by Graham B.
A girl finds out that her best friend isn’t what she appeared to be.
|As I’ve gotten older, I think I know my sister less and less, even though we grew up mostly together. I wonder if I ever really knew her.
I think it’s because as our understanding deepens, so do our perceptions about the mysteries of the human soul. The mysteries are always two steps ahead of our understanding, and so they deepen.
Harper was always a mystery to me but somehow, that was a good thing. We were best friends, after all. Our lives were more of a journey with her, a twisting path which wound through a deep dark wood. I enjoyed being with her, and since as long as I could remember we were inseparable.
My mother often said as much. She was delighted at the gift that Harper brought for me when she came to my eleventh birthday party. It was a chemistry set, something my mother said would “set my mind on fire.” Glucose, copper sulfate, potassium chloride, and many more substances with strange names bottled up in little tubes. Harper had her own set and taught me how to use mine. Mom watched us do experiments together, and I remember the slightly cockeyed smile she would wear while watching us together, right up until the day she passed away.
It was a heart attack, they said.
“But she’s only thirty!” I wailed, and no one had any answer except to blame her diabetes.
It happens sometimes, no predicting it, and even her daily insulin injections couldn’t save her.
I felt like a part of me was missing, like a growing sapling which suddenly had some of its roots cut out. But it was a strange feeling, because it happened right before Mom was supposed to take a new job in Chicago. This would have meant moving, which would mean me being separated from Harper. Chicago was out now, and this was my silver lining. I went to live with my aunt, who lived only a few blocks away. Of course, Harper was there for me, and we became closer.
“It will be all right, we’re sisters, right, Zoe?” she said, her arms around my shoulders, her unfathomable brown eyes drinking up my sorrows. The death of my mother brought us even closer, and after a time, I suppose we were sisters.
Yes, I call her my sister, even though we aren’t related.
Did I say that my journey with her was like a twisting path through the wood? Funny, since that’s where I happen to be right now. The sun is setting, and lighting the cobalt sky on fire. The sounds of night animals are ushering in the dusk, and I’m shivering. Not all of my shivering is from the creeping cold. The path winds on, and the way ahead fades into gray, which will soon be black. How did I get here?
In a moment.
We continued to grow up together, Harper and I, sisters in all but biology. High school began, and with it, the complex, vibrant social life which precedes adulthood. We dove into it headfirst.
Boyfriends came and went, rumors surfaced, gossip flew. Petty rivalries sprang up, then were laid to rest. All is forgiven, how silly! Why did we ever fight in the first place? Lather, rinse, repeat.
Classes took on new dimensions, beginning their task of shaping young minds in preparation of higher learning. I found that I had an aptitude for math and chemistry. Harper excelled in sports, and before long, was leading the soccer team in goals. She was always the more athletic one. Yet at the end of the day, she would leave the field and I would put up my books and together, we would head to Tony’s for pizza by the slice and root beer.
It’s getting colder, and my shorts and blouse are no defense at all. The animal noises have deepened, and I think I hear an owl hoot. Then, somewhere behind me, some of the animals go quiet. I glance around, wishing I could see in the dark. Nothing but the interminable grey stretches away behind me as well as ahead. I can't even see the clawing branches of the trees I imagine to be closing in.
I hug myself against the cold and quicken my pace, risking a twisted ankle against the rocks which strew the path. The raw edge of panic pushes me faster even as I fight it, knowing it would be useless to break into a run like a deep, frightened animal part of me wants to do. I am not a fast runner. No, I’m more of the marathon type – the tortoise to Harper’s hare. Slow and steady wins the race, as they say. Will that really work now?
The track team was where I met Tyrell. I remember his lithe, runner’s form, his obsidian skin, his almond-shaped eyes, turned slightly upward, the flash of his teeth when he smiled at me on the second day of practice. He was the team’s top distance runner. We were alike, both tortoises.
Tortoises in love.
My heart went on its own marathon, and my head slipped into the clouds. For weeks, I walked in a mist, hand in hand with what I thought was my destiny. I was so wrapped up in Tyrell, that I neglected everything else. My grades plummeted, and for the first time in memory, I began spending more time with someone other than Harper.
At first, Harper didn’t comment. We still saw each other at school, and while her classes were not as advanced as mine, we still shared some of the humanities classes. It helped that she had her own boyfriend, the shortstop on the baseball team. But I don’t think she was as into him as I was into mine.
One day, she confronted me in the school quad, her dark eyes boring into me even as I was walking in the mist. I remembered that look. She had had a similar one so long ago when I told her about Mom’s new job in Chicago and our impending move.
“I didn’t see you in Creative Writing today,” she said sternly.
“I can make it up,” I protested.
“You missed a project turn-in!” she said. “That’s half your grade! I talked to Mrs. Jenkins, and she’s going to give you an extension, but you need to get your project in by Friday!”
I nodded, tried to express thanks, failed.
Harper cocked her head.
“What’s going on with you? You used to have to help me with my studies. You’re the smart one! We’re supposed to go to college together, remember?”
“I remember. But things change! We made that promise before we were even in our teens!”
“A promise is a promise. I like Tyrell too, but you need to think about our- . . . your future!”
She walked away, leaving my love-mist to turn into dark clouds.
I knew she was right, but what could I do? Tyrell was as much in love with me as I with him. How could I break it off so quickly? What could I possibly tell him to soften the blow? I would sooner rip my own heart out. And what if he found someone else? Could I keep going to school, knowing I would see him again and again, hand in hand with another girl walking in that same mist we used to navigate together?
I flounced down upon a bench in the quad and set my books down next to me. One slipped to the ground and spat out a quiz I had taken earlier that day.
Chemistry. It was the one subject I wasn’t flunking. The quiz was full of questions about chemical compositions. Glucose, copper sulfate, potassium chloride.
It was the only question I had missed. I remembered it as the chemical which the state used to put criminals to death.
So here I am, deep in the woods in the deepening night, thinking about death. What else would I think about so soon after Tyrell’s death?
Yes, Tyrell, from of all things, a heart attack. In a way, so much better than a broken heart which I was going to give him. It was my silver lining.
But that was not to be the end of it.
Soon after I had left Tyrell in the parking area behind the school science lab, I saw Harper come into the lab.
Her dark eyes met mine, but were unreadable. Questions sprang to my mind, but were interrupted by the frantic cries of a teacher’s assistant from the parking lot, where they had discovered Tyrell collapsed in a heap.
Unbidden, thoughts of my mother sprang to my mind.
In the pandemonium, Harper left the lab. I tried to follow, but lost her in the rush of students, all of whom were running to see what the commotion was about. In the distance I saw her running for the woods bordering the campus, running with all her might.
She was the hare, but I was the tortoise. I followed.
Somewhere ahead of me, the night creatures are now silent, and I hear unsteady footsteps.
Pause . . . step, step . . . pause.
I’m getting closer. I have to know. I have to look into her eyes and ask her.
The footsteps stop, and I can see a shadow ahead. I hear a thud, and quicken my pace.
Even in the gloom, I can see Harper sitting on the path. She is rubbing her ankle, which is swollen to the size of a baseball. Her eyes meet mine, and I faintly see the starry glint of tears.
“What do you want?” she cries.
I approach and squat next to her, trying to read her expression. I need to know, so I ask her.
“Are we still sisters?”
She looks shocked. Surprised I put my hand on her shoulder, and feel her shudder. I lean closer.
“I f-found the needle next to Tyrell.” she whimpers.
My thoughts travel back to that parking lot, of my last words with Tyrell. Our last kiss, before I slipped the syringe into his neck. Tyrell jerking away, sending the needle flying, still half full. But it was enough.
“It was better this way,” I say gently. “A clean break, with no tears, no heartbreak. You are my sister, and nothing comes between us.”
Harper’s eyes widen, then relax.
“Of course we are! But… but…”
“It was the only way. I couldn’t trust myself any other way. I couldn’t trust myself not to be distracted. . .”
I frown. I don’t want to dredge up old history, but here it is, wafting up like ghosts to haunt us again.
“She was going to move us to Chicago, Harper! I couldn’t let that happen! You understand that, don’t you?” I plead.
Harper slowly shakes her head.
“You really did it. You used the chemistry set I gave you, didn’t you?”
I sit down next to her and put my arms around her, like she did with me after my mother died a lifetime ago.
“None of that matters anymore, Harper. We'll never be apart ag-”
A tiny prick on my neck is followed by a burning sensation which quickly travels to my head. I jerk away from Harper, grasping my neck and gaping at her as she rises and hops away on her one good leg.
The fire travels to my brain, matching the dimming glow of orange in the sky left by the setting sun. Harper is staring at me, and gleaming in her hand is the syringe, now completely empty.
My hand drops limply from my neck, and I feel my limbs floating away as I lose control of them and slide to the ground. The fire in the sky is turning gray and murky, and my heart is shuddering. Is this what my mother and Tyrell felt? It’s not so bad.
“Har...,” I whisper, trying to reach for her. But my arm is a limp noodle, and Harper is limping away into the darkness.
Word count: 2020