Sarah is splashing me in the hotel pool. We can't swim, so we stay here in the shallow end, in the blue, blue water. We don't go in the ocean. She has a pink bathing suit with ruffles, and we are best friends. One morning at the pool her parents are there without her, stretched out on pool chairs. Food poisoning, they say, and I don't see her again. Weeks after I get home, there's a postcard from Canada signed with her name. I keep it in a box on the high shelf in my closet, and sometimes I take it down and look at the stamp and read her name.
Caroline is wearing jeans with legs as wide as skirts, but the waist hugs her hips, and she has on an orange t-shirt, and her long hair is falling in waves down her back. She's standing in the door of our camp cabin with her hand on the wall, the setting sun in her face so she blurs into a silhouette, and beyond her are the trees and the lake, also coated in golden light, and she's so beautiful.
Mary Joe tells me her ancestors left their treasure here, under the rope swing in the playground, and I believe her. She shows me where to dig, her straight blonde hair swinging past her face, she's grinning. We dig for days, a pit that gets nowhere. She says maybe she forgot the place, maybe they buried it somewhere else. We walk in front of empty camp cabins and shout at them, our voices echoing back. She leans down to me and tells me the ghost story again, and I imagine the ghost is behind us, step-dragging his way down the path. Her head is close to mine. She's taller than I am, and warm, and blooming, and worldly.
Alexis doesn't shave her legs, though all the other girls I know started this year. I don't shave mine either. I'm not allowed. I'm stretched out on the floor and she kneels at my head, rubs her fingers on my temples. I close my eyes. She says, you're walking through the forest when the devil appears. He takes his pitchfork and scratches your back with it, scratches and scratches and scratches on your back, scratches and scratches and scratches. I sit up, and she lifts the back of my shirt, and there are red lines on my skin, running over my spine. The other girls crowd around to look, and we shiver in delicious fear.
Megan and I stand on a drainpipe over the creek at the park. Her eyes are ringed in liner, her eyelashes caked in mascara, dark as the curly hair on her head, so that her blue eyes shine that much brighter in her face, her freckles stand out that much more on her pale skin. She has silver hoop earrings all in a row in both ears. She walks along the drain-pipe, arms out, and tells me that she just has to tell her mother what to do sometimes. I am in awe. She is fearless.
Annie folds down the waist of her pajama shorts and peels back the bandage to show me her scar. It's long and raised and the skin is pink and raw. She lets herself fall back on the bed in the small bedroom she shares with her twin. I've never seen her without her twin before. They both have long, tanned legs and arms. They are beauty queens. But now their bodies are not the same. She's missing something her sister has. I sit close to her on the bed, and she talks to me like we've always been friends, and I don't remind her that it isn't true.
Manoelita has glasses and long sleek hair that falls all the way down her back, and when she speaks Portuguese it's the most beautiful thing. We sit at a table in the coconut stand on the beach in Porto de Galinhas, surrounded by tall tan boys and girls with shining wavy hair and she is in the middle of them, laughing and putting her hand on the arm of the boy next to her. She takes the pink straw from my coconut and folds it into a flower and hands it back to me.
Danielle comes into our dorm room and collapses on a chair. She lifts up her shirt and rubs a hand on her flat, tanned stomach. Oh, she says, I'm feeling so fat today. She smiles at us, you know how that is, right? She has dark pixie hair, and a slim body and dimples. She's studying to be a doctor. She leaves condoms in her toiletries bag in the bathroom. Sometimes I can hear her through the wall, having sex with her boyfriend in the shower, crying out. It's always her voice and never his.
Jamie stands in front of the bathroom mirror and spreads shaving cream on her lip, and then calmly shaves it off. She is surprised that I am surprised by this. Don't you do it, she asks, don't most girls? She is unashamed, and to me it is incredibly daring, wildly brave. If there's something you don't like about yourself, she says, something holding you back, just change it. Be who you want to be.
Penny leans against the stone wall, one block up from our school, and reads aloud from the stack of papers in her hands. I stare down at the cobbled street of the Rue St. Jacques, and then back up at her. She is wearing black leggings and a too big flannel over a tank top. She is tiny, with short blonde hair, and a mole beside her mouth, and wide dark eyes. This is the first real conversation we've had. She speaks only when she needs to, but she smiles a lot, and she smokes effortlessly; looks gorgeous doing it. She reads in a low voice, husky smooth, tempered by her British accent. "Is it okay?" she asks, when she's finished reading. "Do you think it's good?" I nod seriously, calmly. But I think she's perfect.
Leanna Moxley is a writer and graduate student in Portland, Oregon.