Isabelle Chin

Planets are a little like dogs: they all belong to the same general group, but they look so different you can’t always tell. If Jen Li was a star in some distant galaxy, I know she’d be some sort of sun. I think I would settle for being the earth, stuck in her magnetic orbit–though I know it would be presumptuous to think I could handle housing that many people. I met Jen in the parking lot of a Jewel Osco on the first day of high school after I had moved to a small midwestern town. The first thing I noticed was her unruly black hair which seemed so full and large I was certain I could drown in it. I figured the milk in my hand must have been curdling out of amazement or fear or curiosity. Jen was perched on the edge of her green jeep, peering down at me from a precarious position. She whistled. “You’re new. Emilia, right?” I hadn’t noticed her at school earlier that day, and we didn’t have any classes together so I was confused as to how she knew me. I wouldn’t make that mistake again–she was a sweeping tornado of a person that made you feel like you were the only one in the eye of the storm. I nodded cautiously. Her long, slender fingers covered with handmade rings and bright-green painted nails pointed at my chest.

“You. Me. Sal. Tomorrow. Picnic.” I froze, physically unable to move from the weight of her demand and her familiar yet unapproachable brown eyes. I forced out a squeaky little “yeah” and tried to stand as straight as possible while she tapped her phone number into my contacts. “We’ll see you tomorrow. I’ll text you the address.” I leaned in to get another whiff of her perfume. “Oh and Emilia?” It smelled like pears and ash. “Don’t be late.”

Sal was by no means a simple moon in Jen’s galaxy. He was in his own orbit, hurtling around himself at dangerous speeds. We lounged in the Monrose gardens the next day on a couple of reusable bags, Sal leaning against Jen. “Okay no, listen. You would think that he’d be great in bed, but sometimes he just sits there like a dog waiting to be fed. Ugh so creepy. I guess I love him though or whatever.” Sal was rehashing last weekend’s activities, or more specifically, his on again, off again boyfriend Kade. Jen cradled Sal’s head gently in her green lap, patting his cheek in comfort. “There, there young grasshopper, you have much to learn. Men suck.” Sal and I nodded in agreement. Jen continued, “And sometimes they sit like dogs. And sometimes you mess up and fall in love with them. But that’s okay, because that’s why we’re gonna get married. So you don’t ever have to settle for a Kade.” Sal nodded, pouting theatrically. I felt like I was interrupting something sacred, like I wasn’t supposed to see Jen in this tender almost motherly light. There was something untouchable about Jen and Sal together–it was as if they were a painting in an art exhibit, and no matter how close I pressed my face to the canvas, I could never enter their world. “And Emilia here can be our maid of honor!” Jen held a fake microphone to my face, “How do you feel being the guest of the evening for America’s first platonic husband and wife?” My heart leapt at this dream scenario and I smiled toothily. “Pretty damn good.” We had a mock wedding ceremony after that with Jen acting as herself, the priest, her parents, and the guests. We closed out the day with a reception, complete with an eight course meal of acorns and dandelions. We jumped to a Mr. Brightside only we could hear and I felt dizzy not only from the many circles I twirled but from an intense rush of the most peculiar feeling. I stared at Jen and Sal, dancing as if they were one fluid line, melding and meshing into the shape of themselves fifteen years later, and was possessed with this insatiable hunger for more, more of Jen and Sal, more of whatever feeling I was drunk off of, more of this lust to be unbearably close–indistinguishably close, even if it meant being burnt in proximity.

The next time I saw Jen was at her birthday party rager which was thrown at her house– a gorgeous behemoth of modern architecture with the tallest windows I had ever seen in my life. That night, the room was filled with gaping pieces of black sky. I was squished next to Sal and ten other people on Jen’s massive living room couch, watching Jen dance a duet with her green birthday girl sash on the kitchen counter. Someone did a mock interview, asking what she loved the most about herself. Jen’s eyes glittered in the light and a wisp of her breathing hair fell into her immaculate face. “The hell and fire in me” she replied. “They came as a set.” Sal leaned over to me and whispered that Jen actually stole that line from Maureen O’Hara. I didn’t know who that was, and either way I didn’t feel like that took anything away from the utter conviction that seemed to fall from Jen’s shimmering lips. I felt that indescribable feeling rising up in me again, and I wanted to dance. I climbed up on the table next to Jen and began moving myself the way I saw the manic pixie dream girl dance in coming of age movies, arms waving and circling myself. Jen grabbed my hands and we stumbled in time together, feeling the warm bodies surrounding us. Her eyes drifted over me, flitting to her guests on the ground floor instead. I studied her porcelain face, her long eyelashes, her viscerally delicate face and was overcome with an intense sadness. I couldn’t figure out if I wanted to kiss her, hug her, or kick her so I settled for holding her hands and dancing. I wanted to scream, “Look at me!” but I screamed the lyrics to Fergalicious instead. Then, I heard a light tapping and noticed little white flakes of snow staining the windows. Suddenly, splash after splash sounded and we realized everyone was jumping in the pool outside. Sal arrived to piggyback carry Jen on his back, and she giggled hysterically as he threw her into the pool,  screaming as he jumped in soon after. I lingered at the edge of the pool, watching their beautiful bodies and faces twist and morph. I could feel the sting of snow hitting my bare skin. “Emilia!” Jen and Sal beckoned me to join them in their frosty bath. I hesitated, feeling that familiar touch of grief and distance. “C’mon girl! Get your ass over here!” I stepped slowly towards the pulsing blue and jumped. The chilly water prickled against my skin, but I was soon enveloped by four warm arms and everything was forgotten. I closed my eyes and smiled, letting myself be cradled by Jen and Sal. I couldn’t feel a single snowflake for the rest of the night.

Walking home in damp clothes when it was snowing turned out not to be the wisest decision I realized after waking up with a nasty cough. That cough turned into a sinus infection which caused one ear to clog up, technically rendering me half deaf. Jen invited me over after school one day to hangout which is how I found myself standing outside the Li’s monstrously large household, glass windows towering over me. The front door beeped and slowly swung open to reveal a grim-looking Jen. Her wild hair was glossy and straight and tied up in a harsh ponytail. I heard someone speaking Chinese from inside to which Jen yelled back, “Just a friend!” Jen led me upstairs, her back stuck straight in an unfaltering line. I thought back to the Jen who flitted around from guest to guest, charming, entertaining, wild, untouchable, and realized I didn’t recognize this new stranger who answered the door. Jen’s room was, to my surprise, not green. In fact, there wasn’t a speck of color anywhere in the room–the walls were bare. She jumped on the bed and patted the space next to her. “So how’s Sal?” I offered in a friendly tone. “Sal is Sal, you know. He’s in one of his inevitable Kade hate stages but I’m sure they’ll be all cuddled up next week.” I lay on my back, feeling a beat of internal glee that I was lucky enough to see Jen’s room, to see the pieces of the mosaic that made her so captivating to me. Jen turned to face me. It wasn’t the first time I was this close to her, but it was the first time I noticed the light dusting of freckles that constellated across her nose. My heart lurched and my breath hitched in anticipation. “I’m moving.” With those two words, I felt the wave engulf me. I wasn’t even sure if I heard her correctly, because she had spoken so quietly, and I had still not yet fully recovered my hearing. I could feel the room spinning, or it was me who was spinning, either way I felt possessed by a tiny bud of rage that swelled rapidly until it threatened to burst through the center of my chest. “What? How could you not tell me?” Her eyes crinkled with confusion. “I’m telling you now. Why are you so worked up over this? Wait, are you mad or something?” We were both standing now. It burst, right through the center of my chest where Jen had first pointed her green fingernail and it was too late to take anything back. “I thought we were friends! I thought I was in!” I could feel the train derailing but there was nothing I could do but see it through to the end of the crash. I continued, “I–I even thought I loved you!” The big one was out. I wished I could stuff my mouth with a sock, or at the very least stuff the words back into my mouth, but it was too late. Jen’s friendly, worried, experienced eyes widened in disbelief. “Emilia…what are you talking about? I mean, I invited you to a few things because you seem nice and you’re new to town but dude, I don’t even know you.” I blinked stupidly, frantically searching her beautiful face for a sign that this was a joke. “Then why did you even invite me over?” She shook her head, “Emilia, I felt like you weren’t really trying to get to know anyone else, and I didn’t want you to be confused when all of a sudden I stopped showing up to school.” My heart dropped and I felt my stomach seize with panic. All of those times I thought I was finally a member of her chosen few, the attempts at trying to blend into her colorful life when I was really just an outsider peering into her distant life. I left as quickly as I could then, shuffling my feet in a sad state of embarrassment. She didn’t call after me.

Jen ended up moving to California, and the palm trees and sunny beaches on her social media looked like they were handcrafted solely for her inevitable arrival. I barely talked to Sal anymore, and when we did, he treated me like a stray dog and mentioned getting coffee sometime even though he never looked me in the eye when he said it. I haven’t found another Jen, and I hope I never do. But sometimes, whenever the night sky melted snowflakes, I liked to imagine myself inside a painting. They’re in a meadow not unlike the one in Monrose gardens, Jen, Sal, and me. The me in the painting is the one playing the priest this time in the fake wedding. Jen and Sal laugh at her antics as she hands them her handmade flower crowns. She lays down on the ground, not staring at Jen or Sal or anyone else but the sky, watching the clouds pass by. She wishes for many more perfect days like this. She knows already it won’t be her last.

Isabelle Chin is a junior studying violin and communication studies. In her free time, she enjoys yelp reviewing, listening to music, and being unhinged.