Friendships are healthy. Right?
As the final bell rang, every student in the classroom rose, bursting into instant conversation. It was as if every one of Marjorie’s classmates had an instinctive ability to pause their chatter when class started and instantly resume where they left off the moment they heard the bell.
Everyone, that is, except for her.
Marjorie remained firmly planted in her seat as her forlorn eyes scanned the flurry of activity. As the rest of her classmates disappeared through the doorway, she looked up to see her teacher rounding the desk at the front of the room. The woman’s eyes were focused on a stack of papers, which she promptly began to grade. Marjorie felt her stomach twist into knots as her teacher, too, ignored her sole remaining student so completely that Marjorie was tempted to doubt her own existence.
It wasn’t the first time she’d had thoughts along those lines.
Sighing, Marjorie rose from her desk and left the room, her eyes glued to the floor as always. The moment she stepped into the hall a swiftly moving boy plowed into her, knocking her to the floor. He never even looked down. The tiny, waifish girl dragged her prone body to the end of a bank of lockers, tucking her scraped knees to her chest as she pressed her back to the cinder blocks. Tears began to stream down her cheeks.
She knew that the boy hadn’t meant to run her over. He hadn’t meant to hurt her. Marjorie didn’t have bully problems. In a way, she wished she did. At least bullying would have meant acknowledgement of her existence.
Just as Marjorie had no friends, she also had no enemies. No one spoke with her at all. Quiet and meek, invariably seated at the back of the classroom, teachers tended not to call on her. She often went entire school days without having spoken a word. When she returned home in the afternoon, her father would ask how her day had gone. She usually had to coax raspy speech from her underutilized vocal chords just to answer.
Her family moved around a lot. It was just her and her father, and he accepted a new on-base training assignment every few months. He always seemed to be in a hurry to leave. He would bring her to a new city. She would enroll in school. She would bring him a gift to show her gratitude, and then they would leave. She was never in a place long enough to truly connect with anyone.
As a small girl, she had invested effort in building friendships in each new town with limited success. But as the years progressed and cities blurred together in her memory, she had engaged with others less and less, knowing that she would be gone soon, even as she arrived.
When the halls emptied of students, Marjorie wiped away her tears setting her jaw. She walked silently through the place, passing by a dozen more bustling students on their way to after-school activities. Briefly, she wondered what it would be like to actually participate in sports or clubs. Maybe if she asked her father nicely, he would be willing to pay the fees, even if she couldn’t finish an entire season before they moved again. Maybe she would ask him when he was in a good mood. Maybe after she had brought him a gift.
She trudged home, spotting her next door neighbor on the way. She felt a surge of envy well in her hollow chest as she saw the cute ginger-haired girl playing volleyball in the front yard. Why couldn’t Marjorie have that life? Beverly had everything Marjorie had always wanted. She was pretty. Smart. Athletic. Her life seemed ideal. She smiled all the time.
Feeling a sudden attraction so intense that it made Marjorie’s knees wobble, she stared at the girl. Was this how her father felt when she brought him his gifts? She always imagined it was. His lips always quivered, his legs looking jellylike when she showed him what she had brought.
So intent was Marjorie on the girl in the yard, that she didn’t even notice Beverly’s father standing on the sidewalk, watering the shrubs. She crashed into him, her eighty-pound body bouncing from his larger frame to slam her right hip into the hard cement.
Pain lanced down her leg, the feeling in her leg all but disappearing for a moment as the man turned to look at her.
“Why, hello there!”
Marjorie gaped at him. He had spoken. To her!
“Um, hello,” said Marjorie, activating her voice for the first time that day.
The man smiled, extending a hand to help her up. She slipped her tiny fingers into his, and he hauled her to her feet. “I don’t think I’ve seen you around before. Where do you live?”
Blushing, Marjorie pointed at the house next door.
It was the man’s turn to be embarrassed. “Well, I knew someone had moved in next door. Clearly, I should have come over to introduce myself sooner. I’m Roger.”
Marjorie gave him a hesitant smile, noticing the striking attractiveness of her older neighbor’s kind eyes as he gazed at her warmly.
“I’m Marjorie,” she replied, her voice slightly breathy as she lost herself in those eyes.
“My daughter’s having a pool party later. You’re more than welcome to come over if you want. Maybe make some new friends?”
New friends? If he only knew how hopeless that was. He had already spoken more words to her than anyone but her parents in years.
“I’d...” she stammered. “...I’d like that."
“Then I look forward to seeing you later.”
Marjorie stared at him. She began feeling something pleasant. The feeling was alien. She shuddered, unaccustomed to this sort of attention.
He looked down, where her tiny fingers remained curled about his hand. “But I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask for my hand back in the meantime.
Marjorie’s eyes descended to their clasped hands, widening in horror as she witnessed her faux pas. She had finally made a friend. One who made her stomach twist into knots. And she’d managed to fuck everything up in five seconds flat.
She released his hand as if it had given her an electric jolt, staring up at him with crimson cheeks. “I’m so sorry!”
“Quite all right, young lady,” he gave her an amused wink. “It’s not every day that a pretty girl wants to hold my hand…”
His playfulness, intended to make her laugh, had the opposite effect. Marjorie’s eyes dropped from his, her cheeks now on fire. Unaccustomed to social engagements, Marjorie was devastated that her first meaningful one in years had devolved into a flaming catastrophe of embarrassment. Every positive feeling turned to ash, leaving only joyless bitterness behind.
She ran away, hustling into her house, leaving her bemused neighbor scratching his head.
Marjorie slipped an oversized t-shirt over her diminutive, swimsuit-clad form, wiggling her toes into her flip flops before zipping outside. She felt tingles wash over her skin as she saw the man and his daughter in their backyard, welcoming guests to the party. Taking a deep, calming breath, she strode purposefully to their door, gliding inside behind a boisterous group of teens.
When she passed through the sliding glass doors in back, her gaze found Beverly’s mesmeric irises. She stared unapologetically, taking in the beautiful visage of the perfect girl. Beverly’s cheeks flushed, but her eyes remained glued to Marjorie’s, the two girls unmoving for long seconds as an unspoken tether wove through their shared consciousness.
Marjorie felt her emotions link to those of the girl who was, in so many ways, her polar opposite. Finally, she had found someone who understood her, who could be one with her.
She felt a tap at her shoulder. Her brows furrowed, but she continued to stare into Beverly’s eyes. She didn’t want their moment to end.
But end it did.
Beverly’s eyes shifted to look up at the figure beside Marjorie, breaking their connection. Marjorie felt cold fury boil her deepest depths.
It was him.
The man who had embarrassed her. The man who had ended her fleeting moment of love. Beverly’s father.
“Well, I’m glad you made it!” he said, the corners of his eyes crinkling warmly. “I wasn’t sure whether you would come after…” He trailed off as he saw the blazing anger in Marjorie’s eyes.
Eye widening, he stepped back. He looked confused, shooting his daughter a questioning look. Beverly’s face showed only amusement.
Marjorie spun on her heel, turning her back on the man to join Beverly by the pool.
“I’d like to give you a gift,” she announced as she arrived. Her pronouncement was met by a sly smile as it flickered across Beverly’s perfect lips.
“For me?” said Beverly, crossing the slim, manicured fingers of each hand across her chest. “I’m flattered.”
Marjorie smiled, Beverly’s reaction everything she’d hoped for. She felt her knees go weak with desire for her gorgeous friend once again.
“And I know just the thing…” Marjorie finished, the dark glint in Beverly’s iridescent eyes telling her that her instinct was spot on.
Beverly gave her the slightest of nods, and Marjorie was nearly unable to stand. She quietly slipped away to the corner, taking a seat under a tree to watch Beverly for the remainder of the party.
When the last of the other guests departed, darkness had fallen over the backyard. Beverly and her father went inside, leaving Marjorie alone and forgotten. She rose, dusting herself off as she stretched her legs.
Expression inscrutable, she walked inside, her eyes searching the kitchen until she saw what she needed to prepare her gift. She curled her fingers around the knife handle, pulling it from the wooden block that housed it.
Hearing voices in the living room, Marjorie approached silently. Beverly was speaking to her father, his back turned toward the kitchen. When she caught sight of Marjorie, her eyes glimmered with delight.
Marjorie smiled, reaching around the taller man with her blade and drawing it across his throat. He turned, his eyes glazed over in shock as bright blood splashing over his shirt. After a moment of gurgling silence, he fell to his knees.
Beverly circled around him, her long fingers taking the knife from Marjorie’s trembling hand. She jabbed it into her father’s chest, sending him reeling backward to the ground. Turning, she sent a quivering breath into Marjorie’s awestruck face. Marjorie closed her eyes, delighting in the voluptuous feel of the other girl’s air as it rolled over her cheeks.
“Did you like my gift?” she whispered, her lashes fluttering open once again.
“Oh yes,” Beverly breathed, slithering her willowy arms around the smaller girl. She leaned in to press her lips to Marjorie’s. “It was everything I always wanted.”