Emmy & Oliver - Robin Benway


The last time Emmy sees Oliver is on their forty-third day of second grade.

Oliver is her next-door neighbor and her friend. They were born in the same hospital on the same day: July 7—7/7. She thinks she’s pretty lucky to have a friend who lives next door and shares a birthday with her. She can just visit him any old time she wants, but not all the time because sometimes Oliver goes to his dad’s house on the weekends. They do fun things, Oliver says, pizza and ice cream and things like that. Sometimes movies. Emmy thinks that maybe having divorced parents isn’t so bad, not if it means you get extra ice cream, but then at night, when it’s dark in her room and she hears weird noises in the closet that may or may not be monsters, she’s glad her mom and dad are still together in their bedroom down the hall.

On that forty-third afternoon of second grade, her friend Caroline passes Oliver a note when their teacher’s back is turned. Emmy watches as the paper slips past her and onto the desk of their friend Drew, who gives Caro a sneaky smile and then passes the note to Oliver. Emmy looks over at Caroline, who’s grinning wildly. They are seven years old and this is the first of many, many notes that Caro will pass in class, but this is the first and most special note Caro will ever give to someone.

Oliver is in front of Emmy now, his head down while he carefully does the addition problems in his math workbook. She can see the tag sticking up out of the back of his shirt, and what she doesn’t know now is that she’ll remember that tag for years, that she will dream about going up to him and smoothing the tag back into his shirt before she wakes up, her hand poised in midair, a gossamer dream melting between her fingers.

Instead, Emmy just glares at Caro and watches as Oliver unfolds the note and reads it. They could get in so much trouble for passing notes! Emmy glares at Caro, who just frowns and sticks her tongue out at Emmy, but Emmy knows she’s not really mad. If Caro’s really mad, she ignores you. That’s way worse.

Oliver writes something down on the note and passes it back to Caro while their teacher is explaining how to borrow from the tens, and Emmy feels her skin start to prickle, like the time she got sunburned at the beach. Caro just grins at her, and Emmy puts her head back down and carries the one.

After school, Caro runs up to Emmy and hands her the note. “Look!” she cries. The paper’s been folded so many times that it feels as soft as cotton, and Emmy opens it up. It says, DO YOU LIKE EMMY, YES NO??? And the word yes has been circled three times.

Emmy holds the paper and looks around for Oliver, but their moms and dads are waiting to pick them up; Oliver is already running toward his dad. His dad drives a sports car now. It’s sooo cool. That’s what Oliver says.

“Oliver!” Emmy yells. “I have to ask you something!”

He’s already ahead of her, though, running toward the cool sports car and his dad.

“Oliver!” she cries. “Oliver, wait!”

But it’s too late. Oliver is already in his dad’s car.

And he’s gone.


Oliver disappeared after school on a Friday afternoon, way back when we were in second grade, and small things seemed really important and important things seemed too small. That afternoon, it wasn’t weird to see him get in his dad’s car, a red convertible whose screeching tires rang out in my mind for years afterward.

Oliver and I had been best friends since the day we were born up until the day his dad picked him up from school and never brought him home. We even lived next door, our bedroom windows reflecting each other.

His window’s been empty for ten years, but sometimes I can still see into his room and it’s exactly how it was when he disappeared. Oliver’s mom, Maureen, she never moved anything. In the past ten years, she remarried and even had two little girls, but Oliver’s bedroom never changed. It’s become a makeshift shrine, dusty and childish, but I get it. If you clean it out, it means he might never come back.

Sometimes I think that all superstitions—crossing your fingers, not stepping on cracks, shrines like the one in Oliver’s