I strain on my tiptoes to try and see over the crowds of people in the airport, whipping my head around in the direction of my best friend’s voice.
A wide grin breaks out on my face as I spot him, standing with the same battered handmade sign bearing my name as he uses every time I come to visit.
It is on the back of a cereal box, in a child’s scrawl in glittery green paint, and has both our handprints on the corners.
A matching grin spreads across the familiar face of Jake Nelson as I launch myself toward him, elbowing a small elderly woman out of my way in the process.
“Jakey!” I squeal, flinging my arms around his neck.
He chokes slightly with the force of the contact before laughing and picking me up to swing me around in a circle, hitting the little old lady again with my flailing legs in doing so.
“Teenagers!” My dad apologizes with a shrug, picking her bag up off the floor for her. The old lady tuts and waddles off. “George, what have I told you before about running off without me!”
“Sorry, Dad.” I giggle. “But I had to find Jake.”
“Hey, Mr. Evans, good flight?”
“As good as any flight is with a hormonal teenage daughter.”
“Daa-add!” I pout. I’d made the mistake of telling my dad I felt bloated and grumpy because my period was due soon. I should have known he’d blab to everyone.
Jake grins at my blushing cheeks and slings his arm over my shoulders, pulling me into his side.
“Don’t worry, George. I’ll make you endless mugs of hot chocolate when the time comes.”
“And back rubs?” I cross my arms in front of me and pout more.
“Of course back rubs!” Jake kisses the top of my head and squeezes my shoulder slightly.
The three of us make our way to collect our bags before following Jake out to where his dad is waiting in their rental car.
“Jimmy!” James Nelson gets out of the car and gives my dad a big bear hug, lifting him slightly off the ground.
Jake’s and my dad had been best friends since they were in middle school, hitting it off because they were both called James.
They went to the same college, Jake’s dad studying business and my dad studying architecture, and they started a builder’s merchant business together after graduation.
Headquarters is still based in their hometown of Duluth, Minnesota.
When my mom died a few years previous, Dad found it too hard to stay in the city where they grew up, so he relocated to San Francisco with me and started another branch of the company there.
The Evans and Nelson families have always been like extensions of the same family, vacationing together every summer since Jake and I were toddlers, hence the shitty airport sign.
It means more now as the summer and Christmas holidays are the only times I get to hang out with Jake, and we make the most out of the time we get to spend together.
Or had until Jake started attending a football camp for the last six weeks of every summer break, cutting our best friend time down to four weeks.
Which I always feel go quicker than any other four weeks in the whole year.
“And little Georgie Porgie! You’ve got taller since Christmas.” He pulls me into a tight hug too. “Let’s go eat before we go to the house.”
“IHOP!” Jake and I shout in unison.
“Of course IHOP.” Jake’s dad scoffs, a smile playing on his lips.
After an afternoon filled with food, food, and more food, Jake and I are curled up under a blanket on the back porch of the holiday house our dads rented for this year’s holiday.
Jake has his head resting on my shoulder, and I am playing with his hair. He let it grow out the last year, and his brown hair now hangs down in line with his jaw.
He shaved an undercut into it, and I rub my hand on the short Velcro-like hair there.
“I can’t believe how long your hair’s got since I last saw you.”
“You see it on Skype all the time.” He shrugs.
“That’s not the same. You can’t really see it properly on a computer screen. Plus, you tie it back a lot.” I tug a little on it, and he sighs, snuggling into my neck a little more, snaking his arms around my waist.
I drop my voice to a whisper. “How come your mom isn’t here, Jake?”
He sighs again and sits up, inadvertently pulling the blanket off me as he sits forward, running a hand over his face.
“I think…I think my folks are splitting up.” His voice is a whisper too. When he sniffs, I quickly move to wrap my arms tightly around his shoulders, burying my face in his neck.
“Oh, Jakey. I’m so sorry.”
I feel him shrug under my arms.
“S’ok. They’ve done nothing but bitch and moan at each other for months. I think I’d rather them split than keep that up.” He sniffs again, and I feel damp on the sleeve of my hoodie.
I squeeze him tightly and press my lips gently against his temple.
“Love you, Jakey.”
“Love you too, Georgie.”
Our four weeks have flown by, yet again.
Jake and I spent our days skateboarding and swimming, exploring the local forests, and our nights battling each other on the Xbox. Yep, I’m a total tomboy.
Being only children, Jake and I see each other as siblings, and when we were little, it was much more fun joining in with Jake’s games and toys than trying to persuade him to play with my dolls.
It is one of the things I miss most, having moved away: being able to be completely myself.
Jake and I overheard a few of our dad’s late-night conversations, and Jake is right; his parents are getting a divorce.
The biggest worry, it seems, for both our dads is that Jake’s mom is currently running the business in Duluth with James.
It seems that she wants to continue in her current role or wants big compensation if they want her gone. When we eavesdropped on that particular conversation, Jake’s forest-green eyes filled with tears.
Especially when his dad dropped the f-ing c-word in reference to his mom. My heart broke for my best friend.
“I can’t believe I’m losing you to a bunch of spandex-clad boys for the next six weeks,” I mumble into Jake’s chest. These Nelson boys like their bear hugs, I can tell you.
Over the last two years, Jake developed the lean muscular physique of a football player, and his hugs now feel like he could easily crush me if he squeezes a little too hard.
“You’re just jealous because you wanna perv on all my hot teammates.” He grins and ruffles my hair. I huff and pull away from him, trying to fix my hair a little.
“Dick.” I stick my tongue out at him. “But seriously, Jakey, let me know how things go with y’know.” I gesture toward his dad with my chin.
His grin drops, and he nods. I pull him in for another hug as our plane gets called.
“Come on, George. See you guys later. Great holiday yet again! Call you later, James.” My dad starts pulling me toward our gate. “Have fun at camp, Jake!”
I turn back and wave before the crowd swallows me up.