Sarah, my friend and cohort, whose face I knew before I had even memorized my own, walked beside me up a hill so steep the black tarmac seemed to slide away under our bare toes. The cool September day had been alternately hot and cold, the undecided temperature representing the mood of the evening. Her birthday had just passed: seventeen. She seemed so old to me.
I turned, and between each of the houses we passed, the setting sun burned a fiery orange, lighting up the ominous clouds in the distance a royal purple, grayed around the edges. Sarah and I have seen countless sunsets together.
For her birthday, I had given her a picture made from memories of coffee and a fear of wolves. When I handed it to her, her fingers traced the blocky shapes of the wolves and their quarry – a trio of princesses. Her face was shielded from my view by her long blonde hair. After a moment, she raised her gaze. Tears sparkled at the edges of her eyes, and we both sat on the hallway floor and silently shared our tears.
In order to understand such a strange image, you would first have to understand the infinite joy of a childhood adventure.
I had ran, the sun warm on my back in that summer memory. My long, princess skirt flowed around my short legs, catching in the brambles and pulling flower heads along behind me.
A shout from ahead, “Hannah, hurry! The wolves are coming! Don’t get caught!” There was a smile in Sarah’s thin, child’s voice. I sped along, a matching grin framing my baby teeth.
We probably ran the same circle hundreds of times, burning a path into the earth, but still the brambles felt infinite, with stumpy trees as tall as the greatest oaks. We made crowns of weeds, wands of twigs, forts of sticks; we took dresses from her mom’s closet and waded into the blackberry brambles.
To our eyes, bright with the fantasies of children, wolves danced in the twilight. Their fur rippled a muddy waterfall, their eyes shone a brilliant gold. They played in the brambles, just as we did. They sprinted and jumped and frolicked through the ancient oaks. On the corners of this vision, our brightly colored skirts rippled, our crowns glinted golden, and our wands sprayed diamond magic over the green grass and our stone castles.
“Let’s play the wolf game!” I could hear her excited voice in my head all those years later. “Let’s go out to our castles!” The memory brought a smile to my face.
Seventeen-year-old Sarah turned and glanced my way, noticing my sudden grin. She frowned inquisitively, but I just shook my head.
We reached the crest of the hill, the sun burning beautifully before us, the sky seeming to contain all the colors of the world. Trees dotted the foreground, rendered dark and patternless by the light behind them.
“Oooooof,” Sarah sighed, saying, “I wish Sophie were here.”
Sophie was the third of our trio, the third princess, the third perpetrator of the Wolf Game.
“Same,” I said quietly, my gaze fixed on the majesty before us.
We sat by our favorite tree. It had a perfect view of the setting star, and Sarah pulled out her phone to play music.
Sitting in comfortable silence is such a luxury, I thought. It’s a privilege not everyone experiences.
The lyrics sailed by my ears:
Well, I think it’s fine, building jumbo planes. Or taking a ride on a cosmic train ….
The last glimpse of orange fire disappeared behind distant hills, and we withdrew from the trance the sun had cast, feeling the earth sigh as the warmth began to seep from the ground, feeling the green things curl up for this short darkness.
Switch on summer from a slot machine. Get what you want to if you want, ’cause you can get anything ….
Whenever I see her face, I see my home. And whenever she sees mine, she sees hers. Childhood friendships are a beautiful thing.
I know we’ve come a long way. We’re changing day to day. But tell me, where do the children play?
I turned to look at her and said, a grin shining in my eyes, “Sarah, the wolves are coming!”
Immediately, her eyes lit up to meet mine, and her face split into a smile. Without any prompting, she stood, hopped the fence, and bolted down the hill, shouting, “Hannah, hurry! The wolves are coming! Don’t get caught!”
I gleefully sprinted behind her, the underbrush raking our shins, thorns sticking in our cotton shirts, mud enveloping our bare toes.
Exhilarated, we ran, huffing and puffing down the slope. Laughing and grinning all the way.
Our feet touched the tarmac once again, and our rose-colored glasses fell from our faces, and I remembered that she was 17. I remembered that soon she would be leaving me, and I would be stuck running in the same circles, circles that were burned into the earth with their repetition, while she went off to explore a bigger world. Soon I would have no one to enjoy comfortable silences with.
Our moment of giddy nostalgia was over, and a quiet, bittersweet stillness fell. We parted ways, and I headed home. Nevertheless, I would forever remember that sunset.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.