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AT TEN THIRTY on Sunday night, I’m sitting in bed, my soft pink duvet piled up on my feet and my laptop burning against my thighs. Half a dozen windows sit open in my web browser, and in my notes app I’ve started a list of possible destinations that only goes to three.
I’ve just started compiling notes on the major cities and natural landmarks of each when my phone buzzes on my side table. Rachel’s been texting me, swearing off dairy, all day, but when I reach for my phone, the top of the message alert reads ALEXANDER THE GREATEST.
All at once, that giddy feeling is back, swelling so fast in me I feel like my body might pop.
It’s a picture message, and when I tap it open, I find a shot of my hilariously bad senior photo, complete with the quote I chose for them to print beneath it: BYE.
Ohhhhhhh nooooo, I type through laughter, shoving my laptop aside and flopping down on my back. Where did you find this?
East Linfield library, Alex says. I was setting up my classroom and I remembered they have yearbooks.
You have defied my trust, I joke. I’m texting your brothers for baby pictures right now.
Right away, he sends back that same Sad Puppy shot from Friday, his face blurry and washed out, the hazy orange glow of a streetlight visible over his shoulder. Mean, he writes.
Is that a stock photo that you keep saved for occasions such as these? I ask.
No, he says. Took it Friday.
You were out pretty late for Linfield, I say. What’s open apart from Frisch’s Big Boy at that hour?
It turns out that once you’re 21 there’s plenty to do after dark in Linfield, he says. I was at Birdies.
Birdies, the golf-themed dive bar “and grill” across the street from my high school.
Birdies? I say. Ew, that’s where all the teachers drink!
Alex fires off another Sad Puppy Face shot, but at least this one’s new: him in a soft gray T-shirt, his hair sticking up all over the place and a plain wooden headboard visible behind him.
He’s sitting in bed too. Texting me. And over the weekend, when he was working on his classroom, he not only thought about me, but took the time to go find my old yearbook shot.
I’m grinning hugely now, and buzzing too. It’s surreal how much this feels like the early days of our friendship, when every new text seemed so sparkly and funny and perfect, when every quick phone call accidentally turned into an hour and a half of talking nonstop, even when we’d seen each other a few days before. I remember how, during one of the first of these—before I would’ve considered him my best friend—I had to ask him if I could call him back in a second so I could go pee. When we got back on the phone, we talked another hour and then he asked me the same thing.
By then it seemed silly to get off the phone just to avoid hearing pee hitting a toilet bowl, so I told him he could stay on the phone if he wanted. He did not take me up on it, then or ever, though from then on, I often peed mid–phone call. With his permission, of course.
Now I’m doing this humiliating thing, touching the picture of his face like I can somehow feel the essence of him that way, like it will bring him closer to me than he has been for two years. There’s no one to see it, and still I feel embarrassed.
Kidding! I reply. Next time I’m home, we should go get sloppy with Mrs. Lautzenheiser.
I send it without thinking, and almost immediately my mouth goes dry at the sight of the words on-screen.
Next time I’m home.
Was that too far? Suggesting we should hang out?
If it was, he doesn’t let on. He just writes back, Lautzenheiser’s sober now. She’s also Buddhist.
But now that I haven’t gotten a direct reply to the suggestion, positive or negative, I feel an intense desire to push the matter. Then I guess we’ll have to go get enlightened with her instead, I write.
Alex types for way too long, and the whole time I’m crossing my fingers, trying to forcefully will away any tension.
I thought I’d been doing fine, that I’d gotten over our friend breakup, but the more we talk, the more I miss him.
My phone vibrates in my hand. Two words: Guess so.
It’s noncommittal, but it’s something.
And now I’m on a high. From the yearbook photos, from the selfies, from the idea of Alex sitting up in bed texting me out of the blue. Maybe it’s pushing too hard or asking too much, but I can’t help myself.
For two years, I’ve wanted to ask Alex to give our friendship another shot, and I’ve been so afraid of the answer that I’ve never gotten the question out. But not asking hasn’t brought us back together either, and I miss him, and I miss how we were together, and I miss the Summer Trip, and finally, I know that there is one thing in my life that I still really want, and there’s only one way to find out if I can have it.
Any chance you’re free until school starts? I type out, shaking so much my teeth have started to chatter. I’m thinking about taking a trip.
I stare at the words for the span of three deep breaths, and then I hit send.
Eleven Summers Ago
OCCASIONALLY, I SEE Alex Nilsen around on campus, but we don’t speak again until the day after freshman year ends.
It was my roommate, Bonnie, who set the whole thing up. When she told me she had a friend from southern Ohio looking for someone to carpool home with, it didn’t occur to me that it might be that same boy from Linfield I’d met at orientation.