Ronia’s black curls bob at the edge of my vision, her toffee face connected to twisting shoulders that sweep past the bodies of sweating parents, yakking teens, and pleading children. A shiny green sign tåwinkles with a line of sunlight, the white text saying “Atlantic Ave” invisible where the light hits the bumpy material. Air hisses through a hole in the thick plastic material next to me, pulsing as feet make contact with its airy brilliance. The sun watches over us, its warmth touching our faces and necks and burning us with its loving gaze. The wind joins in with the chorus of voices that ride over the thumping speakers like birds chirping out a melody while floating in the clouds. I eye a dolphin balloon that floats above the crowd, blue shimmer against a blue sky. The way it shines in the sun holds my vision as if challenging me to buy a grip on its bright string. I gather some cotton from my dad’s shirt in my fist and tug, gaining his attention.
I point at Ronia with one hand, and the balloon with the other. “Ronia’s over there,” I say, “And I want that.” I watch a kid with a red shirt near the balloon stand and narrow my eyes menacingly. “I want that now,” I add. Ronia’s face appears next to mine, face broken into a smile.
“Azalea!” She throws her arms open.
“Ronia!” I laugh and throw my arms around her. My hand wraps around her until it reaches the opposite side of her, where it rests, on the skin between her shoulder and neck.
My hand is wrapped around the balloon, the slight tug goes up my arm and into my heart as I walk down Atlantic Avenue, hand in hand with Ronia. When we see something we like, we gallop towards it, like our hands are cemented together and never will part.
* * *
As we walk to the East River, the outline of Ronia’s building becomes visible against the pale blue sky. It grows larger the more our legs burn, the more asphalt we step across, the more words we set free. It grows so large it obscures my vision, the details of the front door more than the details of the building as a whole. We enter and walk to the elevator with its old, leathery smell, like the building is a prize someone tried to wash too many times. My faded sandals cross the gap lined with metal, high-fiving the floor—thwack—a game played with Ronia’s pink and my blue sandals. Her feet are golden brown criss-crossed with blue plastic; mine, a birch tree, laden with celebratory ribbons, blue as a bluebird. The white lights flash on the elevator wall: Floor 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. The elevator counts with me, 6 years, 6 floors. Through the doorway, our sandals thwack.
It looks like the walls are holding negative space, like all the framed memories were forgotten. Ronia’s house used to be covered with pictures; nature, us, family, memories. But now all I see are nails sticking out of white walls, empty and holding nothing. Then I notice the bumpy, wood-colored boxes, green words on the sides, clinging onto the material as if they were scared to let go. But I shake my head and ignore these things, happy to be with Ronia.
* * *
When the sun reaches its home below the horizon, we watch the streaks of light glint on the dark choppy water. We take the subway home, the vision of the boxes bumping with the train. I hold the balloon to my chest, making the ends of my hair static. I frown; my tights itch, and so do my questions. My voice comes out, light as silver, but heavy with the questions. “Why were there boxes?” I ask, looking up at my parents. They share a look.
“Azalea. We have some bad news to tell you,” they say, “But we can’t tell you right now.” So I wait until we get off the train and into the house before they talk again. “Ronia is moving to California.” They place their hands on my shoulders, but nothing can stop the flood of tears that stream down my cheeks, my blue eyes magnified with the salty water that floods my vision. The river reminds me of the time we spent frolicking in the springs upstate, allowing cool, clear water to surround our boots, laughing when it went above the rubber protection and tickled our feet. My eyes burn when I rub them, and salty water covers my face. My mind creates an image of the time when we galumphed through the snowy woods with little crackling walkie-talkies in our hands. The time we sat atop our fathers’ shoulders and held hands way up high, like our heads were not only in the clouds but they were the clouds. The time I ate her birthday cupcake when she was in the bathroom, and the time she ate mine the next year. The time we ate the apples from the ground while apple-picking. The time we put on a show for our families and sang and danced and played.
I sleep with those memories floating through my head that night.
* * *
The next day, Ronia comes over with her family, and we all sit at the oak dining room table. I pout at everything, everyone. I woke up in the morning with a black cloud over my head, and my eyes raining spontaneously. Thunder booms when it wants, lightning strikes as it sees fit. They explain: California offers a job that New York does not. Where Craig (Ronia’s father) goes, so do they. I glower some more.
Craig looks over and says, “Azalea…”
I don’t let him finish. I go to my room, but arms catch me from behind and I turn into Ronia’s arms, extending my body around hers. We stand, wrapped around each other, and laugh through our tears.