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Illinois Awaits

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by Shelby Jones, First Place Winner of the Novus High School Creative Writing Contest

The woods behind her house went so deep we could have never explored it all, but she
and I used that to our advantage. We were wizards… powerful, unfathomable wizards. The
woods were our hideout, our safe spot. Even though the air was blistering cold, and the wind
chill was fifteen degrees, we were out there for hours. Jumping between rocks gave us a quick
shot of adrenaline while climbing the trees tested our limits. Certain rocks had fallen over one
another to create a perfect hideaway. Our wizarding activities took course throughout the entire
stretch of the forest; we always went deeper into the forest than her mother allowed. The only
thing that could force us inside was her mother’s sweet voice, calling for lunch. Her specialty
was the “Chaco taco” – an Eggos waffle smothered with Nutella and folded in half to resemble a
taco. The smell of the toaster slightly burning the shell to our tacos was swallowing the fresh air.
The bliss of childhood had never been so real.

Olivia was the kind of friend you just know. You don’t remember how, when, or why you
became friends, but you are. She was a warm-toned blonde with just a few freckles dotted across
her nose. She wore big square glasses that were always either plum purple or black with a light
blue rim. She was extremely fit, never missing a day of soccer practice, her family was mine and
mine was hers.

Flash forward a year, I get the news. My best friend, Olivia, will be moving to Illinois in
August. My heart has never dropped so fast. It felt like I had swallowed a fifty-pound weight and
couldn’t get it back up. No tears ran, not yet; those would come later. It was the most world-
shattering, soul-wrenching news I could have ever imagined. We were about to go into the sixth
grade: the most dramatic change in my preteen life was about to occur, and there was no getting
through that without Olivia. She called me to tell me the news, “Hey Shelby,” the sweet voice of
Olivia’s mother. “Hey, Mrs. Katie!” I answered excitedly, with no idea of what was to come.
“Me and Olivia have some news. You may not like it,” she said begrudgingly. I swallowed the
lump that had just appeared in my throat, “Olivia’s dad got a promotion,” she said. I interrupted
her with a quick congrats, she let out a sigh, “ For him to keep doing good at his job, we need to
move to Illinois.” There were so many ideas running through my head about what this phone call
was about. Not that. Never that.

There was never any doubt that she and I were the most important people to each other.
But before she left, the question arose as we were sitting on the blistering playground swings. It
was a hot August summer, and her neighborhood playground was calling our name. We walked
behind her house to the large football-sized field. Glancing across the way through the bright
almost autumn sun, there was a gentle outline of the playground swings in the distance. Skipping
our way through the field, we chatted about simple things like Harry Potter or what the plan for
tomorrow was. We got to the playground and ever-so-quickly hopped on the swings. The air
flew through our hair and we pumped our legs to get our swings higher and higher. I stopped my
momentum very suddenly when I had my thought; for I couldn’t swing and question my entire
friendship at the same time. “Olivia?”, I said with a slight weariness to my voice. “Yes?” she was
out of breath from exerting so much energy trying to get the swing as high as it would allow.

“Will you make a new best friend when you move, or will you just call me all the time?” Sixth
grade me, truly believed that she would never make another friend, for it felt I wouldn’t either. “I
don’t know. I might have to. I don’t wanna be all alone at school.” She answered; I could hear the
worry in her voice. She and I never brought that subject up again. I was convinced I would be
alone while in middle school, high school, and college, and then eventually just die alone.

We went about the beginning of school rituals as usual: school shopping, clothes
shopping, schedule reading, and multiplication flash cards. This time it felt different. Olivia was
only going to be in my class for a few weeks, then, poof-gone. The thought of her not being there
to complain and de-stress with me brought a genuinely sick feeling to my stomach. She and I
hung out every day that she was available. She was in travel soccer and was very good for an
eleven-year-old. Somehow we managed to hang out so often that the woods never got a break,
not until that day- the day she left.

The day had come, and the night before was sleepless. My mom woke me up earlier than
the birds sang to say goodbye before they left. It was a chilly morning, the type to make those
microscopic hairs on your arms stand tall. The air was thin and the sky was a strange shade of
blue, almost gray. Her house, even from the outside, was dead. The liveliness and joy that used
to radiate from her home had been vacuumed away. My mom and I pulled into the driveway
slowly. The crackle and pop of the tires on the driveway gravel seemed to last for hours. Finally,
the car came to a stop. I wish the car door would have just locked shut, forever, and not let me
out into this nightmare. My heart told me to not touch that door handle, but my mother’s nagging
voice told my head that I had to get out.

I walked into the garage, and through the door leading to her house. Somehow the outside
world’s gloominess leaked inside. No barstools carefully tucked under the hightop, no crayons
on the counter, no toaster, no more pictures delicately hung on the fridge. I could tell Olivia was
tired; she was just standing there, waiting. The entrance room floor was stacked with the few
remaining boxes, the ones that wouldn’t fit in the U-Haul. She gave me a look, one I was
unfamiliar with: it felt alien. We took a walk around the now ghost town of a house. Every step
we took seemed to creek louder than before. It echoed through the empty halls and the, somehow
sadder, paler walls. As if we were in our old age, she and I recalled memories as we explored
each empty, cold room. The spellbook we wrote in her bedroom. The Barbies we stripped of hair
in her playroom. The “ghosts” we hunted for in her living room. The ceilings were so high I
could have mistaken the house for a circus tent and I was the clown, running circles around the
ring of truth that was her getting in that car and driving away.

We came back around to the entry hall, where our parents were still chatting about “adult
things”. I knew when I saw my mom’s face that it was time for them to go. I couldn’t accept it. I
decided to be the bigger person because who knows the pain Olivia was feeling, moving away
from all she ever knew. I assumed her pain was ten times mine, which was unimaginable but I
tried to understand.

We rarely hugged each other. Throughout our friendship the only times I can recall
hugging was for a picture or when she would win a soccer game; the only times we did, they
were happy hugs. This hug was different. She and I hugged for what felt like an eternity. Her
arms were above mine, over my shoulder. She was so tall, five foot six inches while in the sixth
grade. I was wrapped around her like a helpless sloth, wishing for someone to save me from this
slow, stretched-out goodbye. The saddest goodbye of my life. When the hug was over, her shirt
was covered in tears. I was embarrassed until I looked over at my shoulder and saw a wet spot
from where she had rested her chin. For some reason, her warm tears on my shoulder reassured
me that I knew I was special to her too. One final goodbye and a quick hug to Mrs. Katie and we
drove off.

School was never the same. Her presence was completely gone. I thought because I could
still call and text her, that it wouldn’t feel as if she was gone. It seems overdramatic to call it a
loss. So many people lose their friends and family members every year. Olivia hadn’t passed; she
hadn’t been in some freak accident. She had, however, started a different life. She goes by the
same name, she has the same family, and she may never change her personality; however, she
would make new friends. New friends, to an eleven-year-old, is the ultimate betrayal. Having
one BFF was still the fad, and the clicks had already been decided and finalized. My BFF, my
click, was gone.

As time went on, the crying became subdued. Less wet pillows and empty tissue boxes. It
was no longer the only thing on my mind. I began to focus on other friends who were physically
there, not just on a phone call that made me cry every time it ended. She still comes to mind, she
still comes up on my feed. Somehow, we still ended up being interested in the same things.
Maybe we are destined to be friends. So if we ever do reconnect, Olivia, let’s play in the woods,
let’s jump over some rocks, and let’s eat so many Chaco-Tacos that our bellies become numb.
Let’s explore who we have become, and who we used to be.

Shelby Jones is a student at Wilson Central High School and is a proud member of the BluePrints Yearbook staff. She is from Mount Juliet, Tennessee, and is planning on attending the University for Creative Careers in Savannah, Georgia.