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Reunited This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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My long brown hair is perfectly curled and tied up with a bow. I'm wearing a cotton sundress. Although I look put-together, I am filled with anxiety. My hands are shaking as I grab my keys.

It's a gorgeous, cloudless, 80-degree April day in Florida, and it's time for me to take a trip that's 13 years overdue. I slide into my Jeep, put on my playlist of indie dance music, and back out of my driveway. Here we go.

• • •

Casey was my everything. “Casey” was the first word I learned to spell. If there was ever a perfect pair of best friends, it was Casey and me. I loved him more than anything; he was a part of me. It wasn't even a thought – everything I did revolved around Casey.

We were inseparable. I cried on the days his mom didn't pick me up from school to take me to his house to play. He was more than my friend even then. I think I knew he was mine. Even when I was so young, I knew that Casey was my Casey.

When Casey and I were five, he moved to Tampa. He moved around a lot, and each time he went a little further away. Nothing changed; my mom still drove me to his house on the weekends, and my family stayed with his like a mini-vacation. We were still the very best of friends. We went to water parks, we went on the water slide in his backyard that I couldn't get enough of, and we teased our little sisters.

I didn't know at the time why I stopped seeing Casey, but I remember when. I remember almost everything about the last time I went to his house. I called his baby sister, Maya, “The Amazing Talking Baby” because she was so little but could speak as well I could. We watched “The Magic School Bus” for hours. We said grace before every meal, even though I didn't know what it was. His mom was my mom and vice versa. I remember Casey got a sticky strip meant for catching bugs stuck in my hair, and it took both our moms to cut it out.

I remember the last time I spoke to Casey. My mom asked me if I wanted to talk to him on the phone. I was seven; I stood on the couch with our old-school landline phone pressed to my ear. I remember asking him how old he was, since I hadn't seen him in what seemed like a long time. He said he was seven. I told him that I was seven too. And that's all I remember.

It wasn't until six years later that Casey came back into my realm of consciousness. Of course I hadn't forgotten him, but the news of the accident hit me like a brick. I was at Friendly's with my little sister and my grandmother. I was arguing with my sister over crayons. She was annoying me so much, I almost wished I didn't have a little sister. I looked up from the crayons to meet my grandmother's disapproving gaze. “You should be more thankful for your little sister. Think of what happened to that Casey's little sister,” she said.

I asked my grandmother what she was talking about, half afraid to know. She told me there had been a car accident a year or two before, and Maya had died.

I was in shock. I remember slipping out of the booth, saying I had to go to the restroom. I went into a stall and wept. I didn't understand why no one had told me, but I knew a world without my amazing talking baby was no longer as bright. All I could think was, Why isn't Casey in my life? Where did he go? I had to find him. I had to be there for him.

I was twelve when I heard about Maya's death, old enough to use Google. I found two articles about the accident, and each broke my heart into a million pieces. Casey's mom was driving the car when it flipped and caught fire. Bystanders struggled to free Casey, Casey's friend, and Maya from the burning car. Casey's friend and mom were taken to the hospital with minor injuries. Casey was airlifted to a hospital with a gash in his forehead and a broken arm; he was ten. Maya – who was just six – died in the hospital shortly after the crash. I remember my blinding anger toward my parents. Why hadn't they told me? I cried and cried. I cried for Maya and for Casey, and for myself.

I missed him terribly. I needed him back in my life. I found out from my mom that Casey's mom had turned to drugs, which led to his parents' divorce and was why our families had lost touch. I wish I could have been there for him during those hard times.

For months I went on a seemingly endless search for Casey. I called his old house. I called the church where I thought his father was preaching. I poured over articles about the accident. My efforts lead nowhere until I tried MySpace. I searched his name, and there he was. I couldn't believe it.

But Casey wasn't interested in talking to me. I had missed too much; the divorce and the accident and time severed us. Our friendship seemed over, and I was crushed. I found out that he had moved with his dad to New York. I wanted so badly to be there for him, but I was too late, so I let it go.

Now I am 18, and so is Casey. Recently I typed his name into Facebook, just for fun. And of course, there he was. Through a series of semi-awkward messages back and forth, I managed to capture his attention.

He never really left my mind; after all these years I still thought of him often. He was so important during my childhood, and so many things still remind me of him, like rice cakes or my fish tank – things that have been around since he was. What propelled me to search for him one last time, I don't know, but reconnecting was a miracle. We've been texting regularly for about a month now, and he's coming to visit Florida. He's coming home. Everything it took leading up to this trip has been worth it. Every thought, every plan, every detail, every hope, and every dream was not in vain.

• • •

I'm in the car on the highway. It's a miracle my sweaty hands are gripping the steering wheel at all, I'm so nervous.

I'm going to meet Casey.

Thirteen years is a long time to be apart, but best friends forever are best friends forever, right?

As my hour-long drive to Orlando nears an end, I imagine how it's going to go. I see myself nervously looking around the University of Central Florida campus, searching for him before he starts his college tour (the real reason for his visit). Finally I catch a glimpse of his curly brown hair. As he turns, his dark brown eyes meet my bright green ones for an intense instant before I start to run. We're both smiling as I leap into his arms, causing a scene. But I don't care. I hug him fiercely and he hugs me back. I hug him for all the times I wasn't there and wish I had been. I hug him because he's been missing from my life for far too long. I breathe him in, never wanting to let go. It's Casey. It's finally Casey.

We part enough to see each other's faces. We stare at each other, drowning in familiarity but swimming in change. We've grown up, but we've found our way back to each other. We walk around the campus holding hands, smiling, and laughing. Talking like we were never parted. Neither of us mentions the accident, but he knows I'm there for him. And that I always have been, in spirit.

We're quite possibly the cutest couple on the planet. Nobody could ever be as happy as we are, seeing each other for the first time since we were five. For that day we will be us again. We will be Casey and Erika, together as a single entity, and it will be the most perfect day ever.

I park my Jeep and get out. The moment is finally upon me. I start to search for that boy with the curly brown hair and dark brown eyes who I've missed so achingly for thirteen years.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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