The Good Friend

This is something I’ve been working on for the past two years off and on. I’m still not really happy with it but here’s a part of it. I’ll post more as I edit through it.

“You know Karen, right?”

It was January, right after Christmas break, and Tom and I were both sitting in his room. It was a typical boys room, at least typical for most of the boy friends that I had, with blue walls and dark wood and metal furniture. Posters of bands were a must, especially, but not limited to, Blink-182, the Who or the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

Tom was lying down in his bed, head hanging over the edge, and looked up from where he was picking with the carpet, waiting for my answer.

“Karen Leach or Karen Volga?” I smirked a little bit as I watched his facial expression change.

“Ew, gross, no.” Karen Leach was one of the promiscuous girls in our grade, known to have already had Chlamydia and a pregnancy scare every few months,. Volga was an awkward transfer from Central who would pick her nose in the middle of a conversation, stop, look at it, then smear it on her back pocket and carry on like normal. “I meant Karen Chase.”

I took a bite of the sugar cookie Tom’s mom had brought up a few minutes ago. It was still warm and a few crumbs fell from my mouth to my shirt before I started speaking again.

“Oh, that Karen.” Tall, with long wavy blonde hair that she would whip in your face and sometimes laugh in your ear like a horse? Of course it was that Karen. “Yeah, I know that Karen. What about her?”

“Well, she was my secret Santa for Claire’s Christmas party,” Tom jumped off the bed and went into his closet for a minute before returning with a red and white knitted scarf and sat down next to me on the floor, placing it in my hands. “And she gave me this.”

The material felt rough in my hands; it made me want to itch. And I wasn’t an expert at knitting but I was pretty sure the rows, or whatever you called it, were sloppy. There were a lot of holes, some big enough to where I could fit my finger through it.

“Okay,” I gave it back. “And? Everyone had a secret Santa and was supposed to get a gift. That’s the point of a gift exchange, Tom.”

He rolled his eyes, but that’s when I knew something was serious. This wasn’t typical Tommy talk. His eyes were normally playful, or at least animated, not this muted dark blue.

“She made it herself, and, like, I saw her sitting inside after the gift exchange while everyone else was in Claire’s backyard and we started talking and,” his story started gaining more momentum as it rushed to the finish line. “And one thing kind of led to another and then she kind of kissed me. But please don’t be mad at me, Alice.”

Claire Tussle always invited all of the “artsy, educated to semi-educated kids” (or at least that’s what I called us) in our grade to her parties.  There were those at the top of the class who rarely socialized, those who were probably smarter than the top people but didn’t try and everyone else who didn’t meet these qualifications but listened to decent enough music and had personalities that matched the two other groups. There were around fifty of us in total and had all met last summer at her ‘end of freshman year’ celebration (of course, we had already pretty much met one another by that point) and did big group things together like dances and birthday or holiday parties. Usually these events took place at Claire’s house for the simple fact that she had a six bedroom, five thousand square foot house that sat on five acres in the country. Her dad was in oil or something that successful Texas men do.

After everyone had sent in his or her RSVP to the Christmas party Claire came around during the lunches (she had some blow off class during lunch period like teen leadership or speech or something like that) after Thanksgiving break with a basket to draw names for secret Santa.

I ended up with Lance Newton, which was a decent enough choice. He sat two rows over from me in AP World History and I knew he liked Arcade Fire so I ended up giving him a t-shirt of theirs.

That night I hadn’t really seen Tom.

I had ridden with Sarah, who I didn’t really like but tolerated enough to do certain things, like drive, with her and we showed up a little bit later than everyone else so when we saw our smaller group of friends sitting in Claire’s living room I didn’t really move. I saw Tom twice. Once, when the eight of us gave our own gifts we had gotten for each other before the secret Santa exchange, and as the party was ending when we said goodbye. I hadn’t really paid too much attention to Tom’s absence at the time but at least now I knew why he was gone most of the party.

A beat of silence passed and I took another bite out of my cookie. “Why would I be mad?”

“I don’t know,” Tom took a deep breath and his eyes became normal again. He looked up and smiled; he had a nice smile. It wasn’t too toothy or Jack-o-lantery. “But, so like, you’re not mad that I didn’t tell you sooner?”

“Gosh, no, I’m not mad at you,” I scooted over and leaned on him. “Now give me all the dirty details. Start from the beginning and don’t leave anything out.”

I could feel Tom’s chest as it rose and fell. There was silence again.

“You’re such a good friend, Alice.” I started to finish what was left of my cookie, but when I took a bite the rest of it just crumbled into little pieces on my lap.

“Yeah,” I sighed as I looked down at my empty napkin. “I know.”

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