When We Were Us by Lydia Suffield

It ends here, in a parking lot with neon streetlights painting our skin, and her hands twisted in my jacket, and her breath ragged as her words curl and crush themselves into my ear.

“You were my friend” is what she whispers, but the words are too heavy to be just that. They’re carrying everything else, and it’s dragging them down.

My fingers are digging into her hair, and I don’t know if I’m dragging her back or holding her up.

*

“Why do we look different when we’re older?” I ask when we’re too little to care and our fingers are sticky with cherry juice and we try to trace our names in clouds. I ask because we don’t need to know and her fingers are curled into mine and we walk to school together and run down the street on our own, hearts pounding and hair flying, and I can’t see any older than that.

Her fingers curl further into mine, and her hair is tickling my face as we tilt our heads back, as she whispers, “We disappear.”

*

My fingers got lost in her hair when we slept on her bedroom floor, and I braided beads in with my fingers slipping over one another, lost in blonde and beads and her smile. Two days before the start of sixth grade, we carried two bottles of hair dye back from the drug store and streaked it through our strands, blue and purple staining the bathroom walls like our handprints, our hair tangled together until we didn’t know whose was whose.

*

“Why are you even here?” and her voice cracks against my skin, the same voice that dodged volleyballs and pressed kisses against the back of my hand and whispered our fortunes, reading our palms that said we’d rent an apartment in New York City together.

“You hate me,” she whispers, and I laugh, because I never lie to her.

“Only because you hate me.”

*

We shoved notes across our desks in classes that made our brains want to die and be reborn in summer, scribbled ink to make our thoughts latch onto each other. How the hell can they find that guy hot when he polishes his briefcase? X + Y=why the hell can’t they work out their own problems? We’re not algebra’s couples counsellors.

We sat with my head in her lap, her fingers tickling my neck, hiding under the bleachers, and she dragged me into the record store, and I tugged her by the wrist into bookshops, and she’d raise an eyebrow at old words on pages, and I’d roll my eyes when she went on about vinyl.

As too-short Saturday nights stretched out forever, we’d lie on the park bench, and words would spill out about how she didn’t look like her dad, not one blink, not one hair, and his new kid could have been him if he was a three-year-old girl. Words whispered about the time she was out sick and one of the other kids had shoved me into a locker, and it had been the janitor who’d found me, a huddled mess of shaking and silent tears and waiting to die.

Our breath tasted of secrets in the night air, and then we’d walk home while the first fingers of dawn trickled dew over our skin.

*

“I don’t hate you,” she says, and she scrubs at her eyes impatiently. (She can never not smudge her eyeliner; she always needs me to pull her hands away every time they reach to mess things up.)

“This is just messed up,” she whispers, staring at the black smears on her hands.

“I don’t hate you,” I say, and her eyebrow arches, and I push back a strand of her hair without thinking.

“You told everyone,” she says, and my hand tightens around the strand, and I could pull it out, tug it out right now.

“So did you,” and it comes out through gritted teeth.

Her eyes are on mine, with her impossibly long lashes and my fingers curled around her hair, and she’s shaking, and I am too, teeth chattering with memories and late nights and us. “OK,” I swallow. “I don’t hate you. I just — hate that I don’t hate you.”

*

We still walked arm in arm, and we still lay with our legs tangled so we couldn’t tell where she ended and I began, but her conversation was sprinkled with alt and basic, and my head was lost in snapped bits of dialogue and words scribbled in poems that fell out my eyes. We didn’t talk about the stuff that pulled up her eyebrows or rolled my eyes around, and there’d never been any of that before.

“What the hell’s wrong with an iPod?” I asked when the brow went higher at us not having a record player.

“Lamestream,” she said, and she didn’t see me roll my eyes.

“What’s that?” she asked, pointing to my book of Raymond Carver short stories.

“You wouldn’t get it.” Lamestream screaming in my head like a siren, and I didn’t look when she pushed it off the table with her foot.

*

It was me who told her to dump the guy she held hands with — who made her wear his caps and who she was terrified of finding out that some guy had kissed her at a party before she could stop him, and “It’s not his fault, he gets jealous,” the guy who had thrown spitballs into our hair when we were six. It was her who said, “This is the last time” every time she pushed a pillow under my bedcovers when I scrambled out of my bedroom window to whoever I’d told to meet me behind the 7-11 where I’d make out with them against the wall, grinding my mouth into theirs, shattering thoughts into pieces between us so they couldn’t be real.

She said love had saved her life, and I said that if having my life saved meant clinging on to someone else’s oxygen, I’d rather die, thanks.

She glared at me and later IMed me with He thinks we spend too much time together.

I hated his words in her mouth and told her if she wanted to get pregnant, that was her problem, and hit send before I could think about it.

*

The next day, his hands closed around my shoulders, and there was a metal door slammed behind me with the walls tight and my own screams echoing inside my head and one person whose mouth it could have come from.

It was the janitor who let me out again. And it was her who stood waiting, tugging at her nail with the edge of her teeth. And it was her hand that reached out, with my nail varnish smeared on her fingers, saying, “I didn’t know he was going to do it; it was just a stupid joke–”

And it was me who turned round, stuck up one of my fingers, and said, “Screw you,” and I left her standing there with her hair in her eyes and her eyeliner smudged and my nail varnish still staining her stupid fingers.

*

It was a number from her phone that I’d got when her memories were mine that told me how to reach his best friend, and it was in block capitals from an anonymous number that I texted ASK HER ABOUT HER DAD.

*

It was all anyone talked about the next day, and when the phone went that night, I knew who it was without looking at the number.

“You must really, really hate me,” she said, her voice softer than I’d ever heard it before, and then the phone went dead, a last full stop.

I stared at it, and my words were, “I miss you, too.”

*

“I was mad,” she whispers, and her voice shakes into a wild little laugh against my shoulder. “I was so goddamn mad at you.”

“You told everyone” falls out of my mouth, and the words bump into each other, and it takes me a second to realize she’s said exactly the same thing.

*

Having notes chucked at me in class that asked how much  I charged to go behind the 7-11 didn’t hurt, but her laughter did when it wasn’t with me. Having the jerks we used to glare at from our lockers call out to me in the corridors, throwing coins into my hair and asking “How many times have you got pregnant?” didn’t hurt, not as much when my elbow jammed into their ribs.  None of it hurt, but her mouth did when I watched it move, whispering those words.

She didn’t look at me once, and I would never have told her in a million years.

*

It didn’t hurt tonight when I dragged him off into the corner of someone’s living room when she was off at the bowl of mixed-up drinks, laughing too hard, eyes too bright.

When he slid his hands around my waist, I let him, because it didn’t hurt, and I was marble and cold and unshakeable and no one could break me.

I had his face buried in my neck before I whispered, “She kissed another guy.”

I watched my words sneak inside and crack each of his ribs in two before I slapped him round the face, the cracking sound another break in the room.

And then I reached up and kissed him on the mouth, hard and hurting and empty.

And when I stepped away and scrubbed at my mouth, my heart heavy and aching and empty, and looked up, she was the one who looked back.

*

She rang, and I didn’t need to look at the number.

She told me to meet her here, and I’d already told her the same thing.

*

When I saw her, she ran. She ran toward me, running until her hands slammed into my chest and my nails caught her cheek, and we were pushing and pulling and half-words shrieking at each other, raw in our throats and her hands in my hair and mine scrabbling at her, to hurt her and me and us, until her head fell onto my shoulder and we were holding onto each other, holding each other too tight to hurt.

*

It ends here in a parking lot, with our tiny little shrieks in the dark, two little girls hitting and hurting and squeezing each other’s hands as if one can make the other disappear.

“I hate you, you stupid idiot,” I whisper into her hair, and she laughs. “And him.” And she shakes her head.

“I do more” is what she whispers back. “And you don’t. I hate you.”

“No, you don’t.”

“I know.”

“I don’t hate you.”

“I know.”

“It’s not him.” And she nods.

Her hand creeps into mine. My nail varnish is chipped. (She was always better at it than me.)

“I don’t hate you.” The words crack in the air, and our fingers hold tight, our hands holding on again.

“I can’t keep hating you,” she says, and I nod.

“I know.”

“I don’t want to,” she whispers, and I know, and I hold onto her; I just hold on.

*

“Where do the stars go?” she asked once when we were little and looking, looking for the sky and nothing, nothing could be bigger than this.

“Out of sight of each other.” And our hands were holding tight under the dark.

*

It begins here, in a parking lot, with her hair tangled in mine, our hearts beating, neon lights in our eyes, and our hands holding tight to each other, holding together to reach up and touch the stars.

 

 

 

 

Lydia Suffield lives in Liverpool, and she likes being immersed in fandoms, creating her own little playlists for life, pretending to be someone else on stage, and scribbling out stories that unfold in her head while her thoughts reside on another planet. Someone once told her she was like a mix of Wednesday Addams and Matilda, and she plans to spend the rest of her life living up to the compliment. She blogs at The Little Enigma, and you can find her on Twitter @lydiaenigma.

Germ Magazine guest author
… is a contributing guest author for Germ, which means the following criteria (and then some) have been met: possessor of a fresh, original voice; creator of fresh, original content; genius storyteller; superlative speller; fantastic dancer; expert joke teller; handy with a toolbox; brilliant at parties; loves us as much as we love them.

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