My McDonald’s fountain drink cup of spare change sits quietly in front of me. Snow is beginning to bury it away. No one looked my way. That’s how it usually is. People avert their eyes, and do their best to block me out of their consciousness; if I did appear in their field of vision, I suppose they’d feel some sort of social obligation to hand me some spare change. But I’m simultaneously too young and too old to garner too much sympathy, so then again, maybe not.
I sit down, pulling my blanket around me a bit tighter. New York winters were no joke; the chill of it ached deep in my bones. I put my hands over my mouth and nose, exhaling, attempting to use the warmth of my breath to provide some amount of heat to my body.
My head jerked up. Oh. It was her.
There she was, standing just a couple of feet away from me, draped in a long black winter coat. A thick white scarf was bundled around her neck, almost covering the entire bottom half of her face. Her arms were folded, making it look almost as if her clothes would swallow her up at any moment. Her locs were splayed around her back. She wore gold jewelry that highlighted her dark skin, making her almost shine in the painfully blank white of the ubiquitous snow around us. Everything about her looked expensive. She looked good.
“Hey Soph,” I cracked a grin with my chapped lips. “I see you’re still the same, vertically speaking.”
I make a pinching motion with my fingers, which were promptly smacked away by one of Sophie’s expensive gloved hands.
“What the hell! Lia, what the hell! Why are you…” she shook her head.
“Why am I sitting here like a piece of trash on the side of the road?” I say this, expression still bright.
She glared at me in disbelief.
“Sorry,” I say, looking down. “I know you would never have said that. How have you been?”
“I think I deserve an explanation from you first before I say anything to you,” she replies, scowling. “You’re coming with me. To my apartment.”
“You don’t get a choice, dammit Lia,” she looks at the sky. “It’s been, what, seven years? I’ve waited seven years. I’ve been trying to find you for seven years. I asked everyone about you, and no one knew where you went and I-”
I stand up, step forward, and wrap my arms around her. She buries her face into my shoulder. I know she’s crying.
“Ok, I’ll come with you. I’m sorry.”
Her apartment, like her clothes, is expensive. We had taken a subway to Hudson Yards in heavy silence, occasionally ornamented by a few remarks about the weather. The elevator ride up her building was worse; we were the only two inside the space, averting our gazes, avoiding the obvious.
There was a window that was essentially the wall. It was an excellent view of the now-setting sun. It was across from the front door, where I stood, rooted to the ground. What was I supposed to do? What was I supposed to say?
Sophie was across the room, setting her coat down. She was wearing an off-white turtleneck sweater that hugged her body. She turned around.
“Why are you standing there? Come in.”
I walked towards her a bit stiffly, awkwardly closing the door behind me. When I arrived in front of her, she looked into my eyes with a gaze so condemning, that I felt like I was going to choke.
“It hurt me too, you know,” I mutter, looking at the ground. “But I had to.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” she almost growls. “You had to completely and utterly disappear from the face of the earth. You had to leave me no way to find you after I suffered through six months in that hellhole. Did it hurt you? Well, it hurt me, too.”
“You know your parents would’ve sent you back to that camp if I was still around you. You know it. I was not going to risk you doing that. You survived before you met me, I was sure you could survive without me after I left, too.”
“ I will never forgive you. For leaving me in that town, alone,” she says quietly. “I didn’t care about all that, you know. I would’ve preferred to spend another six months in that camp than to not see you again until now. We didn’t even say goodbye, properly.”
“I’m sorry. I really am.”
And then I kiss her.
We met in my freshman year of high school. She moved in next door on the fourth of August that year, to our little tiny neighborhood, in our little tiny town. We never really talked, until we sat next to each other on the bus to school.
She said she liked photography, and that her name was Sophie. I said that my name was Lia and that I liked dancing.
We didn’t have very many classes together that year, but each morning and afternoon we would sit next to each other, talking about the horrible teachers at school, planning outings for the afternoon, and dreaming about the things we wanted to do.
“I want to go to a big city someday, and live there,” she said. “I’ll have my own exhibitions for my photos. I think I’d like that a lot.”
“Me too,” I said. “I want to dance in front of an audience for as long as my body works, and then open my own dance studio.”
“Which city would you want to go to?”
“I’m not really sure about that,” I reply. “New York would be nice, I guess.”
And like that, months, turned into years, and we were suddenly in our senior year. Suddenly, every single morning and afternoon felt simultaneous like we were touching each other too much and too little. The nights when we would sometimes sleep at each others’ houses would occasionally be halted by that strange feeling, too.
Sophie and I never really talked about love. We had talked about everything else.
I had told her about my mom, who loved drinking and her boyfriends, who came and went like our house was a hotel, more than me.
Sophie had told me about her parents, who wanted her to go to a good college and become a doctor, instead of pursuing what they thought was a useless dream.
I had told her about the cat I used to have. How his name was Sam.
Sophie had told me about how she dropped an ice cream cone out of a boat once. She was five, then.
But never love. Never boys.
It seemed like we were connected by a thread, and each day that passed, it grew shorter and shorter, pulling us closer to each other. We never had a specific moment when we realized the fact that we were in love. Our lingering touches simpling turned into caresses of our lips together; we would hold each other under our covers at night, clinging to each other’s warmth.
Someone saw. Someone saw it, and before I knew it, Sophie was gone.
I got into a car accident within a week of her leaving, and the doctors gave me painkillers. They were the only thing that stopped the loneliness, the void, the emptiness, the lack of Sophie.
At first, I only took a couple of extra pills to ease my pain. I began visiting the pharmacist, pretending to be in pain to get more. I started stealing money from my mother’s wallet, from her boyfriend’s wallet.
One day, I took so many pills, I was on my bed for over two days, unable to move a single inch. As I lay there, I realized that I could never see Sophie again. She could never see me like this. Her parents would never allow her to live like this, I would never be able to make her happy, we could never be together, we were doomed from the beginning…
We lay there, clutching each other underneath the sheets on her bed as if we let each other go for just one second, the other would disappear out of thin air.
“I missed you,” I say. “I made so many mistakes, I’m so sorry, I missed you every day, I promise, Soph, I really did-”
“It’s ok,” she said. “We’ll figure it out.”
“Ok,” I breathed. “Ok.”
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