On the last day of summer, Cassie and I went to the park to throw pennies in the wishing well. When we were eight years old and newly minted best friends, she had promised to do this with me every year until we graduated. And now we’d made it – high school graduation behind us, college looming ahead – just one set of wishes left to go.
The park was silent at this time of the morning, from the empty playground equipment to the horseback riding trail that curved out of the trees and disappeared back into them. We stopped at the edge of the well, and Cassie turned to me. “You ready?”
I dropped my fist into my right pocket, pinched the two pennies, and rubbed them together. Leaning against the stone ledge of the well, I stared down into the shadows.
“Megan?” Cassie prompted, but I didn’t meet her eyes.
“I remember the first time we did this,” I said. “It was right before third grade started, and I wished that Danny Scott wouldn’t be in our homeroom.”
“Oh, yeah!” Cassie laughed. “But he ended up sitting behind you. And you didn’t mind so much by the end of the year! I thought you were never going to get over him.”
We laughed together at the memory, and I settled onto the edge of the well, breathing in the cool mineral smell of the water far below.
“So…” Cassie prompted.
I looked away.
We looked up at the trail and saw Mrs. Ellsworth, our old riding instructor, out for a morning trail ride. Cassie and I exchanged a glance, and I went to meet her.
“Hi, Mrs. Ellsworth,” I said.
“How are you doing, sweetie?” She shifted in her saddle and reached down to squeeze my hand. “These past few months must have been so hard for you.”
Shrugging, I patted the horse’s neck.
“I know it’s hard losing such a close friend, especially at your age,” she continued. “Why don’t you come by the barn for a ride sometime soon?”
“Sorry, I can’t. I leave for college this weekend.”
“Ah, of course.” She gave me a watery smile. “You’re going to do just fine, Megan. I know Cassie would be proud of you.”
I nodded and turned away, unable to say anything.
Mrs. Ellsworth rode off into the woods, and Cassie and I stood in silence until we were sure she was gone. Finally, I said, “It’s weird, getting used to that.”
Cassie frowned. “What do you mean?”
“People talking about you like that, right in front of you.” I put my hands in my pockets, felt the pennies against my knuckles, and took my hands back out. “I guess I’ll get used to it after a while.”
Cassie didn’t answer. Instead she just looked at me, eyebrows raised, waiting.
I settled on the edge of the well and listened to the geese honking at each other somewhere in the distance. The air was absolutely perfect – it would be too warm later in the day, but right now, the world was exactly what it should be.
The silence stretched on until Cassie finally said, “So… you ready to do this?”
I hopped back up and began to pace along the edge of the well, skimming my fingertips over the cobbled surface. “I was thinking,” I said, “there’s no real reason you can’t come with me to college, right? I mean, we already know you’re not tied to any one place, and it’s not like anyone but me can see you, anyway. We can be roommates, like we always talked about when we were kids.”
“Meg,” Cassie said in that whispery voice she only uses when she’s really worried.
I stopped walking and wrapped my fingers around one of the little roof’s support beams. “I think it would work. You could just stand near me, look over my shoulder, and then when I have time to myself, we can talk about everything we’ve seen.”
“Meg,” Cassie said firmly.
I looked up at her and realized that, for the first time since she died, she wasn’t going to go along with what I wanted to make me feel better.
I felt my face crumple as the pent-up tears broke through at last. Sinking to the grass, I pressed my forehead against the cold stone and just let the sobs come.
When I could breathe again, I looked up to see Cassie kneeling in front of me, her face pinched with concern, a hand hovering near my shoulder but unable to touch it. If I’d kept my eyes closed, it would have been like she wasn’t even there.
“I don’t want you to go,” I said.
“I know. But… I kind of want to, you know?” Her eyes took on a far-away quality. “I mean, don’t get me wrong; I’m glad I got to stay for a while after the accident. But I didn’t realize that you were the one holding me here.”
“No, don’t be. You didn’t do it on purpose. You needed a little more time. But… I’m getting kind of excited to go, you know?” Her face was radiant. “It’s not scary. It’s what I’m meant to do.”
I closed my eyes. “You’re sure if we make our wishes, you’ll be able to cross over?”
“I can’t think of any other unfinished business.” She smiled. “Hey, this might be the first time our wishes really do anything, huh?”
I took the pennies out of my pocket and stared at them. They looked so unremarkable in my palm. When I looked up at Cassie again, we both knew I was ready. “Do you want to go first?” I asked.
We stood up, and I held one penny over the mouth of the well.
“I wish,” my best friend said, “that you would be okay without me.”
I opened my hand, and her coin disappeared into the well. “It didn’t work, you know,” I said, but she took it the way I intended and just smiled.
I looked at her one more time, at that beloved, familiar face that had gotten me through my whole childhood. “I wish you could stay.” I closed my eyes and threw my penny. Far below, it slapped the surface of the water.
When I looked up, there was only grass and trees and sky.
Eva Schultz lives in Aurora, Illinois, where she is a business writer by day and a fiction writer by night. Her work has recently appeared in Dreaming in Fiction, Slippage Lit, and The Free Bundle. She lives with a big orange cat named Gus and enjoys drawing, painting, and collecting typewriters. Visit her online at www.evaschultz.com.
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