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My best friend Angela and I are on the school’s track team. It just so happens that Angela is the most popular girl in school. Everyone wants to sit with her at lunch, but she always saves a seat for me. I am sure people wonder why we are friends since we are polar opposites. She has long blond hair and sky-blue eyes; I have dark brown hair and brown eyes. I am much shorter than she. Although we’re both slender, I’m almost too skinny. She has a charismatic and sunny disposition. People are drawn to her like a moth to a flame. People tolerate me because they know I’m her best friend.
Angela has been an especially good friend to me. Besides protecting me from bullies in fourth grade, she’s been extraordinarily generous to me. In fifth grade, she bought me my first and only cashmere sweater. Although I only mentioned that I liked her sweater, she bought me one for my birthday. It was a vibrant blue like the color of the sky after a storm and made of the softest fabric that I’ve ever touched. In fact, I remember hugging the sweater that evening as I fell asleep. For my twelfth birthday this year, she bought me my first pair of UGGs. As I sank my feet in the warm, soft boots, she said, “Now Nadia, your feet will always be warm.”
But one day, everything changed.
Our school, Saint Andrew’s, decided to hold its annual field day at Baker Field. This year, the event would be different because it would be a fundraiser, so we could build a new pool for our school. We were all very excited. Angela and I exchanged some friendly banter and discussed who would win the 800-meter race. The 800-meter race was my specialty—and Angela’s. I have a secret though. I am actually a faster runner than Angela, but I let her win sometimes. I know that it’s wrong, but—she is my best friend.
By lunchtime, Angela started to get much more tense and nervous. I tried to calm her down at lunch. I was successful—until the vice-principal decided to announce that the winners of the field day events would personally meet the mayor. Apparently the mayor was an alumnus of our school. Everyone in my class kept talking about it. Someone even said that the Lincoln Herald, our local newspaper, would photograph the mayor with the winners.
“Nadia, did you hear that? We can meet the mayor!” Angela exclaimed.
“Yeah, that’s great. It doesn’t really matter though…” Secretly, I was also excited. I glanced at her. She wasn’t really listening to me.
“I know that my parents would be so proud if I won. My dad is coming today. I can’t believe he is taking time off from work to watch me. My dad really wants me to win. He was the track champion in his school.”
That was basically how the rest of time passed until the events began. The 800-meter was the last event. Angela kept talking about how pleased her dad would be if she won. I was conflicted. Internally, I knew that I could win the 800-meter race. I wanted to meet the mayor. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Yet Angela wanted to do the same.
My parents were unable to take time off from work to watch my race. My dad is the superintendent of the building we live in, and my mom is a cleaning lady for several homes.
Like my parents, Angela’s parents, the Stadlers work. Mrs. Stadler is a partner at the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore. Mr. Stadler is very intense. He owns and manages a very successful real estate company. Angela rarely sees her dad because he is always working, traveling, or entertaining clients. He has those intimidating ice blue eyes. Whenever I see his towering figure, I feel tongue-tied and want to run away. He never remembers my name, so he always refers to me as “Angela’s friend.”
As we organized ourselves at the starting line, I tried to focus myself on the race. But I couldn’t. I could hear Mr. Stadler cheering for Angela in the grandstands. I couldn’t stop thinking of everything that Angela had done for me. And what had I done for her in return? Nothing.
The announcer was raising the pistol. I was running, as fast as possible. Suddenly I was aware of Angela’s labored breathing behind me. I deliberately slowed down until she had outdistanced me. I had to pace myself. One lap left. I couldn’t shake the thought of how proud my parents would be to see a photograph of me next to the mayor in the Lincoln Herald. I know that my mother would send the photograph to my ailing 90-year-old grandmother in Montenegro. I ran a little faster. Angela and I were closer now. We were side by side. We were practically running at the same pace, until she swerved into my lane. Instinctively, I ran faster. My legs felt numb, like I really wasn’t moving. My pony-tail whipped in the wind. I felt invincible and exhilarated. And then I accidentally pulled ahead. I kept running and crossed the line to cheers from everyone. I had won the race. I looked back. Instantly, I had a hollow feeling in my stomach. Angela had tripped. She came in fifth.
I looked at the cheering spectators. I saw the look of disgust on Mr. Stadler’s face. He then pulled out his blackberry and walked away. I turned to look at Angela. The look on her face was unforgettable.
I was scared, truly scared. She looked at me as if she could kill me. Her clear blue eyes had hardened to an almost icy color. And in that moment, when she looked at me, she reminded me of her father.