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A Photo is Worth 1,000 Words
As she looked at the picture, she couldn’t help but smile. She remembered how much fun that school year had been. How many lunch periods she’d spent with them with teary eyes and aching cheeks from the uncontrollable laughter. All the group projects they had done in English class- especially that screenplay. She laughed out loud in the empty room when she recalled Johnny getting angry when she and Leah ignored his ideas (which, okay, was kind of often. But theirs were better). And then when they finally gave in, he acted like he didn’t want to do it anymore, just to make them feel bad. Then she remembered that the day this photograph was taken, Johnny and Tim had already stopped talking to each other, a fact unbeknownst to Leah and her at the time. Or rather, Tim had stopped talking to Johnny. Johnny really hadn’t been given a choice in the matter. She suddenly realized that that was probably why Tim had specifically positioned himself between her and Leah, away from Johnny, as they smiled for the camera.
Looking at the picture, you would never know. She took in their grinning faces and could almost hear the affectionate arguments that so often went on between them. Leah constantly telling Johnny his jokes were stupid, and Johnny responding with an even more stupid comeback. She and Tim getting into heated debates about everything from racism in their school to if dipping Oreos in peanut butter was weird or not (him: totally disgusting. Her: the most delicious combination ever). That was how it was with them. It’s almost like they were friends because they had so much fun not getting along. She loved Leah for her bluntness and sarcasm, which would come off as plain meanness to anyone who didn’t know her. Just like she loved Johnny for his ridiculous comments, which were usually well meaning but often came out completely wrong. Just like she loved Tim for how he could be fun and off-the-wall hyper most days, but then sometimes he would randomly get in this funk and be moody and hot-headed.
But it was different now. That year was long gone. She remembered when she actually started to feel it falling apart, in the first weeks of the summer before their junior year. She saw Tim sometimes in the mornings at school before they had Driver’s Ed, and she would flag him down. “We haven’t talked in forever! We need to all hang out soon,” she would say, the “we” referring to all four of them. Even though they all knew by then about Tim and Johnny, she couldn’t help but try and push them together. Tim always said ‘hi’ back to her, but he never did make a promise to see her or Leah, and especially not Johnny. Which was just as well because he wouldn’t have kept it anyway. At least she could say she had tried. Leah tried. And poor Johnny…He didn’t understand how he suddenly lost his best friend.
What made it even worse was that Johnny never got truly mad about it. At least, not around her or Leah. He was just…confused. Hurt. He still defended Tim, even after it had been months of them not speaking.
“That family is messed up,” Adam had interjected one day at Leah’s house when she and Johnny had been nearby talking about Tim.
“Hey, man. You don’t know the whole story. You don’t know the situation, don’t say that,” had been Johnny’s reply, not missing a beat.
It broke her heart. She didn’t even really talk to Johnny much anymore. Not because he became like Tim. The just kind of…drifted away from each other. They didn’t have that many classes together, and they didn’t sit together at lunch this year. They never purposely ignored each other, but they didn’t go out of their way to see each other.
She wanted to shake Tim. “How could you act like this to us now?” she wanted to shout. “We were your best friends! Weren’t we?” She was afraid that maybe they never really were. Maybe he had never felt the way about the rest of them that she felt about them.
But she had asked him repeatedly, as did Leah, about why he suddenly did this. They knew he was annoyed at another one of Johnny’s dumb remarks. But that was so long ago, and it wasn’t the real reason. They knew his answer. And it wasn’t a good one. He says that it’s just different now. He changed, supposedly Johnny changed. Stupid, generic, vague reasons. He really didn’t even have a problem with her or Leah. It just seemed to her that he just didn’t care if they stayed friends or not.
The smallest things would make her sad now. She’d be sitting in English class by herself, and she would become wistful for how English was last year. She would have been next to Leah, one of them wearing Tim’s enormous sweatshirt, the one that she had accidentally broken the zipper on (though she insisted to Tim that it had been like that when she put it on). The other would be sneaking Johnny’s book bag under the table to steal a piece of gum. Johnny and Tim would be in front of them, acting in that way guys do when they’re in a goofy mood. Like when they annoy the crap out of you, but deep down you think it’s funny and you regret it when they finally listen to your protests and leave you alone.
Now, someone she used to consider like a brother was almost a stranger to her. She didn’t know how his family was doing. She didn’t know how he was doing. And she didn’t feel like she was allowed to ask anymore. They had a strictly “say ‘hey’ to each other when passing in the hallway” relationship now.
She knew that all four of them wouldn’t be best friends forever and always. They were only sixteen, after all. They have so much life ahead of them, so many places to go. She knew they would eventually talk less and less and kind of lose touch. But she didn’t think it would happen in the tenth grade, in the space of a month, between Tim and Johnny. At least she had Leah. She would never lose Leah. But then again, had someone asked her about Johnny and Tim in the middle of their sophomore year, she would have never predicted this.
She sighed as she put the picture back into the album. She leaned her head back against the wall, staring at the ceiling, as if a simple solution would be written on it. But all she saw was white.