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Leah held her breathe. They were counting stars, finding shapes in the constellations like they had so many nights as the summer turned to fall. But this was the first time she hoped he would hold her hand.
“That one,” Ben said in half a whisper. “Looks like a dragon.”
“Do you see the knight down below? He’s dodging fire.”
“You’re right,” he said. “You’re absolutely right, brilliant observation.”
She exhaled, “Tomorrow.”
“High school,” he grinned.
“The big leagues.”
“I’ll protect you if a senior tries to trash can you.” She could feel the heat from his skin, only inches away.
“Maybe I’ll protect you.” She rolled on her side, facing him.
"Please. I'm a man now."
He looked heavenly in the starlight, like something out of a dream. He had that messy perfect hair that stylists tried to achieve and he managed without so much as gel. She couldn’t see the color of his eyes, but knew that they were dark brown; root beer brown, chocolate brown, the warm color of autumn leaves brown. She didn’t know how he managed to keep his skin so smooth when she spent hours with creams and masques trying to cure the teenage angst that betrayed her from beneath. She could see the shadow of stubble on his chin. He was growing up. They were growing up.
“I hear Mrs. Andrews is a bitch,” he said.
She flopped back on her back. “Yeah, that’s what Sarah said. But Sarah spent more time shaking pompoms than reading books, so what does she know?”
He sighed. “I’m thinking of trying out for football.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Why?”
“I don’t know. Maybe make some new friends, get in with the cool crowd.”
That struck her like a blow. “Oh.”
He propped himself on his arm. “That’s not what I meant.”
She crossed her arms on her stomach, willing the sickness to boil itself down. They had been best friends for as long as she could remember. Their moms met in a prenatal yoga class, growing rounder and desperately trying to master their downward facing dog. They were practically born to be friends, spending week days at playgrounds and play dates. She knew his favorite color before she had determined her own. But he wasn’t that little boy anymore. He put his threadbare teddy bear on the top shelf of his room. He traded cartoon cowboys for stark white walls and dark blue sheets.
And she was changing too. She traded her overalls for jeans and t-shirts that showed off her budding curves. Her dresses were shorter and shorter, her summer legs shaved smooth. She peaked into her sister’s magazines, wondering at beach waves and properly applied blush. Her cherry lip gloss applied smooth and thick, stickier than the chap stick she still harbored in the small pocket of her jeans. Tonight was the first night she had applied mascara, just to the tips of her lashes to make them longer. So he might notice me, she thought. She knew he never would. He’d become a jock and girls like her sister would fawn over him and doodle their names with his on their notebooks. He’d smile that smile that never needed the braces that shamed her face and the angels themselves would fall out of the sky. He was funny and smart and handsome and perfect.
He was her first kiss behind her mother’s rosebush when she was too young to appreciate his kisses. They had been married beneath the willow tree by his cat Mr. Wiggums. He was the first person she thought of when she woke up in the morning and she went to sleep to dream of him on white horses and in shining armor. She just wanted him to see her, to really see her above the acne and the braces and the insecurity that made her take too small steps and break eye contact with shy half smiles.
He was her best friend, and she might lose him in the morning.
“Leah?” He reached out, brushing his fingers against hers.
“That one looks like a heart,” she said, feelings hers beat faster and faster. His skin felt so good against hers. She tried to keep herself from trembling.
“I meant it when I said I wanted to be your friend forever.” His eyes were as genuine as his voice, which was deeper than she remembered. He laced his fingers in with hers.
“Forever,” she breathed.
He squeezed her hand. “It really does look like a heart.”
Whoa. I know. I wrote something semi-happy. No one is dead. No one is miserable. I don't even have a fever. This one's coming in a little short at about 750 words. Writing one thousand words is hard! Now it's your turn.