Saturday 18th October 2014
At some point inside the last two months, Keila’s room had been tidied to the point Marceline didn’t even recognise it anymore. Sitting on the floor fiddling with the strings of her newly gifted mandolin and staring at the walls, the bare carpet, the made bed and even the closet that wasn’t dripping with paraphernalia was a disconcerting experience. She was used to Keila’s room looking like a war zone, a place where people dropped bombs with fabric shrapnel and explosions of books. This… this clean room was most unsettling.
“I’m so sorry,” Keila whined again, swinging back and forth on her desk chair. “I can’t believe I forgot. I was so positive that it was this weekend.”
“Evidently,” Marceline replied flatly, not taking her eyes off a point on the wall where a tattered band poster had once hung. “Which is why we’re celebrating today and not on Monday.”
“I know. I’m a terrible best friend. Better late than never?”
“Sure. So long as there’s going to be cake.”
“Naturally. Cake and roast dinner. I made the cake, but mum wouldn’t let me use the big knife to do the vegetables.”
“I’m not surprised. Is the cake safe to eat?”
“Very funny.” Keila turned her big brown eyes on Marceline and pleaded with her face. “Did you have a good day, even though I forgot?”
She plucked a particularly hopeful note on the mandolin. “Yeah. I did. You know, my best friend forgot my birthday, but Eleanor remembered. She wished me a happy birthday. So did Finn and Jake; they even gave me a present. Blank computer disks and a new hard drive.”
Keila’s face crumpled. “I really am sorry, Marceline.”
“I know. You said.”
She slid out of the chair and crumpled to the carpet across from Marceline. “I’ll make it up to you next year,” she promised. “We’ll do something spectacular for your birthday. Maybe go to a concert.”
A tentative smile crawled across her face. “I think that sounds like a plan,” Marceline murmured, tugging on another – cheerier – string. “And on your birthday, we can do something together.”
Again, Keila’s smile wobbled. “We did something for my birthday,” she pointed out.
“Not on your birthday, though.” Deep down, Marceline wanted to yell at Keila, to be bitter and upset, to remind her that they’d been best friends their whole lives and this Gary fellow shouldn’t get priority. But there was this other part – newer and scared – that kept noting how stupid and childish this all was. Keila had a boyfriend; it was only natural that she didn’t have as much time for Marceline anymore. That knowledge, however, did little to sooth the burn of her best friend fobbing her off all the time.
“Yeah,” Keila sighed, her shoulders slumping. “That too. I’ll make up for it all. I’m so sorry.”
“Can I ask you something?” Marceline queried suddenly, pulling a rather ominous tone from the mandolin.
“When’s Gary’s birthday?”
“December twelve,” Keila mumbled. “Why?”
“What did Bonnibel do for your birthday?” Keila asked, steering the conversation clumsily away from dangerous waters. “You two are pretty good friends now. I’m sure she did something.”
“Yep,” Marceline sang. “She got me a bag of marshmallows and I had dinner at her place. We watched movies; all my pick. It’s very hard to find a flick she doesn’t like on some level.”
“Marshmallows?” Keila asked drolly. “That’s pathetic.”
“Not really. They had strawberry centres and even though I Googled the crap out of them when I got home, they don’t exist. They don’t stock anywhere and they’re not listed on the Candy Kingdom website as something they’re even contemplating releasing to the public.”
“What?” Keila nearly screeched. “But that’s… How?”
“How did she do it? No idea. She won’t tell me.”
“Maybe she’s in the mafia or something.”
Marceline snorted. “Please. I’m more likely to be in the mafia than Bonnibel.”
“Must’ve been black magic then. That’s not such a bad present then. Did you eat them?”
“Duh. What else are you supposed to do with marshmallows?”
“Um, with marshmallows that don’t exist? Excuse me, you keep them forever and tell everyone that your high school tutor was magical. Candy Kingdom marshmallows are your favourite and anything that can be strawberry flavoured, you’ll have that way. It’s… it’s the best present ever. Wow. She outclassed me.”
Marceline laughed, but didn’t disagree.
Her laughter cut off when Keila continued. “If only she was gay,” she exhaled.
“Um, what?” Marceline gasped. “Why?”
Keila rolled her eyes. “Hello! Earth to Marceline? She’s been here for less than a year and already knows exactly what to get for your birthday.” She lifted a finger. Oh good, they were making a check list. “She’s completely immune to your bad moods and can cheer you up with no effort whatsoever.” Another finger. “She adores listening to you play music, never makes a big deal out of things, and gives you all this space that you don’t need.” Three more fingers; moving onto the next hand. “She respects you in ways even I don’t understand. She smiles when she sees you and will always make time to hang out. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her question your right to visit and she answers your calls or messages within seven seconds.” Keila ran out of fingers.
Marceline just sat there, staring – mouth open – at her friend. “Are you a psycho?”
Keila’s head tilted to one side, a tiny little triumphant smile tugging at her lips. “No. Why? Are you that blind that you don’t think she’d be excellent dating material?”
The only response Marceline could even deign that with, was spluttering. Then, “But… I’m not gay!”
“Oh please. You won’t go to the Blackwater theatre with me on any day but a Thursday after lunch because you know that cute blonde girl works the concession stand then,” Keila told her drolly. “You may not ever ask her out, but you sure do like looking. You’re not straight, Marceline.”
Cue more spluttering. It was indignant and defensive and there was this little voice in the back of her head telling her that of course Keila noticed her staring at the girl. Naturally. The voice told her it was stupid to be so incensed by it. Her shoulders slumped, splutters fading out to garbled strings of sound and then to nothing.
“Pretty sure I’m the one who’s supposed to realise it first, Keila,” she grumbled. “I’m still not gay.”
“Whatever. You keep lying to yourself.”
“Even if I was gay – and I’m not – Bonnie would never date me,” Marceline muttered, knowing it sounded a lot like babble. “So there’d be no point. It’d end in disaster.”
“Yeah, but it’d be one hot mess.” Keila cackled at her joke.
“I hate you.”
Before Keila could respond to that, Louis bellowed from downstairs, “Girls! Dinner!”
Keila launched herself toward the door. “Better keep up, Abadeer. Before I eat all the cake.”
“I will end you.”