It was midnight and we lay on our backs in the bed of Bethany’s truck. We were in the middle of a cornfield and it was after harvesttime, so it was just the three of us and the leftover broken stalks. There was supposed to be a meteor shower that night. We’d been watching them together since we were in elementary school, back when we’d watch from my trampoline with my parents sitting on the swing on the porch, back when we thought the meteors were shooting stars and we’d make wishes.
Nick checked the time on his phone. “It should start any minute now,” he said.
That was his job, to check the time. Nick made sure things happened when they were supposed to.
The night was clear and the sky was so huge it felt infinite, so big that I felt the weight of it.
The world feels too big. Sometimes the world feels so big you can’t breathe.
My breath hitched and my fingers jerked, reaching for the edge of my notebook that lay next to me. I never let it get too far away. I’d gotten better at not reacting when it happened, but I had to write it down before I forgot the words. I sat up.
The world feels too big. Sometimes the world feels so big you can’t breathe, I wrote.
“Hey, lay back down,” Nick said.
Not yet. “What time is it?” I asked him.
“12:03,” he said.
12:03, I wrote.
Nick and Bethany didn’t ask what I was writing. They were used to my documenting. They were used to everything about me. Bethany and I had been together since birth, born only a day apart. She came first. Nick had been in my class every year since kindergarten, but we didn’t start spending time together until the fifth grade, when we were assigned to work together on a social studies project. Our project was called “Cotton: Then and Now.” It was a long and arduous task. Secrets were spilled. Bonds were forged.
Bethany nudged me. “Is it happening again?” she asked.
I nodded. It happened more and more.
She pulled me down to them. “Keep your eyes on the stars,” she said. “They are so beautiful.”
They are so beautiful.
She felt me flinch and turned to me. “It’s okay,” she said.
They are so beautiful they are SO beautiful.
“I’m with you,” she told me. Her breath on my cheek was warm and smelled like coconut. Bethany always smelled like sunscreen and reminded me of summer.
And she was right. The stars were beautiful. I imagined what Earth would look like if I was on a star and looking down at it.
The world feels too big.
I imagined sitting on the star and looking down at Earth. I’d hold up my thumb and close one eye so the whole world disappeared behind it.
I squeezed the notebook to my chest. Sometimes I could just hold it and feel better. Nick scooted closer to me so that his leg touched mine. He knew when I needed him to touch me.
A year ago, things had changed between us. One day, every time I looked up, he was looking back at me, and then I caught him drawing my face in the margins of his history notebook. He drew all the time, but he’d never drawn me before. When I asked him about it, he said, “I just feel better when I’m looking at you.”
His dad had gone to prison two years earlier and Nick had been sad ever since, so I was glad something was making him feel better. We started spending more and more time together, just the two of us. He’d come over and we’d sit on my porch swing. My parents didn’t know what to think of it, so I’d bring a textbook outside with me. We could all pretend it was just homework. Nick would even ask me a question or two. At first we sat on opposite ends of the swing, but every day he’d sit a little closer, until we sat so close that our legs touched. Once he pulled a sucker from his pocket. It was root-beer-flavored, our favorite, but there was only one. We shared it, back and forth from his mouth to mine. That was how things changed between us. It was a few gained inches on a front-porch swing and that sucker. He told me things he’d never told anyone, the kinds of things you’d confess only in the dark. It was a powerful feeling, and I was addicted.
He noticed things about me that others didn’t. Some were big and some were small. He noticed that the time we almost had a wreck, I covered my ears instead of closing my eyes. It was the same way with scary movies, in the everybody-is-about-to-die parts. I’d much rather see it than hear it. He knew I didn’t read books with animals in them, just in case they didn’t survive the story, and I didn’t eat yellow food, not because I thought it was gross but because yellow was my favorite color and I thought the world needed more of it, not less. After our first fight, he snuck into my house while my parents and I were out for dinner and painted one of my bedroom walls sunlight yellow. My parents didn’t appreciate his apology like I did.
He was the first person to realize something was wrong. He knew before I did.
I noticed things about him, too. His pinkie finger on his right hand was crooked for reasons we couldn’t remember and he prayed before he ate, but only a soft mumble so nobody would notice. It was the same thing when he did something nice for someone. It was small gestures, so if you weren’t watching closely, you’d miss it. That was Nick. He never wanted to reveal his true self. When his mom left town with her boyfriend and he had to go live with his aunt Linda, he started saying, “I’m okay,” before anyone had a chance to ask him how he was doing.