Cold War (Part I)

December 16, 2009
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“Can you come over?” Jennifer Black asked her best friend, Brittany Johnson, over the phone.

“Not today,” Brittany responded.

Ever since the age of three, the very first day of pre-school, the two of them had been best friends. Jen had introduced herself to Brittany that first day, and had asked if Brittany could please let her use her crayons, and since that day, they had been nearly inseparable.

The two of them had many characteristics in common; both of them had a passion for soccer, they both were older siblings, and they adored dogs. Also, they enjoyed music, neither of them minded school, both had short tempers, both dreamed of bigger and better things in life, though they knew they had everything they could possibly ask for at home.

Over the years, they had done everything together; rode their first rollercoaster, had their first sleepover, saw their first R-rated movie, and went to see a movie in the theater without parents for the first time. Both girls knew that they could do anything they wanted, as long as the other was with her. They had grown to be like sisters.

“Why not?” Jen wasn’t accustomed to Brittany’s refusal. This was the first time she had ever refused.

“I have other . . . events . . . to go to today,” Brittany said, a hint of impatience in her voice.

“Oh . . .”

“Yeah. I need to go. See you tomorrow, Jen.” Brittany hung up without waiting for a response.

“Bye,” Jen murmured into the dead phone.

There was something about Brittany’s tone of voice that made Jen suspicious, for one reason or another. They had no secrets between the two of them. Jen never thought she’d see the day where Brittany wouldn’t want to tell her something.

She walked downstairs and into the kitchen with an openly disappointed expression on her face.

“Let me guess . . . Brittany couldn’t make it,” Mrs. Black said upon looking at Jen’s face.

She nodded.

“Well, you can’t expect her to spend all of her free time with you,” Mrs. Black soothed. “She has a family and a soccer team, and I’m sure she has other friends—”

“We used to spend all of our time together,” Jen interrupted, “and we told each other everything. Her family is as used to me as they are with her. And we’re on the same team, Mom.”

“She can make new friends, Jen,” Mrs. Black reminded her. “Her life doesn’t revolve around you.”

As Jen opened her mouth to retort, her seven-year-old brother, Stephen, and four-year-old sister, Mary, ran down the stairs and to their mother.

“Mom, I’m hungry!” Mary complained.

“Can you make us soft pretzels?” Stephen asked.

“Of course,” Mrs. Black answered mechanically, reaching for a pan in an upper cabinet.

“Well, I see you have your hands full,” Jen said. When she received no reply, she continued, “I’m going for a run. I’ll be back for dinner.” Without waiting for an answer this time, she grabbed her running shoes from beside the front door, hastily pulled them on, and ran out the door.

All her life, running had been something that calmed Jen down. The feel of the hard sidewalk under her feet, the feel of the wind in her hair, the sense that no matter how long or far she ran she would not be tired; all were special feelings that Jen would always love. Jen adored observing her familiar neighborhood, with row upon row of large, two-story houses, lush, green yards, and luxury cars in the new cement driveways. She could think about her problems, or think of nothing except running, depending on the problem.

Since the sun was beginning to set before she left the house, she knew she wouldn’t have much time for this. Over the summer, she had gone running every day, sometimes all day, usually with Brittany, yet sometimes alone. As a soccer player, she couldn’t spend summer, the one season she had off of soccer, to become out-of-shape. She needed to run, practice, condition, run . . . do anything to keep her in shape; therefore, she wouldn’t need to spend autumn and some of winter working harder than ever to be the way she had been.

The main topic on her mind was Brittany. She had seemed much too distant over the phone, as if she were not even paying attention to the conversation. Or as if she had rehearsed saying those words. Mechanical, robotic . . . those words had never been associated with Brittany before by Jen, or any person even remotely close to her, for that matter. Brittany was humorous, energetic, supportive, entertaining, intelligent, athletic, and an altogether pleasant person to be around. Why wouldn’t she be normal around her best friend?

As Jen was lingering on these thoughts, she arrived at her house. Automatically, she removed her shoes and placed on the mat beside the front door. Next, she walked into the kitchen and sat down on a stool at their granite island. Her mother and younger siblings were still there, chatting happily as they were making dinner.

“How was your run?” Mrs. Black asked casually.

“Fantastic,” Jen replied.

“Did you—” Mrs. Black began. However, she was interrupted by the door opening and closing. Mr. Black just returned home from work. He was a school teacher at a private high school, and had to stay for the students in detention.

“Dad! Dad! Dad!” Mary sang, running from the kitchen and jumping into her father’s open arms.

“Hi, baby. How was pre-school?” Mr. Black asked, slightly tired, yet otherwise happy. Mary would always be his baby, even when she was his age and he was in a retirement home, he always said.

Mr. Black carried Mary into the kitchen and sat her down on another stool at the island. After, he kissed Mrs. Black on the cheek and Jen on the forehead, and patted Stephen on the back.

“It was fantastic!” Mary gushed, copying Jen’s previous word as she chatted enthusiastically and told him every detail about her day. He paid close attention to Mary, nodding and responding to her day as if he had nothing better to listen to than a four-year-old’s day.

After Mary was finished, Mr. Black directed his attention to Jen and Mrs. Black. “How were your days?” he wondered.

“Well, school was fine. On my English quiz, my grade was 100%,” Jen answered.

“Excellent job,” Mr. Black said.

“However, after school, Brittany seemed different,” Jen began. As her father began to open his mouth to ask the obvious follow-up question, she added, “I think her parents are divorcing. She told me that they were arguing more often lately. I’m not positive, though. After, I went for a quick run and arrived home just before you did.”

“I’m sure Brittany will be fine. She’s strong, and similar to you,” Mr. Black reassured her.

She smiled.

“How about you, hon? How’d your day go?” Mr. Black questioned, focusing on his wife.

“It went pretty well. I vacuumed the entire house, dusted, mopped, and did the laundry,” Mrs. Black said.

“You took a day off of work to clean?” Mr. Black asked, disbelief clear in his face.

“Not just clean. I was thinking you and I could go out to dinner tonight,” Mrs. Black defended herself, smiling slightly.

“You wouldn’t mind babysitting while we go out, would you, Jen?” Mr. Black wondered.

“Not at all,” Jen replied. I don’t have anything better to do, she thought.

“We’ll be home by ten,” Mrs. Black said, grabbing her purse from its hook next to the sink.

“Kids in bed by nine,” Mr. Black added.

Jen nodded. She knew the drill.

“Bye kids, have a wonderful time,” Mrs. Black called as they exited the house.

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