As I sit with Kaliegh at the Corner Bakery, I glance at my watch. It read 8:38 PM. I was eight minutes late and counting. I glanced back up and Kaleigh was still rambling about her story, something about being at the mall and losing her wallet. I stopped listening halfway through. At this point I’m not sure whether Kayleigh was talking to me, to Vivian, or both, but I was sure I would have to sit here for another forty five minutes. Kaliegh paused to drink some water and I saw this as my chance and made an excuse that I needed to head home to finish up my paper for Chemistry. I headed out into the cold. 

I took a deep breath. My shoulders relaxed, and my body cooled down. I felt calm for the first time in a week. I continued down Main Street and instead of turning left to go home, I turned right: the road to the graveyard. My eyes were on my feet the whole way there.  When I looked up until I saw her name–“E.S.T”–on the tombstone. For a long time, I stared at the stone and sat in silence.

“Eight years. Wow. And here I was thinking you were going to outlive me.” I chuckled to myself. Chuckling turned into laughter, and laughter turned into tears. Soon I was sobbing. 

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I wish we had more time,” I say over and over again. The night grew colder, and I sobbed harder until I felt a soft breeze almost like a sign of her telling me to go home. I wipe my tears and check my watch. It still reads 8:38 PM. The battery is probably dead. I’ll have to get it fixed sometime over the weekend assuming I have enough money. I left the graveyard and heard the rhythmic thumping of my feet on the pavement as I made my way home. 

While walking in the bitter cold, my mind started to wander. I thought about the letters on the grave. E.S.T, my best friend’s initials. She always said that she wanted her initials on her grave instead of her real name. She said that she hated her name, but I thought her name was beautiful. The E stood for Esmeralda, the S for Sherlock, and T for Tabitha. Esmeralda Sherlock Tabitha, a girl loved by everyone. Often, you could see her running around the hallways in high school or dancing in the neighborhood. She had green eyes and poofy curly black hair. If I closed my eyes and wished really hard, I could still hear her laugh. She seemed perfect, but at least just on the outside.

The first time I realized that she also had her flaws was when I heard her crying in the stairwell in 5th grade. I was on a bathroom break in math class and I heard a soft sound from the bottom of the stairs. Out of curiosity, I wandered down and saw Esmeralda there. I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t good with people, or talking, especially with people who were good at talking. I sat next to her. She didn’t notice me at first, but when she turned towards me I looked into her big green eyes and noticed something for the first time. Little golden specks were dancing around in her eyes like glimmers of sunlight in a green forest, or more like a rainforest. From what I could tell she had been crying for a long time. Her shirt was drenched. I don’t remember what I said exactly, but it was something along the lines of, “Why are you sad?” She answered, and I was shocked. I didn’t understand how someone could put on such a happy act with that on their shoulder. 

Suddenly, I saw something that pulled me out of my daydream. I reached into my bag and kept one hand on my pepper spray. I saw a man leaning against the wall and staring right at me. He had a cigarette in his mouth that had gone out. He stood still, and not a hair on him moved. I would’ve thought he was dead if he wasn’t standing. I scurried past him giving a quick glance behind my shoulder. He stayed in the exact same position, so he was probably waiting or looking at something else. Either way, I ran back to my apartment.

I got inside and closed the door softly. Then, I locked the door and slid to the ground. I closed my eyes and there was a thumping in my head. I got up, headed to the kitchen, threw my coat on the sofa, turned on the sink and let the water run and stuck my wrist under. It calmed me. I headed to the bathroom, my eyes were swollen and red. I looked like Rudolph, but with red eyes. No wonder the man outside was staring at me. I stared in the mirror and cleaned myself up a bit and then I laughed. Oh, how pathetic I looked, crying over my dead friend, with a bank account nearing dangerously close to zero, and a struggling GPA. I was trying, but no matter how hard I worked, no matter how much I pushed myself, the results were still the same. Nothing changed and I was sick of it. Everyone around me was improving  but I was in the exact same place.Everyone keeps on saying “Celebrate the small things too!”, but what they don’t see is that celebrating the small things is really just false hope.

I wondered whether I was just weak, or if there was just too much. I was probably just too weak–and if everyone else could do it and more why couldn’t I? 

“Oh, the troubles of being a college student.” I muttered to myself.

I took a deep breath and sat down at my living room table. I still did have to write my chemistry paper. Begrudgingly, I opened my laptop. I glanced at the time, “8:38 PM.” 8:38? I scrambled to the sofa and pulled my phone out of my coat. 8:38. I looked at the clock, 8:38, the oven, 8:38. Running to my bedroom, I grabbed the clock. Sure enough, 8:38 PM. Tentatively, I wandered to my window with shaky hands pulled back the curtain. Everyone on the street was frozen in time. One family looked like they were laughing with their young daughter. The man in front of them was looking at his watch, no doubt in a rush to get somewhere. In front of the man was a couple: two girls were in the middle of embracing each other. My breath still fogged on the window against the cold air. I took a step back from the window, threw my coat back on, and ran back to Corner Bakery. Sure enough, Kaliegh and Vivian were there in the restaurant. Vivian had one hand up as if she was about to wave the waiter over for the check. 

I stood on the sidewalk of a busy intersection, or well, a paused intersection. Tentatively, I made my way to the middle. People were frozen in place walking, on the phone, and waiting for the green light. I looked up, and a little girl with green eyes and black hair stood at the window of an apartment no doubt looking down at the cars and the people. Her dad was behind her, holding up what looked like math homework that she had drawn on. I took in the sight, everyone here had a story, has a story. Everyone was frozen in time… except me. Suddenly everything clicked into place, I sprinted down Main Street and to the graveyard. There stood a girl, with big green eyes and black poofy hair. 

“Esmeralda?” I whispered. 

The girl rolled her eyes and responded with, “You know I hate that name.” 

I smiled as tears rolled down my cheeks. 

“Glad to see you’re better.” 

For a split second I was confused, but then I remembered. Last time Esmeralda saw me, I was hospitalized with stage three colon cancer. Three weeks later, I made a miraculous recovery, but I was told that Esmeralda died in a mysterious car crash. “Mysterious” because her body was never found. I gasped, with a crushing realization of who was standing in front of me. I rushed to her trying to grab and hug her, but I fell right through her. In my confusion I looked up at her, she looked very solid. 

“Why?” I asked, attempting to reach for her again, catching nothing but the cold night’s air. She looked down at me with her forest green eyes. Within them I saw something that looked suspiciously like pity. 

“I’m not real.” She said simply. Sending me spiraling into anger, confusion, and grief, I replied, “What do you mean you’re not real? I remember you! We played together, cried together, and-”

“Don’t be so dramatic,” she said, “I’m not here, but I am in here.” She pointed to my head and my heart. 

“Uh- why are you here? Why has time stopped? Or- uh frozen?” 

“Wow. Eight years later and you’re still incapable of speech.” She laughed and attempted to playfully push me like she did when we were kids. Instead, her hand went right through me. She frowned. “I’m here because you wished it so, and time has stopped also because you wished it so.”

“I wishe- Oh, OH. oh?”

“Come sit with me, I know you’ve been going through a hard time.” she said as she sat down on a stone coffin.

“Uhm, are we allowe-” 

“Yes. Now sit.”

“Ok, still bossy I see.” 

She rolled her eyes.

“Why are you sad?” I smiled, knowing that she just said to me what I said to her all those years ago. 

I woke up to blinding light and light snow around me. Getting a hold of my bearings and looking around for Esmeralda, I realized I was in the graveyard. I could hear the cars and city sounds in the background. It was Christmas day, I looked up at the sky, if I looked closely enough I could see gold specks, like a glimmer of sunlight in a green forest. 

The End