Lily raced through the sweltering July heat. The sun was high in the sky but it felt like it was perched right above her head. Her hair was sticking to her, her clothes were beginning to chafe, and she could feel sweat running down her face. She ran faster.
The sound of her sneakers slapping against the pavement was far too loud, and breathing was beginning to hurt. Lily knew she was a lot of things, but a runner wasn’t one of them. She wasn’t a jogger, swimmer or even dancer, either. She was one of those girls who sat out gym class whenever possible, read a book and tried to get through the day with her head down.
She turned the corner and nearly twisted her ankle. Marla’s house was just down the street, and she dreaded what she would find when she got there. Marla’s text had come in less than an hour ago: “I’m moving. Today. Packing up. Come soon.” She didn’t answer her phone, didn’t send any more information, so Lily put on her least impractical shoes and started running.
Her brain started feeding her images of what she’d find, and most of them were an empty house. Their minivan gone, a moving company shoving furniture and boxes into a truck, and no indication of where the Zane family had gone. She would never see Marla again, and just the possibility of that happening made her run faster.
When she came in sight of the house, there was indeed a moving van, and she cried out as she stumbled to a halt in their driveway. Spots danced in front of her eyes and she had to lean over in order to catch her breath. For a moment, she thought she’d throw up, but that was eclipsed by the looming terror of not knowing what had happened, where they had gone.
“Lily? Is that you?”
Mrs. Zane came out of the house, carrying a small cardboard box. She handed it to one of the movers and swiftly came to Lily’s side. “Oh, my, you look terrible,” she said. “Just terrible. Come on in and I’ll get you some water.’
Lily felt tears running down her face, and hoped Marla’s mother would think it was just sweat. Once in the house, Mrs. Zane dug a glass out of a box, rinsed it out, and then handed her some water. Lily drank it down quickly. “You poor thing,” Mrs. Zane said. She took the glass back and poured another, which Lily sipped at. Mrs. Zane smiled. It was a sympathetic, yet powerless smile. “I suppose this is coming as a surprise to you too, isn’t it?”
Lily nodded, but couldn’t yet speak.
“Well, Marla’s father’s job is…” She pursed her lips. “Volatile. And this won’t be the first time.” She took the empty glass away. “More?”
Lily shook her head. “Marla?” she managed to say.
“She’s upstairs, packing up. She’ll be so happy to see you.” Mrs. Zane blinked a few times, and smiled a tight, sad smile. “You’ve been such a good friend to her.”
Her legs were shaky and she knew how horrible she must look. Hair plastered to her head, face red and sweaty. She wasn’t sure, but she probably was starting to smell. Lily went up the stairs as fast as she was able, turned into the hallway and went to Marla’s room. When she opened the door, her heart broke.
She had spent many hours here, listening to music, playing YouTube videos, talking about life and school and what they were going to be someday. They became friends almost instantly at the beginning of freshman year, and the two years that followed only deepened that friendship. They thought that they’d be graduating together, going off to college and becoming trendy city girls. They expected so many things.
Falling in love, however, was not one of them.
Lily dropped to her knees when she got in the room. The pictures and posters were gone from the walls. The bookshelves were empty, the desk had been cleared off, and there were boxes everywhere. Marla was there in an instant. She said Lily’s name over and over and held her close on the floor. Lily finally burst into the tears that she’d been holding back, and let herself sag into Marla’s arms.
She wasn’t sure how much time passed, but when she finally raised her head and was able to breathe deeply, they were sitting on the bed. She blinked tears out of her eyes and asked simply, “Why?” She couldn’t look at her.
Marla hugged her again. “My dad,” she said. “We found out last night, and I was only able to get a text to you today.” Lily could hear her smile, and she knew which smile it was. It was the sad smile, the downcast smile that always went with the things that couldn’t change. “I would never leave without seeing you again, though.”
“But I don’t want you to go!” Lily hated the whine in her voice, but couldn’t stop it.
“And I don’t want to go either,” Marla said. “But I don’t have a lot of choice.” She hugged her close. “You think this is bad, see what happens when I tell them that a) I’m not going with them because b) I have a girlfriend.” She laughed. “Remember that time my mom caught us smoking pot out back?” Lily let out a quick laugh as well. “Imagine that about a thousand million times worse.”
They sat in silence for a little while. Lily’s sniffing subsided, and she rested her head on Marla’s shoulder. “Promise you’ll Skype?” she asked, in a small voice.
“Promise. And Tweet. And Facebook and everything else.” She lifted Lily’s face upwards and brushed away a lock of hair. “This is the internet age, girlfriend,” she said. “Trust me. I’m not really going anywhere.”
Then she kissed her. It wasn’t passionate, like those first few weeks, or playful, like the weeks before that. It was a farewell kiss, and even though neither of them had done it before, they both knew what it was.
They sat for a while longer, neither one wanting to be the first to move.
But, in the end, they did.