When they were four Johnny stole her crayons and Samantha broke his colored pencils in retaliation. Their mothers said to be nice to each other. When they were ten they won doubles badminton as the only co-ed team and both quit next year when it became clear that neither of them were all that talented. When they were eighteen and nineteen, respectively, they ditched the prom and sat in John’s (mother’s) car outside of the school. He made a comment about what they could be doing and Sam gave him a look so withering that he laughed and stepped out of the car into the rain. She pulled him back in and told him that she hoped no one but him dared to keep in touch with her after high school ended. He thought about kissing her chapped pink lips and then she looked past him, said that they shouldn’t let those overly-expensive tickets go to waste, interrupted herself by saying they were stupid to come in the first place, and drove him home. On the way she stopped at his urging because the rain was too hard and one of her front lights was broken. She looked at him with put-upon eyes, dramatically groaned that she couldn’t understand why they had stayed friends for all these years, and finally smiled.
When they were twenty-seven they ran into each other at his daughter’s ballet lessons. John stood stunned for a moment and tripped over his tongue. Then Sam grinned at him, shook out her rain jacket, and asked how Leah was doing, was she holding up okay without her mother? And everyone called her Samantha now, it was strange, and wasn’t the rain just awful lately? John responded warmly, if carefully, reminded himself to call his mother and ask her not to tell old friends everything about his life, and noted the faint tan line where the ring had been before Sam--Samantha--had changed her Facebook status to It’s Complicated and finally Single. Her dark hair was shorter than it had been before, but sleeker. She wore blue wire-rimmed glasses and reached up to touch them every few moments, in the meantime tapping her fingers against her leg. She looked exhausted and as beautiful as ever. “Leah’s fine,” John told his old friend. “All this rain lately, and the power went out over our apartment. She tried to barricade herself under the bed. I just worry that it’ll go dark at school or something and she’ll freak out. She loves to dance and she’s reading already, and her mother visits on holidays so the transition hasn’t been that bad.”
Transition, Samantha repeated, and told him it was an ugly word.
“Ugly,” considered John. “But how have you been lately?”
Samantha laughed and briefly mentioned her ex-husband and then coffee, her start-up, socks that kept going missing, trying to pick up the guitar but failing. She brushed her hair behind her ears with a nervous hand, giggling in the way John used to mock her for. He became aware of how the blue polo shirt, tucked in, gave him a beer belly. The music stopped from inside the dance studio and then the children rushed out in a herd and Leah sprinted to him and John picked her up and swung her around, and then he became aware of a genuine laugh as Samantha grinned at the dimly-lit ceiling. He put down Leah and introduced the two with a flourish and Leah bashfully smiled and Sam held out a hand that Leah took. For a moment John imagined himself and Sam really getting that coffee and rekindling the friendship that had slowly gasped its last breaths after graduation. Facebook and mothers could only do so much. The silver band in his pocket lost its weight. Meanwhile, Sam and Leah chattered about crayon colors and werewolves. The parents began to filter out of the hallway. The lights went off in the dance room.
“I’m glad to see two such lovely ladies getting along,” John said, and Samantha smiled mischievously and said she loved children but couldn’t imagine having her own. Pregnancy, she said, was impossible with her work life and anyway she didn’t want to lose her figure. Babies, she said, screamed and pooped and took too much time. Then she darted her fingers to Leah’s neck and the little girl shrieked with laughter. The final child shrieked, too, and her mother dragged her out of the building and into the rain and then the three of them were alone in the hardwood hallway.
Family, Samantha said, seemed nice.
“It is,” John promised her.
“We’re having spaghetti,” Leah declared, and promptly invited Samantha over for dinner.
John nearly picked up his daughter and promised to buy her a pony, but then Leah’s dance teacher, Matthew or Mateo or something, came out of the room. Samantha stood and brushed past Leah and John and took the dance instructor by the arm. Part of John’s mind told him to make Samantha come over for spaghetti and then get coffee the next morning with the hazy in-between time unforgettable, but then Sam and the dance instructor were trotting to the door and Sam called “g’bye, Johnny,” over her shoulder and the door closed and as a last insult the lights in the building went out.
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