Once Upon A Time
They first met at the age of four. Their mothers were old high school friends who had recently gotten back in touch.
He looked at her with a frown, dark eyes narrowing. "Your hair is stupid like that," he loftily informed her, flicking one of her pigtails disdainfully. His mother, rightfully embarrassed, tried to shush her son.
"Yeah, well… you're short. Shorter than me. You're shorter than a girl," she retorted, sticking out her tongue rudely. Angrily he lunged for her, knocking her onto the dewy grass where the two rolled down the small hill, a tangle of arms and legs.
However, invariably as small children are apt to do, they quickly forgot any animosity and became friends. Every day was either spent at her house, his house, or the playground in between their two houses. The parents would gossip and drink tea, watching their children alternate between playing and fighting.
It was her sixth birthday, (he was already six), when he gave her the present. Her birthday party was lavish, full of colourful balloons and streamers. After the cake had been eaten, the presents opened, and other kids departed, she looked at him reproachfully. "Where's my present?"
He looked at her with a dimpled grin. "Even though I still think your hair is stupid with those ribbons, I got a good present for you this time. Better than those rocks you gave me for my birthday. Here, hold out your hand." He dug deep into his pockets and shoved something into her hands.
Looking at what he had given her, her eyes widened. It was a silver necklace, with half a heart dangling on it. "That's a real swell present! Thanks!" Without hesitation, she landed a prim kiss on his cheek.
Annoyed, he scowled and wiped at his cheek. "It's not some cheap thing either! Dad gave it to Mum when they were dating or whatever. They gave it to me and told me I can have it. I have the other half, see." He withdrew the other half of the necklace that was tucked inside his shirt.
She clapped her hands excitedly. "I'm gonna wear it forever! You better wear it forever too! Promise?" She stuck out her pinky finger expectantly, beaming when he returned her pinky swear.
The two were inseparable in grade school. They ended up being in the same class every year, and so their friendship grew and grew. He beat up the boys that pulled her hair or stole her crayons. She kicked the boys where it hurt most when they laughed at him for being friends with a girl, since everyone knew girls had cooties.
It was a warm spring day; the two of them lay on the grass side by side, staring at the lazy clouds floating around in the sky. "My cousin Lester is getting married next year or somethin'. He's real weird, keeps kissing his girlfriend on the lips and hugging her and stuff." He shuddered in disgust.
"You hug me!" she snapped.
"Yeah well you're not a real girl, with weird stuff on your eyes and lips. Thank goodness for that," he replied fervently. He continued thoughtfully, "in fact, I like you more than any other girl. Let's get married someday."
"Okay," she replied simply. The two linked hands and continued staring at the sky.
But eventually, things could never stay the same. At the start of middle school, his mom passed away. Suddenly, there weren't as many sleepovers, house visits, or play times. Junior high also meant more giggling girls, many of which weren't half as bad as he thought they were a couple years ago. She started making other friends; girls she could gossip to and shop with.
There was no big fight or blowout; they just slowly started drifting apart. They had fewer classes together; boys no longer pulled on her pigtails or stole her pencils. Overnight, it seemed, everyone was labelled a different status, and popularity had a real meaning.
She was the quiet, friendly girl who got along with anyone. He was the brooding, handsome boy everyone was curious about. Eventually, no one they grew up with remembered they had once been inseparable. From one entity, they became two.
She suffered her first heartbreak alone. Her ex-boyfriend had tried to move to third base while she didn't want to. He had gotten angry when he saw her necklace, shaking her, demanding she tell him who it was from. She didn't have the words to explain what the necklace meant. She didn't know why she didn't take it off.
He didn't date. His friends often ribbed him about the necklace he wore that occasionally fell out. Who has the other half? He never responded. His family consisted of two, and his dad no longer cared nearly as much as before, choosing instead drown himself into bottles of alcohol.
They didn't pine for each other. They realized friendships do come and go, and it was good while it lasted. They were much too different now, with different friends and different lives. Neither was secretly in love with the other. They were just, apart.
High school began, they were fifteen. The hormones became wilder, the partying heavier. The first year flew by in a blur. Everything was fine. Whenever they passed each other in the hallways, they would say hi, but that was it.
Changes began to happen by the second year of high school. He phoned her first. It was a Friday night; she was at home watching television with her parents. He was at a friend's party – drunk.
He asked her to pick him up. How could she say no to an old friend? She told her parents she was going out for a while. They smiled and nodded.
It took her twenty minutes to find the right house. She turned off the engine and stepped out of the car, cautiously heading towards the front steps. Instead, she found him waiting for her, off to the side, towards the bushes. It was obvious to her he was inebriated, and also smelled like a kind of drug.
Nevertheless, she grabbed his arm and dragged him towards her old, beat up car. Buckling his seat belt, she got into her own seat and drove towards his house. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye – his head leaned back against the headrest, eyes closed, with his thick eyelashes sweeping down onto his cheeks.
She reached his house and helped him open the door. The house was dark and smelled of booze. They tiptoed past his father passed out on the couch in the living room. She reached the foot of the stairs and turned around to leave, hearing his whispered "Thank you."
She pressed a small kiss on his cheek, much like she had done on her sixth birthday. "Take care of yourself," she responded. He made his way upstairs while she walked back to her car.
Life went on.
It was the last year of high school and she started putting 'weird stuff' on her eyes and lips. Her friends encouraged her to flirt a little, find another boyfriend after Disaster Boyfriend #1. She was hesitant, but decided to go for the cute guy in her Biology class.
He couldn't understand what had changed. He found himself staring at her, thinking about her, dreaming about her more. He often found himself lost in daydreams about their past, back when boys thought girls had germs. His eyes followed her movements around school more. He looked at her out of the corner of his eyes when he lounged outside the east wall of the school, watching her run around the track for gym.
They were in the same Biology class. He sat in the back; she sat in the front, beside a slick-looking guy with too much gel in his hair. He noticed the way she laughed more around Slick Guy, the coy swats on the arm, the fluttering lashes. His eyes narrowed.
He couldn't sleep at night. The house was dark and oppressive. Lying on top of his bed, he phoned her, having asked for her cell number from a friend the day before. The friend had looked surprised when he came up to her, but gave the number willingly. Hearing her sleepy, "Hello?" on the other end suddenly made his mouth dry.
"Hey," he continued after a pause, "it's me."
She sat up slowly in bed, taking note of his depressed, rough voice. "How are you doing?" she asked, rubbing sleep from her eyes.
"Living. Do you remember when we first met?"
She smiled at the question. "Of course. You pulled on my pigtails and said it looked stupid."
"You made fun of me because I was shorter than you."
"No, not anymore."
"I told you about my cousin Lester's wife and how she looked weird with makeup on. You wear makeup now," he stated.
She felt irrational guilt over it. "Yeah…" she replied cautiously.
There was a long pause on the other end. "It looks good."
He heard her shifting around, probably trying to find a more comfortable sleeping spot. Suddenly he felt embarrassed for having woken her up for nothing. "Sorry I called, go back to sleep."
"No, no. I'm not that tired anymore. What do you want to talk about?" her heart went out him and his loneliness, personality so different from when he was her best friend.
"I dunno. Anything."
And they did. They talked about their childhoods, their fights, their parents. But they didn't talk about the present. Neither knew who dropped off first, sleep overcoming the desire to talk.
School was the same as before. Their greetings in the hallways were a little more friendly, the small smiles a little wider. He noticed her flirting less with Slick Guy, something which gave him a sort of smug satisfaction, though he didn't pause to think about why.
When he couldn't sleep, he phoned her. When she couldn't sleep, she phoned him. They progressed from conversations about the past to the present and the future. One day, she told him about Slick Guy. "He wants me to go out with him."
He didn't know what to say. "If you like him back, then go out with him," he offered as a sort of advice to her.
She felt a little disappointed that he didn't seem to care. "Okay."
Silence. She quietly ventured, "But what do you think about him?"
"If you're into the greasy, slicked-back blonde look…"
She laughed as she thought about it. He was right, Slick Guy was a little greasy. She burrowed deeper into her blankets, shifting the phone to the other ear. Abruptly changing the subject, she blurted out, "My friend is in love with you."
He chuckled, stretching the kink in his neck from leaning on the headboard. "Love is a pretty big thing, especially since she doesn't know me."
"She's a nice girl. You know, the redhead."
The next day at school, she saw him leaning against her redheaded friend's locker, bending down slightly to hear what said friend was telling him. As if sensing her, his expressionless eyes flickered up to connect with hers.
During lunchtime, she couldn't stop the small flash of annoyance that ran through her as the redheaded friend gushed about how hot her new boyfriend was.
Without really knowing why, she redoubled her flirting attempts with Slick Guy, who was only too pleased to see she was finally responding to him again. She glanced back once to see him looking straight at her, expressionless once again. Upset without a reason, she turned back to Slick Guy and told him yes, she would love go out with him.
Both had their first date in the same place on the same night. He felt his pulse quicken when he saw her walk through the door, so changed from the girl that used to put ribbons in her pigtails. And yet, the same. His date possessively ran a hand down his arm, reclaiming his attention.
She finally noticed him after she and Slick Guy had sat down and ordered. When he glanced her way, she flushed and hurriedly turned back to Slick Guy, pretending to be engrossed in what he was saying.
Both their dates were a disaster. Sometime since his first phone call to the present, feelings had changed, only now realized. She couldn't stop glancing at him out of the corner of her eye, oblivious to Slick Guy's angry looks.
He couldn't believe how pissed off he was that he had actually agreed to date Redhead Girl.
She couldn't sleep that night. Neither could he. She kept her phone beside her head, staring at it intently. Call, call, call. Tell me what's going on.
The phone rang.
She tried to sound sleepy, like she'd just woken up. Instead, she just sounded tense. "Hello?"
"I can't do this anymore."
"Don't pretend you don't know. Meet me at the playground in five."
He strode towards her without preamble, eyes trained on her. Finally within touching distance, he gently reached for the thin silver chain that peeked through the scoop of her shirt. Heart thudding, she gasped and stiffened as he pulled it the necklace out from underneath her shirt, eyes glittering intensely.
"You never took it off," he said, breaking the silence.
"I promised." She reached out and pulled the neck of his shirt down slightly, feeling a wave of relief wash over her as she withdrew the silver chain from his shirt. "Neither did you."
"What does this mean?"
He closed his eyes briefly. "I'll be straight up with you. I never missed you all these years. You belong in my past; not a part of my screwed up life right now."
She grasped his wrist gently, his skin warming her cold hands. "I never missed you either. But now…"
He closed the distance between them and daringly drew her into his arms, burrowing his face in her hair. "I need you."
"What about Redhead Girl?"
He drew back slightly, eyebrows raised. "What about Slick Guy?"
She laughed, feeling happiness bubble up in her chest. The missing puzzle piece in her heart was found. "You once said you hated your cousin Lester always kissing his girlfriend. Are you still against kissing?"
Without an answer, he captured her lips with his.
What do you think?