Falling Away

..by DancingChaChaFruit..

The first time someone referred to me as "Jessica's bitchy friend," I almost cried. It was my freshman year of high school, and I was getting my books for the weekend one Friday afternoon. Jessica's friends were a few lockers down from me when they started talking about their weekend plans. Since Jessica's friend's plans were Jessica's plans, and Jessica's plans were my plans, I stopped moving and listened in.

"Yeah," one girl was saying. "Brian's party should be sweet. But aren't we supposed to go to Jessica's bitchy friend's house before?"

Tears welled up in my eyes—I was Jessica's bitchy friend, and it was my house they were going to. Ignoring the rest of their conversation, I quickly closed my locker and sped away, not even caring if the girls noticed me. Maybe I deserved this. It wasn't as if I made an extreme effort to be friends with Jessica's it wasn't because I didn't like them. In fact, it was quite the opposite—if they actually knew how badly I wanted to be friends with them, they'd probably be using a different adjective, like "Jessica's quiet friend," or even "Jessica's weird friend." I would have been okay with the latter. It's not exactly a positive thing to hear coming from their mouths, but it's better than "bitchy." Anything is better than that.

Later that day, when Jessica was putting on makeup in my bathroom before everyone else came over, I asked her about it.

"Hey, Jess?" I said quietly, watching her face in the mirror.

"What?" She swept eyeliner under her eyes with a deftness I did not possess.

"Um, how do your friends feel about me?"

She frowned as she pulled mascara out of her makeup bag and leaned close to the mirror. "What do you mean?"

"I don't know. . . . Do they like me or anything?" I looked down at my lap and fiddled with the hem of my shirt.

"I mean, they don't really know you, Katie."

I sighed. "That's not what I mean."

She spun around and looked at me, her blue eyes staring into my brown ones. Her blonde hair cascaded down her shoulders. My brown hair hung limply from my head. Our differences always seemed more tangible and more striking when she would get ready for a night out. "Well, like, I don't know what you're asking. They can't like you if they don't know you."

"Never mind," I mumbled to my lap again.

"Oh my God, Katie, you always do that!" Jessica exclaimed. "Look, if you want to know if my friends hate you, the answer is no. If you want to know if my friends like you, the answer is also no." She turned back to the mirror and hurled her mascara back into her makeup bag. "If you care so much about what they think of you, maybe you should talk to them every once in a while," she added.

I ignored her latter remark and continued to press her. "Do they think I'm bitchy?"

She looked at me in the mirror as if I'd asked her if they thought I was an alien. "Why would they think that, Katie? You don't even talk to them."

"So if you heard them calling me a bitch you'd correct them?"

She rolled her eyes and seized her makeup bag. "Katie, stop being so insecure about everything. God." Then she stomped out of the bathroom.

When we were younger, Jessica always used to have to stick up for me. Like the time at lunch in fourth grade when I tripped and spilled gravy all over Deanna Lewis, the meanest girl in our grade. Deanna berated me endlessly after that, calling me stupid and making fun of my freckles. Whenever stuff like that happened, Jessica always came over and told off whoever was yelling at me.

Apparently, those days were over.

"Wait, Jess!" I followed her out into the hallway leading to my bedroom.

She turned around and looked at me impassively. Maybe she expected me to apologize; part of me wanted to. I hated when Jessica got upset with me—well, I hated when anyone got upset with me, but Jessica more than most—because I was always afraid she'd stop liking me. I couldn't remember when that fear had started. All I knew was that it hadn't always been like that. We used to hardly ever fight, and when we did, it was usually over something trivial. I still remembered once in third grade when we didn't speak for three days and even forced a couple of friends to pick sides. But even after that fight I'd never feared I'd lose her friendship. It seemed given, at the time, that we would eventually make up.

When I thought about it, Jessica needed to apologize, not me. Did she even realize how our relationship had morphed over the years? I guess she couldn't be entirely to blame for that, but I did feel sometimes that most of the blame rested on her shoulders.

Regardless of the change in our relationship, I still wanted to keep Jessica as a friend, so I just changed the subject.
"Do you think you could do my makeup for me tonight?" I asked just as she had turned around to go my bedroom. Her expression changed immediately.

"You're finally gonna let me do your makeup?" She grinned. "It's about time."

XXX

That night an upperclassman friend of Jessica's picked up the five of us from my house to take us to the party. While we were sitting around outside waiting for him, I had listened to Jessica and her friends discuss how "lame" he was and how he was in love with Jessica's friend Lynn. Apparently he was some "geeky science nerd" Lynn frequently took advantage of, especially since he didn't drink and could drive her to and from parties.

When the guy arrived, Lynn took the front seat. I watched the way he looked at her, and the way she completely ignored him and talked to the others the whole time. How could he put up with that? How could he still like someone who was such a jerk to him? I wanted to tell Lynn she should stop using this guy, but that was hardly something I could just up and say to her. She probably thought I was a mute, anyway.

When we arrived at the party, the four of them flew out of the car. "The science nerd" and I were slower to get out. We shared a look, and I thought for a very strange second that he understood everything. Then he jogged away to catch up with the others. I stayed behind, looking up at the house pulsing with music. Parties weren't my thing, but I tried to like them anyway.

"Katie, why are you always so slow?" Jessica asked when I got to the door. The others had already gone in, but she'd waited outside for me. "C'mon, I need some booze."

She seized my arm and quickly found the kitchen. There was a tray of brownies sitting on the counter, but I knew to avoid those. Jessica grabbed a beer from a cooler sitting on the counter and found me a can of soda in the fridge.

She grinned at me, thriving in her element, and pulled me out to the throng of people dancing. Immediately, Jessica let herself go, dancing with everyone and everything around her. I backed slowly out of the dancers and leaned against the wall, sipping my soda and taking it all in. There were a couple of other wallflowers, standing apart from the crowd like me, or sitting on the couch. But eventually they were all whisked away by other people, while I still stood there. I felt like the awkward girl in the movies whom nobody wants to dance with at the high school dance. It was okay, though, because I'd accepted this already. These were my weekends, most of the time. Loneliness isn't so bad when you're accustomed to it.\

XXX

I hadn't been standing against the wall for too long when a guy I didn't recognize came over and leaned on the wall next to me, maybe three feet away. He turned his head towards me and smiled.

"Whatchya up to?"

I regarded him suspiciously. "What does it look like?"

"It looks like you're standing around by yourself."

He and his buddies must have noticed me and planned out some prank. I was not about to become the butt of a joke. "Hmm, observant," I remarked sarcastically, crossing my arms over my chest and looking the other way.

"Don't you wanna dance or something? I mean, you're at a party."

I raised my eyebrows at him. "If I wanted to dance I'd be dancing. And yes, I am quite aware I'm at a party."

". . . Right." The boy looked toward the dancers, probably trying to mouth to his friends that I was not good joke material. "Well, I can see when I'm not wanted." Looking slightly put-out, he wandered into the kitchen. Only a couple seconds after he disappeared from my view, though, I realized that maybe, thanks to Jessica's makeup job, he'd actually been hitting on me! He had asked if I wanted to dance . . .

I was only slightly freaking out that I might have turned down the only person to show any interest in me as I moved through the party, searching for Jessica to give me advice. She wasn't dancing anymore, wasn't in the kitchen, wasn't in the bathroom—so I went upstairs, where there were just as many people as downstairs, but crammed into less space. Suddenly, I heard my name come out of a room with the door ajar. I froze and peeked through the small crack to see Jessica and Lynn sitting on the bed, discussing none other than me. Instead of doing what I knew I should have done, I leaned into the door and eavesdropped.

"—kind of, I don't know, uncomfortable," Lynn was saying. "I mean, you know that a bunch of people went to Emily's house tonight instead of hers, right? Andrew and Jason and I are all used to her, but nobody else really is."

Jessica heaved a huge sigh. "I know, Lynn. It's just, like . . . She used to be my best friend, you know?"

The words "used to" felt like a slap in the face.

"Like, I can't just flush all those years down the toilet," she continued.

"I'm not saying you should just forget about it. But sometimes people drift apart. I mean, people change, and clearly you both have gone in different directions."

"I don't know. I really wish she would just talk to you guys sometimes. Like, I feel like she doesn't realize that it's kind of creepy that she's always around but never talks."

So I guess now the truth was coming out. On top of Jessica no longer considering me her best friend, she thought I was creepy. I felt something stirring within me.

"Haven't you ever told her she should try and talk more? I mean, we might actually like her if she said 'hey' now and then, or something."

"Oh my God, I have, like, a million times! But she never listens to me! She just, like, completely ignores me whenever I tell her she should."

"Yeah. . . ." She and Jessica sat in silence for a moment. I tried to poke my head in unobtrusively to see what they were doing, but at that precise moment someone jostled me.

"I think—" Lynn had just started to say, when I suddenly toppled through the door and landed at the edge of the bed. Jessica and Lynn looked down at me with surprise.

"Katie?" Jess got off the bed and crouched next to me. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," I spat, scrambling away from her and getting to my feet. "Why should you care about your ex-best friend anyway?"

Jessica looked at Lynn with alarm.

"It's rude to listen in on other people's conversations," Lynn told me.

For once, I did not feel inclined to stay silent in her presence. "It's rude to tell my best friend to get rid of me," I shot back.

"Katie, look—" Jessica began in a calm voice, but I did not want to hear what she had to say.

"So that's how you really feel, huh, Jess? You don't think I'm your best friend and you think I'm creepy?"

"Katie, please, hear me out."

"No, Jessica!" I felt angry tears welling up.

In my peripheral vision, I noticed Lynn edging towards the door, but I didn't care anymore what she thought. Maybe after this I would, but right now I wasn't thinking of consequences. All I was thinking was that Jessica had hurt me, and I was pissed.

"Katie . . ." Jess seemed close to tears herself.

"I already know what you have to say, Jess. You don't want to be my friend anymore. And you know what? That's fine. Wish granted."

I stormed out of the room and locked myself in another bedroom to await the end of the party.

XXX

Around two in the morning, a quiet knock sounded on the door. I had fallen asleep after crying, and the knock dragged me from my restless slumber. I trudged to the door and opened it just enough to see the person outside.

"It's time to go," Jessica told me quietly, looking away from me.

I wiped my eyes with the tissue in my hand to get rid of any excess makeup and followed her. Lynn was waiting for us at the front door with "the science nerd"—the other people we'd come with had apparently found other rides. Her arms were crossed tightly across her chest, and he looked glum.

"I'm sorry," Jessica murmured while we walked to the car.

I shrugged. I'd cried so much that I didn't really care about anything anymore.

"I just . . ." She exhaled loudly. "I just miss when we had the same friends, and I didn't have to worry about whether or not you were happy when we were with other people."

"You care about whether I'm happy?" Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was. I had never even considered the fact she cared about how I felt around her friends.

"Of course I do! Come on, Katie, we've been friends since, like, kindergarten."
I looked down at my feet. "I guess."

We climbed into "the science nerd's" car.

"I'm surprised you're not drunk," I noted.

"I didn't really feel like partying after you got mad."

I turned away and looked out the window. The roads were barren once we were out of the neighborhood. The car was silent except for a few sniffles from the driver, and I was thinking about Jessica's conversation with Lynn. She had mentioned not being able to just ditch me, and I guess it was true that I ignored her when she told me I should talk to her friends. Maybe, I decided, Jessica and I needed some time apart. I needed to be somewhere I didn't feel compelled to stay silent and I didn't have to piggyback off Jessica all the time. Then, maybe, we could be friends again.