By the time I was outside, the leaves were on fire. Usually, I’m not a stickler for rules, but standing there, watching the leaves; only the leaves light up in flames, it reminded me of you. I would’ve said the leaves shouldn’t have been alight like that; it was against the laws of science, but this isn’t my story, it’s yours.
If you were here you wouldn’t have bothered with the fire extinguisher, so I don’t either, only watching the leaves smolder in the fire, from a safe distance of course. You might’ve confronted the leaves themselves, stomping on them with those ugly boots you always insisted on wearing. Now, as I watch the leaves burn to a crisp leaving not a trace of flame, I think of those ugly boots. I never did get around to throwing them away.
On the first couple of days, I didn’t believe you were truly gone. People came to my house and gave me their condolences, but what could they know? Every day felt like a blur of routine, forcing myself every day to look outside and remember. Isn’t it weird; that I had already known and didn’t cry?
After the leaves stopped burning, I felt the cool damp grass under my fingers. On lucky days, you and I would have enough time to visit the mall, drink our favorite bubble teas and collect dandelions in the parking lot where small mounds of weeds grew between the cement. We’d set our shopping bags down and gingerly place the dandelions into your grandmother’s vase. Your grandmother baked the best cookies when she was alive.
“Doesn’t everyone have a grandmother’s vase in their home?” You had exclaimed, snorting in that special way that meant you were joking and dead serious at the same time. That day, I had calculated the probability of having a vase in a house, and though I searched day after day, my long-lost grandma’s precious vase was nowhere to be found.
“Calista, Calista, don’t be so rigid!” You used to tell me, bumping your elbow into my shoulder. I wished some of your creativity would rub off on me eventually, but she was always the cool college student, and I was the geeky kid nobody wanted to be seen with. Maybe that’s why nothing can surprise me now. Not rabid squirrels, or dancing donkeys for all I care! Not even leaves burning brightly in the mid-afternoon sun.
“Hey, Cally! You wanna catch Starbucks with me?” June always wanted to help me, to be my friend, but you were the only one who I would truly want. I wrapped my almost threadbare fleece over myself protectively, not looking into June’s eyes. She persisted, tugging on my shoulder.
“We’ve missed you, Cally. Please re-join the program.” I felt myself moving up to get my bike from the garage. It had been sitting there, my own Vespa, collecting dust, missing its glory days. Maybe I did need to take a break.
The wind blowing through my hair felt like freedom. June and I swept through the inner roads, watching unfamiliar houses covered in Halloween decorations fly by. Leaves littered the roads, and when we drove past them, they blew higher and higher into the sky. We were nearing the intersection to the only Starbucks in town when a familiar brownstone caught my eye. Without stopping to tell June, I made a frantic U-turn, sending my loosely clipped helmet flying onto the road. My Vespa skidded onto the sidewalk, almost crashing into the rickety mailbox dangling from a thin post. It had been a while since I’d been to the McAllister house.
Your brownstone used to be the fanciest on the block. As I walked up to the door, I saw your family’s initials carved into the brick. Where lush flowers hanging from the roof once lay, a brown clipper dangled instead. Your once-proudly boasted tulips now hung limply over the sides of the pot. I almost forgot that your family had moved away once you were gone. Somewhere in Arizona, they said. Somewhere they could find themselves.
I didn’t bother finding the hidden key you always kept in the gutter. The door was termite infested and the house looked all set for Halloween though there were no decorations. I bet I could find all your old belongings, every last one. It felt like intruding, breaking, and entering in your home, but I needed this. Needed your comfort echoing within these walls.
Inside, the walls are thinned out, and paint chips off of the walls in slow, deliberate motions. Tiny drawings of stick figures decorate some of the walls, and I suppress a small smile as I run my fingers over them all the way to your room.
You told me you were leaving a long while before. We had set up a small game of cards when the complaining started, you telling me we were meant for more. You ran your fingers down that silky smooth hair of yours and told me you were leaving. It was all so simple, so well crafted, the old Ford flipped upside down over the cliffside. Broken glass everywhere. You were always crafty, I'll give you that, but I couldn’t believe you had left me for bigger things, bigger dreams than your best friend.
I neared the garage, pausing to check if my thoughts were confirmed. Sure enough, your mini cooper wasn’t there anymore either.
Perhaps it was because you donated it or your family took it with them, but I would for once like to believe, confide in something I wasn't sure about.
Suddenly, the door opened and I knew it was June. She joined me in the backyard on top of a large stone, both of us turning to look at the glowing bright stars. Your story might end here, on this quiet, peaceful night, but I’m not sure I would like my own to end right now. I turned and stared at June square in the eyes.
“I wouldn’t be happier.”