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 2022 Winners Anthology, Tales from the Deep Beyond here.
“Samantha” by Abby Ketchum, Roosevelt Middle School
Honorable Mention, Middle School Level, 2022
By Abby Ketchum
Roosevelt Middle School
Green is Samantha’s color.
Her eyes are green, the dress she’s wearing is green. Her laughter sounds green. She always chooses green. She always feels green. She’s always loved green.
I have this thing where my mind tends to associate colors with people. I’ve always thought that organizing objects by color was the most genius idea, so I started applying them to people. And as I got older, colors often changed—mine changed. A lot. Samantha’s has always been green. Her long blonde hair, her perfectly tan skin, her smile. Always green.
When Samantha told me that the pink dress I had chosen for the eighth grade dance looked good, I put myself as pink. And kept it.
I don’t know when I started to look at Samantha differently. When I started thinking about her as someone I wanted to hold, not someone I wanted to sleep on the floor with at sleepover parties. When I started thinking about how it would feel to touch her lips. When we made eye contact, instead of dropping it the way I always do, because eye contact has never been my specialty. When her laugh started to play in my head on repeat. When I started to notice the way she says certain words. Especially my name, “Emilia.”
I look to my left. I’m sitting on Samantha’s bed, her pearly white comforter smooth and cool against my legs. It’s almost July, and the sun is lighting up Sam’s whole room. White light shines against the hardwood floors.
“Yeah?” I say, bringing my eyes back down to my paper when I see Samantha is staring at her phone.
“Hattie is having a bonfire,” she says, scrolling through the phone, “at the beach. Tonight. Wanna go?”
Hanging out with Samantha and her cool friends? No thanks. Hanging out with Samantha and her cool friends, and then stealing Samantha away to walk near the water and touch her hand on accident? I would say yes in a heartbeat.
“Um, sure, whatever,” I say, shrugging. I twirl my pencil between my middle and ring finger.“That sounds fun, I guess.”
“Emilia, has anyone ever told you that you suck at playing it cool?” Samantha giggles and shoves my shoulder when I don’t respond. “What are you working on?”
“Oh, just doodling.” I shut my sketchbook when she tries to lean over and see my drawing. Of course I’m doing more than just doodling. I’m drawing her. Again. Her bangs flowing over her face like waves do to sand, her eyelashes framing her eyes like they’re priceless paintings. To me, they are.
“You say that everytime.” Samantha groans. I set my sketchbook next to me, turning my body so I’m facing her. She closes her eyes and exhales, falling backwards onto her mountain of pillows that match the frills of her comforter. “I’m so hot.”
“Well, it is summer.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” She pauses, staring at the ceiling and biting her bottom lip. I flick my eyes to her mouth for a moment, before moving to the wall her bed is against. It’s covered in pictures of me and her, our faces changing through the eleven years we’ve known each other. There’s pictures her mom printed out that she took of the two of us, photo booth strips, and Polaroids. Those ones are my favorites, because she always marks the date on them.
Samantha laughs, swinging her long legs over the edge of her bed. “Wanna get ice cream? I think I am going to die if I don’t get something cold in my body.”
I pause before answering, because what I really want to do is sit here on her bed with her for the rest of the day, lying next to her and twirling her hair on my fingers while I kiss her gently on her jaw. But ice cream with her is the next best thing.
“Yeah, that sounds fun.”
She smiles. My favorite smile.
Downtown, the ice cream shop we visit so much in the summer where we always get discounts has a line stretching out the door. I put my hand up to my forehead as we cross the street, blocking the sun. Samantha is wearing sunglasses. She always does when we go outside, even if it isn’t inherently sunny.
“We’re gonna burn to death before we can even order,” Samantha says, falling back into one of the blue metal chairs that sit, unused, outside the front windows of the shop. They’re always empty, everyone always sitting inside or walking to the park across the street that sits in the middle of town.
“Oh, well,” I say, sitting across from her. “At least there’s, uh, air conditioning.”
I clear my throat and point to the dark green awning of the ice cream shop. “Under there somewhere. Don’t you feel it?”
Samantha doesn’t answer, instead, getting up out of her chair and running over to the window. I can see when she notices there is air conditioning. She sighs, closing her eyes and leaning her head back. People in the line are staring at the girl in the short white dress standing in front of the window, staring like they’re annoyed. I’m anything but annoyed. That’s one thing I love about Sam, that she’s so outgoing and doesn’t care. Not really. Of course she cares about some peoples’ opinions. I wonder if she cares about mine.
I smile at Samantha as she spins in slow circles to get the cold air. I grab my phone from my tote bag I’ve slung over the back of the chair, tapping the screen to focus the camera. The camera flashes and Samantha’s face is in my phone again. Every photo she sends, I save. Every photo she posts, I like. Every time she calls me, I save a recording of the call.
“I’m sick of this line,” Samantha says. I swipe out of the photo app and put my phone down on my thigh. “Look, someone’s selling lemonade in the park. We can go there instead.”
“Okay,” I say, standing up and grabbing my bag.
Samantha smiles, and she’s grabbing my hand. I don’t let go. In fact, I have to bite back a smile as my best friend that I can’t stop being so in love with drags me across the street and slows down, gripping my hand more and tangling our fingers as we walk through the park.
“It’s so pretty,” Samantha says. I don’t respond. She thinks the sky is pretty. The grass, the boys on the grass, the ducks in the pond. And I think she’s pretty. I can’t get my eyes away from her face.
Samantha and I find a spot of grass in the park, covered partly with shade from a tree. We drop our bags on the grass and sit down.
“Look, Finn is here,” Samantha whispers, leaning over to lean against my shoulder. I look to where she’s pointing to see him, the boy Samantha hasn’t given up on since the first year of high school. I don’t even think they’ve ever talked. She just admired him from afar. I guess we have that in common.
“Well, we came for lemonade, not Finn,” I say, standing up. “I can get it.”
“Okay,” Samantha says. She smiles at me and I smile back. A small smile. I look back over my shoulder as I’m walking through the park to see Samantha still focused on Finn and his lopsided smile and his wispy brown hair.
As much as I would get down on my knees and beg if Samantha said she felt even an ounce of love for me, her being with Finn wouldn’t be bad. He’s nice, and he’s pretty, too. Still, I don’t think anyone who would ever date Samantha would be good enough for her.
Especially not me. My shoulder length, gray brown hair and my bony arms, my mess of freckles and my thin lips. Everytime Samantha and I go out together it feels like everyone who sees us is watching a model walk around with a normal kid. Thinking about that still doesn’t stop my stomach from doing flips whenever Samantha does anything like compliment me.
“Hey, it’s Emilia, right?”
“Oh. Um, yes,” I say, stopping to turn to Finn. He smiles. He’s holding a skateboard under one of his arms. His light brown skin is almost bronze in the sunlight. “Did you—did you need something?”
“I was just wondering,” he says, reaching to scratch his neck. “You know Samantha, right?”
I almost sigh and walk away.
“Is she going to the bonfire?”
I open my mouth to say yes. A no, sorry comes out instead.
“That’s too bad. Well, see you around.”
Finn waves and turns to run back to his friends. Surely if Samantha isn’t going, then he wouldn’t go, right? Why would he ask then?
I can’t believe I just lied about that. How petty could I be about this?
I go to the lemonade stand and buy two lemonades for me and Sam, one strawberry, for her. I go back to our spot under the tree quickly, not wanting to talk to Finn again.
“Thanks,” Samantha says, grabbing the lemonade out of my hand. “Hey, uh, I saw you talking to Finn. What happened?”
“Nothing.” I take a sip of my lemonade. It tastes more sour than sweet.
“Do you like him?”
I choke on my lemonade. “What? No. No, I don’t like him, Sam.”
Samantha frowns, tracing circles with her finger on her knee. “Oh. Okay. Sorry.”
Neither of us say anything else. It’s not really a secret between us that Samantha likes Finn, and has for almost four years, but it’s not something we really talk about, either. I assume it’s because Samantha doesn’t want me to feel awkward because I never tell her about my crushes or boys that I like. If only she knew it was because the only “crush” I’ve ever had isn’t even a boy.
“It’s almost five,” Samantha interrupts my train of thought. “We can go back to my house and get ready for the beach.”
“Get ready? For a bonfire?” I say, reaching behind me to grab my bag. “Why?”
“You know what happens at bonfires and stuff, right?” Samantha raises her eyebrows.
“Um. No. What?”
Samantha just laughs. “You’ll see.”
By “getting ready” Samantha meant putting on six layers of makeup, trimming her bangs, shaving her legs, and brushing her teeth three times while I sit on the bathroom counter and play with her bottle of nail polish remover.
“So, you’re doing all this because you think Finn is going to confess his undying love for you?” I say.
“Ugh, Em, no,” Samantha groans. She’s back in her room, trying on her fifth outfit. I think she looked prettiest in just the shorts and sweater, but I didn’t tell her. “It would be a lot more classy than that. ‘Undying love’ is tacky.”
“What would he say, then? ‘Oh, Samantha, I have fancied you since the seventh grade. Please, kiss me’.”
Samantha laughs. “Sure, sure.”
My head snaps up when I hear the bathroom door be pushed open. It’s Samantha. This time, she’s wearing denim shorts with a light green tank top. Her hair is loose on her shoulders.
“What do you think?” she says, spinning around.
I look back at the cap of the nail polish remover bottle so she doesn’t see the flush I can feel on my cheeks. And ears. And neck.
“It looks nice,” I say. “Finn’ll love it.”
We both go silent. Both for very different reasons.
“Let’s go.” Samantha flicks off the bathroom light. I’m left in the dark. By Samantha and my own head.
Bonfires are not something I would go to regularly. Too much noise, too many people, too much Samantha and Finn. Too much of watching them staring at each other and not doing anything. I guess I can’t say anything. But it still irritates me.
Somehow, the sparks flying and the laughter that comes with each crack of the fire and each couple sneaking off to the bathroom at the top of the beach make my mind numb. It’s nice to just think but not know what exactly you’re thinking about. Thoughts fuzzy, eyes filled with heat.
“Hey,” Samantha’s voice interrupts. She has sat back down next to me after moving to sit next to Hattie, who then went off with some boy who doesn’t even look her age.
“Hey,” I say back. Samantha smiles at the fire. It’s illuminating her silhouette with all kinds of purple and red and orange, making her glow. My eyes go from her lips, to her hands that she’s shoving in the pockets of a hoodie she borrowed from a freshman. I want to take her hand and hold it and lean against her shoulder and kiss her on her cheeks, and then her mouth. I want that to be normal for us.
“This is boring,” Samantha whispers into my ear. I smile.
“Yeah,” I whisper back. I look to the other side of the fire, where the remaining group of kids is throwing drift wood and their trash into the fire. “Wanna go walk? By the water, I mean?”
“Sure,” Samantha says. And the genuine excitement she’s laced into her tone, the golden-red light covering her cheeks, it makes me feel like she’s here for me.
The two of us get up from the log we’ve been sitting on and walk away from the people and the noise and the love. No one notices. It’s nice, though. I’d rather it just be me and Sam. Even if she won’t ever kiss me like I want to kiss her. Even if she won’t kiss me because she wants to.
Water laps around our ankles and bare feet as we get closer to the water. We left our shoes up at the car when we got here, our entire bodies getting hit with a heat wave the second we left the air conditioning.
Surprisingly, even as we walk farther down the moonlit shore, Samantha doesn’t say anything. Doesn’t bring up Finn once. Doesn’t talk about anything she’d normally talk about. She’s acting like me. I do the silence and the smiles and the nodding, she does the talking and the complimenting and the explaining. Guess it’s my turn.
“So,” I say, clearing my throat. “Anything happen with, um, you and Finn?”
Samantha laughs. “No. Did you see anything?”
“Well, no. But I kinda zoned out at some point. I could’ve missed your guys’ super romantic movie kiss.” I shove Samantha’s shoulder. She smiles, but it looks strained.
“Well, nothing happened. You didn’t miss anything.” She pauses and stops walking. “I don’t think . . . I don’t think I like Finn, anyways.”
I stop too. “What? You’ve been obsessing over him for, like, three years.”
“Guess I was faking it.” She looks up at the dark sky, the stars that match her eyes.
“So . . . you thought you liked him, but you didn’t?” I raise my eyebrows.
“No. I didn’t.”
It’s in that moment that I realize we’re only standing maybe a foot apart, the moon is lighting up Samantha’s pained face and her dull eyes that are looking to the sky for guidance, the stars are telling me what to do.
“Oh.” I stare at my palms. “That sucks.”
Samantha snorts. “Yeah. Whatever.”
I blink, trying not to look at her, trying not to let her look at me for too long. I’m scared that now that we’re on the subject, now that we’re speaking about this, now that we both have the same exact thing on our minds that she’ll finally see how transparent I’ve been about this. I never did anything to inherently give it away. But for a girl as goddamn clever as she is, it’s almost baffling it hasn’t even crossed her mind. Or maybe it has.
“What about you?” Samantha says suddenly.
“What?” I say, keeping my eyes on the sand. A cold breeze comes in, blowing our hair around our faces. Samantha shivers and buries her hands deeper in the hoodie.
She opens her mouth, and I can feel her looking at me, her eyes trying to find mine. I don’t know why but I am losing my breath trying to figure it out.
“Nevermind,” Samantha says.
It’s then that we both look at each other, both looking each other right in the eyes. Right into our hearts. I’m stepping forward. Samantha doesn’t push me away. Her eyes widen, her lips part, her knuckles crack at her sides.
And my hands lose feeling, my heart skips so many beats I think it stops, and her face is so empty. So sharp and so lonely. So are my hands. So are my fingers. So they grab her face. And I kiss my best friend.
I kiss her at the same time that water pools up around our legs, the same time that the moon is fully out from behind the clouds and it’s making my eyes shimmer. All I see as I kiss Samantha, and as she kisses me, is light.
She’s kissing me back. She is. Her hands are on my face, too, her thumbs are under my eyes and her lips are on mine.
Samantha is kissing me. She’s kissing me like I’m a rain storm and she’s a drought. She’s kissing me. She wouldn’t ever even need to kiss me for this feeling I have right now to exist. She just is.
All she would need to do was be Samantha.