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I had a friend called Katrina once, but everyone called her Kat. Then she actually started acting like a cat. We're not best friends anymore, but sometimes we see each other in the hallways I imagine her hissing, spiting and scratching her ears.
When I say that she started acting like a cat I mean that in every way possible. It was like one day, when she came to school, she stopped being Katrina Godric and became possessed with the notion that Cleopatra's chosen pet. She started preening. While we were playing on the playground with ponytails, she was in the bathroom, tugging out her hair into little bouncing curls, and putting on mascara to bat her little cat eyes at boys who had just stopped wetting the bed. When she bought that little leopard print purse, which I know for a fact came from the sale rack at Zellers, and passed it off as Louis Vatton I knew I didn't want to be friends with her anymore.
But when you're in elementary school you can't really pick and choose your friends, you're stuck to them like Elmer's glue on your fingers. And so I was stuck to Kat the cat whether I liked it or not. We would car pool together, and I was forced to spend fifteen minutes enduring her Galna Alambama songs or whatever else was stashed on her pink I-pod.
I don't think I was more excited than I was in grade seven, when I was given the prestigious position of head of the student council, and aside from doing the recycling my main responsibility was to organise the grade seven prom. And then Katrina Godric had to pounce in and ruin everything.
"The theme" she said, "should be superheroes," at our grade seven student council meeting.
"No," I said, and went to pick another hand.
Katrina tapped her sparkly pink claws, "Natasha," she said, "the theme will be superheroes." I looked around at the rest of the council. I had my own idea for a theme: a fifties diner or maybe a masquerade. But under the Kat's eye lined glare the rest of the council shifted and murmured agreement. She was treasurer or something inconsequential, and I was class president, and I waited for someone to point this fallacy out. No one did, so I shrugged and said, "whatever you guys want."
"Why do you hate me, Natasha," Kat prowled closer and sided up next to me after the meeting.
"I don't hate you," I said, hating Kat with every word, "we've been best friends forever."
She smiled at me barring her incisors, nodding as if it explained everything " Forever,"
My mom works usually works the afternoon shift at her real estate agency, but she was home sipping a cup of tea when I got back, reclined reading her National Geographic. She must be the only person I've met who reads the National Geographic front to back, I just look at the pictures and skim though the quotes, but my mom studies the thing. She'll read those articles about the Amazonian tribes, I swear they're exactly the same, but when I look at the magazines after I see that she's even highlighted it.
I know she wants to talk to me about something serious when she takes the afternoon off and pulls out her National Geographic. It's her way of reminding me that she was two years through her anthropology major when she got knocked up by a history professor, and if it wasn't for my inconvenient entrance into the world she would be off in the Gobi desert looking for artifacts with Indiana Jones.
I've met the history professor a few times, and he's probably old enough to have lived through the War of Austrian Succession. Mom smiled a kind of sad smile as she dropped me off the first time at his brick house in the University District when I was seven and Kat and I were still best friends. He shook my hand awkwardly, and sat me down in a leather armchair. He made me a cup of coffee even though I was seven, and mom said it would stunt my growth. He asked me if I was in any sports, and I told him I was playing softball, and that my soccer team won the districts. He nodded seriously, as if he was committing every word to memory. He asked me if I was doing well in school, and I said I liked reading best. He got all excited then, he bustled to the other room. While he was gone I studied the patterns in the Persian rug and imagined what it would be like if this man was my father and not just the history professor who impregnated mom halfway through her major.
He gave me two leather bound books, he said he had a whole collection, and that these two were duplicates anyway. One was the Jungle Book, and one was the Wind in the Willows. He told me that I could come back anytime and take what I wanted from his library, and have coffee and talk about history. I remember, after I finished reading those books front to back, I took some flowers from the garden and pressed them. I didn't dare open them again, because I didn't want to ruin my preserved flower.
"Natasha," my mom looked up from her National Geographic and pushed up her glasses, "Katrina's mom called today, she wants you to come for dinner."
"Yeah," I picked up the book I was reading for English, the Outsiders, and pretended to be busy.
"Natasha, you will go won't you?"
"No," I swung my feet up on the coffee table.
"Take your feet off the table," my mom snapped, "Mrs. Godric sounded hurt on the phone. She said that you and Katrina aren't getting along anymore. That you hardly talk in the car, and that you are ignoring her in class. Is that true."
How do you explain to your mother that your ex best friend has transformed into a feline. That she ruins your life with every step, and that you can't talk to her anymore without wanting to choke on your own phlegm.
Since I failed to express these contentions, I ended up sitting in Katrina's living room ten minutes later, picking mints out of Mrs. Stacy Godric's glass bowl and uncomfortably making small talk with Katrina. Ms. Godric went on the balcony for a smoke and Kat and I were silent but for crunching pastries and slurping tea. She invited me up to her room, a miniature parlour, complete with a bed so fluffed up with pink pillows and a duvets it looked like it was going to explode.
"Natasha," Kat purred, "isn't this great, it's just as it used to be, us being best friends."
"Yeah," I shrugged, "it's cool."
That was when she started to cry. A horrible wrenching wail that spread throughout the room. And tears which smudged up her perfectly painted face like a super soaker on a Monet. Her hair fell in the muck of saline and running mascara as she transformed into a sobbing, soaked, beast. "I don't understand," her voice wobbled on a pathetic vibroto, "why you started to ignore me, why you talk behind my back with the other girls, and why you exclude me."
I wanted to shout about how she was manipulative, and fake, and how I had better friends I could actually do cool stuff with. I wanted to tell her she was ruining the grade seven student council and the prom with her stupid super hero idea. But then I saw the photograph, resting on her chest of drawers. It was of us at the beach the day her parents took us out of school. We were wearing matching bikini's without little bellies sticking out. My red hair fell in my face, and her little curls were a tangled birds nest and we laughed at some joke unknown to the camera. The tide was out, exposing an array of sand dollars stretching to the frame of the photograph. Inscribed on the silver boarder were the words "best friends forever."
"Bye Kat," I said, and slammed the door. I hated her for her tears which made me feel like the monster. They made me feel like the lurking,, manipulative feline, which was wrong, because she was the one who had changed.
Preparations for the grade seven prom began in earnest after we got back from Spring Break. We printed off tickets which said, "you're invited to save the world," or something corny like that. I stayed after school every day, making photo backdrops, hanging lights, and on the last day, I spent five hours doing chairs and tables. I had my green dress, and green lantern mask. We had a solid playlist and I had almost decided, by the end of it, that Kat's idea wasn't half bad. Then she showed up, wearing leather which covered three inches of her legs, her hair dyed black, and a crop top exposing a newly pierced belly button.
The class gaped when she prowled in. But she wasn't interested in their reactions, she marched straight over to me.
"What are you going to do Natasha?" she hissed, "kick me out of your dumb prom."
The grade stopped dancing and looked at me for my reaction. I frowned.
"You're dressed inappropriately," I murmured under her gaze. "You should go home and change."She had cropped her bangs over her eyes, and glared at me through them.
"Piss off Natasha." She turned on her heels, "you only like people in your own perfect world like yourself. You know what, there is no way you can make you leave just because you're grade seven class president," she waved her middle finger in my face.
Something caught in my throat, "you're fake," my voice cracked. I never shout, but my voice was elevated now. "This is just another way for you to get attention. This is another way for you to ruin something for me."
"Am I bothering you, with my dress" Kat asked the group.
I glared at them, and they shifted, not saying a word. The parents who were supposed to be supervising, where turned away, unaware of the unfolding drama.
"Well that's, that," Kat grinned like a Cheshire, and I stood mute. She poured herself some punch, tied on her Cat Woman mask and began to dance. Some of my friends in the group gave me a fleeting, sympathetic dance and joined in, laughing like nothing was wrong, and nothing was out of place.
It was my turn to cry. I pressed my hands to my face to stop the tears, but I rattled by convulsions. I hated her. I hated Katrina Godric, but I didn't know why. I ran from the school gym, from the school, and down onto the road by the university district with the brick houses.
I knew exactly who I needed to talk to, the history professor. The man, who like his library never changed, except maybe his hair got a little greyer, and his eyes more lined. I pounded on the door, and I waited for him to answer. Through its oak, I heard the little laugh of a seven year old, and a woman's voice say, "who could that be?"
The door opened a crack and the History professor blinked at me, "what on earth are you doing here Natasha. I wasn't expecting you. But come in." He smiled at my dress, " You look like you just ran from the ball."
He opened the door a little more, and I could see the woman, a little older than my mom with nicely cropped auburn hair placing a plate of food in front of a seven year old boy. "This is Sarah, my wife, and her child James." The boy smiled a messy smile complete with mashed potatoes and gravy. I gaped at them. "I thought you were alone," I tried to say without sounding accusing.
"I know I should have told you," he said gently, "what's wrong?"
"I j--ust thought," I stammered, "I have to go," and then bolted for the door.
"Natasha!" the History Professor called, but I was gone. I walked the long way back, through the park. Kat was like a Cat, I decided. But she had been like that all along. She had nine lives, and she was just on her third. And then there were people like me who stayed the same. I was like one of the flowers I had pressed in The Jungle Book. I couldn't escape because I was too afraid to turn the page.