I wouldn’t ask her to name one after me, even though it was all I wanted. One of two things I wanted, and the second was her lips – anywhere on my skin.
Kisses heal the hurt; isn’t that what they taught us?
“These are my favorites,” Amber said, but she didn’t have to say it. They were the only rocks swaddled in wrapping paper, and she held one out to me, the sparkling flat of it resting in the careful platform of her two palms.
Water impregnated with chemicals, rich in minerals, she continued, and I wondered why she was talking about water, but mostly I wondered if she knew I had known her name since elementary school, watched her since middle school, and to find her in college felt more miraculous that any crystal formation.
“You can hold it.” The rock – geode – was offered to me, but I did not want to take it. She held the flat slice of chemical blue crystal more carefully than I had ever held anything.
Watching her hold out these rocks to me, I wished that I had talked to Amber before. Before today. Before the summer. Before the speeding car and my little sister, running. I wished I had talked to Amber the first time I noticed her, back in third grade show-and-tell when she’d smiled wide at the bright crystals in her hands even though some of the kids laughed at her for collecting rocks. I wished I could have asked her how to hold something so gently, so that I’d have known how to reach out, so that I’d have known how to take my sister’s hand when I had the chance.
She had always liked to run. “What are you running from?” I’d asked her, that day last summer, while I’d stretched my legs across the weeds that I was meant to be pulling.
“Does it have a name?” I asked Amber. The other rocks did. The less special ones. Clunky, misshapen lumps that only revealed the side worth anything if turned over. Not the rock in Amber’s palm, nor the three left on the wrapping paper. It was Christmas wrapping paper. Red with pearl snowflakes, even though it was the thick of August. I could feel the crisp shadow of expiring sun on my outstretched legs until a peal of laughter from outside the room reminded me that I was sitting against the dorm room bed of the girl I’d always wished would notice me, back when I could spare my wishes on such simple things.
I searched in Amber’s eyes for the sympathy I’d collected from everyone back home, but instead I saw only wonder at this rock she held, like it was something precious, something alive, something to be kept safe in the flimsy swaddle of Christmas wrapping paper.
Her eyes were brown. Like dirt, the kind that packed together into sedimentary rocks, which sometimes hoarded air bubbles in the empty spaces of their chests so that something beautiful could grow.
If I asked her to name this rock after me, she would. She had texted me to come over, after all, and from what I knew, we weren’t friends. To me, she was just the girl who smiled at rocks, who left me wondering how it would feel, to be smiled at like that. And to her, I was just the boy from grade school who happened to go to the same college.
“Go on,” Amber said, hands moving an inch towards me. “It will help.”
Help what? It was a goddamn rock. I lifted my palms to match hers, lifelines-up like we were showing off how much time we had. The rock slipped against the sweat of my skin.
It was smooth, warm from her heat, a kiss falling along the creases of my palms.
“I know they’re just rocks,” she said, but at first I thought I had said it.
My fingers flinched, and the rock trembled against my fingerprints.
“But pretending they’re something more helps.”
I pretended it was a heart. Small, warmth cooling, turning blue from lack of oxygen. Did hearts do that? I didn’t know. In my head, it didn’t matter. I watched the heart harden, so tiny it could fit into a rabbit’s chest, like the ones that ran, quick, quick, across our front lawn, sometimes darting into the road without warning, without any time to stop them.
“Will,” Amber said suddenly – sudden as the flash of metal on sun-kissed skin, but not nearly as loud – and I didn’t know if she was finally naming the rock I held, or just saying my name to fill the hollow of our silence.
Written by: Danielle Dyal
Photograph by: Sophie Stuart