(Author's note: completely autobiographical. All that's left to be said is, I should have posted this sooner – happy belated Sweet Sixteen! ~not Ross)

Once upon a time,

I sat on the doorstep when the girl facing me had her dimpled hands to herself in her lap. I dreamed about getting light-up shoes. You didn't wear glasses yet. We trekked to the Big Water, back when those rocks were bigger, like skyscrapers or the top of a ladder, when they came up to the tails of my daddy's plaid shirt. I wouldn't sing that song alone – neither would you, so we sang it together, and everyone clapped. You gave me an orange shirt for my birthday. You took me on a journey through your back yard, right to your playhouse, and we made berry soup, jam. Don't eat it. Your teddy bears lived in a cardboard house, and we made puppet shows. When the tent sagged in your room, and you tried to calm my nerves as the Hello Kitty clock counted minutes by an empty bed. Wishing you were sleepy, wishing I could be. We ran on the playground at church. We fed moon muffins to the race cars in thirds.

You told me about North Carolina. I thought you were kidding. I hoped so.

At the party, you gave me a little blue clothespin. I still have that little blue clothespin. Lots of people were there on the gray linoleum that day; I don't remember much. My mom drove me to your house and there were boxes everywhere, lots of empty white space. You gave me green and yellow foam or chips, food for my giant stuffed bear, in a little plastic ketchup bowl. Your white bookshelf now sits in my room because you couldn't take it so far with you.

A year. You sent me letters talking about a boy who spoke Albanian, and I wondered what Albanian was. Then we drove up to your new house, a million and two miles away, #10, in our old green van. I had a drawing taped to the armrest. The neighborhood was nice with two girls in a tree across the street. It's like no time passed. There are woods behind your house, it was a big house, bigger when I could almost reach the top of the car, but we weren't allowed to go far into the trees. It was dark in the hole in your wall, and it'd been a year, but I still got scared. I slept with my parents tonight. It rained in the morning, and all three of us fit into one plastic poncho – you and Katie in the arms. Unfortunate Events kept us company in the week, and we had to switch seats that time you got water in your ear. My legs reached further than yours, your hair reached longer than mine. Good things end.

Soon you were back, your mom with you, and you made the first cut when we destroyed the cow eyeball. The junior-highers looked at us like aliens – they seemed huge to me. We and Emily and Jessica had a tea party in my back yard. The Stony Sea was settled, you tried to help me conquer my fear of bees, but it didn't work. I broke your watch. You were angry, but I gave you mine because I never wore it anyway, and you organized my bedroom. Good things end.

Long years passed – five long years passed. In January, we started talking with the world-wide internet, and we started those plans, saved our money. You babysat. Your birthday passed. I hoarded. We researched, bought tickets, daydreamed.

I'm sitting in the same spot now as when I saw you through the window at the front door – you were wearing jeans even though it was hot. You'd just gotten your braces off; it was almost my birthday. You took pictures of the old town, looked at how things had changed. We talked till 5 one morning and waded in the river and swung in the coolest tree in the world, days quickly passing. You came this close to skiing, but it's hard. My cousins love you. It almost rained at the concert; we both wore plaid. You rode on my back and took videos – I still won't listen to them because you can hear me belting choruses unpleasantly as strobes flash and fire flares on the stage. We wished it would last forever, distorted guitars blaring in our ears and his voice swirling in between the smoke and fog. Today when someone asked my favorite memory, I gave that moment as Jen rained down on her drums like fog rained down on us, as you made me dance, as I held you on my back. I thought it couldn't get better. But it did – it did when we saw the black and chains and makeup at the gas station, ripped vest and skulls on the back. Without your hands pushing on my shoulders, I would sit here now wishing I'd had the guts to talk to him, my Hero. 3 a.m. and you're wishing me happy 15 as I fall into bed. You lived my greatest moments.

Good things end.

I didn't cry – I never cry. I think you cried, and my mom cried, and we watched you pull your suitcase up the stairs until we couldn't see you anymore. The airport people would be nice to you. You texted me your safety, and we both write. Write more, write more often, let me see your writing, show other people your writing.

We'll scheme again, I'm sure, scheme some way to meet again before we're off and broke and studying till dawn. All I can say is we'd better.

For the meantime, here are closing words, final words: happy Sweet Sixteen, Sarah Sunshine, I love you right down to the bottom of my spleen (and maybe even beyond, but we wouldn't want to use clichés!).