Sometimes I listen to angry music on the bus; it puts me in a certain mood that makes me antisocial but quite content for the rest of the day. I never realized how much I really like to be alone; I guess I spent so much time with you I lost sight of certain important things, and forgot what it was like to really be myself. Maybe having a best friend does that to you.
It's the first day of a new semester, and they've cleaned the bus. The floor is actually bright green—who knew? There's still paint coming off the ceiling and old, rock-hard gum underneath the seats, though, and the window in the back seat still doesn't open. I turn my music up louder. I wish you were sitting here next to me, tapping your nails against the seat and complaining about the younger kids.
I'm the oldest person on this bus, and it's getting embarrassing. I'm a junior, and not only do I lack a driver's license, but now I have no one to drive me to school. As a matter of fact, I'm the only high school student on the bus at all. The screaming of the elementary and middle schoolers is getting in my head and making my brain itch, and my stomach hurts. It's too early in the morning to be bouncing around on gravel roads in the middle of nowhere.
I won't let myself think of you, not today. I wonder how long it'll hurt before it all goes away. I'm such a cliché I could almost laugh at myself if it all weren't so painfully real. I can hardly do anything without it reminding me of you, which is kind of sad. It's like we spent so much of our time together our lives just melded together into one—and at the time there was nothing I wanted more.
I sound desperate, even lovesick, and I giggle in spite of myself. I remember one time when we were thirteen; we were in the woods filming your 'documentary,' and after the battery in the camera died we crouched by the stream trying to catch minnows. At thirteen, our classmates were more interested in makeup and sex and learning to drive, whereas we were content to pursue whatever challenge we decided to make up for ourselves on any particular day. Boys were not of interest (yet), but we often discussed what it might feel like, kissing and such.
I thought you were joking when you suggested that we try it. "Try what—you mean kissing?" I couldn't help laughing. "Why would we do that?"
You shifted your weight from one foot to another, obviously uncomfortable. "I don't know…just to see what it would feel like, I guess. I mean, it's not like either of us are going to have a boyfriend anytime soon."
You were right, as it turned out, but at the time I was still hopeful. "I don't know," I said, still giggling with embarrassment. I puckered my lips and leaned toward you, imitating a deep voice. "Kyla, marry me," I drawled, nearly doubled over with laughter.
You raised your eyebrows and tapped your foot. "Lora, I was serious! I mean…don't you want to know what it feels like?"
"I don't know...maybe." I sat down on a rock by the bank of the creek. "Do you want to try it then?"
You shrugged and crouched down beside me. We leaned in, closer and closer but not sure what to do…and then we were two feet away from each other, falling on the ground laughing. "Oh my god," you gasped, crawling over and flopping down with my stomach as a pillow, shaking with laughter. "Let's not try that again."
The bus pulls up in front of the school now. The snow got even thicker over the weekend, but the janitors have chipped all the ice off of the sidewalks. I hurry inside to get away from the cold—I am not a winter person—and head straight to our locker. No, correction: my locker, unless I get assigned someone else to share with. I hope I don't; you understood about my need for organization, but a new locker partner might not be so accommodating.
I find an old water bottle, half-full of pink liquid, in my backpack, and I take a swig. It's raspberry Kool-Aid from last Friday. Why I still have it in here, I don't know—I guess I must've been too preoccupied, what with helping you move and all, to have cleaned out my backpack like I usually do every Friday. Either way, it still tastes okay, so I chug it down and toss the bottle in the trash can across the hall. The hall monitor glares at me—I guess it's a no-no to play basketball with trash—and I smile sweetly. Then I grab my stuff for first-hour History and head off to homeroom.
Homeroom is in my least favorite classroom, the Biology lab. The smell of ether and poorly-preserved animal parts greets my nose halfway down the hall. Homeroom is supposed to be our time to eat breakfast if we didn't have time before school, but hardly anyone can eat in the Biology lab because the smell is usually enough to make anyone slightly green.
Sure enough, as Mr. Gardetto (yes, like the snack mix) calls roll, only one person is eating. I watch him, even though it's making me want to throw up. He eats Ding-Dongs the same way I do—he breaks it in half, licks out the cream filling, and eats the cake last. He apparently has not learned that when you eat Ding-Dongs that way in public, people make oral-sex jokes. I learned that on the first day of eighth grade, but this guy doesn't look like the type to care even if people do laugh at him. I've seen him around, but I don't know his name. He's apparently the pride and joy of the computer tech department; he's the one who fixes computers during his study halls, and spends lunch doing web design in the computer lab. I guess he must've had his schedule changed, to suddenly be in this homeroom.
Even though it's a new semester, my schedule hasn't changed much. I have gym on a different day than I used to, but all my regular classes are the same. They'll feel a little more empty without my best friend there with me.
I wonder what you're doing now. You're probably also in your homeroom, at your new school. I feel even worse thinking about how you must feel right now—like a total foreigner, going to the rival school and not knowing anyone. But at least you have a fresh start. Everyone here already knows—and dislikes—me. I mean what I say, about enjoying my solitude, but at the same time I have no desire to sit by myself at lunch every day, and spend my Friday nights at home doing math homework or something. It'd be nice to have a friend—not a friend like you were to me, a friend to share your soul with, but just a temporary hang-out buddy.
I somehow make it through the day. Lunch is especially painful; actually, I hang out in the nurse's office, complaining of a headache. I don't feel like being vulnerable, and that is what I would be the moment I entered the cafeteria and had to look for a place to sit. Our old corner is off-limits; the rest of the people on that table were mostly your friends, and none of the have spoken to me so far today.
As soon as I get home I kick my younger sister off of the computer, close her Neopets window, and log onto Yahoo messenger. As promised, you log on in the next couple of minutes. For a moment I am afraid that this is all we'll ever be to each other, words popping up on a computer screen, a faraway friend, a pseudo-confidant. Then I remember that you only moved thirty miles away, and that I'll see you on the weekend when you come over. This should make me smile, should be enough—but it isn't. I read intently as you describe your school and your day. You're obviously more of a "people person" than I am—you know the names of six of your classmates already—and my stomach turns with jealousy as you describe a girl named Mona, who you have four classes with and you sat by at lunch. I can't help the green monster sitting on my shoulder; I wish I could talk to people the way you do, easily and comfortably, making them feel like your best friend in an instant. But I guess if I could do that, we never would have met.
It was the first middle-school dance. The eighth-grade girls danced in a circle in the center of the gymnasium, the seventh-grade girls in smaller circles around them, and occasionally you'd see a couple of sixth-grade girls joining in. The guys, no matter what grade they were in, stood uncomfortably around the edge of the gym, trying to make themselves feel less awkward by talking about how hot certain girls were.
I was not one of the girls they were talking about, though; in fact, I doubted they had seen me. I sat on top of the folded-up bleachers in the corner, and I hadn't taken off my jacket. Underneath it I was wearing a new top and a black skirt. The sixth-graders were the only ones who had dressed up at all; others simply wore whatever they had worn to school. It had been my mom's idea for me to come to the dance at all; I would have been more inclined to stay at home and read. I had no intention of dancing.
You were one of the rare sixth-graders who broke into the circle in the middle and joined the dancing. I didn't notice you any more or less than any of the other girls; they where (and still are) total foreigners to me. As a matter of fact, I didn't notice you until you hoisted yourself up on the bleachers next to me and asked what my name was.
"Lora," I murmured shyly.
"Hi, Lora. I'm Kyla," you said, sounding friendlier than anyone I had talked to so far at this strange new school. "You don't really look like you want to be here."
"I don't," I admitted. "It was my mom's idea, a way to make me meet new people."
You grinned. "Is it working?"
I shook my head. "Not so far." Even back then you had this way of putting even the shyest person completely at ease, and it worked very well on me. We ended up talking the night away, and when the dance was over, you asked if I wanted to come spend the night at your house. Since it was a middle-school dance, it was only about ten o'clock, and almost everyone else had left. I answered reluctantly that I could call and ask my mom, but I already knew she'd be absolutely thrilled, and there was no way she'd say no.
Sure enough, when I called my mom she squealed with delight and said she'd be right up to the school with an overnight bag for me, and that she could drive us to your house. Several minutes later, our Toyota Celica pulled up and we slid into the backseat.
Mom asked subtle little questions about who your parents were, where they worked, and things like that—I guess she was trying to decide whether you were a good enough friend for me, but I know she wouldn't have complained even if your mom was a prostitute, your dad was a drug dealer, and you lived on the other side of the tracks. She was just happy that I was talking to someone. But I guess it did help that your parents are both doctors and, when we pulled up in front of your house, it was large and nice-looking.
Your family seemed like an upper-middle-class cliché, from the wicker furniture on the porch to the cookie jar full of homemade cookies. Grinning, you grabbed the entire jar and we hurried upstairs to your room.
We stashed the cookies underneath my overnight bag. "Go ahead and change out of your skirt and stuff if you want; I'll be right back," you said, and disappeared. I heard you go down the hall and open up another door, and the murmur of voices drifted down the hall.
You came running back down the hall just as I pulled on my favorite silky pajama pants. "My mom's in bed already but she says she can't wait to meet you in the morning…and we're not supposed to stay up too late." You made a face, and we laughted.
We ate all the cookies and watched the last two hours of a "That '70's Show" marathon before we were too tired to do much but lay on the floor, where you'd put a mountain of blankets, and talk. At last even the talking died down, and we drifted off to sleep. With my last conscious thought, I thanked God for sending me a friend.