Best Friend?

He’s invisible to her now.

They pass each other in the school hallway every day, but she never seems to see him. They have almost all the same classes together, but she doesn’t even notice him. When she looks at him, it’s like she’s seeing right through him. They’re neighbors, but whenever she leaves for school, she doesn’t acknowledge him even when he’s staring at her from across the yard.

They were best friends.

But that was before he made the biggest mistake of his life.

He remembers that day like it was just yesterday.

No one knew that he and Julia were best friends. Well, his friend Jason and Julia’s friend Abby knew, anyway. But other than them, nobody else knew.

It’s not that he’s not proud of them being best friends. He is. In fact, he loves having Julia as his best friend. He wouldn’t have a better friend.

It was just that they were in high school. Popular kids do not hang out with the unpopular ones. They definitely should not be best friends with one.

He thinks that’s stupid. He could be friends with anyone he wants to be friends with. But apparently his group of ‘friends’ says otherwise. And he wasn’t doing anything about it.

So there he was, leaning against the lockers in the hall during lunch. He was talking with his teammates about their upcoming swim meet. They were all excited since this was going to be their very first swim team meet of the school year.

The guys were animatedly talking about what time their next practice would be when all of a sudden, Julia was on the floor picking up her books which were scattered on the tiled floor. The students in the hallway were laughing at her as she tried to get up, but tripped and fell again.

“Hey, nerd, need some help down there?” a guy said. “Well, you’re not getting it from me.”

Everyone laughed. He clenched his fists in anger and went to help Julia up. He pushed past his teammates. One of them looked at him intently.

“Chase, come on. You don’t need to help that loser.”

Chase looked at his best friend who was fumbling with her things. She looked up at him and he could see the tears that were threatening to spill out of her eyes.

He knew he had to choose. Help Julia―which would mean announcing that he cares about her―or ignore her and leave her kneeling on the floor while everyone else made fun of her.

He doesn’t know why he did it. He really doesn’t.

He looked at Julia. She stared up at him with pleading eyes, her hair framing her beautiful face. His heart clenched at the sight of her looking so helpless and sad. But he looked away. He turned around, leaving his best friend.

 

He sighs now at the memory. He was stupid; he wasn’t thinking that day. How could he have left her there, being ridiculed by the other students? How could he have betrayed her like that? The only real friend he ever had, and he decided that his reputation was more important to him than she was.

He runs a hand through his hair.

He needed to talk to her.

He felt awful about what he did. He never should have done that to her. Now, he might have just ruined his friendship with the one person who really understands him.

It was the end of the school day and he looked everywhere for her. No luck. He guessed that the world was really against him that day.

He kept looking. When he was sure that he’d searched every corner in the school, he went to leave. But when he was walking through the parking lot, he heard someone crying behind one of the trees outside the school building.

He walked quietly to that spot and saw Julia crying into her hands. He knew it was her because of her hair―a couple of strands were always put together and braided around her head like a tiara. He knelt down beside her.

“Julia,” he said softly. She looked up at him, tears still trailing down her face, which she wiped at frantically. She immediately grabbed her bag and stood up, looking anywhere but at him, and moved to leave.

He caught her by her arm. “Julia,” he said again, turning her around to face him. She looked down at her shoes.

“Julia, I’m―” he started to say, but she cut him off.

“Sorry?”

“Julia, I can explain―”

She pulled her arm from his grasp. “Explain what? That you didn’t mean to leave me there on the floor, completely humiliated? That it was just a mistake?”

He opened his mouth but then closed it. He didn’t really know why he did what he did. But one thing was for sure: he didn’t want to lose his best friend.

Julia sighed. He hated that she was hurt because of him.

“Julia, please . . .”

She looked up at him and he saw all the hurt and anger in her eyes. She said softly, “What’s there left to say, Chase? You chose your reputation over me.” She turned away from him and started walking. He followed her.

“Julia―”He grabbed her hand, but she pulled it away from his and just continued walking, not once looking back.

When he was alone, he walked to the tree where Julia was just a few moments ago, slumped against the trunk and placed his head in his hands.

That was the first time he cried in a long time.

 

He looks at her now. She’s laughing at something Abby said and he can’t help but think that he misses her laugh. Her laugh which sounds so angelic, he can’t help but smile.

She doesn’t notice him, of course. It’s as if he’s not even there, like he doesn’t exist. The fact that she permanently pushed him out of her life, that he lost his best friend in the whole world, hurts him so badly that his chest aches.

“Chase, man, are you okay?” Jason asks from across him.

He looks away from Julia and focuses on Jason. “Uh, yeah.”

Jason squints at him and then turns his head in the direction he was looking at. Jason sees Julia immediately and looks back at him. “You really miss her, don’t you?”

He nods. “So much, man.”

Jason sighs and shakes his head. “You probably made the worst mistake of your life.”

Chase looks back at his former best friend. “I know.”

***

He accidentally bumps into someone.

“Geez, I’m sorry. I wasn’t looking―” He stops. Julia’s friend, Abby, is staring up at him in shock.

“Hey, Abby.”

Abby snaps out of it and narrows her eyes at him. “Save it, Mr. I-Don’t-Care-About-Anyone.” She walks past him and he catches up with her.

“Abby, wait!”

She stops and faces him. “Look, you may have been Julia’s best friend, but that’s over now. Why? Because you screwed everything up and decided that your reputation as Mr. Popular was more important than she was.”

“I know that, Abby. I know that.”

“Then why the hell did you do that?”

“I don’t know why I didn’t help her. But I know that that was the biggest mistake of my life. And I want things to be back to the way they once were.”

Abby’s gaze softens. “Listen, Chase.” He nods and listens intently. “She misses you, too. But you were her best friend. It broke her when you betrayed her. She’s never been the same. Everyone bullies her even more and I can’t do anything about it. It’s getting worse for her. You’ve been her friend longer than I have. You know her better than anyone else. And I’m sure that she needs you now more than she’s ever needed anyone.”

“What are you trying to tell me?” he asks. He has an idea, but he needs Abby to confirm it.

“I’m telling you to talk to her. You need to fix this.”

“Abby, I’ve been trying. But I’m invisible to her now.”

“No, you’re not. In all honesty, she thinks about you every day. I see it in her eyes. She wants to talk to you, too, but she thinks you wouldn’t mind her, so she just doesn’t bother to anymore.”

He sighs in frustration and pulls at his hair. “God, Abby, I’m such an idiot.”

Abby smiles sadly. “I know. You should still try. You never know what might happen.”

He says, “Thanks. For talking to me.”

She nods and walks away.

He walks home after school. He thinks of what he’s going to say to Julia.

Julia, listen, I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to do what I did. I didn’t want to ruin our friendship. Just… Please, I’m so sorry.

No, he shakes his head. Scratch that. She deserves more than that. She deserves someone better than me to be her friend. I’ve already screwed everything up.

When he gets to his house, he greets his mom and kisses her cheek. He goes up to his room and dumps his bag on the floor. Looking around his room, he sees the window by his bedside table. He walks toward it and looks outside. His window has a good view of their backyard and the backyard of Julia’s house. He turns his gaze toward it.

And there, sitting on the stairs leading to the yard, is Julia.

He bolts out of his room and down the staircase. He walks to the back door. He hesitates for a minute, then makes his decision and heads outside.

Julia hears the door opening and turns to look in his direction. He catches her gaze and he forgets why he came outside in the first place. He misses her so much that seeing her just knocks the air out of him.

When Julia doesn’t look away, he walks slowly in her direction. You can do this, he says to himself. Just stay calm.

He reaches the wooden fence that separates their backyards. He doesn’t break eye contact.

“Julia.”

Her bottom lip trembles. Tears appear on the corners of her eyes. It’s now or never.

“I’m sorry,” he tells her as clearly as he can. And he means it. He really means it.

He knows that she knows that.

She gets up, walks and stands in front of him. Her brown eyes look into his green ones, and he sees how pretty she still is. In fact, she’s beautiful.

She closes her eyes for a second, opens them again and continues to look at him. He doesn’t want to ruin the moment.

After a while, she says quietly, “I forgive you.”

Relief flows through him like a river. A smile so full of happiness spreads across his face as she gives him a small smile. He reaches down and engulfs her in a hug. She cries softly into his shoulder and he strokes her hair gently.

He doesn’t want to say anything. Not right now. So he stands there, hugging her like he never wants to let her go ever again.

His best friend.

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