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The Synonym of You is Me

We were so alike before. So symmetrical; we were exactly the same and I wanted it to stay that way. If someone asked who my best friend was, I’d say, “Anna Emmaline Aclerdale, and that’s Awl-err-dayle.” The grown-ups would smile politely and tap my two fat pigtails and say something about how precious that was.
That continued for most of elementary school, and I was content that way. Except in sixth grade Anna met Traci and Frita and Luna and off they went, forming a clique and leaving me the odd one out. I was devastated, but Anna was a nice girl and so she tried to include me. Traci was a mean girl and did the opposite; she wanted Anna and not me. I pushed off.
Seventh grade was worse. While Traci had gossiped about me behind my back and such, when she moved to Nebraska, an even meaner girl had replaced her; her name was Lucille. Lucille had orange, fiery hair that hung around her face in an adorable pixie cut. She’d adopted Frita and Luna as her followers. To my dismay, she, too, wanted Anna. Everybody wanted Anna, she was spectacular. Anna was tall and slim and didn’t wear her hair in two fat brown pigtails, which Lucille had suddenly declared lame. She had dirty blonde hair that was super straight and reached the bridge between her shoulders; she had bangs that nearly shadowed her hazel eyes, and an amazing voice. Lucille seemed to top her in every way; she was taller and had a better singing voice, and danced too; she scored the lead in the school play and won Most Valued Dancer in her dance group. She, too, was slender, and she had confidence, something Anna lacked yet admired Lucille for.
We strayed, Anna and I; Anna called Lucille ‘Lucy’ and went to cool parties and scored dates with boys. That was the beginning of the year, and nothing’s changed since; I want it all to go back to normal, but it can’t. Anna doesn’t even notice me anymore. Nobody does.
Lilac Jones was just the mute girl at the back of class who never spoke in class. Likewise, Lucille’s clique, consisting of Frita, Luna, and my stolen best friends, were outgoing, wild, fun, and awesome. Popularity was an understatement in their case; Lucille had the entire grade wrapped around her finger, and knew it. Traci was snide in her remarks as she gossiped; Lucille had no problem telling you off in your face. Last month, when the loneliness had consumed me completely, I walked up to Lucille’s lunch table which was probably the boldest move ever. I said hi and asked if I could sit. Lucille whispered something to her BFFs who snickered. Anna didn’t bother to rub it in, but she too giggled behind her hands, eyes glinting.
“What is it?” I asked, voice cracking.
“We don’t want you here, leave. Also, acne has kind of taken over, so don’t look at us while you speak; what is this, invasion of the ignorant?” snorted Lucille. I wondered how such a word could enter this absent-minded girl before I whimpered and retreated to the loser table, ignoring their croons and cries of, “dork,” and, “annoying freak…”
What had I ever done to earn those cruel titles? I lost a best friend, that’s what. I cried over my grilled ham and cheese until it was salty with the emotions lurking in my heart.
And now here I am, sitting on the crusty yellow swing after school hours in the children’s playground. There is an empty swing beside me, squeaking in time to my breaths. Where is Anna, who is supposed to be sitting next to me while I allowed silent rain to spill over? Where is my best friend?
As if on cue, the silhouette of an amazing girl appears. Purple had just kissed the sky, darkening the mood, encouraging my negative aura.
“Anna,” I say bleakly, rising to leave.
“Wait,” she cries quietly, clutching my arm to stop me. I slump back onto the swing and push myself off, narrowly missing her head.
She pulls me to a stop from behind. “I’ve missed you, Lil.”
“It’s June now, Anna. School is over in two weeks. Where were you when I missed you, too? What makes you think I was okay with your abandonment?” I leap off the swing, but the jump was misjudged and so I lay sprawled on the grass and sob.
Anna joins me, and I can hear the pain in her tone while she inhales. That breath is held for a long time as she rubs my back.
“It’s not fair,” I say, voice muffled by the grass and whatever creatures lurk there. Quickly, I sit in criss-cross, eyes on my pink sneakers. They were new but dirty, as Lucille had ruined them earlier on.
Finally, she dares to exhale. “I know,” she replies, and we sit in silence.
Just having her beside me feels so good that I smile through the tears. My jaw unclenches and I breathe easier, the weight off my shoulders lifting and fading with my grief.
“My mother lost the baby,” I say thoughtfully, wanting to catch her up. “Father wants a divorce. Christine turned eighteen and wants out. My home is a mess. Ginger has heart cancer, and the vet is so expensive she just might have to deal with it.”
I cry again, but gently now; softly. These tears had been spilled many times over. Christine, my older sister, spent all her time and her boyfriend Jason’s house. My little tabby cat was battling a terrible disease, and just because of our money issues, we couldn’t help her.
“Aunt Jasmine died last week, and our Uncle just got out of county jail to be faced with this. He didn’t get to say goodbye. Neither did I. She was in a car accident, visiting him. Mother’s baby wasn’t fathers, and that’s why he wants a divorce…Even if the baby died.” I allow my private life to escape into the air, let Anna become aware of my pain. It was too much for me. And I knew she was strong enough to share it. That’s what best friends did for each other.
“Oh, Lilac,” she whispers, pulling me close for a tender embrace. “You’ll make it through. I know it. I’ll help you. You’re brave.”
“How do you know I’ll survive all this?”
Anna looks at me with surprise. “Because you just do, Lilac, everyone does; you pick yourself up and grin and continue. Life goes on.”
“Until death, of course,” I retort hotly, reminded of my poor aunt, and yet I smile. I grin and I flourish and I fling my arms around Ann and give her a great big hug. Her breath comes warm and soothing in my ear, ivory hand reaching to touch my face. She puts her hand too close to my mouth and I bite it lovingly. She tastes of dove bath soap and chemical.
“You’re strange, Lilac,” she says, but she doesn’t release me, and the twinkle in her curious orbs only grew.
“I am,” I say, and squeeze tighter.
We both cry together, swapping secrets under the watchful eye of the moon. Anna’s life isn’t all sunshine and roses either; her baby sister was hospitalized over the weekend and Lucille made Jarret her boyfriend, stealing away Anna’s longtime crush. Anna’s grandmother had fallen ill, and being the only family left in her family fit to care for her, Anna had to take over the household chores and duties and such.
“I want to be your best friend again,” she says, still holding on to me.
I gaze up and stare beseechingly. “You won’t leave me,” I say. It’s more of a statement then the question I’d intended it to be.
“I will not,” she promises, agreeing. And I believe her. So I nod against her flat chest and she rises.
“I’ll walk you home,” I offer, since my mother won’t be home from work until 10pm, and I’ve finished all my homework. Father isn’t around anymore anyway, so he won’t be a problem, and Christine was at Jason’s all week.
“Stay for dinner, I’m making it,” she says back, grabbing my hand.
A thundercloud claps overhead, and rain begins to pour out of the sky, drenching us in heartbeats.
“It seems like Mother Nature has something to cry about, too,” I observe in wonder.
“Of course she does. Everybody has something to cry about,” Anna answers, and our hands swing, clasped together, and we make our way down the cracked old pavement.
I feel much better than I have in a long, long while. “Does Lucille have something to cry about?” I ask daringly.
“No.”
My heart plunges instantly, shooting to my stomach.
“But when she sees we’re best friends again, she’s gonna!” Anna grins toothily at me, and I smile at her.
It lifts again.
-
-
The next day, when Anna and I merge into the classroom, we’re still hand in hand. Lucille shoots Anna a look. “What are you doing?” she says nastily, ignoring me completely.
I would’ve been stung before, but now I just answer for Anna; “Giving you something to cry about.” Anna allows herself to be dragged past Lucille to the partner seats in the center of the classroom. I keep expecting her to turn back to Lucille and leave me like she did in September. But as if reading my thoughts, in the middle of class Anna whispers at me.
“I’m not going anywhere,” she says.
“Pinky swear?”
“Pinky swear.” Anna doesn’t even call me babyish as she grips my pinky with her own. We shake.
-
-
And to this day, Anna has kept her promise. So when people ask me now, a woman of twenty-one, who my best friend is, I say matter-of-factly, “Anna Emmaline Aclerdale, and that’s Awl-err-dayle.” I say it proudly, too, as my heart sings and my two fat pigtails bob. That is my answer when people ask me about my best friend. And that is the answer it will always be.



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