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August 2nd

“WHO’S READY FOR SOME ice cream?” Jasper greets the next day as I sit at my aunt’s circular kitchen table, drawing pictures using colored pencils with Willie, my five-year-old cousin. While his pictures are mostly scribbles that he claims to be superheroes and dinosaurs and other typical boy stuff, I find myself sketching skylines and cityscapes with sunsets.

Willie looks up from his fourth attempt at drawing and shoots Jasper a wide baby-toothed grin. “Hi Jathper!” he exclaims delightedly, unable to properly make the ‘S’ sound in Jasper’s name.

“Hey Little Man! Whatcha drawing there?” Jasper ruffles Willie’s wild mess of blonde curls that spill over his forehead and peers over his shoulder. “Is that Batman?”

“I told you Leckthie! She didn’t believe me,” he explains to Jasper, who in turn shoots me a mock how-could-you-be-so-stupid expression.

I throw my hands up in surrender. “Okay okay, it’s Batman. Happy?”

Before he gets the chance to reply, he spots Champ sitting on the floor at Jasper’s heels and his big blue eyes widen excitedly. “Can I pet him?” Willie asks, staring through his eyelashes up at Jasper with an innocent look on his face, his lip pouting the slightest bit.

Jasper gives him permission without correcting Willie’s use of “him” in regards to Champ and slides into a chair beside me, his eyes zeroing in on the picture I’ve been working on. He brushes the colored pencil strokes with his finger gently.

“Do you miss it?” he asks, his voice reverent.

I shrug. I haven’t been in New York since I left with Aunt Colleen when I was ten, and although I miss the memories associated with the life I once led there back before everything fell apart, I have no intentions of returning.

That’s a part of me that I refuse to share with Jasper, no matter how close we are.

“Nah.” I avoid his eyes and set to work placing the multicolored array of colored pencils back in Willie’s purple pencil box, closing the lid with a soft click. While I busy myself in organizing the muddled piles of white construction paper in a nice, orderly stack, I feel his viridescent eyes fixate on my face, making me blush and squirm a little in my seat.

From his position on the ground, Willie squeals with delight as Champ coats his face with slobbery kisses, her black and white tail sweeping across the tiled floor.

I know Jasper wants to press the issue further, but he lets it drop, though the deep-set frown that finds its way on his face does not go unnoticed from the corner of my eye.

I press my lips together and keep my head down.

“Well, as I was saying, who’s ready to go get some ice cream?” Jasper says, his tone more cheerful and airy than it was a few seconds ago.

Willie looks up at Jasper with wide eyes. “Ice cream?” he asks, his voice hopeful. He’s unable to make the ‘S’ sound, so it comes out sounding like ithe cream.

“What’s this about ice cream?” a new voice asks.

We all look up at my blonde-haired aunt as she stands propped against the lemony-yellow kitchen wall, balancing a laundry basket against her hip, her hair tied out of her face in a ponytail. Even sporting a simple tank top and cloth shorts, she looks enviously pretty for someone her age who mothers a five-year-old boy, along with her teenage niece.

“I’m treating the kids of the Butterfield/Callaghan residence to some ice cream so the lovely owner of this beautiful home can get some housework done in peace,” Jasper explains. “And my mom kinda wanted me out of the house while she sorts through stuff from the attic,” he adds, scratching his head sheepishly.

She sighs gratefully and tucks a stray piece of blonde hair behind her ear. “Bless your heart, Jasper. Here, hold on, let me give you money. I’m not letting you pay for all three of you.” She sets the laundry basket on the floor to scour her purse, previously discarded on the marble countertop, in pursuit of a crumpled twenty dollar bill swimming around the interior.

“It’s okay,” my best friend tries to decline politely. “Honestly, Mrs. Bu—err, Colleen.”

I snicker at his near mistake. Aunt Colleen works as a science teacher at our school and Jasper had her as a teacher for chemistry this past year, so he’s grown accustomed to referring to her as Mrs. Butterfield. But she’s insistent that any other occasion outside of school, he can just call her Colleen. Usually he’s good about knowing when to call her what, but occasionally he slips up. Like now.

She finally retrieves the bill which, as predicted, is crumpled and worn, and tries to push it in his hands.

He folds his arms over his chest and shakes his head in refusal.

“Jasper Reynolds, I am not asking,” my aunt fires, a toxic glint in her gray eyes. “You’re doing me a favor by getting Willie out of the house for a bit and I’m doing you a favor by paying. Now accept the money before I make you accept it.” She raises a threatening eyebrow at him and I roll my eyes.

Aunt Colleen is one of those people who act tough and menacing, but in reality she wouldn’t hurt a fly. (No, seriously, she refuses to buy fly swatters because she finds them cruel and inhumane. That might have partly to do with the science nerd in her, though.) She’s the kind of person who’s all bark, no bite, but the other people at school seem to be sufficiently intimidated by her and her lack of empathetic punishments, so I guess she’s pretty good about keeping up appearances.

“Yes ma’am,” he finally relents, accepting the money from her outstretched palm looking somewhat defeated. “Thank you.”

“Go have your fun,” she says, shooing us out of the kitchen and into the living room and bending down to help Willie get his shoes on. “And if Willie Banilli is being a pain, feel free to bring him back. I don’t want him to be a bother.” She then turns on her son and looks at him sternly. “If I hear about any trouble that you cause, mister, there will be consequences. Understand?”

“I am a good boy!” Willie protests, puffing out his chest.

Colleen ruffles his bushy mess of hair and smiles affectionately at her son. “You better be, kiddo.”

“Ready to go eat the best ice cream you’ve ever had?” Jasper asks from beside the front door, Champ waiting patiently at his heels.

I quickly scan his outfit—he’s sporting a plain red and white baseball shirt with a pair of shorts, an effortless outfit he probably got from the floor in his bedroom that he still manages to look good in.

Then I self-consciously look down at my own attire, consisting of a pair of running shorts and a T-shirt. I’m not wearing a trace of makeup and my hair is thrown into a slightly frizzy messy bun. While Jasper looks nice in his outfit (but then again, when does he ever not look nice?), I look sloppy. Unkempt. And in a town like ours where the girls go overboard with fashion and makeup no matter where they go, it’s hard not to feel a little self-conscious.

Not that that’s anything new.

Catching my eye, Jasper smiles. “You look wonderful, stop fretting.”

I exhale a breath of amusement, but internally I can’t stop fretting.

Aunt Colleen finishes lacing Willie’s shoes and he springs up from the ground and bounces over toward Jasper. “Let’s get ithe cream!” he cheers, latching onto Jasper’s hand.

He and Aunt Colleen smile at the young child’s antics.

“Bye guys, be good!” my aunt says as the three of us shuffle out the door, Willie still clinging onto Jasper’s hand tightly. We make our way down the driveway and begin walking along the sidewalk that outlines the road toward the business district in town. Willie chatters aimlessly and points out random things that fascinate him all the while.

“Look!” he announces for probably the sixth or seventh time, tugging on Jasper’s hand. “That house is pink!”

“Yeah it is, bud,” Jasper agrees, sending me an amused smile.

I smile back and look away.

As we continue on our merry little way, I scuff the toe of my sneaker along the sidewalk and pick at my nail polish, sweeping my eyes across the familiar cracked and faded houses that constitute Abilene. These past few years, I’ve had Jasper with me through it all. He’s really made me start to think that maybe life isn’t so bad, after all.

But as I’ve come to understand at an early stage in life, all good things must come to an end.

Maybe if I had other friends who I knew I could lean on to be there when Jasper leaves, I wouldn’t be taking it so hard. If I had a boyfriend who could fill some of the cracks without Jasper’s influence, or a best friend who would take me shopping and ask me which dress she should buy. Maybe then things would be different.

Except I’m me and I’m far too shy and unimpressive for the other people at school to notice my existence, let alone to befriend me and let me in with their inner circles.

In New York City, before things got bad, it wasn’t like this. I used to have plenty of friends and we would meet up at each other’s apartments after school nearly every day to play. Things were great.

But then I found out that my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and that she waited until it got bad and the odds of survival were not in her favor to tell me. And as a result she had to be in the hospital more and more. And I had to live with my dad.

And life after that got really, really hard.

“Ithe cream! There it is!” Willie squeals, tugging on Jasper’s hand and nearly dragging the poor teenage boy along with his jerky movements.

Jasper grins. “You’ll get your ice cream, Little Man.” He turns to catch my eye, his smile unwavering, and something flickers across his jade-colored irises for a split second.

I try to smile back, but after thinking about my parents, there’s an intricate knot in my stomach and I don’t feel much like smiling. So I look away and bite down on my tongue, willing myself to stay cool.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my measly seventeen years of existence, it’s that I need to at least keep myself together around other people so they don’t have to worry. If I’m going to have a breakdown, I hold it in until I know that I’m all alone.

Jasper holds the door open for Willie and me, along with an elderly couple who arrives behind us, and when he joins us in line, he rests a hand on the small of my back. I turn to shoot him a questioning stare but his gaze is transfixed up at the menu that lists all the flavors so I sigh and turn away to skim over the list as well.

“I want chocolate!” Willie announces, hugging onto my leg. “Can I get chocolate, Leckthie?”

“You can get whatever you want, Willie Wonka,” I tell him.

His brows scrunch together and he looks up at me. “What’s a Willie Wonka?”

I sigh. “Never mind. We can watch the movie later when we get home.”

“Ooh. I love movies. Am I invited to this movie fest later?” Jasper asks, jutting out his bottom lip to make a face similar to Willie’s infamous puppy dog face.

He giggles at Jasper’s antics.

“Not unless you want Willie to fall asleep on you like last time,” I say.

The little boy in question sticks his tongue out at me. “I can stay awake the whole movie, Leckthie! I’m not tired.”

“You will be when we go to the park after we eat our ice cream and I chase you,” Jasper says, sending Willie a devious look.

Willie’s face lights up. “You won’t catch me! I’m the fastest runner in the whole wide world!”

“Even faster than The Flash?” Jasper asks, looking skeptic.

“Way faster than The Flash!”

“Geez man, you’re a beast.” Jasper shoots Willie an impressed nod.

I roll my eyes, though the corners of my mouth curl into the slightest of smiles involuntarily.

It’s our turn to order our ice cream so I get a scoop of cookie dough on a waffle cone, Willie gets his chocolate with sprinkles, and Jasper gets plain vanilla soft serve because he says it’s the classiest flavor and he is “a man of class.” The girl who makes his ice cream giggles a little too loudly at that comment, and her flirtatious smile does not go undetected.

“Let’s sit here!” Willie exclaims once we’ve all received our treats, choosing a table by the window with drops of ice cream residue melted on the surface.

Jasper grabs a stack of napkins and wipes it clean before we sit down and then slides into the seat next to me.

“So, Lexi-Loo-Who,” he says, sending a pointed look my way. “You got any plans for tomorrow?”

I don’t attempt to rebuke Jasper for his embarrassing nickname; he thinks that it’s cute and has been calling me that since freshman year when we started getting really close. Instead, I think about his question.

“Not unless you count watching a few hours’ worth of Netflix while simultaneously lowering my self-esteem by watching all the interesting on-screen lives of a bunch of glamourous celebrities,” I say.

“Well take a rain check for that plan because you’re spending the day with me,” Jasper replies. He pauses to run his tongue along the smooth surface of vanilla soft serve. “I was thinking we could take the boat out and hang by the water; maybe do some fishing or something. Whaddaya say?”

My brows scrunch in confusion and I look at him suspiciously. “Weren’t you supposed to spend tomorrow with the boys’ and girls’ soccer teams? There’s no way you would pass up team bonding with the guys and flirting with the girls by the bay for just another day chilling with me.”

Now it’s his turn to roll his eyes. “You are so self-deprecating,” he groans.

“What’s ‘self-decorating’?” Willie asks, furrowing his brows in confusion.

“Not now, buddy,” Jasper tells him gently before turning back toward me and continuing where he left off. “Come on, Lex. It’s not like I’m part of the soccer team anymore anyway and besides, who says I would rather hang out with everyone else over spending the day with my favorite person in the world?”

“I thought I was your favorite person,” Willie sulks.

“It’s a tie,” Jasper reassures him. Then he turns and looks back at me. “But seriously, we’re hanging out tomorrow. And the day after that. And every day after that until you get sick of me, got it?”

“Jasper, I’m not gonna get sick of y—”

“Hey, isn’t that Meredith and River?” he interjects, pointing at a couple waiting in line, seemingly in the midst of a heated discussion. My eyes follow his finger and the curly mop of auburn hair is a dead giveaway.

“Yeah,” I mumble, lowering my eyes to the cherry red tabletop in front of me, feeling like I’m intruding simply by staring at them.

The summer after eighth grade, when Jasper and I started becoming friends, Meredith and River became more and more involved with each other and less and less involved with their friends, Jasper and me included, and now neither of us are friends with them, really. Plus, River is going to college in a couple of weeks, so he’s probably more focused on the prospect of making new friends than he is on rekindling relationships with old ones.

I don’t think Jasper minds, because he has the whole soccer team to hang out with instead. But sometimes I look at Meredith and wish that we were still friends. Jasper is the best friend I could possibly ask for, but he’s not a girl, and sometimes I just want to talk to a girl my age. Someone who can relate better, I guess.

“Ethan told me that they’re constantly fighting,” he finally says, focusing back on the occupants seated at the table. “Everyone says they’re gonna break up before River goes off to college.”

“Doubt it,” I mumble, pausing to run my tongue along the edges of my ice cream. “They’ve lasted this long; I’m sure something like college isn’t gonna split ’em up.”

“I don’t know about that . . .” he says. “But anyway, that’s not my business. What is my business is that Avery has been texting me a lot these past few days, and I’m seriously about to block her number. Like, you can’t break up with me and then go all this time without ever acknowledging my existence and wait until a month before I move to another continent to try to apologize and make things right. It doesn’t work that way.”

I frown. Avery Matthews and Jasper started dating the summer before junior year, but in November that same year she broke up with him because they “just don’t feel right together, you know?” Jasper didn’t know what she meant but he did know that he liked her a lot and that it hurt him a lot more when she ended things because she didn’t even give him a proper reason other than the fact that she just wasn’t “ready” for a relationship. Which is ironic considering the fact that only two short weeks later, she seemed to change her mind and started dating someone else.

“Have you texted her back?” I ask.

He shrugs. “A little. But it’s not like it matters. I’m so over her.”

“Right . . .”

“Lexi, don’t say it like that,” he groans. “I’m completely done with her. I swear.”

I hold my hands up in defense. “Okay, okay. I believe you. I’m just joshing with you. Chill out.”

“What does ‘joshing’ mean?” Willie enquires from across the table, chocolate ice cream smeared all around his mouth.

I lean over Jasper for a napkin and reach forward to wipe the child’s mouth clean for him. “Hold still, Willie Banilli,” I instruct when he starts squirming. “And it means joking.”

His face scrunches up in distaste but he lets me wipe the chocolate residue from his mouth. “Leckthie?” he asks when I’m finished. “Why do you and Mommy always call me Willie Banilli?”

“Uhh,” I say. “I dunno, buddy. It’s just your nickname. Do you not like it?”

He taps his chin in faux thoughtfulness. “I guess I do. It makes me special. But sometimes it sounds a little babyish,” he adds as an afterthought.

“What do you want to be called, then?” Jasper asks.

“Just Willie,” he decides, staring intently at the remnants of his ice cream cone.

I don’t know what to say after that. But luckily for me (or unluckily, depending how you look at it), someone else speaks up.

“Lexi Callaghan and Jasper Reynolds! Hey guys. It’s been forever since we talked; how are y’all?”

We turn to look up at Meredith, brown eyes rimmed with long, mascara-clad eyelashes glittering with a warm friendliness. An untouched ice cream dish is resting in her left palm, and her right palm is dropped to her side, not interlocked with River’s fingers like usual.

Beside her is River, who offers us a polite smile, though there is an unmistakable undertone of irritation evident in his demeanor. His eyes look closed off and there’s a weariness in his expression that suggests that coming over to say hi was not his idea.

I turn my attention back over to Meredith.

“Hey Meredith, River,” Jasper says, tipping his head in their direction. “What brings you to get ice cream on this fine afternoon?”

Meredith sniffs, waving her hand dismissively. “Politics, the current financial status of our nation, the sweet sound of mint chocolate chip ice cream calling my name. The usual.”

The corners of my mouth creep upward into a smile. Meredith’s sense of humor is one of the many things I miss about her.

“Man, I feel your pain. I checked the Stocks app on my phone this morning and my heart nearly broke when I saw that Google went down sixteen places. Ice cream was the only viable solution to ease the pain,” Jasper says, placing a melodramatic hand over his heart.

Meredith grins and even River has to smile over that.

“You kill me, Reynolds,” Meredith says, shaking her head. Then she points her attention at me. “So Lexi, how are you doing these days?”

Everyone is looking at me and I will myself not to start blushing. “I’m okay,” I answer, pinching my leg under the table to keep from saying or doing something stupid. “How are you?”

“Meh. I’m okay. I’ve been helping River get ready for college though, which has sucked. He’s ditching me for a life of partying with the hot college girls in two weeks,” she says, hanging her head in mock dismay.

I flit my eyes over at River to gauge his reaction, and from his eye twitch it’s evident that he doesn’t like this comment.

“No but seriously, I know we say this every time and it never happens, but you and me, Callaghan, sometime before school starts. It’s happening.”

“Yeah, sounds good,” I say cheerfully, smiling at her. It’s pointless to get my hopes up because I know that we’re not going to be doing anything, but at least in Meredith’s mind, it’s a done deal. That’s good enough for me.

“Well, we’ll leave you guys alone. It was nice seeing you, especially since I know Jasper’s moving at the end of the month and I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to see you again or not. Hope that goes well, man,” River finally speaks up, clapping a hand over Jasper’s shoulders. Jasper doesn’t offer any response other than a friendly smile, and River retracts his hand and latches it around Meredith’s arm like he’s ready to drag her away if need be.

The mention of Jasper leaving makes my stomach twist and I look down at the table. My leg begins to shake and my throat is already closing in on itself.

Stop, I scold myself. Don’t do this. Not now. Don’t cry.

“Thanks, man,” Jasper finally replies. His voice has lost the energized spunk that it retained a second ago and he inconspicuously reaches under the table and rests his left hand over my thigh, his silent way of telling me to calm down.

I immediately let my legs go limp, but I can’t bring myself to look up and risk crying at the sight of Meredith’s sympathetic expression or River’s slightly irritated one.

Weak, a tiny voice in my head taunts.

“I’ll see ya’ll around, I’m sure,” Meredith finally speaks up, absorbing some of the tension. “Call or text me if you ever need anything or just want someone to talk to who doesn’t have a Y chromosome, Lexi. No offense, Reynolds.”

“Billingsley, you wish you had my chromosomes,” Jasper teases. “No but really, we’ll let you guys go. I hope everything goes okay with your transition into college, Riv.”

“Thanks, man,” River says before pulling Meredith away to exit the shop. As soon as they get outside, their expressions resume the hardness they previously encompassed in line before they stopped to chat with us and River immediately goes off on some sort of tangent. While I watch them head toward River’s car out the window, I can’t help but feel bad for Meredith.

I pop the remaining stump of ice cream cone into my mouth and wipe the edges of my lips with a napkin and sit back, brushing a lock of baby hair that falls over my eye out of the way.

Jasper turns to face me and smiles before looking over at Willie. “So are we ready to go to the park and have fun?”

“Duh!” Willie exclaims with a giggle. “Let’s go! Let’s go!”

And so we do.

“If you could relive any day of your life, which would it be and why?” Jasper asks about an hour or two later as we sway on swings at the far end of the swing set at the park, which is nearly vacant at the moment, save for a couple sitting at a bench several yards away and a few other children, running around yelling about not getting tagged by some kid named Luke.

The air is warm and the late afternoon sun batters down on my head, caressing my scalp with its gentle breath. The sky is a light shade of cerulean and several white, puffy clouds dot the atmosphere like little blotches of white gloppy paint spattered on a blue canvas. A little ways away, the playground consists of a large framework of wooden play sets connected together that seems much larger than it actually is when you go inside where there seems to be an endless supply of little crevices to get lost in. Behind it all is a network of swings, where Jasper and I are lazing around currently, kicking off the ground every now and then as we let the force of gravity rock us back and forth like human pendulums. Champ rests on the ground off to the side below our feet, her leash tied to one of the poles that hold up the swing set.

Willie has joined the other kids in their game and doesn’t show any sign of wanting to leave any time soon, but I don’t mind because it feels good to sit next to Jasper and relax.

His question pricks at my mind as I try to pick out a predominantly memorable day of my life that I value the most. It isn’t until I consciously realize that my mind keeps wandering back to that May afternoon in eighth grade that it occurs to me that the only thing I can think of is the day I met him. But I can’t say that, at least not out loud, because it sounds lame and makes me come across as some kind of clingy loser, even though truthfully that is exactly what I am.

“I really liked my eighth birthday,” I finally decide is a safe bet to say. “My mom invited all my friends at the time over to Central Park and we ate pizza and this giant cake that she made and then I remember we just played all these games for hours until it got dark and it was just like the embodiment of what being a kid is, you know? Life was so easy.”

His feet drag along the dirt-laden ground until he comes to a halt and he turns to look at me, a fractional worry-line etching its way between his eyebrows.

“Lexi, I know we’ve been through this before, but please, talk to me. I know you don’t want to talk about it and I respect that, but I genuinely think that you’re not going to get better until you talk to someone. Look, I don’t know the full story about what happened in New York before you moved here. I can tell you I do know that your mom died from cancer and your dad is now unheard of. If I believed that you were past whatever it was that happened in New York, I’d let it drop. But I can tell that whatever it was, it’s still hurting you, and that hurts me to see you like this. It’s not healthy to keep this bottled up inside, Lex. I want to help you, but my days are kind of numbered here and you’re running out of time. Please, just talk to me.”

Each word he enunciates cuts deep into my heart with electrifying jolts of pain. A tear manages to break loose from my tear duct and I quickly bring a hand up to wipe it away, biting hard on the inside flap of my lip until the metallic taste of blood greets my taste buds.

I am so weak, I can’t even hold it together over something as small as this. Pathetic, the voice in my head taunts.

“I can’t,” I say, staring hard in the direction of a cluster of pine trees across the park, pointing skyward like fuzzy green arrows. “Please stop asking about it, Jasper. It’s done. I’m fine. It’s not important.” Bitterness seeps into every syllable and I’m sure he knows that I’m not fine, but I don’t care what he knows or thinks he knows. I want him to pretend, for both of our sakes.

What went on in NYC is something I vowed to never share with anyone. And I plan to keep it that way. Not even Aunt Colleen or her husband who is currently deployed overseas for military orders, my Uncle Bill, know the whole truth. They only know for sure what little pieces the police officer was able to scrape together.

The only person who knows the entirety of what went on is me. And I sure hope to God that it stays that way, as long as I’m still around to think about it.

He stares down at the ground. “I know we don’t have this talk as often as I’d like, but I’m concerned for you. I want you to be happy, but I don’t think that you are. And I want to help you overcome whatever this thing is, but I can’t do that if you don’t help me. Please, Lexi.”

“Jasper, I—”

“Jathper! Leckthie! Watch this!” Willie exclaims, suddenly appearing in front of us. I silently thank him for interrupting the moment because truthfully, I have no idea what I was planning to say next.

He begins backing up and then suddenly breaks into a full on sprint before jumping as high as he can and barely clearing a swing to Jasper’s right like a hurdle, though it’s only about two feet off the ground and he uses the handles to help him which makes the feat far less impressive than it seems.

But we burst into applause nonetheless, cheering the five-year-old on for his incredible newfound jumping abilities that could totally take him to the Olympics someday if he keeps at it.

Once the excitement of his achievement has died away, I ask if he’s ready to go home, to which he automatically protests.

“But we’re playing Cops and Robbers!” he whines. “Luke just tagged Aidan to be another cop so now me and Justin are the only robbers left!”

I sigh, refraining an eye roll. “You have ten more minutes and then we’re leaving, bud.”

“Thank you!” he cheers before scurrying away to cherish his remaining ten minutes of being a playground certified robber.

I roll my eyes at his receding back.

“Lex—” Jasper starts to say beside me once Willie’s gone, but I cut him off.

“Jasper, don’t. Just leave it, okay?” My voice comes out way harsher than I intended, and even Jasper seems taken off guard.

“Okay fine,” he relents in defeat. “But I’m whipping out the video camera, and I don’t care what you say about that one. I need more footage.”

I groan. “Footage of what, exactly? Me looking like a loser sitting on a swing? Why can’t you just tell me what this stupid video you’re making is even for, anyway?”

“Because it’s a surprise,” he says, rolling his eyes in a duh kind of way.

I’m thankful that the tension between us has lifted, much preferring things to be this way. I don’t want to remember my final days with Jasper as something mopey and confrontational because that’s not how our friendship operates, and I don’t want that to change. As long as we can keep this bubble of ignorance shielding us from the truth, I will do everything in my power to keep it like that.

I sigh and begin pumping my legs until I’m propelling myself higher, higher, higher, reminiscing on my childhood and how much this feels like the life of eight-year-old me. Jasper stands a several feet in front of me with his video camera in hand, a grin splayed across his face when I make goofy faces at the lens. I throw my head back and close my eyes, the tingly sensation that resonates within your stomach when you let yourself get carried by the wind effervescing within me.

“Yay,” I let out with a halfhearted giggle, opening my eyes and taking my hands off the handles long enough to form a heart with my fingers and point it at Jasper with an over-exaggerated sweet expression.

He chuckles and sets the video camera down on a pole attached to the play set before coming over to join me, grabbing onto one of the handles on my swing and slowing me to a stop. I turn to shoot him an irritated I-was-having-fun-what-did-you-do-that-for look, but he pulls me off the swing and hugs onto me, taking me by surprise. Although Jasper is probably more affectionate than the average teenage boy, he isn’t usually this mushy.

“You’re such a weirdo,” I say while he continues hugging onto me.

“Shh,” he whispers. “This will look good for dramatic effect in my video.”

I pull back and slap him upside the head, though I don’t use enough force to hurt him and I’m struggling to bite back a grin at this point. “You’re an idiot.”

“An idiot who you love, obviously,” he retaliates.

“Debatable . . .” I tease, shrugging nonchalantly.

“Okay, I see how it is, Callaghan. You want me to start tickling you again?”

An involuntary squeal releases from my lips and Jasper smirks, taking a threatening step forward.

“You wouldn’t,” I say with extreme caution, slowly backing up.

“Try me.”

He moves forward like he’s about to lunge at me and I take off in the other direction, a mixture of yelps and laughs as he races after me. After a while I get tired, not having the advantage of supremely strong lungs like he does from soccer, and so I kind of just collapse on the ground, panting and laughing at the way we’re acting more like kids than soon-to-be adults.

Jasper joins me, rolling on his back and taking my hand in his, playing with my fingers, which is his own little way of telling me that everything is going to be all right.

And for the time being, it is. And this, I decide, wouldn’t be a bad day to relive if given the chance. The sun is shining, life is good for the time being, Jasper is right here with me, and everything is okay.

I don’t let myself think about how in only twenty-nine days, that will no longer be the case.

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