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Author's note: Cliche but true. You never forget your first love.
CHAPTER 1: Loving Julia
The pop tart that I ate for breakfast didn’t really taste as good as I wanted it too. We just pulled into Julia’s driveway. She is down by the pond. I wish my hair was longer than hers. I wish I could swim as fast as she does. My mom just left and I’m going to get my towel and go swimming. Julia swims so fast, she probably weighs about 100 pounds but her legs are like boat propellers when she is in the water. I haven’t swum competitively in about 5 years. I was a child swim star. But now I am fourteen and awkward and Julia is beating me in this race. I should swim faster. But I want to be able to see her when she pulls herself out of the water and up onto the dock. The freckles on her face make me wish I had freckles. No one else’s freckles do that too me. I hope she looks down at me and mocks me for swimming so slowly, I like the way she pronounces my name. I’m secretly hoping that her brother is home but part of me hopes that he is at football practice. If he is at football practice, then we will get the sitting room all to ourselves. Julia will sit next to me on the beanbags. If he is home, he will want to play x-box with us, and I will have to sit next to him. I don’t know why, but I pretend to have a crush on him. Jack is a pretty guy and is by no standard ugly but I don’t want to sit with him. I want to stay right here in the water, with Julia, forever.
It was the first day of the second to last month of 8th grade and Julia is pulling up to the school in her mom’s pickup truck. She jumps down from the side door and runs over to me. I haven’t seen her since yesterday, when our parents put a “24 hour limit” on our hangout time. Last week we had held up in my room for 3 days and played video games. Those were the best three days of the summer.
She ran up the sidewalk and we walked into the school. Julia had combed out her hair and used the shampoo that I love. It smells like nature and makes her hair shine.
We weren’t in the same homeroom that year, but she promised to eat with me at lunch. Her eyes met mine. “You do realize what this means right?” she said, with that wicked smile on her face.
“I don’t know that we are better than the 7th graders?” I responded. Being 14 and also the highest grade in the school meant that I thought I was pretty cool.
“No”, she said, “It means that in one more year we will be high school girls, going to parties and having the cutest boyfriends in school”.
Julia was my best friend and we trusted each other with everything but her boy obsession was something I could have raged about forever. It was like she couldn’t just be happy being my best friend. The boys at our school were smelly and weird. I was taller than most of them and probably could have beat a lot of them at an arm wrestling contest. I wasn’t going to let that put a damper on my last year of grade school. We had so much to look forward too. The 8th grade trip to Canada, concerts for the band and most importantly, the high school across the street was putting on a production of and 8th graders were allowed to audition. Julia and I had already planned a sleepover for night of auditions. But this month was all about the Canada trip. If you went to our school, and passed French with a grade of 70% or higher, then you could go on the trip. It was five hundred dollars for 5 days in Montreal and Quebec City. Lavish hotel, shopping, friends, and minimal teachers. It was ideal. But for me, it was about the fact that I was being offered 4 nights, alone with Julia. We decided that rooming together was the only option for best friends. I thought it would be the best trip of my life. All the planning was coming together for our trip; people were filling out roommate request sheets, packing their bags and talking about the 8 hour bus ride. Julia was putting my name on her sheet and I was putting hers on mine. So it came to a complete shock to me that we didn’t room together. 6am in the cafeteria and the roommates are being called. Julia’s last name stared with A so she was one of the first.
Mrs. Tiller called, “Julia Angard”..
I rose to follow but it was not as I expected.
“Shaylyn Gellar, Jennifer Ray, room 340 bus #3.”, she finished.
My heart didn’t exactly sink but it wasn’t jumping for joy. Julia turned to me and shrugged and ran off with Shaylyn and Jennifer onto the bus. I barely remember the rest of the room call. Only that my assigned roommates were Adrianna Helter and Joy Helen. I dragged my bag with a defeated expression onto my bus.
Great I thought, stuck in room for 4 days with the preppy girl and the Goth girl with too much makeup. This is going to be the worst trip ever. And to top it off, Julia and I aren’t even on the same bus. 8 hours sitting next to miss doom and gloom and her freaky, fuzzy leg warmers. I’m pretty sure I will never vist Canada again after this.
The bus ride was boring for about the first 20 minutes and I wanted to sleep but Joy piped up next too me.
“I really like your ipod”, she said, reaching for my hand.
“Thanks.” , I snapped back. “My best friend, JULIA, and I got matching ones.”
I turned up the volume to my music and tried to ignore Joy but she kept at it.
“You have pretty much no acne. You’re lucky, I’ve had it for years,” she commented. She was trying. So the least I could do was try too.
I snuck a peak at her ipod to see what she was listening too.
“Paramore is a pretty good band’, I said, “Mind if I listen too?”
Joy removed her left ear bud and handed it too me. At least I wasn’t in the back row with Adrianna talking about fake Ugg Boots and the way that Mr. Kennley could totally pass for a senior.
Joy was in my science class and we had not really ever talked before. She had her own group of friends and I had mine. Joy wore a lot of black clothing and big, chunky boots. She globbed her face with eyeliner and had pale skin. She was by no stretch of the imagination a beauty queen but she had an interesting face. And her voice had a tone that was more persuasive than anything I’d herd. Even realizing all of this, I was still bitter than I wasn’t laughing and joking around with Julia. Joy kept me entertained with her music choices and we sat together when the busses stopped for lunch. Julia didn’t want to sit with Joy. She later asked why I was committing “social suicide”. That was one of the downfalls of having a best friend that jumped between cliques. On the one hand, Julia was the greatest person I knew. On the other, she could put on a superficial face to please the popular kids. Joy make a duck face when Julia walked away from our table to sit with Shaylyn and Jennifer. Joy’s friend Kaya sat with us while we ate too. Kaya had sat with a small girl named Hannah on our bus. I knew Hannah and Kaya because that had classes close to some of mine. Hannah was tiny. She had medium length reddish brown hair and the braces on her teeth made her upper lip stick out. Kaya had long, dark brown hair and was wearing a dark sweater that had big polka dots all over the front. I smirked and thought it must have been something her mother picked out for her. She made me laugh and talked about stuff that I understood. I started to think that maybe the trip wouldn’t be so terrible after all. Kaya and Hannah were on a different bus that Joy and I so after lunch we said out short goodbyes and boarded back on the bus. The rest of the ride was long but Joy and I wrote down funny sayings on signs that were in French. As we got closer to the city, we noticed that there was barely any English around. Joy and I won the contest for translating the most French words into English.
At the hotel, I ditched Joy in our room and went to find Julia. She was in one of the boys rooms with Jennifer. They had the TV. on and were playing cards. Julia was polite and asked if I wanted to play but I could tell that Shaylyn and Jennifer were a little less than keen on the idea. I opted to go back to my room. It was a sight that I won’t forget. Adrianna was sitting on her bed with a girl named Ellie. She stood with her hands on her hips.
“My roommates are freaks so Adrianna is sharing her bed with me.”, she blurted out. “I hope it won’t be a problem.”
Just then, Joy came out of the bathroom. Adrianna and Ellie snickered at her and left the room.
“Well aren’t they a couple of cuties,” Joy said as she unpacked her bag.
“I totally hope that someday we will be a completely stuck up as they are”, I commented back with a sarcastic tone.
Joy then pulled out a stuffed creature from her duffel bag. I was yellow with short, stubby arms and sewn on button eyes. She tossed it onto the bed we were sharing.
“What in the world is that thing??” I asked and picked it up by one of its fat legs.
“Meet Mark Winters.”, Joy happily said, “That’s what I named him anyways. One of my mom’s friends is real handy with the sewing machine and she made him for me. Don’t you like him?”
“Like isn’t the word that I would use exactly”, I said as I threw Mark Winters onto the bed.
I was desperate to see if Julia wanted to explore the hotel with me so I said goodbye to Joy and walked out the door and down the hall. I herd our French teacher say that we were going to be leaving in an hour to go ice skating and too make sure we had our room keys. I checked my pocket and continued until I rounded a corner. Julia was walking the same way that I was and she was linked arm in arm with Shaylyn and Jennifer. I wasn’t mad just a little hurt. I considered following them but thought it may not lead to the best outcome so I just went down stairs to wait for the bus to leave. Kaya, Joy and Hannah were all in the lobby.
“Hey! We’re over here. Sit with us on the bus!” Joy shouted.
I trumped over to the table where they were and set down my backpack.
“Katie, tell Hannah how many times we listened to Paramore on the bus ride here!”, Joy begged.
“About four hundred and thirteen times”, I said with a giggle.
Hannah smiled at me and took out her phone to check the time.
She had one of those weird flip phones that closely resemble eggs. She expertly dialed the buttons and sent a text.
“Sally and Farrah said they were going to ride on our bus but I don’t see them,” Hannah said while she looked around, scanning the room for the girls I assumed was Sally and Farrah. “Hopefully there are enough seats”.
The buses loaded up and Joy, Hannah, Kaya and I took the seats in the back. Julia was on the bus and she waved at me to come sit with her but I didn’t want too. Jennifer took the empty seat and I stayed with Joy. The whole ride to the skating rink I could hear Julia, Shaylyn and Jennifer gossiping about boys and lip-gloss. I was beginning to think that Julia had never planned to room with me in the first place.
When we got to the rink, Julia pulled me away from Joy and we got in line to rent skates.
“Aren’t the rooms totally cool? And did you see my tour book? It had about 50 places for shopping. Ms. T says we can go to the market place tomorrow. We should totally get friendship bracelets that have French words on them”, Julia was rambling on but I was more worried about the fact that Jennifer and Shaylyn though that they’d be skating with us. I didn’t know why Julia wanted knew friendship jewelry. I reached up and touched the half our friendship necklace that I wore.
I tied up my skates and started out wit Julia by my side. We held hands and skated in circles. I was finally having fun until Jennifer skated up next to Julia.
“Jules, do you want to sit for a while? Grab a hot coco?” I tried. I was desperate to get her away from Jennifer.
“Julia, Shaylyn, Adrianna, Kevin and Ellie all want to take pictures by the entrance,” she paused and looked at me. “Katie you can come too.
“Sure let’s go,” Julia let go of my hand and zoomed off with Jennifer. I followed them.
Everyone lined up for the picture. I was standing next to a boy who smelled like ham. He put his arm around me and told me to smile. I did one of those fake school picture smiles. Julia and Jennifer went off to get hot coco. I unlaced my skates and sat on a bench.
I couldn’t figure out what was happening. Less than a week ago, Julia and I were talking about being together 24/7 and now she was ditching me for Jennifer. In all fairness, I had blown her off for lunch but she didn’t even try to get to know Joy. Maybe tomorrow things will be better. This isn’t fair. We are supposed to be best friends!
In a last minute attempt to concoct some sort of revenge against Julia, I spent the rest of the night at the rink with Kaya and Hannah. We laughed and took pictures. Hannah took a video of Joy doing slaps around the rink. I was exhausted by the time we boarded the busses to head back to the hotel. It was a really great night and I had almost forgotten all about Julia. That was, until I saw her get on the bus. She was wearing the scarf that Jennifer had given her. And the friendship necklace that she had from me was gone. My eyes watered and I held back a sniffle. I slowly reached up and yanked my matching half of the necklace off and stuffed in the bus seat. Tomorrow was going to be better. And I could have more fun with Joy than I did with Julia.
I spoke maybe three words to Julia throughout the rest of the trip. Joy and I did everything with her and her group friends. Hannah, the tiny girl with braces always talked about music. She didn’t listen to the most popular music; she just listened to music she wanted to listen too. Kaya was the funny one. She made nearly everything into a joke. Sally and Farrah, the two girls that Hannah mentioned at the hotel also hung around with us. Sally was short with dark hair and Farrah was tall with dark hair. They could have easily passed for sister. When I was with them it was easy to think about them being my new group of friends from high school. Joy. When we got back from Canada- School was a blur of finals and auditions. Ironically- Joy, Sally, Farrah and I all tried out for the high school. We had pretty minimal singing parts but it was worth it. Julia and Shaylyn were also in the musical, they started wearing matching sneakers. I wanted to pretend that she didn’t exist.
Joy knew very little about my quick fading friendship with Julia. The only thing that she really said about it was that I would sometimes compare her to Julia. I can’t say that I was exactly happy being a tag-a-long with Joy but it was better that being jealous of the Julia and her new life. I still wanted Julia as a best friend. Somehow, word got out that I was getting sick and tired of being a last resort for Julia. She would only call when everyone else was busy. She never wanted to sit with me at lunch. What happened as a result was pretty much the sealed end to our friendship.
“Farrah,” Julia came up to Joy, Farrah and I, outside the school. “Let my mom give you a ride home. It’s on the way”. Julia turned and looked Joy up and down and rolled her eyes.
“Well... I guess so; I was going to walk but alright,”
Julia grabbed Farrah’s arm and Farrah half walked and was half dragged to the car. Joy and I were in are. Not only had Julia never said two words to Farrah, but on countless occasions, Farrah was the butt of jokes. I knew, unfortunately, too well what was happening. Julia was playing one of her games. The rules: If you won’t be my friend then I can easily replace you.
Now I hadn’t known Farrah for very long when she got caught in Julia’s web. Farrah’s best friend’s were Sally and Rachel. Rachel lived practically next door to Farrah and Sally hung out with them at school. I liked walking around their neighborhood with them but I really did miss Julia sometimes. Some days, I would be laughing and having a great and I would forget all about Julia. But other days, even laughing didn’t feel good.
The warm air blew in through the kitchen door. Julia and I were at the kitchen table pasting together pictures of models with had dismembered. Julia’s dad was a doctor but this week he is on call in Nantucket. He took us on a small plane over to the island. The plane was tiny; so small that dogs weren’t allowed on. We talked the whole ride about fishing and going crabbing in the marsh. When we were on the beach, Joy and I found a small shop that sold jewelry. We bought matching sets of friendship necklaces. I knew that we would be friends forever. Julia and I held hands and ran down the beach, laughing.
I reached up to my neck and felt a bare spot where the necklace used to be. My throat got dry and I thought of some homeless man finding the necklace that I had carelessly shoved between the seat and the window. My neck wasn’t completely bare. It was decorated with a silver pentagram on a black cord. Joy was really into the band H.I.M. So obviously I had to pretend to like the band too. Honestly, I never even listened to their music. Julia and I had always liked country music. Her property had a huge barn for horses and goats. Her mom and her both rode competitively. She really loved to ride horses until she met Farrah. After that, she rode less and less. Her love of animals was one of the things that attracted me to her in the first place. It was one of the few and fasting fading things that I loved about her. It was easy to love her before I knew how imperfect she really was.
After Farrah and Julia started hanging out more, Julia started started seeing me less and less. I think I really began to experience heartbreak. Julia told me countless times that I was over-reacting and that Julia would always be my best friend. And to be frank, I think if she knew how much I really cared for her, she wouldn’t have cared anymore about saving our friendship. She played a convinced hand. I knew our friendship had run its course. Looking back, loving Julia challenge; everyday I had to prove that I was worthy of being her best friend. But by the time I high school was only a month away, I had started to let go. I wanted a new best friend, preferably one that I wouldn’t fall in love with. Joy was slowing growing on me. By the letting people into my life I made new friends, met new people and met my first real girlfriend.
My expectations after Julia were to find a new best friend. What I got was the people Joy regularly hung around. Joy, however, hadn’t told me that her school friends were just that, school friends. The group of “people” that she called friend’s, were a little different than cute and tiny Hannah. They were nothing like witty and beautiful Rachel. They weren’t smart, or beautiful. I’m not sure they were even the same species as me. That’s most likely how they earned their label in the high school, the creatures. It was a group of about 10 kids. They all came and went with little consistency. The guys drank and listened to loud music that I never understood. The girls dressed dressed in black, wore a lot of bracelets and smoked cigarettes. If I could have seen them for what they were drug addicts and drop outs, then I might have had a more productive summer. But at the time, I really thought these people were the epitome of cool. They knew how to dress, how to act; it was like they floating on cloud 9 everyday. I wanted to be that. I was 14 and wanted to suck up all that life had to offer. They had expensive clothing because they all shoplifted and their was always money for cigarettes because they sold drugs. I realize now that I was young and impressionable but back then, I did try to be in the group but not do the group things. And as always, eventually my thoughts went back to Julia.
“Jack, it’s K. Come outside”, the phone clicked off
Jack come outside of his house and we got into his truck. Kevin and Stacey were in the backseat. We each lit a cigarette and turned up the radio. Upstairs, Julia was sitting in the living room with the non alcoholic champagne that I’d brought over. It was party and we were waiting for midnight.. Jack produced a random assortment of alcohol and we all drank and laughed. Julia came outside in a rage of anger. She started yelling at Jack and saying that she was going to tell their parents. I got out of the truck and followed Julia upstairs.
“Katie, how could you think my brother is cute? Did you see him acting like an idiot with his friends? What is the matter with you?”, Julia waited for a response.
I knew she was hurt, and I felt bad. But all I could think about was the fact that I knew she was taking Josh to the spring formal dance.
“You know Julia, Jack isn’t that bad if you’d just give him a chance”, I was dizzy and mumbled my words.
“Is that really what you think? Then why don’t you go hang out with him!”, Julia slammed her bedroom door and I was left standing in the hallway.
I don’t remember if it was then or shortly after, but sometime around then I stopped calling Julia back. I would go out of my way to avoid her in the hall ways. The love that I was so used to denying was ceasing to exist. Julia and I were different people. I didn’t want t to think about her anymore.
I believe that people change; the problem is that they don’t always change together
It is when you have a best friend that is alright with that, that it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. One of the most challenging days of my life was the day my best friend made the choice that our friendship wasn't going to “work out anymore”. She told me that we were “just growing apart” and that “it'd be better if we ended things on good terms”. It wasn't until weeks after the incident that I would realize the rumors that had gotten to her before she could here me, say that I was different. I spent a long number of months trying to prove to her and myself that I was worthy of her companionship. At first I thought about apologizing. I tried constantly to “win her back”, thinking of course that things could change. Looking back on it, I would never give her an apology for being who I am. If I could have come out to her before someone else did, it might have changed the fact that being gay was something she couldn't handle, but it didn’t change the fact that she dealt with the situation poorly.
There was a time, for a few months, that she attempted to befriend me again, only to bring me in and blow me off. I remember she would refuse to talk to me if I didn’t make plans with her, but it wasn’t allowed to work the other way. I don’t remember if it was then or shortly after, but sometime around then I stopped calling her back. I would go out of my way to avoid her in the hall ways. The love that I was so used to denying was ceasing to exist. She and I were different people, and what ever the cause of that didn’t matter anymore. All I knew was that I didn’t want to think about her anymore. I can’t really say for sure that my sexuality was the wedge that forced us apart. New friendships, different interests and life itself, were all factors at the time, but those things had never been an issue.
Years went by before we spoke on friendly terms again. She moved out of state, and then came back. I can vaguely remember all of the times I engaged in rebellious acts, in an attempt to show her that I didn’t need her. I didn’t want her. I didn’t love her anymore. Unfortunately, I also, didn’t love her any less. Together, in our youth, we taught each other many things. Important things, such as how technology can destroy or save a generation, but also small things, like why it is completely insane for two people to refuse to come out of a bedroom for three days because they have been on a 36 hour gaming streak and cannot stop. Before I met her, I was timid and afraid of what life would make me into. Before I knew her, I had little to no belief in myself. She changed parts of me by letting me learn and grow with her.
Now that she is gone, I can occasionally hear her laugh or her voice taunting me, in an encouraging way that yields results of success. In the theme of honesty I can say that when I do see her, the air is thick with intensity. We’ve no more than two mutual friends, so our meetings are rare. I do now, and always will, consider her ending our friendship to be one of her greatest lessons. If we had gone on being friends, I don’t know how long I would have had to wait to really experience true heart break or sadness for someone. I’ve seen the person that she has become and she is no longer somebody that I relate to. She is no longer the person that I want most, when life seems to be treating me particularly unfairly. She is no longer somebody that I like. Loving someone and being in love are two very different things. Our friendship was someone in between, for me. I’ve heard that she will be leaving the country, soon. I have no intentions of saying goodbye, or wishing her well. Love isn’t supposed to hurt and though we had arguments before, it didn’t ever hurt as much as it did that last day. I was hurting while she was gone, but it would hurt twice as much when she was around, because it wasn’t her, in the end. It was who she had become. The only bit of constant flow that was offered by the situation was love. I didn’t ever quit feeling for her, though I’ve refocused my mind. Love isn’t always active.
“If I ever seen you on the street, I’ll pretend that I didn’t see, and turn my face. There’s no use in small talk anyway. Because if I look into your eyes, then I’ll have to say goodbye and that would break my heart. So I won’t even start.”