By Victoria Vilton
High school friends have a surprise encounter in an airport a few years after graduating.
I’m walking to my plane when I see her. She looks so different, I almost miss her. Almost. But despite the golden braids and nose ring, I recognize the glasses and soft dimples. I pause and people move around me, cursing under their breath.
She’s listlessly eating a sandwich, eyes drifting around like she’s looking for something. I realize we haven’t spoken since our high school graduation.
We were friends, I think to myself. Or something like that. I was fond of her, I think I recall.
Suddenly I’m shouting her name. I feel myself making a scene, but I’m agitated. Why has it been so long?
She looks up at me, her eyes widening. She hesitates, then gets up.
“Oh, wow.” Her voice is friendly, but her eyes dart away. I think she’d rather be anywhere else.
“How are you?” I ask. It’s all I can think to say. Closer, I realize she’s nothing like the seventeen year old I knew. She is so much more elegant. I only ever remembered her as a somewhat immature teenager.
“I’m fine.” Her answer comes so quickly that I’m still talking when she finishes.
“That’s cool. That’s nice.” The silence hangs, and my bag slips off my shoulder. I let it fall.
“How are you?” The question is strained.
“I’m fine too. Flying back to school.”
The conversation is so awkward I feel my knee jolting, urging me to get out of there. I never should’ve said anything.
The airport feels hot, and I tug at the hem of my shirt. I glance down at my shoes before I can look back at her. She looks older. Much older than I feel.
“What have you been up to?” Her mouth pinches at the corner.
“Nothing, just college.” I try not to think too hard about the fact that she seems to be doing so much better than me. The weight of my still-undecided career path grows ten times heavier.
I want to ask, What’s going on? We’re still young. We shouldn’t be this awkward! but instead I say, “Do you still make those necklaces?”
She laughs, and it’s genuine, and it lightens my heart. “I can’t believe you remember that. No, not so much anymore. Too busy getting ready for law school.”
I don’t bother with surprise. Even from our short acquaintance, I knew she’d be a lawyer. She was passionate back then. Arguing like every little word mattered.
“That’s great. Where are you studying? What kinda lawyer do you wanna be?”
She looks at me, perhaps taking her time to process my questions, but I doubt that. Then she bends her head, focusing on the floor.
Around us, the airport continues to push. Someone’s suitcase clips my ankle but I barely notice.
“I’m sorry,” she looks up at me and she is laughing, but her eyes are wet and her hands are shaking. “I’m really sorry, but I can’t talk to you.”
I pull back. “What?”
“I don’t want to talk to you right now.” She still has a smile on her face. I feel like some important memory has been stolen.
“What? Why?” This comes out harsher than I intended.
She turns, her braids whipping around her, warning me away.
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“Did I do something?” I follow, chasing gold in a sea of dark, shuffling bodies. She stops and I bump into her, coconut filling my nose. A small part of me wishes that smell was familiar.
“Are you that stupid?” I fall silent, like someone who’s just been punched in the throat. “Do you really remember me from high school?” People begin boarding her plane, pushing past us, but I hardly notice.
“What do you mean?” I stare like an idiot.
“You’re kidding.” She throws her hands up in the air and the sandwich flies. We watch as someone tramples it. “You had no idea?” She glares back at me.
“Had no idea of what?” I’m grasping at the straws of my memory but nothing substantial comes up. Everything just slips through my fingers.
“That I was in love with you.” She says it very matter of factly, like I should’ve known all along. A tear falls and the surprise of it makes me quiet. All I notice is how it slides down her cheek. “I’ve spent these last few years trying to forget everything about you. Everything.” She breathes heavily. “I’m in a relationship with someone who loves me, so I don’t want to see you. You were always blind but I’m happy now. So please. Go.”
She stares at me like I should leave, like it would be effortless after hearing that. When I don’t move she shrugs, wipes her face, and turns around.
I watch her go.
Has she been in love with me? I don’t believe it. And for some reason, I don’t want to. What does it say about me that I never noticed? Perhaps I didn’t care. Or I was just stupid. Either way, she’s gone now. And I suppose it’d be best if I just forgot about her.
The airport serves as my mind’s most convenient metaphor. There are so many things happening, so many chance encounters and strange occurrences, that I couldn’t help but look for some kind of story there. As it is, this year I’ll be graduating high school and moving away from a lot of the people who have settled into my life. Naturally I began wondering what it would be like to see someone I know now, three years in the future, when my mind is no longer consumed by the pettiness of high school baggage.
The writing process itself proved to be a mixed-bag. I had trouble forcing myself to sit and type out the story. My mentor was instrumental in helping me locate the nuance of the piece. She pushed me to really discover what exactly it was that my characters were feeling and what the story needed from them.
With a combination of ’70s music and bizarre discussions about everything, my mentor and I were able to work together to create something that I hope captures the strangeness of high school and what it is when a friendship ends.
Victoria is a high school senior from Brooklyn, New York. She is studying Aerospace Engineering with the goal of becoming a commercial pilot, but writing has always been her greatest passion. She hopes to one day publish a novel.