The first memory of us that I can think of was my 10th birthday, when I showed you and Tess how to stargaze.
I remember that we laid together on the damp grass, listening to the cicadas chirp as they always did in July.
“Can I ask you guys a question?” I had said quietly, not wanting to ruin the magic of the moment.
You had merely smirked, “You just did.”
Tess glared at you, but I laughed anyway. We all knew that you couldn’t help your snarky humor.
Tess, always the mom of the group, had squeezed my hand gently, “You can tell us anything Hadley.”
I smiled into the darkness, planning the next words that would come out of my mouth, “Are we best friends?”
You propped your head up on your elbow, hiding a grin, “Is that what you were so worried about?”
Tess pushed you and I smiled sheepishly, “Just answer the question!”
You and Tess exchanged looks, “Of course Hads.”’
“Forever?” I asked.
Tess just nodded, but you said, “Forever.”
My smile grew wider and I stuck out my pinkies for a silent pinky promise. As you both extended your fingers and we shook on it, I remember feeling a warm sensation of happiness spread through me.
In the next one that comes to mind, we were all much older and bigger. We had changed a lot; Tess had grown out her hair and now looked like a redhead Rapunzel. You had cut off your blonde hair into a pixie cut and Tess and I kept joking that you looked like Tinkerbell, especially when you wore green. I hadn’t changed much, as usual.
We still were very close, but I had noticed that you and Tess were starting to spend more time with Corrina Jaylin and Renae Byshe, who you knew that I loathed. I had noticed the way that you were talking to boys in the hallway, jutting out your hip, twirling your hair and trying to be copies of Renae and Corrina. I hated that even more than I hated you hanging out with them. I didn’t understand why you had to dumb yourself down to appear desirable to the deranged minds of 7th grade boys. Still, Tess invited just the two of us over for her 13th birthday sleepover, which was outside.
I remember that we were sitting next to a fire, which we had made together after much deliberation of how to do it. We were all bundled up in blankets and jackets because Tess’s birthday is in October and the chill that had been chased away by summer’s many beaches and sunny skies was returning.
Our stomachs were bloated from the many roasted hotdogs and marshmallows that we had eaten and we sat contently on the cold grass, side by side.
Tess had been the first to interrupt the silence, “What do you guys want to be when you grow up?”
You smiled, your eyes dozens of galaxies away, “An actress. I’m going to be the star of movies, the face of commercials and the most famous person ever.”
I grabbed another marshmallow and stuck it into my mouth, “I don’t want to be famous.”
You looked genuinely startled, “Why?”
I merely had shrugged.
Tess laid down, “I’m going to be a vet or a doctor.”
Both you and Tess looked at me expectantly, “Come on Hads! What do you wanna be?”
I flushed, “A cosmologist or astronomer.”
“A cosmologist is a person who studies the beginning and evolution of the universe. An astronomer studies the stars, planets and other celestial bodies.”
You laughed and shoved my shoulder, “You’re such a nerd Hads!”
That year you had your big party. It was a huge ordeal and you had invited the whole grade. I was nervous for weeks before it because it was my first boy girl party, but when I told you, you just laughed and said “Shut up Hads!”, which kind of hurt.
During the party, we all crowded into your living room, a big mess of sweat, hormones and excitement.
“Can we play Spin The Bottle?” you had asked in an eager tone holding up your empty Coke bottle.
Sounds of agreement went around the room. I even heard some cheers and hoots. I knew that I was supposed to be excited, but I couldn’t help the sinking feeling in my stomach.
“Who goes first?” I had asked, in a tone as flat as my hair.
Renae had volunteered, “I’ll go!”
Renae grabbed the bottle and spun it. Unfortunately for her, it landed on Raynard Jett.
Renae hated Raynard Jett. Tess had told me that she even spread rumors about him. This didn’t discourage Raynard Jett, who was grinning like he had won the whole damn lottery. He didn’t care about the personality of the person that he kissed, as long as she was pretty and popular, like Renae. Secretly, I thought that he was excited because he never would get the chance otherwise.
Renae raked a hand through her hair, making a noise of annoyance. Still, her eyes danced as she pecked Raynard.
Everyone laughed, but Raynard just looked dazed. He kept rubbing his lips lightly.
Next you went. You spun the bottle with such vigor that I was afraid that it would break.
It landed on Vinny Peyton and I remember that you looked excited. Vinny Peyton was a popular crush, with his green eyes and bronze hair.
You walked over to him and kissed him. Not a peck like Renae and Raynard, but a kiss.
Everyone laughed and cheered, but Tess and I looked kind of upset. This wasn’t the you that we knew.
As you went to sit back down, you looked me straight in the eyes. I noticed that you looked kind of sad, but then you blinked and it went away.
Next was the 7th grade dance. You, Corrina and Renae (who managed to join our group) were talking about it for weeks. Even Tess was thrilled, but she kept it hidden for my sake.
I remember that you had invited us over to your house to “preview the possible outfits”. I thought of it as “ooh and ah at your every move for an hour, maybe more”.
When we had done it at Corrina and Renae’s houses, I managed to keep my cool. However, this time, something was different. I can’t remember, but maybe I had had a bad day, maybe I was tired of pretending or maybe I just was sick of you trying to be something that you weren’t.
Whatever it was, I just couldn’t handle it that day.
When you were in your fifth outfit, a navy blue skirt with flowers on it and a white blouse, I just walked out of your room.
No one followed me, as I had expected and I felt a twang of disappointment in my chest. I walked down the hall into the bathroom that you shared with your brothers. I locked the door after me and splashed some water on my face.
As I did, I noticed the small pictures that you had hung up on your mirror. It was an action shot, with me and Tess laughing our heads off at something that you had just said. We all looked so happy, so carefree that I was tempted to take the photo.
But I didn’t.
I left it up so that you could remember who your true friends were. Both of us knew that Renae and Corrina would drop you if you weren’t popular, almost like the way that you used to throw out the raisin cookies that you thought were chocolate chips.
That year, we had a particular school day that I will never forget. It was in February, and everyone was going stir crazy because of taunts of spring that were in the air. You usually were with them, bouncing off the walls at the promise of spring.
That day you were quiet.
And you were never quiet.
That is, unless something was wrong.
Tess didn’t notice it, too fixated on the Valentines that she was going to or not going to get. Renae didn’t notice it, too busy spreading gossip to Corrina, Rylie Amerson, Kenya Everett and Aimee Jane Richards.
But I did.
Later that month you would finally tell me what had happened.
I had found you in the bathroom at school, crying in the stall.
“Hello?” I had asked cautiously.
“Go away Hadley.”
I sat down on the floor, not caring about how many germs I was picking up.
“I know that you don’t want to talk right now, but I’m here.”
I sat there for a while, listening to you cry.
When you finished, you unlocked your stall and let me see your face for the first time. Your eyes were red and swollen and you looked like you hadn’t slept for the past week.
“What’s wrong?” I said, holding out my arms.
You hugged me, “My parents are arguing. It’s been really bad at my house.”
I just stood there, not saying anything.
A beat passed.
“Hads, do you think that my parents are splitting up?”
“I don’t know.”
You started crying again, but I stopped you, “Isn’t it better for your parents to be split, happy and not arguing?”
You sniffed loudly, “Yeah.”
I let go of you, “Are you ok?”
You sniffed, “Yeah.”
I got detention that day for being late to class, but to be honest, I didn’t care.
Later that year, your parents officially got a divorce. As they signed the papers and you sobbed, I squeezed your hand tightly.
After a summer of frolicking, we started 8th grade. Our final year of middle school!
Nothing much would be different, right?
Walking into school on the first day, I felt as if something in the air had changed. People seemed meaner, older and colder.
When I saw you, Tess and Renae in the hall, my heart lifted. I ran to you.
Everyone turned and looked at me weirdly. Renae looked me up and down, not even bothering to hide it.
I felt my cheeks flush. My outfit, which had seemed so cool and fun in my room last night, now seemed childish and weird.
“Where’s Corrina?” I asked, trying to fill the silence.
“She moved. Didn’t you know?” Tess asked, “I thought you went to her going away party.”
My face fell. They were hanging out without me? And with Corrina?
Great. Now I would be a whole summer behind on inside jokes, secrets, fashion and crushes.
“Come on Tess! She wasn’t invited,” Renae stage whispered to Tess, looking at my outfit again, “For obvious reasons.”
Tess looked genuinely sorry. Renae looked gleeful. You… looked different.
During the summer, you had let your hair grow out and now it was around shoulder length (as you kept telling me, your hair grows fast). The ends of it were tinted pink.
Your outfit was different too. You had on tight jeans and an interesting t-shirt that showed off some of your stomach.
And now that you were stable again and you didn’t need me, you treated me like you did in sixth grade; indifferent, snobby and cold.
I hated it.
That year, we grew far apart, It kept getting harder and harder to talk to you.
Everytime I would say or do anything, you would blow up about the smallest things. It was like building a house out of cards on a windy day; everything would just blow apart.
“Come on Hadley! Stop trying to tell me what to do!”
“Hadley stop it! You’re so childish!”
“Hadley, people are staring at us. Stop acting so weird!”
And the list went on.
This made me upset because I had no idea what I was doing wrong.
So I started doing what you asked.
And started getting more unhappy.
But at least you were happy.
Then we graduated.
After words my parents had a party.
It wasn’t that big. Renae’s parents showed up, Tess’s parents showed up and your parents showed up, separately. Your mom with Jace, Malik and Emma. Your dad with his new girlfriend.
If you were upset by that, you never showed it.
That summer I made sure to spend time with Renae, you and Tess. Mostly Renae.
I didn’t enjoy it much, unless you or Tess were there, but I thought that that wasn’t important.
That year I met new friends and we drifted apart.
I haven’t seen you since that year, when you moved with your mom.
I know that it’s awkward because we haven’t talked for several years, but I thought that I would write this letter just to see how you are and what I did wrong all of those years.
Hadley Ivy Willsonn
I finish writing and put down my pencil, cradling my cramped hand. I fold the letter meticulously. I lick the envelope and seal the letter. I address the outside to the last place that I know you live and pray that you still live there.
As I carry the letter outside into the dark, the smooth light of the moon washes over my face.
I put the envelope in the mailbox and look up.
Staring at the sky, I realize that wherever you are, you’re seeing the same stars as me.
I say something softly to myself, “Forever?”
And maybe, just maybe, someone somewhere said to the sky, “Forever.”