Even though Rick and Frankie couldn’t afford to go places, the billboards that swallowed their houses took them to other worlds. They’d sit up on the hill that overlooked the valley and write stories about people who wear fancy clothes and sip Champagne in luxury cars. Frankie wasn’t “the girl next door” even though she lived next to Rick. She was destined for New York or Hollywood. She had that look about her, a look that only comes around once every 50 years. Socially, she was way ahead of Rick and he often wondered why she had not made the cover of Life. It’s funny, because her dad looked like everyone else. He bowled and he belched and he scratched in public the places he shouldn’t. And her mom hung ferns and spider plants from their living room ceiling like everyone else’s mom. Back then you couldn’t walk through a living room in South Newburg without hitting your head on a hanging plant! Sometimes Rick sat with Frankie in that living room drinking lemonade after a day of make-believe and looked up at all the holes in their ceiling like he was counting stars. These were the holes of hanging plants that came before the hanging plants of their day. If Frankie’s mom wasn’t careful, there would’ve been no ceiling left — just a gaping hole that once supported the floorboards of an attic — the trove of keepsakes sprawled out on the floor with dirt, broken plants and shards of terra cotta. Maybe having folks like everyone else was what made Frankie so imaginative. She was able to look exotic and still dream for more.
Rick had been hanging out with Frankie for about 4 years when he noticed her changes. She was a better writer than him, and since she was a better writer he had had no problem with her editing his work. When she was 10 she would reach over his shoulder from behind and with his pen correct his misspelled words and grammatical errors. It was easy for Rick to concentrate on what Frankie was doing for him. Her helping him was really helping him. But when she was 14 and making corrections to his work, and brushing up against him, he found himself making more mistakes than ever. Because he was also 14 and liked how it felt when she brushed up against him. Suddenly, he no longer cared to dream about people who wear fancy clothes and sip Champagne in luxury cars. He thought drinking lemonade in a plaster galaxy with hanging plants and Frankie next to him was the only billboard he wanted to travel to. So one day he kissed her. That’s when she told him that her favorite billboards are the ones that have rich, handsome men on them. Saddened and batting both eyes a mile a minute, Rick stumbled for words and came up with, “that’s okay…we could still be friends.”
After the kiss, Rick and Frankie remained awkward friends. When Rick started going to the pool to look at a 19 year old lifeguard named Evangeline, who was a must-see for 14 year old boys like Rick, Frankie saw less and less of her writing partner. A few years later, when the recession hit, and the billboards that paid homage to the rich and famous were replaced with billboards that told you how to file for unemployment, no one aged more than Rick and Frankie. They converted to muckraker-ism and met up on the hill to write about their plans to get themselves out of this mess. Rick kept his kisses to himself and he became a better writer. Frankie fell in and out of love with Rick dozens of times until they were well into their twenties and she had written off rich, handsome men completely.
Illustrated by Joyce Sajovie