When I first met Noah Weaver he told me that he had a mouth full of ghosts.
His hair was short, unfashionably so, the ends of it curling around his ears, making his eyes look too big for his pointed face. He was real, and yet he wasn't, every breath he took like a lit candle to some neglectful saint.
I didn't have time for boys like him. They were too gawky, too awkward inside of their own heads, their limbs too long for the hold of their heart.
But his mouth was full of ghosts.
I met him at a poetry reading, surrounded by artsy types, each fighting for their own few minutes of fame, and he stood still and very silent beside me.
Together we heard the tales of love and loss and misery and white geraniums, and the sound of his breath timed itself with my heartbeat.
I'm not sure now why that was so important, but at the time it was, his feet parallel to my own.
His eyelashes were long when he sipped his drink; they shuddered with his breaths and rustled over his cheeks.
He told me that he had a mouth full of ghosts even before he told me his name or asked for my own.
He said that there hadn't always been so many, and that he didn't know where they had come from, but they weighed down his jaw and made it hard for him to speak.
I laughed when he told me that, I laughed so hard that I cried, and then he cried too, but not because he was happy.
He didn't talk to me again for a long time, and I pretended that I didn't mind if he didn't like me, my pride holding my head above the surface of an uncertain sea.
He didn't pretend anything; he just wasn't that kind of a boy.
Later on we would laugh when we remembered this; we would hold our cheeks to stop our mouths from opening any wider, sure that if they did they would split our faces in half. But at that moment, he was just a too-pale boy who seemed determined to fade into the wallpaper. And I wasn't going to do anything to stop him.
We were dorm-mates when we entered high school, both of us knock-kneed borders desperately missing our old beds, our old lives.
There were no more poetry meets now, my jumper holding me tightly by the shoulders as I navigated the anxious realms of adolescence, but there was Noah, and sometimes, when I shut my eyes, that was almost as good.
His bed was beside mine, tucked against the cold cement of the wall and the window, his snores whisper soft in the darkness.
When it was cold I opened my mouth and let the steam hiss out from between my lips. In the half light I could pretend that my mouth was full of ghosts too, that I wasn't alone, but mostly I pretended that I had never laughed in the first place.
We filled those years with half conversations, me as desperate to start them as he was to avoid them. His face grew longer, his elbows pointier, and his hand-me-downs rested strangely over his shoulders, tugged sharply on the skin above his ankle.
I hardly changed at all, my legs seeming to shrink if anything, everyone else growing up around me, and my mother laughed when I complained over the telephone.
Noah was not especially smart, he scraped by in everything he did, his pointed chin always resting in the palm of a thin hand, and I often heard the teachers discuss him when I eavesdropped outside the staffroom.
"We're worried about him" that's what they always said, their voices low and dramatic over coffee, "he just seems to have a complete lack of interest in everything".
And they were right of course, because he did, his breaths longer and slower than they had ever been, his feet never quite leaving the ground completely.
My heartbeat didn't match with him anymore.
Perhaps it was all a part of growing up, like stretching limbs and suddenly too-tight skin, these nights I spent wishing back.
And that was the strangest thing, the memory of his tears inside of my skull, the imprint of his reddened face burning into my fingertips when they "accidently" brushed his sleeve. Because he wasn't the crying sort, he just wasn't, and it was slowly driving me around the bend, him and the ghosts inside of his mouth.
And maybe it was just that, this strange obsession that I had fallen head first into, that made me desert my almost friends and walk down the swaying aisle of the bus home for the holidays.
And maybe the sun had been shining in just the right way, highlighting every delicate bone beneath his skin, turning the down on his arm to white thread.
And maybe he turned when I said his name and sat beside him, with eyes half closed from sleep. And maybe he smiled at me, like it had all just been one big joke after all, as if I had never laughed like I had and he had never cried.
Maybe all those things happened and we sat in comfortable silence for the rest of the trip, people waking through the hissing doorway until we were the only ones left. Scenery without names melting into familiar hills and rivers, because of course we lived at the same place, one just as isolated as the other.
And when we stepped off the bus, his too-thin, sharp elbowed form flickering in and out of the faulty streetlamp, he waved to the driver, his hand like a large pale moth.
I could hear his heartbeat, and his breaths timed themselves with my own as we walked down the street together, his curls blurring into the night sky. I could smell the scent of old books on him, aged paper that seemed to cling to his shoulder blades. I could see each and every one of his breaths, white and cold when they left his mouth, his long lashes tipped up at the moon and we stopped at my front gate with a hiccough inside of my ribcage.
He turned to me and smiled beatifically, his teeth perfectly white in the darkness, his feet disappearing into the overgrown grass on the curb.
"This isn't the end".
And he was right, it wasn't.
I was later to discover that Noah had the talent for being right about a lot of things. But for now, at least for now, we were to start at the beginning.