"It’s alright letting yourself go as long as you can let yourself back."
- Mick Jagger
If this had been another year, I would have been sitting in my sweats eating brownies from the pan and ice cream from the carton across from my oldest friend. But it wasn’t, and so I was here doing that exact thing with Sebastian, who was pretending to be my oldest friend.
Life was weird.
And perhaps the strangest part of all of this was that it didn’t feel… strange. Ever since Sebastian declared that we’d skip right to being friends, something had eased. I felt more relaxed, and he stopped throwing concerned glances in my direction. Those two might have been connected. Either way, I was doing okay. I had made a new friend, and I was doing okay.
“Did you know,” Sebastian began, pointing his spoon at me before he scooped up another bit of brownie and ice cream, “that there’s a word for a fear of palindromes?”
“There is?” I asked. He hummed. “Is it palindrophobia?”
Sebastian shook his head, swallowing his bite. “No, it’s aibohphobia. Spelled a-i-b-o-h-p-h-o-b-i-a.” He looked at me, paused for dramatic effect. “It’s a palindrome.”
I snickered. “You’re kidding.”
“Nope,” he grinned. “Don’t laugh, it’s a serious thing.”
“How is there even a fear of palindromes anyway?” I asked, taking another gooey spoonful of brownie. “Like, what, you’re reading and you see the words, ‘lion oil’ and just, like, lose it?”
“Pretty much,” Sebastian agreed. He leaned an elbow on the island counter and raised a brow. “What are you reading that has the words ‘lion oil’ in it?”
I rolled my eyes, taking myself by surprise. “It was an example.”
“It’s one example, but you could’ve picked something way more interesting like, ‘Ron! Oh! Sex in a Toyota nixes honor!’” Sebastian grinned as I burst into laughter. He continued, relentless, “Or ’Satan, oscillate my metallic sonatas!’”
Still laughing, I choked out, “And what are you reading that has those lines in it?”
“Steampunk Bible fan fiction,” Sebastian replied without missing a beat.
This time, even he couldn’t keep a straight face for long. He joined me in laughter, a proud twinkle in his eye. When I noticed that, I sobered some, cursing myself for being so carefree. My emotions were supposed to be locked tight inside me, and this boy who I’d known for less than a week already had me in tears? Happy tears, perhaps, but all tears were dangerous.
To cover my sudden shift, I blurted, “Okay, but how come ‘palindrome’ isn’t a palindrome?”
“For the same reason that ‘symmetry’ isn’t symmetrical,” Sebastian answered.
“And what reason is that?”
Sebastian shrugged, setting his spoon on the ice cream carton’s lid and leaning back. “Because linguists back then weren’t clever enough.”
I, too, put down my spoon. “But clearly doctors were cruel enough to make aibohphobia a palindrome.”
“Maybe doctors are more clever than linguists,” Sebastian suggested. I shrugged. Maybe.
The ice cream was melting around the edges, turning soft and shiny. I closed the lid and put the carton back in the freezer. The brownie pan was rapidly cooling, the center edge jagged from our spoons. “Did we really eat a half a pan?” I asked in surprise.
“Looks like it,” Sebastian laughed. “Is that a problem?”
“Not a bit.” If he hadn’t been there, I would’ve eaten at least that much myself.
“Shit,” Sebastian said, glancing at the time. “I have to go. My friend’s picking me up in a half hour to force me to help party prep,” he said as he stood. “Slave labor, that’s what it is.”
I tried to pretend otherwise, but my stomach sank a little bit. Laughing with Sebastian was the most relaxed I’d felt since getting high with Jake and the crew in college. Even so, it was probably best not to drag things out too long or else they might revert back to awkwardness. “Okay, no problem,” I said as casually as I could.
I wasn’t good at casual.
Sebastian paused at the doorway of the kitchen, me right behind him. “Give me your phone.” I obeyed. As he tapped on it, he said, “After all, old friends have each other’s numbers,” he said with a half smile. Sebastian handed it back and looked up at me. “And they don’t hesitate to text or call to hang out spur of the moment.”
He was clearly waiting for a confirmation, so I agreed, “Right.”
With a flash of a smile, he headed for the doorway. “See you later, Hana.”
“Bye, Sebastian,” I called from the hallway, a little tentative.
“Seb,” I amended.
He smiled. I smiled. He left.