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She isn’t beautiful. Her nails are always chipped and her knees covered in scars; her breasts are nonexistent and her eyes an average, unexciting dark blue. But I fall for her hands. They are tiny. Not necessarily soft and dainty, but fragile. They move when she talks, and as a result, I never really listen.
“Don’t say you love me. I don’t believe in love.” So I text it to her and leave it in notes. She pretends she never gets them, and I pretended they are never sent. But she does read. I never see her do it, but once we watched a movie: Bright Star. It’s about a poet, John Keats or something. She knows every line and whispered it to herself, eyes fixed on the screen.
“Hey,” I mumble. She turns to me, flashing her grin.
“Have you seen this movie before?”
“Nope.” She stops chanting. I wish I had let her be.
One day, I see her drawing stars in a notebook. Tiny, pencil stars until they cover the page like pox. “Do you like stars?” She flips it shut and smiles at me blankly. From then on I give her lucky paper stars. I leave them everywhere. Like the “I Love You” messages, she pretends they don’t exist.
“I can’t stay here,” she says. I stare at her, as she perches at the top of the building. Don’t jump is all I can think.
“Come down. Let’s go to the park and pick out cloud shapes, like we’re kids again. Best friends.” And it hurts, because I don’t want to be her best friend anymore.
“OK,” she responds. But she takes my hand in the elevator down, and then I’m thoroughly confused.
That night, as she insists on walking home alone, she kisses me good-bye. It’s not our first kiss, but it feels as awkward and pure all the same. And as her hand unfolds from mine, and she saunters away, I feel it. Five or six paper stars huddled in my palm, their points spreading the skin. Stars that I have given to her.
“Where are you going?” I call, understanding at that moment a part of her for the first time in our lives. A part so shrouded by smiles and the swift movement of her tiny hands. She stops, turning. And in the dimness of dawn, she is breathtakingly extraordinary.
“Because it’s the only star brighter than me.”