She giggled a lot. Even when something wasn't really that funny, she would giggle. She was deflecting, trying to seem up to pace when in reality she had no idea what to say. In a way it was endearing. I can't tell you when I first met her, or what my first thought of her was. I just remember when I had a significant thought about her. She was sitting in the communal living room around a few of her closest friends. Her dyed hair was shining, a deep bronze color similar to the color of her skin.

"I should get bangs!" she said.

"You would look great with bangs." chimed one friend.

That was all the encouragement she needed. She marched to the dorm room across the hall and marched back out to the communal bathroom, a pair of black scissors in her hand. The light burst out of the bathroom as she entered it. In less than 7 min, she emerged with freshly chopped bangs to go with her edgy golden bob. She smiled as all her friends gasped in delight at her new style.

Bold. I thought to myself. Wow.

A few months later, I had my second significant thought about her. This one was more of a long moment.

For the most part, she blended into the hallways. I never noticed if we passed each other on the way to my room or my classes on campus. We had a mutual friend in our dorm building, but even then, I rarely saw her. One day, that mutual friend, Kayla, invited us to her dorm room to make pot brownies.

"Go ahead and go into my room. My friend is already in there making the batter. I should be there in few minutes with a bottle of wine...or three." Kayla texted.

I knocked on the door lightly. When it opened, the bronze haired girl was standing before me, except her hair was a bit darker now, mixed with brown strands and black roots, still beautiful. Her face was riddled with anxiety.

"I thought you were the RA. Or the campus police!" she exclaimed.

I ran into the room quickly, shutting the door behind me. "Sorry! Kayla said you knew I was coming." Almost on cue, I heard her phone "ding!"

"That's probably the message now." I said.

She hustled over to the table and finished pouring the batter into a deep pan.

"Everything is ready to go. I was just waiting for Kayla to get here before baking it." she said.

I looked around the room curiously. It was my first time there with the intention to just "hang out."

"You sure you don't need help with anything?" I asked, my eyes lingering on a stack of old nintendo 65 games hidden in the far corner of the room.
"Nope. I think I'm all done!" She wiped the edge of the bowl and set it down near the sink in the corner of the room.

"I'm Belle, by the way. Nice to meet you." I said.

"Belle? Like the Disney princess?"

"Actually yes. It's short for Belinda, but my parents started calling me Belle after the movie came out. It's been Belle ever since."

"I'm Jade." Her painted red lips parted with a smile.

"I've seen you around the building before. I live in 402." I watched her as she plopped down on a fuzzy blue bean bag near the foot of Kayla's bed. I slid into a computer chair mirroring her, watching as she flipped through her phone haphazardly.

The room around me was definitely split between the two roommates. Half of the room had decorations covered in pastel greens, yellows, pinks, and positive quotes. Clearly it was the other roommate's side. Across was Kayla's side. She had a giant shrine-like poster of a young Whitney Houston above her bed. The wall running along side it had magazine clippings of current hip-hop artists, feminist slogans, a mini poster of Ryan Gosling, and a small pan-african flag. On her night stand stood a Princess Leia figurine near a Whitney Houston mug. I smiled brightly. I looked over to Jade who was still flipping through her phone.

"We could bake them, so that they will be done by the time she's here." I suggested.

Jade looked up from her phone, her dark brows furrowed. "Yeah! Let's do that!"

We made our way to the communal space, the pan covered in aluminum foil. It was the middle of the day so there were lots of people rushing by the kitchen, but none stopping to use it. The perfect cover.

"So how did you meet Kayla?" I asked.

Jade fumbled with the temperature knobs as I closed the oven door.

"We were in a class called American Minorities in Literature. It was a large class, but one day, we both went to our professor's office hours at the same time." Jade settled on a number and we sat on the couches in view of the kitchen. "We started talking as we were waiting outside the door and realized we had a lot in common. That was a year ago, when we were both freshman."

She pulled out her phone and set a timer.

"How about you?"

I laughed as I relived the memory. "We thought we were assigned to the same dorm room. She'd moved in half of her stuff before my real roommate arrived and pointed her in the right direction. We've run into each other a few times since then. We've even gotten lunch." I pulled at my dark brown curls and watched as they bounced back up to my chin. "I barely just met her… it was at the beginning of this school year."

A few students rushed by, one skateboarded towards the exit.

Jade tucked away her phone into the back pocket of her shorts. "Is this your first year?"

"Yes, but I'm a transfer. Technically I'm a Junior. I only have one more year. You?"

"Second year. Sophomore. Where'd you transfer from?" she itched.

"The state university. My parents couldn't afford the tuition anymore." I admitted. "What are you studying?"

Jade grinned nervously. Her eyes fluttered a bit before she answered. "General studies." she cleared her throat. "I don't really know what I want to do yet. I'm gonna declare before I start my junior year. That's for sure."

I could could tell she was uncomfortable talking about it.

"No pressure." I assured her. "College is about figuring out what you like, anyway, right? I've switched majors before."

"Really?" she inquired

"I switched from Electrical Engineering to Art."

Her mouth fell open in shock. "Wow. That's a big jump."

"My parents aren't too pleased." I shrugged. It was truth. When I made my switch, they did everything in the reverse psychology book to convince me not to. Every day one of them would make a comment why it wasn't practical to study art. They thought I was wasting away my talented brain on something I should do in my free time. Something that should be a mere hobby.

"I'm sure I'll never hear the end of it. It was an altogether rough first year for them. For me."

" I feel the same way right now." Jade started to speak almost anamatronically. "I don't think I'm gonna come back for that Junior year."

She noticed my face change, puzzled. Another flush of students walked past us, more idly this time.

"I'm just having a hard time." Her voice lowered. There wasn't a smile on her face anymore, but she didn't look sad either; just serious. The moment was silent between us. In her, I saw myself as a freshman, a young college student dealing with many firsts, some that were still hard to swallow. I paused. It didn't look like Jade would be delving deeper, so I reached out with my own experience. Hopefully, she would feel heard.

"My godmother passed away the month before my freshman year." My heart thumped. "It was sudden. I don't think I ever left my dorm room, other than for class. Even then, I barely made it to class. I almost failed out my first year and I had come from a high school where I was in the top 10." Jade looked away towards the kitchen. "I was crying every night, stone cold every morning. I was drinking too hard." I continued as I felt my eyes sting and chest heave. I was hoping not to get emotional this time, but part of my healing process taught me to accept the present for what it was. So, I allowed my tears to break their fall on an old brown couch, in the middle of a college common space, in front of a beautiful stranger. "That was part of the reason why I transferred. My parents knew I wasn't doing well and they wanted me closer to home. I'm sorry." I choked.

Jade was further from me, on the opposite side of the same large brown couch. I felt connected to her. She looked back at me and replied...

"I would usually be crying too, but I just started taking medication for depression."

Something about the energy when she spoke ruined the idea of what I thought we had. Or would've had. A connection. A moment when maybe, this blur of a girl who I wanted to know when I saw her, but forgot about when she was gone, would become a close friend.

"Oh."

We fell silent again. Everything tasted stale, the moment, the air, the roof of my mouth. I lightly dabbed the corners of my eyes and boldly looked up to meet Jade's gaze.

She broke it and looked towards the kitchen again. "My cousin passed away a year ago. I haven't been the same since." She started the sentence nonchalantly, but it ended solemnly. Like, maybe her medication could only numb so much.

"Oh." I breathed out again. My voice was turning back to normal. "I'm sorry to hear that."

Suddenly a ringing noise burst from her phone. The timer was up.

Half an hour after returning to the dormroom, Kayla finally arrived with two large wine bottles, a large bag of Hot Fries, and another of powdered donuts.

"Sorry!" she clamoured, dumping her shopping onto her messy bed. "The store was so fucking busy and the traffic coming back was even worse!"

For the rest of the night, Jade and I spoke, but not really to each other. We were all engaged in the same conversation, but Jade and I felt more like strangers that had still not clicked. Our common denominator was Kayla, so we interacted through her. It wasn't hard. Kayla's sweet and larger than life personality took up enough space for Jade and I to be happily entertained. Then, when it came time to eat the brownies, the high only kicked in for Jade. She was giggling the entire night as Kayla and I passed a simple conversation between us. Kayla was always a loving energy to be around. If they had a connection, maybe Jade and I could have one too.

Kayla smiled as she watched us laugh at her.

"We are gonna be the best girl friends ever." she beamed.

A year and a half later.

I lived across the city. East to be exact. The college campus was directly in the middle. Kayla moved to the far west of the city and Jade lived only one minute down the road from her. With the expected craziness of my final year in college, and the inconvenient small roads between us, Jade and I never quite fell together. But worse, Kayla and I fell apart. She was busy as well, as to be expected. But what was painful was that our friendship had grown so deeply in the span of a year, only to start unraveling half a year later. Kayla stopped responding to my texts, she never had time to hang out, and she was short with her conversations with me. It would've been fine, until I realized every time I asked her to spend time with me, she would say she was too busy. Then, I would see her on social media, hanging out with her other friends… and Jade.

Over those 6 months, I tried to keep in touch. I thought I was crazy to believe that she was actively ignoring me. But, in the end, the whole friend group faded away, except one girl. Elena was someone I also met through Kayla. After those 6 months, right before winter break of my senior year, I confronted Kayla. Unfortunately, nothing came from it. I didn't get any apologies or answers. Just a quiet conversation filled with "I was just so busy this semester. I didn't mean to leave you out." I took what I got, but thought long and hard about our friendship. I thought, well a friend I don't feel good energy from, is probably not a friend I should keep. So I stopped reaching out. It was an incredibly painful decision. That's when Elena came through and started reaching for me.

"I haven't seen you around the group in a while. Where have you been? Let's get lunch?"

Her texts were always pure and inviting.

Elena and I continued our friendship over the course of my final semester in college. Until that friendship became more. We started a relationship a week before my graduation. It happened very naturally. So much so that I didn't even think about it until Elena walked out of my apartment one day saying "See you later preciosa girlfriend." The door locked behind her and I sat behind in what felt like an empty living room with just the word "girlfriend" spinning in the air around me.

Two months into my new relationship, I received a text from Kayla. It was a short apology with an invitation to her 4th of July pool party.

"I'm sorry we haven't been so close. I miss you. Please come to my Independence Day party at my mom's house. She has a pool so bring your bikini!"

"No way." said Elena, as I finished reading it out loud. Elena had also stopped reaching out to Kayla a long time ago.

"It seems genuine." I bargained.

Elena flipped her thick black hair over her shoulder and glared at me. "Are you kidding? It's a text message, mi amor."

She continued with her video game, slicing down zombies with every syllable in her argument.

"If. She. Was. A. Real. One. She. Would. Have. Called."

I heard the video game pause again. I was standing in Elena's college apartment, peeking over the kitchen bar into the living room. With a deep sigh, Elena rose from the couch and walked over to me.

"Look. I know you feel better since you stopped trying so hard for her. Don't you think that means something?"

I looked down at the mango I had been slicing through moments earlier. The mango juice was almost running down my arms. I set it down on the cutting board and turned to sink faucet to run my hands through the water.

"If you want to go then, of course, you should go. But don't put so much energy into gossipy, gaslighting people." Elena continued.

"They didn't gaslight me."

I ran over the memories in my head. Most of them were with just Kayla and I. Half of them were us grabbing brunch, lunch, or dinner together. The other half were memories of me sitting on the couch while listening to Kayla rant about her terrible experiences in the dating scene. She was always looking for love. She deserved it. Sadly, every man she dated left her more heartbroken than the last. The other few memories I had were with Kayla, Jade, and a few other friends in the group. I was never close to anyone the way I was with Kayla. The memories I had with the all of them together were of parties that always started with promise but became stale after the first hour, much like my first moment with Jade. In Kayla's group, I never felt like I understood their jokes, or felt like they understood mine. But alone, Kayla and I spoke volumes to each other. We shared stories and ideas, all of them wrapped in pure intentions. We both were artists struggling to tell inclusive stories centering people from all kinds of backgrounds. She was as beautifully passionate as I was. We fed off each other.

Elena shifted nervously near the bar stools.

"What?" The look on her face sent the nerves spinning violently in my stomach.

"Do you remember at the beginning of your senior year, when you and Kayla first started falling apart?" Elena said.
I nodded cautiously.

"You and I didn't know each other very well, but I thought you were cute." she smiled a bit as if she was meeting me again. "Anyway, at the time, I was still hanging out with everyone a lot." Elena sat down on one of the bar stools, never breaking eye contact with me. "One night, Jade threw a housewarming party at her new apartment. I was hoping I would run into you since you were part of the group, but you weren't there. I asked Jade where you were. She said that she didn't talk to you much anymore. She had heard from Kayla that you were being clingy and weird."

My stomach lurched ever so slightly. A small betrayal from a girl I never felt a connection to. It still hurt. It was still a small trust that was broken.

"What? How? Did Kayla say anything?" I aggressively dug for answers.

Elena slowed down a bit, treading carefully as if she didn't want to tread at all. "Kayla sat down next to Jade halfway through the conversation. She nodded along the entire time as Jade spoke. According to them, you forced yourself onto Kayla. And that you were insanely jealous of Kayla's new roommate. They thought it was best not to invite you out anymore. They wanted to slowing ice you out of the group."

My stomach lurched dramatically this time. Elena saw my face change. She reach out for my hand as I tried to turn away. I was deeply sad and increasingly angry. Hurt.

Elena squeezed my shoulders. "I didn't say anything because I didn't know you at the time. And I never told you because I just hoped it would all be over. But, now that you might reach out as a friend again… Maybe with the full story you could be more cautious with her."

I couldn't fucking believe it. Kayla. The girl I had grown so close to, who I shared everything with, was someone who spread lies about me. She changed the minds of an entire group by telling them to stay away. That's why Elena was the only one to reach out. And who was Jade in all this? Someone who stoked the fire that Kayla had already prepared?

And that's when it happened. That's when I zeroed in on Jade. She was my punching bag. She was beautiful, photogenic, always had it together. I had no strong connection with her and it made her the perfect villain. Maybe I couldn't face the fact that Kayla would ever do anything wrong. I have this "gift" for finding the absolute positive side to everything. It allows me to give everyone in my life a infinite amount of second chances because the stupid golden heart inside my body couldn't fathom purely malicious intentions. Everyone has a story right? Everyone is human. Everyone has the opportunity to grow. I couldn't hold it against Kayla, could I? Later on, Elena would explain to me that my gift was sometimes a curse.

I never ended up going to that Fourth of July party. I went to my parents house one hour south of my old college campus and had a last minute get together with some old new friends. They were a group of 4 people I had frequent classes with in college. They were always there, but more in passing rather than anything deep. It was a new start. Elena couldn't come over because she had to fly out that afternoon to visit her parents in Arizona. Although I missed her being there, it worked out that she couldn't come, that way I didn't have to invite her friends. You see, one of Elena's best friends was a guy named Mike. They met as sophomores in high school and have been together ever since. They even ended up going to the same college together. I knew Mike fairly well. I met him when I first started going out with Kayla. That's how Elena met me in the first place.. and that's how Mike met Jade. Mike and Jade started dating their freshman year of college and have been going strong ever since. We were all originally together in the same circle. So, if Elena couldn't go, then Mike wouldn't go, then Jade could never find out and tell Kayla. I was so concerned with not hurting Kayla. At the time, I was slightly hoping to win her attention back.

A year later.

I never reached out to Kayla again. She texted a few times over the months and we still followed each other on social media. She would comment on my posts quite frequently… Lots of funny or kind words. I would respond to her kindly, but shortly because I wanted to keep my distance. And then one day, when I realized she had stopped commenting on my posts, I looked for her account and found that she blocked me from almost everything.

Jade, however, was in and out of my life. Mike and Elena would go out to bars every now and then. Sometimes, I would join, and, sometimes, so would Jade. The possibility of running into her ran through my mind embarrassingly often and would awaken my foolishly competitive spirit. I started dressing to impress, preparing my mind for any poking questions, and calming my soul just in case she would mention Kayla. I wanted to be chill, cool. A perfect woman. I wanted to be Elena's beautiful and fun girlfriend. I wanted all of our mutual friends to like me more than Jade. That way, if Jade had any chisme for Kayla, I would appear to have no weaknesses.

Eventually, the idea of Kayla finding out started dwindling away. Putting on airs of having my life together actually started affecting my life positively. The unspoken competition between Jade and I (that [possibly] existed in my head), pushed me to work hard in my regular life. My personal goals were being met, I started experimenting with my look (something I never did before), I started apply for better jobs, exploring different places with my partner, meditating, and taking care of my body. I even had closer friends than before. Inside my brain, however, was still a flurry of little battles. Was I doing this for myself? Yes. I felt like I truly was. But was I also still doing this to prove something to Kayla? Maybe? I wasn't sure. Was I still extremely concerned with what Jade thought of me? Yes. That was also definitely true.

I felt like a monster still concerned with the opinion of someone who barely looks my way. But also, was I initially foolish to trust that Jade was coming from a place of kindness and openness? Throughout the years Kayla and I were close, Kayla would give me MANY snippets of information about Jade. Although a lot of it was negative gossip, many of those things proved true when I started paying attention to it. Jade was as chismosa, as Kayla described, incredibly petty when she did not like you, and extremely concerned with how she presented herself. Of course, there was more to her than that. I knew Jade and I were similar in the fact that we both were dealing with a deep depression after the loss of a family member, we both were fiercely loyal to the ones we loved, and we enjoyed similar music and movies. Unfortunately, my mind still ran amok with thoughts of how to beat Jade at her own game. Our relationship (although it barely existed) was so tainted with the past that it felt impossible to start over, even for the sake of Mike and Elena's friendship. If I opened up to Jade, I would get hurt again and she would shoot me down with such a kindness that was utterly forced that I could read right through it and feel like a fool, but... if I continued my OWN petty mind games, I would be the kind of person I always disliked: a negative energy, a bitch, someone so concerned with hating on another that she could barely exist on her own. As a human being, I am more complex than that, of course, but the fact that this negative energy coursed through my blood was vomit inducing. How could something make me cringe so hard, but have me so addicted at the same time?

Once Elena and I started living together, I would casually drop ideas to invite Mike over so that maybe he would bring Jade and I could "one up" her again.

"Look at my effortlessly cool apartment. Isn't the view great? Don't you love the art on the walls? They are local pieces. Yes. I take care of all these real plants. Yes. We are a beautifully proud Latinx couple. Don't we look so happy in our pictures?"

It was all the truth, but I was desperate to brag about it to Jade. If Elena was going out with her friends, I would make an effort to be there, just in case. If I started going out with them too much, I would drop back, so that I looked busy and important. I wanted to Jade to fall for me, just so I could pull the rug out from under her ass. I wanted her boyfriend to enjoy my jokes so much that it bothered her. I wanted my presence to affect her just like hers did to me.

And now I know. I know that I am still not over the painful breakup I experienced with Kayla. Perhaps I am over Kayla, but I feel like Jade had a hand in the story of it all. Jade stood in the shadows and stoked the fire. I had not forgiven her for that. I didn't know how to. I want Jade to know how terrible she was three years ago. I can't move past who she was, because there is nothing to prove that she's changed. So, am I brave enough to let go and be myself? Or am I smart enough to keep my guard up?