It wasn't fair. It just wasn't fair.
I was happy here at the end of the street. I liked all the tall old trees that had grown up around our house and the other houses that ringed the cul-de-sac. Their shadows provided cool shelter from the heat and humidity each summer. Without them, there would be no piles of leaves to jump into each autumn. Their branches were even strong enough to support me. I remember sitting up in the tree in the front yard, legs dangling beneath me, wishing that I didn't have to go back inside. I liked the outdoor games I played with the neighborhood kids. I liked that each house was a little bit different from the rest. I knew which family lived where just by looking at their house.
And now I had to uproot myself, travel with my parents across the country to an unfamiliar neighborhood, and transplant myself there. For all I knew, that neighborhood wouldn't have any trees. It would probably be surrounded by a sea of houses, all identical or almost identical to each other. Summers would probably be miserable without anywhere to shelter except indoors. Autumns would be leafless and boring.
“Give the new neighborhood a chance, Izzie” -- Mom knew I preferred that to my full name, Isaiah -- “before you decide you won't like it,” she advised me. “After all, I remember that you didn't like this one at first. Oh, how you cried and refused to go outside. But, over time, you adapted and it became harder to keep you inside. Especially when you had homework to do.” She came over and hugged me. “Don't worry so much. You're going to be just fine in our new house.”
“How can you be so sure?” I asked.
“Because I had to move a lot when I was growing up,” Mom said. “My father was in the Navy and every two or three years we had to move somewhere new. One time we moved from Monterey to Tokyo.” She laughed softly. “That took some adapting, let me tell you. I'd never lived in a city that big before. It was so noisy! But I got used to it eventually. Before I knew it, I couldn't imagine living anywhere else. And then we had to move again.” She sighed. “The worst part was leaving friends behind and having to make new ones.”
“Did your parents give you any advice about it?” I asked.
Mom nodded. “That it's never easy leaving the familiar behind. Even if you have your friends' addresses, it doesn't mean that they'll still remember you six or seven months after you move away. There was a boy I really liked and it hurt having to say good-bye to him. He assured me that he wouldn't forget me. But after a while, his letters stopped coming. I knew that he'd moved on without me. Oh, how I cried. I thought I'd never get over it. But then I met a really nice boy at the new school. We were in the same Trigonometry class. It didn't take long before we started dating. After we graduated from college, he proposed. A year later, we got married.”
“Any regrets about the boy you had to leave behind?” I asked.
She shook her head. “None. Because if I'd stayed with him, I would never have met your father and we would never have had you.” She kissed me on the forehead. “You'll be fine, Izzie.”
I shrugged. “Maybe.”
After dinner that evening, I went outside and walked down the street. It was just getting dark, stars were starting to appear, and lights were on at each house.
You're lucky, I told each family. You get to stay here. You don't have to move.
But then I saw a dark house with an empty driveway. There was a “For Sale” sign in its front yard, complete with a real estate agent's name, phone number, and email address.
That used to be the Millers' house. I used to play softball during recess and go bowling on Saturdays with their daughters. Ricki and I used to go to the neighborhood swimming pool each summer. When did they move out? They didn't even tell anyone. How rude. They just went away, leaving all those memories, neighbors, and friends behind them. How could they do that?
Maybe it was time to move out of this area after all. I didn't want to see more dark and empty houses. Of course new people would move in someday, but would they be anything like the people who used to live there? Maybe, maybe not.
Thankfully, the next house had its lights on. Someone was sitting on the front porch (long dark hair, knee-length overalls, and bare feet). They waved to me. It was Valerie Friedmann. My best friend.
I walked over to her and sat down beside her. “Hey, Val. Why the sad face?”
“Hey, Izzie,” she said. “I guess my parents haven't told yours yet.”
“Told them what?” I asked.
“We're moving,” she said.
My eyebrows went up. “You mean like the Millers?”
Val nodded. “Ricki and I talked the night before they moved away. She was crying. We hugged and hugged and hugged. That's when I knew they weren't staying. She didn't have to tell me.”
“You didn't tell me,” I said.
“I know,” she said. “I was going to, but each time I did I'd lose my courage. I didn't want to be the one who cried and needed a hug.” She looked at me. “You won't forget about me?”
I shook my head. “No matter where we end up.”
“You're moving, too?” she asked.
I nodded. “Dad got a new job, but they wanted him to move to their new corporate headquarters.”
“Where is it?” Val asked.
“Seattle,” I said.
“That's a long way away,” she said.
“I know,” I said. “Where are you moving to?”
“Miami,” she said. “It's warmer there. But that means no more leaf piles each autumn and no more snowball fights each winter. We'll live about half a dozen blocks from the beach. I probably won't be this pale the next time you see me.”
If we meet again someday, she meant. But the chances of that were remote and she knew that as well as I did.
“Maybe you can send me a coconut each birthday and Christmas,” I suggested.
“Stay the way you are, Izzie,” Val said.
“Likewise,” I said.
She turned toward me, laid her head on my shoulder, and put her arms around me. “I hate this. I hate having to be thousands of miles away from you. It isn't fair.”
“This is true,” I said, putting my right arm around her. “Just when two people are happy together, life has to go and tear them apart.”
“There's Skype and Zoom, but they aren't the same as being together like we are now,” she said.
“Agreed,” I said.
“What are we going to do?” Val asked.
“I don't know,” I said. “We can try to meet once a year. Take turns, meeting in Miami one year and Seattle the next. That is, if we can afford to.”
“I don't want you to go away,” she said.
“Likewise,” I said. “But we don't have much choice.”
She sat up straight. I watched as she removed the gold necklace around her neck and placed it around mine. There were letters on the gold chain that spelled her name.
“A reminder of me,” Val said. “If you want to, you can give it back to me the first time we meet.”
“It might be a while until then,” I said.
She nodded and I saw that she was crying. “I'm such a crybaby, Izzie.”
“You're not a crybaby,” I said. “There's nothing wrong with crying. Besides, I thought it was us boys who had to be strong and shouldn't cry. Girls are allowed to cry all they want.”
Val looked at me. “You're crying.”
I nodded. “I know.”
“Are you sorry?” she asked.
“That I'm crying?” I replied. “No. That we're going to spend most of each year about three thousand miles away from each other? Yes.”
“Don't get angry,” she said. “I don't want anger to get between us. Even if we never meet again, I want our memories of each other to be happy ones.”
“At least we didn't move away from here without saying good-bye,” Val said.
“I don't want to say good-bye to you,” I said.
“Likewise,” she said. “Let's try to think of each other as often and as much as possible. And each Valentine's Day, birthday, and Christmas, let's try to do something nice for each other.”
I touched her necklace. “You mean like this? But I don't have anything like this to give to you.”
“It doesn't have to be a gift this time, Izzie,” she said, smiled, and leaned toward me.
We kissed for the first time. First kisses were supposed to be special, I'd read somewhere. Unforgettable. This kiss certainly fit the bill.
We parted when the front door of her house opened. A shadowy body stood there.
“Valerie.” Her mother's voice. “It's time to come back inside. You have homework due tomorrow.”
“Be inside in a few minutes, Mom,” Val replied. “Just a few more minutes, please.”
“I heard that your family is moving away, too, Izzie,” her mother told me.
I nodded. “Dad's job will be in Seattle at the new corporate headquarters. I don't know if we'll live in Seattle or somewhere nearby.”
“Be sure to give us your contact information so we can keep in touch with you and your parents,” her mother said. “Maybe we can get together each Christmas.” Her mother paused, then went back inside, closing the door behind her.
“Take care of yourself, Izzie,” Val said.
“Likewise,” I said. “Don't forget about me.”
She smiled. “I promise I won't if you promise you won't forget about me.”
“I promise,” I said.
We kissed again and then we both stood up. She gave me one more smile and then went inside.
The jetliner banked over Seattle before heading south to the airport. I looked out the window and down at the scattered white clouds and the city below them. The afternoon sun shone through the windows on the opposite side of the plane. It felt like another world compared to what my parents and I had left behind.
Mom pointed past me, across a bridge that led to the western part of Seattle. “That's where we'll be living. Your Dad and I will be commuting by water taxi to and from work. They also have ferries here and plenty of parks. We might even start going camping each summer.”
But no Friedmann family, I thought. They were far away in Miami.
At least I still had Val's necklace hidden under my shirt. If only I'd had something to give her in return. Maybe I could find something in Seattle and mail it to her.
Our new home in West Seattle was in an old neighborhood. Not that it was a new house. Like ours, most of the homes here were built before 1950.
Our house had three floors. Bedrooms on the top floor; living room, dining room, and kitchen on the middle floor; home office, family room, and utility room on the lowest floor. My bedroom window had a view of Elliott Bay. It seemed pretty big from here, but -- from what I'd seen in a Rand McNally atlas -- it was just a small part of Puget Sound. Puget Sound stretched all the way up to Canada.
“What do you think, Isaiah?” Dad asked me.
“I like it,” I said. More than I'd expected to, but I didn't say it aloud.
My parents looked pleased. I'd reacted the way they'd hoped I would.
It wasn't entirely pretense on my part, though. I did like it. I just wished that Val and her family could be here, too. You can't have everything.
When the next Valentine's Day rolled around, a shoebox-sized package arrived in the mail.
“This came today,” she said and handed it to me.
It was from Valerie. Here and there it had hand-drawn hearts and “Happy Valentine's Day!” in her handwriting.
“Thanks, Mom,” I said.
“You're welcome, Izzie,” she said and left, closing the bedroom door behind her.
I sliced open the box with a pair of scissors. Inside it were several sheets of light blue paper with what looked like a 4x6 card paperclipped to it, two guidebooks (one for Seattle and the other for the Pacific Northwest), chocolate-covered heart-shaped cookies, and plenty of chocolate and peppermint-and-chocolate Hershey's kisses.
The 4x6 card turned out to be a recent photograph of Valerie. I turned it over and read: This is me at the beach here in Miami in mid-February. Wish you were here with me. She'd drawn a small heart and added her name.
The sheets of paper were bordered with little red hearts. She talked about the move and what their new house and neighborhood were like. She talked about the weather, mostly warm and sunny. She talked about her new school. Mostly nice boys but none like me. She thanked me for her Valentine's Day package and hoped I liked my package.
I don't know how soon we'll be able to meet. I've discussed it with my parents. They'd rather I focused on school, of course, but Mom thinks that maybe you and I could meet halfway between Miami and Seattle. Kansas or Missouri, maybe. That way it might be less expensive for both of us. We might have to be chaperoned, though.
I hope you like your new house in West Seattle. It sounds wonderful, especially the view of Elliott Bay. So many places you'll be able to visit and not just in Seattle. That's why I included the two guidebooks.
Thank you for your guidebooks, one for Florida and the other just for the Florida Keys. I think Mom and Dad thought I'd immediately want to visit Walt Disney World. No thanks. Maybe when I was a little girl and still in elementary school, but not now. I think I'd feel a little ridiculous wearing a Mickey Mouse hat. But the Florida Keys sound really interesting as do the islands on the Gulf Coast. The Florida guidebook recommends Captiva and Sanibel Islands if you collect seashells.
Thank you also for the cookies. They're delicious. I've shared some with my parents who also like them.
I've tried not to think too much about you here in Miami, Izzie. No offense taken, I hope. But if I think about you too much, I might miss what's wonderful about this part of Florida. (I've seen re-runs of “Miami Vice” on cable TV. Did Miami really look like that in the 1980s? Or did they actually film it in Las Vegas?) It's probably the same with you in Seattle and I really want you to enjoy being there.
Maybe we could exchange CDs with photos on them. That way you can see what it's like here and I can see what it's like there.
Maybe one day we'll be able to spend Valentine's Day together. Wouldn't that be wonderful?
Take care, Izzie. I miss you very much. I envy Seattle; it has you.
My eyes blurred. Mom was probably cutting onions in the kitchen.
Five months later, it was Summer Vacation and I was waiting at one of the baggage carousels at St. Louis International Airport. As flights arrived, the baggage carousel area got crowded, thinned-out, and crowded again. I decided to stay standing, so that I was more visible.
Then suddenly I saw her. She hopped a little bit, looked around quickly, then hopped again. This time she saw me and waved to me. I waved back, but she was already hidden from view again.
Then I saw her running toward me, weaving around the people in between us. She was a bit breathless when she reached me. She was wearing a light blue minidress and white low-heeled shoes. Her long dark hair was in a ponytail down her back.
I simply gathered her in my arms and kissed her. “Welcome to St. Louis, Val. You look wonderful.”
“Likewise, Izzie,” she said. “Sorry if I'm late. The plane was really crowded.”
“The important thing is that we're both here, together again,” I said.
She nodded agreement. “This feels like a dream to me. Is it really happening or am I sleeping in my bed in Miami?”
I kissed her. “Did that feel real enough?”
“Definitely,” Val said. “Do we have hotel rooms or just one?”
“I reserved two rooms,” I said. “It was either that or a chaperone.”
“Just as long as they're next to each other,” she said.
“They are,” I said.
“Good,” she said.
The hotel was in East St. Louis, near the Mississippi River. We could see the lights of St. Louis and almost see the St. Louis Gateway from our hotel rooms.
We just wondered what to do before dinner. The front desk clerk solved the problem by suggesting a walk along the river.
“Very romantic,” he said. “Especially at sunset. Not usually too crowded.”
We thanked him.
It wasn't too crowded. It was perfect and the sunset was beautiful. We kissed as the sun touched the surface of the Mississippi River. What more could we have asked for?
“We'll have to come here again someday,” Val said softly.
“Definitely,” I said.