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Lost and Found
The sky had been a gorgeous shade of blue, seeming to stretch out for miles like an endless wave, and the sun shone through perfectly, causing even the dull brown bark chips covering the playground to sparkle in a golden way they never had before. If you really wanted to look, you would see the shadow of the school and then the school itself, but no one seemed very interested in looking. I stood by the tire swing with my best friend Veronica and her new friends, Tyra and Bonnie. There were two months left in the school year, and this time of year always brought with it both a sense of freedom and an intense longing for things to stay the same. That year the feelings felt even more intense, because we were sixth graders, and those two months had become the last two months of elementary school.
Veronica shifted impatiently and whispered something to the other girls, and even I could sense her boredom. Her boredom with not only the waning school year, but with me, with all of her friends except for her new ones. The week prior she had abruptly dropped our other best friend, Fiona*, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I might be next. Other kids’ laughter and obvious enjoyment of the perfect day seemed to reverberate off of the blacktop, everyone and anyone outside felt lucky to be alive. Even though I knew I shouldn’t break one of the cardinal rules of girlhood, I had to ask.
“What are you guys talking about?”
This caused an onslaught of eye rolls and even more whispering. I immediately felt even lamer, and bit my lip to stop myself from saying anything else. Tyra and Bonnie didn’t make much effort to hide their feelings of resentment and superiority towards me, and I could tell they only put up with me because, for whatever reason, Veronica did. She turned to me then, a smirk on her face that I both knew and feared, one that only ever led to bad things for its recipient.
“Nothing. We aren’t talking about anything.”
If you have the sudden urge to roll your eyes and say, “what a lame response”, then you’ve clearly never met a girl like Veronica, in which case I’d say you’re lucky. The kind of girl who can say absolutely anything she wants to anybody she pleases and not get called out on it, the kind of girl who seems to look gorgeous in whatever she wears, and the kind of girl you stick with if you’re lucky enough to be chosen as one of her friends. The kind of girl I already knew I would never be. Therefore, I had always ignored the back-handed compliments or occasional straight-up insults and coveted those small moments of actual friendship.
The simple and ultimately unavoidable fact was that without her, I had no other friends. Our class had been small and a little short of options, so I quite literally would have no one. That thought, more than anything, terrified me. I couldn’t be one of those girls who spent recess in the library reading, I just couldn’t. Veronica, of course, had figured all of this out and had become even more vicious in her treatment towards me, knowing I would never leave her. Amidst all of this thought and regret, I heard three sharp claps pierce the air: the signal.
Giggling, three pairs of feet kicked up shining bark chips in their haste to get away from me. I stood, completely abandoned, looking off into the distance at them in confusion and acceptance. If they wanted to treat me like that, they could. I couldn’t do a thing about it. People stared at me, some even vaguely sympathetic, but most hungering for gossip. Did you hear? Veronica totally ditched Emma at recess! I looked at the ground for a place to look. I stared at the sun-sprinkled chips and wished that something would happen, something to make everything okay again.
“You know, if I were you I would have left her a long time ago.”
I spun around in complete surprise, almost falling over. I found myself staring straight at Fiona, a look of complete disgust and understanding all over her face. To be completely honest, the thought of choosing to leave Veronica had never occurred to me, in our relationship we both knew that she held all the power.
“I wouldn’t have anyone to hang out with.”
The depressingly blunt tone of my voice didn’t throw her off for a second; in fact it seemed to make her even surer of herself. Her face changed until it contained nothing but a smile.
“You can hang out with me.”
Somehow it felt like I had needed to hear those words for a long time, longer than even I had known. I stared at her outstretched hand, then at the three girls on the swings who were also staring at me. Silently, I took her hand and we walked away to the slides.
No matter how long I live, I will never forget the expressions on their faces as they watched me leave the tire swing and, essentially, our friendship. Tyra and Bonnie looked completely shocked but were attempting to cover it up with faux annoyance, while Veronica just looked sad. I had done what she had never expected me to do, and therefore everything she’d feared I might. I didn’t feel bad because I knew that she’d gotten what she wanted, learning to live with it would prove to be even harder.
Looking back, I don’t have any actual regrets. That moment helped me become the person I am today, and I’ll always be grateful to Fiona for helping me out when I needed it the most. I learned a lot of lessons my sixth grade year, but one very important one that day: people only have the power you choose to give them.