I stepped off the stairs to land on the platform of the 2nd floor. I looked through the doors and found what I was searching for. One of my closest friends: Andy. He wasn't hard to find, since everyone always knew where he was. During lunch time he always sat in front of his locker, eating his lunch and doing his homework. Right now he was sitting cross-legged, leaning back against his locker and eating a sandwich with his headphones on.
I walked over and sat down on the cold floor next to him. I smiled at him, "Hey! You finished chemistry already?"
He looked over at me, while taking off his headphones and smiled. "Yeah. Don't worry, it's easy."
I nodded and unzipped my bag to take out my lunch.
"What you doing up here? Why aren't you eating with Bernice and them? Or Brian and them?" He asked, referring to my other two groups of friends.
I paused in the middle of taking the lid off my container and looked at him, "What? You don't want me here?" I pouted, and pulled my sad puppy face on him.
He laughed at me, "Not what I meant. I was just wondering."
"Hey! I take offence to that. I come up to visit you all the time! You never come to visit ME though!" I said all huffy and then stuck out my tongue. Andy and I may be really close but we didn't hang out everyday. We had one of those friendships where we knew that we could go to one another if we ever needed to, even after years of not talking. That's just how we were. We each had our separate group of friends, and were a little bit of an unlikely pair. That didn't really matter to us though; we wouldn't have it any other way.
"Yeah, that was REAL mature! Are you sure you're 18? I stand by theory of you being about…6." He nodded gravely, as if he was thinking really hard.
"Yes I'm sure I'm 18. Want to see my driver's license? Huh? No? That's what I THOUGHT!" I ranted. I sighed out exaggeratingly, "Can't a girl spend her 18th birthday without being picked on? You're SUPPOSE to be nice to me Andy! Especially today!"
"I'm just joking. You know that. But I did get you a little something."
"Really? What is it?" I smiled and was starting to get all excited. I then realized my lunchbox was still in my hand. I got momentarily distracted by food. I picked up my fork and took a bite of my pasta. Yummy, pasta is so good!
With me preoccupied with my lunch, I didn't notice Andy had taken something out of his locker. He turned to me and held out a gift-wrapped box with a blue ribbon. I quickly swallowed what was in my mouth, and almost choked. What a way to die on my 18th birthday, I thought with mirth.
"OH! It's so pretty! Can I open it?" I asked while bouncing up and down. I looked at him, pleading to let me open it. Andy hated for me to open his presents in front of him. I think he was scared that I wouldn't like it and would have to pretend that I did. Honestly though, I can only think of one time that happened: he had gotten me a bright orange, pleated skirt with cows on it. Don't ask. I mean, seriously… cows!
I cringed slightly as I thought about the skirt, but he was debating and didn't notice. He nodded slowly, while smiling. He clamped his hands down on my shoulders, trying to get me to stop bobbing up and down. "Calm down. Hahah. You're going to bruise your tailbone like that. You can open it in front of me, since this year is an exception. We're graduating from high school this year. Who knows where we'll end up in next year."
That got me to somber up. Another 5 months and we would be high school graduates. I was very nervous about going to university, and Andy knew that. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. But Andy, the genius hard-worker, knew exactly what he wanted to do: medicine. I couldn't help but think how perfect he'd be for the job. He was smart, kind, patient, and he had this calming presence about him. On top of all that, he really did care and wanted to help people.
I didn't know what I was going to do without him. He had been a source of comfort, strength and fun for the last 5 years. I broke out of my thoughts to find him studying me through his glasses with his brown eyes. He knew what I was thinking.
"Dude, you need a haircut." I laughed and reached over to mess it up. His black hair had grown out and was flopped around his head, almost like a mushroom cut.
He grinned evilly, and poked me hard in my right side. I shrieked, and jumped to my feet, trying to move away.
Glaring at him through silted eyes, "That was SO uncalled for!" I was extremely ticklish.
"You deserved it. Now, are you going to open your present?" He grinned and gestured to the package in his hand.
"Oh right!" I instantly forgot about my worries and that I was mad at him. I bounced back down into my spot and took the box from him. I started to unwrap my gift: carefully taking off the wrapping paper and untying the ribbon to find a jewelry box. I slowly opened the lid to find the most beautiful thing lying on blue velvet.
My head snapped up and stared at him, "You shouldn't have! It's gorgeous. It must have been so expensive. Wow. It's…wow."
My eyes went back to what I knew would be my most treasured possession: a sterling silver charm bracelet. The thin chain held three charms: a star, a heart and a teddy bear. Since I couldn't take my eyes off it, I just kept staring at it.
Andy took the box from me and took the bracelet out. "It was worth it. It's your 18th birthday! Plus, this is our last year of high school. Think of it as both a birthday gift and a graduation gift." He said, as he took my left hand. He fastened the clasp of the bracelet for me.
My eyes absorbed the sight of the bracelet lying against my ivory skin. The star charm caught the light, sparkled and winked at me. I lifted up my arm to inspect it further.
"Thank you," I whispered.
I could hear the smile in his voice as he explained, "I know you're scared about university, but you'll do great. That bracelet is going to be my substitute when you need me and I can't be there."
He took my arm, and pointed to each one of the charms as he spoke, "The teddy bear is for any hugs you might need from me. The heart is for you to know that I love you and I will always be there for you. The star is to remind you to shoot for the stars and that you can achieve any of your dreams, so don't give up."
My eyes started to tear up as I listened to him. I looked up, sniffing a little. Andy was such a sweetie; his future girlfriend is so lucky.
I smiled at him tremendously, trying not to let any of my tears fall. "Thank you! I love it! I'm never going to take it off!" I exclaimed and launched myself into his arms to hug him.
He laughed softly and hugged me back, "I'm glad you like it. It took me forever to find the perfect gift. I needed to get you something extra special so you wouldn't forget all about me."
I pulled back quickly and slapped the back of head. He stared at me, stunned. "How could I forget you? You're crazy. You'll probably forget all about me!."
Now he looked at me like I was crazy, "Never. I'll always remember you."
From that moment on, I never took off my bracelet. I wore it every single day without fail, even when sleeping. The last few months of high school flew by. Before any of us knew it, we had all gone to graduation and received out diplomas.
Now I wish I had spent more time enjoying it. I wish I could go back to the time when Andy was still around, and I could visit him at his locker whenever I wanted to. These last two years had been hard. My only contact with him had been through e-mails and the occasional phone call. I missed him a lot.
Which is why I was currently was in the most unlikely place you'd find me or Andy: a house party. I had just arrived, but just stepping through the door let me know the party was already in full swing. There were people scattered everywhere: some on the floor dancing, others on the coach, some stood talking and others were running around. The music was so loud that my eardrums started to bleed and my head started to hurt. The place reeked of alcohol and sweat, causing my nose to burn and my eyes to tear.
My gaze swept through the crowd, trying to see over heads to find Andy. I took a deep breath and started to push my way through the sea of people. It was a difficult task that required some muscle, which made me realize I should really go to the gym more. I turned away quickly, disgusted by a couple groping each other on a loveseat, sucking each other's faces off. I shuddered. I didn't belong here. Where was Andy?
A tall guy stumbled into me, almost knocking me down. He slurred out an apology and then reached out to grab my wrist before I could move away. He leaned in close to my face and breathed, "C'mon baby. Let's go have fun."
I tried not to breath, fearing I'd suffocate from the strong smell of alcohol wafting from his mouth. I frantically tried to pry his hands off. I was starting to get scared. Luckily, he was so drunk that he stumbled on his own two feet as he tried to press me against a wall. He got tangled up and fell forward, and all I did was step out of the way. I felt there was some justice in the world as I watched him use the groping couple as a landing cushion.
I quickly moved further into the house, making the other side of the room my target. I paused next to the wall, trying to catch my breath and calm my nerves. I touched the bracelet that was always on my wrist for support. I drew comfort and courage from it, just like I had many times over the years.
That's when I heard his voice yell loudly, "Hey! Get me another ok?"
I turned towards the direction of the sound. I first caught sight of his now spiky black hair, which was being held up by hard gel. He was slouching down in a coach not far from me. Even from here I could see the redness of his face and the glazed look in his eyes. He held a beer in one hand, while his other arm was wrapped around a barely-clothed, blonde girl.
Andy had changed so much in the last 2 years of me going away, and I hadn't even realized until I moved back. I don't know what happened, which made me guilty and a bad friend. He was no longer the kind, smart and slight dork he use to be. He had turned into a drinker, partier and womanizer. He dressed and acted differently: trading in his glasses for contact lenses, khakis for baggy jeans and had even gotten an eyebrow ring. The biggest change was that he had stopped talking about med school, something he had dreamed of his whole life. I didn't know this man, he wasn't my friend.
That didn't stop me from trying to find him though. This was the third house party I had come to and dragged him out of in the last month.
I pushed my way towards him and stopped in front of him. "Get up. We're leaving."
He took his time to look at me, almost as if he hadn't heard me. His eyes didn't even focus properly as he stared at my chest.
Miss Bimbo next to him sneered at me, "Get lost bitch. Go find your own. Stay away from what's mine." She made a pathetic attempt to make it seem as if she possessed Andy by pressing her breast against him and practically crawling into his lap. Too bad Andy barely noticed her there.
I snorted at her. Boy, was she delusional or what? Andy wasn't hers; he would dump her once he was sober again. That's what had happened with the others.
I turned my attention back at Andy, who had finally started to look me in the face. "C'mon, I'm driving you home." I said as I grabbed his hand and turned around.
He suddenly jerked his hand free of mine. "Heck no! I'm having a great time… There's booze and chicks everywhere here. Get lost! Why do you have to keep crashing the party?"
He was slurring all his words and kept babbling. His voice kept going from soft to loud, making it hard to hear. Some of what he said wasn't even coherent.
"Why did you come back anyways? You don't care about me! You left me here! I hate you. You're nothing to me. Heck, who are you?" He ranted in a burst of anger.
I couldn't reply. I just stood there frozen to the spot. The last few times I had dragged him home he had been difficult too, he had said other things that had hurt me. He was my closest friend though, so I took the punishment because I only wanted him to be safe and happy. This time though, was just too much on top of the built-up hurt from over the last few months. I had reached my limit, and I couldn't take anymore. My lungs closed up and my heart felt like it couldn't keep pumping through all the pain. How could he say he didn't know me?
I stared into his glazed, unfocused brown eyes, and he just stared right back me. My mouth had gone dry and I felt so cold. Was I really nothing to him now? I don't know how long I stood there, looking at him: searching inside of him, trying to find any part of him that I recognized.
Finally, I nodded slowly in defeat. "Ok." It finally hit me that there was nothing I could do anymore. The Andy I knew was buried too deep for me to reach, but the foolish side of me held onto the hope that he was still in there somewhere.
I shakily took off my bracelet, having some trouble with the clasp. I took his hand, looked him in the eye and whispered, "I'll be waiting, so please come back to me Andy." My voice was shaky, and even he seemed to hear the quivering. His eyes cleared a little, as if he was sobering up slightly. Or maybe that was just my wishful thinking.
I placed my precious charm bracelet in the palm of his hand, squeezing his hand one last time. Then I let go, my fingers trembling slightly. I turned around and took a deep breathe, wishing the chills would stop running through my body.
I urged myself to start walking through the people. I concentrated on my feet, willing one foot in front of the other. I walked past the people grinding on the floor and the couples making out, barely noticing any of them. I could feel myself bumping into several people, and heard the profanities being yelled at me, but nothing registered in my mind. I just kept walking, numb to the world.
It wasn't until I reached the door that I found I had tears silently streaming down my face. I lifted a hand to touch my cheek, and tried to wipe off some of the dampness. My hand instantly went to my wrist in search of my bracelet for comfort and found nothing. I wanted to turn around and march back in there and take both him and my bracelet with me. I needed them both; they meant so much to me.
I closed my eyes, and willed myself to stay where I was. I tried to be rational and logical. I couldn't go back and force him. Even if he came with me this time, it would just happen again and again. It would all be a lie and each time would cause me more and more pain until I finally broke.
So I took another deep breath and took one last look over my shoulder into the darkness. I don't belong here, and neither does Andy. One day he'll realize that. One day.
I turned around and walked out the door: leaving the loud music, the sweaty people, the stench of alcohol and my best friend behind. One day he'll wake up.
And I'll be there waiting for him.