The girls sprinted across the six-lane road, legs fueled by a vitality for life rather than the very real fear that they could be splattered across the asphalt by a minivan. The tips of their long hair flew behind them, weighed down at the roots by cheap CVS-brand styling products and the natural oils that come from having a social life so plump that showers become an every-other-day event. Each had just seventeen years of life experience under their belts. Their convictions were built on nothing more than a mix of passionate feelings, interpersonal intelligence, and whatever the headlines of Cosmopolitan were that month.
Of the two, Leah would be able to articulate into erudite words that their daredevil stunt across the highway stemmed not only from the carefree conduct of youth but also their faith in the ability of tiny black outfits to halt traffic. She was the younger of the two and saw the world in vibrant adjectives. Her deepest belief was that even the impossible could be solved if it could be described. She donned hot pants and a ratty, lace-trimmed camisole, and ran behind Whitney, who filled out ripped denim shorts and a self-cut muscle tee.
Whitney was four months older and almost a foot taller than Leah; neither statistic played into the responsibility she felt for her friend. Her body had changed overnight, forcing her to develop a thick skin just as quickly, not only for herself but also for those who chose to stay by her side through the unsavory moments of an early onset adulthood. Unlike Leah, Whitney was action-based. She didn’t need the power of a dictionary to dive into a pit of trouble, nor did she need a pen to deck her adversaries. She had impulses that were usually right, and when they weren’t, she was already moving five steps ahead of her mistake.
In one hand they clutched the essentials: phones, keys, money. Their alternate hands gripped tall cans of Coors Light that slid within brown paper bag sleeves.
They ducked into a suburban tract of weathered one-story houses when something in the distance caught Whitney’s eye.
“C’mon!” She started running towards the main road.
“Whit! I don’t want people noticin’ us!”
Leah jogged behind feigning reluctance behind a fixed smile. The girls’ feet slowed as they crossed the street away from the homes and stepped onto the large expanse of neglected grass. Leah let out a nervous laugh at the sight of their final destination: Galveston’s Municipal Cemetery.
Whitney took a step over the “wall” that loomed at a toadstool-towering three bricks.
“What better place for a Trash Funeral?” Whitney called over her shoulder as she paraded amongst the graves before climbing on top of a thick tombstone.
“Don’t be disrespectful!” Leah waved her off.
“You’re the one standing on the placard of a deadman.”
Leah looked down and jumped to the side as if an undead hand could snatch her to hell. She glanced behind her; the lack of cemetery barriers also meant the line of houses they had just emerged from had a clear view of this stage of sorrow. “You don’t think some onlooker will chase us outta here?”
“The beach is a few blocks away. I doubt they sit around staring at this like it’s the shoreline. Besides, they don’t know that we’re not grieving for…” Whitney peered at the text on her previous seat and read aloud, “Samuel J. Lackson. Hm.”
Whitney scanned the uneasiness on her best friend’s face. “But look, if it makes you feel better we’ll head closer to the center.”
Leah nodded. Whitney linked arms with her and began to skip towards the middle, causing Leah to snort up laughter.
“What are you doin’? We gotta look like we’re grieving! Not like we’re two ignorami on the Yellow Brick Road.”
“Oh you and your ten point Scrabble words,” Whitney pivoted to clench Leah like a large stuffed bear freshly won from the state fair and began wailing to the heavens, “OOOOH MITCH! MITCH! WHATEVER WILL WE DO WITH OUT YOUR DUMB ASS STARTIN’ BAR FIGHTS AT CABO CANTINA?!”
Whitney picked Leah up and spun her around in a circle, making the tombstones translucent rectangles blending into one another. The sloshing of fluid in Leah’s eardrums, the arms squeezing her torso, and the deep love emanating from her best friend twirled Leah back into a more manic memory.
Leah had spent the past eight minutes unable to parallel park her dad’s Buick thanks to a tight spot and the nerves of meeting up with her new significant other’s friends for the first time. When she finally had the Le Sabre placed and clubbed, she forced confidence out of her back by straightening it and removing all of her body weight from her six inch heels. It didn’t help her heart rate to find that the guys were standing outside of the bar on a smoke break, giving her tongue no time to practice it’s muscle memory of the facts on her fake ID. Mitch was placed with his back towards her entrance. The eyes of his friends drifting towards the spectacle of a female cued him to turn around, and when he did, his face lit up and Leah was only steps away from his arms embracing her and drunkenly spinning her around in the air like she was in a sloppy remake of The Notebook.
Leah's feet hit the ground. She wriggled out of Whitney’s cartoon antics to open her beer, “And after we spent the whole Sunday rootin’ for his damn Cowboys...”
The crack of the can was so clear it could have made a corpse’s weathered eyelids rip open. Leah had momentarily forgotten what the result of mixing carbonation and sprinting was and gasped when her beer overflowed and spilled foam onto her sunshine yellow Converse. She yelped and jerked her feet back, holding the beer as far away from her body as possible.
“My shoes! Aw, Mitch just got these for me,” Leah whined, gently brushing off the microscopic bubbles from the rubber toes.
“They are cute.”
“He was always so good at remembering my favorite color.”
“Leah, it’s easy to remember your favorite color. It’s fuckin’ yellow. No one’s favorite color is yellow.”
“Ugh, I can’t stand to see you upset with his name in your mouth for a second longer. Can we just start this damn thing already?”
The girls were now several yards away from the onlooking homes, so Leah obliged.
Whitney raised her beer to the sky and screamed “To the death of Mitchell Rory!” before chugging it down.
“The Second.” Leah quietly added.
“Oh for Chrissake.”
“I’m sorry! Now that I think about it, he might’ve been The Third?” Leah avoided eye contact while sipping her empty calories.
“May his soul rest in the ditch he fell into the night of your golden birthday.” Another glug from Whitney.
“Or on the entrance ramp to the 45 he tried to exit off of.” A gulp from Leah.
Whitney shook her head, “He was a…”
“Whit, come on, I really cared about him. Just like you really cared for that dumb ass Shane.” She shuddered at the thought of her friend’s skeleton ex and the wind of spirits rushing by her exposed legs.
“Fine, fine. Here lies Mitchell Rory. The Second and-or Third, a large man, but an even larger baby who will no longer rob my best friend of her beauty sleep!” Whitney took a swig, then looked to Leah who was pretending to wipe big, fake tears from her eyes.
“To my old love,” she took a dramatic breath, “You meant everything to me for one drunk summer and I cannot thank your father enough for getting me out of that D.U.I. Maybe I should have banged him instead.”
This caused Whitney to spit-take her grievance gulp, making Leah cackle like they were human pieces of a Rube Goldberg Machine. Suddenly, Whitney halted her laughter and her eyes went wide.
“Oh shit! Leah!” Whitney dug around in her back pocket in a panic before procuring a lighter. She impatiently smacked an accompanying box of Camels against her palm before lighting one and announcing, “We forgot to sage the space!”
She wafted the cigarette around like a wand while Leah fell to the dirt laughing, still trying to avoid falling onto any of the bronze placards. Whitney squatted to the ground to join her, turning the lit cigarette into a microphone, “Any final words?”
“I don’t know...I just really thought I had found the one,”
“At seventeen? What sick Reddit thread of incels tradin’ grooming tricks said you’d meet your husband at seventeen?!”
“Mitch was seventeen when we met! Don’t make it weird!”
“I’m just saying that even the dumb asses we know who are trapping their baby daddies know their real soul mates are still out in the world ready to propose properly at twenty-two.”
There was six feet between the mounted TV to the well worn couch, another four feet from the back of that couch to the electronic dart board, which created a dangerous walkway to the backyard should anyone decide to take a smoke break while someone else took their aggressions out. Leah stood by the screen door listing her argument points over nothing, and Mitch responded with insignificant rebuttals. She felt a gust of power swiveling on her heel and reaching for the handle just as she could feel a gentle tug on the straps of her bag when Mitch swallowed his pride and asked her not to go.
Leah knew that when speaking of more intangible memories it didn’t matter how vivid they were in her mind, they’d deflate upon their verbal birth into the present. It scared her that by just speaking of memories, she could question, or even worse, lose them. For that reason, she chose to keep this moment in the living room to herself at the suggestion of “twenty-two.”
Leah wore her emotions on her face, and Whitney wasn’t aloof. “Damn, I’m sorry Le’. Here I was assumin’ you were just trying to lock him down so you could become heiress to the riches of a sleazy law firm.”
Leah’s smile cracked her entire face, “Well, that too.”
The girls knew that if a day involved drinking, it should not start with eating--a mantra they learned from noxious images on every US Weekly or People cover brightly advertised in their local supermarkets. With no prior meals in their stomachs, they relaxed into the fuzzy air around them.
Leah pressed her shoulder blades into the patchy grass, admiring the clouds making fluffy reflections of her subconscious in the sky. She raised her finger and traced what appeared to her as a small dog chasing a large sea gull.
Leah sat in the sand she grew up in, eyes puffy from having to work a double shift after being stood up at the Station Piano Bar. She was too tired to sleep, too angry to act out, so there she sat, staring at the shoreline like it meant something. Mitch would eventually find her, and as an apology for the snafu from the night before delivered to her a--
“No.” Leah broke the silence.
Whitney looked over at Leah, puzzled. “Come again?”
Leah’s hands whipped up to her ear lobes, unfastening two gold cacti studs in a frenzy.
“I gotta let him go Whit’. In the words of our Lord and Savior, Post Malone: ‘I’m no good at goodbyes.’”
And with that, she chucked the jewelry into the dirt and they limply landed barely a foot in front of them.
Whitney stood up and looked for the pieces, “How ‘bout I just hold onto those and a few months from now we make a trip to the pawn shop?”
Leah’s mind was a waterpark of alcohol gushing adrenaline through the crevices crossing her quickly from jovial to fuming. Her growing anger was halted by the sound of a synthesized alarm so loud even Whitney jumped, “Jesus! You can’t set that thing to Windchimes or somethin’?”
In Leah’s tipsy scramble to shut the phone up, the image on the screen became clear to both girls: a black and white photo strip of a happy couple shone with “Mitch Rory” circling as the header.
“You said you deleted his number!” Whitney lunged for the phone like her dog had a piece of chocolate in it’s mouth.
“I--I--well I realized if you delete it you can’t block it so--” Leah used her wrists and ankles in a hurried panic to push her body away from Whitney like a spider scrambling to live.
“But you clearly didn’t block his dumbass if he can still drunk dial you on a Tuesday at two.”
Whitney tackled Leah knocking the wind out of her gut, giving no voice to her shriek. Whitney overshot her reach for the phone, causing her knuckles to project the device out of Leah’s hand. It skipped grave markers like a stone over morbid waters.
“Whitney! What the hell?!” Leah pushed her off and ran to her phone, screen freshly shattered, call still unanswered.
“Don’t pick it up!”
“I have to! What if something’s wrong!”
Whitney wound up to charge at Leah who was swiping her thumb across the screen, cutting her skin on the freshly fractured glass. “Shit!”
From the phone an unassuming voice spoke, “Uh, Hello?”
Leah put the call on Speaker following Testament Three of the Best Friend Bible. The girls huddled together.
“Hi Mitch! What’s up? How are you?”
Whitney took the awkward silence as her moment to speak up, “Also I’m here, so don’t fuck this up.”
“You two can’t do anything on your own can you?”
“Listen here, motherfucker, if you hadn’t called your dumb ass would be out of our lives and we’d be enjoying the colors of the sky and debating if we should take this party to a Waffle House.”
“No! No!” Leah panicked, “I’m findin’ some privacy now.” Neither Leah nor Whitney moved an inch. “Alright, coast is clear.”
“Yeah, well uh, I’m gonna call it quits.”
Leah could’ve been replaced with a statue. She didn’t move, she didn’t blink, she didn’t breathe. The only part of her body functioning at full capacity were her tear ducts. She didn’t dare move her ocular nerves, as the smallest shift in her corneas could begin a typhoon of tears. All she could do was blindly tap where she assumed the End Call button was. When she failed, Whitney gently took the phone from her hand and ceased the communication.
Whitney hugged the smaller of the two, Leah unable to return the gesture with her arms folded in like a baby bat still unfamiliar to the power of their wingspan. Whitney could feel tears race down the back of her exposed shoulder as Leah found the words behind her, “I--I--was supposed to do that. I was supposed to move on.”
“No one’s saying you won’t.”
Leah pulled back from the embrace, angrily staring down her surroundings, “If I couldn’t be the one to cut things off first, what was all of this for?”
Whitney thought it over. She looked at the beer cans resting on headstones, their necessities strewn everywhere, Leah’s broken phone.
The long pause allowed the sound of waves from the Gulf pawing at the sand to chime in. Leah finally blew out a laugh that was more tension exploding from her diaphragm than an acknowledgement of humor. Leah paused and picked up her beer can, “Can I say some final words?”
“Of course! Curse him to hell, my witchy friend!”
“How lucky are we to be here. Alive. And together. During the middle of the week, during the middle of the day. In outfits we ripped out of our closets at the last minute and beer we got from the best liquor store this side of the island.”
Whitney felt an invisible punch to her gut at the sound of these words, “Are you ending our friendship?”
“No,” Leah took a deep breath, “but one day we’ll be too busy to come together like this. Too mature to keep our asses under denim. Too informed to mourn for people who are still alive. We have to appreciate this moment now, but we have to say goodbye to it as well. We’ll never do this again. We’re too smart. We’ll date better people. We’ll have jobs that last from sun up to sun down with the commute considered, we’ll have obligations to communities larger than us, we’ll have kids despite us vainly loving our unaltered bodies now. One day we’ll have to be at real funerals for real people we really loved. But for now, this, this moment deserves the recognition of its death.”
Leah flipped the can freeing the rest of the beer. As it came gushing out, the pathetic puddle it created splattered off and all over her shoes.
< < <
If this story made you chortle, or miss your best friend, please consider hitting that little Heart button! If it made you want to text your ex: DON'T. Instead, enjoy more fiction by Olivia Hill with "Brunch."
Special thanks to Kaleena Madruga & Mike O'Keefe