Eliza tucked paint-stained hands behind her back and took a step closer to me. Her faded summer camp T-shirt was knotted at the waist, daylily-gold skirt brushing the tops of her sandals. Standing in the blunt fluorescent of the airport terminal, her contour was more defined, shadows seeping through her neck. Graduation had weighted her to the ground like I thought nothing ever could.
We used to draw all over our geometry notes, faces and flowers and flowy dresses. They all ran into each other in the margins, collarbones intertwining with hibiscus stems, tangles of tie-dye arteries twisting through wide-rule lines to the sun. Once we realized how to put summer onto paper, we could never focus on math again.
We were always afraid of the dark. On those wide-eyed August days, we would spend the whole afternoon sprawled in tall field grass, tracing clouds with our fingertips. We stretched our arms to the sky and let hazy pinks and yellows fog our vision. But when the sky flooded periwinkle, and mosquitoes swarmed around our heads, we would run all the way to her house, set candles on the windowsills, switch on all the lamps and flashlights we owned, sit cross-legged on the floor, and wait for dawn.
And that was how it was. Every summer, from when we first learned how to stretch our arms wide like the sky, to the moment we realized we could never win against the world.
The day after graduation, she didn’t paint flowers on her jeans or run cursive paths through the open field overlooking the lake. She sat in my backyard and scuffed patches of dirt with her big toe and picked at an orange peel. And made small talk. And then a mosquito landed on her arm and she said she had to pack and she drove herself home.
That night, I fell asleep with the sunset.
She went to college in California. “Where winter doesn’t exist,” she said, burying her nose in my neck as she hugged me goodbye. She pressed a small, square canvas into my palm — a painting of a sunflower, flush against the bluest sky.
Her hazel eyes burned gold with tears as I looked up. She said, “I’m going to miss you so much.”
Half an hour till her midnight flight. Five and a half hours more, and she’d be landing to an L.A sunrise. I said, “Me too.”
I left for Chicago the next day. Full scholarship.
I can’t remember exactly when we stopped talking. We FaceTimed every day at first, and then one afternoon she had too much to do, and so it became every other day. And then once a week. And then just texting. And then silence.
I let it hurt.
Chicago doesn’t see the sun, but I wouldn’t know the difference. I have watery suns awaiting me at all hours of the day now, nestled in sagging ceilings that are either off-white or dirty. Sometimes, during lectures, I stare up at them just to feel the spots in my eyes again, but it’s not the same.
We still follow each other’s Instagrams; her posts always show up at the top of my feed. The algorithm is taking a while to catch up. She’s smiling her genuine smile in every picture, made only truer by crystalline California light, not the heavy Jersey heat we tolerated out of necessity. I wonder if her new friends — glimmering, molten, like her, like I could never be — take her to the ocean at sunrise on the warmest days of the year. I hope they do.
Once, the summer we were eight or nine, we were lying on a beach towel in her backyard, benevolently competing to name all the birdcalls we heard. As I said, “Indigo bunting,” Eliza asked, “Do you think the sun and the sky and the clouds can see us like we see them?”
Intellectually, I knew the answer. But I said, “I think they can see you.”
Her brow furrowed as she contemplated. “Why not you?”
“‘Cause I’m just me, and you’re a lot more than just you,” I said, and this, I know, is true.
I was born lonely, and then I spent twelve summers with Eliza, and now all I do is look for her.
Lili Namazi is a fourteen-year-old rising junior with a passion for all things literary and musical. When they are not writing, composing, or playing an instrument, you will probably find them drinking iced coffee, listening to music, and daydreaming. They plan to continue their artistic pursuits in college and as their career.