Quiet nights on the roof were the hardest for Anna, especially when the only sound was her own shallow breathing. But somehow, tonight, as she lay on the edge, looking up into the black sky dotted with tiny, bright stars, life didn’t seem so bad. She’d learned how to deal with a lot of things up there: her parents’ divorce, her heartbreak over Colton Jones in ninth grade, the rejection letter from her first pick, Yale, and the latest tragedy that had outweighed them all. Up there on that roof, she had perfected the art of learning to cope.
“Your mom said you were out here,” a voice said.
Anna jumped at the sound of her best friend’s voice from the window. She steadied her palms against the rough, weatherworn shingles and sat up slowly. “You scared me.” A little light-headed, Anna tried to focus on the dozens of moonlit rooftops around hers—all in the same two-storied bungalow style.
“Sorry.” Jules crawled over to Anna, lying down next to her.
“I thought you were leaving. I came to say bye,” Jules said, lying down next to her. The low rumblings of a car echoed from the street below.
“Change of plans. We’re going in the morning. Five a.m. sharp.” Anna pinched her eyes shut and inhaled, holding her breath tight in her chest. She was afraid to breathe sometimes—afraid of what might come next.
“You know how much that sucks, right?”
“What? Five in the morning?”
“No! It’s our last summer together before college and you’re spending almost half of it in New York—without me.”
“Not my choice.”
“It’s not like you’re a little kid anymore. Why can’t you just stay here?”
Anna bit her lip. She’d been over it a thousand times with Jules. “You know why.” She thought of the letter tucked inside the back pocket of her jeans.
“Can’t your grandmother hire someone to move all her stuff here?”
“I wish. The woman is practically a hoarder. There’s no telling what’s in that old house.” Anna shivered as a slight breeze swept through the trees and her thin t-shirt.
“That show creeps me out—the one about hoarders.”
“Besides, my mom thinks it’s a good idea for me to get away for a while.” A part of Anna agreed with her mom, even though she’d never tell her that, especially since she was mad at her for running off to Europe for two weeks while Anna stayed behind to pack.
“Wish I could go with you,” Jules said. “Not to help with the packing though.”
“Funny.” Anna turned to face the girl who had known her deepest, darkest secrets since first grade. “Me too.”
Jules smiled, and her huge blue eyes lit up, making her look six again. “Hey, want to watch a movie?”
“Like right now?”
“Sure, why not? It’ll take our minds off stuff, like you abandoning me for the big city.”
“She doesn’t actually live in Manhattan,” Anna said.
“I know, but you’ll be so close to it.” Jules sat up carefully and started crawling back toward the window overlooking the backyard.
The girls had spent hours on that low-sloping roof, laughing, talking, and crying about so many things. Anna’s mom had converted the dusty attic of the 1920s house into a bedroom for Anna—a consolation prize after a bitter divorce. The back window had become almost like an escape hatch for Anna, getting her farther and farther away from reality and closer to a sky full of stars and hope.
“Give me a few minutes, okay? And pick whatever movie—anything but—”
“I know…nothing with people dying,” Jules said.
Anna draped her arm over her eyes and listened as Jules’ feet hit the hardwood in the bedroom. Nothing with people dying, she repeated in her mind.
With her eyes shut, Anna saw his face as clear as if it were in real time. She touched the line of his jaw, then his lips, and wondered, in that second, how many times she had thought of kissing him—a hundred times? More? She remembered the first time they’d actually kissed. It was in her basement playing truth or dare. Jules had dared her to do it, and Anna, thirteen, had hated and loved every second of it—hated it mostly because she was so nervous. But in that dark closet, Josh was calm and his lips soft and warm.
She pictured the last time he had kissed her too—Josh in his army uniform and with a newly shaved head and Anna in a red dress. He had turned around on the tarmac, and she ran to him, practically falling into his arms. He held her tight, breathing his warm breath into her hair and kissing her temple.
Her stomach clenched, and she turned on her side away from her bedroom window. Balled up with her knees to her chest, Anna wanted to cry, but not in front of Jules again. Jules had never said anything mean, like ‘get over it already,’ but Anna sometimes wondered if she’d thought it. Deep down, she knew that going away to New York was best for everyone—that a change of pace or scene was more than needed.
Before going back inside to Jules, Anna pulled the worn letter from her pocket and started to read it again slowly, one tragically beautiful word after the other.