The week of Halloween, our parents arranged for us to go trick-or-treating together, but they didn’t need to; we had already planned for it. Mel and I sat on my bed, flipping through books and movies to choose our paired costume.
“Spongebob and Patrick?” he asked.
“Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby?” We were the sole members of our school’s book club.
“Too sad. Also no one would get it. So no.”
“Harry Potter and Hermione?”
“Awesome, but we can do better than awesome.”
We never decided. On Halloween morning I went as the sun like I had last year, and I walked to school with fear and wonder entangled in my daydreams. What if he got angry because we didn’t match? I wondered, regretting my indecision and ignoring the cold wind that bit at my skin. I held onto my yellow-horned hat as I dragged my feet onwards, and was filled with worry about everything—about Mel, about arguments, about the rip in my orange tutu.
I finally arrived at school. Holding my breath, I walked into the classroom with my biggest forced smile—the demeanor made up half of my costume–and there sat Mel, with a white sheet draped over himself. I rolled my eyes, how original of him. Before I could utter any judgements he stood up and lifted the sheet when I got just close enough. I couldn’t register what I was looking at and instead was awkwardly staring at him, uncertain of what was happening and completely ready for the worst–would he scold me? Chastise me for not choosing the costume sooner?
But then I saw the sky blue paint that lined his face, crossing in zigzags over his nose and ending at his temples. Mel had a mischievous air about him that pulled a corner of his lips upward, and his eyes searched mine for approval when I finally realized what he was: a constellation.
“I connected my freckles,” he said, half-embarrassed and half-inquisitive.
Over the summer of our eighth grade year, Mel went to Switzerland—to some fancy city where he’d lived with a host family—and when he came back in time for high school he looked different, although I couldn’t place why. Maybe because it was his personality that had changed, something about being in Switzerland for three months had made him more extroverted. Or maybe it was that he’d grown a little taller since I’d last seen him. Either way, I didn’t notice these details until Janet Morrison started raving about him to everyone who would listen.
“He’s so good-looking!” she exclaimed, fanning herself in cinematic bursts. “Like, it’s not even just his looks or anything. He’s just so nice, you know? Like, I’ve talked to him before—BEST personality.”
After school Janet and some of my other classmates invited me to get milkshakes, and I hesitantly tagged along, for a small part of me wanted to walk home with Mel instead. Walking home was not, I thought, a tradition that Mel and I could just end, but I decided to go with them anyway, hoping to spend some time to be with myself—not physically, but mentally. Conversations that were not between me and Mel weren’t exchanges I found interest in, but they were helpful to listen to since they struck a different chord within me: places where I didn’t feel obligated to talk but could instead observe, and see what the world beyond mine and Mel’s felt like. It was a world with colors that scared and intrigued me, and as unsettling as it was I felt that this exposure to the “outside world” kept me sane.
In the diner on the other side of the city, we settled into our booth and I smiled and nodded and laughed with their stories, never contributing any of my own. I had a good enough time until Janet got up to pay, when I spotted Mel and his friends swaggering through the doors. Well, Mel didn’t swagger—he stopped and looked at me, in the corner, sipping my milkshake and concealed by the layers of people separating us. My embarrassment jabbed at me, and I was wholly aware of the pinkness in my cheeks. A buzz filled my head and my chest, and it only cleared when Mel came to sit beside me.
We talked until everyone left. The same part of me that wanted to walk home with him was the part that felt relieved: relieved that he hadn’t left himself in Europe. Eventually, Mel and I were the only customers at the diner; we’d forgotten how quickly fall afternoons fell to darkness, and how it was not, in fact, possible to fit an entire summer into one conversation.
It wasn’t until we finally departed when I realized how tan he had gotten. Or how his freckles had faded.
We drifted slowly.
It was a Wednesday. English class was over, and I had just finished packing my bags when I looked up and saw no one waiting for me: a sickly image that buried me in loneliness. I ran through the hall and grabbed hold of Mel’s backpack, watching him turn, watching him ask me what I was doing, spreading a look over his face that made my fingers numb. My hands fell to my sides. Mel’s stare pushed me out to sea.
“I was trying to catch up to you,” I half-wheezed, trying to hide how pathetic I felt underneath my smiling eyes.
“Oh.” He stopped and looked after his friends for a long moment. “Sorry.”
“What’re you sorry for?”
“I don’t know.”
He looked me in the eyes and gave me this really wide smile. Mel didn’t have to say anything; I already knew. But I let him run through the drill anyway, because I knew how susceptible he was to guilt. His words passed through me as I prodded him along with enthusiastic nods. “It’s OK, it’s OK,” and “Yeah, no, you’re good. You’re fine.” He had to do homework, he reallyreallyreally wanted to walk home with me after school, but he was sorry he had to go. Signs that he pitied me would stab, but I felt fine when I came up to breathe. I’d make up some excuse—yeah, I need to go too, actually, sorry—and walk away with my head held high and my back straight, like I had somewhere important to be. But I looked into his eyes that Wednesday and shrugged, even smiled a little bit, and the meaning I tried to find in his eyes’ orange green, a color that had existed when he was no taller than his mother’s hips, had run dry.
Our second-to-last week of senior year:
Mel: Wanna meet for dinner? we should catch up
Me: yes. you’re a little late, dontcha think?
we can eat chinese…at the usual place?
Mel: the usual place always!
and sorry. i know i suck
but we’re graduating. whoa
Me: i know. crazy!
save the rest of this conversation for dinner?
“How did we meet again?” he asked. This was the first time he’d ever asked me this question.
“I taught you how to write the letter F.”
He chewed on his gum thoughtfully, as if with every bite he was arranging mental files. Finally he had come across something right, and recognition spread through him: He leaned forward, his eyes warmed, he rolled up his sleeves and folded his arms against the table. I was thrown by how distantly-familiar his face was. His eyes, his nose, his freckles—the very parts of him that I had stared at for years—still held the essence of the person I’d grown up with, even though I vaguely remembered losing that vision of him long ago.
“Oh! That’s right!” he said, and the space around us fell into silence again.
We brought our take out boxes to the car, and the awkwardness and heavenly smells trailed closely behind. Mel was driving to the park, and his knuckles drummed against the wheel as if he had something to say but couldn’t.
“Let’s go to my house,” I blurted, and wordlessly he turned the car around, pressing onward into the stillness of fond suburban streets. We passed by the school, by houses, by childhood landmarks: He remembered the route. Perhaps it had been worth remembering? That idea alone made me happy.
We made ourselves as comfortable as we could on the brown patchy lawn. “Your dad still doesn’t do yard work?”
“I don’t blame the guy.”
I held a white takeout box and slurped noodles, Mel munched on two fortune cookies (he’d taken mine). It was all the same, in a way. Far away somewhere we heard a dog barking and howling up at the sky, and our eyes traveled from each other to the moon hovering above us. I admired the orange of it, thinking of what it was like to admire Mel’s eyes, back when we felt comfort in our memories of each other, our impressions made over years that and heavy with love and friendship and thought.
The street lamp’s white fluorescent light flickered, so that everything seemed to shake as it turned on and off, and a faint glow bounced off our styrofoam food boxes, illuminating us in the monochromatic darkness. The silence swelled until it was no longer uncomfortable but intimate, until it felt right to feel this connection although we were not connected. Maybe Mel felt this, too. He kept the silence in the air rather than forcing it down with small talk. And in the midst of this loud silence and painful nostalgia I felt a bittersweet wholeness, knowing that this person who I would’ve once called family was now a hazy illusion, the ghost of a years-long friendship that had begun to erode in a few short months until every passing day brought more distance between us. ♦
Angela is a 15-year-old San Franciscan with an unhealthy obsession for Parks and Recreation, J. Cole, and J.D. Salinger. Most nights, you can find her writing instead of doing her homework, or maybe making fancy oatmeal. Read more of her work at Woken Magazine, a magazine for women of color, where she is an editor and writer, and at her blog, Peanut Butter Savage.