Hannah and I meet the first day of eighth grade, our lockers alphabetically adjacent. We love eyeliner and Ellen Hopkins. We battle to attract Mrs. Finger’s attention in English class: gentle elbows to the ribs preventing the other from raising a hand. Hannah outscores me on the literature analyses, while I outscore her on the creative writing assignments.
She first invites me over on Halloween — junk food, scary movies. Her parents have kind faces and brown eyes like Hannah’s, but unlike her, they don’t wear glasses (hers are crooked from falling asleep reading so often). Star, a grey-and-black striped cat with a dark asterisk on his forehead, follows Hannah and me onto the couch in the TV room. Hannah says I smell like old candles, but in a good way. She smells like Pantene and something that makes me giddy. I don’t tell her that second part. The movie starts. I relish the feeling of her breath on my neck each time she collapses against me after the humans we’ve come to love outrun the groaning zombies.
A Lutheran youth sleepover is not how a Jew like me would typically spend a Friday night, but I agree after Hannah promises no one is going to try and convert me. The church van takes a gaggle of us to play laser tag in a dark room devoid of the clinking change and pew-pew-pews of the surrounding arcade. Goddamnit! I say, the first person eliminated. The church group quiets and stares. Back against a sticky wall, I wait for my cheek-flush to recede, wait to lay my sleeping bag next to Hannah’s on the linoleum floor of the church’s basement and smell her hair as she drifts into dreams.
Come spring, I giggle with new girlfriends at school. Hannah stops sitting next to me in Mrs. Finger’s class and slams her locker extra hard when I’m around. I don’t call or text her. By summer, we stop talking altogether. In fact, we don’t speak for all four years of high school — despite the proximity of our lockers. I can always smell her floral shampoo when she passes me in the hallway.
Her parents open the door. Vampires. No sign of aging in the last ten years. Star looks as if he’s seen a ghost and runs away. I feel like a ghost mounting the stairs to her bedroom. Nothing remains except the piles of books. So many books. We’ve both chopped off our…