This is almost word-for-image a dream I had just before I woke up this morning. I didn't have to work at this story at all, somehow. It just leapt into my head. I wrote it down late at night after I turned it over in my head all day, and now looking at it again as I type it up it doesn't seem as good as it did. Still. The narrator isn't quite me and the girl isn't, quite, anyone I know; I don't know why she had to leave.

The whole gang got together for the first time in a while to see her off. We didn't discuss it as a group beforehand but we passed the word around. There's a small clearing to the side of the road where it goes through to woods, half-oval shaped and floored with dirt and the leaves of past falls. Everyone arrived a little ways away and then walked to the spot, nodding at each other but not speaking much. soon we're all there, looking at each other. People say their farewells, solemn or smiling as hard as they can. I managed to say something—I can't even remember what, not trite but without much meaning either. One of the twins, full of false cheer, suggests a group photo. Everyone smiles as the flash goes off. Nobody laughs. Tears are held off for almost an hour. I hold her hand for a while as she sits on a bumper and swings her feet. Soon, though nobody says anything, the talk fades away. She stand, hands in her pockets, looking at them, at the sky, the trees, eventually at me. I grab her hand. "Stay," I say. "They'll let you come back. They'd have to. We know—"

She's shaking her head. She smiles again and opens the door, climbing in. I step back. Everyone, looking the other way, hears the door shut and turns to watch her leave. Nobody waves as she drives off, though some raise a hand in a kind of salute. I stand with my hands in my pockets, looking towards the car. Nobody moves until she passes the first bend in the road, until her engine grows faint and dies away. Nobody speaks as we walk back.

It takes a couple of days to sink in, even though I'd known it was going to happen in advance. For a little while I still wake up without remembering. For a month after that I feel something like a sob every time I see a lily, or hear a knock at the door, or pass by the gates. Things go on for a while, but the gang doesn't talk. One day I wake up and drive past the school to the old house, leave a note for the others in the dining room. I buy some gas and food and drive out to the clearing. I stand there for a long minute, two, five, staring into the woods, remembering her plans, and her smile. I get back in the car and drive down the road away from town.