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When I said "Best friends forever," what did you think I meant?
“You swore you would stay with me!” I yelled, my fingers prying at the glass, my heart praying that by some miracle I would be strong enough to pull the window down so he could hear my voice.
He looked over at me, and I pulled harder, screamed louder. His eyes were a muddy brown (they’re usually chestnut brown) as he watched me struggle with the window, the rain blending with the tears streaming down my cheeks. He had his seatbelt buckled across his chest, one hand on the steering wheel while the engine growled quietly. His bags were strewn across the backseat of his dingy black car. He was ready to leave.
Looking back on it, he had been ready to leave for a week. I just hadn’t noticed at the time, but he wanted me to. He was practically on his knees, begging me to notice his change in behavior, clothes, tone of voice, his change in everything. Brian wanted me to figure out he was going away because he was too much of a coward to tell me himself.
It all started on Monday, August 9th. Brian had called my cell phone and asked me to come down to the restaurant where he worked, Rodney’s Diner. Normally, I would pick him up after work and head to the park, where we wasted our summer playing Frisbee because there was never anything else to do. I knew he didn’t get off work until 9:30 that night, but I went around four anyways. I mean, what was the big deal?
Rodney’s is a little building near the only river in town. It could seriously benefit from a good paint job, as most potential customers drive away when they notice the chipping white paint dotted with rainbow pieces of chewed up gum. I’d never seen so many different colors, and Brian claimed that each piece smelled different. Obviously, they don’t get many customers at Rodney’s if he has time to go smelling gum on the sides of the building while he’s supposed to be waiting on people.
The inside of Rodney’s is just as bad as the outside, if not worse. There are only three rooms: the dining area, the kitchen, and one little family bathroom. The walls are an ugly mint color, and there are little holes in them due to a previous mouse infestation. In some places, the wood panels covering the floor are peeling off of the ground. Usually, Brian was lounging in one of the four armchairs by the door, which were meant to be reserved for their waiting customers. Eventually, the owner, Mr. James Rodney himself, must have realized he would never have four waiting customers, and Brian has been sitting there ever since.
Monday was no different. I pulled into the parking lot and walked through the door. With his feet sprawled out in front of him sat Brian, rubbing his forehead with his index fingers. I ruffled his dark brown hair and he grunted as a greeting.
“Nice to see you, too,” I mumbled, sinking into the chair next to him. “Bored?”
“Something like that,” he said, closing his eyes. “What about you?”
I laughed, pushing my hair away from my face. “You know me, Brian. I’m never doing anything of importance. I was actually in the middle of this sick new video game my brother bought me when you called.”
“Are you going to pound me for interrupting?” Brian asked, but the smile that usually appeared on his face when he talked about me kicking his butt was replaced with a grimace.
“I haven’t decided yet,” I said. “Your tie is crooked, by the way.”
Brian rolled his eyes and quickly yanked off his red tie. He unbuttoned the top of his black dress shirt and leaned back into his chair. “Not anymore,” he sighed.
I watched him continue to rub his temple, assuming that he just had another one of his headaches. Brian always had the worst migraines, and they never seemed to end. Everyday he would get a migraine and still seem to have it three weeks later. I assumed his bad attitude was simply the result of another headache and sat in silence, watching the cracked clock across the room tick away second after second.
Finally, Brian cleared his throat, sitting up. “Want to get out of here?” he asked, resting his hands on his knees. He rubbed the black fabric up and down a few times before looking up at me through his eyelashes.
“Don’t you have to finish your shift?” I asked, checking the clock again.
Brian swallowed audibly, shaking his head. “No. Rodney… said I could go,” he muttered, running his fingers through his short hair.
“Then, let’s go, I guess,” I said, pushing myself out of my chair. Brian walked through the door, not holding it open for me like a gentleman. We had become so close over the course of the past three years that I highly doubted he even knew I still had a menstrual cycle.
I followed him to my car and watched him climb into the driver’s seat. Sighing, I got in the other side, tossed him my keys, and sat back as he drove silently to the park. We used to listen to the radio and sing along to songs from our childhood, but I just thought it was because he had a really bad headache.
After coming to an abrupt stop on the side of the road, Brian turned to me. “I don’t feel like playing Frisbee anymore,” he announced, looking through my window.
I followed his eyes to the blond girl on the park bench, her head in her hands as her chest heaved with heavy sobs. I recognized the girl immediately as Brian’s girlfriend, Lindsey. “Trouble in paradise?” I asked, tilting my head towards her.
Brian shook his head, looking down at his shoes. “We broke up.”
My eyes widened as I tried to process what he just said. Brian and Lindsey had been together since sophomore year, with the exception of a month or two in our junior year when she thought Brian had a crush on me just because we were such good friends. It was now the summer after our senior year, and he hadn’t said a word to me about a fight.
Before I could ask anything, Brian stepped roughly on the gas and speeded toward the horizon. He made sharp turns the whole way to back to my house and nearly hit the garage as he pulled into the driveway going sixty miles per hour. He slammed the car door shut and was walking toward his house, the small Tudor next door, by the time I got out of the car.
“Brian!” I shouted after him, walking toward my front door. “Where are you going?”
“Home,” he yelled back, shoving his key into his door. I figured that the break-up with Lindsey just had him really upset and went inside to watch our favorite movie, The Invisibles, by myself.
Tuesday, things were a bit more obvious. Brian came to my house for my birthday lunch because my family is too disoriented to organize an actual birthday celebration. He rang the doorbell rather than just walking in and shoved his present into my arms the second I opened the heavy, cracked front door. Normally, Brian would clutch it to his chest, making me beg him to let me see what fabulous gift he bought me this year.
“What am I supposed to do with this?” I asked as he sulked into the house. He gave me a look that said, “What kind of question is that?” and walked into the kitchen. I followed him into the worn-down room and threw myself into one of the chairs, which creaked loudly under my weight (114 pounds for an eighteen year old vs. 5 pounds for a 56 year old chair).
I stared at the silver packaging then back up at Brian. He was watching me, a grimace covering his tan features. He leant against the sliding glass door, his arms crossed over his chest. “Open it, Rebecca.”
My eyes lingered on him for a moment before I slowly tugged at the wrapping, revealing a small box from a jewelry store. If I remembered correctly, the nearest jewelry store was an hour and a half away and cost twice as much as any other. “What is this?” I snapped.
“Your birthday present,” Brian answered nonchalantly.
“Brian!” I yelled, eying the friendship bracelet around his wrist that I had made him two weeks ago for his eighteenth birthday. “We never get one another anything special!”
As if reading my mind, Brian rolled his other hand around his wrist and stared at me. “Just open it,” he finally sighed.
I did as I was told, and a shiny silver bracelet smiled up at me. Little figure skate charms gleamed in the light from outside as I pulled it gently out of the box and fastened it around my wrist. I had always secretly wanted to be an ice skater, and Brian would blow three months of working at Rodney’s just to buy me something and brag about how I coveted it later.
“Thanks, Brian,” I said, climbing out of my chair to hug him. To my surprise, Brian almost winced then simply nodded. I cocked my head to the side, but he just half-smiled back at me.
“I should probably get going, then,” he sighed, walking towards the door. He used to stay all day on my birthday. He would sit with my family on the cheap sofa as they all watched me open a few presents they’d bought me in the middle of the floor, and later, Brian and I would laugh about how much I hated everything they bought me. The only presents I ever actually liked were those he got me, and we would stay up late into the night, playing with whatever fabulous gift he’d gotten me.
Not on Tuesday. He simply walked out the door, leaving me to suffer through another mediocre “party” alone. I could have sworn I heard his car start a few minutes later at that.
Wednesday came and went without a word from Brian, and Thursday passed the exact same way. Finally, Friday rolled around, and I had never seen it storm so hard. I watched a trampoline fly into my neighbor’s fence, demolishing everything in its path, and a tree fell down onto a blue car across the street. The car alarm couldn’t be heard even if you were standing next to it due to the thrashing rain and deafening lightning.
I waited with my cell phone at my side for Brian to call, for we always hung out with one another at his house when it stormed. We liked to build forts like little kids and light ever single candle in the house, which was quite a few, when the power went out. I swear I waited through the first two hours of the storm until I finally couldn’t take it anymore.
Flinging open the front door, I stomped my way through the swampy ground to his house. I pounded my hand on the front door, and a few seconds later, he peeked out a small crack in the door before holding it fully open in front of him. His hair seemed darker today, and his face had fallen a bit pale, though it was still far tanner than I could ever hope to be. He wore a crisp blue plaid button-up and a lousy pair of khaki shorts.
I pushed my already soaked black hair out of my face, looking past him at the suitcases piled up against the wall. “Why didn’t you call me?” I shouted over the rain, my eyes still fixed on the luggage.
Brian ran his fingers through his hair, something he seemed to do a lot more often lately. His eyes sailed down to his feet before he replied. “You don’t want to know, Rebecca.”
Suddenly, the pieces fell together: the way he just up and broke up with Lindsey; how Rodney, the stingiest man in business, let him leave early; his constant lousy attitude; his sudden disappearance on my birthday; the silver bracelet; his absence for the past two days. “You’re leaving,” I yelled, but my voice was still barely audible over the relentless lightning.
Brian looked up at me with guilty brown eyes in response, and I bit my lip, feeling tears well up in my eyes. I stared at him for a moment, unable to ignore the feeling arising in my gut that he wasn’t coming back. My voice shook as I asked, “Where are you going?”
“Cambridge,” he shouted, burying his hands in his pockets. The wind blew the door back the moment he let go, causing it to slam off of the wall behind him.
“Like in England?” As Brian nodded, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet, I truly thought I was going to throw up. I always knew that he hated this dead town in the middle of absolutely nowhere and longed to go back to England, for he was born there and moved here in seventh grade. He always had a heavy accent, but I barely even noticed anymore unless he called a girl “fit” or accused a boy of being a w****r.”
Brian met my eyes, and his voice was gentle as he spoke. “I got into the University of Cambridge there, Rebecca. It’s the best college in the United Kingdom. I always wanted to go there, ever since I was a tot.”
I was speechless, completely dumbstruck. My mind didn’t work anymore, my eyes no longer could see. I stood there, frozen in time as Brian lugged his suitcases to the backseat of his car. He threw them in carelessly, waving at me as he climbed into the driver’s seat. Waving goodbye.
I rapidly stormed over to the car, the rain pelting my head as I scrambled to door as he revved the engine of his car. “Brian, stop!” I shrieked, pounding on the glass. He looked up at me with a frown on his face, but he moved his foot onto the gas pedal.
“You swore you’d stay with me!” I yelled, throwing my hands onto the window. I pulled as hard as I could on the glass, trying to make it budge even the slightest bit. My attempts were futile; I knew they were.
Brian looked down at the steering wheel and back up at me when I screamed even louder. Suddenly, he pulled the keys out of the ignition and slowly pushed open the door. He towered above me, being six foot five compared to my lousy five feet and six and a half inches. We used to fight over that little half inch, for he would never tack it onto the end. He would always say, “Rebecca, you’re either five foot seven or you’re not. And you are not.” I would argue back, but right now, I wish I would’ve kept my trap shut.
He blinked the rain out of his eyes as it immediately began to drench him. “What are you doing, Becca?” he asked over the storm, looking solemnly down at me.
I met his eyes with a fearful gaze and threw my arms around him as I felt the first of my tears roll down my cheeks. “You can’t go, Brian!” I yelled. “You just can’t!”
He sighed, rubbing one arm soothingly on my back, the other grazing my hair. I clung to him, but he held me so gently; he was always so moderate and calm, whilst I was a raging tornado ready to strike at any given moment. “You know that I have to go,” he said, his voice trailing down to my ear like a distant sad song.
“You don’t,” I whimpered. “You can stay here forever with me.”
I felt Brian shake his head as I buried my head into his chest. “It’s always been a dream of mine to go back home, Rebecca. This is my opportunity. I wish I could stay, but I can’t. I really think that England is where I’m just meant to be.”
I look up at him, my death grip around his torso not loosening even the slightest bit. “What if you’re just meant to be here and be my best friend?” I asked with wide eyes.
Brian’s serene expression faltered for a moment, and though he quickly recuperated, the sadness in his eyes remained. He rested my head back on his chest. “I’ll always be your best friend.”
“How can you promise me that if you’re forever away?” I asked, my voice muffled by his shirt. “We’ll lose touch with one another, and you’ll find a new best friend. Soon enough, I’ll be just a distant memory, a girl to whom you send cheap postcards when you remember. You’ll forget all about me!”
He shook his head again. “I’m not going to find another mate like you, Rebecca,” he assured me, and a few minutes later, he let out a dry laugh. “I was actually worried that you’d forget about me, which is why I bought you that bracelet.”
I let go of him, looking up at him in shock. “I could never forget you, Brian,” I told him, and he smiled at me, pulling me into what would be our last hug for a long time. “You’ll call every single day, right?”
“At the very least,” he laughed. “I’ll miss you, Rebecca.”
“I’ll miss you, Brian,” I said, and he kissed the top of my head ever so lightly before releasing me and climbing into the front seat of his car.
“I love you!” I shouted just before he closed the door, and he rolled his eyes at me.
“I love you, too,” he said. “You better just shut up now or you’ll make me cry, too.”
I wiped my eyes as he smiled at me one more time before pulling out of his driveway. My feet felt like cement as I waved at him until his car finally disappeared into the distance. I looked around me, understanding that I now had nowhere to go until I set off for college. I had other friends to hang out with, but I didn’t really like them much. Most of all, they weren’t Brian, and I knew I’d never find a friend to take his place.
NINE YEARS LATER
I stared at the woman in front of me, Melinda. She was in my office for her weekly therapy session, and as usual, she was crying her eyes out. One would think that she’d run out of tears by now, but not Melinda. She could cry for days, and I truly think she did.
“And she looked at me and said, ‘How could you know? Your daughter went and killed herself and your son is a homosexual!’ I just wanted to start crying right then and there,” Melinda explained, and I took that to mean that she really did start crying.
I squinted at Melinda, twirling my pen in my hands. Melinda accepted the fact that her son, Jared, was gay; I had to help her to just that a year ago. “Do you accept the fact that your daughter is no longer with us?” I asked, choosing my words carefully.
Melinda shot up in her seat, her bouncy red curls falling over her shoulders as she did. Just as quickly as she’d sat up, she sunk back down, grabbing a Kleenex to blow her nose. “If you’re asking if I know that she’s gone, the answer is yes,” Melinda snapped, “but I really don’t believe anybody ever gets over losing somebody.”
Sighing, I set the pen back onto my clipboard. I always hated being a therapist. I thought it was going to something fun to do and it would feel great to know I’ve helped somebody out in their life, but things weren’t as clear cut as they seemed. Somehow, the patient always ended up teaching me something, whether it was how to make a simple dish or opening my eyes to something I didn’t realize about myself.
Fingering the bracelet on my wrist, I knew she was right: you don’t recover from losing somebody you really care about. After all, it had been nine years since Brian gave me this bracelet, yet I still wore it faithfully everyday. I would even catch myself watching my cell phone in my spare time, waiting for it to flash and play his special ringtone as it did every evening. Sometimes, when my patients would ramble on and on about their boring lives, I would find myself thinking about the plane tickets on my kitchen counter, reserved for my flight to England for his wedding in two weeks. Brian was never far from my mind ever since the day I met him almost fifteen years ago, for he was my best friend and I was his. Forever.