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I remember when we first met each other. It was your second day of preschool, and my first, because I had gotten sick the day before.
I was playing with the Legos when I first saw you. You had come in through the door with your mother, her hand on your shoulder as she led you to the teacher. You gave the teacher a big, confident smile, but I knew you were nervous. I could see it in your eyes, those beautiful eyes, and the way that you clutched the hem of your skirt so tightly your hands began to shake.
You waved goodbye to your mother with another big smile, and turned to face the playroom where the rest of the preschoolers were. You scanned the crowd, looking for someone to play with. I was watching you so carefully, taking in every detail about you, and unexpectedly I found you staring back at me.
I hesitated at first, and I'm sorry I did, because you were about to turn away from me and make someone else your new best friend, but I called out to you, asked you to come over and join me, because I was alone, and I hate to be alone.
You gazed into my eyes, and something sparked in them. Even now, knowing you so well, I still can't place the emotion in your eyes. Was it excitement? Happiness? I guess I will never know now. It will remain a mystery, a detail unknown to me.
You came over to me and sat down in an awkward way, and it occurred to me you weren't used to wearing a skirt, or fancy clothing for that matter.
You held out a hand and introduced yourself, your manners perfect. I took your hand and shook it, giving you my own name in return for yours.
We sat there for a moment, looking each other over in silence. Then you reached into the bin of Lego's and pulled one out, a red one. I watched as you put it on the floor and took out another, a blue, a green, a yellow. You began to build, and I joined you.
When we were finished, we stood and scrutinised our work. When you looked at me, your eyes were shining with pride, and you smiled at me. It wasn't like the smile you had given the teacher, sickly-sweet and fake. It was a true smile. That, I have always believed, was when we became best friends.
As the years passed, we became closer. We had a lot in common. I was right about you not being used to fancy clothes. When we had our first playdate, you arrived in ragged jeans and a T-shirt and worn sneakers. You were athletic, and you could run for miles and miles without stopping. You loved running, you told me. It was your getaway, your passion.
We both loved Elvis, too. When we found that old record, remember? We were at your house and were snooping around in the basement for something to do when you found the record player wedged between the old box TV from your mother's college days and a bunch of boxes containing family pictures. I didn't want to touch it, because I was scared it would break, but you assured me it would all be okay. You always told me that whenever we were about to do something exciting or wild or new. I was the nervous one, regretting my choices while you told me it would all be okay as you dragged me along into doing something we knew we'd both get in trouble for.
Somehow we got that record player working, and somehow you convinced your mother to have it in your room so you could listen to music that wasn't digitally restored or remixed. You hated songs that weren't the originals, even if they sounded clearer on a CD.
We found an Elvis record in the basement, and unknowingly put it on. What we heard surprised both of us. The voice coming from the machine was rich, and dipped and swooned with the music, and we loved it immediately. After that, we would only listen to Elvis when we were together, singing along to Don't Be Cruel and Blue Suede Shoes and your favourite, Love Me Tender.
Middle school changed both of us. Girls were suddenly interested in me, and I not only became popular with them but with the guys as well. You stayed back in your T-shirts and jeans and kept to yourself. You became so quiet, I began to wonder about you. I always said hi to you in the halls at school, even if I was with my friends.
Then the girls attacked you. I found you cowering against a wall, your books scattered around you, tears running down your cheeks. The girls were surrounding you. One of them had your favourite hat, the one I had given you a year ago for your birthday, in her hand, threatening to rip it. They jeered at you, laughed at you. I had to push them away. I had to rescue you. You told me I was your hero that day, and that has stayed with me forever, along with the warm, happy feeling in my heart that electrified my body every time I was around you. I'm sorry I didn't realise what it was earlier. Maybe things would have turned out differently then.
High school hit you hard. I watched you slowly fall to pieces. Your grades dropping. You were avoiding track practice, and you were beginning to wear more girlish clothes, the hat I had given you in the back if your closet, faded and worn. I watched you drift away from me, and no matter how much I tried to pull you back to me, you were still out of reach. In eleventh grade, you were drinking and partying late into the night. I can't count the times you called me in a drunken stupor, wanting me to pick you up from some abandoned house in the middle of the night. Your friends were false. They used you. I tried to tell you, but you pushed me away.
In senior year, we had a fight. Our first true fight. You were about to go to a party, but this one was different. It was dangerous, all guys except for you, and lots of beer. I was just trying to protect you. But you went anyway.
You don't know this, but I followed your car to where the party was. I watched you walk into the shack from a distance, and I stayed there the whole time. I'm sorry I couldn't keep my eyes open, and when I woke the guys had all left and you were still inside.
I don't know what happened, but you weren't in good shape. You were laying on an old couch that was sagging under your weight, your hand to your forehead, your beautiful eyes dull and staring listlessly upward.
I took you to my house that night, because your parents were out of town. You were so scared. When I held your hand in the car, it was sweaty and shaking, and when you tried to talk your speech was broken by sobs and tears.
"I'm sorry," You whispered over and over again, until you fell asleep in my car, and I had to carry you into the house and upstairs into the guest bedroom. After I covered you with blankets, I laid down next to you and watched you sleep, listened to your breathing, steady and shallow, and I forgave you.
Weeks passed, and you began to change again. Your cheekbones began to poke through the skin on your face, your collarbone rigid against your chest. Even in the warm spring weather, you wore long sleeves and sweatshirts, even in gym, and you would never change, no matter how hot you were. Your eyes began to sink into their sockets, your arms wiry and thin. You stopped wearing shorts and you started wearing jeans and sweatpants. Your friends had deserted you, abandoned you, and had moved on to another unsuspecting victim.
You called me on that night. It was late, and I was about to go to bed when you called.
"It's all going to be okay, " You said over the phone, your voice sluggish and tired. "Remember that, alright? Remember it just for me." Then you hung up, and I was over to your house in two minutes. You were home alone, I knew, and I banged on the door, calling for you. I was so scared for you. When you didn't answer, I kicked the door down and raced to your room, but I was too late. Or maybe I was just on time.
You were lying on your bed, your eyes open and seeing for the final time. You turned your head slowly towards me, and I grabbed you and kissed you, tears streaming down my face. You kissed me back, slid a hand over my back, and whispered into my ear, "it's all going to be okay. "
Then you were gone. Your hand went limp and your lips became cold. Your eyes stared up to the ceiling, your beautiful eyes, now full of blackness, blind. You were beautiful, you always have been. You were smart, caring, adventurous, perfect.
I sat on your bed next to you, holding you, and cried. Cried for you. Cried for all that you'd been through. I'm so sorry. I did my best to protect you. I did my best to be there for you. But I was not good enough, and for that I am sorry.
I stood and began to walk out of your room for the final time to make the call when something caught my eye. I turned and on your desk was the hat I had given you and a note with five words on it.
I love you. My Hero.
I held the hat and note to my heart. Memories of our lives together filled my vision. Our friendship.
My Hero. The words that had filled me with pride and warmth now filled me with sorrow and a cold emptiness in my heart.
You had to hear it one last time. It was what you would have wanted, I knew. I went over to the record player and put the Elvis record on. Love Me Tender, your favourite song, flooded the room. It was just like old times, when the two of us would sit in your room and listen wordlessly to the music as we let it take over our minds, our bodies, our hearts.
And now there was only one.
I looked down at the note and hat in my hands and smiled, a small, sad smile.
I love you too.
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"time you enjoy wasting was not wasted" -john lennon
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