The jagged plastic on the side of my popsicle sliced through the skin conjoining my lips, giving the sweet melted juice in my mouth a metallic twang.
Jared had forgotten to pack scissors, so we tore open the plastic tubes with our teeth. I didn't do a very good job.
I reached up and wiped away the blood, my hand still icy from the frozen treat. The difference in temperature startled me, as I had started to lose feeling in my hand.
Jared reached into our cooler and pulled out a piece of ice surrounding the sack of popsicles and offered it to me. "I didn't bring any napkins." Jared's face was twisted into a grimace. He always got squeamish around blood.
"Thanks." I held the ice to the corner of my lip, scooting back to lean against the wooden walls of Jared's treehouse. The chirping of cicadas filled the thick silence between us. The sun was starting to set and our mothers wanted us back inside before the mosquitoes went hunting.
This was the last evening Jared and I would be able to spend in this treehouse without trespassing. His family was moving two states over and this was their last day in our small suburban town. Although it would have been easy to climb down the splintered ladder and get scissors or a napkin, we knew that the second our feet reconnected with the ground, everything would become real. Jared would really be leaving. I would really have to start school without him in a few weeks. His mom would really take me home and finish packing the last of their things.
Jared glanced over at me. "We can talk about it, you know." His voice sounded weaker than usual.
I took the ice cube away from my mouth. It had melted to less than 1/5th of its original size. I threw it out the uncovered window and let my head rest against the wood, my eyes gently closing.
"Have you seen the house yet?"
"Only pictures. My room's gonna be a lot bigger." Jared flashed an excited smile, revealing the gap from where his last baby tooth had been only days before.
I slowly opened my eyes and gave Jared a weak grin. He continued eating his popsicle, satisfied that I had shown any interest in his move.
To be honest, this was the last thing I wanted to talk about. I was being forced to say goodbye to my best friend in the place where we shared our best and most vivid memories. It felt almost like a cruel joke, having to say goodbye to one of the largest parts of my early childhood in the place that made it so great.
I glanced around at the weathered junk sitting in the corners of the treehouse. A deflated kickball sat to my right, untouched by anything other than sunlight for the past few years.
"Remember when we hit that into Mr. Jones' yard?" I asked, nodding my head in the direction of the ball. "He used to be so scary."
Jared giggled. "Yeah, you made me go get it. When I heard that door creak open, I ran faster than I ever had before in my life."
"I can still hear your yells. 'Clay, help! Help! I got it, I got the ball!'"
I snickered as Jared's face turned crimson. "I can't believe that was only two years ago. We've gotten so brave since we hit double digits." Jared said, turning to lay on his back. I got up and joined him, staring through the rotted wooden roof. His head found its way to my shoulder, the same way it had for years.
Jared and I would stare up at the ombre sky almost every night and wait for it to slowly darken and reveal stars. We would take any string of stars and pretend it was our constellation by naming it after whatever was most important to us at the moment.
"The Misty Constellation!" I offered once, looking up at five stars roughly making the shape of a M.
"Not everything is about Misty, Clay. I don't think she even knows your name." Jared looked up at me with a disapproving look.
"Yeah, but she sure is pretty."
Jared nudged me with his elbow and we spent the rest of that night naming stars and creating stories.
Of course, we did not have this luxury today.
As the hue of the sky darkened, so did my mood. Each star appearing in the sky felt like another tick towards our separation.
"How much do ya think I'll be able to visit?" My eyes stayed glued to the spotty wood as I felt Jared's gaze rise.
"I don't know, maybe once a month. Hopefully more."
That wasn't enough for me.
"Are you gonna make new friends?"
"Well, of course, Clay. I can't just be friendless." Jared's voice adopted a peculiar tone. Kind of like a mix of mockery and confusion.
"You won't be friendless. You'll still have me."
"But you won't be there every day."
I didn't respond to him. I closed my eyes to hide the tears creeping forward.
We were silent for a while after that. I sat with my thoughts, foolishly planning ways to go with him.
Maybe I could hide in a suitcase? Or maybe an old pet carrier. Surely they kept that after his dog passed last year.
It took me thirty minutes to realize Jared fallen asleep. It was pitch black out and I was surprised his mother hadn't come to get us. Surprised, but not ungrateful.
I laid there for a while longer. The rhythm of Jared's breaths comforted me as I battled my mind. Something deep within was telling me that I wouldn't see him again. I knew this was irrational, yet I still squeezed Jared a bit harder. Our contact helped ground me and let me escape my head. As I started drifting out of consciousness, our peaceful bubble was popped.
"Jared! Clay! You boys need to come in now!"
Jared stirred beside me. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and sat up, still somewhat disorientated.
"When'd it get dark?" Jared's speech came out slurred. I still question how he managed to sleep so hard in such a short amount of time.
"Like an hour ago. Let's go inside." I grabbed his arm and got up. He soon followed, leaning on me for support and still holding my hand as we went down the ladder.
It wasn't until we made it inside that I finally had to say goodbye. It wasn't the huge scene I was hoping for. No tears, no secret confessions, no prank camera crew coming out to tell me it was all a joke. The most heart-wrenching part was that Jared was barely awake for our farewell. The moment so vividly ingrained in my memory will seem like a distant dream to him.
We had left the cooler and popsicles up in the treehouse by accident. I offered to get them in an attempt to steal any more time with Jared, but his mother told me she would get it after she dropped me off.
And that was it.
I sat in the back of Jared's mom's little gray sedan, desperately fighting back any choked sobs. Though still only a few blocks away, I mourned the loss of my childhood. I mourned the loss of our memories. I mourned the loss of what could have been.
But more than anything, I mourned the loss of my best friend.