When they found out their second grade teacher had always found them interesting as a pair, they didn’t quite know what to say. There was the awkward aspect of it all, yes, as well as the automatic implication that their teacher, one they didn’t really like either, had taken pleasure in the fact that she was able to coo at them about their mutual cuteness, making everything gross as hell.
But ultimately her words were eye-opening. She spoke of them fondly (probably reliving her wasted youth spent teaching a bunch of bratty seven year olds how to write in cursive vicariously through their so-called cuteness). It just made things clear. If an adult who knew them a decade ago was talking about them the way their parents and their friends had for the last year, maybe there was something happening they weren’t quite aware of.
Ironically, thanks to her, their three reunions took place.
#3. TWENTY THREE YEARS OLD.
Lacey wondered how she was actually thinking so well in this club. Maybe because she was still sober? In any case, she was bumming it at the table her new roommate had secured before bouncing into the sweaty crowd of heady gyration. Lacey’s mind was going on its own private adventure, beginning a week prior when she’d had that conversation with Mrs. O’Leary while cashing her groceries.
There was the anticipated questioning of how she was doing, what she was doing, all questions she hated answering. When she’d briefly explained her lack of success in her post-grad job hunt which lead her to accept the cashier position out of desperation, the woman nodded in an empathetic way. And then emphatically when Lacey went ahead and made it clear that the position was merely temporary. She was still applying at all sorts of newspapers and magazines, just after her shifts.
In any case, her former elementary school teacher must have figured the pity she felt was enough to offer Lacey a guaranteed paid internship at some fashion magazine in New York City, sure that her niece wouldn’t mind.
After hearing what she’d then thought was an empty promise of receiving a call with the details, Lacey went back to pondering the misery that was her life for another five hours. Then, she answered her house phone only to hear Mrs. O’Leary’s voice explaining the conditions that came with the job, and because Lacey wasn’t an idiot and still totally desperate, she immediately agreed, having already logged onto Craigslist by the time she hung up the phone.
Things pretty much fell into place after that. She found her roommate within a day, told her she’d be arriving in four, got a moving van and completely changed her surroundings from her small town to the gleaming city buildings NYC was known for.
Her parents were pretty happy for her in a bittersweet, depressed kind of way, but that hardly fazed her. As soon as she arrived, she found she completely got along with her roommate, a girl only a year older than herself named Jennifer, and eagerly accepted her invitation to go clubbing “with the girls” that night.
Then she walked into a room filled with strobe lights, felt her own exhaustion creep up on her as well as the unease of being in such a try-hard environment, where everyone was either artsy as hell or trying to look like they belong on Gossip Girl. Her eyelids had become very heavy, a combination of dim-lighting induced fried pupils, heavy eyeshadow, and lack of sleep, so she figured she should do something to try and wake up.
But the city was still so unfamiliar, so leaving wasn’t an option. Drinking was just a big no-no because she started working the next day. Dancing it was.
The characters littering the dance floor soon morphed into generic clubbers, all of them trying to cop a feel or seek out euphoria or escape from their problems, and so she let herself go with it, wondering if that was New York was all about; the people making everything look a specific way when really it all came down to the generic, everyday problems most individuals faced.
Soon enough a hand had presented itself to her, announcing its arrival on her hip. Tossing a look back, she saw the guy wasn’t half bad looking and wasn’t grinding his dick into her ass from the get-go, so she figured she’d continue the dance until she either got bored, wanted to sit back down, or saw one of the girls she’d met earlier in the night.
However, he seemed to think differently, using the glance-back in his favor by pulling her closer to him. His grip was rough and suddenly there he was, nose trailing up and down her neck, making her grimace. She pulled away from him right away, but it was hard because his grip was surprisingly strong and there was basically no room around them for her to step, and so it took a full minute before the guy moved his nose and got a clue.
“You want a drink?” he shouted into her ear.
“No!” shaking her head in emphasis.
He frowned, eyes aflame as they trailed over her really-not-that-extravagant outfit. “C’mon, not even one?”
He reached out to grab her wrist, but Lacey ducked away from him. “I said no!” she cried, leaving him in the middle of the crowd, suddenly wanting only to leave as soon as possible. She was rushing back towards her table, in the hopes someone would be there sober enough to accompany her home, when she crashed into someone, nearly causing her to fall on her ass.
Horrified, she turned to apologize when she froze in her tracks.
There seemed to be a stain on his jeans, probably from the drink he was holding. His dark plaid shirt made her feel even more out of place, somehow, reminding her too much of a time when everything in her life was good and happy and comfortable. Back when everything was home, when she wasn’t in an environment she felt offered her no happiness, no relief.
When he looked up and met her eyes, she could see them fill with the same thing she was feeling; realization that she, too, was there, right in front of him, ironically wearing a plaid shirt and dark wash jeans, thinking the exact same thoughts. Much like they used to.
“Lacey,” he said though she hardly heard it, and then all the good nostalgia she felt was completely torn to shreds at the thought of how they’d parted ways, with him never answering her messages or Skype calls, basically shutting her out of his life completely.
“Anthony,” she crossed her arms, looking up at him, drinking the sight of him in. He was older but exactly the same, and it made her want to cry.
“What are you doing he-” he’d begun before Lacey felt an arm grab her elbow.
The guy from the dance floor was giving her a hard look, profanities coming out of his mouth. She flinched away a couple of times, the stench of alcohol seeping from his throat too potent for her to take. Her attempts to reclaim her elbow were pretty much completely futile as well.
“Are you listening to me?” he shouted, his grip tightening to an almost painful amount. And then Anthony stepped in and pushed him off of her.
“Clearly, she’s not interested,” he said, tone ice cold.
“Ah yeah?” the douche replied. “Who the fuck are you?”
“Her boyfriend. Now if you don’t mind, we’re going to go home and fuck each other senseless, unlike you who won’t be getting any tonight.” He smirked and she inhaled sharply, its familiarity completely startling in the midst of the confrontation happening. But before she could really call him out for what he’d just said, he began steering her out of the club, ignoring her protests until they were outside.
“’We’re going to fuck each other senseless unlike you’? Ah, you’ve clearly changed, you used to be so well-spoken. You know nobody actually says that!”
Lacey noticed his amused glance, as well as the way he left his arm around her shoulder. “You’re still very childlike,” he retorted, tilting his head in a mocking way. “Besides, he was drunk enough to take what I said seriously, which is why I said it in the first place.”
She shook her head, “I expected a better line than that.”
He grinned down at her, “But it was hilarious, you have to admit.”
She merely gave a small laugh in response, her mind directing its attention back to things she should have been thinking about, like how she shouldn’t feel this comfortable with him already, how she should be angry and upset and demanding answers, how she should go back and find Jennifer to at least let her know where she was going, and most importantly, “Wait, wait, where are we going?”
“There’s a McDonald’s like right there. I figured that was the best option for the moment as we could get some food and …” he paused, shifting uncomfortably. “I guess I can explain things, can’t I?”
“I can safely say you owe me that much,” she confirmed, refusing to let herself feel happy, only relieved.
“Okay,” he sighed, rubbing a finger on his sideburn. (It was a manly sideburn and the last time she’d seen him he was still at that in between a boy and a man stage, so this was an exciting new development.) “It’s that way, not too much of a walk, and considering the time and this city, I’ll stick close to you so you feel safer.”
“Sounds good.” She was flushed red, knowing he was still ready to look out of her. In truth, she was just the same way with him, the stain on his jeans way too noticeable for her despite the fact that it wasn’t really visibly noticeable. Plus, the thought of Anthony, the boy who seemed to have remained essentially the same in his build——-smaller than the average male but still toned (with some nice arms and thighs which she hoped had also remained essentially the same) ——-acting as her protector when there were probably many more larger guys out there was actually a little comical. But it was still comforting.
They began walking again, him hesitantly wrapping his arm around her shoulder once more and her feeling a sense of warmth at the motion. “Ah, wait a second, one last thing …” She glanced back at the entrance of the club, letting out a sigh. “I lost track of my roommate and her friends in there. She doesn’t know where I’m going, or that I’m even going at all. She’ll worry when she realizes, unless she’s that drunk.”
Anthony nodded slowly. “Okay. Try calling her first, see if she picks up, and if she doesn’t send her a message explaining you’re alright and safe.”
Seeing reason in his words, she did what he told her, leaving both a message and a text message explaining things. When it was done, she stepped closer to him and they proceeded to the fast food joint down the street, ordering Big Mac Trios before sitting across one another and digging into both the food and the last three years.
#1. SEVEN YEARS OLD.
Her second grade classroom wasn’t the one she’d wanted to be in. All of Lacey’s friends got put in the other grade two class, the one with the young, fun teacher, not Mrs. O’Leary who smelled funky and dressed weirdly, in thick polka dot dresses that made her look like a box. But, it would be her class for the next year, so she knew she’d need to make friends in order for her to find a reason to like it.
When she looked at all the students, studying them in order to find the ones most likely to become her friend, her gaze automatically landed on a pair of girls who were actually kinda quiet throughout class. They seemed calm, so maybe they’d welcome her nicely. This was a big mistake because at recess, they showed their true colors by completely ignoring her, whispering little comments to one another before breaking out into mean little giggles. All right in front of her, even going so far as to bluntly saying they didn’t want her as their friend. It was all Lacey could take before she teared up and ran to the corner of the yard, truly looking to be alone.
That was another mistake, because there was another kid there and before she could go and leave, he sat up and scrunched up his nose. “You’re crying?”
She shook her head, hiding the tears and hoping he wouldn’t notice her sniffles.
“You just lied. That’s bad, you shouldn’t do that. Lying’s bad.”
“I’m not crying,” she protested, wiping at her eyes and nose. “See!” and she turned, unaware that her eyes and nose were red.
“Uhuh, that’s why your cheeks are wet and you’re all red and puffy,” the boy pointed out.
Lacey went back to hiding her face from him. “Look, can’t you just leave me alone.”
He blinked down at her. “You’re the one who came here after I was already here.”
“Yeah but …” but she couldn’t argue with his logic. It made her feel even more stupid and then before she could control it, she’d let out a sob.
“Woah! See, you were crying!” But after he received no response but the sound of her crying, he sighed. “Um, what’s wrong?”
She sniffled. “No-nobody likes me in my class. I tried making friends today and they treated me like I wasn’t good enough or something. Why … why don’t they like me?”
He was quiet in response, so she didn’t expect him to answer her with a quiet, “I wonder about that too sometimes.”
She lifted her head up at him and saw him looking down at the ground. “R-really?”
Shyly, he nodded, still looking to the ground.
“Then maybe … maybe we should become friends?”
He widened his eyes and looked up at her with a hopeful expression. “Really?”
That was the first time she’d noticed his intense eyes, and she figured that might have been why the other kids didn’t like him too much. But to her it was nice and she nodded her head. “Really. This way we won’t be alone ever.”
He nodded eagerly and stuck his pinky out. “Promise?”
She thrust hers out almost right away, aware of the severity of the promise they were going to make. “Promise.”
#3. TWENTY THREE YEARS OLD.
“I’m sorry. I think I need to start with that. You know … you have to know it was so hard. To let you go like that, you.
I did it because I thought it was something that needed to be done. You and I weren’t in the same state, we were never able to see one another. I suck at long distance, I learned, because I was never happy anymore. I needed to be able to move past you, don’t you see. I needed to learn how to live without you. I never had to experience that before, but then we weren’t ever together, we weren’t going to be for another four years and who knows where life would’ve taken us by then.
“The only downside in all of it was knowing it would hurt you. That wasn’t ever the point. I didn’t do it to hurt you, I didn’t do it because I stopped caring about you. I did it because I needed to learn how to be independent. I never had to be before. You were always at my hip, ever since we were seven. How was I supposed to know how to move on from something painful if I didn’t? So you see, I had to.
“Because it felt like I was willingly removing my heart from my chest, Lacey. Because I knew it felt so difficult, so painful, I knew I needed to do it. And I didn’t know how. I didn’t want to tell you all this, because you still would’ve waited and I would’ve given up right away, you would’ve still been at the back of my mind. So I did it terribly by letting you drift away. At first, I tried weaning myself off of you, but then I gave up, cold turkey, because I wasn’t going to be able to otherwise.
“I don’t think you see how you’re not even a person to me anymore, you’re something wholeheartedly more in my eyes. So please, take that into consideration, because it was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
#1. TWELVE YEARS OLD.
“We’re going into high school next year. Woah.”
“It’s not high school, Lace, it’s just junior high school.”
“It’s basically the same thing, though.”
“High school’s harder. Everyone’s taller.”
“Do you think it’s gonna be tough finding our way from class to class? What if I always get lost?”
“I’ll find you and help you if you get lost.”
“But what if we have different classes? What if we’re not together anymore …”
“… Lacey, don’t cry.”
“I-I’m sorry. I’m just, I’m scared.”
“Of the changes?”
“A-and of us not being friends anymore.”
“That’ll never happen. I’ll never not be your friend. Remember, I promised.”
“Yup. See, my pinky’s still locked. No matter how much I’ve tried to unlock it, it stays that way. So I guess I’m staying your friend forever.”
“Good! That’s what you get for trying to unlock it!”
“What about yours? Is yours still locked?”
“Mhm. Look, see!”
“They look so empty when they’re not locked together. See, doesn’t it look better now?”
“It does look better!”
“So do you, y’know. Because you’re not crying now.”
“All because of you!”
“You’re right, all because of me.”
#3. TWENTY THREE YEARS OLD.
It was quiet. They had not touched a burger wrapper in over forty minutes. The restaurant was basically empty, save for the two people on duty. All around her was a certain kind of quiet, a softness to it that had not been there before he spoke. She wondered about it, about whether this were some kind of reunion for the both of them. Was she going to wake up tomorrow and immediately message him like she used to? Were they going to be so together again that they would be known as a half of something like when they were younger?
He sat before her, eyes steadily on her. He’d blink, but he’d never look away. She looked back at him because she didn’t know what other way she could communicate with him. Words certainly going to come as easily.
A loud clang came from the kitchen and it made him jump, snapping out of the trance like state he’d just been in. She opened her mouth in an attempt to say something, but nothing would come out. His eyes softened in understanding, and he nodded.
After checking the time, they realized they should leave. Not because it was late, simply due to the fact that no further developments would come right then. Lacey figured he wouldn’t want to force anything out of her either. He’d always received her words and attention effortlessly.
He asked her where she lived and when she told him, heoffered to walk her home. She noticed all the taxis driving past them along their walk. Plenty of opportunities for him to take hold of in order to further his capability to be independent, all purposefully ignored in favor of having her at his hip once more.
And then they arrived, and for a moment she felt that it was the end of the night, tomorrow morning would bring her regular life without him. No more of Anthony’s presence and his words began replaying in her head once more, churning the gears in her brain that dealt with her own dependence on him.
He asked to exchange numbers and she did, aware of the intense relief passing through her once she had him safely in her phone once more. Texting him immediately when she woke up was once again an option, and as they hugged goodbye she felt she definitely would.
The moment he was out of her line of sight, she knew for a fact she wouldn’t.