We crept through the worn-down shed and leap-frogged
across the baked grass, twigs imprinted on fingers. I bested you
in the race, nothing new, to win grubby, red-crossed palms.
You gripped them until only your nails’ pale crescent moons remained.
You cracked my knuckles like Kit Kats, all at once, no mercy,
and asked if it hurt. I said no and asked about your mom
who didn’t leave her room anymore. You said she was fine and do
not worry. I pulled hard on your braid, and you snatched up
another finger like it was a glow stick on a rack. We both lied.
Years after, I wondered if the loneliness ever ate you—one bite.
My ring finger was the same as yours and was crooked like yours
and shared rings with yours: class rings, Ring Pops, promise
rings. You promised under the bleachers in fifth grade, remember,
so why would you fit your engagement ring on our finger?
Running in Vienna on cobblestones, trying not to get pitched
off course like my life had, I saw coarse brown strands that could have
belonged to two pigtails from Ohio. My leg muscles pulsed even quicker,
in tandem with my mind, racing forth to yank that familiar hair,
to follow you like I never did before. (We had never been two people.)
Two hands, same ring finger. Suddenly, you were a wrinkled nun.
You were a cynical nurse. You were a fresh-faced barista. You were
a hooded woman in sunglasses, westbound. You were everywhere.
Did it even matter? To each other, we were both lost.
Laya Reddy is a rising junior at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois. She has been recognized by the National Scholastic Arts & Writing Awards, and other works of her are forthcoming in Hypernova Lit Magazine. She enjoys munching on bell peppers and devouring Sylvia Plath's poetry.