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My Terrible Friend

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Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.

- Macbeth, Act 2, scene 2

 

 

After Andi wandered off for food, we started playing drinking games. I didn’t care for them, there was so much I hadn’t done that I always “won” and everybody teased me. Every other time I hung out with my college friends they treated me like an equal. Drinking games just highlighted the differences between us. Sure, there was only a year or two or three in age between us, but there was a big difference between college and high school, and drinking games just emphasized that.

“Never have I ever …” I gulped and decided to just go for it, “… kissed a girl.”

All the guys took shots. So did a few of the girls.

“For real, girl?” Jamal asked, giving me a playful shove.

“For real,” I sighed.

“You wanna change that?” Melanie leaned over, fluttering her eyelashes.

“I … uh …” I blushed, knowing at once that everyone could see it.

“Awwww, you’re so cute,” Melanie giggled and leaned closer.

Jamal whistled. A couple of the others laughed and nudged each other.

I stood up abruptly, grabbing a towel and heading for the parking lot.

“Hey, Bree!” Tyler called out.

“It was just a joke!” Melanie yelled.

I rubbed at my eyes and yanked open the trunk door. I had an old Volvo with a huge open trunk, which was useful for helping to transport set pieces from the warehouse to the school theater.

I sat on the edge of the bumper, emergency lights casting a red glow over my burning face. Stupid. So fucking stupid. And where the hell was Andi, anyways? She’d gone to get tacos ages ago …

“Hey.”

I looked up. It was Saoirse. She had a towel around her hips and her college sweatshirt draped over one shoulder.

“What do you want?” I crossed her arms. I was so not in the mood for this.

“Nothin’ … it was getting loud down there. Thought you could use some company.” She eyed the spot on the bumper next to me.

I sighed heavily and scooted over so she could sit down.

“Melanie was just joking around.” Saoirse said.

“Yeah, I know.” I glared down at the beach, where I could just make out the fire. “The guys think it’s hot. Whatever.”

“She shouldn’t joke about stuff like that. It’s not funny.” Saoirse leaned against the side of the car. The red emergency lights were casting really cool shadows in her black hair, and down over the curves of her breasts, barely contained in the string bikini.

I was glad the red lights were the only illumination – my cheeks suddenly felt hot. I gulped and hoped she’d get bored with me soon and leave.

“I mean, what’s her privileged ass know about coming out? About hiding in the theater department and hearing nothing but “gay this” and “faggot that” all goddamn day at school? About being afraid your parents are gonna pull financial support and kick you out of the goddamn house?” Saoirse slammed her fist down onto the floor of the trunk.

Unfortunately, my car wasn’t exactly new, and the door came slamming down. It was only quick moving from up both that kept the door from smashing into us.

“Jesus!” Saoirse yelped, steadying the door with her hand.

“Sorry, my car … sucks.” I smiled nervously.

“Nah, it doesn’t suck.” Saoirse pushed the door up and it stuck. She caught my wrist as I let go of the door and held my hand, stroking over my skin with her fingers.

“Um … Saoirse?” I squeaked. I actually squeaked. Oh god, I wanted to die.

“I wanna kiss you, Bree. If you’re ok with that.”

“But … but why?” I managed.

She looked surprised at that. “Because you’re smart and funny and gorgeous and confident? Because you’re the only one who paid attention at the summer Shakespeare camp I was running? Because you deserve to get kissed by someone who isn’t doing it for a guy’s attention?”

I stared, my breath stuck in my throat.

Saoirse titled her head, meeting my eyes. “Well …?” she asked.

I nodded, and closed my eyes, leaning forward.

The kiss was soft at first, tentative, as if she thought I would back off at now, of all times. I pushed back, letting my lips move like I’d seen on TV. Saoirse made a little noise and joined in, tongue flicking out over my lower lip.

She nibbled on my lip a bit, and instead of being weird I kind of liked it. I liked it even better when Saoirse started biting at my ear, and suckling on my neck. Oooo, I was getting a hickey! Awesome!

Somewhere in there I had pulled my legs into the car fully, and so had she. Saoirse rolled over a bit, losing the towel and the sweatshirt. I could feel her, her warmth, pressing against me. And she wouldn’t stop kissing me!

I reached up and slammed the trunk door shut.

~*~

Thankfully, my parents were still asleep when I got back home early Saturday morning. I took some aspirin, showered as quietly as I could, and crawled into bed, sleeping until noon.

When I woke up I took stock of myself: still a virgin (technically) but I’d finally had my first kiss with a girl. And not just any girl: Saoirse, a gorgeous college girl who thought I was pretty and smart and confident! Oh my god, I couldn’t wait to tell Andi and Vik!

I stayed in bed for a while, did some homework on my laptop, watched the latest BBC Shakespeare adaption on Netflix. By the time I went downstairs it was late afternoon.

“She lives!” my mom declared dramatically.

I gave a halfhearted “rawr” and held out my arms like a zombie.

“Late night, huh?”

I blushed and didn’t say anything.

“Staying safe?” she asked, fixing me with a very serious stare.

“Of course. No drugs, no sex, no strangers.” I ticked them off on my fingers.

“Good girl.” My mom went back to whatever she was brewing on the stove. “And you know you can talk to me about anything, right?”

“Yes, mom.” She told me that about three times a month, but it was true. At least she wasn’t like other moms, who just pretended their daughters were perfect little angels and didn’t talk to them about anything, and then acted all shocked when their kid came home pregnant.

“Go help your father rake the yard. We need to get those leaves cleared before it rains again, you know how the mold upsets him.”

I nodded, put on some gloves, and went out to help my dad.

“Practicing for college, honey?” he asked, noticing the bags under my eyes.

I shrugged and started raking. Our yard was huge, and it took a long time to clear it properly. By the time we’d finished, dinner was ready.

It wasn’t until I went to bed that night that I remembered that I hadn’t seen Andi that morning when I woke up at the beach and Saoirse left to get a lift back to campus with the others.

Andi had probably gotten a ride home from someone last night. Yeah. I’d text her tomorrow and ask how she was doing. She’d probably been too busy today dealing with her first ever hangover. Poor girl.

~*~

We got a call at breakfast, which was weird, hardly anybody called that early on a weekend. My mom answered while I started to clear the dishes.

It was Andi’s mom, frantic, because she hadn’t seen Andi since Friday and Andi had told them she was staying with me.

Nobody had seen Andi since the party.

Oh god. Andi could have fallen off the Boardwalk and drowned. She could have tripped and hit her head and died somewhere, bleeding into her brain. She could have gotten grabbed by some guy and … well, anything, really. Raped. Killed. Kidnapped. All of the above.

It was all my fault. I’d dragged Andi to a party, let her get drunk for the first time in her life, let her go off alone, forgotten about her …

I felt my breakfast roiling in my stomach. I sank down onto the couch, distantly hearing the voices of my parents and Andi’s, frantic and worried.

“I think I’m going to be sick,” I announced. Then I lurched for the bathroom because I was, actually, I felt hot and sweaty all over and then I was vomiting and my mom was holding my hair. She rubbed my back like I was a little kid again with the stomach flu.

“Oh, sweetie,” she murmured.

“What … what if …” I choked, spitting acidic saliva into the sink. “Andi …”

Andi, dead in the ocean she hated so much. Andi, in a pool of her own blood somewhere. Andi, trapped in the basement of some Hannibal Lecter type.

All my fault. All my stupid fault.

“Honey, you didn’t know. You couldn’t have known. It’s not your –”

“Yes it is!” I yelled without thinking, without realizing it. “She … she could be dead!” There, I’d said it, said what everyone was thinking.

Then the dam burst. Then the tears started flowing and I was crying and shaking and my mom was hugging me and telling me it was all going to be ok but it wasn’t, because Andi had been missing since Friday night and she could be dead and it was all my fault.

The rest of the day was an awful parade of questions. Police officers came by and took statements from me. I told them what I knew, which wasn’t much. Andi had headed for the boardwalk late Friday night, sometime after 10pm, before midnight, I remembered looking at my watch after she left. I’d fallen asleep in my car and thought she’d caught a ride with one of my friends. No, I hadn’t gotten any texts or calls from her since then. No, she didn’t have a boyfriend. No, she wasn’t using drugs. No, she hadn’t mentioned being scared or going to meet someone.

I didn’t tell them about the drinking, not yet anyways. If they found a b … Andi, they’d do a, a tox screen or whatever, and find that out. But I wasn’t going to freak out Andi’s parents even more than they already were at this point. My parents probably knew I’d been drinking, but they didn’t call me out.

I just sat on the couch, staring at the wall, thinking about Andi. Andi, with her pretty gray eyes and her long dark hair, who always insisted she was ugly even though she was adorable and more than a couple guys stared at her in the hallways, who wanted to go back to San Diego more than anything, who loved Phantom of the Opera and old books. Who’d been there for me after that horrible audition, and eaten ice cream with me after our terrible prom dates last spring, and gone Trick or Treating with me even though we were both getting a bit too old for that sort of thing.

I thought about all the little jokes in classes, the notes we passed to each other during boring lectures, the doodles we drew on each other’s homework. I thought about never hearing her laugh again, never seeing her smile flash at the ring of the bell, never hugging her after a midnight movie.

At some point, my parents must have called Vik, because suddenly he was there, looking terrified, and holding a box of tissues out towards me.

I grabbed them, and hugged them.

Vik shakily sat down next to me. I could hear the cops talking to the Slates and my parents in the next room, something about the difference between an AMBER Alert and a missing person’s report.

“How much do you know?” I asked, throat dry.

“What they told me. Andi’s missing?”

“Yeah.” I turned to face him. “It’s all my fault.” My voice broke halfway through and I sort of fell forward, burying my face against Vik’s chest and sobbing again.

Vik’s arms flailed and he patted me on the back a few times. A horrible, snide thought about how he wouldn’t have been this awkward if I were Andi, flashed through my mind, and then I just cried harder because I’d have given anything to see Andi faceplanting into Vik right about now.

After a while I calmed down a bit, or at least had cried myself out. If Andi was dead, there was nothing I could do now, but wait for them to find her body. It was an awful thought, but it was oddly freeing too, because there was nothing I could do now but wait.

The Slates left after a few hours, swearing up and down that they’d let us know the minute they heard anything. Vik left after a while too, promising he’d come over as soon as there was news. I fought the urge to cling to him and never let him go.

I didn’t want to go to sleep that night. I couldn’t eat. I drank some water because my mom was freaking out, and then took a long shower, which turned into me crying some more thinking about Andi and her fear of the ocean and what if she was lying facedown in some tidepool while I showered?

My mom pounded on the door as I was finishing up.

“Bridget! Andi’s back!”

I almost fell out of the shower in shock. “What?!”

“She just drove in, the Slates called to let us know!”

Andi was back.

I was all cried-out by this point, and just thankful she was alive. Oh god, she was alive. Not dead, not in some creep’s basement, not dragged out to sea.

Then the details started to trickle in. Andi had arrived home in a car driven by a boy. Riley Bay. She’s spent the weekend with him and forgotten to call anybody and let them know where she was. She seemed annoyed that people had been so worried about her.

She’d been grounded too, for this, her mom had called my mom and told her everything, and then my mom relayed it all to me.

Once the shock and relief rolled off, and I calmed down a bit … then the anger started to set in.

Andi had just … taken off … with some guy, Riley Bay of all people, and dropped off the face of the earth? Let us all think she’d been dead in a ditch somewhere?

Oh, she was gonna get an earful Monday morning. If she hadn’t been grounded I’d have driven over to her house and yelled at her that night.

I went to sleep fuming, tossing and turning, and had horrible dreams about Andi dead in the ocean.

~*~

“You should go get lunch,” Andi sneered. “You know how cranky you get if you don’t eat.”

I flinched. Andi had never said something like that to me before. To anyone, really. I blinked, stunned, and started to walk away. But I had to say something, at least try to get through to her, how serious this was, how worried I was about her. “Andi, please, just don’t ... get so wrapped up in some guy that you can’t … can’t see what trouble you could –”

She cut me off. Andi cut me off. “Riley is the last one to get me in trouble, Bree,” there it was, that sneer again. When had she gotten that? “I’m a big girl, I can handle Riley.”

I felt the tears coming again. My face was burning and my throat was closing up. I turned and left before she could see.

I couldn’t believe Andi. She was going crazy over some guy, some guy she’d hated not three days ago? Some creepy guy who’d taken her to NYC and done god knew what to her?

What if he’d slipped something in a drink, and given it to Andi? And she was trying to pass it off as some kind of epic romantic adventure, when really he’d just driven her to a motel out of town and …

Oh, god.

I leaned against the wall, catching my breath. Oh god. No. No way. That was too … no. Andi had talked to the police last night, and her parents, they’d probably grilled her for details and made sure nothing nasty had happened. They’d have been able to tell if she’d been drugged or … things. Didn’t roofies do something to your eyes, make them all weird?

Then again, the alternative, that Andi had just “spontaneously” decided to go off with some guy she barely knew to a city she’d never been to, that didn’t seem right either. That wasn’t Andi. Not the Andi I knew, at least. Thought I knew.

I shook myself. I needed to clear my head, put some space between myself and Andi for today, at least.

I got lunch and ate alone, zoning out from all the chatter. People were talking about projects and college tours and the latest episodes of their favorite tv shows. It all seemed so … normal. I’d just spent a day convinced my best friend was dead and it was all my fault, and here people were, sitting around and eating lunchables.

I left early and went and sat in the theater, munching on snacks out of my backpack. I stretched out on the floor in front of the first row of seats. There was ancient graffiti down there, carved under the chairs, initials and words from bygone eras of theater kids. I’d added my own, and would probably add more again, before I graduated.

So: Andi. The girl I’d thought was my best friend. Who’d just morphed into a crazy, asshole bitch and started acting completely weird over, of all things, a guy. And acted like I was somehow the bad guy here, for being worried about her safety. Andi didn’t watch a lot of tv or keep up with current events, she didn’t know about all the teenage girls our age who went off with strangers and ended up dead, or got drugged and kidnapped by creeps, or murdered by serial killers. And that wasn’t exaggeration, you only had to look around and see the posters of all the missing kids out there. A lot of them were teenage girls who looked a lot like Andi and me, just … missing. Sometimes the police found a body, but mostly they just stayed missing.

That could have been Andi. I imagined taping up posters with her picture all over town, and in the surrounding neighborhoods. I imagined Vik and me spreading the news online, begging for information. I imagined Andi’s poor parents holding vigils on her birthday, praying that this was the year she’d come back home. I imagined going to college and thinking I’d seen her, just out of the corner of my eye, only to turn around and realize that no, that wasn’t Andi after all.

I imagined all of this, and then remembered Andi’s angry words not an hour ago. Sneering at me, snarling at me, indignant and enraged that I’d dared to worry about her, dismissing Vik (she always did that, she always put him down and took him for granted, it was getting to be pretty cruel of her, to be honest) and thinking I’d been upset to get in trouble, not that I’d been upset because I’d thought she was dead in a ditch.

Andi was kind of a terrible friend, the more I thought about it. Andi was kind of a bitch right now. Maybe she always had been, and I just hadn’t seen it before.

“Bree! Oh my god! I’ve been looking everywhere for you!” Zinnia half tripped over my legs as she skidded to a halt in front of me. Zinnia was in the drama club with me, she was in my year but she acted way younger, kind of like she was always hyped on sugar. She was great, but exhausting to be around sometimes. Currently she was jumping up and down with glee.

“What?” I blinked. Zinnia was … excitable, at the best of times. Now she looked like she was about to explode into a cloud of glitter at any second.

“They put up the cast list! For M … the Scottish Play!” Zinnia caught herself just in time and punched the air.

“… ok. And?” I’d completely forgotten about Macbeth. Auditions had been ages ago, it seemed. Rehearsals were due to start soon, of course, and the show was going up before Thanksgiving. Not much time to practice, but enough, given our theater club’s talents. We’d pulled off tougher challenges before.

“You got it! You’re Lady M!” Zinnia squealed. “And I’m one of the Witches! Isn’t it exciting?! Oh my god, you wanted that part so bad, and you’re gonna be so amazing!” Zinnia dragged me to my feet and hugged me, still jumping up and down.

I stared at the ceiling as Zinnia bounced on my toes.

Lady M.

Oh my god.

This was good.

This was … actually pretty perfect.

Lady Macbeth. One of my dream parts. One I’d never imagined I’d get before college, or even there, actually, given how competitive things got in college.

This was exactly what I needed right now. A distraction. A big, blood-soaked, monologuing distraction.

Rehearsals were pretty much going to be my life now. Memorizing lines, learning blocking, becoming Lady Macbeth in time for the show.

I wouldn’t have time for Andi and her sudden bursts of assholery. I wouldn’t have time to listen to her whine about her creepy boyfriend who’d possibly abducted her, Phantom-style. Besides, she’d been grounded, and now my lunch periods were rehearsal time, so we couldn’t hang out anyways.

Hopefully, by the time the show was over, Andi would have figured things out. She was, as she’d said, a “big girl” and could handle herself. I mean, I knew she couldn’t, but she was about to find out how tough life could be without a best friend to come to for advice or hugs or support.

She could survive a couple weeks without my help.