Viviana: The Trouble with Boy “Friends”

Viviana: The Trouble with Boy “Friends”

best friends forever

As soon as Viviana Fuyikawa pushed past the broken board in the fence between the tree-filled backyards, she gulped down the cool air of the shady interior of the fort she and her best friend, Kyle Hufferson, had been building forever. Portland had been so hot that summer. Mom said that Portland summers had been much cooler when she was a kid. In any case, Vivie was glad that she and Kyle had a way to get out of the heat without going indoors.
“Popsicles incoming,” yelled Kyle as he thrust aside the same board with his shoulder and held out the icy treat.

“Quick, let’s eat them before they melt. I wanted to play trackers today, but it’s too hot.” Vivie said.

“Yeah,” he agreed. “Let’s just lay low and watch for critters.”

As soon as the popsicles disappeared, they each peered through spaces in between the intertwining branches of the fort walls. Silence descended as they peered out at the vast grassy McDougal yard.

Vivie and Kyle couldn’t remember a time when they hadn’t been friends. Their moms had hit it off when their kids started daycare. They remained close since Kyle and Vivie enrolled in the same kindergarten in the same year.

best game ever

Over the years, the two of them had invented special games of their own. Their favorite was trackers, which they played whenever Vivie’s mom took her to Kyle’s house. The Fuyikawas lived in an apartment building and didn’t have a yard, but the Hufferson’s big house had been a farm house and still had a huge yard with old apple trees, a plum tree, a falling apart green house and bramble bushes behind the greenhouse.

The uneven ground behind the green house formed big pools of rainwater, and Kyle’s dad kept promising to clean out years of accumulated debris, but he never did.

Vivie and Kyle wanted to keep the debris. They’d built their fort from old boards and branches. It even had a roof and a window. Kyle’s mom had given them old blankets and a tarp they used as makeshift beds. The fort was their headquarters for playing trackers.

Kyle looking for wildlife.
Tracking wildlife

Trackers was even more fun when they got to play with the two boys next door to Kyle. In Greg and Harley McDougal’s yard dozens of old trees crowded together. Best of all, their mom kept chickens and rabbits that often got loose from their pens. There was a board in the fence between Kyle’ house and the McDougal house that the kids knew they could move aside and creep past. Once through the secret entry, they covered it with vines that hung down from the willow tree that grew on the McDougal side of the fence.

school friends

Greg and Harley also went to Angelford Elementary. Harley was in Vivie’s grade but hadn’t been in the same kindergarten class as she and Kyle. Greg was two years younger, but he wasn’t the usual kind of bothersome little brother. Harley had trained him to go along with everything the big kids wanted if he wanted to be allowed to play with them.

Vivie also played trackers at school with the boys. They would search the edge of the playground for frogs, anthills and racoon scat. They also built a fort at school behind the gardener’s shed at the far end of the soccer field. They stashed huge piles of leaves back there. Then when thunderstorms brought down large tree branches, they dragged them back of the shed where they lashed them to the fence with smaller branches and made a shelter over the leaves.

Do it yourself fort
Vivie building a playhouse – fort in the summertime sunshine. Youthful childhood outdoor activity using wood, hammer and nails.

In this hidden place, they kept many treasures that they found in their tracker expeditions. None of the other kids ever found it because you had to pull aside a section of cyclone fence to get back there. And they covered the fence with vines. While she watched across the meadow, Vivie started thinking about their school fort. It would be extra important this year since for the first time she and Kyle wouldn’t be in the same classroom.

“I’m really mad we won’t be in class together this year,” she whispered.

“It’s probably a good idea,” he answered.

viviana’s confused

What did he mean by that? Vivie had other friends, girls she knew from her own neighborhood. She played with them most of the time after school since her mom couldn’t take her over to Kyle’ house on weekdays. Up until now, at school, though, she almost always played with Kyle. They were best friends.

Or so she thought.

Kyle’s mom called, “Vivie’s mom is here.” She never got to ask what he meant.

The next week school started, Even though she knew he wouldn’t be there, Vivie twisted in her desk and scanned the room for Kyle. Maybe, she would see him at recess.

something’s weird

But at recess she had a hard time finding him on the playground. When she checked the secret fort, she found it had been taken apart–not just sort of swept out like they had done in other years, but completely taken down. Who did that? She looked for Kyle and found him playing baseball with other boys far away on the field. There was no way to talk to him. She kept watching him, hoping to catch his eye, but once he got close, he walked right by her. Was he ignoring her?

She planned to find him at lunch to ask about the fort. But Kyle’s class had lunch before hers. When she arrive at the lunchroom, his table was filled with boys. Now she’d wait until afternoon recess. This time her class was out of school first and she waited by the door to catch Kyle.

Finally, he dashed past her. “Hey, Kyle” she said, trying to sound casual. But he didn’t even turn his head at her voice. She ran after him, calling “Kyle, I have something important to ask you.”


The other boys stopped dead and Kyle ran into a chubby Billy, who turned around and grinned at Vivie, “Kyle’s got a girlfriend. Kyle’s got a girlfriend,” he chortled.

“I do not,” Kyle yelled at him.

“Yeh, you do. There’s your sweetheart right there. You want to go and kiss her behind the garden shed.”

Kyle pushed Billy in the chest. And then he turned to Vivie, “Leave me alone will you.” And he ran off toward the field.

Vivie felt like her feet were cemented to the school steps. She watched Kyle run off with the other boys. Why was her best friend acting that way?

“Boys can be really mean. Do you love him?” Rachel, from her class, stood beside her. The whole time! Vivie hadn’t realized.

too young for love?

“Of course, I don’t love him.” She insisted. I’m a third grader. We’re too young for that kind of stuff. He’s just my friend.”

“My mom says you’re never too young or too old for love,” Rachel said.

“I don’t think she means being in love, like girlfriend-boyfriend.”

“I’m pretty sure she did. You look broken-hearted to me right now.”

Vivie thought about what Rachel said. Was she heartbroken? Not really. What was she feeling? Confused. That’s what she was feeling. Confused and angry. How dare Kyle do that to her. No it wasn’t heartache, it was something else. Something she didn’t quite know how to name. Something she didn’t want to talk about–at least not right now.

“I’m going in.”

She spun away and over to an older girl monitoring the school doors. “I need to use the toilet,” she murmured. Once in the deserted hall, she dashed for the girl’s bathroom. Vivie stood for a long time staring in the mirror. She looked the same as always. Yet, something must have changed.

Because Kyle didn’t want to be her friend anymore.

from bad to worse

Friday, just minutes after the loud clanging of the recess bell, Vivie rushed with her classmates through the double doors out to the wide asphalt playground. The cool autumn air lifted her spirits. What a perfect day for a meeting at the fort. And then her gut curled in on itself. But not for her. Today, she’d have to stay away from Kyle.

She took a deep breath and marched herself over to the climber. All clear. She swung up to the top. Perched there, she could see not only the whole playground, but the soccer field beyond the school. Everywhere she looked kids gathered happily, jumping rope, kicking a soccer ball, playing tag, or clustered in corners of the field chatting loudly and excitedly.

No one missed her.

“Hee, hee, hee, look at the monkey.” She spun so quickly she almost lost her balance. At the bottom of the climber, Kyle grinned and pointed at her, and the two boys with him took up monkey-like chatter, mocking her with full-toothed grimaces and hunched, swinging arms. “If you’re looking for Tarzan, Jane, he ain’t here,” the red-headed one taunted her.

Vivie slid quickly down the bars and walked with as much dignity as she could toward the Benson bubbler beside the school steps. She let the cool water not only run down her throat, but splash across her face until she felt she could look up without blushing. As she rubbed the water out of her eyes, she noticed that Rachel, her deep brown eyes wide, her head tilted so that her heavy brown hair fell over one shoulder, sat on the top concrete step, watching her. Rachel must have seen what had happened, but although she smiled kindly, she said nothing.

a fresh start

On Monday, Vivie trailed behind as the kids headed out for recess. Maybe she could ask Ms. Winterbrook to spend recess in the library. She looked around for her teacher and found Rachel standing right behind her. “Let’s play hopscotch. I brought big colored chalks with me today.”

Vivie looked up at the taller girl. Her throat constricted. “I don’t exactly know how to play hopscotch.” It felt stupid to admit that, and she looked again for their teacher.

Rachel smiled and shrugged. “I can show you how to play. It’s easy.”

Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t, Vivie thought, but it sure was better than staying inside.

Once Rachel drew the hopscotch outline in pink on the sidewalk between the school garden and the kindergarten annex, she wrote each number in a different color. “You can just use plain white chalk, but why not get a little creative?”

Rachel’s upbeat attitude cheered Vivie up. The rules to hopscotch made it sound easy. With the first throw of her chosen stone, however, she found out it was more difficult than it looked. Accuracy really counted. And when she fell smack on her face trying to pick the stone up on number three, she realized she needed agility as well. “Boy, this is lots harder than it looks,” she told Rachel.

“Yep. But you’ll get better. You’re already doing better than I did at first. It just takes practice, as the grown-ups are always saying.”

new challenges

Because it rained Wednesday night, their beautiful hopscotch grid no longer existed on Thursday morning. As Rachel and she discussed whether to draw a new one, Pam Stewart walked up to them. “Hey, you two, I’ve got a bunch going to jump rope. We could use some more. What about it?”

Pam, the school’s top soccer player, had the strong, shapely arms and legs of an athlete. For all that, her blue eyes were fringed with long curly lashes, and her smile was very appealing. Still, Vivie hesitated. She was just getting the hang of Hopscotch, but jumping rope was a real sport. She looked at Rachel. Her new friend had already turned toward Pam, a look of eager anticipation on her face. Vivie shrugged. “Sure.”

“Yes!” Rachel said and high-fived her. At the edge of the playground closest to the fenced off sidewalk, two jump ropes looped giant circles skimming the ground before soaring into the air. One flashed so quickly, Vivie could barely see it move.

Pam gestured to the slower-moving rope. “Those girls are practicing single jumps. Over here, we’re doing turn-arounds and touch-downs. Which one do you want to try?”

“Definitely the slower one. I’m new to this.” Vivie said.

“You’re telling me you’ve never jumped ropes before?” Pat’s mouth fell wide open -just like in a comic book.

Vivie squared her shoulders and opted for simple honesty. “No, not really.”

“Maybe you should watch for a while before jumping in,” Pam suggested.

For a long moment, Rachel looked from one group of girls to the other before saying, “I need to practice turn-arounds.”

Vivie stepped back. “I’ll watch you before I try.” And Rachel ran toward the rope and jumped right in. Her feet hopped and skipped so rapidly, Vivie couldn’t follow her moves.

“Okay, Rach, my turn,” someone shouted, and Rachel slipped out as though the ropes weren’t even there.

“That was awesome,” Vivie told her.

“You try now,” Rachel said and turned to the rope turners. “Slow it down a bit for Vivie, okay?”

It didn’t help. Vivie wasn’t just bad at jumping rope. She was abysmal. Every single time she tried to run in and leap out of the way of the rope, it twisted around her ankles. “I’m never going to learn this,” she muttered after what felt like the hundredth time. Oh, how she wished she could just run and hide, but her fort had vanished. Now no one would want to play with her, not Kyle or Rachel. On Friday, she got permission to spend recess in the hushed refuge of the school library.

a brief respite

But she was wrong about Rachel. On Monday, as the class headed to lunch, Rachel stopped at Vivie’s locker. “Get your lunch box and come sit with me.” she said and ran to grab them a couple of seats. Vivie followed more slowly. The gym, where they ate lunch, resounded with stomping feet and shouting kids. At the door, Vivie hesitated. Rachel had so many friends already. But when Rachel saw her, she started waving her arm and calling Vivie over. She really wanted to sit with her. Even though Vivie looked around for Kyle as she headed to the table, she felt better than she had since school started.

but continuing angst

But as she walked out of school after the final bell, Kyle pushed her from behind and she stumbled. He spun around and shouted, “Hey, watch where you’re going, Two Left Feet. Can’t jump rope. Can’t even walk out the door!”

Behind him, she caught sight of other smirking boys.

Vivie ran all four blocks to her home, cutting down the alley, across the yard, leaping over her mother’s raised vegetable bed, and banged through the back door. Mom sang along with some Broadway music on Alexa as she scrapped carrots at the sink. Vivie skirted around the kitchen table. She wanted to be upstairs before her mother realized she was crying, but Mom glanced over her shoulder as she slipped by.

“Viviana, what’s wrong, are you hurt?” Mom dropped the peeler, wiped her slender hands on her apron, and stepped quickly to Vivie’s side and lifted her daughter’s chin.

Vivie shook her head. “No, I’m fine.”

“But you’ve been crying.” Her mother wiped a tear from her cheek.

“It’s nothing, okay? I just need to get up to my room.” Vivie pulled away and ran for the stairs, dreading that her mother would follow, but she didn’t. Vivie wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. She knew for sure she couldn’t tell Mom about Kyle. His mom was her mom’s best friend. What if they talked it over and did something about it? That would be horrible.

brighter days

By October, Vivie’s mood was almost as bright as the autumn leaves. Rachel and she were spending every recess together now. Vivie won as often as she lost at hopscotch. While she stil avoided the dreaded jump roper, she enjoyed watching the other girls do straddle crosses, scissors, and heal-toe touches.
Pam encouraged her to try out for soccer, so her parents signed her up.

Although smaller than most of the players, Vivie excelled at swooping past the bigger girls and stealing the ball. Most of the time, life was going great. But the empty, achy place in her heart didn’t go away.

For Thanksgiving, her mom invited her parents and her younger twin brothers Dan and Dave. Dad’s older brother Bob, his wife, and their new baby came too. Vivie loved them all, but was happiest to see her father’s younger sister, Betty, a student at Reed College.

Her dad grilled the turkey so that the skin was crispy and delicious. Mom’s mother, Grandma Sophie, brought her famous potato casserole that disappeared completely, although everyone also dug into the turkey stuffing, the creamed corn, the spinach souffle, and the mashed yams.

viviana seeks advice

During the dinner, Vivie listened to everything Betty had to say. Her aunt loved the outdoors as much as Vivie and studied environmental sciences. She had climbed the Andes and Mountains and backpacked all over the west. And as long as Vivie could remember, Betty had been someone who gave her straight answers to questions when other grown-ups hemmed and hawed.

Even though Betty never talked much about boyfriends, she seemed to have guy friends that were part of the group she went camping and rafting with. So, Vivie felt sure she could ask her about Kyle if she got the chance.

Vivie finished long before the grown-ups and watched for a chance to talk with Betty on her own. As the plates emptied, the friendly chatter slowed. “Whoa,” Betty pushed her plate away. “I can’t eat another bite and I had my heart set on two pieces of pie. Guess I’ll do the dishes and make some room.”

Vivie’s mom put a hand on her sister-in-law’s shoulder. “But you’re our guest.”
“Don’t be silly,” Betty said and winked at Vivie. “In this family, I’m more like Vivie’s big sister than her aunt, right little sis?”

“Guess that means I’m doing the dishes too,” Vivie responded. Here was her chance to talk with Betty.

“Sounds mighty good to me,” said Gramma. “These old legs won’t hold me up much longer.”

Everyone laughed because Gramma was only 60 years old, did yoga three times a week, and had walked a half-marathon the year before. “Come, you two,” she gestured to Mom and Dad. “Let’s enjoy a second glass of that good Chablis and let the young ones do scullery duty.”

Vivie waited as the dining-room door swung its slow arc back and forth and finally settled closed before blurting, “Aunt Betty, I just have to talk to you.”

Her aunt already had her arms deep in sudsy water, but she flipped her long black ponytail over her shoulder and peered back at Vivie, “Well, come over here and grab a dish towel. No one will bother us. We’ll be lucky if those old folks don’t fall asleep before dessert.” Vivie giggled at Betty’s imitation of Gramma’s voice.

“What’s so urgent? You look ready to burst.”

what went wrong?

“Kyle hates me. He’s mean to me. Won’t play or even talk to me.” Darn it! Hot wet tears dripped onto her hands.

“Did you two have a fight?” Betty passed Vivie the turkey platter.

She sat it on the drainboard and slowly wiped it. “That’s just it. Until school started, we played all the time. Just like it’s always been. Then when I tried to talk with him at school, he walked away.”

“Didn’t anything different happen?”

Vivie frowned. Had something happened? Oh, yeah, the boys teasing him. “Well, just some of his friends called me his girlfriend and then he got all mad and stuff.”

Betty’s forehead creased as she moved away from the sink. “He was embarrassed, right?” Her hands reached toward Vivie. “Let me put that platter up on the shelf. You wash for a while. There’s a stool for you by the broom closet.”

the mysterious invisible divide

They changed places. Vivie plunged her hands into the suds. It felt good. She picked up a cup, thinking about what Betty had said. “I guess. But can’t girls and boys be friends, you know, like friend-friends, not boy-friend and girl-friend stuff?”

Betty took the cup from her. “I wish I had a good answer for you, Sweetie, but I really don’t know. I do know that’s it’s pretty much like that everywhere in elementary school.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Girls stick with girls. Boys play with boys. There’s some invisible divide there that kids just don’t cross.”

Vivie blew up inside like a hot air balloon. “That’s stupid!”

Betty laughed, not loudly, just a slight giggle, but Vivie got cross, “It’s not funny. It hurts.” She slammed the plate she was drying onto the counter. It smashed in a thousand pieces.

Betty jumped. “I’m sorry, Viv, I didn’t mean to laugh.” Then she knelt beside Vivie so they could the slivers of china. “I wish I was a psychologist instead of an environmentalist. I’d probably have a more logical explanation for you.”

“But you have friends that are boys, and they’re not your boyfriends.” Vivie said. “Why can’t I?” This time she bit her lip so she wouldn’t start crying again.

Betty shook her head slowly. “You’re not quite old enough. When I got serious with Jim in high school, I learned the difference between liking a guy as a friend or falling in love with him.” Betty cocked her head to the side and half closed her slanted eyes. “Even so, it wasn’t always easy. Believe me, there were times I got it mixed up.”

Vivie wondered if her aunt was just now answering that question for herself. “So, what did you figure out?” Vivie didn’t think she was in love, but she’d like to figure it out.

“Pass me another plate would you.” Betty wiped the plate quickly, took another and stacked them together and stared down at them. “Uh, this is something you need to talk to your Mom about.”

“Oh, it has to do with “sex” right?”

Betty’s mouth went into a big O of surprise. “I didn’t know that you knew about that.”

“Of course, I do,” Vivie said. “I’m not a baby.”

“Just a second.” Betty dumped dirty dishwater down the sink, squirted an enormous stream of green soap into the dish tub, and turned the hot water on high. Bubbles erupted so fast that some flew into the air. She slid a huge stack of dirty flatware into the tub and sighed.

love is ???!

“It’s a lot easier to explain what being in love isn’t than what it is. It can start out like any other really good friendship and change. But sometimes it’s LOVE – you know in capital letters – right from the beginning.”

Vivie took the knives Betty had rinsed and wiped them one by one, staring at her reflection in the blades. Were her eyes the same cinnamon brown as her aunt’s? Were her lips as rosy? “But how is it different, different than being best friends?”

Betty took a deep breath, rinsed her hands under the running water and dried them with a paper towel. “Let’s sit down.” She put her hands on Vivie’s shoulders and gently pushed her toward the kitchen table. “Okay, the absolute truth is no one can tell you that. You already know what it means to truly love someone. You love your parents so much you can’t imagine your life without them, but you can imagine growing up and living away from them.”

“Will that mean I don’t love them anymore?”

“Of course not. They’ll always have a very special kind of love from you for the rest of your lives. But someday you’ll love someone so much that you can’t imagine living apart from them not even for a day. Sometimes it will feel like you can’t be apart for even an hour. That’s the different kind of love, they call ‘being in love.’”

“The happily ever after kind?”

nothing like it

“You won’t even need to be happy all the time. With good friends, it’s sometimes about how much fun it is to be with them. But when you fall in love, there’s a whole other thing going on. You’ll love being with them, but you’ll also trust them with your whole heart and soul.” Betty voice was so light she was almost singing. “It’s this feeling like nothing else.”

Vivie’s chest tightened with impatience. “I know. I want to know what that “feeling” is.”

Betty hunched her shoulders and glanced at the kitchen door. She placed her hands over Vivie’s smaller ones on the crisp white kitchen tablecloth. “You got it when you said it was about sex.”

Vivie’s whole body stiffened. “You mean if you are in love with someone, you want to have a baby with them?”

Betty’s sputtered. “No, no, and double no. The really good feelings, the ones that make you want to be physically closer to one special person don’t only happen when you’re ready to have a baby.”

“Why would that happen?” Vivie was confused.
Betty stared at the kitchen clock so long, Vivie thought she wouldn’t answer. But then she took a deep breath. “This isn’t a perfect answer, but it’s sort of like we eat something delicious like cherry pie because we are hungry and eating keeps us alive, but we also eat it because it just plain tastes great. Truth is no one really needs dessert. We just enjoy it. It feels so good to savor the taste.”

Vivie got the part about the pie but didn’t see how it connected to her question.

Betty’s eyes opened wide and captured Vivie’s gaze. “I can see this doesn’t answer your question. What I’m trying to say is just like people eat to stay alive but also for pleasure, they have a deep need to be as physically close to one another as possible for many more reasons than simply to have babies.”

“Is that what falling in love is?”

“It’s a big part of it, but I’m having a hard time explaining it to you because eight-year- old kids don’t have those kinds of feelings.”

not the answer viviana needed

“And it doesn’t explain why boys and girls can’t just be friends,” Vivie protested.

“Not doesn’t,” Betty sighed. “But I do know that at your age, most boys really like to hang around with other boys. And girls like to hang around with other girls. There are people who have studied the reasons for this and the reasons are pretty complicated and that doesn’t help with how lonely you’re feeling since Kyle stopped being your best friend. What about your other friends?”

“Well, there’s Rachel. She’s been teaching me hopscotch. But she’s just doing it to be nice. That’s the way she is. Anyway, she has so many friends already, we couldn’t be best friends.”

“Maybe not. No one becomes our best friend overnight. You and Kyle had years to become best friends, but you certainly didn’t start out that way.”

“But why would Rachel be my best friend. She doesn’t know anything about playing trackers or other stuff I love.”

“And why doesn’t she?” Betty’s voice had a note of challenge.

Vivie felt a hot blush flash into her cheeks, and she stared down at their clasped hands.

Betty lifted Vivie’s chin. “You know why, don’t you? No one has shown her. Why don’t you ask her to play?”

“She might think it was a dumb boy game.”

“And she might not.”

new possibilities

The kitchen door creaked loudly, and Gramma pushed through, “Hey, you two, it’s time for pie. Let’s get the coffee brewing.” She bustled over to the kitchen sink to fill the coffee pot. Vivie and Betty got up to help her.

As Vivie snuggled into the folds of her Park Ranger comforter that night, she could barely keep her eyes open, but she fell asleep imagining what she could tell Rachel about Trackers on Monday. She would always be glad Kyle had taught her so many things about wildlife and the outdoors. And if her aunt was right, maybe they’d be friends again someday. But right now, she felt a light go on inside when she imagined Rachel seeing racoon tracks for the first time., i

Tracks in the wild
paw prints of a raccoon