Wind whips my hair into my face as I drive, my eyes wide and my mouth open in a constant shout of elation.
I'm going too fast - I know I am, but it's a mostly empty road, and apart from a few people mowing their lawns, there's no one to see me. And it's not like I'm going to crash - I was told I passed my driving test with flying colors.
I narrowly avoid crashing into a mailbox, swerve around a corner, and finally screech to a halt near my best friend's house. In the sudden silence, I get out of the car.
Without the sound of tires squealing and wind, the street is almost unsettlingly quiet. Only the sound of a few birds chirping and the hum of the lawn mowers and bees remains. The path to the door seems infinitely long, and I almost wish I hadn't gone. But I have to. I owe her that much, I promised her.
I walk down the path to the door. The stones are cracked, but moss fills those cracks, and branches bend down towards the ground, sheltering the house from the sun. There's nobody out here making lemonade, laughing, throwing water balloons at one another, but everyone is probably inside.
I knock on the door, and hear it echoing through the house. Finally, the door opens. Her mother blocks the doorway, her eyes puffy and tear tracks down her cheeks.
"Hi, Mrs. Williams," I say softly. She looks down at me, her eyes roaming over my new haircut (dyed blue), my torn jeans, my wild eyes.
"Oh! Cari, I almost didn't recognize you with that new haircut," she says, and gives a soft, sad chuckle. "Why don't you come in?"
"Um," I say, and then I hesitate. "I go by Caroline now." I finally say.
She pauses in the hallway, and I hear a sharp intake of breath, before she nods.
"I expect you're here for Anica. You can go right up to her room."
I nod and start to climb the stairs. The soft, velvet carpets on them mask the noise of my footsteps.
When I finally get to Anica's door, I pause outside it. The sign she put on it when we were both eight is still there. A lump rises in my throat as I read it: "Nobody allowed in here except ME! That means YOU!! Except for Cari." Underneath is a more polite note that her mother wrote: "Please knock."
I crack the door open and step inside. The room is exactly the same, except that a thin layer of dust coats everything. There's the picture of the two of us, posing next to a river with a fish Anica had caught. Our smiles were wider then, our laughter louder. There's her bookshelf that takes up one side of her room, packed full. I notice a whole section for yearbooks, and flip one open. The page I come to is one with the two of us smiling at the camera together, looking at each other out of the corners of our eyes.
Written on it are the words, "Best Friends Forever!" Tears prick the backs of my eyes as I shut the yearbook and put it back. Even now, Anica is with me.
I go over to her nightstand and open the first drawer. I take out the picture I took of her the night before, and unfold it. I put it in my pocket and walk down the stairs.
"Thank you, Mrs. Williams!" I call. The house seems to muffle my words, and nobody replies.
I leave the house, closing the door gently behind me, and get in my car, starting it up. I place her picture on the seat next to me.
"This is my first drive," I tell her. "I promised you, remember?"
The picture doesn't say anything.
"It's not as great as we thought it would be," I lie. "You aren't missing much."
I drive not as recklessly as before, keeping my eyes on the road but continuing to talk to Anica. Tears slip down my cheeks, and I don't try to stop them.
"Thank you, Anica," I manage. "I miss you.'
And in my head, I can hear her saying that she misses me too.