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Well, he DID promise 'forever.'
I bit my lip and focused on the ‘4’ on the back of her sweatshirt, trying to block out everything but the thick white lines. I watched them rub her back and I wondered if I should do something, if I should comfort this girl I barely knew. Instead of reaching out as they read her mom’s name, I looked down and fiddled with the sunglasses in my hands.
The names seemed to go on forever, and I wasn’t sure why I was listening. I didn’t want to hear her name. But before they even got there, I broke. Tears stung hard and I tried to blink them away, but something about the cold night and the damp grass lined with luminaries wouldn’t let me stop. I was silent, a skill I had acquired years ago. I barely sniffled, and when I did, they probably blamed it on the cold. I’m not sure what really made them notice. I saw James look at me a few times and I’m sure he noticed, but I can’t blame him for not knowing what to do. None of them had seen me cry.
‘Megan… are you crying?’ Alexis looked at me, moved the curtain of hair out of my face. I offered a crappy, weak smile and looked down again, playing with James’s glasses in my hands. But she pulled me against her and I continued to cry, thankful for the darkness and my hair to hide my face. James kept looking at me, I saw him moving closer.
‘Oh, give me the stupid glasses!’ He took them from my hands and put them on the ground, something I hadn’t seen him do all day. He really liked those sunglasses. ‘Come here.’ And he pulled me into his arms, cradling me and stroking my hair. Something about being held by him again after so many months just made me cry harder and I shook in his arms, burying my face in his chest. ‘Never thought I’d be holding you again… or that you’d be crying.’ His lips were close to my ear, whispering words meant only for me. ‘I promised I’d catch you when you fall.’
‘Thank you,’ I whimpered, squeezing his arm. He’d sworn ‘best friends forever’, but this went above and beyond. He kissed my head and whispered that it was going to be okay and held me tight in his arms, protecting me from everything. Despite all that we had been through, he’d never seen me fall apart like this and yet there he was, my shelter and my protector. My gallowglass.
‘Come on, my girlfriend’s a b*tch, I need some love.’ He squeezed me tighter as I laughed, which had been his goal from the beginning. James knew that he was the one who could put a smile on my face no matter what.
I was passed back and forth between Alexis and James, both of them becoming somewhere to hide my crying eyes. I was in Alexis’s arms when they read her name, and Alexis passed me off to James, who promised it would be okay as I shook with renewed sobs. I gasped for air and I trembled all over, and still his grip on me remained strong. He was there no matter what.
‘Yeah, give Jamesy some sugar!’ He joked, and eventually he had me laughing just as hysterically as I had been crying. I fell limp in his arms, my face close to his lap, and he joked about that, just making me laugh harder. He gently let me go and I sat up, wiping my eyes and looking at all of my friends sitting around me. Out of all of them, James was the only one I’d previously considered a best friend, but I was glad they were there. It’s funny, the people who are there to witness your snotty-nosed sobbing when the world collapses. They were all there for me and when we decided to go walk around, nobody said a word about the way my legs shook when I stood up. I knew they had my back and they wouldn’t leave me, even if I looked like a mess. My friends are just that amazing.
On the ride home, James held my hand and slept on mine and Alexis’s laps. I’d spent all day with him after missing him so much for so long, and I was happier than I would’ve expected to be after breaking down. When I hugged him goodnight under the beautiful starry sky, I thanked him again. I knew those two words weren’t enough to express my gratitude, but he knew how much it meant to me. He’d always been able to read my mind.
So I left, after spending all day with my best friend. Even before I needed a shoulder to cry on, he’d been by my side all day. I couldn’t have been happier or more grateful to have such beautiful people in my life, and I will never forget the words he said or the way I felt as I shook in his arms. And I’m thinking I might just believe in ‘friends forever.’