You laugh as they wheel them out to the car. They’re your best friend and you love them to death, maybe even beyond it, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that they remind you of Alvin the Chipmunk right now. You guys are at the Maxillofacial surgeon’s office in town today, and they’ve just been released from surgery. Wisdom teeth. It’s funny because a month earlier you got your wisdom teeth out and your mom drove. Your best friend was busy. They had practice, and heaven forbid you come between them and their extracurriculars. Now you’re in the parking lot, though, and you feel like you’ve done your part so far. The nurse comes around to the window after helping your friend into the car and you roll down the window. It sticks, because your car is old, but the nurse doesn’t mind. She’s super pretty, with bright red shellacked nails and thick eyelashes. You can’t see the rest of her face because of her mask, but you can fill in the blanks. Slowly, you’re getting better at mentally adding the details you can’t see behind the masks everyone (should be or) is wearing.
“Here’s the checklist.” She hands you the paper and you thank her while reading over the rules for the next few days. “Make sure you follow it! You don’t want any infections or excess swelling. Is this,” she points at the address on the bottom of the paper, “The correct pharmacy?”
“Mmm hm, yeah.” Your hand is resting on your friend’s leg because they’re shaking, faster than a jackhammer on the Fourth of July. “Thank you so much!” You know the nurse’ll think you mean for taking care of your friend, but you mean in general. The nurses… man, you can’t compute how hard they’re working right now. It’s been a rough year, but it’s helped your gratitude levels skyrocket.
“Alright. You guys have a good day!” The nurse walks back into the office and your turn to the passenger’s side of the car. Ky looks sleepy. They don’t say anything, not yet, and you promised you wouldn’t record after the surgery so your phone stays in your pocket.
“How’re you feeling?” You ask, relocating both hands back to the steering wheel.
Ky’s head bounces off the back of the headrest. “Ugly. My face hurts.”
“You’re never ugly, Ky.” You aren’t lying. You don’t lie. “Just a little swollen around the edges today.” You’d never tell them, but the way their usually sharp angles are softened today makes you smile, wonder what they were like as a baby. “Want to stop by the store and get yogurt?”
“No. I want a hamburger.”
“That’s not on the checklist.”
Ky’s eyes roll. It’s good to see no IV could ever erase the prevalent sarcasm running through their veins. “You aren’t on the checklist either and you’re still here.” Ky leans over in the seat and sighs, focused on the side of your face. With light fingers, their fingers trace your jawline. You don’t move. It’s the same thing you would do for a butterfly. You stay still when it lands and wait till it’s gone to wonder why it chose you, at least for a moment. “You’re always here.”
“And, God willing, I always will be.” You pat their fingers with your free hand. They’re cold, like left out overnight cheese sticks. “Why are your hands always so cold?”
“Dunno.” Ky moves their hand and presses it up against their lips. “Am I okayyy? Where are my lips?” Their fingers slide back to their cheeks and you can sense the panic rising. “My face is gone. My mouth is full but I was never eating.” Ky turns to you, stricken. “I don’t think I’ve eaten since last night.”
“That’s right. You had to fast for a while so they could take your teeth out.”
“Who took my teeth? Where’d they take them to?”
“The doctor took them and probably put them in the trash. That was why you were in surgery. Those teeth- well, those were your wisdom teeth. They’re supposed to come out.”
“But why?” Ky starts to cry. You reach over and they grab your hand, sharp bones cracking into your palm. “Why did you let them take my teeth? They’re mine. I want them back.”
“You can’t have them back. You don’t need them. Hey, look, I bet your mouth is starting to hurt. Let’s get home so we can take that gauze out and then you can have some ice cream. What flavor do you want?”
“Guess. You’re my best friend. You know. You know everything.” Ky stares at the ceiling. “But there’s actually one thing you don’t know.”
You know you shouldn’t ask what it is. Ky’s in a vulnerable state. It wouldn’t be fair and yet, you’re curious by tendency. You ask, “What could that be?”
“I just like you, is all.”
You think about pulling the car over and jumping in the nearest ditch. Did you hear that correctly? Dang. This is why you should never have asked. They wouldn’t have told you if you didn’t ask but you did and now… now you know. Over seven years and they never told you. Just to verify, you ask again. “Repeat that?”
Ky leans over again and you’re suddenly very aware of space. Specifically how little of your own you have in the moment. “I said, I like you,” Ky repeats, “And it’s okay you know that now, I think. You know me best and I never know if I know you at all.” They lower their glasses at you. “I still like what you let me know, though. And I always listen. You think I don’t because I seem distracted but I make time for you. I do.”
“Yeah.” You don’t know what else to say. You don’t pull over but you’re not sure how you’re driving in a straight line anymore either. “Ky,” you start, “Ky, you don’t like me. It’s just the medicine. It’ll make you say funny things for a while. But we’re, um, we’re friends. Alright? You and me? We’re friends. Best friends.”
“My mom says my dad is her best friend. Can’t we be like that? Can’t I love you,” you jump at the l word, “and be your best friend too? Let’s buy a house, okay? And you can decorate the yard and I’ll do the kitchen and it’ll be so nice.” Ky still has your hand in theirs. You’re frozen. It reminds you that you need to be getting ice cream. “It’ll be so nice, won’t it?”
“We can’t do that. Friends don’t decorate houses together. What kind of ice cream do you want?” The subject changing weighs heavy on your chest. You remember you’re wearing Ky’s jacket. It smells like lavender and Cool Whip and Ky’s mom’s laundry detergent. You want to take it off. But it’s warm. You keep it on. “Chocolate? Vanilla? Strawberry?” You know Ky lives for Rocky Road. You don’t say it because you don’t want to dig the hole further. You don’t want them to think you keep a list of their favorites in your wallet. “Lemon?”
“I hate lemon.” Ky is wounded by your ineffective suggestions.
“I’m allergic to kiwi!”
Maybe that was a step too far. You don’t want Ky to hate you. “Sorry, I’ll get Rocky Road.” Ky shoots finger guns in your direction. “But it may be hard to eat with your mouth like that.” You couldn’t eat anything but chicken broth when you got your wisdom teeth out.
“Like what?” Ky’s already forgotten about the surgery. Again. If only they’d forget what they said to you minutes earlier, too. “What’s wrong with my mouth?”
“It’s swollen. You just got your wisdom teeth out. Remember?”
“No. I don’t. Well, kind of. Doesn’t that make you say weird crap sometimes, though? You’re not recording. You said you wouldn’t.”
And you still aren’t, thank goodness. The only thing that would make this worse is if you’d gotten Ky saying the dreaded words on permanent display. Then when someone asked to see the video, you’d have to say it’d been deleted. You wouldn’t have gotten rid of it though, because you’d be playing it late at night. Like a broken record until your phone died and your housemates yelled at you to go to bed, you’d listen to Ky saying, “I just like you, is all.” You’d spin out. You’d crash. Ah, but you can’t think of crashing now. Not while you’re driving. How stupid would that be?
“No, I’m not recording. I’ll tell you some of the things you said later, if you want.”
“That’s okay. I already know I said what mattered most. Are we going to get ice cream, though? My head hurts.” Ky pokes their eye. “Ow. Not numb.” You laugh, of course their eyes aren’t numb. What kind of surgeon would numb your eyes to yank teeth from your skull? That would be weird. Not as weird, you think, as Ky practically confessing that they love you in the passenger seat of your mom’s old truck. The floor of the vehicle is still sticky with melted Jolly Ranchers, from when Ky left their bag of them over three days last summer. That’s one of the reasons your mom wouldn’t sell the car. It wasn’t in good shape, but at least it was in good hands.
“Yeah, we’re going to your house first, though. Then I’ll go get the ice cream and you can rest awhile. Sounds like a plan?” You don’t want to take the gauze out of their mouth. You hate blood. Blood is slick and gross and you know in the back of your mind that it’s one of the most important things ever, but that doesn’t mean you like it. You can appreciate the existence of something without liking it, you figure.
Ky’s bleary smile jolts you. Your best friend is so pretty even now, with a face full of bloody cotton and dark circles forming around their eyes. And to be smiling through it all, well, it just reminds you that for whatever reason, you make them happy. You can’t imagine why, but you actually can, and that makes everything more complicated. You’re worthy of love and stuff. It’s. Just. You can’t take it from Ky. Especially not on a medication induced whim. Especially not three days after a wild holiday party in which you almost ended up bailing Ky out of a cold jail cell.
“Sounds like a wonderful plan.” Ky’s lips are dabbed with droplets of rosy, pearling blood but you hand them a paper towel.
“Um, maybe wipe the corners of your mouth. There’s some blood,” you point to the corners of your own mouth with your pinky, “There.” Ky grabs your hand. “Let go of my hand, please, I’m driving.”
“I can’t feel my face.”
“Well,” you reach up and pull the car mirror down, “Look up there and then you won’t have to feel it. You can see it.”
“But I want you to help me. Please? I’m so tired. My head hurts and I kinda want my mom… Isn’t that weird?” You take the paper towel from Ky, swipe at the blood dripping from their stitched up gums, and then shake your head.
“It’s not weird to want your mom when you’re sick. That’s pretty normal. Moms are super good at taking care of us when we’re sick.”
“Mmm yeah, but so are you. Else why would you have come with me? You’re so good. The best.” Ky starts to sing something soft under their breath. You don’t, this time, ask what it is. “What do you want to name our kids?”
“What?” Your car bounces into the next lane over and you have to whip it back into the right one quicker than succotash on a summer’s sweet Sunday. “We aren’t having kids.” You may be having kids on your own, and you figure if Ky wants kids they’ll find someone eventually, but it won’t be a joint- you don’t even want to think about that. Here is your best friend, your precious partner in crime who you would undeniably die for, and they’re confessing that they love you but, like, love love.
You wish you couldn’t say the exact same thing and it be 100% true.
As you pull into Ky’s driveway and hop out of the car to help them inside, you hope they forget all about the ride home; what they said and what you couldn’t say, not even with the anaesthesia fumes crawling up your nose.
Ky’s body is warm against yours as the two of you make your way inside the house. Their hands are still frosty, but yours have been tucked in the pockets of their jacket for so long they’ve pretty much forgotten what winter is. The door swings open and Ky’s mom is there. She takes your friend by the arm, gentle as only mothers can be, and you watch them disappear around the bend to Ky’s room. Their mom pops her head back around the corner, “Did you want to come in, sweetheart? I’m sure Ky won’t mind the company.”
You aren’t about to say no to this woman. She practically raised you alongside your own parents. “Sure, I’ll be right there.” You shove your keys into your, well, Ky’s jacket and then start down the hall. As you do, you smell cookies and your nose follows the aroma straight to the oven. Ky’s mom grins and puts her hands on her hips.
“You want some? Ky can’t have them.”
“What kind are they? Oh dang, actually, I promised I’d go get ice cream.” You start back out to the driveway, but Ky’s mom stops you.
“We have some here.”
She nods, “Of course. Now let me go get you some of these cookies.” She slips on her oven mitts and pulls the oven door open. “These are my grandad’s recipe, see, and I only make them when I feel like something important is about to happen.” She sets the rack on the counter and starts pulling the cookies off onto a plate. “Did something important happen?
“Um, no.” You shake your head and sit down, keys jingling in your pocket. “Nothing really. How about for you?”
“Don’t change the subject. Ky said something really interesting on our way inside. You have any idea what that could have been?”
Please don’t be about the party, please don’t be about the party. “No, ma’am.”
“So you didn’t agree to get married and move to Italy? Or to name your three children after the Beatles?”
“Haha, nope. Ky said, well, I know people come out of surgery with all sorts of crazy ideas, so it’s hard to tell what’s really true or not, Mrs. Friar.”
She pushes the plate of cookies at you. “This some kind of truth serum?” You’re trying to be funny because the honest fact is that your heart is beating out of your ribcage and you aren’t even the one pumped full of medicine. “I’m not lying to you.”
“Maybe you’re lying to yourself, then. Eat a cookie. I made them by memory. This recipe has been passed down from generation to generation solely by the keen power of observation and memorization. One day, you could learn it too.”
“Why? Do best friends get included in the secret recipe sharing?”
“No. But you do.” Mrs. Friar takes a bite out of one of her cookies. You follow her lead. “I’ll be in the laundry room if you need anything. When you go back to Ky’s room, bring a bowl of ice cream, okay? The gauze is taken care of and Mr. Friar’s on his way home with the medicine.”
The cookie is magic. It’s not chocolate but it’s not anything other than chocolate, either. It’s like eating a mouthful of glittery, wonderful, heartmending dreams. You finish one and then reach for another. This one is even better than the last. You hope Mrs. Friar meant it when she said they were for you because soon enough, they’re all gone. Your stomach should weigh about seven more pounds but instead you feel light, like someone’s taken an air pump to your chest and filled you up till your heart is so tight with good things it hurts to not smile. Dang, you think, as you grab the bowl of ice cream for Ky. No wonder that kid has so many dates. Even if you’d never met them a day before in your life, you would want to stay just for another plate, for another taste of that magic incarnate.
Ky’s jacket feels right around your body.
You pull it closer around your shoulders and start down the hallway.
Ky is asleep when you reach the room, so instead of waking them up, you write a note and leave it by their bed.
call me, you write, cause we need to talk about those cookies.