I remember that she formed her letters backwards with her right hand. I remember how she used to only brush her teeth with one foreign brand of toothpaste because she was convinced that all the other brands were laced with something. I remember the way she smelled of warm cinnamon with a hint of baby powder smelling deodorant. I remember how she used to carry around a pocket dictionary because she thought that using short words was boring and unoriginal. I remember her frantic speech and stuttering voice. I remember how excited she’d get whenever a new installation of her favorite book series came out. I remember her dark eyes. I remember her pale skin. I remember walking in and seeing the gun in her hand before the bullet popped.
Every therapist in Denver has checked me out. Every psychiatrist has gazed at me from across an island of a wide desk with confused eyes. Still, no formal diagnosis has been given to me. My best friend shot herself in the head during our freshman year and after a proper time of mourning, I recovered. That’s something you rarely see these days, a kid recovering from a traumatic event. No one ever does. The majority of teenagers these days have some twisted mental issue, or a ton of skeletons spilling out of their closets. I am okay. That’s what people just don’t believe.
The party at Noah’s house starts in fifteen minutes, so I pull myself out of bed and groggily walk over to my connected bathroom. Its once clear countertops are now cluttered with open makeup palette and clumps of hair. That’s disgusting, but shedding is something girls do more often than people realize. I pick up my toothbrush, but decide I’d rather have two minutes to apply eyeliner than cater to basic hygiene. After expertly smearing two soft streaks of black around my eyes to give me the angsty look I so desire, I grab my coat and walk downstairs.
My parents still don’t think I’m mentally stable. They’re the mushy-gushy, over protective parents who wear matching sweaters and listen to Christmas carols in August. I love my parents, don’t get me wrong, but they need an upgrade in wardrobe and personality. Without even bothering to tell them where I’m going, I wave into the living room and waltz out the front door. I’ll text them later… probably.
Noah Armstrong has held a part of my heart (I refuse to give him it all) for about a year now. I wish I could tell you he’s super cool and is the star quarterback and has girls drooling over him left and right, but it’s quite the opposite. He’s the head of the rocketry club and still has a bottom sheathe of braces. Despite the fact that his voice is slurred with a soft lisp, it is strong and well informed. Enough about him, he’s not that special.
I go to the “smart kid” school. You know the type. The school kids joke about where only the most stuck up kids go and consume ADHD pills like candy to study and pass tests. It’s quite untrue, actually. We’re all a bunch of kids doing stupid things and being teenagers. There’s nothing grand about us besides our test scores.
His house is quaint and small for this our nice section of Denver. When I walk through the doors, I’m greeted with the warm smells of living. The smells of soda coated breath, deodorant smothered sweat, and the machine oil of hormones dripping in the minds of thirty or so teenagers. It’s a typical high school party, like the ones in the movies. Except we don’t have cheap, smuggled alcohol or people banging in every spare bedroom. We drink cola. We talk to each other. We play games. We occasionally make out. We leave before midnight.
How tame and boring my life may sound. Sure, I’ll grant you that, but does it seem that bad of a world that some kid would knowingly wedge a bullet into her brain? I don’t know. Everyone sees the world differently, maybe she just looked at it from behind a set of darker glasses than the rest of us.
Noah comes jogging around the corner and pulls me in for a hug. I blush and soak in the feeling of his body against mine. I want to absorb him into me and keep the c***tail of warmth and electricity we are sharing now.
“How’s it going, Sophie?” He asks sincerely with a furrowed brow as if he is genuinely asking. I don’t question the fact that someone could care about me. I accept it.
I sigh and look around for the table set up with a computer and some lousy speakers, landmarking my next destination. “It’s going Noah. It’s going.”
Noah follows me over and logs me into the shared family laptop, guiding my hardrive into its designated slot and watches as I carefully sort through digital album covers. I select an old Tupac album and watch as some kids turn and nod their head in approval. They’re lined on the edges of the room and are slouched over the couch in the center of the room. Smiles hint at the lined lips of them all. It’s the start of a new year. August brings new opportunities and allows the mistakes of last year melt away into repressible memories. It is the beginning of our sophomore year for the majority of people here, leaving out a few freshman and juniors.
I walk into the kitchen and stare at the covered countertops, searching for something to drink. Skimming through the ingredients of some soda bottles, I sneer at the unpronounceable chemicals and settle with tap water. The first drop from the faucet hits the bottom of the cup and I imagine what she would’ve said. She would’ve been leaning against the granite countertop next to me, whipped out her dictionary and searched for the right word to use.
The lonely drop falls quickly to be the first of his kind as he explodes when he hits the plastic surface at the bottom of the cup.
She would’ve laughed.
“Sophie, you okay?” Noah comes up from behind me, staring at the stream of water and the overflowing cup in my now wet hand. I shake my head, pulling myself out of the trance and turning around. I like the way he addresses me with my name at the start of every conversation. I’d pay him to say my name over and over again.
“Yeah, yeah. Just zoned out,” I laugh it off, but he still doesn’t seem to entirely believe me. He brushes against my arm slightly as we walk back into the living room and goosebumps erupt along my spine. Only about an inch or so taller than me, I gaze up slightly at the shadow of his collarbone peaking out of the royal blue shirt he wears. I notice the deep bags underneath his eyes for the first time. The lines drag from the inner corners of his coffee eyes and stop just shy of his cheekbones. It looks like he and I must share a heavy case of insomnia.
We sit behind the table and control the music for a night, conversations blossoming and wilting as the hours went on. The kids in the house cling to red solo cups and cell phones, desperately trying to fit in and feel comfortable. It’s odd to watch, really. We turn into our primal forms and become hyper-aware of our surroundings. After a while, people start to warm up to each other, sometimes too warm, and the spirit of the party lifts. What’s even weirder is how tonight, people will act like best friends and life partners, but on Monday, no one will know each other. It always seems to be like that.
Most people are gathered in the living room, draped over couches and each others’ laps. Music floats between bobbing heads and moving lips. Noah takes this opportunity to do what he does best, entertain. He stands up on the small table in the center of the room and it wobbles uncertainly under his tennis shoes.
“Everyone, everyone,” he calls as he taps his plastic cup with his pointer finger, trying to mimic a utensil on glass. The noise is pitifully quiet, yet all the heads turn and the room falls quiet. “I’d like to raise a toast to the best behaved kids in Colorado! We are high on life and the crazy high altitude, am I right Josh?”
Josh, another member of the rocketry club, stands up and whips out his inhaler from his back pocket. Raising it to his mouth, he takes a puff and pretends to blow smoke. He pulls his eyelids back and begins to speak.
“So like listen, there is hair in my spaghetti and I really need to know RIGHT NOW which one of you girls shagged your greasy hair over my dinner,” the room erupts in laughter and we all glance over at his microwavable meal. Our attention is drawn back to Noah.
“It’s storytime,” Noah says and grins as everyone cheers him on. He makes eye contact with me from across the room and holds it for a while. I blush and turn away.
“Let’s set the scene. I think I was about eight years old and was playing in my aunt’s backyard. Chicago in the middle of July, ugh. It was gross and humid, I remember my Spiderman shirt was sticking to every part of my body it came in contact with. My cousin, a few years older than I sat in the backyard mud with me. We fished through it and found so much amusement in watching the liquid dirt drip though our fingertips…”
Last summer, she walked around outside with me barefoot for hours. We’d wince at the burning cement as it send wild sensations though our bodies. Once in awhile, competitions would be held to see who could stand on the sidewalk the longest. She always won. While she was suffering and about to give up, she’d start reciting something. This one time, she recited the whole Gettysburg Address in a minute, racing though the words as though they were etched into her eyes. I always loved how she obsessively memorized things, swearing they’d come in handy one day.
“Then… worms. I loved worms as a kid and I guess you could say my parents opened a can of worms when I was born!” He says with finger guns and a hearty smile.
Everyone groans at the poorly constructed pun.
“Anywho, my cousin told me that if I ate a worm, I would be immortal. And to any eight year old obsessed with Percy Jackson, this seemed insanely appealing. All I had to do was eat a worm. Psh, that’s nothing. I would be a GOD. So, I grabbed the biggest worm I could find in that patch of dirt. And I mean biggest. I am not a quitter, my friends. I used garden clippers to chop him up into three pieces soon to be devoured by my tiny, child teeth.”
Noah laughs gently and begins to melt his voice down to a consistency of softness and suspense as he finished his story.
“If you know anything about worms, you know that they have multiple hearts. This tri-segmented worm was still moving in three separate parts. I tried to chew the first lesson and when my mouth filled with weird, worm fluids, I just tried to swallow the other two pieces whole. My task was successfully completed. It is said to this day that that same worm lurks in my stomach, waiting for an opportunity to strike. That worm, I named him Charles, will be the only thing that can end my streak of immortality. The end.”
Noah tells stories the way she used to, full of exaggerated details and aggressively grotesque factors. Even the voice changes and word choices are similar. He has the same dark hair and eyes. He is kind to me like she was.
I say I am okay, yet I cannot utter her name.
I say I am okay, because I’m in love with the idea of her living in Noah’s body like Charles the worm.