Leah and Lana had been friends for a long time. They were friends, the type of friends that were so strangely different that you wondered what they talked about, and so ridiculously similar that you couldn't doubt their loyalty.
Leah was the girl that everyone liked, that everyone was friends with. You couldn't help it; she was simply the nicest person. She was Leah of the reasonably high grades, pencil smudges, and gentle smile. Her temper was all optimism and crazy conspiracy theories, mathematics and aliens and talking mice.
Lana was the loner, the one that most people vaguely recognized, but nobody knew her. She was the name on the locker, the over-read copy of War and Peace, the music-obsessed and slightly-apathetic teenager that didn't seem to really claim an age. Her temper was all sarcastic pessimism and sharp turns, slow to anger with a fatal tongue.
They'd shared a school, though not a grade, for years now, a pair of friends who could spend hours together in silence. Together and apart, they pushed past childhood into the world of teenagers, outstripping the goofy pigtails and plaid uniform jumpers. But in some ways they remained the same.
Leah still had the same rich dark hair, nearly black and thick as a waterfall. She still had the same gentle smile, the same laugh that invited everyone else to laugh, the same understanding eyes, even as she stretched to five-foot-six and lost the weight that she had carried from toddlerhood.
Lana still had the same tangled not-brown hair, dull but occasionally fairy-tale-shimmery. She still wore the constant expression of thought, and still smiled like she wasn't sure she knew how. Pimples of her early teens faded, but her eyes continued as a blurry dark brown that found poetry and essays in everything. And Lana remained a shadow behind the beloved Leah, three inches shorter and miles away socially and without the least clue how to portray anything in an understandable way without four-syllable words.
And they grew older, Leah with a fascination for mathematical equations and complex mazes, while Lana drew fantasy and wrote abstract poetry that told her heart without revealing it. And perhaps others wondered why they were friends, how they were friends, but Lana's mother could only smile as the two of them passionately discussed character development and realism in fiction.
And years passed, Leah plugging away at high school because she liked taking things at her own pace, Lana dropping out to go to college because she was inches from a nervous breakdown. Despite the distance, and the different worlds they inhabited, they fell back into place like two puzzle pieces, each time they met, picking up years-old discussions and excitedly sharing the shiny new parts of their lives with each other.
Leah finished high school, tall and serene and full of friendship, beautiful as she had been at nine, when they first met. It is with a wide smile and a shift of her glasses on her nose (which somehow didn't hide the lovely hazel-behind-lashes) that she pronounces her decision to go to a nice girls' seminary, like most of the girls in her class.
Lana fumbles in her purse for her glasses, as if finding them will erase this announcement, but clearer vision does not remove the truth of where Leah is going to be for the next year, at least. Far away.
And Leah leaves for Europe or Africa or Asia or something, and Lana hides behind her books, plowing through papers and essays and taking up a bit of piano and painting. The tangly hair grows tanglier and longer and no less dull than it had been when she was eight and fighting over a seat at camp with an older girl named Leah.
But when Leah comes back, the hairbrush meets hair, and the glasses get an upgrade, and the pizza place that they have visited several times in the past sees a well dressed girl with a solemn bun, in place of the wrinkle-clothed and tangle-haired Lana of the past.
Leah looks different, with a glow to her skin and even more self-assurance and just plain happiness, but her hair is as dark and sleek as ever, and the smile hasn't gone anywhere.
And when they hug each other, and Leah excitedly talks about her year, (because emails are just not enough, and Lana wouldn't take an overseas call unless it was the end of the world,) and Lana nervously smoothes her new black skirt, and tugs at her crisp white collar, because she only wears these clothes in front of her professors – or when she wants to look good. Which frankly, is quite rare, but Leah compliments the earrings, (are they new?) the glasses, (you finally got permanent ones!) the skirt, (its lovely!) and the shirt. (You're wearing a blouse! And it isn't blue!)
And it is only as Leah brings up the now ever-present question that their community throws at women in their late teens, that Lana feels her stomach slip sideways.
The question is, of course, marriage.
Leah brings up her mother's latest hysterical attempts to set up dates, and Lana realizes with agony what these past ten years of friendship have turned into.
She swallows the horror that rises, and acts as if nothing is happening, because nothing can happen, because she never did find out how Leah felt about homosexuality, and because Leah is a wonderful, wonderful friend, and so, so straight, and there is no way in a million years that their community would ever accept it…
The lunch (because it was just lunch!) ends much too soon, and much too late, and Lana pleads off repeats with mentions of her end-of-term papers that are actually already finished, and flees.
But friendship isn't so easily dissolved as that, and Lana finds herself crushing the pain into the back of her mind, and simply enjoying her one and only friend that has lasted for so long. Feigning commiseration over disastrous dates, laughing at them weeks later, and simply hanging out, because that's what friends do and Lana thinks that the aching hurt that keeps her up at night can just go away.
Leah gets married, and Lana plays piano for the dancing, because crowds aren't really her thing, and she just can't hate the groom because, like Leah, he's just so damn nice.
But loneliness is painful, and watching as Leah and Lana's own sister commiserate over insomniac babies and the terrors of pregnancy is enough to make Lana want to jump off a cliff.
It hurts, because everyone is always telling Lana how she got just what she wanted, and doesn't she feel so accomplished – she is Professor, after all, Ph.D and all that rot.
Everything she dreamed of as a kid.
But books don't hug, and papers don't comfort, and six-hundred-year-old texts don't wake you in the night with shuddery breaths and a need for new underwear.
When did Leah-and-Lana become so hard to think about?
Leah's third kid is born on the same day that Lana publishes her first book, A Study of the Briton Culture Beyond the Stereotypes, and How The British Culture is Still Affected Today.
There is no happy ending, because life isn't a story.
Life is lonely, Lana thinks.