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It’s the last day of school before summer vacation, but Ia isn’t happy—it’s the last day she’ll see her best friend

The stairwell was filled with laughter, giggles, and cheerful voices as we left the school building on the last day of fourth grade. Somewhere on the stairwell was Yaara. Yaara was one of the most kindhearted girls I had ever met. Unlike most of the other girls in fourth grade, she never excluded anyone. When we would goof off at lunch, I never had to worry about her criticizing me, or thinking I was weird.

Yaara was about as tall as me and had dark brown hair that was always in a ponytail. She always made people laugh, even when she wasn’t trying to be funny. We had our own inside jokes, and once, we even tried to create our own secret language. She was a very positive person. Yaara was almost always smiling, or giggling. I had known her since the beginning of fourth grade, and over the year we had become really close friends. But now she was leaving, moving, and I wondered if I would ever see her again.

Everyone tossed their hands in the air and screamed “FREEDOM!!!” when we walked out the big red doors, toward our dismissal spot. I couldn’t believe they were cheering on the day I was losing a friend. It seemed impossible that in under five minutes, Yaara would be gone. Unfortunately, it was happening, and I had to find a way to accept that.

I felt the soft summer breeze blow on my face and through my hair. The air was filled with the sweet smell of flowers. I watched as the younger kids strolled by with their parents. The sight of summer was so enchanting that, for a moment, I forgot about the fact that Yaara was moving.

Abstract Self Portrait

Everywhere I looked, people were smiling, making plans to get ice cream, and discussing where they would be going for summer vacation. I would be going to Greece soon, just like every year, to see my dad’s family. Greece was close to Israel, but Yaara wouldn’t be in Israel when I was in Greece. She’d be in Hong Kong.

Yaara had moved before. She was born in Israel and lived there for a couple years, but she had told me she was too young to remember any of it. After that, she had moved to the US. She came here, to New York City, when she was seven or eight. Her family would be spending the summer in Hong Kong and then moving to Israel at the end of the summer.

As we stood at our dismissal spot, under the shade of a beautiful tree, most of the other students were deep in conversation. I wasn’t. In normal years, I would’ve joined in on the debates about which ice cream flavor was best, and the contests to see who would be traveling the farthest during summer vacation. This year I couldn’t.

Every time someone walked by, my heart beat faster, and I got worried they would be the person who would pick Yaara up from school.

I couldn’t believe she was leaving. It seemed like all the truly kind people had to leave. One of my friends in kindergarten had moved away, and another one of my good friends had moved away in first grade. I had lost touch with both of them, and I didn’t want to lose touch with Yaara.

I remembered the day Yaara’s dog died. Yaara was generally a very cheerful person, but that day she had seemed depressed. Everyone kept asking her what was wrong, but she didn’t want to tell us. All around, people were asking things like, “What’s wrong?” or “Are you okay?” and “Why is Yaara sad?”

Our friends Andjelina and Caitlin kept asking, but still she didn’t answer.

Then at lunch, she told me what had happened. “My dog died last night,” she had said, her voice filled with sorrow. “My mom told me and my siblings this morning.”

“I know how you feel,” I responded. “My dog died this summer.” We spent the rest of lunch telling each other what our dogs had been like. We shared the tragic parts, like the reasons they had died, but we also described the joyous parts, like the funny sounds they used to make, and their unique characteristics.

The rest of the day had been gloomy. It was hard to be cheerful when a dog’s life had ended the day before. But deep down, I had a pleasant feeling. Yaara had told me, trusted me with her feelings. That was when I realized how close we were, and now that she was leaving, I was going to lose that friendship.

Just like I had done the day my dog had been put to sleep, I hoped for a miracle. I noticed that every time I knew something was going to happen, and I didn’t want it to happen, I denied it. Even though I didn’t believe in miracles, I had convinced myself that Yaara wasn’t going away. The day my dog was going to be put to sleep, I imagined instead of being put to sleep, she would all of a sudden be healed and be able to walk again. Now, I imagined Yaara’s flight would be cancelled, or her parents would change their minds, and the family would end up staying in New York. I knew it sounded crazy, but for a minute, I actually believed she wouldn’t leave. For a minute, it seemed realistic that Yaara would be back in September, ready to attend fifth grade.

But of course, that was just a fantasy.

For a minute, it seemed realistic that Yaara would be back in September, ready to attend fifth grade.

Yaara’s brother trotted toward our dismissal spot. I couldn’t believe it. Yaara was actually leaving.

I watched as she went around saying goodbye to all her friends. The students who hadn’t been picked up yet muttered things like “Bye, Yaara” and “We’ll miss you” and “Have a safe trip.”

Then Yaara turned to me. I hugged her and said goodbye. “We’re pen pals, right?” I asked, remembering the plan we had made earlier.

“Right,” she answered. “I’ll send you a letter once I’ve moved into my house in Israel.”

“I’ll really miss you,” I said, still not being able to believe she was leaving.

“Me too,” she responded. Then she headed toward our teachers, where they checked her name off their list. The teachers hugged her and told her they’d miss her, and then she stepped toward her brother.

I watched as they made their way down the street, walking side by side, until they disappeared behind the parked cars, and Yaara was gone.

The rest of the afternoon was a blur. I was so focused on the fact that Yaara had left that I couldn’t pay attention to everything else that was going on.

I cried that night. I was worried I would lose contact with Yaara. I was worried she would forget about me. Or even worse, I would forget about her.

Then I remembered what she had said before she left. We would be pen pals. She said that once she had moved to Israel, she would send me a letter. Yaara would be spending the summer in Hong Kong and moving to Israel in September. All I had to do was wait for September.

Even though it was only two months away, September seemed like it would never come. My worries came back. Two months was enough time for Yaara to forget me, for me to forget her. Letters weren’t the same as having conversations face to face. What if my friendship with Yaara ended? What if I lost contact with her, just like I had lost contact with my friends from first grade and kindergarten?

I told myself that we wouldn’t forget each other. I tried to imagine that Yaara and I would reunite. I imagined that in twenty years, I would run into Yaara in a supermarket, or we would go to the same college. I told myself that letters would be just as good as having conversations face to face. I imagined we would send so many letters that I would know her better than my friends who were in the same school as me. I imagined that one day, she would send a letter saying she was coming back to New York. And those were the thoughts that kept me going while I waited for her letter.

Ia Sofocleous
Ia Sofocleous, 11
New York, NY

Jaslene Kwack, 11
Lisle, IL