The two girls were not friends.
This fact was not borne of dislike, nor past animosities, nor anything of the sort. They simply did not know each other well enough to be friends. They probably never would be friends, simply due to a lack of shared interests and difference in age. They surely would remain friendly acquaintances, and see each other regularly due to their mutual friend, and were unlikely to ever hold each other in anything other than a positive light, but they would never be friends.
Despite this, the younger of the two was not surprised to find her present companion knocking on her door late one night. There had been no prior arrangement, no exchange of words or even a suggestion of where to go. She had simply nodded, grabbed her jacket, and the two had begun to walk.
Now, a fair hour later, they sat in continued silence. The younger focused on the world around her, waiting for the other to speak. She knew her companion would speak when she was ready, and that rushing her would do no good. She closed her eyes and breathed with the waves and the wind, feeling the light of the waning moon on her face as she waited patiently.
Hands folded lightly behind her head in a makeshift pillow, she lay still. The other girl fidgeted, kept standing and sitting and pacing and laying down, having not stopped moving in the half hour the pair had been on the beach. Finally, she let out a sigh and laid down, though she continued to wring her hands.
“They came back.” Her words broke the easy silence; the first crack on an ice-coated lake.
“They did,” she simply replied. The other girl finally lay still, though she still gave off anxious vibes.
“But they’re not the same.”
“Were you expecting him to be?” She pointedly ignored the plural in the other girl’s words, knowing that she was only really talking about one boy.
“Yes! I mean, no. I mean…” The girl trailed off with a frustrated sigh. “I mean, he’s still him, he’s still Lars, he’s still my best friend. But he’s… different, you know? I’m not sure how to explain it.”
“Then don’t.” She pulled her hand from behind her head and placed it between them, a silent offer of comfort.
“How do you deal with it?” Their fingers brushed, but the older girl didn’t seem to want the contact and she flinched away as she spoke. “You’re always seeing this crazy stuff, but you don’t seem bothered by it. How?”
“I became part of it,” she said with a shrug. “I found a way to take control and help. It worked for me.” Her hand pulled back from the space between them and she examined the calluses that covered it. “I don’t think that’s for everyone, though,” she added. Her companion chuckled.
“Yeah, no kidding,” she said, though there was no mirth in her tone. She fell quiet once more and the younger girl knew it was her turn to break the silence.
“You would make a good fighter, you know,” she offered after a short time. “If you wanted to, that is. You have the instincts for it, the determination. But,” she emphasised, sitting up to look her companion in the eyes, “it’s something you have to want for you. It’s a choice you have to make, for you. It’s a choice you can change your mind about, sure, but you still have to be the one choose.”
“For the longest time, I thought that Lars was the cowardly one of us.” The older girl sat up and stared out, past the ocean, past the horizon, past the stars she would never get close enough to touch. “He was always so concerned about what others thought, so afraid to be himself, too scared to try, even when he wanted to. And now he’s back and he’s confidant and he’s brave and he’s different and I’m…” She trailed off, pulling her eyes from the emptiness of space down to her own hands in front of her. The younger girl watched as she hesitated, curling her soft fingers into an improper fist and relaxing them again and again.
“The same,” she offered when the other didn’t finish her sentence. She got a nod in return, which she took as a sign to keep going. “There’s nothing wrong with that. And I don’t think you’re a coward for not wanting to fight, or that you’re selfish for not wanting your friend to change. I think that makes you human, and a normal one at that.” She got a weak smile and shook her head softly. “That doesn’t mean I think this will be easy for you. The two of you need to work things out, make peace with the changes he’s gone through. And yeah, maybe he’s different now and you’re not, but you’re still his friend and he’s still yours, right? And he’s still him and you’re still you, so nothing that really matters has changed.”
“I-I guess not.”
The waves once again became the dominate sound, a steady beat overlaid with gusts of wind and chirp of crickets. A cloud played its way across the sky and the sand shifted beneath the pair as they waited for the next words to come. When they did, the came suddenly, as though unexpected, even by the one who spoke them.
“Do you ever regret it?”
“Regret what?” the younger girl asked, though she already knew the answer so she didn’t wait for a response. “Honestly?” she sighed, “Sometimes, yeah. It’s hard, and it’s scary, and sometimes I wish I was just a normal kid. Sometimes I think about what my life would be like if I had never met Steven, if I had never taken Pearl’s offer to teach me to fight, if none of this had ever happened. The thing is, though, I think I’d be bored. I always felt like there was more for me to do, that there was something calling me. And I don’t feel that anymore. I feel like this, all of this, was meant to happen to me. So while I sometimes regret it, I don’t overall.”
All she got in response was a hum, which, truth be told, was more than she was expecting.
Before the silence could settle fully this time, the older girl spoke.
“I don’t want to fight. I don’t want to change, even if Lars did. He’s still the same Lars, so I’ll still be the same me. I’ll support him as I can, as a friend.” They had both sat up at some point, and faced each other with calm expressions. “I’ll do what I can.”
“That’s all you can do.”
The older girl smiled, genuine this time, though only for a second. Then she checked her wrist in an exaggerated motion and, although there had been no glint from a watch the whole night, said, “Well, it’s getting pretty late. I have work in the morning, so I should get going.”
“That’s probably not a bad idea. I have school tomorrow too.”
“Should we, uh, head back, then, I guess?” She stood up, but seemed unwilling to make eye contact again so the younger girl shook her head.
“You go, I’m going to stay and listen to the waves a little bit longer.” She didn’t watch as the older girl shifted her weight from side to side, as though wanting to say anything else. She had said her piece, they both had, and goodbyes were a formality neither of them needed.
Eventually, the elder turned away from the water.
“Thanks,” was all she said before she slipped out of sight, sand crunching beneath her feet.
The two girls were not friends. They did not know each other well enough to be friends, and never would. But they were close, and they could confide in each other. Time would move on, with or without them, and the two would keep meeting like this for many years to come.