Talia had always been bad at goodbyes. When she was a little girl, she had been squashed into hugs and set down to turn and run, to leave without looking back. When you’re a little kid that’s okay. When she got older, she never learned.
She finished all her finals, turned in the last term paper and went to her last class. Her teachers nodded and waved at her. One of them gave her a hug. He tried to pat her shoulder just as she turned to leave, and he swiped lightly instead at the bare flesh of her back, the skin peeking from her underarm. Mostly she ducked out of their classrooms without a word, just a cool relief that spread through her veins slow and heavy, like honey.
Elizabeth was leaving, transferring to another school across the country, and there was a party on Thursday night. She and Sam went, holding hands tight, knuckles pale on flushed hands. Everyone there was laughing, drinking, singing in low silly voices that clattered and banged together. It was loud, and they couldn’t hear one another talk. Talia got a drink, ginger ale in a plastic cup, and watched the bubbles rise to the top and then pop away. Sam watched her looking at the fizz of her soda, and he sighed. She couldn’t hear him, and she ignored the droop of his hand in hers. She was going away next year, studying in England for both semesters. He was staying.
The music pounded into the air, suddenly and without warning. Talia’s pulse jumped in her throat and she squeezed Sam’s hand. He pulled at her, so she set her cup down and they danced. He held her close, hands low on her back, pulling her sweaty skin to his. She looked over his shoulder. People were all wriggling and jumping, twirling and smiling. Elizabeth grinned from across the room, and crooked a finger at Talia. They met in the middle of the dancing masses and swayed together for a moment. Talia leaned forward to hug Elizabeth, who turned to kiss her cheek. Their clumsy embraces collided, and Elizabeth’s lips touched the soft thin skin under her ear. She let go of the hug, and they swayed for another minute before she went back to Sam.
They were quiet that night. They kissed and clung in the darkness. He was going home the next day, his parents driving all the way to collect him and his stuff. The morning was going to be bare and awkward. Talia knew already. He pressed at her back as they lay in bed, their breathing the only sound in the still room. His hand was draped over her waist, his fingers twined into the space beneath her ribs, light on her skin. They fell asleep like that, barely touching in the heat, closing their eyes against the silence.