Hannah and I don’t go skiing, because going skiing was never the point. Instead, we are at her house in Daly City, in her bedroom. We are laying in her bed, but it’s friendly, and not a romantic thing.
There is a cemetery across the street from her house. I can see it through the window. I try not to read anything into it, but of course it’s hard not to right now.
Hannah has not told me what it is she is having tests for, what disease is gnawing at the edges of her body, and I haven’t asked for specifics. If she wants to tell me, she will.
I notice how thin she is, and I try to remember if she’s always been like that, or if this is because of the disease.
It’s hard not to ask.
“I set fire to my kitchen last week,” she says. “Could you smell it when you came in?”
“No,” I say. “How did you do that?”
“Grease fire. I panicked because I’m an idiot and tossed the pan in the sink. Caught the curtains on fire. I’m lucky I didn’t burn the place to the ground. Had to take three showers before I could get the smell out of my hair.”
“You know,” I say, looking around, “when we were in high school, I would have killed to get into your room.”
“You weren’t missing much. Couple of Def Leppard posters. Some pot in a shoebox in the closet. Kid things.”
“Not kid things. Your things. I did have kind of a crush on you back then.”
“Why, Sebastian,” she says, twirling a piece of her hair around her finger. “You’re not thinking about hitting on me here, are you?”
“Oh God, no. That was a long time ago.”
“It was,” she agrees. “And I knew you had a crush on me. It’s not like you did a very good job of hiding it.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was completely suave at all times.”
“You were totally obvious and it’s just because I wasn’t a total bitch back then that I didn’t mess with you about it.”
“You had your moments,” I say.
She rolls onto her side and faces me. “I guess I did, didn’t I?” She watches me without speaking again, and when I become uncomfortable with her gaze, I look over her and out the window at the cemetery again. She knows where I am looking, and says, “I learned to ride a bike over there. No traffic, no steep hills.”
“This isn’t the house you grew up in, is it?” I ask.
“Nah,” she says. “That would be a little strange. We lived five blocks down. The house is still there, but I don’t know who lives there now. Probably still a couple of hamsters and a cat buried in the back yard. Anyway, when I moved back here after the divorce, I wanted something in the old neighborhood, and this was about as close as I could get in my price range.”
“It’s a nice place.”
“Nicer if I don’t burn it down,” she says.
She is quiet again, and I move onto my back, hands beneath my head. I think of her in high school, all short skirts and loose shirts, teased hair and teenage make-up. It’s true I had a crush, but it wasn’t more than that. If it had been, I wouldn’t be in her house now, wouldn’t have seen her off and on over the years. An awkwardness would have grown between us, and it would have been me who would have planted it there. The present I am comfortable with, but the past is littered with snags and holes and tree roots aching to latch around an ankle and pull you down into the dirt.
“I’m glad you’re here,” she says quietly. “I’m not messing with you.”
“I know you’re not,” I say.
“It’s not weird, is it?”
“No. Not at all.”
“Good,” she says. “Because look. This could totally be weird if we let it. We’re in my bed, you know?”
“I’m aware of it, yes.”
“I’m just saying that I’m glad you’re here and we’re not thinking something is going to happen that isn’t.”
“I didn’t think anything was going to happen,” I say.
“I didn’t either,” she says. “And this isn’t a John Cusack movie where it ends up happening anyway.”
“Why John Cusack? Is that something that happened to him a lot in his movies?”
“I don’t know. It’s probably your hair. It looks very John Cusack right now.”
I touch the side of my head. “I just had it cut. Thanks, I think.”
“You’re welcome. Although,” she adds, reaching out and touching my John Cusack hair just above my ear, “if something ever is going to happen, it’ll be in this bed anyway. If it happens.”
“Now you’re just messing with me,” I say.
She laughs and takes her hand away from my hair. “Yeah, I am.” She sits up and swings her legs off the edge of the bed. “Thanks for not asking,” she says, not looking at me.
“It’s not important,” I say, then quickly add, “The knowing, I mean. Obviously it’s important.”
“No,” she says. “It’s not really. It’s just a thing that’s happening.”
“Do you want me to say that you haven’t had the tests yet? That it might not be happening?”
She shakes her head. “I don’t need the tests. I already know.”
I want to touch my hand against her back, and after a moment’s hesitation, I do. She is warm through her thin shirt. “I’m still not asking,” I say.
“That’s why I’m glad you’re here,” she replies.
Hannah doesn’t stand up, and so I leave my palm pressing against her. I can feel her breathing in and out, and she makes a small and quiet sound that I pretend I don’t notice, her shoulders giving a slight shift as the air catches briefly in her throat. The years have slipped away like leaves in the wind, and it’s the seventeen year old girl I knew in high school that I’m lending sympathy to now, the one who lives in a small place in my mind where the colors aren’t muted and thin, but instead are vibrant and thick as springtime honey.