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It was late September, finally starting to cool down; the air was brisk, wet, and almost crystalline because the sky was so clear. It had rained the night before, but now it was mostly dry, and it was 3 p.m.
Emily and I had left school at lunch. We took the afternoon off. My cat had died. Hers had too. It was upsetting. School was frivolous at this stage of our grief. We walked on the cold concrete sidewalks in the direction of my house. I looked at the trees- all sweetgum, all with yellow leaves, all with black bark. The grass was still lush and vibrant but it was turning from summery emerald to a much deeper Crayola viridian. Emily’s eyes were wet, blue-red; the tip of her nose was dewy. She wiped her face into sleeves. Her heavy eyeliner wasn’t smeared (I guessed it was waterproof) but the mascara ran from her eyes to her chin. She lit a cigarette, inhaled sharply, and with the sulfur from the lighter’s flame burning her throat, she coughed- and cried. She took no more drags from the smoldering paper. She didn’t smoke as much as she wanted people to think.
“Can we sit down?” She asked. Her voice was numb. I shrugged. We passed a park and took a few steps. It looked halfway decent, so I told her to put out her cigarette. It took a while for her to submit, and she complained, she said that all the kids in the neighborhood were at school. She flicked the slightly glowing tip bit by bit until the glow died, and tilted the half-cigarette into her pocket. She slid onto an aluminum bench and collapsed, crying onto the metal. It made me sad to hear her like that; the sobs were so agonized, so painful, so self-pitying. I stood up.
I surveyed the park; I had never seen it before, I didn’t grow up here. Emily had. I was from midtown, she lived in the suburbs. I didn’t like the park, the trees were too green for this time of year and there was an air of pretentious perfection and false security, the gravel and wood and aluminum play equipment seemed filmy and fake. I just wanted to go home.
That taste of nostalgia sent me into a stretch of memory; I thought about the past twenty-nine months. For the first time in a long time, I felt, and I remembered.
The cat, big and yellow, wandering into my backyard two and a half years ago; a month later meeting Emily in drama class. After meeting her I had to re-prioritize, replacing ballet recitals and violin with black jelly bracelets and random drug testing. She, being the outgoing one, seeing a different boy each week and me dating one, making me feel more alone while she tried to console me by telling me ‘I’d find someone’. I remembered how much sleet and snow fell during the winter I met her. I remember when there was novelty and authenticity, and beauty, however volatile, and I remember when it finally left our friendship, and we began to change. There I was- sick, apathetic, repulsive, tired, corpulent; and Emily- sweet, gullible, blank, and beautiful, with enough of a personality to draw boys like flies to flavorless honey and leave them stuck. I hated it - hated Emily - but there was no one else…
I remembered all of the things I had been through with that cat, all it had had to carry with me. There was loss, and guilt, and anger. I realized. And then I cried. My head fell to my hands and my hands sunk to the ground and I cried, silent, hot tears into the earth.
I don’t know how much time passed, but I stopped crying. Emily prodded my shoulder with her foot. She wore skateboarding shoes. She didn’t skateboard. I sat up. Her face was painted with pseudo-shock as she had seen me cry. I ignored it. The astonishment melted from her eyes, she understood my indifference towards her.
“Let’s go,” she said. “I should probably get home.”
“You are home,” I laughed. She laughed.
“I’ll walk you to the bus stop, though,” She said. “Alright,” I said.
The walk was quiet. She said nothing, she lit no cigarettes. We walked, side by side, and felt the hushed wind and the hues of blue, green, and yellow surround us. We walked several blocks to the bus stop. As we reached it, I turned to her.
“Hey, I’m sorry about your cat,” I said. As impersonal as the statement was, coming from a supposed best friend, silent understanding radiated her lips; she did not speak, or cry, or make a sound - she closed her mouth, blinked once, nodded, and gave me a quick hug.
I boarded the bus. I stood to watch her, my eyes moist.
“Really, I am…” I said.
“Me too.” She said, knowing this would be the last time we ever spent time together.
And then she smiled.
I smiled back.