My first fiction short story (in my semi-adult life, at least-- let's not look back at my elementary school stories!) It needs a lot of work, but my professor had some good things to say about it last semester when I wrote it, so there's hope! Maybe one day I'll write my novel. Enjoy : )
By Julie Carter
It’s always a bit unsettling when you realize that something a professor just said while you were spacing out will probably be on the next test, or when you discover that you’ve reached your destination but don’t remember the drive there because you were lost in thought. It was barely past noon, but Emma had already done both of these things. Blinking with the realization that she had in fact arrived at the daycare center where she worked part time, she dragged herself out of the car and shuffled through the bright yellow door. Time to focus, she thought. Distraction was never good with 4-year-olds. Just when you turned your back or stopped paying attention, something was bound to happen. Like the time Emma was distracted for just a few minutes chasing an unruly child, and when she turned around, several of the others had managed to turn the sink into a bubble-filled, overflowing mess.
Emma’s future career wouldn’t even involve children. She was majoring in marketing and planned to venture out into the business world after graduation. But working with children had always been natural for her. They saw the world in a simple way, yet managed to point out things that adults had become too busy or too practical to notice, like how it was perfectly acceptable to play in the dirt or that you could still see a faint outline of the moon on some mornings. She loved their creativity, imagination and, most of all, their brutal honesty. If they didn’t like something, they would tell you straight up. Not like Melissa, Emma thought. Emma’s roommate and former best friend much preferred the silent treatment now, forcing polite conversation when absolutely necessary, but none the less avoiding an honest conversation with Emma.
“Miss Emma, Miss Emma!” several of the children cried when she walked into the jungle-themed classroom, its walls covered with butcher paper trees and zoo animals. They ran up to her, little Joshua trying to tell her about the story they had read earlier, while Meredith twirled her fingers through Emma’s long brown waves of hair and Sophie chattered about her new baby sister. Normally it was easy for Emma to listen to their cute stories and endless questions, but as she assisted Miss Marci with snack time, her mind was occupied with thoughts of the previous night.
Yesterday they had celebrated the birthday of one of their other roommates, Lily, by having all of their good friends come over and surprise Lily with a night of margaritas, music, and dancing. Melissa was perpetually with her sort-of boyfriend, Sam, these days, so Emma had planned the whole party with their fourth roommate, Sarah. Normally Melissa would have been right there scheming away with Emma, but she was never around anymore, and Emma had to awkwardly tell her about the party the day before when she unexpectedly ran into Melissa on-campus rather than at their own house. Fortunately, Melissa showed up, but it felt like she was an uncomfortable visitor the whole evening, perched awkwardly on the couch like she didn’t actually pay rent there. Sam wasn’t with her, and Emma didn’t ask where he was. Sam had become a touchy subject between them. Instead, she asked Melissa how her broadcast journalism classes were going. With her fiery personality and ease in front of an audience, Emma knew she was going to see Melissa anchoring the 6 o’clock news someday.
Melissa looked down, toying with the margarita glass in her hand. “Um, actually,” she said slowly, “I changed my major a few weeks ago. To biology. I decided working in the media isn’t really my thing. I wanna study science and become a dentist.” She shifted on the back of the couch, tossing her long blond hair back in the uncomfortable silence that followed.
“Wow,” Emma started, not sure how to respond. “I had no idea you changed your major… I guess there’s a lot I don’t know,” she said, hoping Melissa would take the cue and agree that yes, there was a lot, and that it was definitely time for them to cook dinner together and catch up on everything they were missing in each other’s lives.
“It happens,” Melissa responded, shrugging as if this was no big deal. “It’s whatever.”
At that moment, Emma realized that she and Melissa were not at all the same friends they had been a few months ago. Melissa, who used to consult Emma about something as trivial as what color to paint her nails, was now making major life decisions without bothering to tell Emma anything. And to her, it was all fine.
As the children lined up to wash their hands after snack, Emma watched Sophie turn to a cute freckled girl named Anna.
“Hey Anna, will you be my best friend?” Sophie asked eagerly.
“No,” Anna replied, sticking out her tongue and turning away.
Turning to the person in line behind her, Katie, Sophie again asked, “Hey Katie, will you be my best friend?”
“Yes!” Katie said, and she and Sophie hugged each other and began giggling. They would probably be “best friends” for the rest of the day until they lost interest, only to find a new best friend the next day. Emma couldn’t help but think of her best friend, or who her best friend used to be. She and Melissa shared the same favorite flavor of ice cream, chocolate chip cookie dough, the same shoe size even though Melissa was four inches taller, and the same love for romantic comedies and silly jokes. She and Melissa would always refer to each other as their “BFF.” How long had it been since she had done that?
“Miss Marci, you remind me of my cat,” Nicole suddenly piped up from the table where she and the other teacher were coloring, throwing Emma’s thoughts back to the children.
“Oh, do I?” Marci asked absently, obviously not paying much attention. She was accustomed to the random associations her class made, and always seemed more than ready to leave at the end of the day.
“Yeah, my dead cat,” Nicole replied, in a matter-of-fact tone, not even looking up from her crayons.
Marci didn’t respond, but Emma had to stifle a giggle. She wanted to know why in the world the other teacher reminded Nicole of her dead cat, but didn’t ask. If only adults could say whatever was on their minds, without worrying about what other people would think. That was one thing that Emma had always loved about being best friends with Melissa—their ability to be real with each other and not sugar coat anything. If Melissa didn’t think a shirt looked great on Emma, she would tell her not to buy it and help her find something else instead. If one was frustrated with the other, they would come right out and say it. They would argue with each other, yell and call each other names if necessary, and then they would talk it out until they understood each other. And every time, things would go right back to pre-fight mode and the girls would back to their usual antics—laughing at things only they found to be funny, confiding their biggest secrets, and blasting their favorite songs in the car and singing as loud as they could even when other people were watching. When did all that change? Emma couldn’t help but wonder.
That was the thing with fading friendships. Sometimes you couldn’t pinpoint exactly where things went wrong. It was a little occurrence here and then, until one day you were slammed into the realization that the relationship you once had was completely changed. Emma and Melissa hadn’t had a big falling out. It just seemed to be a gradual build-up of events, each one adding a piece to the wall that had grown between them. Maybe some of that uninhibited honesty had contributed to their failing friendship.
When Melissa and Sam had started talking more and Melissa confessed that she really liked him, Emma was happy for her. She assumed Sam would be Melissa’s new boyfriend and that they would be happy together, but that Melissa would still be her usual self and hang out with Emma. However, Sam hadn’t turned out to be much of the boyfriend type. He liked to charm Melissa with a lot of words and false promises, yet managed to say the same things to other girls when she wasn’t around. He never officially asked her out either, preferring to avoid any conversations about where their relationship stood. To Emma, this was a red flag, but Melissa remained disillusioned by the “good times” she had with Sam. Never one to be fooled by people, Melissa seemed to be living in complete denial about her so-called boyfriend. Emma had tried to talk to her about it numerous times, but she couldn’t get through to her.
There had been one afternoon, a couple of months back, when Emma was sitting at the kitchen table and enjoying her lunch. It was a beautiful day, and Emma had been thinking about doing her homework outside later. She was surprised when she heard the front door unlock. Lily was in class at this time, and Sarah spent every moment of her free time working at a local bookstore, so it had to be Melissa. But Melissa’s stays at their house had become few and far between. Whereas she used to spend every night at the house, doing her homework and hanging out with her roommates, she now seemed to only come home to drop things off, grab new belongings, and leave again. The front door slammed closed. Sure enough, it was Melissa who came storming into the kitchen, her face streaked wit tears.
“What’s the matter?!” Emma had cried, hating to see Melissa upset. Melissa rarely cried.
Melissa collapsed into a kitchen chair. “It’s just Sam,” she said, sighing. “I made the mistake of asking him what we are. I shouldn’t have brought it up. Everything was fine the way it was.”
“What you are? Like whether or not you’re exclusively together?” Emma asked, and Melissa nodded.
“You have every right to ask that,” Emma told her in her best encouraging, firm voice. “You guys have had something going on for a while now, and you bend over backwards for him. He can’t expect you not to wonder why he won’t call himself your boyfriend.”
“Well, that’s the thing,” Melissa said quietly, “Everyone keeps telling me they see him with Lacy Cummins and that she’s always at his house whenever I’m not. So I asked him about her, and he got all defensive. I think to him I mean a big commitment, and he’s just not ready for that yet. But he will be. I know it,” she finished, sounding only about as sure as Emma felt.
“Mel,” Emma said, trying to choose her words carefully. “That’s ridiculous. You’re a great girl, and you do so much for Sam. Y’all have been talking for a while now. Surely he can see how great you are, and if not, he’s not good enough for you. It’s not like you’re getting married or something. You just want him to be your boyfriend… not Lacy’s or anyone else’s.”
“I know he’s right for me though,” Melissa said, a tone of desperation in her voice. “No one else has ever made me feel the way he does.”
“I know, Mel,” Emma said, trying to make her stay calm. “But I’m tired of seeing you be so upset over the stupid things Sam does. He doesn’t always treat you right.” Instead of stopping there though, she kept going. “Maybe you should be with someone else instead. It’s hard watching you invest so much emotionally energy in Sam.”
Emma could tell then that she had gone too far. Melissa stood up quickly, grabbing her backpack, and snapped back, “Well, I am more than willing to do so. You don’t know Sam. You don’t know how good he is to me!” And with that, she was right back out the door.
Yes, Emma decided, maybe that was a time she should have held back her opinion and let Melissa figure it out for herself.
“Miss Emma, what did you color?” one of the kids, James, suddenly asked, wedging himself between her lap and the table.
Emma had been doodling for a while, but only now did she look down at her picture. She had drawn two stick figure girls, one tall with long blond hair and the other shorter with brown curls, holding hands. Her and Melissa. Her former BFF.
“Oh, just a picture of someone important to me,” she replied, ruffling his messy hair, wild from a day of playtime.
“Are you gonna give it to them?” he asked, looking up at his teacher.
“Sure,” Emma lied, imagining Melissa’s reaction if she gave her this picture. A few months ago, it would have made her laugh and she would have put it on the bulletin board by her desk. Now, Emma wasn’t sure what to expect. Just for fun, she wrote Will you be my best friend again? on the picture in bright green crayon, Melissa’s favorite color.
After the last of the rambunctious 4-year-olds had gone home with their parents, Emma clocked out at the center and headed home, armed with her drawing. She was surprised when she pulled up at their little white house and found Melissa’s SUV out front. What she’s doing home? Emma wondered. Probably in a fight with Sam over something stupid he did.
Melissa closed the door on the setting sun and listened for any sounds coming from her roommates. Lily and Sarah weren’t home, but she could see light shining from under Melissa’s closed door. They were the only ones home. Emma imagined knocking on Melissa’s door with a gallon of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream in hand, ready to tell her about the children’s antics and her marketing test and to listen about whatever had probably happened with Sam. And then they could go pick out new clothes at the mall, because Emma was dying for a cute shirt. Yeah right, she thought. I’m starting to sound like my 4-year-olds with my crazy ideas.
But she found herself standing right outside Melissa’s door, still holding the picture in her hand. The Melissa she knew six months ago would love it. What would the Melissa that was here now say? She could hear music on softly, but not the tunes she and Melissa used to love. This was something Emma had never heard before, something angrier. Probably Sam’s music. For a moment, her hand hovered next to the door, ready to knock. And then slowly, she crumpled the picture in her hand, the juvenile picture disappearing inside the white paper ball.