I stare at the phone in my quaking hands. It isn’t a device today; it’s the devil.
“You lied to me. Again.”
That’s the message I have typed out on the screen. There’s a ball of anxiety in my stomach, making it hard to breathe, and I can’t stop shaking.
If I send it, there’s bound to be another argument. That’s all we seem to do anymore is argue. Even simple little questions are met with acerbic responses, as if we’re both trigger-happy Old West gunfighters, each waiting for high noon so we can shoot.
But maybe it’s another chance to salvage the relationship. Maybe this time, Francine will listen. Maybe this time, I’ll be able to reach into her body and bring back the Francie I love—not the Francine whose words, whose lies are more painful than any bullet.
And if I don’t reply?
What will my life look like without Francie?
We met at a birthday party when we were both ten years old.
“My name’s Francine Turner.”
“Hi, Francine. My name’s Sophie Lawrence.”
Those minutiae of our introductions have slipped my mind; I don’t know who spoke first, how we even ended up in the same vicinity. Maybe we tried to escape to the same corner, as socially awkward and shy people tend to do. Regardless, it was what came next that mattered.
We immediately dove into our imaginations. We raced around the backyard in our own little world. That is, until Francie slipped and fell into the mud, and the stick that I’d been using as my pirate sword was taken by Blackbeard (aka, a ruthless birthday bully) and snapped in half.
You may think you’re petty, but it’s been fourteen years, and I’ve never gotten over that kid that took my stick.
It didn’t matter. A muddy bottom and a mutual enemy was all it took to solidify us as lifelong friends.
Or so I thought.
Looking back, my first warning sign came that inaugural week. We both rode bikes all over our neighborhood and, as we were parting, we mentioned that a sleepover soon would be a wonderful idea.
Francie’s mother called mine that very night and said that she gave her permission for her daughter to stay the night, but that she wanted to talk first, just to make sure everything was on the up-and-up.
I remember sitting in the backseat of the car as my mother stared me down in the mirror during their chat. Then she hung up and said, “You know the rules, Sophie. You’re supposed to clear any plans with me first. What if I’d been busy? Why did you ask Francine to spend the night without asking me first?”
“I didn’t?” I squeaked out.
“That’s not what Francine’s mother told me. She said you invited Francine over Friday.”
I hadn’t. I knew the rules. But that didn’t matter, the damage had been done. I was in trouble for an unplanned sleepover, but the date was set in stone.
Isn’t it funny, the things you remember? I remember Francie coming over that first night and my mother braiding her hair, complimenting how pretty it was. And I remember staring at my new friend and thinking, “You lied. You lied and got me in trouble.”
But every friend has their troubles, and that didn’t stand in between Francie and I. I forgave Francie without even telling her I had been upset at her white lie; she was too fun not to. We played pirates in my pool and Little League softball; Francie cried when we were put on separate teams and begged our coach to be placed with me. I felt honored—maybe a little embarrassed, but so honored that my new friend cared that much. And being on the same team was wonderful. We looked so similar that everyone thought we were sisters: red hair with green eyes, though my messy curls were more auburn, and hers was bright, fire red that glowed golden in the sunlight.
I denied it the first time someone asked, told them that we were just best friends.
Francie overheard, and together, we schemed: what if we told everyone we were sisters? Twin sisters, to be exact. It wasn’t a white lie; it was a fanciful story from our imaginations. We even created several scenarios in which we could have actually been separated at birth, although, unfortunately, there was staggering evidence against this theory.
But that was only one of the stories and worlds we created.
We lived in our imaginations more often than our homes on the street. Winter was a time of snowmen, snowballs, and adventures in Narnia (or the frozen tundra). Fall held whispered stories, building fairy houses over fallen leaves, dreaming of one day having a tree-house of our own which never came to fruition. Summer held pool parties and boating excursions; we both loved Avatar: The Last Airbender and pretended to be waterbenders and firebenders as we played on the water. We explored deserted islands, wrote books together, and played dolls. Once we outgrew playing with dolls, we still wrote stories about our old playthings. We were also actresses in our own countless plays, musicals, and silly dance routines.
We also spent some time in the real world. Slumber parties (which were mostly just excuses to escape into Netflix or our created worlds) were frequent, ballgames (both ones we played in and ones we just spectated) were hilarious, road trips, concerts, and writing conventions. Each of these created innumerable memories and laughs, some that I have probably forgotten over the years, but everything is cherished.
Years and years passed like this: beautiful, sunshine-filled years…
...But there were storm clouds.
Sometimes, during our plays, Francie would laugh when I tried to sing, or make subtle, backhanded comments about how talented she was. And what could I say? It was true. She was a phenomenal singer, and I was average, at best. I became so self-conscious that I didn’t want to sing in front of her; when I did, I was wracked with nerves. What would she think? Was I just embarrassing myself?
Backhanded compliments were her modus operandi. I never felt secure in my writing, in my acting, in my singing around her. Sometimes, even the way I dressed or did my hair. She was beautiful and didn’t have wild, unruly curls to deal with. She bragged about how boys congregated to her, how random waiters wanted her number. Had I ever had a waiter ask me my number?
But Francie was my best friend. It was my self-consciousness that made me insecure, not her words. I’m sure Francie didn’t really think I was ugly and a terrible writer, actor, and singer.
Even worse than the backhanded comments were the fights. The terrible brawls in which she came in, prepared for high-noon each and every time. Times when she yelled at me to the point that I was in tears, times when her burning anger sent me scurrying behind various furniture to hide and sob. One time, Francie got so mad at me that I remember her yelling: “I wish you’d stop doing that!”
Stop doing what? I thought at the time. Stop being upset that you’re hot and cold towards me, either yelling at me or shutting me out?
But years of reflecting on the situation has made me wiser. Francie may have had mood swings, but I was passive-aggressive. There were many times Francie had done something that I disliked or that offended me, but instead of trying to work it out, I shelled up and tried to leave hints that I was upset. I wanted her to apologize, wanted her to know that I was hurting. So I would leave little bread crumbs of clues instead of being a big girl and getting it all out.
That meant, of course, that Francie only got angrier at me. She hated my passive-aggressiveness and called me out on it, as she has every right to. I was (and, to tell the truth, still am) bossy; I am the youngest girl out of my family and I’m more used to getting my way and being in charge than anyone ought to be. I’ve tried to curb that in recent years, but somehow, all of these dirty habits reared their heads whenever Francie and I would get into arguments. We’d stay up for all hours of the night on the occasions we had fights, fingers flying as we tapped out texts, trying to work things out that we’d already worked out before. Every instance would leave me soul-tired the next day—not to mention physically exhausted from the late hour and getting up early for school—because I knew that it would never change. Promises would be made and broken, the same excuses would be given, the same assurances from me, and...back into the old habits we’d fall.
The worst of these habits was jealousy. It reared its head early, like a viper in the sand, and I, being a clueless tourist on a walkabout, did not see its deadly fangs until they were plunged into my leg.
My mother always said that Francie was jealous of me. Jealous for me and jealous of me—like a hydra of a viper. She often broke down into sobs if I tried to talk to anyone else or would give me the silent treatment—or worse, blow up at me and tell me I was ignoring her. But she was allowed to have other friends and talked incessantly about them. Her other friends did this, her other friends did that. But when I mentioned doing something with someone else, she clammed up or went into hysterics. Eventually, she stopped asking me what I was doing or how my days were. I confronted her once and told her how much that hurt my feelings. She responded with: “well, it makes me feel bad if you ever do things with other people.”
To this day, she’s yet to ask me how I am or what I’m doing. And, when I ask these questions as of late, I’m made to feel like I’m annoying. Why am I being so nosy? Why do I have to know? Why do I always have to butt into her business?
I quickly learned: I was not allowed to have any other friends, save Francie. And she was a good friend. Remember the sunshine years, the days filled with laughter, of inside jokes and slumber parties and whispered dreams about what it might look like when we grew up. She knew everything about me, and I, her. Why did I need anyone else?
I soon found out why when we reached the dating stage.
Francie got asked out first. I remember going over to her house when she was in the initial stages of getting to know him; she sat on her phone and ignored me to chat with him. But that was fine. That was one time. As was her first date: I was a bit—a lot—upset that we were growing up and changing, that we weren’t kids anymore and she would probably get married and have kids before I found anyone. I sat on my lawn and watched for this New Intruder’s car, so that I could memorize what it looked like. I even texted Francie and told her that if he was a creep, she could text me and I would come rescue her.
He was not a creep.
I did not get a text, and Francie thoroughly enjoyed her time.
I, though, began to feel the poison of that jealous snake inside my veins for the first time.
I had made Francie the center of my world by her request.
She had not returned the favor.
Instead, she waltzed out, and my solar system was suddenly off-kilter.
I texted on Monday to make plans for the weekend. I was told that it was too far out; she didn’t want to make plans with me because he might ask her to do something.
I asked on Tuesday, still too far. But I had to ask before Friday itself, because Francie hated last-minute plans and would gripe and back out. She would claim that she didn’t have enough time to prepare, that it was too much of a hassle, and why hadn’t I asked in advance?
Wednesday had similar results, and the poison clouded my brain. How come I was forced to put up with being shafted? If I tried this on her, why, the cold shoulders I’d get, the verbal lashings—I’d been through them enough, and that had been with just friends. But, no: when Francie had a boyfriend, suddenly I was second-best.
Thursday, he’d yet to ask her, so she finally acquiesced. By Thursday night, though, she was feeling sick and wanted to cancel.
I was suspicious. Did she want to cancel because she really felt sick, or had he asked her out?
My answer came a little bit later.
He’d asked her to do something, but not until after we’d canceled.
Sure, I thought. I was almost a snake myself. I could have been hissing, tail flicking in the air.
Oh, and could she borrow an outfit?
An outfit? For a date she had canceled our plans for?
Jealousy is a wicked, wicked thing. There’s a reason the Bible warns against it so much, because it can make you petty, childish, and immature.
Worst of all, it can ruin relationships.
Francie did not end up dating him much longer than that, but my panic attacks and freakouts at losing her had enduring consequences. Francie never forgave me, I think, for not being supportive of her relationship. Maybe, just like I hid the things I did so as not to upset her, she hid things from me as well. She became more secretive and withdrew, which just brought out my nasty habits more. I wanted us to be as close as we once were, but she just kept slipping farther and farther away. She told me nothing. Her lies become more numerous, and the Francie I’d spent my childhood with had died. More accurately, I’d killed her with my own venomous jealousy.
She suddenly went solo to writing conventions that we’d both gone to in the past. Then she refused to tell me about it; I always found out through mutual connections. I told her the first time that it upset me, so the next time, she told everyone not to tell me, specifically. And when I asked that day what she was doing, she said she was “somewhere with her parents.”
I asked what their plans were. She lied to my face. Made me believe she was somewhere that her parents wanted to be, at some antique show or something of the sort. Then she told me she changed the date of her birthday party; I saw pictures on Instagram of her birthday cake and presents that night.
I would fight back at these offenses, either by passive-aggressive means or all-out war, depending on how acutely I felt lied to. With every fight, she would turtle, shut me out, when all I wanted was to get her back. To save her. I missed her with a fierce longing. Then, she started to ignore me without warning and then lie about it. One time she told me she was grounded and went two weeks without talking to me. I eventually asked her mom sheepishly when she would be ungrounded.
“What are you talking about? Francine isn’t grounded.”
I sobbed in Francie’s living room that day.
“Sometimes you treat me like I don’t even have feelings!”
Francie cried, too. “I’m so, so sorry. I just—I don't know why I do it. I’ll be better. You’re my best friend. I love you.”
This was our cycle, lather, rinse, repeat.
If only the highs weren’t so high; if only the lows weren’t so low. Maybe then we could sever ties like we needed to: our friendship had evolved from thrilling to tumultuous to toxic, but we kept brawling because we remembered the past too fondly. Each of us remembered listening to music in the back of her grandpa’s truck, splitting a pair of headphones between us, as we listened to Cyndi Lauper sing Time After Time.
“This is our song,” Francie whispered as we stared up at the clouds. “Because we always get into such terrible fights, but we always are there for each other. Because we’re best friends. Time after time.”
Time after time.
I fought for her, time after time.
We laughed together, made memories together, time after time.
We used to bring out the best in each other; now, we only bring out the worst. Time. After. Time.
I stare at the message until it bleeds together through my tears. Another lie. Another huge secret. Another lie to cover up her lies.
I know what I have to do. I know what the best thing is to do, even if it may be the last thing my heart wants to do.
My heart wants to fight, to try and get things the way they were before, but my brain accepts the fact: I’ve been fighting—and losing—for almost four years now. I’m extremely grateful for our friendship, but it’s not the same anymore. We’ve both changed too much for it to function. Any more and we’ll just sully the luster of those years.
The best way to say thank you is to leave it unsaid. To walk away with a suitcase of memories—but knowing that, for better or for worse, part of my heart will always be in those summer days. So I compose one more message, not on my phone, but in my head, and send it to her by closing my eyes.
I’m sorry, Francie.