The sky doesn’t seem to know that this is the day we say goodbye. It beams at me, sunlight smiling, clouds as fluffy as cotton candy, the color blue so blinding it hurts. I wish that today could be a grey day. I wish that the sky would cry with me.
The waiting might be the worst part.
An older lady hustles by me, nodding in my direction. I fake a smile at her. But then it’s back to the camera and back to waiting. I look at my phone at least ten times before I see him. His dirty blonde mop of hair shoved under a Chicago Cubs baseball cap gives him away in the crowd. He smiles when he sees me. Waves even.
“Hey there, Lilly.” And for a moment, just a moment, I let myself think that this isn’t the last time I’ll see Ben Jamison.
But then his smile fades and he tugs on his backpack straps and we both remember.
“So…” Ben says, looking down at his worn Nikes.
“So.” I wish I could say more. I wish that I could tell him everything that I’m thinking and feeling right now. I wish that he could stay.
“How was your day?”
How was my day? His train leaves in ten minutes and he wants to know how my day went. I almost want to hit him, but I won’t let me hitting him or crying be his last memory of me.
“It was good,” I say lamely, staring at Ben as if I have to memorize every detail about him before he leaves. As if I don’t have the hundreds of pictures. “How was your day?”
He shrugs. “Okay. Adrian gave me a box of Pop-Tarts for the train ride.” Our friend Adrian is obsessed with Pop-Tarts. Like, eat-a-box-once-a-day obsessed. His girlfriend Raleigh can’t stand it. I can’t help but laugh at the thought of Adrian sacrificing a box for Ben.
But a little laughing doesn’t change today.
Ben seems to realize this too. He lowers himself onto the bench next to me, mesmerized by the trains already leaving. “You know, I’m going to miss you a lot.”
I try to smile, but I’m afraid that it’s more like a grimace. “I’m going to miss you too.” I really want to say that I’ll miss the sound of his laugh and the way he’s always messing with his hair because it’s constantly in his face and the fact that he’s always taking pictures of something. I want to say that I’ll miss going to get ice cream and roaming San Francisco during the day and—
Ben interrupts my panicked thoughts. “Don’t try to be okay.”
I wish that my coat could swallow me up. “Okay? What do you mean, don’t try to be okay? You’re the one who started the whole okay thing, you big, you big…” I can’t get the word jerk out before I start crying.
Because the whole world revels in my pain, a loudspeaker announces that Ben’s train will be arriving in five minutes. Five minutes. The tears come down even harder.
So much for not crying.
Ben pulls me in for a hug, pats my back. I sniffle against his coat, inhale his scent of too much cheap cologne. “I wish you didn’t have to go.”
“Me too,” he says softly. “Me too.”
And then he lets me go and starts rummaging through his backpack. I rub at my eyes, willing them to save the rest of the show until Ben is on his train and I’m safely in my room with a lifetime supply of tissues and desserts.
“I got something for you,” he says.
I make myself smile. “You didn’t have to.”
Ben hands me a package wrapped up in newspaper. “Yes, I did. Now hurry up and open it, before my train comes.”
Curious, I start peeling back the newspaper. And that’s when I see it. A gorgeous leather notebook, tied with a turquoise bow.
Ben starts talking as soon as my gaze rests on it. “My dad makes them, and he sent one for me to give to you before I go.” He takes his Cubs cap off, ruffles his hair.
“It’s beautiful.” I look up and tuck my black hair behind my ear. “I love it. Thank you.”
Ben sticks his cap back on and opens his mouth to say something, but is interrupted by a train pulling into a station.
My heart sinks and my grip on the notebook tightens. The loudspeaker grinds out its most terrible announcement. Ben stands, hoists his backpack onto his shoulders. “I guess it’s time.”
I stand too. “I guess.” Do. Not. Cry.
He pulls me in for one last hug, and it’s so quick because the train has pulled in and the doors have creaked open. I waffle between trying-not-to-cry and wanting-to-cry.
“Goodbye, Lilly,” he says against my hair. Then, he lets go. Steps back. Waves. “Don’t forget me, Lilly Mae!”
“I won’t!” I yell back. I can see his weak smile from here. One more wave, and he’s on the train. The doors shut. The whistle blows.
I hug myself and watch as the train pulls away.
I wave as it fades into the distance. But I don’t say goodbye. Because I know, deep down, that this isn’t it. Even though it hurts now, it’ll all be okay. One day.
So instead, I whisper, “See you soon.”