He was smaller than I was by about an inch. Slender. Sandy brown hair. Dark eyes. A nice smile. He wore denim jeans and long sleeved “cowboy” shirt. I sat in my seat, the bus slowing filling to capacity as the driver made his way into town. My school was the last stop on the route and by the time we got there, there were about a dozen of us still on the bus. I had been too shy to say “hello” and he hadn’t said anything to me either. As I got up to get off the bus, he stepped out in front of me, saying “excuse me” and walked off the bus in front of me.
I sat up and looked at Cliff. There was a genuine look of concern in his eyes. It was something different. I’m not sure I’d ever seen it before. I could tell that he really cared if I was okay. He helped me to my feet and asked if I wanted to try again. I looked over at his brother and said I didn’t think so. He said that was fine and walked the horses back to the barn. He apologized for his brother and told me what a jerk he was. I agreed with him and we laughed and spent the afternoon exploring in the barn and in the woods on his property.
As the afternoon sun started its descent, I said good-bye and got on my bike and headed home. He asked if he could ride with me to the highway and his mom said yes. We rode our bikes down the county road weaving back and forth, having races, braking hard and throwing gravel everywhere…laughing and smiling. He stopped at the highway and said good-bye and waved as I pedaled back toward home. I turned and waved, saying I’d see him on Monday and pedaled my bike back home.
Mom asked how my day was when I got home and told her I had a lot of fun. I told her about riding the horse (but not the getting bucked off part). I told her how nice Cliff was and how nice his mom and dad were. She said that it would be okay if I wanted to have Cliff come over sometime and play here. I said that would be great and went down to our bedroom.
As I went to bed that night, I thought about the day with Cliff and how much fun it was. I’d never had a friend that lived close. My folks didn’t like us playing with the family that lived across the railroad tracks behind our farm so I never got to be friends with the kid that was my age. But today, I felt like I had found a “real” friend. And I had.