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Zoey stood propped against a locker, not really concentrating on what her best friend Danni was saying. She fiddled absent mindedly with the beaded bracelet she kept on her left wrist at all times. A strand of bangs fell in her face and she gently tucked it behind her ear. Her shoulder length blonde hair had subtle layers that framed her face. A splattering of freckles tickled her fading tan. She was pretty in a plain sort of way. The only time she stood out in a crowd was when she smiled. She smiled with not only her mouth, but with her eyes, giving her entire face a happy glow. When she grinned, her teal eyes sparkled with complacency; when she smirked, they turned a devious green; when she laughed, they were a bright, clear blue. Her stunning smile more than made up for her average frame, decorated now in a bright green hooded sweatshirt and a pair of jeans. Her toes tapped inside her sneakers as a song she’d heard on the radio danced in her head.
Zoey’s gaze wandered over to the mob of students hustling through the halls. She loved to watch people walk. Everything she needed to know about a person was hidden in the way they walked. People with attitude swagger, as if daring you to call yourself their equal. Genuinely good, friendly people walk with a pop. With every step there’s a little something extra, just enough to reflect their optimism. The shy ones, they become professional avoiders. They can swerve in and out of crowds and avoid any sort of confrontation by simply blending in with everyone else. No swagger, no pop, just brisk and subtle: left foot, right foot, left foot, right.
But her favorite people to watch were the “losers.” Those outcast kids who had just as much confidence as the swaggerers, but were just too different to have a walk similar to anyone else’s. Each had their own unique way of walking. Somehow, it wasn’t just left foot, right foot. There was another foot thrown in. Some strange in-between foot that didn’t just give you hints toward their personalities, it gave you an autobiography.
The bell rang and Danni slammed her locker.
“Are you okay?” she asked, noting the unfocused look on Zoey’s face.
“Yeah,” Zoey replied, still watching the left, pop, right, pop, of one of her classmates, “Fine.” She looked up and gave a distant smile.
“If you say so, bye,” Danni said with a hint of attitude.
As she walked off in the opposite direction, Zoey wondered if people ever watched the way she walked. And even more, she wondered how much they’d know if they did.
She walked into her last class of the day and plopped down in her desk, right next to the window.
"God it's crappy out," she mumbled under her breath.
The day was one of the most difficult days of Zoey’s life. She broke up with her boyfriend Steve. There were a lot of reasons why she did it, but it still hurt her to think about it. The look in his eyes as she stood pulled him aside before class was etched in her mind. It was like he knew what was coming. But she hadn’t told anybody about the breakup beforehand. She knew somehow that if she had, news would’ve gotten around to him and it only would’ve made it harder to do. She didn’t want to lose Steve’s friendship; she just wasn’t romantically interested in him anymore.
Over the past couple of weeks she’d been looking forward to seeing Steve less and less. When they first started dating she couldn't get enough of him. But then he started using too much tongue when he kissed her and he played too rough when he tickled her. She actually had bruises from his fingers poking her sides. The more they spent time together, the more stupid he seemed. He was really strong and really sweet, but there wasn't much going for him in the brains department. She had to explain people's jokes to him at least once a day, and she couldn't use words bigger than three syllables without having to spout out a definition. She just wasn’t willing to put up with it anymore.
After the breakup, Zoey came home to what seemed like thousands of disgruntled emails. Since she hadn’t told anybody about her feelings or about what she was going to do, it came as a shock to all of her friends. Zoey deleted all except Danni's short and simple What the heck? and wrote a quick explanation to Steve. I had at least fifty apologies and a list of reasons why she did what she did. She really hoped he'd understand, but doubted it. He had a short temper and was likely to never speak to her again.
His reply was filled with so many cuss words she couldn't count them on her fingers and toes combined, and as she’d predicted, he ended his email with the promise he'd never speak to her again. Zoey couldn't help but cry. He called her a w**** and a conceited, spoiled princess who thought of nobody but herself. A shot to her ego was the last thing she needed. She was already doing enough of that herself. Zoey didn't mean to lose Steve’s friendship. She didn’t want him to hate her. She decided to call Danni and ask her advice.
She reached for the roll of toilet paper on her desk and wiped her nose as she held down the number four button on her hot pink flip phone. She had Danni on speed dial, right after voicemail, mom, and dad.
"Hello?" Danni answered.
"Hey...” Zoey said through sobs, "Steve just emailed me."
"He said he's never going to talk to me again."
That was all Danni said, "Oh." What was going on?
"I don't know what to do," Zoey said, feeling defeated.
"I'm sorry," Danni told her, but the tone of her voice said she didn't mean it at all.
"Okay. Well I guess I'm going to go..."
Danni hung up. No goodbye, no it will be okay, no anything. Zoey lay down on her bed and closed her eyes, trying to figure out why Danni was acting like she didn't care that her best friend was crying her brains out. Eventually, her body shut down. She was so tired of thinking she fell into a completely dreamless sleep.
When she woke the next morning, she was out the door on her way to school in ten minutes. She was so numb to the world she got ready without a thought as to what she was doing. She went through the day in a daze. Steve didn't come to school, Danni didn't talk to her and she didn't care. The day dragged on, and by the end of it her eyes were red from blinking back tears. Danni wouldn’t look at her when they passed in the hallways, and she saw Steve’s friends whispering about her at lunch. The world, it seemed, was determined to make her miserable.
When she got home, she fell into bed and slept for three hours. She knew that it probably wasn’t healthy, but sleeping her problems away seemed like the thing to do. She had heard that time heals all wounds, and time passed more quickly while she slept. She woke up to the smell of pork chops and mashed potatoes, did her homework, and went back to sleep.
Zoey woke up in the middle of the night, unable to get back to sleep due to all her hours of napping earlier in the afternoon. There was an email from Danni waiting in her inbox. She hesitated before opening it, unsure of what she’d find inside. She hoped it would contain some sort of explanation for Danni’s less-than-best-friend-like behavior.
Hey, the letter said,
Sorry I haven’t been myself lately. There’s been a lot going on in our group of friends. Anyway, what’s up with you? I know you’re upset about breaking up with Steve. But you shouldn’t cry about it. After all, you’re the one who ended it.
Danni was probably just upset that Zoey didn’t tell her about the breakup before it had happened. The part about crying was a little insensitive, but Danni had always been blunt. Then Zoey got to the second paragraph of the email.
Speaking of that, how would you feel if someone else started dating Steve? Someone like me. I mean, he probably wouldn’t ever like me but I thought I’d ask you just in case something happens. If you say no it’s no big deal.
“WHAT?” Zoey accidentally blurted out.
She read the letter again, hoping there was a ‘just kidding!’ hidden somewhere that she didn’t notice the first time. Her stomach dropped when she realized that her best friend was really asking permission to date Steve. She actually had the nerve to ask something like that less than two days after they’d broken up.
After all the things Steve had said about her, Zoey wanted nothing to do with him. She felt as if she had never known him at all. And she got that same feeling now about her best friend. Apparently both Steve and Danni were complete fakes. Both had only pretended to care for Zoey. Steve broke her heart by saying mean things, and Danni broke it even more now. It was as if she were agreeing with the things Steve said, choosing him over Zoey. Maybe these phonies belonged together.
Zoey opened a new email and addressed it to Danni. It was three words long.
Go for it.
The Zoey-Steve-Danni love triangle caused a very confusing uproar among their shared group of friends. Everyone was choosing sides. Kristin, Hannah and Dan stopped talking to Zoey. Greg, Andrea and Katie stopped talking to Danni and Steve. Greg was Steve’s best friend, so it surprised Zoey to find him sticking up for her. He told Steve off for calling Zoey bad names and spreading rumors about her behind her back.
Zoey just wanted everything to be over. She felt so helpless. She had lost her boyfriend and her best friend in less than three days. With every turn she discovered a new ache; either emotional or physical. Her head felt swollen to twice its normal size. All week long there were rumors, arguments and whispers passing between their click. Zoey listened to gossip, laughed at rumors, even bad talked Steve a couple of times. But all of it was half-hearted. Above everything else, Zoey just wanted her best friend back.
Zoey spent the entire weekend in her bed watching movies, reading Nicholas Sparks, and eating way too many cheez-its, her favorite comfort food. On Sunday night, in the middle of Shrek 3, her phone rang. She recognized the ring tone and without warning tears came to her eyes. She reluctantly picked up the phone.
Upon hearing Danni’s voice Zoey was flooded with anger. This was the girl who claimed to be her best friend, only to stab her in the back when she needed her the most. She was not going to give Danni the satisfaction of hearing her cry again.
“What’s up?” Danni’s voice was uncertain.
“Nothing.” Why was Danni pretending like nothing had happened between them?
“Oh…can I come over so we can talk?”
“If you want.”
“Okay, I’ll be at your house in like, fifteen minutes.”
Zoey sat on the couch until she saw the familiar blue Ford pull into the driveway. She walked outside and took a seat on the grass. Danni sat down across from her.
“Hey,” she said, in response to Zoey’s subtle nod.
“So you and Steve are dating now?” Zoey asked.
“Not yet, we’ve been talking a lot more now that you two are…you know.”
Zoey couldn’t help but think that Danni and Steve had absolutely nothing in common. What would they have to talk about? The only thing that came to mind was her self, and that made her angry. She could just picture them sitting together, laughing at her behind her back. The tears were back again.
“I don’t understand why you stopped talking to me,” she said, her cold gray eyes meeting Danni’s brown ones.
“Well, I was just mad at you,” Danni told her, “I didn’t think you had a good enough reason to break up with Steve.”
“I didn’t like him anymore,” Zoey’s temper was rising, “How is that not a good reason?”
“I just think you gave up too easy.”
“Oh right!” Zoey didn’t bother trying to hide her sneer, “I forgot I’m supposed to spend the rest of my life with him because you like him!”
Danni was angry now, too.
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Well then what did you mean?”
“Never mind, it doesn’t matter,” Danni stood up and turned to leave.
“You’re right,” Zoey said, “It doesn’t matter. And I obviously don’t matter anymore, either. I used to think I had the best friend in the world, but now I realize it was a lie. You stabbed me in the back, Danni. And then you came here to insult me. Thanks for that.”
“You’re welcome,” Danni said.
She hopped into her car and drove away. Zoey was fuming. She went inside, slamming the door to her bedroom and turning her radio up full blast. She knew she was wrong to lose her temper, but Danni was being so ignorant. Sure, Zoey could’ve told her not to date Steve, but she had a feeling Danni wouldn’t be talking to her then, either. As she lay on her bed, head reeling, she screamed along with Kelly Clarkson, tears streaming down her face.
Danni had lied to her. She’d promised they’d be friends forever and Zoey had believed it. She’d had friendships that didn’t last before, but none meant as much to her as this one.
The next day, Zoey went to school hoping that maybe things would be back to normal between Danni and herself. Once again, she was wrong. Before lunch she saw Danni and Steve walking down the hall holding hands, talking and laughing.
She didn’t know why she’d even hoped. Things weren’t going to be the same between her and Danni. They never could be.
The bell rang and Zoey meandered to class, taking a tardy without complaint. As the day passed, she found herself wondering how people could be so carefree when her life seemed like it was dissolving around her. She went to the same classes with the same people, sat at the same lunch table with the same friends, drove the same streets to the same house she’d lived in her entire life, but it all felt so different. Without her best friend, Zoey felt like a different person.
On Friday, Zoey went home exhausted. She took a nap and dreamt that Danni was yelling at her, telling her she was pathetic and to stop feeling sorry for her self. When she woke up, she took out her journal and began to write.
I know I’m feeling sorry for myself. I do feel like it’s kind of pathetic. But it’s just so hard to smile when I know my best friend isn’t going to be there for me tomorrow. Or maybe ever. We’re not going to go on our annual road trip this year. We’re not going to sit at Johnny’s Diner every weekend. We’re not going to have girly sleepovers where we do our nails and eat chocolate ice cream until 3am. I know I can find someone else to do that with, but it still won’t be the same. I just feel like she left me way too willingly. And it looks like she’s happy without me. Sometimes I feel like she misses me as much as I miss her, but other times it’s like I never existed. I know that most high school friendships don’t last, but it still sucks that ours didn’t. I mean, we had some amazing times. Like the time we stole all the orange cones from the driving school parking lot. That was hilarious. I know we’re not going to talk for a while, but maybe we can eventually. Maybe we can go back to being friends. I know we’ll talk eventually. And maybe by then it won’t hurt so badly. And maybe then we can start over. It will never be the same, but I think it will be okay. This week sucked, but it can only get better from here.