Emily and I were the best of friends. I remember when we were four, licking melted ice cream off our fingers in the burning sun. I remember fifth-grade days frolicking in the pool. I remember seventh-grade blues when the sorrows of our failed romantic endeavors were shared. I remember we were inseparable.
Our birthdays were a week apart and instead of holding one huge party, we held two huge ones. The sun always smiled on our parties, so we were shocked the year that clouds snuck up; it went against everything we had always believed in. Soon, the storm had us hiding under the sheets.
"Hey," I whispered, pointing at the sky. "Do you think someone up there is mad at us?" I was afraid that whoever that someone was, he wouldn't think twice before thunder-bolting a little girl who affronted him.
"I dunno," Emily replied, revealing a profound secret, "but the Rainy Day Man isn't mad. Mommy told me that he's an old man who gives good girls presents on rainy days to cheer them up. She said not to tell anyone, because if everyone knew, they would be good on rainy days and he would be overworked, like Santa." I nodded at her wisdom. Most kids were whiny on rainy days, and Emily certainly was a whiner. It was with hope and wonder that we waited for our gift until sleep arrived to harness us into the land of dreams.
Seven, eight, nine, ten ... we were still together, like I always knew we would be. Eleven, 12, 13 ... We remained the best of friends in spite of everything life threw at us.
In eighth grade, Emily got a crush on Chris, a black-haired, pale-skinned, pierced Goth. For the life of me I could not figure out why, and she admitted that she couldn't, either. The very fact that the attraction existed was to be the most sacred of secrets. I, being the faithful friend, swore never to tell. Alas, I should have known better. My mouth was never really good at following the instructions my brain gave it.
"Really, I only told one person!" I whimpered, trying in vain to explain it to Emily the next day. "I really have no clue why everyone seems to know!"
But what can words do to mend a trust once ripped? She turned a deaf ear and stomped off to weave through the crowds until she was lost in the sea of students.
The next day, I almost wondered if she were playing some sort of twisted game. She avoided me on the bus, and moved to the opposite side of the room when I walked into class. Soon, though, I realized it was anything but a game. Our long-held belief that we would be companions until the end of creation had crumbled into dust.
We drifted apart, each adopting a new set of friends. Our mutual friends learned never to talk about one in front of the other. When Emily's birthday arrived, I watched as our former set of friends were invited to her birthday party. Everyone except for me.
The day of the party, my rebellious feet carried me to a store, where I bought a small gift and wrapping paper. I had my mother drive me to Emily's home. Inside, music was blasting so heavily it seemed to weigh down the house. I heard voices, and one by one I identified them: Jenny, Kelly, Shell and Erin. Julie, Megan and Melanie ...
I paused at the door for an eternity, wavering. Then, with a sudden burst of adrenaline, I realized I might as well do what I'd come to do. I pressed the doorbell and waited, my nervousness rushing back to form a knot in my throat. One minute, then two, then three passed as I stood in front of her door. In a surge of rage, I dug my heels so heavily that I left a dirt mark when I turned and left. If she hated me enough not to open the door, then fine, she wasn't going to get a present, either.
The next week, I didn't have a party. Perhaps it just wasn't the same without Emily. Perhaps I wanted to show her that some people had the decency not to go ahead and invite everybody except one person. In a way, her birthday party was the final seal to a truth I had refused to admit: Our friendship had been blown away by the wind, and it was not about to come back.
Something in me clicked that day. I became the one who tried to stay as far away as possible. We went to different high schools and Emily disappeared from my life. High school was amazingly busy. So many clubs, so little time! I joined our school's volunteer organizations, SADD and Project LEAD, and by tenth grade, doing odd jobs here and there for them had become habitual. On a rainy Friday two weeks before my birthday, my mother drove me to a high school in another town to supervise mentally challenged kids at a football game.
I sat with a friend on paper bags on the bleachers in ice-cold rain that stung our cheeks and soaked our clothing. In front of us, our three charges were shielded by huge umbrellas, comfortably sipping hot chocolate and wolfing down popcorn. Large raindrops rolled from the sides of the umbrellas onto our laps. My fingers were frozen. From somewhere that seemed far, far away came a scream, "There are eleven naked guys over there with 'Go Adams High' painted on them!"
"Aren't they cold?" was my only reaction. The night dragged on until the mentally challenged kids departed one by one in their parents' heated cars. A part of my brain wondered why I hadn't gotten frostbite as I removed my cell phone with frozen fingers and called my mother to pick me up. The high school was far from home. My friends left - until no one else was there. I had always been afraid of the dark. The night was black and lonely, an unwelcome stranger I wished I could chase away. I wanted to sit down and cry.
"Sharon? Are you alright? You look terrible."
I gasped, turning to meet a face that had all but vanished from memory. "Emily?" Suddenly, the night wasn't so dark.
"Hey," she replied softly. We stared at each other, not moving. "Waiting for a ride?" she asked.
"Mind if I wait with you? I mean, you look so lonely and all, and it's so dark and cold ..."
Mind? Please stay with me.
"What-what are you doing here?" I asked uncertainly.
"I was working at the concession stand." She replied, not unkindly.
With her tone, I gained more courage. "Really? I-I was supervising some mentally challenged kids." I laughed nervously. It evolved into a laugh of heartfelt joy. Like a snowball, I started talking slowly and apprehensively, then picked up speed and energy until I burst into a torrent of words that jumbled together and made little sense. "And, wow, is that your car? You can drive? I'm so jealous! You mean you actually don't mind talking to me? I mean, with you not wanting me at your party and all, and I guess I have too much stupid pride."
She looked up, and began speaking very, very softly. "You know, it's dumb of me, but during that last birthday party in eighth grade, I was hoping the whole time that you would show up, and then everything would be okay again. I should have just invited you in the first place."
If she had been hoping for me, then why ... could it possibly have been that the music was so loud she hadn't heard me? The doorbell had sounded faint even to my ears. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "Don't blame it on yourself," I suddenly said with a smile. I now knew what had broken our friendship. "Blame it on -"
"Stupid pride," we both said at the same time. And we laughed.
"Do you think that the Rainy Day Man will give us a present today?" I asked in a five-year-old voice, reminiscent of how we had talked back when I had first asked that question. Thinking back to the time that we had waited a whole night for our gift from the Rainy Day Man, we burst into more bubbles of laughter. Finally, Emily was able to recover her breath. She looked at me, and I looked at her.
"I think he already did," she said.
The next week in the mail, I received an invitation to a birthday party.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.