her before—really long sentences that were clear and audible.
“I was on my way home when I saw the black smoke from the corner. I ran and I knew something was wrong. They told me there was an explosion—something about fumes. They were both in the kitchen.”
That moment, I knew why I felt drawn to her—why I felt the need to make her smile. To protect her. I didn’t want her to feel alone. I knew all too well how that felt and I didn’t want the same feeling for her. The bell signaling lunch was over rang. Telling her my reason for being this way towards her would come later. Back then, I just wanted her to be comfortable around me.
Since that day, we had lunch together almost daily and we walked to and from school together as well. As we spent more time getting to know each other, I found it strange that she had no friends. Emily was smart and fun to be with. She even helped me with my Maths—better at it than I am although she was a year younger.
We told each other all sorts of things and helped each other out. I made her another batch of mutilated gingerbread men one day and that was when my friends began to ask what the deal was. Keith did the talking. Again, he asked me if Emily was my girlfriend—if I had a crush on her, or if I liked her. I brushed off all these questions and statements and tried to explain to the best of my abilities that Emily was just a friend.
“Geez, Chad. It’s not bad to have a crush, you know.” He insisted.
“Stop it. Just stop it, okay? I don’t like her that way. You have a sister, right?” I asked him—the idea suddenly materializing, solidifying, and getting confirmed in my head as I spoke the words aloud.
“Yeah. So?” Keith asked, not seeing the connection.
“She’s like a sister to me.”
The finality of how I said those words must have sounded weird to Keith—to my best friend. Someone who I treated like a brother. He had always been carefree, never had to deal with much sadness or stuff like that in his family apart from the occasional little “fights” with his sister. But he was a good friend, and I knew him to be a good brother. He also knew that I’ve had to deal with my parent’s sadness over my lost baby sister—and he said nothing more about me liking Emily more than just as a friend.
“Sisters. They suck, man.” He said. I knew he didn’t mean it though, and I knew he already understood what I meant.
Lunch time came and I was hoping to see Emily at the table where we usually sat. Keith already knew I wasn’t sitting with them that day and that I was going to talk to Emily but what I saw caught me by surprise. She was sitting in our usual table, but this time with a girl. That’s a breakthrough. I’ve never seen her with friends before.
I went to the table and sat beside Emily when another surprise hit me. It was Becca’s friend.
“Chad, this is Ashley. Ashley, Chad.” Emily introduced us and she looked so happy about something. She liked this girl. Probably because she helped her with the juice and all. I said hi and so did Ashley—who I just noticed was actually cute. She fumbled a bit and got up to join her friends in their table.
I asked Emily what that was about. She just shrugged me off that instance and asked me if I had any of those mutilated gingerbread men that day. I didn’t but I told her that I had something to say. I explained myself, not finding it hard to make things plain now after my realization when I talked with Keith. Emily was smart and I knew she’d understand. But I still wanted to make things very clear. This time, however, I didn’t know how to begin talking about my baby sister.
“Hey, uhm… so… I know you know we hang out a lot. We go home together being neighbors and all. But I don’t want you to confuse it with anything else, I mean, Keith already—Keith’s my friend I should introduce you one day. Anyway, yeah.” I couldn’t pull it together. It was so much easier in my head. She looked at me patiently and asked…
“Why are you so kind to me? My parents taught me that if I ask the right questions, an honest person would always give you the truth.”
I totally did not expect that from her. It made everything easier to explain though.
“I like you Emily. But not the way boys like girls.” I stopped, trying to see if she was getting it.
“Okay, and…?” She was smiling, waiting for me to continue.
“My baby sister died when I was seven,” was the first thing I could say.
The bell rang and it meant we had to go back to our rooms. She just sat there quietly, like she didn’t hear it at all. I kind of shook her a bit and said we had to go and that I’ll explain later when we go home. She blinked and got up, still a little shaken about what I just told her.
It was the Maths again, and as usual, Keith and I sat beside each other. Why was it much easier to explain things to Keith? Was it because he already knew of the story about my baby sister? Probably. I asked him what I should tell her, expecting one of his silly answers.
“Tell her you see your sister in her.” That was all he said. More serious than I’ve ever seen him, but only for that moment.
“Do you think that’s it?” I remembered feeling confused although I knew deep inside he was right. Sometimes saying things out loud made you think about how true they were.
“Well yeah, silly. That’s what you were telling me earlier. I get that.” He just smiled and continued with the math problem he was solving. Sometimes I wondered if Keith understood things more than he looked like he did. But it was good having him around that time. I needed someone who knew me to make me realize things. Finally.
Ashley was with Emily again, by the front door of the school this time—where we usually met. She met my eyes before Emily saw me and went ahead, somewhat hurriedly.
“But he’s gonna be here any minute now!” I heard Emily calling after her. I said hi and asked her what it was about. She just smiled at me and motioned for us to go home. I could see she was eager to hear what I had to say.
We sat by the front porch and Mrs. Banks got us some soda bottles—some fizzy orange stuff. Apparently, Emily liked them a lot. She was in a good home with them. She stayed quiet, just drinking from her bottle. I knew she was waiting for my explanation.
“I was seven when it happened. People say they don’t remember much about when they were seven but I remember that day very clearly…” That was how I began to tell her.
I told her that I’ve always wanted a baby brother and that I waited every day for my playmate to come out. I knew she was going to be a girl but I still wanted a brother anyway. On the day my mom gave birth, that was the very first time I asked them about my baby sister, addressing her as the little princess of our home. But they told me she was gone.
My dad told me about it while my mom sat in her bed, clutching her tummy. I remember everything so vividly. They said she had blonde curls, just like me. Dad said she looked like an angel but that she had to go and she couldn’t stay with us. I remember being full of questions—sadness. I wanted my baby sister. I’ve always wanted her—though I kept wishing she was a baby brother instead.
Mom wasn’t quite right for a long time after that and I knew it was because of her longing for my baby sister. I wasn’t quite right for a long time after we lost her either. But we knew we had each other, and that we were still a family. I told Emily how sad it was at home back then and that whenever I’d see my friends with their siblings, I felt a pang of longing inside me knowing I could have had a sister too.
I remember feeling alone and friendless when I was younger—even when I started going to school. I thought that maybe if I had a brother or a sister, things would be different for me and that I had one more good reason to go home—to play with my baby sister. I remembered feeling excited about my mom’s huge tummy and wondering how the baby fit there and how I wanted him… her—to be out in the world with us.
“Then I saw you in the cafeteria.” I told her. She was smiling, but with sadness. I’ve been spilling my guts out to this girl who I looked at like my lost sister.
“It was probably because of your hair.” I said while ruffling her long blonde curls. That moment felt natural, and she wasn’t weirded out by it. It was the first time I really had physical contact with her. There were no sparks or anything like that—stuff you see in romantic films. There was warmth. And it was a satisfying feeling, that warmth. Of having someone I can be myself with without being misunderstood.
I told Emily that Mrs. Banks had already told me about her parents before I gave her the first batch of cookies, and that I was sorry about her loss. I wanted her to feel that she wasn’t alone and that people loved her—including me. I didn’t say it outright though. I wasn’t quite ready to use those words.
“You’re an only child. I am too.” I shrugged when I said this. I knew she’d get what I meant. I didn’t want her to feel alone when she can have me as a friend. I already cared for her that much.
“We can be like… each other’s brother or sister, yeah?” It sounded great when she suggested this, and I couldn’t agree more.
I introduced her to Keith the following Monday. Keith was glad to finally have met her and he was treating her very well. A little too well, actually. I asked him what was up with that and he said he thinks he likes her. Ah. So that was why he kept on bugging me about it.
“Do you think we could…?” Keith asked, jokingly—then seriously.
“Shut up, Keith.” And he did. He knew I wouldn’t let him pull whatever moves he had in mind—we were all too young for that anyway and Keith loved his childish paper cup tower antics way too much to give it up just yet to go impress pretty girls in school.
We went to meet Emily for lunch and Keith was going to eat with us now. My best friend and sister from another mother. Cheesy, I know. But I liked the feeling. I felt complete having both of them around. It wasn’t that Keith wasn’t enough before—but my yearning for a little sister was something only Emily could fill. Keith knew that and he was chill with it.
Ashley was talking to Emily and again, Ashley went away when she saw Keith and I approaching.
“I think she likes you.” Emily said after saying hi to Keith.
I felt my face blush and Keith was fast to notice. “Dude. Your face.” He ruffled my hair and I just sat there for a while. Really very quiet.
“She’s a good girl, you know. We should invite her to sit with us next time.” Her idea sounded good and I had to admit I was thrilled with it.
Over a few weeks after I met Emily I learned so much about myself. About friendship, family, love. That not all the love stuff between a boy and a girl has to be romantic. Romantic—that wasn’t how it was for me and Emily but there was love there and we both knew it.