When my best friend Bell started dating her boyfriend, she told me that she felt special. He was twenty-one, five years older than she was. In hindsight, her feeling of being special was wrong as she was only sixteen. She was still a child and he was a man. His name was Zachary. He looked like an adult: a little large and bearded. Bell told me that her parents knew Zachary as her “tutor.” Something felt wrong about the situation. But at that age, wrong things often felt fun and exciting. Their relationship ended quietly. Suddenly Zachary no longer came after school to pick Bell up. His name slowly fizzled out of conversation. It was as if he had just become some vague memory that I could not tell existed or not.
Zachary continued to follow most of us on social media. Every now and then, he would like a picture I posted. I would occasionally like his pictures too. Later, I found him to be annoying. I wanted to unfollow him. Bell told me not to.
At a party, Bell asked me to go outside with her. As we walked out, I realized that she looked older than she actually was. With makeup, she didn’t look her age. It was night. Bell leaned against the wall, under a streetlight. We had both been vaping but she looked especially fitting, as if she was a movie star who would wear red lipstick and dark sunglasses. Back inside the house was the party. Inside the party was Bell’s new boyfriend. And inside Bell’s new boyfriend, I didn’t know. I didn’t know if he carried any longevity in him. I didn’t think Bell knew either. But I didn’t think she cared.
“Sometimes, I think I miss people who don’t need to be missed,” she said.
“Like?” I asked.
“Anyone who has hurt me,” she said. “People who hurt me have always left me wondering.”
I don’t remember what more we talked about that night. We went back inside the party where I noticed Bell seemed to have returned to her normal self. Some weeks after the party, Bell broke up with her boyfriend.
Bell and I went to the café one day after school. We talked but the main point of discussion was the new boy Bell liked.
As she talked, I opened my Instagram. Zachary had posted. It was a shirtless selfie but he was unnaturally thin. I could count his ribs. His jaw was sharp. His arms looked brittle. I couldn’t take my eyes off the picture. Bell snatched the phone from me. For a moment there was silence. Then, she burst out laughing