"You have to make a choice." My knuckles are almost as white as the marble counter they clutch. I stare deeply into the mirror, unable to see myself in it. Inside the pristine glass, I see two people, two friends. I know that I am the one speaking, but they are presenting the demand.
I've known these people for so long. They've been there since, well, forever. Yet the two remained separate, two worlds divided.
I've kept a foot in both worlds, but my grip is failing. The gravity of their importance to me has drawn them together, and soon they will collide.
No, they won't. I've lasted this long. I can make it through this.
"Lainey?" Hope's looking for me. I can almost see her inquisitive blue eyes as she wonders why I've spent five minutes in the bathroom. She'll be twirling a lock of dirty blond hair around a fingertip.
I close my eyes, sighing happily. I smile softly. "Coming!" I turn the corner too quickly, and we're nose to nose.
Hope releases a startled laugh and the tension breaks. She wraps an arm around my shoulders, leading me to my bedroom.
We sit, and she chatters while I listen with rapt attention. Hope and I have been confidantes since preschool when the only thing to confide in was what our middle names were. Hers is Kimber. Mine is Elize. Hope often forgets mine and thinks it's Elizabeth, but mine's hard to remember anyway. Hope Kimber Lowe and Lainey Elize Anderson, best friends forever.
Finally, Hope falls silent. Everything is peaceful, and she says, "Tell me a funny story."
I think for a moment. Ghost stories are for field trips. Wild cat tales are for walking the track at P.E. She doesn't request a story when we're on a playdate together. Hope will have me show off my storytelling aptitude for friends of hers because she wants everyone to know how great I am at it. She's thoughtful like that, always looking out for me.
I end up telling her about the time I got in a bike accident outside my front yard. When I'm finished, she demands to see the scars.
I suck in my lower lip, revealing the slight discoloration on the palm of my hand. Hope frowns at the lack of damage, and I've been caught in my fabrications.
She doesn't mention it, but I sense her disapproval. I've run out of wild tales and resorted to fanciful exaggeration.
When her dad comes to pick her up, she's still casting displeased glances towards me. I forego watching her drive away so that I can wallow in shame without prying spectators.
With a dramatic sigh, I faceplant on my bed. I'm only ten years old, and I've already run out of anything of interest. No wonder Hope spends most of her time gossiping with her new friends.
The doorbell's trill reverberates through the house, but I don't get up to answer it. Mommy will get it. If Hope forgot something, then I might have to think about sitting up, but I don't plan on moving until then.
It's muffled, but I can hear the voices at the door. "Hey, Cammie!" I prop myself up on one elbow when I hear my mom's cheerful greeting.
"Hi, Mrs. Anderson. Is Lainey home?" The girl next door, Cameron Sutton, must've run over when she saw Hope leave. Cammie would've been my best friend, but saying so would make Hope mad. We've been neighbors and friends since we were born.
I skip into the foyer in time to hear my mom reply, "Yes, I can go get her."
"I'm here!" I announce, already bounding towards her.
Cammie grins, revealing missing baby teeth. "Awesome! I thought we could play soccer with Sam and Mark."
We both glance towards my mom with pleading eyes, but she doesn't need much persuasion. "Okay, just be careful when you cross the street."
"Yes, ma'am!" we chorus, already skipping next door. We spend the rest of the afternoon kicking Cammie's neon pink soccer ball around with the boys next door until it grows dark.
I flop onto my bed with a sigh, but this time it's a happy one. I turn on my iPad, rubbing a spot on my arm where Cammie shoved me. Sometimes she gets a little too competitive.
I smile when I see I've gotten a text from Hope.
Hope: what r u up 2?
Me: soccer with Cammie Sam and Mark
Hope: u all right? ive been watching tv
Me: sounds like fun. what do u mean am i alright?
Hope: i know cammie can play rough sometimes
Me: oh. im fine
Hope: Liar. u can tell me
Me: its nothing
Hope: whatever u say...
Hope: u need 2 stop letting her push u around
Me: what r u talking about?
Hope: shes always so bossy 2 u and u let her do it
Hope: im just telling u cause i care about u
Hope: shes not a good friend 2 u
Me: gtg. its dinner time. bye.
Hope: bye. think about what i said, ok?
I curl up on my bed, tucking my knees to my chin and nibbling my fingernails. It's not dinnertime yet. She's right; I'm a liar. It's true what she said, about everything really. But Cammie's not a bad person, is she? I massage the bruise on my arm, feeling the light sparks of pain it ignites.
I avoid Cammie for a few days, always making sure to answer the door before my mom so I can tell Cammie I'm busy. I don't know exactly why I do this. I miss her, and I don't have anything to do in the afternoons. Yet every time I consider going over to her house, something stops me.
Weeks pass like this until I have another playdate with Hope, this time at her house. Since she's an only child, only she and her parents live at their house, but it's huge. I've always thought it was a tad bit pretentious, but it's perfect for hide-and-seek.
After a while, Hope gives me a chance to talk. "What have you been up to?"
My mouth moves before I think. "Well, it's been really boring since I haven't been hanging out with Cammie."
I expect her to say, But why? Instead, she nods with approval. "I'm glad you took my advice."
Something tightens in my throat. Cammie's not a bad person. "I didn't take your advice!" Hope's blue eyes narrow. "Cammie's been sick!"
Her voice is like sugar. "Really? I've seen her at school." Her gaze glitters with a challenge. I've been caught in my lie.
"I mean, her brother's been sick. That's why I can't go over to her house."
"You don't have to lie to me, Lainey. You did the right thing, don't second-guess yourself."
"I didn't do the right thing! I've been awful to her."
"You've helped yourself so much, though."
"I've been miserable!"
"You don't need her. You only need me."
"You just want to help yourself!"
Hope shrinks away, eyes cloudy. "Why would you say that to me if you don't mean it?"
"But I do mean it..." I've lost all my anger, though. It was drained as soon as I saw the hurt on her face. My stomach flips at the thought.
I tell her dad I feel nauseous and I need to go home, and he readily agrees, not wanting his daughter to get whatever I have. Hope watches me as I tell him, and I can read the accusation in her eyes. Liar.
When I get home, I immediately run next door to Cammie's. I rap on the door three times and step off the doormat just like my mom taught me to do. Through the translucent window, I can discern the silhouette of Cammie, but she recognizes me too.
She stops and walks away.
I knock once more even though it's rude, and she slams open the door. "Hi, Cammie!"
"What do you want?"
"You've been ignoring me for weeks and then you just show up like nothing ever happened!"
When I meet her eyes, her gaze is forlorn. “How do I know you’re telling the truth?”
How can I make her believe me? Do I even know if I’m lying? I regret hurting her, but would I do it all over again? I can’t follow that train of thought because I’m afraid of the truth, the truth I hold in the darkest and most desperate depths of my heart and soul. The best I can do is to tell her the whole story, try to make her understand. “It all begins when Hope-”
“Lemme stop you right there.” Her expression is tired, like a traveler walking in circles. “I don’t want to hear you talk about ‘Hope this’ and ‘Hope that’. I’ve heard enough about how great she is. I’ve heard enough to know nothing is going to change. This isn’t the first time you’ve done this to me.”
Cammie shuts the door gently, and my footsteps are quiet as I walk away. I’ve lost everything that matters to me. I’ve spent so much of my life trying to please and placate others that I don’t remember how to be happy for myself. What do I do for fun? I don’t have any hobbies or play any sports.
I listen to my soft footfalls. Each step forms a familiar word: liar, liar, liar, liar.
I freeze, and the chant stops. The afternoon sun has disappeared behind the treeline, casting me in darkness. I slowly ease my shoe down from heel to toe. Li-ar. I can’t bear to hear the sharp words any longer, and I become perfectly still.
I guess I’ve made my choice.