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Editor's note: names have been changed.
I know everything about you.
We've been friends since the third grade'eight years'so I'm sort of an expert. I know that your favorite color is orange and your least favorite is pink, and I know about your fear of mannequins. I know about all your ex-boyfriends, including that one you'll probably never get over. I know your darkest secret.
You and I have had some good moments and some bad. I wonder if you remember elementary school when we would roll around in the playground sand. The way we used to write songs about dismemberment on the merry-go-round. The time we rescued a suicidal horny toad from the tool shed roof. Those are the sweet memories that still make me smile. It seems like you forget sometimes, or only remember the things I'd like to leave in the past. You'
'You're a freak!'
'just called me a freak.
We're not in elementary school. We're in high school now, on the cusp of the so-called 'real world'. You're staring across the aisle at the paper on my desk. Your face is flushed, your eyes are black, and your mouth is curled into a snarl that seems like disgust. What? You say it again and I flinch inwardly; it isn't playful teasing but an insult dark with venom. I grapple for an explanation in my mind, and after a pause I find one I don't like.
There's nothing else I can think to do, so I grin and smoothly answer, 'Why thank you!' My smile doesn't falter, but I feel like I've just been slapped.
This is nothing new, the small cruelties we deal to each other, but I don't think you've ever attacked me out of jealousy before. I struggle to justify it or mute the stab I know I did not imagine, but I can't do it; I never thought you could be so petty. The assignment isn't even for a grade'it's just a pretest. It doesn't even matter.
I guess it does to you.
Of all people, I always thought you would understand. You know that I'm not the brain everyone makes me out to be; you've seen me trip and eat turf, write F- papers, and lock myself out of my car. I laugh and pick myself back up every time, but you still know I'm not a genius. I've never been arrogant or rubbed it in your face; I thought we were equals. Have you forgotten all the times I stayed up with you past eleven, working out tricky algebra problems over the phone?
Please tell me you did not just spit in my face over a pretest.
As I turn the moment over in my mind, leeching every possible meaning from it, my hurt evaporates into a white-hot fury. Your words are like splinters, itching and stinging, sunk deep beneath my skin. Even while my blood is simmering, the logical side of my multifaceted brain is whispering, background noise. You know getting angry doesn't help, it says. I agree but can't quite push my rage back and swallow it down; I'm so tired of giving up every time and letting you have your way. You know how this kind of thing always goes. And I do.
I know everything about you, and I know how this will end, too. We'll put off the battle for as long as we can, collecting ammunition and disguising our tentative pinches and pokes with jokes and smiles that pretend to be friendly. These cold wars go on forever; we're too proud to show weakness, too scared to lose an asset, and we have so little faith in each other that we give up on ever trying to make a case. Then all at once we will clash in a flurry of words I will regret, buried by the pressure of verbal slaps and punches. There are no rules or boundaries'nothing is off limits. Finally, we retreat. We help dust ourselves off and rest for the next skirmish, never willing to lock up our shields and spears for good.
I hate you.
No, no I don't. I will always come back, and even though I want to I will never break this cycle. On a good day, maybe I'll even admit that I love this constant friction, because at least it's interesting. I am your rival, your therapist, your court jester, your conscience, and your friend.
Later, we're walking down the hall together, laughing; either you don't realize what you've done or you just don't care, but it doesn't matter which. I can't dismiss words as easily as you. I say something silly and eccentric as usual, but I can see I've made a mistake in opening my mouth because that sneer has twisted your upper lip again.
'You've got issues,' you scoff.
'Yes, I do,' I smile, 'and one of them is named Sarah.'