The grass was wet from previous rain, but we didn't care at all. It had been a long winter of unforgiving concrete and to our young minds it seemed as if we would never be allowed back onto the field, an event that indicated to us the start of summer. We sat in a large group, full of laughter and uncertainty and battles for leadership. A boy from my class called a greeting and we waved back, forgetting instantly that just yesterday we had declared war on him for daring to try to pull Sophie's trousers down.
"Phee and Aaron sitting in a tree," Bella sang to the flushing cheeks of Sophie and the giggling of the group. I bounced a strawberry off her knee, not noticing the pink stain it left.
"You gonna marry him, Phee?" I asked with a grin. She shook her head furiously. "Aw, but don't you think he's cute? He obviously likes you."
"No, he doesn't," she replied hotly, blonde curls pulled back into tight braids. "He tried to pull my trousers down."
"Everyone knows boys only tease girls because they like them," I said, nodding sagely. Many of the girls rolled their eyes.
"If that's true," Bella replied wickedly. "Then Benny obviously loves you."
"No!" I denied vehemently, eyes wide at my matchmaking being turned on me. The others laughed delightedly. "Yuck. I don't like him!"
My friends shook their heads, having heard it all before. "You don't like anyone," they sighed.
"What's betting Saze is the first to get married out of all of us?" Fern laughed as I blushed. I stuck my tongue out at her and she playfully returned it, both of us ignoring the animosity that had followed us for the passed week, ever since she had loudly declared me a suck up and a boff in front of everyone and then proceeded to blank me. It was already starting, tiny splinters in the fragile webs, but we were at the stage where we didn't care. We ignored it, forgot it, and forged ahead into new worlds side by side. Trusting.
"Bella'll have the kids," Danielle said. Some of us pulled faces at the thought and them smiled companionably.
"And I'll look after them for her when she wants to go out," Sophie added. I grinned.
"Kids in small doses," I agreed. "But I want one of those big family cars. With tables inside, like trains. Isn't that cool?"
"Saze with a baby," Bella mused. "Oh no."
I shifted to my knees and shoved her. "Hey! Whaddaya mean 'oh no'?"
Bella offered me an amused look, shoving me back with enough force to send me ungracefully onto my back. "You killed your fish," she reminded me as I began to sit up again. She pushed me back down.
"A fish, Saze? You only had to feed it!" Fern exclaimed. I grumbled at their laughter at my expense, and quickly pointed out that Aaron was aiming a sweaty sandwich at Phee again. The subject changed immediately, and then there was a familiar yell – "Pile on!" – and the boys leapt on us. We squealed and tried to get out of the way; laughing helplessly, I dove into the fray, thinking that this was my world. I thought we'd be together forever.
The webs that form in those formative years begin to shimmer and break. The bonds that we once thought would never break begin to shatter like new crystal on cold stone floors. I watch it unravel to leave sour thoughts and bitter goodbyes, and I am not immune to this destruction. I turn away from those who had once been closest to me and, while polite admissions of keeping in touch weave insincere patterns around my tongue, my inner self thanks every deity that I will never see them again.
"We'll stay in touch right?" Bella asks. I turn to her, disgusted with myself that I feel so pleased that she's talking to me. My Bella, who knew me best in our little group. She is no longer mine, lost to the depths and claws of the self-named 'popular' group. She had always kept connections with them, even as I dragged us into the clique forever known as 'the losers and the geeks'. Even when they deigned not to associate with me for being too weird for their delicate tastes, Bella projected herself as One Of Them. Quit her hobbies; fell behind on her work. She became lost to me, I think, even before we drifted apart.
"Sure we will," I reply, smiling softly. So fake. And I can't even find it within myself to care.
Seven years of our lives have been spent in each other's company. Encouraging each other. Hating each other. We are a family, in its most basic form. The ties between us should be binding. But I sit and feel vehement dislike shroud us like the scent of smoke. It sinks into us, becomes apart of us. It destroys us.
I have memories of Daniel being sweet as honey and shy, hiding from taunts with a quick wit that never sought to hurt, only deflect. I remember him paying attention to everything, his curiosity in even the lowliest of student endearing him to me. I used to covet those memories, wrapped in golden silk, because only then could I still be his friend. I could pretend.
"You know what?" I don't care," he sneers, not hatefully, but truly without warmth. My jaw clicks shut on my next words and I leave him. I do not return. I let golden silk burn in the quiet bitterness inside me and wish I could feel surprise, or even a little hurt. But that's all we are, now. Our family. All we are is a memory.
The Common Room is this side of empty. It feels a little hollow without the heaving mass of students, jeering and working and sharing each other's whines concerning difficulties and rumours. There are only a few of us now, as the last exams are taken.
Jay stands to fiddle with the music. I wince when one of the most controversial songs on his ipod begins to batter our ears. Across from us, grimaces twist people's faces into something ugly, something cruel. They do not like the music, and Jay knows this. He picks it to aggravate them, to punish them for complaining about different tastes. I refrain from mentioning that we criticize their choices too. Because that is the way of it in our family. We cannot forgive each other's idiosyncrasies and stubbornly forget who we had been together.
I watch Bella lean towards another girl. "He is such a loser," she says loudly, shooting us a poisonous glance. Something twists inside of me before settling, a heavy weight of resentment. She was my best friend, once. We planned to be best friends even into adult life, helping each other, envisioning what it would be like. The boys who we picked to be our forevers would be just as close. I look at Bella, feeling slightly sad. I don't know you anymore, I think. I don't know any of you anymore.
The bar table is covered in coffee rings and cigarette burns, old and tattered but still standing strong. I cradle my glass and laugh at a joke, comfortable and at ease. These bonds, at last, cannot break, I assure myself. It had been the four of us for the passed two years. We know each other intimately, moods and sayings and quirks. This is my group, I say to myself quietly. We are strong together.
Our goodbyes are not tearful. I muse that maybe it hasn't sunk in yet. But I watch them walk away and surprise myself by feeling relief. Freedom. I clutch as Jay's hand, try to bind him to me eternally through our skin and thought. With links scattering in the season of change and promises carving themselves from insincere hearts, I do not want to lose him too.
The memories are starting to fade, like fake tattoos smoothed against skin. I pass a couple I once knew, but we ignore each other. We are strangers now, in our minds. We are no longer connected and thus have no more need to acknowledge each other.
My hand tucked inside Jay's, I enter the café and approach the counter. I notice the palest blonde hair and tilt my head. It shocks me when she smiles and greets me cheerfully and by name, asking how I am, breaking all those unspoken rules. I wonder why as I carefully reply.
"I'm going to a Grammar camp for two weeks and then I'm going to Oxford," she informs me, eyes gleaming. Oh. I understand now. To hear me praise her, she would break the rules. It doesn't occur to me that she might just be being friendly.
"That's nice," I reply, smiling widely, too widely. She's looking at me and I think I haven't said enough, not enough praise for her achievement, but she has never been my friend. I'm suspicious. "Good for you," I add, unable to conjure any other words, not even wanting to try with her. I let her talk, but don't contribute, and later I am horrified. When did I become so rude? When did I become so apathetic that I wasn't even willing to try?
It disturbs me to find that no matter how long I think on it, no manner of reaction graces me at the idea of another leaving.
The intricate webs that were once so beautiful begin to burn in the dark of resentment. The bitterness hums beneath our skin and we betray our memories by pandering to the bonds that once was our family, creating false bridges that none will cross, and offering promises like fools gold.