Right before the start of senior year, a troubling thing happened. Not shocking, but grave and disappointing all the same.
What it was was this:
“I’m not coming back in the fall,” Jane said as she and I sat in Denny’s, drinking coffee and eating pie respectively.
I mashed my pie with the back of my fork. “I thought you were going to think about it.”
She gave me a bored look. “I did think about it. What I think is that it’s bullshit, so I’m not going to go anymore.”
The way she tilted her head and popped her eyes wide was calculated to make me laugh, but the actual sentiment was a little too grim. I didn’t really have anything to say to that, so I didn’t say anything.
The fact that Jane drops out is not even that surprising. She’s never really been too good about passing her classes, and at this point, I’m pretty much used to people leaving and not coming back. In fact, so many of the juniors dropped out last year that by the middle of April, I’d started keeping a log of it in the back of my American Lit. binder. It’s funny to think that in tenth grade, it seemed blatantly impossible that anybody would ever drop out. Now it seems commonplace and kind of inevitable.
School is a little bit lonely without Jane. It would be a lot worse, except that now all the teachers and hallways and upperclassmen are at least vaguely familiar, and I have other friends, and even if I didn’t, I’m marginally less weird about just biting the bullet and talking to people. And it’s not even like Jane is really all that absent from my life. Sure, she’s never waiting for me outside English anymore, but we talk on the phone a lot, and sometimes she walks over at lunch to meet us.
The thing that happens next turns out to be a sort of catalyst—the first rumblings of a long, stupid landslide.
At the time though, I have no way of knowing that.
It’s third hour and I don’t have a class. I should be in the library, finishing my Brit Lit homework, or else making a quick run to Advance Auto Parts to get some more fuses to feed Blue Dragon.
Instead, I’m standing alone in the good bathroom—which is the good one because it has the full-length mirror and sinks that actually turn off—assessing my reflection. (Also, remember that this is right at the early-peak of my being completely horrified at my brand new collection of knobs and tendons and joints, so I’m being melodramatic and sort of masochistic. Eventually I’ll get over it, but that’s at least four months away, and so right now, I’m kind of stuck with myself.)
The bell is going to ring soon and then everybody will file out into the halls. I’ll go stand in the locker bay with Little Sister Yovanoff, where I already know exactly what will happen, even though we’ve only been back at school for about a week. I know what will happen because it happens the same way every single day, and shows absolutely no signs of stopping.
This is not a post about #4, but it’s not NOT a post about him, because since school started, he has basically become a permanent fixture in my periphery. Because it’s bad now, this feeling of smitten-ness—creeping into my notes and observations on an almost daily basis, when last year, I mostly only mentioned him in passing.
Now I use up all this extra space trying to divine the little truths and secrets, but it’s hard. The notes I make are consistent and comprehensive, but they don’t actually lead anywhere, except to the exact same things I’ve known for the last two years.
I see #4 in the halls and in our locker bay and his mouth is always open like he’s on the verge of saying something. Rooster laughs right out loud, that booming, crashing laugh, elbowing his friends and swinging his arms around when he talks, but #4 always seems to be trying to take up less space.
And so this is what I’m thinking about—all I’m thinking about—on the afternoon I see Delilah for the first time. My train of thought is taken up entirely by how the bell is about to ring, and then #4 will stand facing me with his back against the door of his locker. I’ll wait patiently for Little Sister Yovanoff, and when she gets there, I’ll untangle her hair from her necklace or let her use my Chapstick. We’ll laugh about books together, and when I smile and say something easy and offhand, I’ll try not to look like I’m staring past her to someplace else. I’ll try not to drop whatever I’m holding.
As I turn to leave the bathroom, a girl comes in alone. The ratty purple cardigan and the glasses immediately make me think of an ironic librarian, but the image is sort of ruined by her worn-out jeans and her long burgundy hair. Her mouth is thin and cynical, but there’s a certain twitch to it, like she’s just waiting for someone to amuse her.
I’m about to look away and start for the door, when she smiles. The way her mouth turns down at the corners is weirdly familiar, and I have a loopy kind of déjà vu, like I’m sixteen again, standing at my locker while Gatsby holds a paper cup against his face and tries to explain how nothing is that bad.
In a fit of deep social ineptitude, I respond to her smile by doing nothing.
She’s completely undeterred by my lack of friendliness, though. “Hi,” she says, in a voice that makes the sense of déjà vu much, much worse suddenly, like I should absolutely be able to place it. But I can’t.
I smile back mechanically and mumble something, then walk out. The whole encounter leaves me with a feeling like the day is one long, disjointed dream and I need to wake up now. I keep trying to think where I’ve seen her before. But the answer is, I haven’t.
The next day, Jane comes to meet us for lunch, bringing a sandwich and a single-serving yogurt in a brown paper sack with her name written on it in marker, because even though she doesn’t really eat that much at all anymore, she still thinks things like that are hilarious.
She waits outside the gym for me and Little Sister Yovanoff. “My sister is going to eat with us,” she says when we get out of class. “If that’s okay.”
And I’m unsettled, but not entirely shocked when the girl who comes up to us is the same one I’d seen in the bathroom.
She’s tall and angular, with a soft Renaissance-Madonna face and warm, dark eyes. The reason I couldn’t remember where I’d seen her before is that I haven’t. I’ve just been talking to her on the phone for five months, whenever I call for Jane and she winds up answering instead.
After lunch, Delilah didn’t go to her third hour. Instead, she and I drove around together, listening to Blue Dragon’s radio. She didn’t seem to care that it only gets about half the stations.
“I thought that was you,” she said, holding her cigarette out the window. “In the bathroom the other day. That’s how come I said hi. I actually hate most people.”
“How did you even recognize me, though?”
“Jane talks about you.”
I laughed, shaking my head. “There’s like two thousand kids at this school.”
“Yeah, but the thing is, none of them are you. You think there are so many people walking around, but really, most of them are robots, so the ones who aren’t are pretty obvious. I knew Jane wouldn’t have friends who fit in. That’s not how she is.”
I wanted to ask about Jane, how is she exactly, but it seemed like the wrong question. Yogurt and sandwich notwithstanding, she looks like a part of her has disappeared over the summer. The part that laughs or smiles or enjoys anything.
Delilah is fourteen and a sophomore, and kind of incredible. Except for a certain ghost of a resemblance around the mouth, she and Jane are nothing alike. If Jane is a marble statue, then Delilah is the circus. If Jane can be counted on to put on a blank stare at the first sign of conflict, Delilah is an open book. She laughs, cries, shouts, dances, screeches like a velociraptor, and hugs me between classes like we haven’t seen each other in years.
She’s her sister’s polar opposite in nearly every way, but the actual process of how she becomes my friend is almost identical.
Delilah put the cigarette in her mouth, inhaled, and then tapped the ash out the passenger window. “I’m going to start hanging out with you guys, I think—if that’s okay, I mean.”
“Yeah,” I said, and it was just like that morning last year when Jane caught me in the hall and asked if she could eat with us. “We’re not very exciting, though. And it’s possible that some of us could attract hostility or negative attention—well, not me and Little Sister Yovanoff, really, but Catherine has this thing where she pisses people off. Just so you know.”
“I am quite capable of attracting my own negative attention,” Delilah said sweetly. Then she dropped the cigarette into her empty Coke bottle and stared out at the traffic. “I have friends from last year, but I don’t like them much. My best friend from before is all mindless and stupid now. She’s running for class secretary—not even president, but secretary—and wants to be a $%&@ing cheerleader. We used to be bitter and disillusioned together and now it’s like she’s turned into a goddamn prom queen. I don’t get that. How can you just stop being disillusioned?”
The beauty of Delilah is that she never deflects or tells lies or hides anything. She just looks you right in the face and says exactly what she’s feeling, and doesn’t ever seem to worry too much about how other people are going to react.
She’s wildly affectionate and loves inside jokes and giving funny gifts and holding hands, and is ridiculously touched by even the smallest gesture. She gets excited about ice cream and Chinese buffets and going on errands, and will always share anything she has.
No one is ever in any doubt as to whether or not Delilah likes them. Her dislikes are just as vocal and absolute as her likes, and she has no problem writing someone off entirely, just like she has no problem telling someone that she loves them.
Even though I’ve been friends with Jane for close to eight months, it’s a friendship that was slow to take root, and I’m still not entirely sure what shape it is. Delilah, on the other hand, is all-in, one hundred percent, no questions asked. She bursts into my daily life with her face lit up like Christmas and her arms flung wide.
Today, I’m really curious about any friends you might have who are younger (or older) than you.
This is something that’s always fascinated me, because being homeschooled meant that the vast majority of my friends were a few years younger, and occasionally a few years older. Then I started high school and was shocked to find that people were typically only friends with other people from their grade.
Is that how it is for you, or do you have friends whose birthdays don’t line up quite so closely with yours?