Become a Book Nerd
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I first notice the short, jet black hair hiding her face. She stands under the neon sign of a diner, pink and blue spilling out from the sign onto her hair’s black canvas.
Ryan, who I’ve forgotten is holding my hand in line at the next-door movie theater, must feel my shock. “Hmm?” he grunts, looking at me first, then in the general direction of where my eyes are fastened.
It’s her. Standing several feet away from me, in front of the same strip mall, in the same town, is Charlotte.
Ryan’s probably said something else by now, but my heightened attention is only on the jet black bob. The bob was once a long, tangled mess, one I used to place flowers in while we laid on the ground, somewhere in the woods behind my house.
The words “best friend” had never come up, because they didn’t need to. She lived just a few houses down the street, and each day after school, we escaped into those woods. An abandoned wooden shed was our castle, one we kept decorated with woven flower chains and paper streamers. We laid in the grass and held hands; sometimes, each other. Every secret of hers was mine, and mine hers. We were tied together by our souls.
One afternoon, when we were both twelve, we were painting with watercolors inside the shed. I leaned over to show her my finished work, a portrait, showcasing the tangled mess I’d portrayed as an infinite, swirling, black majestic mass. She leaned over and kissed me on the mouth.
“June?” is what pulls me out of my long flashback, and it comes from the black bob, who is four feet away from me. For a moment that feels like ten years, there’s no one else outside the movie theatre.
“June, aren’t you introducing me?” says the boyfriend next to me, pulling us from our staring competition in a parallel universe.
“You’re here,” I say, ignoring him. The feeling returns to my arms, legs, face. I want to step closer, but an invisible force keeps my feet fastened the ground. I hug my arms instead.
“Visiting the grandparents. College road trip. Grabbing some dinner.” The smile we share says we’re keeping the best secret the world has ever known. “Six whole years, huh.”
I ran from that shed and out of the woods that afternoon, and I didn’t hear her run after me. Charlotte was a girl. You were only supposed to be kissed by boys. Right? Although, I did think that Charlotte was pretty. Isn’t it normal to think your friend is pretty? And I liked holding her hand while we laid on the grass by the stream, sharing secrets and giggling the day away. I liked that sometimes we fell asleep on the grass, holding each other. Were we allowed to kiss, too? Did I like the **** kiss?
I remember not sleeping much that night. The next morning, I went down the street and knocked on the door.
“You feeling alright?” Ryan whispers to me in the dark theater. I haven’t been paying much attention to the movie. It’s some romantic comedy with an overdone plot. I’ve already predicted that the couple will end up together in the end, shocking us all.
“Mhmm,” I murmur back, pulling my legs up and laying my head on his shoulder for further affirmation. His hand rests on my thigh, and his attention is back to the movie. The couple is now having an intense argument in the rain, not worrying about the risk of pneumonia or flu. The epitome of romance.
After the movie, I ask Ryan to drop me off at home before going to the small get-together at his friend’s. Calling it a small get-together was strange, because I knew we’d arrive and someone would be downing a keg of beer for an chanting audience. I tell him I want to be left alone for the night. With a raise of the eyebrows, he shrugs and turns the ignition.
I saw the stack of moving boxes lined up in the entrance hallway after Charlotte’s mom opened the front door. Charlotte would apologize later for not telling me sooner. Something about her dad’s job being transferred and the better pay that came with it; things we didn’t understand much at twelve, things we didn’t want to accept.
I heard her sniffle a tear while on our normal path to the woods, and I took her hand as we walked.
We sat along the stream outside the shed, a breeze from behind blowing Charlotte’s hair into her face. “I wish I didn’t have to go,” she said after the first uncomfortable silence we’d ever experienced. “I don’t want to go. I’ll miss you so much.” Her eyes were on the tiny flowers she was weaving together in her lap. The tangled mat of black hair kept floating around her face from the wind, and I decided that she was prettier than the flowers. She turned and placed the flowers around my neck. A single tear trickled down her cheek. After wiping it away with my thumb, I pushed her hair from her face and kissed her.
It’s been an hour since I’ve woken up, the darkness outside deciding it’s still nighttime, in spite of my clock saying it’s almost dawn. I can’t sleep, and it’s because of the black bob in front of the neon diner lights, rose-colored cheeks juxtaposed with pale skin, the fit of her torn jean jacket on her body. Charlotte, the girl with the rat nest of dark hair and freckles made by the sun. (I wondered what evil force of nature put it in her head to cut her hair.)
Nearly six years stood between today and the day I watched Charlotte get into her parents’ car, disappearing down the street, disappearing from my life. We were so much smaller, so innocent at 12; how time has passed.
I still went to the woods every day for a month, trying to hold on to her ghost, until the night I woke up alone in the dark, enveloped by loneliness and the shivering breeze. I’d half-expected Charlotte to be next to me. I cried so bitterly into the empty grass, under the teeming canopy of trees painted black by the sky. I never went back.
It is nearly seven this morning, and a demon-like nostalgia has possessed me. I go outside, into the dusk, into a world which Charlotte somehow inhibits once more, into the freshly dewed grass that splashes my ankles. I don’t care if I ever see her again. All I want is to be reminded of how it felt to have my soul’s counterpart with me, in a world that felt like heaven when we had it. I want to remember it forever.
I surprise myself by still knowing the way. The wooden shed is now partly collapsed on one side, pieces of wood torn off by bad weather. The ground varies in patches of dirt, some green, and mostly brown shades of dead grass. The skeleton of a storybook memory I know will live in my heart forever.
Movement by the stream makes my eyes dart, and a jet black bob sits up in the grass. Nostalgia is replaced by the feeling of home, and I remember the empty pages in the back of every storybook.
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