She looks at me, with those wide innocuous brown eyes, her cinnamon, short hair invading her round features.
"I need to borrow those pants." She tilts her head in the direction of my grey track pants hanging in my open locker.
"No, for science."
I smile, appreciative of her sarcasm. "What will I wear for gym, then?"
"My jeans." Her eyes widen, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. I glance at the jeans she's wearing. She's got a chubbier mid-section than me, but the pants will fit.
"It's gym, though. Jeans will be terrible."
"Oh come on!" She screeches, "I did it last week!" She looks so indignant, as though my forgetfulness is a betrayal in itself.
"Oh, right." I feel sorry. I should've remembered that. "Sure, you can wear them. " I pull the pants down from the hook and place them in her awaiting arms, where they fold themselves into a puddle of grey material.
"Thanks!" She says brightly. With that, she links her arm in mine and skips off to the change room. I power-walk to keep up, carrying my extra t-shirt in my other hand.
She is laughing, throwing her head back and letting the hair, now longer, cascade down the back of her sweater. It's gaily striped, the sweater is, with awful sections of bubblegum pink and plum and neon green. The boy is chuckling along with her. I'm sitting silently, watching them, although I am included in this circle.
"Gosh, why don't you ever smile?" She is laughing at me, nudging the boy.
"I know!" He's saying, laughing at me, running a hand through his shaggy brown curls.
"You're totally, like, the depressed girl!" She's saying, as though it's my cool new nickname.
I'm nodding, trying to smile -- I guess I am.
"Wow." She says, looking at my pants. Her jeans fit me perfectly -- so perfectly that our ridiculous gym teacher will think they're mine. He only cares that we're not wearing the same clothes we came in with. "They fit you perfectly!"
"Yeah, they do." I respond. I'm too tired to say more than that, and I can't bring myself to respond with more than a monotone.
"You're really not skinny." She suddenly tells me. A few other girls who are changing nearby glance over at us, then continue chattering away. "I mean, you dress like you are, but you're not!" I'm wondering vaguely whether or not to be offended. It takes some concentration to decide if the problem here is if I'm objecting to the fact that she's saying I'm not skinny, or if I'm objecting to the implication that I care about my size. It's as though I'm thinking through a veil of fog, seeing through a midnight haze.
I decide to ignore the comment and pull off my shirt in order to replace it with my extra one.
"You have gained some weight!" She announces abruptly in a sing-song voice. She's pointing, elbow and finger fully extended, at my torso. It's childish, her posture is. The stupidity is so prominent in her statement that I almost feel like laughing. Almost. She's watching me, and nebulously it registers that I should respond.
"I guess." My voice is flat, devoid of emotion, as it usually is. Something very small in the back of my mind stirs, stage-whispering, "Look at yourself, full of padding, natural and latex." The sound is so quiet, and for a moment that seems eternal I stare into her light brown eyes that match her hair so well. The small activity in the back of my conscious is unfamiliar, foreign. It goes away, leaving my mind indistinct and unfocused once more. I robotically put on the other shirt as she returns to her changing. She flips her hair out of the collar of her shirt and tosses an arm around my shoulder.
"Let's go." She says easily, and together we progress out the change room door.
I'm frowning, letting the fringe that so often perturbs my view protect my eyes from onlookers. I'm sweating and panting from the run, staring at the concrete beneath my knees. It's cold, so cold I can see my breath forming artistic mushroom clouds in the air in front of me. He's beside me, listening to my ragged breathing as my hot cheeks prevent the flowing tears from freezing. His hand is on my back, rubbing soothing circuits that are relaxing me, begging me to unfurl myself from my cramped position. I can't -- I don't have the energy for that. The most I can do is prevent myself from falling into his lap. My thin stockings provide no protection from the frosty wind that has begun to pick up. I know it's blowing his hair wildly, all over the place, and it's ruining my neat bun, but my mind keeps returning to what she said to me. What she told them. How they looked at me with their new found knowledge, their emotions fresh in their eyes. How none of it was true. He's brushing my hair back from my face, and I'm shuddering from the warmth of his finger against my frozen cheek. He whispers some indistinct comfort to me, and I let my head fall onto his shoulder. He strokes my back still, and I let my eyes fall closed, but not before I see her silhouette before us.
I walk out of the change room, following her bright green shoes as she walks plainly down the brown laminate to where we usually warm up for gym. She pulls a purple elastic band from her wrist and folds it around her long, sleek black hair, securing it in a high ponytail. My best friend looks at me, still smiling from a joke between us during the previous period, as she begins to dislodge kinks in her neck. I pull my left arm across my chest, looking around at the sparsely populated gym. Suddenly my gaze is drawn to her, with her obviously dyed blond hair that's got a hint of cinnamon poking through at the roots. She's working on stretching her legs, which she is obviously over-stretching to show off her dance-trained flexibility. She waves at me with a sickly false smile plastered on her face. I nod back at her, out of pure politeness rather than real interest. Obviously, inexplicably satisfied with herself, she bends down over her split legs. Her new buddy is doing the same, her natural white-blond tresses swinging to the ground. The dyed one mutters something to her confidante, lips moving swiftly. The reply she gets is a quick glance up at me, the aqua green eyes dropping down my body, and the head turns away. They both snicker. I turn my attention back to my own comrade and sigh, giving her a look that she quickly understands. She glances over my shoulder at the two blondes with pity; she shakes her head at me with empathy. This relationship with my best friend is so real, so easy, so true. The relationship with the girl that used to cause scars on my forearm for weeks on end: So phony on her side. So formal on my side. So empty. So horrid. So last year.