The sound was faint, inaudible almost.
My eyes instantly went to the curtains covering the window, the sound of tapping growing louder.
There were only a few people I knew who knocked on windows at night, and only one who would knock on mine.
As I got up from the bed and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, I brushed away the possibility from my mind that it could be a kidnapper or a serial killer. No criminal would be polite or stupid enough to knock before entering.
I also realized that no one would be polite or stupid enough to open the window to a complete stranger in the middle of the night, other than yours truly, of course.
I turned on the light and pushed the curtains to either side, the rings clattering above me. I could faintly see someone pressed up against the window, raising their hand to knock again. Before they could, I pulled it open.
I offered my hand to the stranger, and they hesitated, before holding on to me and jumping in.
As they landed on their feet, they took off their hoodie and ran a hand through their hair. That hair, that hand.
It was him.
Melting ice creams, sticky hands. Muddy feet, sunshine smiles.
Hazy nostalgia, blurry memories.
However, faded it may be, at that moment, I still remembered the pure love that only children could feel, the untainted, uncensored affection that did not depend on social status, popularity or profit. The kind of friendship that I had thought would last forever.
But as childhood friendships usually go, they end before they can truly begin. The ‘people you grew up with’ became the people you grew up with. They became people of the past, a fragment of happiness that pierces your heart when they appear in your mind.
Eli was my best friend. And at that moment, even though we barely talked anymore, other than a wave in the school hallways or an exchange of a pen, I felt as though we had never stopped being friends. That the few years in between were just a long transition leading up to that moment.
His face was longer, a hint of stubble on his chin. His eyebrows were scrunched together, and his lips were pursed, holding in more than he could take.
I asked him to sit, and he flopped down on the bed, weakly leaning on the pillow, his eyes closed.
I sat down next to him. There was silence for one moment, and then another. Then one more. The moments passed, but he said nothing. I didn’t mind. I was too busy trying not to say something stupid. I felt strangely nervous, like I was a kid again, and I was scared he had grown up too much and wasn’t the same Eli anymore.
I looked at him, trying to catch if he had actually said my name, or whether I had heard it in my mind. His eyes were on mine.
“Why did you open the window?”
I turned my head and focused on a single dot on the wallpaper, trying to figure out a rational way to answer his question. On finding none, I smiled.
“Because you’re my friend.”
A snort came from him.
“What? It’s true.”
“We don’t even talk anymore Avi. And you didn’t even know it was me, so why did you do it?”
“I did it for the same reason you knocked on my window instead of someone else’s.”
A smile appeared on his face as he understood.
“Because even if we don’t talk as much as we used to, we still care about each other. That is more than anyone can say in my life.”
A frown appeared on my face.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
He shrugged, but I could see the reluctance in his nonchalance.
“Eli, now be honest. Are you okay?”
He scoffed, his fingers fiddling with the threads of the blanket.
“What is ‘okay’, really? Is it when you are happy, or when you are satisfied? Should I feel ‘okay’ when I love people that don’t love me back?”
“Well, what about the people who do love you? Don’t they count for something?”
“I mean, sure. They do count. But how can I be sure unless they let me know?”
“Not everyone is going to let you know. They will show you though, every day.”
“What if it is not as visible as it should be? What if an act of love is masked by a bigger act of hatred, of disappointment?”
“Then you find the love in the hatred.”
“Easier said than done.”
“But not impossible.”
“Why are you talking in circles? Why can’t you just tell me what I should do and be straightforward about it?”
“I could ask you the same thing.”
“You need to tell me what is going on, Eli.”
“I don’t need to tell you anything.”
“And you didn’t need to knock on my window, and I didn’t need to open it either. But here we are. So, you need to be honest with me, or I don’t need to let you stay.”
“Promise me you won’t tell me that it is nothing, that I am being paranoid.”
“I don’t think anyone loves me for who I am. My parents are disappointed with how I turned out, and they wish that they had another son, a better one. All the friends I have eventually leave when they can’t handle my crap anymore, and the world is just slowly squeezing all the air out of my lungs till I can’t breathe anymore.”
He let out a long breath at the end of his rant. A silly grin appeared on his face when I breathed out too.
“Felt good, didn’t it?” I asked, a smile on my face.
“Yeah, it really did.”
He looked at me then, his face turning melancholic in a moment, emotions broiling under the surface.
“Well, I hope you know that I love you, if that counts for something.”
He smiled at that.
“Still? Even though we barely know each other anymore?”
“I think we know each other enough for me to love you.”
The words flowed out before I knew what I was saying.
Suddenly, his arms were around me.
“I appreciate it, Avi.”
A laugh escaped my lips.
“You appreciate my freaking love confession? Man, there really is no pain in the world compared to finding out that someone doesn’t love you back nearly as much as you love them.”
His body shook with laughter.
“I love you too Avi. You know that.”
“I do know that. But sometimes you need to let me know.”
He squeezed me tight once and released his arms from around me.
“I should get going.”
We walked to the window, his figure seeming much more relaxed.
He slowly placed his legs on the ledge outside the window.
“For opening the window.”
On impulse, I placed my hand on his, my eyes suddenly moist.
His lips quirked up into a slight smile, and he bent his knees on the ledge. He jumped down with a light thump. I craned my head down, and he was walking away, a purpose in every step.
I wiped away the tear that ran down my cheek.
I was worried for him. I still did care about him. He was still as much my brother and family as he had been when we were kids.
I made a mental note to reach out more often and pulled the curtains shut.