The story below is a winner from our Fiction Fantastic Young Writers Contest, open to all youth in Lane County. For more information on this contest, including how to enter, visit here. Support this program with a donation.
You can purchase this story in the 2020 Winners Anthology Fueled By Fire here.
“Skyline” by Natasha Dracobly, South Eugene High School
First Place, High School Level, 2020
By Natasha Dracobly
South Eugene High School
“I think friends are better than dating,” Sandy told me once, back in fifth grade. We barely knew what the difference was then, but it didn’t stop us having opinions. “Who likes boys anyways?”
“Boys are gross,” I said. I was always eager to tag onto her thoughts, hanging on her nods of approval when I said the right thing. I just wanted her to like me, in whatever way I needed to.
I didn’t really know why. Sandy wasn’t interested in drawing or in science, which were normally the only things I cared about, but she drew me to her all the same. I thought she could do no wrong. The first time I heard her say something, when a teacher chose her to read a poem for our fourth grade class, I made up my mind to become friends with her. It wasn’t a long poem, just a few lines about spring and flowers or something, but the way she moved her hands as she spoke struck me like sunlight in a crack between clouds, and the lilt of her voice sounded how I thought the stars should. I went up to her at recess that day and asked if she wanted to be friends. I spent the next six years worrying she’d change her mind.
“We won’t ever get boyfriends,” she declared that day in fifth grade, and flipped her dark hair over one shoulder. I loved that hair. “We’re going to hang out with each other.” Of course, I agreed.
The remnants of August linger in the hot air as I sit on the porch swing, despite the fact that it’s now definitely September. I check my texts again, probably the third time in the last five minutes. The only thing that appears is one from my aunt, telling me how my cousin won his soccer game. I ignore it. I’m only looking at my conversation with Sandy.
I haven’t seen Sandy in three months now, the longest period since we first met. This summer her grandfather got really sick, and the whole family’s been in Japan since June caring for him. They’re only coming back now because school’s starting up again. Beginning of sophomore year in a few days. Sandy and I have a tradition for the last weekend before school starts. We have a sleepover, just the two of us, and stay up all night watching movies and talking, like a last hurrah before we have to schedule our lives once again.
While I wait, I scroll through our old conversations, trying not to feel nervous. It’s not like Sandy and I haven’t seen each other’s faces recently — we FaceTime whenever we can. I know she’s dyed her hair pink at the tips, and started wearing winged eyeliner. I know she still makes the same jokes as she did three months ago.
But my stomach still fills with butterflies when I see her mom’s minivan come around the corner and park in front of our house. My fingers feel sweaty, and I put my phone in my pocket to ensure I don’t drop it when I see Sandy.
I stand up, starting to walk down the steps to the sidewalk. It takes seven steps exactly to get there. I’ve counted it a million times. The car door opens and Sandy steps out. Her hair looks more pink than it did on FaceTime. The backpack she’s carrying looks new. I wave, and she waves too, grinning. Her smile is even prettier than I remember.
I count my steps and hers, one, two, three, and then we’re standing right in front of each other, only one step apart. If our paths were crossing in a parallel universe, maybe I would kiss her now.
As it is, she hugs me instead. Sandy smells like lavender. She’s worn that perfume since her grandma gave it to her in eighth grade. It’s my favorite scent, though I’ve never loved lavender.
“I missed you,” I say when she releases me. I want to tell her many things about this summer, like the loneliness and the achiness of my heart and the three sketchbooks I filled mostly with drawings of her with the cherry-blossom trees. I don’t say anything more.
Sandy bites her lip and grabs my hand, pulling me around and inside. My heart speeds up to twice as fast, but I know she doesn’t mean anything of it. “I missed you, too. Let’s go in! I need to say hi to your mom, you know.”
“I know.” I tell myself I’ll talk to Sandy about it later, but I know I won’t. I’ve been not saying it for almost four years.
My mom’s already at the door when we walk in, and Sandy greets her with the same hug she gave me. Sandy’s spent so much time here over the years that she’s practically part of the family.
“I already ordered the pizza,” she says, and Sandy somehow smiles even wider. She smiles a lot.
“Sandy and I are going upstairs. Call us when the pizza gets here?”
My mom nods and shoos us away. “Of course. Have fun!”
“How was Japan?”
The light is fading now from the sky, leaving only the darkest blue against the trees. If I looked carefully, I’d see stars starting to appear. This used to be Sandy’s favorite time of night, I know, but she told me that three years ago, and I know she’s changed since then.
We’re not in our pajamas yet, and seeing her hand next to mine on the bed, I can’t help but notice how different we seem. She looks pretty and put together and well groomed, with perfectly manicured pink nails matching her dyed pink hair. I’m wearing some sweatpants I found in my closet today, and I don’t think I’ve done my nails in years.
“It was nice, mostly,” she says. “Different from here though. I wish you could have seen it.”
“I wish I could have, too,” I say. I don’t trust myself to say anything more than that.
She takes my hand and squeezes it in hers. “Someday we should go together.”
My face feels hot at that comment. I imagine being in Japan with Sandy, just the two of us. I imagine going to museums with her and taking selfies in front of statues, and staying in a hotel together, and planning where we’d go next. I imagine kissing her there, too, but I shake my head and wave those fantasies away.
“We’ll need money for that.”
Sandy laughs. “You need money for everything, idiot! We’ll have jobs then, anyway.”
“I know that.” I wonder what kinds of things Sandy wants to do. I wonder why I still don’t know. I used to think I knew everything about Sandy. It kind of scares me now, as I realize that’s not true. “What kinds of jobs do you think you want?”
“I don’t know. I’m not sure how everyone expects us to have it all figured out already.” She pauses, looks down at where our hands sit on the bed, still together, and smiles. Like an idiot, I hope she’s smiling at that, but then she looks up again. “I mean, when I was five I had it all figured out.”
I shake my head. “What?”
“I was going to be an astronaut. And a princess, too. I made my parents dress me up as a space princess for Halloween that year.”
“They thought so, too.”
She blinks. Her winged eyeliner makes her dark eyes look even prettier. I really need to stop.
“Do you still like space much?”
I only get a shrug at that. “I haven’t thought about it in years. I think I’d still like the stars.”
“I think the stars are the best thing in the world,” I say.
She nods. “Do you remember in sixth grade, when we climbed on your roof to look at the stars? That was fun.”
“We could do it again, you know. The roof’s still up there.”
She laughs, and I laugh in return, but it fades. I feel awkward now, in a state between our easy friendship before, when we always understood what the other was thinking, and something lesser. I feel like something’s broken, not that I want to think it. The thought nearly breaks my heart.
“Do you want to?”
“Sure.” I stand up, tugging on her hand to pull her up with me. She helps me open the window and then we climb out, me in front of Sandy, helping her through.
The roof is slightly slanted, but we stand on it without fear, stretching our hands up to feel the wind. The sky is almost pitch black, and the moon is nowhere to be seen. There are only the stars with us now.
“If the world was new today, what would you do?”
Sandy lies next to me on the roof. The pink tips of her long hair fly with the wind. When she looks up, her face is a perfect silhouette. If I didn’t know she’d think it was weird, I’d ask her right now to wait while I grabbed my sketchbook, and then I’d draw her here, with the stars as her backdrop.
“I don’t understand,” I say. “What do you mean?”
She shrugs, smiles, pursing her lips the way she always does. “Whatever you want it to mean. It’s flexible.”
“Not what? Flexible?”
I shrug. “Yeah.”
“Then if the world was new to you, what would you do?”
I smile. “To me? I’d be pretty confused then, I think.”
Scooting closer to me on the roof, Sandy’s foot touches mine. She elbows me. “Go on, think of something.”
When my brother elbows me, it’s to annoy me, but when Sandy does it, I don’t mind at all. I elbow her back, and she finally turns her head away from the stars and smiles at me. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing Sandy smile at me. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing her in general, really. She’s that pretty.
“I guess I’d look at the sky,” I say. “If I’d never seen it before, I would be amazed at the sky.”
“You’re a nerd,” she tells me, and I elbow her again.
It feels more like fall when the temperature drops later that night, leaving us both shivering where we still lie on the roof. We’ve been quiet for the last hour or two, just lying next to each other and watching the stars appear one by one. I suddenly realize I have goosebumps along my arms, and I hug them close to myself to try and keep warm. I need a sweater. Sitting up, I see Sandy’s looking at me.
“I’m just getting a jacket.” She nods, and I pause. “If you’re cold I can get you one, too.”
She shakes her head. “I’m good.”
When I climb back through the window and into my room, it feels like a different world. My room is warm and cozy, with stuff on the floor for school and cello and all the art projects I’ve started and never finished. In a fantasy book, it’s what they’d call the normal world.
I grab a navy blue hoodie from next to the bed, where there’s a pile of sweaters and hoodies that I’m too lazy to hang up, and shove it over my head before going back through the window.
Standing on the roof, with the breeze on my face, chilling my nose, the world looks different. The sky is so dark and the stars so bright, and all the lights from the city below can’t possibly compare to the beauty of space.
“Hey,” Sandy says from below me. I reach for her hand, lying on the roof tiles.
“Look. Isn’t it beautiful?”
She takes it, but looks confused. “Yeah. Don’t you want to lie down?”
“No.” I smile. “Here, stand up.” She stands, and then we are together above it all, looking down at the world as we hold hands. Well, she’s looking at the world. I’m just looking at her. “Isn’t it incredible?”
“I guess it is kind of cool.”
“It’s really cool.”
“Really cool, then,” she says.
There’s a silence. My drama teacher calls it a beat. In theatre, beats usually only go before particularly important or dramatic lines. They have to be earned. But in real life, beats are often meaningless. They come in whenever we don’t have words to say.
“So, did you meet anyone in Japan?” The fingers of my left hand are crossed at my side. I’m trying to keep my smile.
“Meet? Not really.”
I nod, try to breathe. “Is there any one you’re interested in?”
Sandy shakes her head quickly. “Not right now.”
“Oh.” We’re still holding hands. “That’s cool.”
“Actually I am interested in someone.” Her words are rushed, tumbling out of her mouth. She’s not looking at me.
“Who?” I ask. I feel a kind of pit in my stomach. Of course she’s interested in someone.
“I don’t know, guess. I’ve been pretty obvious.”
I shake my head. I don’t think I can breathe. “No, I have no idea.”
She sighs, then looks back up at the sky. I look up too, but there’s nothing there. Just stars. She sighs again, and I don’t think she’s going to say anything, but then she turns back to me.
“Can you really not see it?”
I giggle. Try, anyway. It sounds more like a cough. “No, sorry. I’m not very observant.”
“You really aren’t.” She laughs. It sounds bitter, but I don’t know why.
“I’m really sorry—”
“It’s you, idiot.”
“What?” I’ve heard her wrong. Or understood her wrong. Or something. She can’t be interested in me.
“I like you. I have for months. Almost a year now, really.” Her voice is blank. She doesn’t look at me.
“You do?” She does?
I blink, once, twice, three times. “Oh.”
“It’s fine you don’t feel the same way. I’m good with being friends. I don’t want you to think we can’t just be friends.” Her words are moving fast again, and my brain, addled from what she’d just said, can barely keep up.
“And what if I do feel the same way?”
Sandy’s head snaps around to look at me. Her eyes stare into mine. “Do you?”
I shrug. “Yeah.”
Sandy smiles. We’re still holding hands, and she brings me closer to her. She is very close now. I can see the individual strands of her hair. I could count her eyelashes. Sandy is holding me, and despite the slant of the roof, I know I won’t fall. I smile, briefly, and then she leans in and kisses me.
The sky watches us kiss. It is dark outside, and there is nothing here but us and the wind and the stars.