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We’ve watched the Fourth of July fireworks together every year ever since we met in second grade, Jordan and I. But I hadn’t expected it this year, seeing as we weren’t – couldn’t be – the friends we once were. Somehow, though, in a flurry of unexpected calls and parents shaking their heads, casting furtive glances at us, and saying with deep sighs, “Look at how fast they’re growing. Are they really that much taller already?” – somehow it happened again.

It was too hot and humid for us to be outside because Jordan’s asthmatic, so we camped out in his dad’s new silver Honda, radio turned up full volume to Light FM and air conditioning on full blast. I experimented on the little plastic handle on the side of the seats until I got them to fall back as far as they could into a reclining pose as Jordan dug through the trunk for two bottles of water.

“Sorry. My dad’s not exactly the most organized person in the world,” he apologized as he emerged. As if I didn’t already know that from hours over at his house, sneaking around and tinkering with his extensive collection of Legos. But that was how out of whack we were with each other.
*****

In the morning, before we had to go to our first classes, Jordan would join the crowd around some other popular kid’s locker, talking and laughing boisterously until the teachers would yell at them to go to their classes because the late bell would be ringing any second. He used to come over and talk to me when I was lined up in front of my classroom, back before middle school started, back when we were young and naïve and still the best of friends. Didn’t happen anymore. After unpacking, I’d hurry straight to first period. No hanging around in an elite clique to exchange smart comments and insults and anecdotes from whatever party there was that weekend, and all the better to avoid that weird ache in my chest whenever I heard Jordan’s voice rising above the others, talking to someone other than me.

After school, though, nothing seemed different – at least on the surface. We’d always carpooled home from school together since I met him in second grade. But what happened on the ride had transformed. We talked about… well, anything and everything, normally. No. We used to talk about anything and everything before seventh grade. It didn’t matter where we were. Before seventh grade, there was scarcely a quiet moment between us. Our parents complained. I can’t count how many times we were talking on the phone and were interrupted by my mom saying, “Please, can’t you quiet down? You’ve been chatting for hours.” Which isn’t exactly an exaggeration.

This year the conversations started consisting of more silence than of words. When we did talk, the awkward, bumbling discussion was always about Jordan’s new friends, the ones he shot paintball guns with after school, the ones he played soccer or basketball or lacrosse with on the weekends. Or whatever new sport he was learning, whether it was skiing over winter break or swimming. Or whatever party he was recently at, be it bar or bat mitzvah or some other celebration. Jordan did most of the talking, actually. I just nodded along and smiled, feeling so fake my teeth hurt, like the time he dared me to eat three large bags of M&Ms in under ten minutes. When we talked, it felt like we were standing on either side of a fissure in the ground that was spreading, and spreading, and spreading, and no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t stop it from happening.
*****

A noisy crack, softened slightly because we were sitting inside a car, brought an explosion of blinding silver stars fading slowly into the silky navy blue of the night sky. Jordan and I leaned back, savoring it. A cacophony of sparkles, green and gold and purple-pink, sputtered out with a crackle. Each one left a blinking imprint of itself in my line of vision like the flash of a camera on school picture day.

I glanced at Jordan and he met my gaze. For some reason, we could always sense it when one of us was watching the other, waiting for that sympathetic exchange of looks. It happened during our school concert, standing on opposite sides of the band room, clutching flutes and trumpets with sweaty, clammy hands, waiting for the band to be called onstage. It happened during our piano recital, when I forgot a part of my piece and had to ad lib something until I could remember the notes again, and I rushed down the stage in a flurry of skirts and starched white collars, burning with embarrassment, looking for a sympathetic face in the audience. It happened waiting for my mom after school, when someone said something so absolutely ridiculous there was no way anyone could reply decently to it. The glances – that was another thing that hadn’t changed, at least not yet.

I could see the reflection of glittering blue shimmers burst open, then fade, in Jordan’s placid, muddy brown eyes. A reddish star climbed across the sky, exploded, and disappeared so quickly it felt like a dream, not a memory of something that had occurred no more than a moment ago. None of the fireworks lasted more than a couple of seconds. All of them were fleeting, twinkling for but a second before disappearing into the sea of dark gray smoke that had accumulated over the shadowy evergreen trees.

This might be the last time I spent Independence Day evening with Jordan. The last time I felt like I actually knew him, the last time I thought of him as a friend, and not simply an acquaintance. But my memories wouldn’t die out like the fireworks did. They would stay, etched into each groove of my brain, imprinted just behind my eyes like a camera flash, like the aftermath of each fizzling sparkler.





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mliaz999 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 18, 2010 at 1:46 pm
I love how the ending is so hopeful even though the main characters situation is so hopeless according to herself.  I love the figurative language and how each sentence has a special meaning.  Keep writing :D!
 
OffTopic replied...
Aug. 19, 2010 at 11:17 am
Thanks so much!
 
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