Everyone remembers their first kiss. Sometimes it’s with your first crush or some random kid under the slide. Mine was with my childhood best friend. Her name was Becca Kent. She had brown hair that her mom braided intricately and always wore red overalls, faded from frequent wear. We did everything together. Sometimes, we even did things we knew would get us in trouble. One day we found a movie shoved under the TV stand like someone kicked it under there when they were cleaning. It was obviously made for adults, but my mom was at the grocery store. We popped it in the DVD player and pressed play. I don’t remember the name, but halfway through we saw something we had never seen before - two girls who kissed. Neither of us had ever seen a girl kiss another girl before, we didn’t even know it was allowed. Since we were best friends, we decided we should too. Sitting on the old brown faded sofa in my living room, we kissed.
I don’t think anyone remembers exactly how their first kiss feels, and I certainly didn't, but you do remember how it feels - it felt right. Before her mom picked her up, we promised to never tell anyone about the movie, or the kiss. I stood on my creaky, wooden porch and waved goodbye to her as Ms. Kent’s blue station wagon drove up. Before actually getting in, she ran back and handed me something- a friendship bracelet. It was braided with pink and orange yarn. She tied it around my wrist and made me promise to never take it off.
The next day Becca didn’t show up to school. When I asked Ms. Wilson where Becca was, she told me she didn’t know a Becca. I thought that was weird, but Ms. Wilson was old and had too many students, maybe she forgot since she wasn’t there that day. When I got off the bus I ran inside and asked my mom if I could go to Becca’s house when I finished my homework. She asked me who Becca was. I laughed and told her she was being funny. She gave me a weird face that I didn’t understand. At the time I hadn’t seen it much but by now I have seen it more times than I can count. I now know it was a look of concern.
Days went by and Becca never came to school. I kept asking mom about her, and she kept telling me I don’t have a friend named Becca. I tried to show her the bracelet that Becca made me, still secured tightly to my wrist as promised. She told me I made that at school. After a week I got so mad I went to find Becca myself. I walked to her house after school. She only lived a few streets from me, and I had been there so many times I was confident I could get there by myself. I showed up and knocked on her door. The screen door was the only one closed and it made a metal tinging sound under my fist. Becca’s mom came to the door with rollers in her hair and a cigarette in her hand. I was relieved she seemed okay. “Hello,” she said, “are you selling cookies or something.”
I laughed. “No Mrs. Kent. I’m looking for Becca. She hasn’t been at school for a couple days. Is she sick?”
She gave me a confused look. “Are you sure you have the right house? There’s no Becca here.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked. “Becca is your daughter, my best friend. We go to school together.”
“Oh, I recognize you now,” she said, “You’re the Bailey girl. You’re in the grade below my son, Grant.”
“Yes, in the same class as Becca.”
“I don’t know a Becca,” she said, in a more stern voice this time. “I only have two sons. Grant and Andrew. I don’t have a daughter.”
I was getting angry. Why was everyone telling me my best friend didn’t exist? “Yes, you do!” I shouted at her. “Becca is your daughter. She always wears red overalls that are so faded they're almost pink. You braid her hair every day. And she made me this bracelet,” I held up my wrist to show her the bracelet. “Why does everyone keep telling me she doesn’t exist?” I began to cry. Why was I the only one who remembered Becca?
Mrs. Kent ended up calling my mom and she brought me home. I stayed home from school the next day, and the day after that. When I finally went back there was still no Becca and still, no one who believed me. After that, my mom put me in therapy. Dr. Treeman told my mom I had an overactive imagination and created an imaginary friend that seemed real. I knew Becca wasn’t imaginary. After years of therapy and being told Becca wasn’t real, I learned pretending she never existed was best. Years went by. I finished high school I went to a small liberal arts college to study linguistics. The bracelet had long since broken off, but I still kept it in a jewelry box on my vanity.
I hadn’t kissed anyone since, and I was never going to. That was until sophomore year when I met Emily Beaton. Em was beautiful. She was tall and had dark skin with braided hair she kept in a bun most of the time. She wore gold earrings and a matching gold ring hung off her nose. She was always a bolder dresser than I who wasn’t afraid to wear bright colors and patterns. She majored in digital media art and If you saw her work, you would know why. She once made me a painting of a girl with hair made of butterflies. Golden drips ran down the canvas, causing some of the butterflies to fly away like they were trying to escape. It hung in my bedroom right next to my bed, the perfect position to be the first thing I saw in the morning and the last thing at night.
She made me appreciate art in a way I never had before and introduced me to K-pop. As a white girl from the Midwest, no one I knew had any idea what K-pop was. Whenever we had study sessions she would find some band I had never heard of and we would jam out. On weekends we would go through art galleries and she would tell me about all the different artists we saw. We went out together often, but tonight was different - tonight I planned to confess my feelings. It had been so long since Becca, and how could I be sure I was the one who made her disappear?
We went to our favorite bar in town. It wasn’t a place frequented by college students, so it was pretty quiet but the floor was sticky with alcohol, and the air smelled of beer. There were old torn-up pool tables in the corner with two pool sticks yet to be broken in a drunken bar fight and a few lights were always out, making the bar look dirtier and more depressing than it already was. Em wore leggings with black and white lightning bolts patterned across them and a bright yellow leather jacket. Golden hoops decorated her braids making her jewelry pop even more.
We drank and talked for hours. She told me about a big portfolio she had to finish, and I told her about a group project I was basically doing alone. We talked about our hometowns, our families, and who our favorite BTS member was. Soon she had me caught up in round after round of pool. I was trying to concentrate but I couldn’t stop staring at her. My nerves made my hands so sweaty I could barely hold the pool stick without it slipping through my fingers. Eventually, we walked back and she took me to my dorm. She was saying goodbye and I knew this was it. I had blown it. I didn’t tell her how I felt, and I wasn’t sure I would ever find the courage to. Just as I was going to give up hope she leaned in and kissed me. I remember exactly what this one felt like. Her lips were soft and warm. She held me close and I followed her lead. My heart had been set ablaze - I craved more. I invited her upstairs afterward and it was times like this I was glad I lived in a single. We spent the whole night together. Everything was finally falling into place. I would finally be happy and Becca would no longer haunt me.
I woke up the next morning and she was gone. I assumed she had an early class, so I didn’t stress about it. I went to my Psychology class like normal and decided to visit her after. When I knocked on her door her roommate answered. She told me no one named Emily lived here. I was sure this was Em’s dorm, but maybe she was avoiding me. Maybe she regretted it and told her roommate to send me away. I started freaking out. Knowing she worked at the coffee shop on campus every Friday afternoon I raced over there. When I got to the counter Kevin (a mutual friend of ours) was working at the register. I asked him if Em was working and he asked me who Em was. I told him to stop messing around and he gave me a very confused look.
“You know,” I said and held up my hand, “about yay tall, braided hair, nose ring?” He just shrugged and asked if I was okay. I didn’t answer and stormed out. How could this be happening again?
I went to my room and got on my laptop. I searched for her username ArtWithEm32 on Instagram. Then Twitter. I even checked Facebook and all of her accounts were gone. I looked at my contacts and her number wasn’t there. I went to my gallery and all of our photos were gone. I panicked and ran to my wall. We had taken at least 10 polaroid photos together. You couldn’t delete hard evidence like that, right? I pulled them off my wall one by one. She wasn’t in any of them. Even the one from New Years that only had her in it was just a photo of a chair, no one there. I turned and saw the painting she made me still hanging there, looking the same as the day she gave it to me. I dug through my jewelry box to see my friendship bracelet was still where I left it. I heard a knock on my door and whipped it open, hoping it was her.
“Woah.” It was Kevin. “I just came to check on you.” Judging from his expression I looked like a wreck.
“Where did I get this?” I asked him, pointing to the painting.
“The painting?” He asked. I nodded. “I think you got it when we went thrifting in Portland.”
“No,” I all but shouted, “Em painted this for me. You remember? Em? Our friend?” His face turned to that concerned look my mom made which made me see red. I kicked him out, anger flooding my senses.
After that day I tried to find someone who remembered her. I asked the bartender at the bar we went to often and the librarian who always yelled at us when we were too loud in the library. No one remembered her. Soon I stopped going to classes. Then I stopped leaving my room. My fiery anger had turned into a sea of sadness and I was drowning. My mom convinced me to take a leave of absence to clear my head. She thought all the liberal art mumbo jumbo was getting to me. I couldn’t tell her about Em. She would have had me committed if she thought I was inventing people again. I went back to Dr. Treeman and didn’t tell her. I didn’t even tell him why I was really there.
Years went by and I never went back to school. I moved out and got a job as a bartender. It was nothing like the run-down dive bar Em and I used to frequent. It was an up-scale nightclub that hosted a lot of VIP parties. It was always packed, but the customers tipped well. I didn’t date after college. My friends encouraged me to get out there, but I couldn’t risk it. Even if no one believed me, I knew Becca and Em were real people and whatever I did made them go away. Whenever I thought of where they went, I hoped that they were together and happy. I thought of ending it all once, to make sure I didn’t do this to anyone else. I then realized if I was gone, so were they. No one would be left to remember them. I kept the painting Em gave me on the wall in my room and hung Becca’s bracelet next to it to make sure I would never forget them.
One night, I was closing up with my coworker Ruby. Ruby Milton was another bartender at the club. She was 25 and had recently moved to town. Her black hair was cropped short and her makeup was always black heavy, bordering on garish. She was a hard worker and got along with all the regulars. She has only been working at the club for six months, but in that time we had gotten pretty close. On nights we worked together we would drink before closing up for the night. It was nice to have the whole bar to ourselves. This particular night, we drank more than normal and turned on the LEDs that lined the main bar. The lights illuminated the room with splashes of rainbow. Ruby blasted hip-hop music from her phone and we got on the bar and danced. It felt great to let go and just have fun. After a few songs, I had to stop. We both collapsed on the side of the bar. She laid her head on my shoulder and took another swig of her drink.
“You know,” she started, slurring her words, “I really like you.”
I giggled and looked down at her, “l like you too.” My words also came out in a slur which made me laugh harder. In my giggle fit I didn’t realize what was happening. Ruby leaned forward and pressed her lips to mine. I shoved her as hard as I could, but it was too late. We kissed. I hopped off the bar, shaking with fear. She apologized profusely. I couldn’t look at her. She paused her music and stood in front of me.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I thought we were on the same page. I –.” Before she could finish, I ran out of the bar. I got into my car and dropped the keys trying to put them into the ignition. I flew out of there and rushed home. I pulled into my driveway and opened my phone. I started looking through my photos, looking for pictures of Ruby trying to memorize her face. Her elf-like nose and her dark bangs that swept across her face. She had freckles scattering her face and hazel eyes. I stared at the photos for as long as I could before tears clouded my eyes and I couldn’t see her anymore.
I went inside and stood in front of Emily’s painting. I pressed my hand to feel the raised golden paint drips. I examined the colorful butterflies that were so realistic they looked as if they might fly off the page. I shifted my attention to the bracelet. The orange was closer to brown now due to age and the pink was lighter and sun-bleached. I didn’t have anything of Ruby’s. I wasn’t sure how I would remember her. I shut off my light and lay in my bed, staring into the darkness. Just like Emily and Becca, I would be the only one to remember her. Tomorrow, there will be no Ruby Milton.