My birthday was amazing, despite a small stomach ache. I spent the day with my mother, going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the exhibition Punk: Chaos to Couture. I got a typewriter, an acoustic guitar, a gift card, and a card that my mother made for me. I had a great time, contrary to my prediction that I would spend the day saddened by the fact that yet another year has gone by.

The next day my mother goes to work, and while she’s there I spend some time in a used bookstore, scouring the shelves for hours. I end up in the art section, and as I’m thumbing through a book of Mary Ellen Mark’s photos a pale, green-haired girl suddenly appears next to me.

“You like her?” she asks, tapping the cover. I can’t place her accent, but it’s definitely foreign. Her voice is warm like fur.

“Yes! She’s one of my favorite photographers!” I say a little too excitedly, because I am happy to have another teenager to talk to, and because this apparition is probably the only other person I have ever met who is into Mary Ellen Mark. We end up talking for a while, about school, video games, flowers, and our mutual love of the 1990s. She tells me her name—Lula—and that she’s from the Netherlands. She’s staying in New York with her aunt for the summer.

She invites me to hang out at her aunt’s place. One call to my mother later, we’re on the train, listening to Nirvana on my cassette player. Thirty minutes after that, we’re walking down the street together, whispering and laughing like we’ve know each other for more than a couple of hours.

The first thing I notice when we walk in her aunt’s house is that just about everything is white. White rugs, white sofa, white roses, white tables.

“Whoa,” I say.

Lula rolls her eyes. “I know. My aunt is…odd.”

We go upstairs to Lula’s room, which thankfully is a bit more colorful than the rest of the house. There’s a quilted bedspread, tulips on the nightstand, and Pearl Jam posters covering an entire wall. Across from the bed there sits a scarred rocking chair. Lula walks over and plops herself onto it. “Make yourself comfortable!” she says.

I sit at the edge of her bed and let a few moments of nervous silence pass. We have been talking so much that it takes me by surprise.

“So,” I say finally, “how come you’re staying with your aunt for the summer?” A longer silence follows as Lula stares at the floor. “You, um, don’t have to-”

“No,” she says, holding up a hand. “It’s because of my boyfriend…Klaus.”

“Oh. Did you two break up?”

“He…died. He, uh…” She takes a deep breath. “He committed suicide.”

“Oh my god.” I don’t know what else to say. “I’m sorry” is too generic; “He’s in a better place now” is, in my book, the worst thing anyone could say in a situation like this.

“My mother sent me here because she thought I would follow in his footsteps,” she continues. “I probably would have if I could. I was serious about him.”

“I think I sort of know how you feel,” I say softly, because she looks so vulnerable right now. When she doesn’t respond, I tell her about what happened with Zoey.

She nibbles on her stubby nails before saying, “But this is different. When you lose the only person that you love, you lose a chunk of your soul, you see?” She drops her head into her palms, her fingers tangling themselves in her hair. She stays that way for a while, and I sit on the bed, completely still.

She looks up and gestures at the quilted bedspread. “Klaus’s mother gave that to me at the funeral,” she says. “There was a note with it, but I’m too afraid to read it.”

“Why are you afraid?”

“Because it will mention Klaus for sure. I don’t want to let it become reality.” This I understand. ♦