Left alone after her best friend moves away, the narrator struggles with loneliness
Just a day ago, I saw my best friend, Yaëlle. But as my eager eight-year-old eyes scanned the crowded recess yard, there was no sign of her. My heart dropped as I remembered she had moved to her hometown in Switzerland. I slouched, and my eyes stared at the dirty asphalt so the kids around me couldn’t see my tears. I sulked over to the fence and tried to get comfortable, but the unforgiving, gritty cement lining the edges of the yard seemed to want to make me as uncomfortable as possible. Why did she have to move? I put my head on my knees and squeezed my eyes shut, trying desperately to block out the chatter of kids as I rocked back and forth. All my closest friends had moved away already. One to Japan last year, and now one to Switzerland this year. Who would I play with now? Could anything replace my friendship with her? My world became a blur and my stomach knotted itself. But deep down, I knew what I really wanted to know was this: Would I ever see her again?
I replayed the sound of her voice in my head, not wanting to forget the chipper, upbeat sound I had heard so many times. Our conversations flashed through my head, and I smiled when I thought about the time Yaëlle tried to make me laugh while I had to keep a straight face.
* * *
“Bloop, bloop, bloop,” Yaëlle said, making a fish face. “I’m inflating like Marge in Harry Potter!” she continued in her ridiculous imitation of a British accent. She used her hands to pretend she was getting bigger. I held back a laugh, and, not wanting to lose the game, I took a deep breath, trying to remain serious. Yaëlle stood on her bed and bounced up and down, her wavy brown hair flying all over the place. She looked more like a monkey than Marge. She jumped off the bed, and when she started falling down, she screamed, “Uh oh! I guess Marge can’t fly after all!” She landed with a thump on the carpet, dramatically collapsing. We both burst out laughing, rolling across the floor. I turned red from smiling so much, and my stomach hurt from laughing so hard.
“That was good,” I said breathlessly.
“No, it was brilliant!”
“Well, that’s what I meant.”
“Duh! It was the best thing ever!” She raced over to her desk and picked up pieces of cut-up paper. She threw them in the air over my head and screamed, “Yes!”
“You seriously made confetti?” I asked in disbelief, shaking off the colorful paper stuck in my hair.
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“I really don’t know.”
“Anyway . . . I did it! I did it!” She did her ridiculous victory jig, and I doubled over in laughter again. I couldn’t have felt happier that day.
* * *
Unexpectedly, a dodgeball hit the fence, sending a tremor through it, which made me lose my train of thought. I whirled around wildly, startled by the sudden movement. After I realized it was nothing, I leaned against the fence again. I watched as fellow students dashed across the massive yard, and I longed to be doing the same with Yaëlle. In second grade, we had chased each other around the yard every day and giggled in delight as we ran. We would exchange hugs before skipping to our separate classes, and I would leave recess feeling elated. She told jokes and riddles everywhere we went and was a joy to be around.
When a pair of bright blue sneakers stopped before me, I looked up hesitantly. June, one of the fifth graders and the most popular kid at school, looked down at me, hands on her hips. My muscles tensed as I tried to decipher her expression. Pursed lips, disapproving eyes. This couldn’t possibly be good. What does she want from me? June had never wanted anything to do with me before—why would she now?
“What are you doing?” she asked sourly.
“Nothing,” I replied quickly.
June scrunched up her face. “Oh, right. You’re that girl’s friend. What was her name again? Yall?”
My heart pounded against my chest. “Yaëlle,” I whispered. If Yaëlle had been there, we would have laughed about her wrinkled expression. How she looked like a shriveled-up raisin when she did that. But I just stared at the ground to avoid her gaze.
“Yeah, whatever her name was. Why don’t you go play with your other friend?” That time, I didn’t respond. “Right, she moved away too. I remember now. Well, that’s too bad for you.” She smirked and skipped away, joining her group of friends. I watched them burst out in laughter, and my heart sank like an anchor in a sea. Right down to the very bottom.
That day at lunch I sat alone, staring at the other kids, longing for a friend. Kids strutted past me, seeming not to acknowledge my place in the world. If Yaëlle had been there, she would have comforted me by putting a reassuring hand on my back, her soothing voice guiding me through my problem. As soon as I felt better, she would be back to cracking her jokes, and it would be as if my problem never happened. Unfortunately, the only person who saw me was the patrol lady, who gave me a strange look. She approached me, and I suddenly wanted to shrink into the shadows and remain there forever.
“Are you okay?” she whispered, trying to act concerned by knitting her eyebrows together. Her eyes looked tired, and I realized I was just another kid out of all the kids she had to tend to. She didn’t actually care. I wanted to throw up at her attempt, but I just clenched my fists under the bright blue tabletop. Inside, I was a bubbling cauldron, emotions bouncing around.
“I’m fine,” I said politely, trying to mask the fury in my voice. She looked relieved at my words, abandoning her act all together.
“That’s good to hear.” She smiled at me and added, “If you need help, just ask, okay?”
I nodded, playing along.
“Well, then I’ll be on my way.” With that, she stood up and walked away, her heels clacking against the grimy cafeteria tiles. I let out a sigh of relief.
Later that day, as I shuffled past the burgundy brick building I’d visited so many times, I paused. I looked up at the window that reached Yaëlle’s bedroom, and I found my fingers fidgeting. Would I ever be in that apartment again? Who would occupy the apartment now? I sucked in a sharp breath, and an unsettling feeling overcame me. I peered up at the window, and the dark emptiness of the home made my backpack seem a hundred times heavier.
The dark emptiness of the home made my backpack seem a hundred times heavier.
Every time I went over to her house, without fail, Yaëlle’s mom had a silver pan dotted with freshly baked cinnamon buns awaiting our arrival. I would immediately smell the sugary aroma floating from the oven. Her mom, still dressed in her red apron, would present both of us with the tray as if it were a gift, which it truly was. My eyes would light up as I received the delicately crafted pastry, the swirls of golden brown formed into a perfect spiral. The icing was drizzled on in zigzags, dripping down the sides. They would warm my stomach and boost my spirit, washing away all my worries as if they were simply nothing.
I then recalled how many times I had played cards at her apartment, and how her little brother would run in and mess up all the cards. We would just shake our heads and sigh, not caring to scold him. I even missed him, the way he gave us his innocent little smile, and how he would look up at us with his cute turquoise eyes. I remembered how we would slide down the staircase railing, trying hard not to fall off and end up just inching down the railing instead. I took a deep breath, and it took all my will just to keep going. But as I walked the rest of the way home, I drooped like a wilted plant. All I could think of was her.
As I did my homework at home, my pencil drifted sadly across the page like a piece of paper drifting hopelessly across an ocean. I would always do homework at Yaëlle’s, and we would take turns making each other laugh. The silence made me feel vulnerable and delicate. I shivered.
I dropped my pencil and jumped on my bed, burying my head in my pillow. All I wanted in that moment was to be with her. My world spun as tears silently dripped down my face, soaking my blanket. I put my forehead against the wall and tried to collect myself.
I instinctively scrambled off the bed and went to the sink to splash cold water on my face. I grabbed a laptop and pulled up Skype. I held my breath as I clicked her icon. At first, nothing happened; the screen stayed stubbornly blank. I bit my lip. Would she pick up? As if responding to my thoughts, Yaëlle popped up on the screen.
She looked the same. A desk lamp illuminated her sparkling turquoise eyes. I smiled, and she smiled back.
“Hi!” she said, breaking the silence.
“Hey!” I said, grinning from ear to ear, instantly forgetting about my worries.
“Did you ace that math quiz?” she asked excitedly, bouncing up and down in her chair. She made it seem like it was just a normal day and like she wasn’t thousands of miles away.
“I smashed it!!!”
Yaëlle giggled. “I knew it!” she said as she pumped her fist. We laughed, told jokes, and talked about school until it was time for Yaëlle to go.
During our conversation, I felt we were right next to each other, but I was snapped back to reality when Yaëlle said goodbye. The screen went black, and I forced myself to tear away from the computer. Yaëlle wasn’t going to come back. I dove into my bed and curled into a ball beneath the layers of blankets.
I shut my eyes and tried to fall asleep, but in every scenario I could imagine, Yaëlle was missing. At parties, she’s nowhere to be seen, and I’m standing in a corner with no one to talk to while all the other kids have fun. In the recess yard she’s gone too, me sitting alone against the fence. I sighed in disappointment and braced myself for the dreadful days that lay ahead.