Chapter no 31

If He Had Been with Me

Sasha and I are walking to the drug store, even though she could borrow her mother’s car and drive us. It takes up more of the long, hot day if we walk, makes it more like an adventure than just something to do. Against the sound of the cicadas, our sandals smack on the sidewalk as we hike our way toward Main Street. We stop along the way to scratch bug bites on our ankles and make sure our bra straps aren’t showing from under our tank tops. We are talking as we walk, in spite of the clouds of heat that puff down our throats with each breath.

When we get there, we will sigh in the air conditioning and run our fingers through our hair. Perched side by side atop the layer of magazines on the bottom shelf of the massive stand, we will flip through articles about sex and hair. We will even balance the month’s massive bridal book on our knees and look at the white dresses and rings with a sort of reverence. Afterward, we will stroll through the aisles and pick out lip gloss and candy, nail polish and sodas. We’ll walk back to my house then, and in my room we will stretch out on my bed, our bare legs brushing, and read the magazines we bought and eat licorice.

This is the background of our day together, but the real purpose of being together is talking. Sasha and I can talk about nearly anything, and when we talk, we talk for a long time, a whole day even.

There is a sudden lull in our conversation, an unnatural pause after my story about last night’s date with Jamie. I look over at her, but she stares straight ahead down the sidewalk as if there is someone waiting for her there.

“I have to tell you something,” she says, still staring at the invisible person.

“What?” I ask. My mind is already tabulating all the possibilities; I’m the sort of person who tries to figure out the end of the book as she reads it and my conversations are no different.

“I think I’m going to break up with Alex,” she says.

“You can’t,” I say, as five different threads run through my mind and I try to sort through all the thoughts and reactions: jealous that she is so brave, smug that Jamie and I lasted, worried for Alex, surprised—

“I’m going to,” she says. “I’ve already decided really.”

“But why?” I ask, the shock momentarily overshadowing all the other reactions. She shrugs and looks down at the sidewalk to frown. Up ahead, I see the corner where we will wait at the crosswalk. In our impatience with the heat, we will push the button again and again, and even though we know it will not make the green letters appear any faster, we will stare at the sign expectantly.

“I still love Alex,” she says, “in a way. But I don’t feel about him the way I used to. Nothing is romantic anymore. It’s more like we’re old friends.”

“But that’s what long-term relationships are like,” I say. “You can’t just throw him away.”

“I’m not throwing him away,” she says. “But I’m not in love anymore and I need you to support me.”

“I’m sorry,” I say. I stop walking and we turn to each other. I hug her and she holds me back. We’re both dewy and hot to the touch. “I’m just surprised. And sad.”

And jealous, and smug, and worried.

We let go of each other and continue our walk and our day together.

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