One summer when they were kids, Nadine struck gold and found a whole five dollar bill in between the couch cushions, along with one of Darian’s old action figures, missing a head, and a dusty pizza delivery menu. It was enough for two extra large Slurpees from 7-11 with change left over.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” said Krista, as Nadine was filling her plastic cup with as many different flavours as would fit. “I don’t know if we can finish these.”
“It’s a great idea,” Nadine said. The clerk was giving her the stinkeye. “You’ll see.”
Krista was ten. Nadine was still two weeks shy of her own birthday, and she hated it, being officially behind in years. Having to catch up. For some reason, though, Krista could always tell when she was feeling particularly bummed out over it. Like now.
“It’s okay,” Krista told her. “It’s just two more weeks. Then we’ll be the same again.”
Nadine thought about it. Two weeks. That was all that separated them, then. It didn’t seem so far.
“Okay,” said nine-year-old Nadine, and filled up Krista’s cup, too.
They didn’t even make it out of the store before they got brainfreeze. The kicker was that they had to finish the whole thing before they could go home, or else their parents would see, and then they’d get in trouble.
“I told you it was a bad idea,” Krista said. Her tongue was bright orange.
“No,” Nadine insisted, “you’ll see,” even as her throat was stinging from the cold. All the hurt of it went straight to her head. She swallowed it down anyways, and licked the sugar from her lips.
They still got found out when Nadine got home and then promptly threw up all over her mother’s high heeled shoes left in the doorway. Her father laughed. Her mother didn’t. She was grounded for two weeks. It didn’t matter, though, because by the time she ran out to meet Krista afterward, they were the same again.
Of course it wasn’t until Krista was gone that Nadine realized she’d measured her whole life by her. If a joke was just funny, or nasty enough to make Krista laugh so hard she choked on her lunch and her eyes and nose all crinkled up. If a secret was a typical, run-of-the-mill sadness everyone else shared too, or something really wrong, wrong enough for Krista to get that soft look in her eyes. How far Nadine had gone, and how much more she could go.
It wasn’t so much that Krista’s opinion represented everyone else’s like a litmus test of social acceptability: it was that Krista’s was the only one that mattered. She’d been there for her since second grade, after all. Side by side through it all. Most of all Krista had looked at Nadine, and chosen her. And now she was choosing Darian, just like everyone else.
“You don’t know anything, Nadine,” Krista was saying, cheeks flushed red with anger, and some part of Nadine’s mind was thinking, yeah, and that’s your fault, because how am I supposed to know how shit works without you here? How am I supposed to know when I’m too far gone?
Then Krista was storming away, leaving her alone at her locker, and Nadine thought, oh. Maybe that was how.
She slammed her locker door shut, just to hear it echo in the empty hallway. Afterward, though, the silence felt even worse. It rang in her ears all through the day until she couldn’t stand it anymore, had to actualize it into words. Anything, as long as it came out as noise.
“God,” she said, staring her brother down. “Do you even know what it feels like to love another human being?”
Not like me, you don’t, she thought. I dare you. I dare you to try and tell me otherwise. A love like that—you don’t even know.
Later, though, nursing a Slurpee to her wounded pride on the sidewalk, Nadine couldn’t help but think. Krista had had that love, all to herself. And then she’d gone with Darian’s instead.
Nadine dumped the rest of the Slurpee into some bushes, and caught sight of the Petland in the distance, glowing like a sign.
Without Krista, Nadine had nothing left. Not her brother or her mother or the dead space where her father used to be, and not their stupid house with Krista in Darian’s room instead of Nadine’s. She didn’t have anyone to herself, not anymore. She went to pester Mr. Bruner at lunch, just to pretend she did. God, that was so sad. She felt like flowers uprooted from the dirt. Cut off too soon and left to rot, even as the sun kept shining all around her. And still everyone could only see the colours of her petals. Couldn’t see why she was dying out.
In class Erwin peered at her from his desk, a little nervous, a little curious. He didn’t look away.
That was a first, Nadine thought.
It made her feel a bit better. A little powerful. Without anyone to drag her down, she could do anything, really. She could do something stupid. She could do something crazy. She could do something that’d show them all how much they’d regret leaving her behind.
She went home and dug the ice cream tub out of the freezer. Without all of them, she still had herself. Didn’t she?
Just the thought of it made her have to go pop one of the antidepressants from the bottle buried deep within the bathroom drawer.
In hindsight it impressed her a little, just how badly she could fuck up her own life. Just when she’d thought she’d gone past the point of no return—boom! Turned out there were a couple more miles left in that gas tank she’d thought was running on empty.
If she’d had Krista—if she’d had Krista, she wouldn’t have gone on this far—
But the truth was, she’d enjoyed some of it. Making everyone else just as miserable as she was. Taking them all down with her, in her collapse. Going supernova. The burnout had been brighter than she’d thought possible.
Except now she was in the middle of nowhere with rain washing down her makeup-streaked face and her newly shaved legs and all she could think was that she wanted to get as far away as possible. From this place. From herself.
But she was stuck with herself.
God, a break, she thought. A break from this all. That’s all I want.
She eyed the traffic lights blearily through her tears. Cars on the street like a smear of light in the distance. It would be so easy. So much easier than calling anyone to pick her up like this, and having to look them in the eye.
But the poor drivers, and the road workers, and the paramedics. The witnesses. All helpless, like Nadine had been, in the shotgun seat all those years ago, though it felt like just yesterday. And then her mother, getting the call, again.
A kind of love that wasn’t selfish. Nadine didn’t know if she was capable of it. She’d never learned how.
But she knew it had to exist, because of her dad, and because Krista had put up with her all those years, and because there was a slip of paper in her purse with a scrawled phone number on it.
It took everything in her, but with trembling hands, Nadine took out her phone, and dialed.
“Your friends are all really cool,” Nadine told Erwin, after the film festival. They were getting fast food for lunch, crammed together on the same side of the booth. She was stealing his fries, and he was pretending not to notice.
“Thank you,” Erwin said seriously. “I try.”
Nadine snorted, punched him in the arm. “You know what I mean.”
“What about you,” Erwin said. “Tell me about your friends.”
“Oh,” Nadine said. “Uh.”
Erwin raised an eyebrow. “Wow,” he said. “That’s such an interesting name. Can’t wait to meet them.”
“No, shut up,” Nadine said, punching his arm again, “it’s just that—well. I kind of only have one friend.”
It wasn’t that, though Erwin was awfully magnanimous about it. It was that Nadine didn’t have the words for she slept over at my house and wiped the tears from my eyes in my sleep for a week after my father died. Somehow she didn’t think the word “friend” was enough.
“She’ll love you, don’t worry,” Nadine said instead, and let Erwin preen about that as she stole the last of his fries.
When Krista turned seventeen she threw a party. Nadine was invited. So were twelve other people, including her brother. She showed up with Erwin.
“Oh, you were right,” Krista said. “He is cute.” She was wearing a party hat. Darian had his arm around her waist. She was laughing at something he'd said to her, something that made her eyes and nose all crinkle up.
Nadine still felt like flowers that had been torn up too soon, except now grafted back into life. It hurt, but all growing did. She knew that, now. Just something else Krista had taught her.
“You said I was cute?” Erwin said. “Oh, great. First I’m old, now I’m cute. Thanks so much.”
He looked kind of pleased about it, though. Lifted his forkful of birthday cake and tried to feed Nadine with it. “Say ahh,” he said.
Two weeks, thought Nadine, and swallowed all that sweetness down.