The day of the eighth-grade picnic is beautiful and flawless, the sky a velvet blanket of blue. My mom drops me off in front of the school. A cheerful and colorful Goodbye Eighth Graders! banner greets me over the front door of the school. A big bouquet of purple balloons is tied to it. I go to Camden Academy, a small private school in New Hampshire with just fifteen kids in my grade. It is here where I’ve met my six best friends—Lilly, Elizabeth, Bridget, Charlotte, Sarah, and Caroline.
I make my way to the playground where the celebration is taking place, past the boys playing kickball on the soccer field and little kids munching on cookies on the swings.
My friends are clustered around a picnic bench, talking excitedly. The seven of us girls have been best friends since kindergarten and have been an inseparable group. But after eight years, we are splitting up. We are going in different directions for high school, which looms in front of us, a stretch of summer the only thing in between.
“Hey” I say softly, squeezing my way onto the bench next to Lilly and Bridget. “What’s going on?”
“We’re making a wish!” Sarah gushes.
“A wish? What do you mean?” I ask.
“Mrs. Peterson gave us a piece of paper to write a wish on that we’ll tie to the balloon string like a kite. Then we’ll each sign the balloon and release it into the air with the wish!”
“What are we going to wish for?” I ask.
“I think we should wish for world peace!” Elizabeth yells. Everyone laughs.
“No way! That I’ll marry Orlando Bloom,” Sarah says.
“Yeah, you wish!” Bridget says.
“A million dollars for everyone!” Caroline says.
“How about, we wish to be best friends forever?” I ask.
“Yeah, that’s sweet. I like that!” Charlotte says.
“Perfect. Write it neat!” In large curvy letters Lilly writes, “We wish to be friends forever.”
“OK, now everyone sign their name!” Elizabeth says.
We each sign our names. We each had a different name, a distinct style, and different personalities, but still one love.
“OK, ready for blastoff?” Lilly asks everyone, rolling the paper and tying it onto the string. We walk over to the end of the field by the fence. Seven fingers hold the string and seven voices shout, “Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one!”
Screaming, laughing, dancing, we let go and wave it goodbye into the sky.
“Goodbye!” yells Bridget.
“Have a great journey!” I yell.
“Don’t forget to write!” yells Elizabeth.
As it sails over the trees, climbing above the rooftops over town, I think about what great friends I have. It’s like a fairy tale, all of us being together, but what will happen in high school? Will we always be friends or will we drift apart?
The balloon grows farther and farther away, from a ping-pong ball to a marble to just a speck in the distance.
“Cake!” Mrs. Peterson yells from the picnic tables. The voice slices through my thoughts like a knife.
“Cake? I love cake!” Bridget exclaims, already running off to the cake table. Everyone follows, but me.
“Ash, come on! Cake time! Let’s eat, let’s go!” Charlotte yells.
“Coming! I’ll be there in a minute,” I say and tilt my head back and look up at the sky. The balloon is nowhere to be found.
Suddenly it’s important that I find the balloon. The balloon represents my friendship with my friends and I don’t want to see it go. I can’t let it disappear! I search the sky until my eyes hurt. I can’t find it.
Maybe if I get higher up, I’ll be able to see it. I run up the hill, the long grass slashing against my legs.
I get this crazy idea that if I can see it just one last time, our friendship will last forever.
I reach the top of the hill, but I still can’t see it. “Higher!” I urge myself. I run back down the hill and stop below a towering maple tree. Its bark is hard and coarse as leather. I pull myself up through the tree branches, not looking down, only up at the ocean-blue sky. I stop when I get high enough. I can see mountains and ski resorts. Coursing rivers and puffy clouds. But I don’t see the balloon.
It’s gone. I’ve let my friends down. Our friendship will just disappear.
I peer through the leafy foliage. I see Charlotte’s face looking up at me.
“Oh, hey Charlotte.”
“Don’t you want cake?”
“What are you doing up there?”
“Nothing, just looking around.”
“For the balloon?”
Her eyes narrow. “What’s so important about it?”
“Can you still see it?” she asks quietly.
“No, not really”
She stares hard at me. “I’ll be right back, OK?”
I figure she’s going to get me cake. “Wait, I don’t want any cake!” But she doesn’t hear me, she’s already off and running.
She returns soon, holding it behind her back. It looks bigger though and black. Is that really cake?
“Hey Ashley, I’m coming up!”
The tree shakes as she climbs it. Suddenly she’s beside me, her cheeks flushed from running.
“Here, I brought a present for you!” Her blond bangs fall into her eyes as she pulls a black bulky shape from around her neck. I expected cake but instead it’s binoculars. She places them in my lap.
“They’ll help you see.”
Words of thanks flood to my mouth but none of them seem to sum up how happy I actually am right now. I look through the lens.
“Can you see anything?”
“I can see Armando’s Pizza sign and a man washing his car.”
Then, I smile. “Wait, I see the balloon! And the wish too!” I pull the binoculars off my face. “Do you want to look?”
Charlotte’s eyes are soft and warm. “No, I’m OK, thanks. I believe you. Do you want to go get cake now?”
Maybe our friendship will live happily ever after. “Yeah, let’s go.”
We find Sarah, Bridget, Elizabeth, Caroline, and Lilly waiting for us at the cake table.
“Ashley! Where’d you go? You missed the funniest thing! Caroline tripped Mrs. Bennet!” Bridget shrieked.
Caroline blushed. “It was an accident! It’s not my fault I’m so clumsy!”
They laughed happily. I joined in; tentative at first and then harder and harder as Caroline retold the story
“Oh! There’s no more cake?” Charlotte asks.
“Oh yeah, it’s all gone, those animals! But don’t worry we saved you a piece.” Elizabeth smiled my favorite lopsided smile. “Besides, what are friends for?”