Now: She is sitting on the floor of the Travel section. I see her from the mezzanine above and take two rocketing steps backwards, slamming one heel into a cat calendar display and nearly knocking it over. Slowly I inch back towards the edge, which seems infuriatingly precarious—the rail is a mere nod to safety in case of accidental misstep.
Nothing if not a poor design choice.
I reach out for it, reassured that it is iron and in fact quite solid. There, in the literary crevasse below, she is sitting on the floor browsing a travelogue. You couldn’t miss her, even from my lofty position of clumsy vertigo: the acute angle of her nose, the racing stripe of natural mud brown parting her blonde highlights, the impatient habit of rolling her rings around fingers with her thumb as she reads.
I haven’t seen her in six years, but it is obvious that she hasn’t changed. She hunches and reads books from back to front. She sits on the floor with her legs sprawled across the aisle. When someone comes down the row, she looks disturbed and moves slowly, as if it were some monumental effort, stretching her limbs back across after the offending individual has passed. She would have claimed this was because she had a knee injury, but I never really believed that. I think she just likes showing off her long legs—legs that look thin in any pair of jeans. Legs that make her nearly two inches taller than I.
She also has an engagement ring. I had heard about that. People tell you things like that.
Before: Before there had been a time when we would not have hesitated to share a toothbrush. Not that we were lovers or anything, don’t get me wrong, we were just close. Really close. We forged one another’s handwriting on registration forms at school. We borrowed shoes without asking. We had pacts about how to handle various situations in bars or with men, promising to sacrifice ourselves to save one another. We told each other every last secret we had, overlooking the detail that we didn’t have secrets worth hiding.
Then I lay in bed with Dave as he ringed the bones of my wrist with his fingers, marveling at the large gap between his bones and mine.
“Tiny,” he said. “My tiny little girl. How do you walk around with bones so small?”
There was something endearing about him, although I could not now say what. He wore a leather necklace with a bead that bobbed in the hollow of his throat like a lifeboat. When he kissed his lips felt like warm laundry, and when we slept he tucked the covers in around us like a cocoon.
I think I thought I was in love, but it’s a difficult memory, like trying to remember if you’ve ever tried Vietnamese food, or whether you’ve seen an old movie or just heard the story. It’s only easy to remember that he had dated her first. She had broken it off.
“He drinks too much,” she said.
This was her opinion. I was more generous. I thought we all drank too much.
Nevertheless Dave and I kept our secret from her, like a ring in a locket, for some time.
Actually, it wasn’t that long.
Dave drank too much.
One night he drank too much and pushed me down a flight of steps. I broke my collarbone. The next day he came to the hospital to say he was sorry. He brought me a mix tape and a single red rose. She was there already, making lists and vowing to care for me for as long as it took for me to heal.
Afterwards: After that triangulated moment we rocketed off in our distant directions like embers snapping in a fire. We lowered our black mortarboards down over our eyes as we processed past one another at graduation. Life went on. Mine in a monotonous heartbeat tracing of highs and lows not memorable enough to mention except for the fact that they brought me to the present moment.
And now: Dave sells boats on the Outer Banks.
She is reading about being somewhere else.