Returning to Main Street

Roycee. One of those towns with four seasons. Raquel liked autumn the best—the harvest festival, the smattering of orange and gold leaves. It was universal, Roycee. Unique only in its ubiquity and hearty serving of conventional Americana. Does that sound pretentious? she wondered. Probably. But it was quaint there. Not her kind of place, not really—never had been—but she could observe it as an outsider, a tourist. Viewing it from a distance, she could allow herself to remember it warmly and fondly. And she preferred that.

Walking through the streets felt surreal. It reminded her in equal measure of strolling through Disneyland—the artificial cheerfulness, that this-can’t-be-real knee-jerk cynicism—and strolling through her childhood memories, which came alive as she passed each familiar face or location. There was the duck pond, the last place she’d seen her father before he (poof!) vanished from her life. There was the ice cream parlor, modeled after the kind from the early 20th century, where she’d spent much of her allowance. There was Miss Rubins and her latest in the ever-rotating gaggle of poodles, her hair big enough to rival theirs. She waved enthusiastically when she spotted Raquel, perhaps not even realizing the indelible mark she’d made on this near-stranger’s childhood. The memories Raquel had of Miss Rubins—watching her from afar with great caution, joking about her eccentricities with friends, staring in horror as one of her poodles was hit by a car and seeing her run out to retrieve the animal, sobbing uncontrollably—were vivid as ever.

Of course, Miss Rubins wasn’t the only person to have made such a lasting impression. And when she arrived at Carla’s house, really without half-trying (her feet led her there as if on autopilot), she was confronted with those other, more important memories. She felt a lump in her throat.

The house hadn’t changed much. The fence was painted a different color now—red instead of yellow—and there were new curtains in the windows. Otherwise, it was more or less the same. And that was the funny thing, too: It wasn’t the parts of Roycee that had changed that bothered Raquel; it was the parts that hadn’t.

Carla didn’t live there anymore, of course. But she was still in town. Five blocks away, in a Victorian house that had been divided into three flats. How strange that would be, living so close to your childhood home. To her credit, it didn’t seem to bother Carla, but it would’ve driven Raquel crazy. No matter how old she got or how much she changed, living in Roycee, with the same people, the same stores, the same houses, would always make her feel like the same girl—the same problems, the same struggles, the same age. She couldn’t stand it. It was like a Twilight Zone episode—a quaint, innocuous town whose inhabitants were frozen in time. The very idea made her skin prickle.

Then, of course, there was the fact that she was the only black girl there. And Carla was one of few Latinas, though she was biracial and could pass for white. Out-of-towners frequently mistook her mother for her nanny. She’d shake it off, unfazed. “It’s a town for white people, sure,” she’d said once, “but what town isn’t for white people?”

“Chicago,” Raquel had said. It was the first place her mind her gone to. Was it a coincidence, then, that five years later—when she turned eighteen—she’d immediately fled to Chicago? Probably not. She’d wanted to move there in the back of her brain for a while, or anywhere else known for its vibrant communities of color. She wanted to live in a place with people and faces she understood, not just recognized. A deep, pit-of-your-stomach kind of understanding.

In her experience, it seemed everyone—save, perhaps, Carla—had that one place in their mind, that city or town or even state which beckoned to them. That place they knew where they’d belong, even if they’d never actually been. In fact, perhaps it was better if they hadn’t been, so they could imagine it was magical and perfect and pristine. For Raquel, it was Chicago. Roycee just couldn’t compete.

Staring up at Carla’s old house, a place she knew so well, part of her wanted to knock on the door. The irrational nut inside her was that sure that when it opened, a twelve-year-old Carla would be grinning at her and asking if she was ready to go down to the creek. Half of her wished that would happen; the other half was afraid it would.

She didn’t knock. Instead, she turned and headed to her own childhood home. It was a short walk to their tudor house, the front garden as lush and vibrant as ever. The door was open and her mother was leaning against the frame, staring out, mug of tea in hand. She smiled when she saw Raquel. “How was your walk?”

“Perfectly uneventful. Just what the doctor ordered.”

“I bet.” She stepped back from the doorway so Raquel could enter, and the two strolled down the long hall toward the living room, where Raquel and Carla had once spent much of their time plotting and scheming and pretending, or sometimes just doing their homework. Raquel felt a chill as she looked around; everything was the same, completely and utterly the same. It was scary, almost.

“So.” Her mother plopped down into the antique, well-worn, 1920s-era chaise lounge. “Are you going to see her while you’re in town?”

It was if she’d read Raquel’s mind. “I don’t know . . . it’s so weird between Carla and me.”

“Don’t let me pressure you. But I feel bad you two aren’t close anymore.” She cocked her head to one side, the steam of her tea lifting and coiling around her face. “I know you miss her.”

“I miss you,” Raquel asserted. She came and sat by her mother’s side, wrapping her arms around her shoulders. “If there’s one thing I hate about Chicago, it’s that I can’t see you every day.”

“Ugh, don’t say that!” Her mother frantically fanned at her eyes. “You’re going to make me ugly-cry and ruin my makeup. Damn menopause.”

Raquel laughed.

Her mother was beautiful. Soft black curls and dark, huge eyes. Full lips. She was an activist, a writer and blogger with social media skills that bested those half her age. She wrote thought-provoking essays and articles on racism and misogyny. She attended rallies, she protested in the streets, she spoke at colleges, she organized groups and started petitions. She never let an act of injustice slip by.

How someone like her ended up in Roycee wasn’t always clear. She fell into it, more or less. Hopped from town to town throughout her twenties—including a brief stint in Chicago—before meeting Raquel’s father and settling down in that tudor house. She liked it, for some odd reason. The town, the residents, the home. But she traveled frequently, always on some kind of quest or mission, always taking on a new challenge. When Raquel was a kid, sometimes she’d take her along for the ride, but more often she’d leave her with Carla’s family. Still, it always felt like them against the world.

“I do think you should see her, though,” her mother said. “Just to be clear.”

“I don’t even know how I feel about her anymore,” Raquel said, and she made a face. Her usual, pouty, please-don’t-make-do-this face.

“More reason to meet with her. Either you’ll get closure and say a proper goodbye, or you’ll become the best of friends again.”

“Maybe. I’ll think about it.”

The whole thing was awkward and messy. Raquel and Carla’s mothers were close as ever, having originally bonded over seemingly being the only two women of color in Roycee. “She got it,” Raquel’s mother had said once. “Finally, someone in this town got it. I mean, our experiences weren’t precisely the same—we’re not the same color, and she had the benefit of being married to a white man—but it was close enough that I felt like . . . well, like I wasn’t completely alone.”

Their daughters’ relationship had had similar roots, even if Carla frequently passed for Italian (and was, on her dad’s side). But it wasn’t only that. They loved virtually all the same things: Looney Tunes and puddle-jumping, cashews, cosmetics, the first Back to the Future movie (and not the sequels), googly eyes and making collages . . . they could talk for hours on end and never get bored; they could just sit on the swings at the local playground and have as much fun as anyone in the world. They were sisters, for a while—twins.

And maybe that’s why it was so odd how their paths had diverged. How they’d become so . . . different. Though of course, Raquel knew there’d always been differences—certainly, as she’d dreamt of an elsewhere, a place she’d belong, Carla had never shied away from treating Roycee as her ideal. To Raquel, it seemed nothing but strange, but Carla’s contentment with the town had rivaled her dissatisfaction with it.

“You don’t want to leave the area to go to college, somewhere exciting and far, far away?”

Carla had shrugged. “Not really. Do you?”

“Well . . . yeah.”

It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time—they rarely ever thought of their differences. Little did they know that this particular difference would be their undoing.

“I should go,” Raquel said, snapping out of her thoughts. She had a foggy look on her face.

“Go? You just got here!”

“Yeah, I know, but . . . I’m craving a milkshake.”

“You wouldn’t prefer a nice cup of tea?” Her mother raised her mug with a grin.

Raquel wrinkled her nose. “No thanks. Even if I liked tea, a milkshake would win every time.”

As her mother watched Raquel head for the exit, she called (perhaps jokingly), “Give my love to Carla!” Raquel shot her a look before disappearing out the door.


Five years earlier, on a pleasant day in Roycee, Raquel had approached Carla with an uncharacteristic sheepishness.

“So, I have something to tell you—but you can’t get mad.”

Carla had frowned, sensing the impending awfulness. “Just tell me from a one to ten how much I should brace myself.”

“Eight. Maybe nine.”

“Oh God. Okay, lay it on me.”

“I’m leaving for Chicago in fourteen days. For school.” She’d closed her eyes tightly, as if anticipating a blow.

Carla just stood there, stunned silent. It took her several moments to regain her composure. “Fourteen days? Chicago? School? And I’m only hearing about this now?”

“I just, I don’t know . . . I could never find the right time to tell you, and then I didn’t want to ruin your summer, and I hated the idea that after I told you, everything would feel so final and everything we did would be, like, bittersweet and laced with that feeling of dread, knowing I’d be gone in the fall . . .”

“I thought you were taking a gap year.”

“I thought so, too. But I changed my mind.” She winced. “Please don’t be mad.”

“Well, I am mad. Of course I’m mad.”

“Carla, you know it’s been my dream to go to Chicago. Can’t you at least be happy for me?”

“This isn’t how it was supposed to go, this isn’t how any of it was supposed to go . . . I thought we had another year, at least. Maybe more.”

“I’m sorry, okay? But this is important to me.”

“Our last year together was important to me. How could you have sprung this on me? How could you have kept this a secret? Jesus, Raquel—”

“I said I was sorry. God. What more do you want me to do, not go?”

“Kind of, yeah.”

“You can’t ask me to do that. Stop being so selfish.”

You’re being selfish here! We made a promise not to leave until next year! I kept my end.”

“Well, of course you did. It’s not like you’re ever getting out of stupid, pathetic Roycee.”

“Yeah, because unlike you, I like it here. My parents are here, my friends . . .”

“So? It wouldn’t kill you to explore your options, find a college in a different part of the country—live a little, broaden your horizons. It’s like pulling teeth to even get you to acknowledge other places exist.”

“I can stay here if I want.”

“And I can move to Chicago if I want. Just because you lack ambition and an interest in anything beyond this singular, white-as-Wonderbread town doesn’t mean—”

“That’s not true, Raquel. That’s . . . God, Raquel, how could you say that? How could you?”

“I’m done talking about this.”

“Well, I am too. Have fun in Chicago.”

“Have fun languishing in Roycee.”

And that was the end of it. The last time they’d seen or spoken to each other.


It was a 50s diner, her go-to Roycee milkshake joint, with shiny red booths and waitresses on roller skates. A cliché, sure, but a nice one. She’d gone there a lot as a kid, spending hours tucked away in the corner, working on her homework while her classmates went out and partied. She was studious to a fault, more so than Carla. More so than most sane children.

It was the same as always, meticulously detailed and chillingly authentic, save for one recent addition: The conspicuous iPhones being waved around and clenched by patrons, their shiny screens the only futuristic disruption to the 50s theme.

Roycee wasn’t much of a tourist destination, but people came from neighboring cities to visit the diner. It was a classic, an institution, and Raquel was pleased to see it there—even if the unchanged sight of it made her feel a little uneasy.

She ordered a strawberry milkshake like always and went to her regular booth in the corner, and, like everyone else, brought out her phone. She scrolled through her emails as she sipped her shake, stumbling upon one from, of all people, Carla’s mother. Welcome home Raquel!!! I hope you stop by while you’re in town, or else Joe and I may just go to you instead 😉 We’re so proud of you & all you’ve accomplished!! You’ve always been such a go-getter (you get that from your mom). We miss you!! And Carla does, too. Let’s have dinner together before you leave town!

She drummed her fingers against the table, suddenly anxious.

The waitress came over, and Raquel recognized her as the same woman who always waited on her as a kid. Jeez, she still works here? Then she felt guilty for being so judgmental. She blamed the message from Carla’s mom—it had irritated her, and put her on edge, weirdly. (What are you so afraid of?)

Though she recognized the waitress, the waitress did not recognize her. She asked if there was anything else Raquel wanted without a flicker of familiarity, and that was fine, since the last thing she wanted or needed was a reunion. (Not that they’d ever been close enough to warrant a reunion, to begin with. The most she’d ever said to the woman was “one strawberry milkshake, please.”)

“I’ll take the check, thanks,” Raquel said. Then she felt bad that she hadn’t ordered enough. It wasn’t something she’d ever thought about as a kid, when her money was limited to allowance and babysitting profits, but now that she was older and moderately wiser, well . . .

Of course, she didn’t have the brain space to worry about that for long. She was distracted, thinking of Carla, and Carla’s parents. Thinking of seeing them, and God, what would she say? “Sorry I never called”? “Sorry we outgrew each other”? That was the thing her mother didn’t understand: There wasn’t anything to say. It wouldn’t be closure—it would be opening old wounds.


She paid the check and left the diner, wandering through that storybook little town with its cardboard cutout residents. They waved and stopped Raquel for a chat, asking her how Chicago was. She played along, but her mind was elsewhere.

She didn’t go home. Instead, she wandered around, leading a self-guided tour of Roycee. She strolled through the park, sat on the swings where she and Carla had spent so much time. It was eerie, somehow. That place, with all those crystal-clear memories, as unchanged as the diner. She passed through the tiny local grocery store, the candy shop, the bakery. She didn’t buy anything, just observed. Said hi to everyone and made conversation with the store owners. There was lots of excitement, hugs and squeals of joy upon seeing her. You’re back! We’ve missed you! Hadn’t Carla’s mom said something like that?

And she said Carla missed her, too. That part hurt. It shouldn’t have, but it did.

Carla missed me.

Maybe. Maybe her mother was just being nice.

But if she wasn’t . . .

There was a lump in her throat, again. She wasn’t sure how or why but, just as her feet had directed her to Carla’s childhood home, suddenly she found herself on the way to Carla’s current house. She didn’t have a plan, all she knew was that she wanted to go there. It was a compulsion, almost. She had to.

So she walked there, nervous, her arms wrapped around her torso. When she arrived, she stood out on the curb and stared up at the Victorian, her brows knit. She tried to imagine Carla inside, doing whatever it was that she liked these days. It bothered her that she wasn’t even sure what that would be.


The voice startled her. She didn’t recognize it, not immediately. It wasn’t until she turned and saw Carla there, a bag of groceries in hand, that it all clicked into place. And she stood there, gaping, in quiet shock. Not that she should have been shocked—this was Carla’s home; Raquel was the snoop, the one who didn’t belong—but nevertheless. It was almost as though she’d built Carla up into a mythic figure, a fantastic figment of her imagination—like she had convinced herself their entire friendship had been nothing more than a dream. Yet here she was, in the flesh, five years older than the last time Raquel had seen her.

“Your hair’s shorter.” It was all she could think to say, the one thing she’d noticed right off the bat and the first words to find their way to her lips. Then she blushed, embarrassed at how stupid she sounded. What will my next observation be? “Wow, the grass sure is green today”?

“Yeah, I cut it.” Carla touched the ends, which bounced up into a gentle curl, ending just above her shoulders.

“It’s cute,” Raquel said. She was still in shock, frozen there, stuck to the ground. She felt like she couldn’t breathe.

“Thanks.” She paused. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m . . . I came to visit my mom for the week. And, um . . .” She trailed off, shrugged. How could she explain herself? She hadn’t planned for this. She hadn’t come up with what she’d say. She didn’t even think she’d see Carla—in fact, she hadn’t wanted to. She, herself, didn’t know why she was there, other than that strange compulsion that had made her feet move in the right direction.

Say something, she urged herself. Say something!

But she didn’t—couldn’t. So Carla did instead: “It’s been a while.”

“Uh-huh. It has.”

Carla touched her hair again, her short hair. Hair Raquel didn’t recognize. In fact, she barely recognized Carla at all—she had on bright pink lip gloss and dramatic false eyelashes, a peach cardigan, wedge boots. She looked stylish and older, not the tomboyish little girl Raquel had known.

“You’re a hairdresser now, right?”

“Sort of. I’m a dog groomer.”

“Oh. I thought you were . . . oh.”

“I did do my own hair, though.”

“Really? Wow.”

“It was a bitch, but worth it in the end. I needed a change.” She paused. “So how’s Chicago?”

“It’s good. Amazing, actually.”

“I see you changed your hair, too. I like the cornrows.”

“Yeah, um—I guess I needed a change as well.”

“That’s nice.”

There was a silence. A tense, terrible silence. They used to be able to talk so freely—about anything and everything, from toy dolls to boys to movies to fashion. And now, Raquel could barely form a sentence in her presence.

“Do you want to come in?” Carla asked, jutting her chin in the direction of the Victorian. “We can catch up. I have some red wine I’m dying to get into.”

“Well, I don’t want to impose—”

“It’s fine.” She started toward the Victorian and Raquel followed after. She felt sick to her stomach and racked with anxiety, but in the name of conquering fears and getting closure (or whatever), she supposed it was a good thing.

Inside, Carla’s flat was small and cute, like Roycee itself. She told Raquel to make herself comfortable and Raquel promptly made her way over to Carla’s couch, sitting at the edge of it like she’d need to make a run for the door at any moment. Carla walked into the adjoining kitchen and found that bottle of wine, pouring them each a glass as she made small talk: “There’s a new bookstore opening, so that’s fun, and the video rental place closed recently, but we don’t know what’s going to take over yet . . . I’m hoping for a deli, but who knows.” She brought over their glasses; Raquel took a big sip, hoping to ease some of her nerves.

Carla cleared her throat. “So anyway . . . things are good?”

“Things are great. How about you?”

“Everything’s going well. I mean, do I want to groom dogs forever? Well, no, but it’s fun in the short-term. You know how much I love dogs.”

“Yeah. What’s your ideal long-term job, then?”

“Still figuring that out.” She gave a guilty smile. “I have some ideas, but nothing concrete. You know, not everyone can be as well-organized as you—knowing what you wanted to do with your life by age eight and everything.”

“Oh please, it was not so simple,” Raquel said with a laugh. “And I didn’t figure it out till thirteen, fourteen maybe.”

“That’s still crazy young. I think I wanted to be a fashion designer at that age.” She rolled her eyes. “I might as well have wanted to be an astronaut pirate. In fact, I think the odds of becoming an astronaut pirate are probably better than the odds of becoming a fashion designer.”

“Oh, come on. I think you would’ve been good at that. You could’ve moved to LA or New York . . . landed an apprenticeship with some renowned designer . . . and boom, six months later, you’d have your own fashion line.”  

“God, I wish it were that simple.” She shook her head. “But no, that’s not in the cards for me. And anyway—and I know you think I’m crazy for this—I don’t want to leave Roycee.”


“Because I like it, Raquel,” she snapped. Then, softer: “Sorry. It’s just . . . there’s a lot of great things about Roycee. I feel like you always went out of your way to find fault with it, but it’s a great town.”

“I didn’t have to go out of my way. It’s not exactly multicultural. And it’s small, and stuffy, and too . . . I don’t know, plastic. Disney-like. It isn’t real, it’s not alive like Chicago or New York or San Francisco.”

“Maybe not to you, but it’s always been a great town to me.”

“Well, of course it has,” Raquel said, setting her glass of wine down on the coffee table a little too loudly. “You pass. You can play white girl to the out-of-towners, and biracial, almost-white girl to the locals. You fit in. I never did.”

“Bullshit. Everyone here loved you. You fit in just as well as me. This has nothing do with me passing for white or being biracial. Jesus.”

“It has everything to do with that! You don’t know how it feels to look around and not see a single person in your hometown who looks like you. It was isolating. And just because some of the people—that’s right, some, because if you think I didn’t have to deal with racism, you’re kidding yourself—liked me, that doesn’t change the fact that they couldn’t understand me. I didn’t fit in, I never did. It’s as simple as that.”

“I feel like you’re trying to play victim here, and it’s really unbecoming.”

“Are you kidding me? That’s not what I’m doing at all! God, Carla, just because you pass for a white girl doesn’t mean you have to pretend to be one.”

“I’m not ‘pretending’ to be anything. Whether you like it or not, I’m just as white as I am Puerto Rican.”

“No, apparently you’re more white, because I don’t know any woman of color who’d throw another under the bus this way. You just completely wrote off my feelings about the homogeny in this town, and my experiences with racism, as me playing victim. Don’t you see how awful that is?”

You’re the one who wants to nuke an entire town—one that’s been very good to you—because there are too many white people in it. You’re the one being racist here.”

“Oh my God, Carla, are you kidding me? Firstly, I didn’t say that, and secondly, I’m not being ‘racist’—that’s impossible. You know that’s impossible. At least I thought you did. When did you turn into this?”

“Maybe the day you announced you were leaving for college in two weeks, in Chicago, having never even told me you applied there, much the less were accepted—and then left me here, in this town you hate, just because you had some fantasy of running off to a black utopia that didn’t include me. Well, congratulations, Raquel, you did it. You got your utopia, and your cool new cornrows, and you finally fit in. You only had to sacrifice our friendship to do it. And really, Raquel, is that how little it mattered to you? That you could just move without even telling me until two weeks before, and then criticize me for not moving too when I said I felt hurt?”

“I shouldn’t have come here,” Raquel said, stumbling to her feet. “This was an awful idea.”

“Oh great, so now you’re leaving—again. You don’t even have anything to say for yourself?”

“What can I say? That I’m sorry I left? That I’m sorry that I felt so small here, and so alone, and wanted out? That I’m sorry I’m black and, yes, enjoy being around other black people? Do you want me to say that?”

“That’s not what I meant and you know it.”

“I genuinely don’t. If you want to believe I sold out to be with black people, fine. But I believe you sold out to be with white people, and to fit in with white people, because of this stupid town. That’s what I think, and you just proved it here tonight.”

“Get out.”

“I’m already going,” she said, halfway to the door.

Carla called after her, “You’re never going to escape racism, Raquel! No matter what town you go to. Roycee’s better than most. And if it’s so bad, why would your mother have stayed?”

She slammed the door as she left, furious and indignant. A part of her wanted to cry out of frustration, but she didn’t. Instead, she rolled her shoulders back and started to walk home, fuming as she did. It was just so ignorant. And how could Carla, who’d always displayed a sharp awareness of racism and bigotry and white privilege, possibly be so foolish? So fooled? It boggled Raquel’s mind. And oddly, she felt betrayed by it—her own (former) friend, spouting off like that. She really didn’t know her anymore—at all.

When she got home, her mother was typing away on her laptop. She looked up, her eyes sparkling behind her reading glasses, and arched a brow. “Something wrong?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Raquel mumbled.

“Wow. Just being home again has already brought out the sullen teen in you! I’m impressed.”

“It’s Carla, okay? You know, the person you encouraged me to go see? She’s turned into a bona fide Uncle Tom, and of course she’s still infuriated that I moved to Chicago, of course she is . . .”

“Whoa, whoa, slow down. Uncle Tom? Carla?”

“Yeah. Can you believe it?”

“I can’t. What happened, exactly? And how did you run into Carla?”

“I went to her house.”

“Bold choice.”

“I just had to, I guess. I don’t know. Anyway, I’m not in the mood to recap the whole thing, so if you don’t mind, I’m just going to go—”

“Hold up, you’re not getting off that easy. I want to know everything.”

“I’ll tell you tomorrow, I swear. Right now, I’m exhausted and angry. I need sleep.” She climbed the stairs, her feet dragging. The day’s events spun through her head. Carla wouldn’t leave her mind—she tossed and turned all night, replaying their conversation, and occasionally she wondered if Carla was doing the same.


She had a dream that night, when she finally fell asleep. It was about the last time she saw her father, when she was eleven. The day he disappeared from her life (though, she supposed, he had already been backing away from her for years by that point). In the dream (or nightmare), she’d watched his car fade from view, clutching the stuffed bunny rabbit he’d given her (which she was way too old for, not that he noticed, and not that she cared). She was supposed to be with him for three hours, but he’d only lasted one and a half before telling her he had to get going. Her mother, unaware, was in the neighboring city, getting some Christmas shopping done. Raquel was alone, and frightened. The sky turned dark; she sunk to her knees after running around the empty town, calling for help, and cried.

The dream, of course, was a distorted retelling of events; what had happened was much different.

Her father had indeed left early that day, leaving her alone with nothing more than a stuffed animal. She could walk home, but the house was locked and she didn’t have a key. It would take her mother an hour to get back to Roycee. But instead of collapsing to her knees and crying, she walked to Carla’s home.

She was scared and sad—she was always sad when her father left—and something about that visit had felt chillingly conclusive. She worried, correctly, that it was the last time she’d ever see him. So she’d knocked on Carla’s door with a trembling fist, and when Carla’s mother opened it, she immediately welcomed her inside.

She went straight to Carla’s room, clutching the stuffed rabbit. She told her what happened—and as she did, she started to cry. And Carla had walked over to her wordlessly, and she’d hugged Raquel the way her father hadn’t when he’d left. They stood there, Raquel crying and Carla perfectly silent and still, her arms wrapped around her friend, until the tears stopped and she could breathe again.

“You’re okay,” Carla had whispered. “You’ll be okay.”

“But what if I don’t see him again?” she asked, her voice hoarse.

“You’ll still be okay, Raquel. I promise.”

It had meant so much to her. More than Carla would ever know.

But in the dream, the nightmare, Carla wasn’t there. There was only a vacant lot where her house should’ve been, a big black hole in place of the ground. Absolute, terrifying nothingness.  

Raquel woke up feeling frightened, on the verge of tears. It was obvious what the dream represented, but she brushed the thought away. Carla’s not that girl anymore, she told herself, and I’m not who I was then, either.

And perhaps that was for the best.  


Raquel next woke up to a knock on her door. “Someone’s here to see you,” her mother called.

Reluctantly, she left her bed and put on a robe, slumping down the stairs. She was absurdly tired and grouchy, not in the mood for visitors, but her mother seemed peppy and in good spirits.

“Who is it?” Raquel asked.

“Go see,” was her cryptic response.

She opened the front door. It was Carla—of course it was Carla. She felt the urge to laugh bitterly and slam the door in her face, but she resisted. Instead, she looked at her skeptically and asked what it was she wanted.

“I’m sorry,” Carla said. Then, “Can we go somewhere to talk?”

She considered the proposal for a long, heavy moment before finally nodding. “Down at the creek,” she said. “Let’s go there.”


The creek. Like everywhere else in that town, it brought back a wave of strange memories that seemed from another life, a stranger’s life. Snapshots of her and Carla, barefoot children, wading through the water, their jeans pulled up to their knees, searching for frogs. Carla angrily skipping rocks (or attempting to) after being rejected by her crush, with Raquel attempting to console her. The two standing side by side and breathing in the crisp air in the early morning, the summer before Raquel left for Chicago. She knew it was the end, but Carla hadn’t.

In retrospect, maybe that wasn’t entirely fair of her.

The memories made Raquel feel a bit like a ghost, haunting her former life. There was a strange detachment she felt for it all, coupled with an amazing sense of wonderment and nostalgia. Going down to the creek made her anger toward Carla, while not entirely evaporate, lessen. It was too beautiful there, too clear and serene, to really hold onto that kind of rage.

Carla took a deep breath before speaking. “Do you remember when we were seven, and we came down here and I fell?”


“I was hurt—I scraped my knee and my arm and I was bleeding—and you sat with me in the water while I cried, and waited until I was ready to get up. And then you walked me home. It was so hot—summer—and there were mosquitos out and you got eaten alive, practically.” She laughed. “But you didn’t mind. You wanted to stay with me. You said, ‘I won’t leave you, Carla, I promise.’ That always stuck with me.”

“Me too.”

There was a pause, but it wasn’t awkward. It was nice, comfortable. Familiar.

“I am sorry,” Carla continued. “Really. And I only said those things last night because I knew they’d annoy you. I wanted to get under your skin, because I was mad, and, yeah, I felt betrayed—about everything. But I shouldn’t have acted like that.”

Raquel stepped forward, slipping her toes into the water, her hands in the pockets of her robe. She wiggled her feet around as the water washed over them. “I was kind of an asshole. Five years ago. So I’m sorry, too.”

Carla nodded. She looked down at the water, their reflections. “This is my home. But, you know, I get what you said, about not fitting in here. I felt it, too. I pretend this isn’t true, because I love it here, but it’s not always perfect.”

“Yeah,” Raquel said, and she laughed. “It’s not.”

“Anyway . . . I really just wanted you to know that I’m sorry. And that I didn’t mean what I said last night—obviously you weren’t being racist, and you were right, and I understand why you wouldn’t want to live in a place like this. So.”

Softly, Raquel said, “I should’ve told you. About Chicago. And I should’ve called.”


They stood there in silence a moment. Then Carla, with a sly grin, turned and said, “Want to hunt for frogs? For old times’ sake?”

Raquel wasn’t sure what to say. But then she felt herself nod, and next thing she knew, Carla was rolling up her pants and Raquel was doing the same with her pajama bottoms. It felt so natural, to both of them. Like they did it every day. And they had, when they were younger.

Soon they were thrashing through the water, hopping from slick stone to slick stone, over pebbles, darting around mosquitos. They were laughing uncontrollably, throwing water on each other, getting soaked. For one perfect, brilliant morning, they were ten years old again. They were worry-free children who wanted nothing more in the world than to find a frog in a creek. Raquel didn’t feel like a ghost, or detached from this place and this part of her life—it felt real. It felt like her. And it was everything she’d want it to be.


They parted ways after that, their pants still rolled up. There was a note of finality in their goodbye, though they’d swore they’d keep in touch, as anyone would. But Carla’s eyes sparkled and her smile was sad, and it looked like she knew this goodbye was probably the last. It was the perfect way to end it, splashing around in the creek like the wild kids they had been. They both knew that, so as they headed home in opposite directions, neither felt dissatisfied. It was a fine ending, a happy, content one, and no part of it felt unfinished.

When Raquel got home, wet and still giggling from the experience, her mother was waiting.

“Closure,” she said to her. And she winked.