“Oh my god, he’s so hot, just look at him. Don’t you think he’s so hot?”
“I heard Marissa say she heard Zack say that he likes someone in our class.”
“Oh my god if it’s me I would just die, just combust and die. Wouldn’t you just die?”
Kelly’s arm is resting on Sara’s shoulder, friendly and easy, as Sara scrolls her computer diligently through your classmate’s Facebook photos. Kelly leans over her, some of her long sandy-blonde hair falling onto Sara, who doesn’t seem to notice or mind.
“What do you think Mia?” Kelly asks. “Isn’t Damon the hottest guy in school? Definitely in the eighth grade at least, right?”
They turn to face you. Expectant eyes swivel to where you stand, hovering awkwardly behind them. “Oh, yeah,” you say, and your words ring strangely hollow and faraway, like hearing music played through a wall. “He’s so hot.” You never know how emphatic to be during these types of conversations. Your voice always ends up sounding either embarrassingly loud or totally flat, like you’re lying. Which of course you aren’t- you agree he’s the hottest guy in school because everyone says so, who else would it be?
Kelly laughs at your response and you guess you got it wrong again, though you’re never sure exactly how. She walks over to you, her green eyes shining, her lipglossed lips quirked in a mischievous smile.
“I know,” she says teasingly, and your insides do some kind of shimmy at whatever it is she thinks she knows. “I know he’s not really your type…” Your throat goes dry. “You’re way more into his friend Matt, the artist one with the broody emo attitude. He’s way more your type, right?”
“Oh, uh, yeah.” You are too aware of your breathing suddenly and attempt, with great care, to take normal, even breaths. The problem is, you never know what normal looks like.
You must be blushing because Kelly’s face, beaming with smug satisfaction, quickly goes all sympathetic. “Don’t be embarrassed! It makes so much sense, cause you have that kinda quiet, moody thing going on.”
“I do?” you ask, unsure if that’s a good thing or not.
“Oh my god,” she says, “don’t take that the wrong way At. All.” Her hand grips your upper arm- another casual touch between friends. The kind Kelly and Sara seem to do instinctively without a second thought. “I just mean that you’re more… thoughtful.” Kelly leans in as if sharing a secret. The mascara she’s wearing has flaked a little, you notice idly. Little black flecks dot her cheekbones. “You have an old soul” she says, and you believe her. You feel like any age but thirteen.
“Oh!” she squeals, “It would be so perfect if I started going out with Damon and you started going out with Matt! We could go on double dates and everything!” She squeezes your arm, excited with her sudden stroke of genius. You can feel the warmth of her palm through the thin fabric of your shirt. You want to stay standing in this position forever. You can hardly stand it one second more.
“Because they’re best friends,” Kelly continues, “and we’re best friends-”
“Hey!” Sara interjects, breaking away from her internet snooping.
“What I mean is,” Kelly says, clearly annoyed with the interruption of her grand vision. “We’re all best friends, Sara included obviously. Maybe Sara you could date Zack because I think he hangs out with them too and we could, like, all hang out together and go on dates!”
“Ew, no thanks. Zack still collects Pokémon cards and his mom takes him to school,” Sara responds, rolling her eyes and turning back to the computer, already engrossed in something new on the screen.
“Well… whatever, we’ll find some guy for you too.” Kelly says, turning her attention back to you. “That’s the cool thing about eighth grade, we’re really women now. Like, this is what being an adult will be like, going out with hot guys on dates, actually having boyfriends. Plus, the guys are mostly all taller than us now.” She beams with genuine delight and throws her arm around your shoulders. “Can’t you just imagine it? This is what real life is gonna be!”
Her hair tickles the side of your face. You can smell the powdery, floral notes of her deodorant this close, and the warm, sour smell of her sweat underneath. The scent lingers in your nostrils, and, strangely, you find it’s not unpleasant. “Yeah, I guess it is,” you manage to strangle out.
And some part of you feels like crying but you don’t know why, you never know why, because nothing’s wrong. Everything’s just right, standing here in this room with your friends, with her arm around you warm and heavy, with the whole future bearing down on you, ready to swallow you whole.