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They were known in the neighborhood as “the girls.” They were a pair of just that, girls, who rode their bikes every day around the upper-middle class suburban neighborhood. Every day, Sammy pulled up in front of Sara’s house, relishing in the squeak that the tires of her cherry red classic-style bike made when she braked abruptly. Sara would come dashing out, tripping on the pedals of her blue racing bike in her haste. And every day at 3:00, “the girls” would bike around the neighborhood in the shade of the leafy green trees that lined the roads and fanned the McMansions. They would race over the dapples of light that littered the street when the afternoon sun shined a certain way through the trees. They did this every day for all the years of their childhoods; it became a ritual, sacred. Even the neighbors began to rely on the girls’ daily ride, looking forward to hearing the sounds of laughter that came wafting into their kitchens and living rooms every day like clockwork.
“The girls” started on the day that two lonely ten year olds happened to emerge from their houses at around the same time, hop on their bikes, and nearly collide on the corner of Echo Hill and Orangeburg Road. They had been best friends ever since, fellow soldiers in a war called “growing up.” With a single look each could make the other burst out laughing, or simply say “I know.” They grew up in the shade of those protective trees, grew until they couldn’t any more, until they were both fifteen and couldn’t raise the seat bars on their bikes any higher. Until sometimes Sammy wasn’t at Sara’s house at 3:00 because she was riding around in John Marsden’s convertible, but that was only a few times.
Then one day Sara walked her bike up her driveway. This struck an odd chord for Sammy, because usually Sara bustled up in a flurry of gangly limbs.
“I brought diet cokes today,” said Sammy, patting her backpack, every inch of which was covered in her famous button collection.
“Sweet,” said Sara, buckling her helmet. “Where to?” she asked as she hopped on her bike.
“Hmmm I was thinking the rez...” said Sammy punctuating the sentence with a swift kick to her kickstand.
“Alright, rez and cokes. An adventure,” Sara said sarcastically. It was what they did every day, but Sammy knew that Sara looked forward to their rides as much as she did.
They were off. The girls chatted while they rode, dusting the dirt of the day off their shoulders as they related every detail. Finally they reached reservoir, which was surrounded by a chain link fence. They looked at each other. “Après vous,” Sammy shrugged, and bent down to give Sara a leg up over the fence. Sara made it over the fence and landed on the other side with a healthy klunk. Sammy followed and the two walked through the forest to the water’s edge.
They sat on the sand, sipping cokes and looking up at the clear blue sky. They ran through their favorite subjects: the latest antics of those who were known as “the party kids,” and their deep hatred for teachers who gave too much homework. They analyzed the general hotness of the guys in their school, devised schemes to get prom dates, and complained about parents, the usual. But their silences were longer than usual, their laughter not so loud. For a long time, neither brought it up.
It wasn’t until the sun was setting, until the oranges and pinks of the sky licked the the tips of the waves and the woods behind them fell silent that Sammy mentioned it at all.
“The first time I heard about it was on TV last night. Isn’t that messed up?”
“Me too,” said Sara, looking at her hands. “I know it’s ridiculous the teachers didn’t even mention it at school today but it was on CNN last night. My mom says we’re gonna have like workshops or something on depression now, though.”
“I’m just... I’m just stunned, I don’t even feel it yet. I can’t believe that it’s true.”
Silence, again, usually so rare when they were together. “No, I knew something was going on,” said Sara, looking out at the water. “She got really quiet these past few months. Those bitches wrote all that stuff on the bathroom wall about her, they taunted her constantly. They didn’t let her breathe. I just can’t believe she actually did it.”
“Maureen was so pretty. I feel so bad for her mom.”
Sammy thought of that day she and Sara had come across a dead rabbit in the street on one of their afternoon rides. She remembered feeling devastated when she saw the little white body lying motionless on the side of the road. They both stopped pedaling and walked over to the rabbit to see if he was still breathing. He wasn’t. What was worse was that flies had already attacked it, and swarmed its body in a clump. Neither girl cried, but at that moment they both felt the same horrible, soul scraping sadness. Straddling their bikes, sweating in shorts on a hot summer day, two girls found themselves looking down at the sheer harshness of the world.