A Sense of the Infinite - Hilary T. Smith

1

ON THE FIRST DAY OF NOE, the raspberries are always ripe. The sprinkler makes a gentle phut-phut-phut in the backyard, spraying misty rainbows over the grass. When I hear Noe’s footsteps on the gravel, I get up from the computer and rush down the stairs. I catch the first glimpse of her out the window: Noe striding up the driveway, feet wedged into flimsy sandals, a neon-pink Band-Aid on her knee, a flossy bracelet, or several, piling up on her wrists like offerings on a shrine. I burst through the door, her name rushing out of my mouth. We collide in a spinning hug, and for those seconds we become a dervish twirling as one body on the gravel.

“Annabeth!” she sings.

“Noe!” I squeal.

And we hurry down the street without breaking contact for a second, as if our bodies have as much to say to each other as we do. We walk, and she tells me about her summer teaching back flips to the ponytailed nine-year-olds of Camp Qualla Hoo Hoo, the counselor intrigues and minor maimings. We cut across the soccer field, and I tell her about my summer scooping ice cream at the Botanical Gardens—the lady off the tour bus who got trapped in a bathroom stall, the boy who got a beesting on his tongue and almost died. We thread our way through the crowded school parking lot and trade rumors about the upcoming year, whether it was true that Mr. Harrison and Ms. Bean were getting married, if they were really putting a frozen-yogurt machine in the cafeteria.

We sit on the bleachers and pull out Noe’s phone to watch the circus videos she wants to show me and listen to the music she’s planning to use for her latest gymnastics routine.

We talk about all the things we’re going to do when we’re eighteen: save up and travel to Paris, get matching dandelion tattoos, open a restaurant where the food is sold by the ounce and eaten with tiny silver spoons.

Her friendship was a jewel I guarded like a dragon, keeping it always in the crook of my hand.

I didn’t know who I would be without the shape of it pressing into my palm, without its cool glitter to light my way.

It was the first day of senior year, and Noe was striding up my driveway.

“Noe!” I called.

“Annabeth!” she screamed.

My outstretched arms found hers, and I was home.

2

MY SCHOOL, E. O. JAMES, SAT at an intersection across from a Burger King, an EasyCuts hair salon, and a funeral parlor. There was a girl in my grade whose parents owned the funeral parlor; every year on Career Day, her dad gave the same jokey speech about the perks of being a mortician. I wasn’t sure why they kept bringing him back. By the time we’d graduated college and were ready to consider such career paths, technology would have advanced such that most people would probably be turned into nanopellets and shot into outer space.

The first day of school wasn’t really school, more like a cut-rate carnival that got more exhausting and pointless every year. In the morning, they made us play team-building games on the soccer fields. The team-building games largely consisted of throwing basketballs at people you despised. Occasionally, you were also supposed to capture a flag or form a human pyramid; I never figured out when or why.

After the team-building games, there was an all-school barbecue where teachers who would stare past you with glazed eyes for the rest of the year smiled and handed you an Oscar Mayer wiener instead.

After the barbecue, there was a motivational speaker,