Beginnings | Teen Ink


December 15, 2021
By ShellyAltman, Toronto, Ontario
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ShellyAltman, Toronto, Ontario
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Author's note:

This piece was inpsiried by the world around me, bringing up all sorts of questions I have about myself and the world as a whole. I deeply enjoyed writing this piece, a kind that may be seen as a bildungsroman. I hope that people will learn that people are more then what meets the eye and to just be left with curisousity and a sweet feeling in their hearts.

Ria and Vivienne were best friends. 


Best friends forever, they’d said to one another in first grade, pinky promising under the big oak tree at the park. Promising one another to be best friends forever and always. 


In second grade, they’d gone to the big oak tree again, laying down and imagining the stories of the clouds. Rabbits running after their top hats. Ogres taking over Ireland. Unicorns granting wishes to an army of baboons. 


In third grade, they returned to the big oak tree again. Braiding each other’s hair, spilling the deepest of secrets they had. 


“My mommy and daddy are getting divorced, RiRi,” Vivienne said, slumping while Ria’s fingers just managed to make a french braid in Vivienne’s hair, “mommy said it’ll be okay.”


“Do you believe her?”




In fourth grade, they were seated under the big oak tree, making beaded bracelets for their crushes. For themselves too, matching ones with their crushes. The two were so hopeful that they’d fall in love with them.


“It’s too pink, RiRi. He’s a boy! He won’t wear it,” Vivienne giggled, shaking her head as she put an array of green and blue beads on a string in no particular order, “like this, boys will like you if you wear this.”


Ria frowned, nodding as she sadly let the beads fall off her string. 


Ria also made a green and blue bracelet, though her beads fell into a particular order.


She wished to give the bracelet to Vivienne, it would’ve looked pretty on her than one of Marcus Kamsove. Ria’s sure she wouldn’t like it the same she did, eyes darting to her wrist then far off in the distance. She wasn’t going to bother trying.


In fifth grade, they sat under the big oak tree together, huddled up as they tried to make sense out of their science homework. Like a foreign language to them, that’s what it felt like, whines filled the space below the big oak tree, no homework finished itself that day. Neither had figured out a single equation between them.


In sixth grade, they sat under the big oak tree, shivering in the midst of winter. Fluffy coats, puffy gloves, beanies with purple pom poms at their tops, and muck stained white boots. 


Vivienne sighed, leaning against Ria. “What is it?” Ria asked, particularly confused at her best friend’s mood. 


“My brother is going to university, I’m going to miss him so much,” Vivienne said, face blank, heart full, “I don’t know what I’m gonna do, RiRi..”


“You could always call him?”


“It’s not the same,” she whispered, “I wish everything wasn’t so different now.”


“I’m sorry.”


“I know.”


In seventh grade, they situated themselves under the big oak tree, foreheads touching, sharing music from Vivienne’s phone.


“You’re so lucky, I want a phone too,” Ria said, eyes big as she looked at the phone in curiosity, “my parents said I might be able to get one if I do well in school this year.”


Vivienne chuckled, “You’re smart, RiRi, you’ll get one. My parents didn’t even look at my report card, they just gave me this and said it’s to keep in contact.”


“You didn’t even ask for it?”


“Didn’t even mention the phone. Bet it's the guilt from missing all my violin recitals.”


Ria frowned, rubbing her back, “they must’ve had a good reason.”


“Is there ever a good reason to ignore your own kid?”




In eighth grade, they sat under the big oak tree, Vivienne giggling as she showed Ria pictures of her latest crushes. She’d been boy crazy for a while, though Ria believed this was her peak of obsessing over them. Ria had never been that way with boys, she was relieved Vivienne never questioned it.


It wasn’t particularly lovely, but she showed interest solely since she was her best friend. 


“He’s so dreamy, isn’t he? Doe eyes, fluffy hair…oh boy, oh boy. He’s a dream come true, I hope he asks me to be his valentine,” Vivienne squealed, showing Ria pictures of the two of them at a rally, “he’s nice too, and super mature, RiRi. Super. Mature.”


Super mature meant not giggling at fart noises and not eying breasts like they were some obligatory toy for men. 


“Nice, he’s cute,” Ria said, doing her best to be enthusiastic though she felt hopeless, “hope he does, you deserve someone like that.” She wanted to add that as Ria’s best friend, she could be all that and more, but she refrained. Vivienne would only hit her shoulder and laugh that pretty laugh of hers. Ria just wishes she was on Vivienne's mind, but all the boys were beginning to overpower their connection to one another. As much as it made her upset, she stayed quiet in the pain it brought her. Boys, who’d done nothing but glance her way, seemed to slowly replace Ria who’d truly been with Viviene since that first day at the big oak tree.


Ria had a million words in her heart and soul for Vivienne, but kept it to herself as she taught herself to. But why did she feel a need to keep it to herself? An epiphany. 

Maybe she wished Vivienne to be more than a best friend.


Even so, those words weren’t allowed to seek refuge in her mind. 


In freshman year, they sat under the big oak tree. While Ria made out with the fluffy haired boy and Ria did her homework, aiming for all A’s as always, Vivienne aimed for the farthest she could get her tongue into her doe eyed boyfriend’s mouth.


Ria cringed at the sounds, shaking her head as if it’d shake off her thoughts. Thoughts that certainly weren’t about radical politics and numbered treaties. 


“What are you ‘ugh’ ing for?” Evan asked, cocking an eyebrow at Ria.


“Stupid homework, obviously,” she said, showing her the page filled with questions, “I’m struggling over here.”


Vivienne sighed, “Just ditch the homework for a bit.”


“And? Do what? Join you two and then fail my history class? No thanks, but the offer is appreciated.”


Evan snorted, “not into that, but nice try. Leo has been trying to get with you all week, give him a chance?” 

Vivienne nodded eagerly, smiling at Ria, “he’s super nice! Plus, he’s a music dork just like you, RiRi.”


A pink colour bloomed on Ria’s cheeks, shaking her head at the offer, no matter how convincing it could sound to literally anyone else on the planet. 


“No thanks…I’m not looking for a boyfriend.”


In Sophomore year, they sat under the big oak tree, Ria’s heart filled with dread and her mind filled with a plethora of unwelcomed and unhinged thoughts. 


“So, what’d you want to tell me, hm? Got a hot boyfriend finally?” Vivienne half-joked, nudging her playfully. Ria gulped harshly at the lump in her throat. “Is something wrong? I’m sorry- I didn’t mean to make you feel bad. Post break up impulses? I’m sorry, it’s no excuse now what were you going to say—“


Ria couldn’t hold it in anymore, shaking her head and cutting Vivienne off.


“I’m gay, Vivienne.”


“You’re what?”


Ria sighed, eyes at the brim with tears that threatened to fall down her cheeks. “You heard me…I— I’m gay,” she repeated, voice shaky and soft.


Vivienne wasn’t so sure why Ria looked so nervous and shaken up, of course she had no intent of judgement. ‘Why wouldn’t she know this by now? My nature doesn't align in a place to judge…’ She couldn’t even dream of such a thing, not at all the type to criticise how someone felt, and something like that isn’t an issue, though some viewed it as a curse or a plague in their school. Perhaps it was the reason why Ria seemed so nervous, so tense, but Vivienne had never said things to such a group of people in a negative manner. 


Why was she nervous?


Vivienne gave her a warm smile, enveloping her into a hug. Ria’s tension slipped down her shoulders and swooped its way off her body for a moment. “You’re valid, RiRi,” she said, the other melting at the nickname more than ever, “I’m glad you feel comfortable enough to tell me now. I hope I didn’t make it hard.”


Ria chuckled, pulling back and burying her face into her hands, brown hair slipping in front of her face. She giggled, overjoyed and relieved at this moment, maybe all that worrying had been for nothing. 


“And I? I’m surely straight,” Vivienne said, heart racing at Ria’s news. It brought a sense of relief and comfort for her, it felt right when she told her. It brought a sense of familiarity to her. 

Some lies were subconscious, and some were knowing.


The tension gathered in Ria again, but she plastered on a smile, tackling her best friend again.


In Junior year, the pair gathered at the big oak tree, Vivienne threading her fingers through Ria’s hair. Ria let out a long breath, wishing this moment could last forever. 


“You like me, don’t you?” Vivienne said, less of a question than a statement, “your heart is beating all weird.”


Ria laughs whole heartedly, voice cracking near its end, “people playing with my hair just makes my heart pound?” Vivienne giggled, knowing only she played with her hair. Ria wasn’t the type for physical touches, though the lie made her heart ache.


“I’m not joking. Here, how do I phrase it better?”


The brunette pursed her lips, clicking her tongue in response.


“Look at me when I’m talking to you, RiRi.”


She groaned, turning to face her, holding the trees’ roots for support. Ria raised an eyebrow at Vivienne, waiting patiently for her to take the hint she’d given so many times.


Vivienne only chuckled, taking a moment to stare at her.


“You’re very pretty,” she commented.


“And?” Ria said, “more compliments please, you owe me after I edited that essay from hell you wro-”


Now it was Vivienne's turn.


Sucking in a breath, connecting their lips, Ria’s eyes fluttered to a close, moving in sync as she kissed her back. 


Vivienne and Ria, always trapped in their own world under the big oak tree.


In Senior year, the two sat under the oak tree together. 


“Vivienne and Ria,” Ria said, head against Vivienne’s chest, “best friends forever?”


A laugh escaped Vivienne’s lips, instant disapproval on her face, eyebrows knit together, a dramatised tilt of the head, a scrunch of the nose to complete the sour look. Ria, perplexed as ever, went along with her puzzle of a companion. 


“Ria and Vivienne—”


“Together forever,” Vivienne declared as she scooted over slightly, the sun shining, practically one cue, through the branches of the big oak tree. Pinkie promises whatever was to come next. 

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