When you meet, you are both three. She has a sprinkling of freckles across her tiny nose and a gap between her two front teeth. Her hair curls in ringlets of a sort, wild ringlets. She giggles. She has red Keds, and your brothers are best friends. You trail behind your brothers, from now until they graduate. You are possessive of them.
At her fifth birthday party, you play a game where you sit on balloons until they pop. No one worried then about how popping balloons sound like gunshots. Her table is filled with packages, a bounty of Barbies and games.
On the first day of second grade, you look up on the board and see that her name is there, inside a butterfly. Lisa. You tell the teacher, "She moved." It is only across town, but you face the lonely year ahead without her. Sometimes you still have playdates. At her house, her mother serves Hostess cupcakes and Twinkies. You dress her baby brother in fancy dresses and laugh as he trips down the massive staircase. Behind the house is a kidney-shaped pool, extravagant. And the veranda. Even then you understand that she has money.
You meet back up again in junior high school, when the elementary schools merge together. You resume your friendship, united in your fear of Dawn, the school bully. She flicks her switchblade at both of you, mouthing "I'm gonna kill you!" maniacally against the door to your algebra class. You both break out in a cold sweat and laugh.
In Tuesdays, you help her roll and deliver the weekly newspaper. Your hands are smudged with ink and smell of rubberbands. She keeps the money, but it is worth the independence, the feeling of walking the neighborhoods on our own, employed.
You walk to the pool for swim team practice every day. There are three of you now, inseparable. At the market on the way, you buy Twinkies and Orange Crush. You hide in the bushes and evenly split the box three ways, with the last Twinkie divided into thirds. You sing Kenny Rogers and wear Izod. You laugh all the time, until food comes out your noses.
And then high school. You are smart. Boys like you.
You like your boyfriend more than your friends, she accuses.
You tell her that she would do the same thing if she had a boyfriend. If.
She judges you too much. She makes snide remarks. You love her and hate her.
You both graduate from high school. You hug stiffly. You go to college. You marry. You have a baby.
She marries. She divorces. She lives alone in a big house with her dog and writes Christmas cards detailing his antics, her illnesses. You remember how, at her wedding, she looked like she did when she was three, with the freckles across her nose and the space between her teeth. She looked happy.
At your 10-year high school reunion, she says gritting her teeth with a smile on her face, "What the f*#@ are you doing here?" You smile back. She can't help it, and neither can you.
And ten years after that, she suddenly likes you again. Just like that, as if she remembers what it was like to once laugh without restraint, before things got complicated.
Your life is a fairy tale, and hers is not. She is always in pain. Her heart hurts and her body hurts worse. If you had the secret potion, you would give it to her in an Orange crush can; you would bake it into Twinkies. You would give her the right balloon to pop.
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