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Submitted into Contest #156 in response to: Write a story about a pathological liar.... view prompt

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Coming of Age Friendship Fiction

She collected friends in the summertime like butterflies pinned to a sheet. They were locked under her glass frame, and her claw-like fingernails drove each one into the white canvas behind them so that they spread their wings but only to look pretty, never to fly away.  

She told them things she thought they’d want to hear. Pretended to be interested in their everyday affairs. Asked about their parents, but looked down when they started to explain their father’s visit to the hospital or their mother’s stint in rehab. When her friends explained that they had a sister in high school, she would laugh and say that her sister was a straight-A student, and then the conversation would be over.  

Her name was Marion, like the maid. Her parents were in medicine or sales or law or something where they made a fine amount of money and loaded it all onto a debit card, which they handed straight to her. She spent it on things she thought she wanted, like running clothes when the air turned crisp and the good local trails were covered in fallen leaves. It was too bad she hated running.  

She majored in creative writing and wrote stories about herself in different clothes; as a schoolteacher, as a knight in a fairy tale, as a single mom. She would never write about anything else. 

She lived with two: Ev and Leila, who strained their delicate wings against her pin-nails. They laughed with her until they realized what she told them wasn’t funny. They understood what she said until one day, they realized that she didn’t make any sense. They unfurled her. Marion tried to stuff them all into her pocket; she tried to keep them, but no one can be kept. They strained against her heavy hand. At the beginning of all this, they had all been fine. That is, as fine as you can be with a group of three.

Ev liked animals. She studied the way they moved and acted, and kept fish of all hues in her room even though it wasn’t allowed in their apartment. She had liked Marion first. There was something about the way she’d rolled her eyes at her across their crowded freshman orientation; something about the way her hair flashed a different color every month. Red, blue, green, and thin, too, like a wisp of a cloud floating atop her head. Ev wished she could be that drastic with herself. Ev wished she could take risks.  

When she moved into the apartment with Marion and Leila, the girls had bristled. She was an outsider into a clique where she didn’t belong. There was laughter on the first floor and on the second, Ev sat crouched on the dusty carpet watching her fish dart around each other. She named them: Veni, Vidi, Vici, and Paul. Paul liked to swim in circles, and Ev couldn’t help but understand him.  

Eventually, Ev earned her own shelf in the refrigerator. Maybe it was because she shared her Tuesday night taco soup, or because she vacuumed the living room every Sunday morning. It was habit from living with her mother. Regardless, she had enough room for a gallon of milk and a head of lettuce, and that was ambition enough for her. 

Marion didn’t like to butt into stressful situations, so she let Ev fight her way into the tiny group. She watched her from the outskirts, watched her friend flap her wings into smoke. She went into Ev’s room at the end of a night spent with the others and made her feel special, so that Ev would stop watching the fish so much. Eventually, she could join them for movies…but only when Marion was sure that Ev liked her best. That was the way she worked. That was all she wanted; to be the best.  

Could she have imagined that Ev had a wandering mind? When Marion came into her room, it curled up on a rug in the corner and she waited patiently until it had permission to mosey again. When Ev realized that her mind felt stifled, she started taking late night drives, letting her thoughts stick their heads out the windows and feel the breeze. She flapped her wings, but only in the dark. Only when she was alone.  

Leila tried to warm up to her, Ev could tell, but she was hardened by something that she couldn’t figure out. Leila had been collected long ago and didn’t like being replaced or even pushed to the side; but at the same time, she was the only one who had ever had a life of her own outside of Marion. She had friends from high school who took her to parties once the moon settled into the sky, friends that Marion clucked her tongue at and whom Ev was afraid of. Marion would sneak into Ev’s room while she was watching the fishes and gossip about the differing personalities of Leila’s group: one of them had three boyfriends. One of them had been to jail. Leila only spent time with them to make herself feel more like she belonged somewhere.  

“But she belongs with us, you’ll see,” Marion would say, “She’s just a little lost right now.”

One night, Leila missed her bus to Denver and Marion had driven in that direction without offering her a ride. The two leftovers—Ev and Leila—were left alone in an empty frame. Their wings fluttered softly against the glass as they tested each other, avoiding each other’s eating hours so that they didn’t bump elbows while they made lunch or dinner or breakfast. 

As it turned out, Leila liked to run. She liked the feeling of asphalt against her feet and decided that afternoon to race the sunset, but when she emerged from her room, a hard click beside her let her know that Ev was leaving at the same time. She lagged behind her, but when she left the apartment after a minute’s delay, she caught her roommate tying her laces on the front stoop. 

“I like to run,” Ev admitted to her. 

“I know a good trail,” Leila told her reluctantly.  

They didn’t talk. They only huffed beside one another as they pushed themselves through the dwindling light of day. Ev tripped and Leila giggled. Ev pushed Leila into a puddle and she squealed. It was a rudimentary beginning to a friendship, but a beginning nonetheless.  

During their cool-down, with their faces flushed and the stars bright against the backdrop of black, they told each other stories. Ev noticed slightly that Leila always let her finish before talking. Leila noticed that Ev never tried to top her impressive exclamations. They suited one another. The rumors they had heard about each other dripped away like hot wax.  

Every friendship has a time limit, Ev thought sometimes, only because it had always been that way. Love could last, probably (maybe), in all forms, but that was another kind of smoke she could never bottle. Her first best friend was Carrie in kindergarten, but Ev had moved away after a year, which had started the whole cycle of Allies, Brittanies, and Sams over the many years of her life. If someone ever analyzed her, they might have told her that this is where her issues began. Nonetheless, she began to peel away layers of Marion’s façade. Marion began to notice.  

Ev began to distance herself. 

“I’m busy tonight.”

“I have homework.”

“I don’t want to see that movie tonight.” (Or ever, she whispered to herself when she was out of earshot). Ev began to notice tiny flaws: had she ever realized that Marion never let her invite other friends to dinner? That she was rude to her parents when they came down to visit? Had Ev ever realized that she, herself, was more gullible than she thought she was?

And suddenly, things were not fine. 

On Leila's end, there were certain things that she never, ever wanted to do.  

One of those things was become friends with Ev. There were circumstances that Ev didn’t know about, but that she had caused nonetheless, and the evidence of which had a hard time leaving Leila’s mind. Every time she looked at her, she saw the roommate she was supposed to have: not Ev, but a friend from high school she had to break the news to when Marion revealed that she couldn’t live with her a day before they were to sign the lease.  

Leila didn’t want to like Ev. 

But she did.  

There was the whole running thing, first of all. Leila hadn’t had a running partner in years, since she was on her high school cross-country team. Ev was slow and had to stop a lot, but she smiled when the sun hit their faces and Leila could sense a change in the pattern of her footsteps every time a new song came on over her earphones. Ev didn’t really care about speed or progress, she just cared about music and the way her heart felt when they collapsed on the couch after a good session, and Leila could appreciate that.  

Secondly, there was Thanksgiving. Leila appreciated the fact that Ev offered to make the mashed potatoes, even though she knew the girl had a hard time using the mixer.  Leila offered a casserole. Marion demanded the turkey, the crown jewel, and the star of the night. It was to be her masterpiece. 

Ev had placed a delicate hand on the mixer, wanting to be extra careful with it when she’d finally pile the potatoes in.  

“I know it was your grandmother’s,” she told Leila, “I don’t want to ruin anything.”

With that, Leila’s heart softened. It wasn’t Ev’s fault. There was no reason to hate the girl who wanted a place to live. There was no reason to hate her for taking the room. It wasn’t her fault. She just wanted to be kind to the mixer. It was someone else.  It was Marion. 

Leila’s revelation that Marion was to blame for the roommate fiasco came during the final cooking stages of the green bean casserole. As she stirred the cream of mushroom soup out of its glob and into a cream, her grip on the spoon tightened and a hardness in her heart…hardened. She felt rough, like sandpaper. She felt like she wanted to snap something, so she grabbed a toothpick and folded it crisply between her fingers.  

Snap. 

It wasn’t enough. She looked over at the girl and the mixer, and wondered if Ev was feeling the same. 

She was. For some reason, Ev had started thinking about the movie night they’d planned for Friday evening. Marion had allowed her to choose four films from her personal collection. The memory was more than smoke in her mind; it was mist. No, more like toxic gas.

“I have a ton of movies to choose from too, if you’re looking for something different.” 

Marion had winced. “Um. Actually, maybe let’s stick to my collection. I have more of a selection here.”

Ev did not like conflict, so she balled up her fists and chose a romantic comedy that she liked. 

“Great!” Marion laughed, “I love making fun of this one in between scenes. It’s ridiculous.”

Ev had suddenly felt very small.  

It was nothing, the switch of roommates and the choice of movies. They were small problems. They were less than catastrophes. They were flickers of darkness on an otherwise flawless friendship. 

Flawless.  Ev flapped her wings. No, that’s not quite right.

Marion entered the room to see her two friends making a mess in the kitchen. Ev had the mixer on high and whipped potatoes were flying onto her sequined dress. Leila’s pot of soup was bubbling over in the tiny pot she had used, and the soup was crisping onto the burner so that the whole place was smoky and smelled like old feet.  

“What the hell?” Marion cried, “You’re ruining everything!”

It wasn’t clear who she was talking to, but Ev seemed to snap out of her stupor and turned the mixer off. “I got a little carried away,” she said simply. 

Leila reached up and flicked off the burner. “What do you want? I’m cooking.”

Marion did not know how to react. All she wanted was some semblance of organization—a clean table. Casually placed chairs. Fine food assembled in order of importance (stuffing would come last, of course). No alcohol. Yet, the girls had glasses of wine before them, and Marion didn’t like that.

“We’re not 21, you know.”

Ev simply blinked. “Who cares?”

It was the most Ev had fought back since she’d moved in. Ev liked the break, and considered the fact that her wings had been free all along, she’d just been afraid to use them. Marion, on the other hand, felt the claw-pins removing themselves one by one, releasing the girl that she had tried to hard to stifle. It was a simple statement, who cares, but it was, in its way, a freedom. 

Leila was a little harsher. “If I want a glass, I’ll have a glass.” Her eyes drilled holes into Marion’s skull. There was no doubt she had always been free. She had, like Marion said, been a little lost. Betrayed by smoke. Stuck in one place. The way seemed a little clearer now. 

The girls pushed past their old friend in order to plate the food. As soon as the mashed potatoes had hit the plate, the first guest barreled through the front door. It was Ev’s sister, a model from Poughkeepsie, and she was carrying a 30-rack of PBR. 

“For the drinking games!” She announced, “It’s not a party without drinking games.”

More people began to file in. The music filtered through the room, and it was too loud. Marion watched people from a corner, crossing her arms over her chest. Too loud, too loud, too loud. They laughed with other people. They laughed with each other. They laughed with everyone but Marion, and it killed her. 

At one point in the party, she rose to turn down the music. Shortly after, Poughkeepsie turned it back up. It became a game for a little while, to see who would give up first, until Marion got tired of playing. You can’t lose a game you refuse to participate in.  

Ev and Leila danced to the music in the corner. Their wings stretched out as far as they'd ever gone, feeling unburdened and loose and wonderful. They sipped their wine. They got drunk. They watched as eventually, Marion slipped out the door and left, carefully removing her pins and gripping them in her palm as she walked tensely down the street.

"How do you feel?" Ev asked Leila at some point in the night. The girl shook out her shoulders as if unraveling something.

"Free."

July 25, 2022 04:36

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