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Laughing

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Sometimes I think I see people I know. I’m sitting in a restaurant, or standing in line, or walking down the street somewhere and someone walks by. Their hair, or their body, or their face, the way the light reflects off their skin, the way they walk, how they shift their weight—something about them reminds me of someone. For a second, I think it’s them. I know you! I know you! And then I look closer, or maybe they turn and look at me. It’s not them. It’s not Sara or Cassie or Maggie or my eighth grade math teacher. It’s no one I know. It’s just a girl with the same sweatshirt, or the same haircut. The same walk. The same mouth, with the same shade of lipstick. Somewhere out there, there’s someone who looks just like me. There must be. I know there must be because I see these people all the time and I’m always mistaking them. Isn’t that sad? All these people I see, and I don’t know them. I’ll never know them. And they’ll never know me.
I was out late at the grocery store one time walking down one of the frozen food aisles, and I saw someone turn around the corner. She looked just like Cassie and she was wearing that dress that Cassie has. Why would anyone be wearing a dress in a grocery store? But Cassie would do that. It had to be her. So I ran down the aisle to chase her down and I called out her name. Cassie! Cassie! And then when I got around the corner, it wasn’t her. It wasn’t even someone her age. It was a little girl on her way home from a ballet recital or something. Not even the same dress. I have that dress. It squeezes your breasts together. It’s supposed to, anyway. Cassie was telling me how important cleavage was, and we went out and bought these dresses together. That was in eighth grade or so, and after we got them we found out we didn’t have any breasts. We put on the dresses and just looked silly. My mom told us how pretty we were. We had rouge on our faces and eyeliner. Cassie looked like a raccoon. And I probably did too. We went to the dance together and looked for boys but were too nervous to talk to them. Cassie giggled a lot and we came home late. I went up to my room and looked at myself in the mirror.
Why didn’t I look pretty? I was pretty. I felt pretty before we left, fixing myself up in my room. I curled my hair. My mom smiled at me and took my picture. It was all fine. I had a great time even though I just danced with my friends. But then, when I got home, it didn’t feel right. I don’t know. I was okay, I guess. I was really excited about it and my expectations must’ve been too high. The dress was really expensive and I never got to wear it again. I got a new dress the next year and we took the old one to a secondhand store. It’s funny when you’re in a store like that, looking at all the clothes and wondering about who owned them before. There was a shirt there I wanted but it smelled like cigarettes.
I found some jewelry, some old stuff with these gaudy beads, and I bought them. They looked like little pieces of candy that had been strung together. I showed them to Cassie. Cassie was such a free spirit then. She came to school one day with her hair dyed red. Not red like orange, but a true red. I laughed at first, but she didn’t care. I think they tried to get her in trouble for it, because it wasn’t a natural hair color. It was natural enough, she said. I think they decided to just let it pass. It wasn’t green. So I showed Cassie the beads, and she loved them. I showed her the secondhand store that weekend and we looked at the jewelry together. They had it all set out in these crates on the floor, so we were down on our knees digging through it, trying to find something like the beads I bought the week before. Then she got up and told me she needed to go to the bathroom. I kept digging through the crates, but I wasn’t finding anything. Secondhand stores are always hit-and-miss. I was really hoping I’d get lucky, though. I wanted to impress her.
Five minutes passed. I looked up, but I didn’t see her. Then I walked to the back of the store to where the bathroom was, but the door was unlocked and there was no one inside. I turned around, went down the other side of the store past a rack of coats, then around the children’s stuff, and then I tried to stand up on my toes to see over across the store, but I couldn’t find Cassie. I started back toward the corner of the store with the jewelry crates, and on my way back I heard her voice. She was giggling in the next row over, separated from me by a rack of dress shirts. I ran around and turned the corner. And there he was. She was laughing and he was smiling at her. Cassie said to him, Oh, hey, this is my friend. He said hi to me. I don’t think I learned his name until later. During those minutes in the store, I just remember Cassie laughing and laughing at everything he said. He wasn’t funny. I stood there and didn’t know what to do, and he looked over once with this face like, Why are you not laughing?
A week later Cassie called to tell me what his lips felt like pressed against hers. It was wet, she said, and she laughed. She kept laughing. She was so happy. Then she told me what it felt like when he held her in his arms, how she would curl up and rest her head against his shoulder. And she was so, so happy. I sat and listened to this and I wanted to scream at her. You don’t know him! You don’t know him! You don’t know him! I wanted to scream at her so hard, but I didn’t. Who is he? Do you know who he is? I wanted to ask her, but my voice was paralyzed. I couldn’t speak. I just sat there and listened, like a good friend. She kept talking. Every few seconds her voice fell apart into laughter, and she would say Sorry, sorry, I can’t believe this is happening! And then she would go on laughing again. Then later I told her I was tired and said goodbye. So I hung up, and I sat in my room and thought about what she said. I thought about her tone of voice, how distant she sounded. I thought about those dresses we bought, and when we tried them on together. She said, Now you look pretty. I looked at her and said, What? And she said You look pretty. She helped me zip up the back, and I tried to ignore what she had said. We bought makeup together. We were still like little girls then. Mom drove us home. All I could think about that night was what Cassie told me about him. I sat in bed and pulled the covers up around me and curled up against a pillow. I thought about it. I had stayed on the phone too long. She was just rubbing it in. But I felt bad for her. There was something wrong. I think part of her knew it too.
They took pictures together and she showed them to me: him hugging her, with her eyes shut and laughing. Smiling. His arms wrapped around her. He looked the same in each one. I don’t know. I told her congratulations. I wanted someone to tell me I was beautiful. Not even beautiful, just pretty. I wanted someone to smile at me. I wanted someone to smile at me and put their arms around me. I hugged my pillow against my chest and rocked back and forth. It shouldn’t have bothered me. She’s my best friend. Congratulations, Cassie! He loves you and I love you too. I’m so happy for you. Can’t you see it on my face? Stop asking why I’m so quiet. Everything is fine. Everything’s perfect.
I smiled when I saw her, but she told me she was busy that weekend because he was taking her out. Next weekend! she said. We’ll see each other next weekend, okay? I said that was fine. I have other friends. So I saw her the next weekend. I walked over to her house and he was there. She was spending all her time with him. It was weird at first, because I felt like I was intruding. Cassie and I used to have sleepovers at her house all the time. We would play board games with each other. She would pick something out, and we’d play, and she would always beat me. We played princesses. Then we got older, and most of the time we would just watch a movie. I always fell asleep before the end. This time, we didn’t play board games. We didn’t watch a movie. She was sitting next to him on the edge of her bed, and I sat on the floor. He started talking about something. I don’t know what it was. Something about him and his friends and this crazy thing they did over the summer. Who cares? I watched them cuddle on her bed. Cassie laughed at me. I looked back at her, but she ignored me. I looked at them together, giggling. That went on for a while, and later we went down into the basement and Cassie turned on the t.v. There was nothing on. The couch has these checkered cushions, and they were cold that night. I remember adjusting my socks so they covered my ankles. He kept looking at me, but Cassie was too excited to notice. She kept flipping the channels back and forth, trying to make jokes about what was on, and he pretended to laugh. No, no, no, look at this! she yelled, but then couldn’t finish what she was saying. Her hair fell across her face. I waited for her get control of herself, but she just kept laughing. Then she calmed down, and she sighed. He glanced at me again. This went on, and I was thinking I should leave. It was dark out. I needed to walk home. I was about to tell her, I was about say, Cassie, I’m gonna go now, but she stood up before I could and ran off to the bathroom. He looked at me for a second, and then he said, You’re pretty, and he reached over and touched my arm. He held his fingers there and I said, No, no, please, and then I jumped up and I ran off. I heard Cassie calling after me as I went out the door.
They broke up a few weeks later. She called me after it happened, told me everything over the phone, and then she started to cry. I told her everything would be okay. For a while, she just cried into the phone. She was so angry. I went over to her house and sat with her in her room. I tried to talk to her, but she just felt like crying into her pillow. I said it had just been a mistake. Everyone’s been there. I just kept talking to her, and for once I felt like I was in control. I looked at her, with her eyes all puffy and her makeup ruined. She was so vulnerable. She kept crying. I finally got her to laugh, and when she did I started to feel a little better. See, I said, you’ll be fine. Look at you. You’re fine already. She laughed again, and then kept crying. She buried her face in her pillow. I let her have her moment. I sat there and thought for a minute. I’d never seen her cry before. The pillow muffled her voice. She was saying something, muttering my name. She said it again and again and again. And then she got up and she gave me a hug, and I felt her clutching me like she really needed me there. She held on forever.





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