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Time to Move On
It was the kind that made you feel like you didn’t spend enough time outside, even if you were planting a garden all day—the sun was out, with a cumulus cloud making its way in front of it every now and then creating shade, and the sky’s color gleamed with such majesty that you’d want to turn it into a paint swatch. A cool breeze blew through the open window, giving the 80-degree weather a perfect cool-down, as Nolan and I lay flat on his bed, staring up at the collage on the ceiling that was us.
“Remember how that lady dressed like a pilgrim chased us down the street with a cauldron, and threatened to trap our heads in it?” Nolan pointed to the picture of the two us standing on top of a fence in front of the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg.
“Oh my gosh, yes,” I laughed. “We thought we were gonna die.”
“Even though she was only running as fast as any 300-pound, 60-year old woman could run.”
“How old were we anyway? Like, ten?”
“Maybe even eight or nine.”
“It’s possible,” I added. Silence between us took over again, with the sound of a neighbor’s lawn mower in the background, when another great picture caught my eye. “Look at all that ice cream all over your face, you pig,” I elbowed him on the shoulder, looking at the candid shot of us at the boardwalk in Virginia Beach.
“Hey, cut me a break! I was little!” I didn’t even have to point the picture out for him to know what I was talking about—I had made fun of him for the chocolate ice cream that went from his lips to his eyebrows time and time again.
“You were fourteen,” I raised my eyebrows, smiling at how he always tried to defend himself when he knew couldn’t win.
“Well I was hungry,” I felt him shrug.
“Clearly,” I giggled, which was followed by him shoving my shoulder a little. We continued on and on, pointing out every memory we had photographed—which were enough to take up a good chunk of his ceiling—from our moms pushing us both in strollers, to the time we played little league baseball together in kindergarten (I insisted on being on the boys’ team so we could be together), to when our 11-year old selves thought it would be a good idea to be Siamese twins for Halloween, to the homecoming dance when we were freshmen (our first big high school dance), to a candid that one of our friends had taken of us singing along at a Dave Matthews Band concert last summer.
Nolan and I had been best friends for as long as we could remember. Even before we could remember, actually. It was one of those situations where our moms met at Lamaze class and hit it off right away, and vowed that their babies would be best friends so that they would have an excuse to see each other when things got too hectic in their lives. Of course, we were both supposed to be boys—my mom had her heart set on naming me Jonathan, her late brother’s name; she compensated with Joni three days after I was born—so when I turned out to be a girl, Mom got a bit concerned that maybe even if she and Nolan’s mom made us hang out as toddlers, the whole different gender thing would make us grow apart by the time we were 12. Then, it would be awkward for us to see each other afterwards. Obviously that didn’t happen though. Sure, we went through that stage in first grade when we got teased relentlessly for being “boyfriend-girlfriend” (I can still hear everyone singing Nolan and Joni sittin’ in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G!). And then there was when Nolan hit his growth spurt in seventh grade and suddenly every girl wanted to kiss him, including me, as I easily succumbed to the peer pressure from my girl friends (C’mon Joni! He’s so hot now and he would totally date you!—which, mind you, he didn’t.).
Other than those odd times, we’d always been the two best of friends anyone ever knew. Cheesy as it sounds, it was true. We went trick-or-treating with coordinated costumes every year (he would be Harry, I would be Hermione, he’d be The Situation, I’d be Snooki, etc. Call us dorky, but it was too fun to give up), we rode the Ferris wheel at the local carnival together each summer, we were always on the same team during neighborhood games of manhunt. We called each other right away after our first kisses (which were with other people, for the record), and got each other through our first break-ups. We drank beer for the first time together, and smoked weed for the first time together. We even learned how to drive together. I had my close girl friends, and he had his close guy friends, and we mingled with other friends all the time, but we were best friends.
Naturally, people were always asking him or me, “when are you guys finally gonna get married?” or even just “don’t you feel something with him?” Honestly, I didn’t. And I don’t think he did either. Of course I’d thought about it before, but after I got over that awkward little crush I had in 7th grade, while I was going into 8th grade, I realized that I could never be with Nolan that way. We knew each other too well, and were too, well, friendly around each other to ever be more than that. Dating Nolan would be like dating my brother, and it’d be the same for him with me (we had a very awkward discussion about this when I finally told him I had a crush on him two years after it happened). We shared all that important stuff, all that best friend stuff, and that was all we needed. It was just ours and no one else’s.
And now he was leaving. Going away. All the way to Los Angeles, in fact—tomorrow.
Nolan was always talented. Really talented. Even our parents said that I was the smart one and he was the talented one. He got the lead role in every school play since kindergarten, was always everyone’s first pick to work with on a school project that involved a skit, and you could always count on him to be the first to volunteer to read a passage of the text book aloud to the class. Needless to say, he always wanted to be an actor, and his parents finally caved and got him an agent three years ago after his performance in the freakin’ eighth grade musical moved everyone to tears, even them. He usually was lucky and only had to go an hour to Washington every weekend to meet with his agent, but sometimes they had to schlep all the way to New York for big auditions. It was a major pain in the a** (for them as well me, since I wouldn’t get to see him all weekend), but we all thought it would be worth it in the end. With his talent, and not to mention devilishly good looks, how could it not be?
And it turned out we were right. Earlier that month, Nolan was offered the lead role in a new Steven Spielberg action flick—the adaptation of some popular book, so it was sure to be a blockbuster—that would also be starring Brad Pitt, Reese Witherspoon, Dakota Fanning (as Nolan’s love interest, go figure), Matt Damon, and a few other famous and actually good actors (for some reason Spielberg wanted an unknown in the lead role, apparently). Of course, the pilot he filmed for a new CBS comedy had also been picked up recently, so the timing was perfect. And you’d think he’d become someone who wore sunglasses everywhere and acted like everyone was always in his way, but nope. He was still the same old goofy, nice-to-everyone-he knows, too-humble Nolan. So yeah, everything was perfect for him. Not for me, though.
I guess it was noticeable that I was no longer paying close attention to the pictures, but rather just thinking about all of this, because Nolan sat up and said, “Jo, are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I monotonously said without looking at him.
“You’re crying,” he sounded concerned.
I knew there were tears falling from my eyes, but I was hoping that maybe if I ignored them, he wouldn’t notice. Once he pointed it out though, I became entirely too conscious of my damp cheeks and stinging nose. “It’s my allergies,” I quickly made up an excuse.
“You don’t have allergies.” One of the downsides to knowing each other like family was that we could always see through each other’s lame white lies.
“I just got them this year.” Another lie that he would know was a lie.
“Come on, Joni. It’s okay to be upset,” he said in a fake-mom voice, punching my knees.
“Stop doing that,” I sat up and swiped his fists away from me. “I just can’t believe you’re leaving.”
“Me neither. I feel like it all happened so quickly too, you know? Like just yesterday I was going to my first meeting in Washington,” he shook his head.
“Well, yeah, there’s that part, but then there’s the other,” I said.
“What other part?” he seemed confused.
“I don’t know, the part where we won’t get to stress out about college apps together? Or where we won’t get to go to prom together? Or keep up any tradition we’ve had since we were babies?” I paused, and examined Nolan’s big, dark blue eyes for a second. They looked to be a combination of confusion, worry, and hurt. I didn’t need him to worry about me or take pity on me, but I continued anyway, saying, “We may not even get to go to college together,” crossing my arms.
At that, the look in his eyes disappeared and turned into a different look of you-gotta-be- kidding-me. “Like we were really gonna be going to college together, anyway,” he rolled his eyes.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Not that I wouldn’t want to go to the same college as you,” he immediately was on the defensive, sensing my bitterness, “I just know it wouldn’t have happened. I mean, you have your heart set on William & Mary, and you’ll probably get in. If not there you have American or Maryland waiting for you. You know that wouldn’t happen for me. I’d probably be going to, like, some run-of-the-mill state school that I don’t actually want to go to.”
“I’d go wherever that is too, then,” I impulsively came back.
“No you wouldn’t,” he shook his head. “You’re too much of a smarty pants overachiever for that.” He brushed a fallen hair off his arm, letting it fall to the bare floor.
“Nolan, I would,” I tried to convince him, overlooking the fact that, yes, he just called me “smarty pants.”
“No Joni, you wouldn’t,” he said in a softer, and more annoyed, tone than before. “You’re too smart to just settle for some school that you could easily get into and that I might have a hard time with.”
I was about to protest, to tell him that he was wrong, but he was so right. I’d wanted to go to The College of William & Mary since I was six. I took every honors and AP class I could and got A’s in all of them. I played varsity field hockey and was a varsity high jumper, even though I didn’t like either sport that much. I was president of my school’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity, and played trumpet in my school’s pit orchestra since I was a freshman. Countless hours of my time had been spent studying and drilling for the SATs, all so I could go to the college of my choice. He was right. I worked too hard to settle.
“Well it doesn’t matter since you’re not even going to college anyway,” I decided to deflect from the current issue-at-hand.
“For now,” he corrected me.
“Oh come on, you know this’ll all work out,” I referred to the path he was taking that was not-so standard. He just shrugged back, trying to seem unsure, but he knew I was right. “And it’s not like I’m any smarter than you,” I added.
“Yes you are,” he laughed.
“No I’m not,” I laughed back, shoving him.
“Yes, you are. Are we really gonna keep doing this?”
I narrowed my eyes at him, not admitting that he was right—once again—about how childish we were acting, as I never did.
“Well I’m still not any smarter than you,” I crossed my arms.
“Okay, whatever you say…” he started to get off the bed. He began to look around at every wall and part of the floor, then said with a sigh, “Wow, it looks a lot different in here, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, it does,” and it sure did. Everything except the bed and the collage were gone, packed away in a truck already on its way to California. His dresser he had with Mickey Mouse ears on it, which we just about drooled over when we were three; all the clothes in the closet, not to mention on the floor; the faded navy blue throw rug, the posters on the wall of everyone from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Jimmy Stuart—just gone, all of it.
“It’s like I never even lived here,” he said, observing the emptiness of the space that used to be his.
“Well, not really,” I said.
“How? You mean the collage?”
“Well, obviously,” I teased him. “But it still smells like you.”
“It smells like me? How do I smell?”
“Like boy,” I laughed back.
“How exactly does ‘boy’ smell?”
“We’ve been over this a million times!” I put my arms up. I’d been trying to explain the smell of ‘boy’ to him since we were 13, but it never quite sank into his thick skull. “It’s like a mix of sweat, greasy foods, and whatever detergent your mom washes your clothes with.”
“Wow, I’m glad you think so highly of my smell. And how does that distinguish me from other boys?”
“I was getting there before you so rudely interrupted me,” I jokingly stick the palm of my hand up at him. “Yours kind of mixes in with Old Spice deodorant, and the coffee from Starbucks…and definitely pizza. I know it’s a greasy food, but it’s better than smelling like French fries or bacon.” As I recited all the smells that reminded me of Nolan, I began to realize once again how much I would miss him, and how I would get through more than one day of not being able to see him or have a phone conversation with him. Even little things like his odd smell would be missed.
And I began to realize my worry, as well. It was a told tale: Nolan would go to Hollywood, became some famous, A-list actor that gets to jet set all over the world on the arms of supermodels, going to parties with people just like him, and making millions of dollars in the process. And where would I be? Here, in Virginia, working my job at the diner so I could put gas in my car and hanging out with other friends, good friends, even, but none like Nolan. None who I could share memories that date back 17 years with, or loudly belch in front of, or tell when I accidentally scratched someone’s car in a parking lot.
And then, as if he read my mind, he said, “I’m really gonna miss you, a lot, Joni.”
I wanted to start crying again, I could feel my eyes welling up, but I just said, “No,” with a wave of the hand, trying to laugh off the situation, “you won’t even remember I exist. You’ll be too busy partying with Brangelina or whoever.”
“Oh yeah, the past 17 years of my life will just be wiped out because of Brad f***ing Pitt,” he rolled his eyes at me.
“You know I was joking,” I muttered.
“You were only half-joking,” he noticed what I was hiding. “You know, you’ll always be my best friend. Even if we don’t talk ever again after I leave—which won’t happen—” he tried to reassure me, “You’ll still be the best friend I ever had.”
“You really mean it?” I was trying so hard not to be all sappy and sentimental, but I just couldn’t do it: out poured the tears.
Nolan didn’t seem to mind though. In fact, I think I even saw some tears of his own. “Of course.” He pointed to the ceiling. “Why do think I’m not packing that away in some box?”