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"Best Friends"



Cover © Rosalie Thorne Editor – Z. V. Ezell


"Best Friends"

By Rosalie Thorne


“There is only one happiness in this life,

to love and be loved.”

- George Sand


˚

Preface


Lifting up the heating blanket that’s holding Hades from my stomach, I carefully place him to the side and reach for the remote of the ceiling fan. I love Hades, I love snuggling with him – I do, but Jesus Christ does that heating blanket get too hot too fast. I know I could just leave my little dark-chocolate Sphynx kitten to any of his beds or houses or trees strewn across my sizeable bedroom suite, but there is something so special about having him in bed with me.

Curling around the edge of the heat, I run my fingers down his ever-so-slightly fuzzy paw. His little squinty eyes look up at me, then straight to my nightstand where my phone lit up with a text. Seeing as my phone is almost dead, I curl uncomfortably to it, keeping it plugged in, to reply back to Jonah.


For real though, you sure a pool party is enough?

Why wouldn’t it be?

We’re only turning 15

Oh… right.

It’s 16 that’s a big deal?

Sweet Sixteen, yeah.

15 is Quinceanera

Thanks for the fun fact, WASP


I snort. We are both as white as can be - the ladies of my family apart of the Daughters Of The American Revolution and my dad’s mother knowing the Scottish clan her father was a part of, tartan and all. The Wilson’s are the spitting image of Nords while I and my mom are classically Irish - red hair, freckles, the works (even if it’s now generations back). Still though, I know a lot about random shit and there are at least a dozen books on my shelves where the main character of Latin or Spanish background.

I haven’t quite kicked the teenage-romance phase I am in right now (which Jonah comments is weird because how did I ‘downgraded’ from romance novels – or as his brother called it ‘girl porn’.) But… there’s a difference between the heart-pounding, blood-boiling instant attraction and passion of a lot of the adult romance novels and the slow and increasingly real connection between two people who are friends first like in the teen books.

Suddenly, Hades stretches a paw against my thigh, his needing-to-be-clipped nails digging into my skin. This brings me back from my far-off thoughts and I type to Jonah about our birthday. Right in the middle of my second text back to him, a notification lowers across my screen. I click over to Clark’s conversation.


I can hear Jonah laughing….

You really should go to bed.


I looked up at the “Goodnight” I’d sent him, tapping it and yep, that had been over an hour ago.


You’re right….

I know.

Goodnight, Candice.

Goodnight, Clark.

I’ll see you in the morning.


Smiling a little, I put my phone back down on the side table and pull my stuffed bear down the back of neck. Even now, there’s plenty enough time for me to get eight hours of sleep, eat breakfast, and be ready before the Wilson brothers come to pick me up for school. Still, though, it is nice of Clark to worry… he knows how it’s actually important for me to get a full nights sleep given the abrupt news last Spring that my off-and-on depression was actually Bi-Polar I Disorder.

Right as I am drifting, the blue light of the phone screen glows. Heart-thudding a little too hard, I look. But alas, wrong Wilson.


My brother just stopped playing his guitar.

Goodnight, Candi

<3

My meds kick-in hard and even if I wanted to type back more, I can’t. Lids heavy, a fuzziness in my chest, my last sleepy thought is about my best friend.


*


Hands behind my head, front teeth nibbling my lip, eyes watching the ceiling fan go round and round. Candice hasn’t texted me back, so it seems her medication kicked-in finally. I wish it’s that easy for me to fall asleep…. But no, my mind runs rapid tonight.

I thought, maybe, if I tried to finish the song I am writing for her birthday that would be enough to quiet my mind. But it actually made things worse, me now trying to figure out how the Hell am I going to play it for her?

Get her alone, in private, and play it for her.

Jonah mentioned something to Pops about a pool party, which he was thrilled about because it is a perfect excuse for him to use the grill. It also meant Pops could stay home and there wouldn’t be a lot of drinking from us youngins. It’d been a few years, but Pops is still trying to be friends with us rather than the single-parent he now is.

At least he’s home.

Unlike Candice’s dad.

Groaning, I rub my face and sit up. Kicking my comforter off, I reach over the side of the bed for my acoustic again. My lyrics are crap, for once, but there’s a huge difference between a how-can-I-say-I-love-you-without-the-words ballad and the common-denominator hate-the-world rock song.

Going through the music twice, I start singing softly the third time.


Clark


I blink a few times and check the name. Candice. Her medication usually knocks her out for eight hours. I text her when I get up and sometimes it’s another twenty minutes before a text back. She shouldn’t be up.


What’s wrong?

Brother

Music

Sleep


Biting my lip a little, I can’t help but smile. She can barely type, she’s so out of it.


What if I told you the song’s for you?


I sigh and backspace.


Sorry. Sleep well

<3


I try not to overthink the heart. She always ends her conversation with Jonah that way, too. I’m sure a ton of people get the little typed-out heart. She’s cute like that. Not that I could exactly tell her, now that cute means something completely different in my head - in my heart. But it is nevertheless true.




One


Seventh period of Friday came at went, at last, and I am not-at-all surprised to see the gaggle of girls around my locker. Not just the usual group of Allie and Marie and Syndy, but the expanded group of Sandra and Jules and Sara. That means only one thing….

“Candi!” they call out almost in unison.

I shift my textbooks to throw my hand up. “Hey!”

Glancing around them, I start looking for Jonah. We weren’t able to convince the radno’s that surround our lockers to switch, (so we could be side-by-side as nature intended), so now we share my locker given its convenience. Where is he?

“Looking for your twin?” Syndy asks.

I nod then start twisting the lock. “With Drama seventh he usually gets out early and is waiting for me.”

“True,” Marie needlessly confirms.

I shrug. “So… what’s with,” and I sort of throw a wide glance to everyone.

Jules looks at Sara who looks at Sandra who looks at Allie. “Well,” Allie stars. “We all sort of realized that, well, a pool party at Jonah’s house….”

“Means, that… well,” Sara stars giggling, “his brother is going to be there, isn’t he?”

Clark has never missed a birthday… not since I could remember, anyway. Jonah and I always have a joined birthday even though he was born the night before the morning I was - a ten hour difference.

“I guess, yeah.” I hold my locker door open and try to stand on my toes to see Jonah.

Being the average American height of five-four has its drawbacks…. (Because even if it was the average height for women, it sure doesn’t feel like it. Not when half the girls in school wear heels and the other half are tall enough to be lead members of sports teams.) Finally, I hear a familiar holler down the hall and the girls part way for Jonah.

“Hey, my ladies!” he smiles while sliding his books into the locker.

“Hey Jonah!” they respond in unison.

He is everybody’s #GayBestfriend and he loves it. Slamming the locker shut, he then leans against it. Though he’s posed the same way I’ve seen Clark, it just doesn’t have the same vibe. Thinner, shorter, more flamboyant, and very talkative, he is quite the opposite of his older sibling.

No, Clark Jonathan – who everyone but me calls C.J. – is classically popular… straight A’s, star football player (who had to give up being captain because his band took priority), never had a girlfriend… he has this habit of an intense stare where you know he’s listening to everything even if he never comments, and of course, with the hookah and the vintage Datsun (the 1978 matte black two-seater he brought back to life himself and never lets anyone sit in the passenger seat, not even Jonah) there is almost a bad-boy vibe about him. He just is this entity that floats around school, being friends with just about everyone and having everyone who could possibly attracted to him, attracted to him.

Even me.

Not that I would tell anyone that! But I’d be stupid to deny it.

“Earth to Candi,” Jonah’s hand waves in front of me.

I blink a couple times, “Yeah?”

“Ready to go?”

I nod and take a step forward. “See you girls tomorrow?”

A stream of ‘yes’s and ‘of courses’ and giggling to follow and I throw a hand up in farewell. Jonah and I take the path of least resistance to the parking lot and then start the awkward trek to the back – bobbing and weaving through the stop-and-go-and-stop traffic – to where his brother’s other car is under the shade of the trees.

Leaning against the back, boot against the bumper, one hand holds his phone loosely, his thumb actively scrolling. His dirty blond hair looks like he’s been pushing it to the side in frustration and his darker brows are pulled together in concentration.

“Hey Clark,” I shove my hip against his lifted knee on my way to the back seat.

His blue eyes drift my direction as he takes the falling foot in stride and walks behind me. “Hey, Candice,” he says rather pointedly with a smirk.

I call him Clark which he hates, he calls me Candice which I pretend to hate. Therefore, I roll my eyes and clamber into the seat behind him. I’d learned early on that if I sit behind Jonah, I will stare too much at our driver, and if I sit in the middle Clark would glare at me too much through the rearview mirror. Safely behind him, I could see Jonah more clearly anyway.

Clark won’t pull out till we’re all buckled, so Jonah fights against the strap to turn to me. “Did you see all the people who marked ‘yes’ on Facebook?”

I pick through my school bag to find my leftover stash of Tootsie Rolls. “For tomorrow?”

“Obvi.”

Out of the corner of my eye I can see in the mirror where Clark rolling his eyes. Looking back to Jonah I nod, “Yeah! Almost everyone.”

“And you said a fifteenth birthday wasn’t a big deal.” Jonah mimics Carlotta, “They lav me, they lav me!”

Snorting, with laugher, I lean back in a heap. Trying to steady my breathing a little, my eyes catch Clarks in the mirror again. He has a real smile on his face for once, not just a smirk. Broad lips, cheeks raised, his dimples showing. Feeling a heat in my cheeks, I become increasingly focused on unwrapping another Tootsie Roll.

“So, what time did you want me over tomorrow?” my eyes barely peek to the passenger seat.

“You’re not spending the night?”

Jonah’s mouth closes and he stares at his brother. Running the words through my head again, finally I look up at him. “Ah,” I tuck some wild strands behind my ear. “Well, I could…?”

Focused back on the road, on making the tight turn into the you-wouldn’t-know-it-was-there-unless-you-were-told entrance to our neighborhood, Clark doesn’t respond. I look at Jonah, my heart racing. Jonah shrugs and mouths ‘I don’t know’.

Parked, Clark doesn’t look at me even though he reaches in front of me to get his backpack. “You always do, that’s all,” and he gets out of the car, slamming the door shut. He waits for Jonah and me to pass into the house before he locks the car and closes the garage door.

“Did you want to sleep over?” Jonah asks after his brother’s bedroom door slams.

I shrug. “I just thought, maybe your father wanted tonight.”

He stares into the open fridge for a while. “My brother’s right…,” he says after a little too-long. “You’ve stayed over, like, every year. Did you want to run home and pack a bag?”

The Wilson’s never did want to talk about the loss of Katie… the wife, their mom, my pseudo-aunt. I had only learned about the cancer from my own mom and Jonah – as close as we are – never said a word about it, not even after she passed. It had actually been Clark who’d talked to me about it, when I found him sitting alone, feet in the pool in the middle of the night. I guess I am the feminine presence in this house now.

“Sure!” I say with a little too much perk. I try again. “I’ll be back in a few, yeah?”

He nods but doesn’t look up. “Door’s always open.”

I take my bag because I don’t need the threat of homework this weekend and head towards the backdoor. Through the door, across the patio, down the little hill, then I am on home property and have to do a mirror image to get into my house. No one’s home, of course, except for Hades who instantly starts meowing for me from the stairs. I meow back as I toss my school bag behind the kitchen table and pull open the cupboard for kitten food.

“Baybee!” I call while shaking the plastic bag.

I hear soft thuds as he scampers down the wood staircase and can already hear his purrs when he gets to the far side of the table. “Hey mushka,” I reach down behind his ears.

Purring and purring, his tail curling around his hip, I sit down on the floor while he eats. Seeing the text stream from the girls group chat, I can’t even scroll back far enough without my phone glitching. It seems the same as it always is, though, gushing about Clark and the prospect of the party.

Hades goes for the water now, getting little droplets up his nose. Clark explained that he drank like a dog, though I don’t know how Hades could have learned that. After we found out about the Bi-Polar, Mom started doing a ton of ton of research and decided I needed an Emotional Support Animal. Which just threw everyone for a loop because of her allergies; ESAs tend to be dogs, though sometimes cats… and she is highly allergic to both. But then, there he was waiting for me the day before school started - a little purebred wrinkle-bean of a kitten.

Clark used to tease that he looks little a little demon or a rat or an ugly dog, which resulted in me swatting at him. But when I started (sometimes literally) crying to Jonah about how much I loved my new kitten and it bothered me when people called Hades bad names, Clark hasn’t teased since. He may be annoying, he may be overprotective, he may even be mean, but he’s knows my boundaries and doesn’t cross them. He’s thoughtful like that.

And think of the devil….


You coming back any time soon?

Yeah. I just had to check on Hades.

Why don’t you bring him over?

Or I can take the checking-on him duty.

You know, so you can enjoy your birthday and all.

My eyebrows rise.


Really?

Unless you don’t want me too.


My heart quickens its pace.


Come over

And I can show you the ropes?

Be there in ten.


*


Sitting on the floor of her bedroom, Hades is curled in my lap, my fingers mooche his suede skin softly and I keep my eyes on Candice. She’s packing a floral messenger bag with stuff for tonight’s stay, the party tomorrow, and the night after that. (She always brings the same sleepwear - blue rose print pants and a Star Wars shirt that had the phases of the Moon with the Death Star. She’s just fucking cute like that. She likes what she likes and doesn’t care. She is more popular than I am, even as a Sophomore - so open and honest and nice… so beautiful, inside and out.)

I notice she’d changed clothes since she’d left my house. I can’t help but wonder if it had been right away or because I was coming over. I’d like to think the latter, but maybe that is reaching. She generally very modest with her choices, even if it clings to her body. But now, as she is bent over her bag on her computer chair, her cleavage is perfectly shown with a soft green, v-neck tee. Tight jeans cup her ass, grip her thighs, and show off her calf muscles. She’d even pulled out her white-marble print ankle boots, even though we’d only be traveling across the yard. Good sign? Good sign.

“So…” I offer casually.

It takes a minute for her train of thought to stop and for her to look up. “Yeah?”

“I’m glad you’re coming over tonight.”

Her chest does that shallow flutter as her cheeks pinken. “Oh?”

I look back to Hades, “You’ve always come over for your birthday. It’s a good tradition… I think it makes Jonah sort of forget who’s not there.”

She eases a breath, “Right. Makes sense.”

Just do it, Clark, grow a pair, I think harshly. “But I do have something I need you to do.”

Candice tucks a few curls behind her ear. “And what’s that, Clark?”

I smirk, “Well, Candice, midnight tonight I need you on the roof.”

Her eyes slowly lift and her hands land on her hips. “Why?”

It’s not like I haven’t asked her to meet me there before… though usually it’s after she’s already texted me that she needs to talk. So, I shrug. “Just be there,” and I lift Hades off my lap carefully.

After he makes his way to the little house with the heating pad bottom behind me, I stand and lean against the door. I unabashedly continue to watch Candice as she moves through her room - her course of action seeming chaotic to me but making clear sense to her.

Then I can tell, for whatever reason, she’s stalling.

“Ready?”

A long blink and then she straightens. “Yep.”

When she walks by me, I slip the bag strap off her shoulder and toss it over my head. She stops and her brows come together. “I can carry it, it’s okay.”

I shrug and walk down the hall. I make a silly expression and say, “But don’t I just look fabulous with it?”

She giggles, then snorts. Exactly what I wanted. And in the way her nose wrinkles up, I can’t help but smile. When she tries to steady her breathing, her hand spreads against her chest. She lets off a little happy hum of a sigh as she looks up at me. I can’t help but look into her twinkling green eyes. I have not been this close to her in a long time, but the familiar flecks of gold show themselves.

“Clark?”

She is really so close to me. I swallow hard. “Candice?”

“So…”

“Mhm?”

But then she cocks a brow and pokes my chest, “What’s my birthday present?”

Taking in a deep breath, I lean back to pivot and start down the hall. “You’ll have to wait until midnight, Lady Candice.”

“Well, alright Sir Clark. I’ll be there,” and she starts down the stairs before me.




Two


I always forget how cold it gets after the Autumn Sun sets. The night between my Jonah’s and my birthday - September twenty-first to the twenty-second - is no exception. Grabbing the fuzzy throw off my bed, I am careful to keep it around my shoulders as I climb from my balcony up to the roof. Jonah had already fallen asleep, wanting to up bright and early, so it was easy enough to leave out the backdoor. If he texted me, I could always say I was checking on Hades. I’d specifically not take my meds, just yet, so I could come out here.

Alone, in the quiet of the night, I lie down and look up at the stars. So far off in the suburbs means there isn’t as much light pollution, and the view is pretty decent. Getting lost in the moment, I’m startled when Clark’s voice comes from below.

I move towards the edge, “What?”

He has his guitar slung across his back while climbing up. “Just saying I was here.”

“It’s lucky my house has the back stairwell.”

He doesn’t look at me while he gets settled in his usual spot, “What time is it?”

I twist my wrist to get my FitBit to light. “Three minutes till.”

He nods and gets the guitar between his legs so he can lean back on his elbows. Eyes up, his voice is soft, “It’s a good night.”

My eyes go to the clear skies. “Worried it was going to rain?”

“Yes.”

He doesn’t look at me when I stare at him with raised eyebrows. “So… you going to make me wait the three minutes?”

Throwing a smirk my way, he replies “Of course.”

I groan and lay down next to him. He eases down next to me, and I can feel how close his hand is to mine. We’d held hands before… when we were up here, deep in conversation. It is easy to lose your surroundings with a sky like this. And sometimes, even when we’d stopped talking, it was just nice to know the other was there. Such a vast sky, such a vast world, but not at all alone.

I’d held hands with family, with girl friends, on dates, Hell even with Jonah before. But even so, it always feels different with Clark. And when his fingers curl around mine tonight, I feel the same electricity I always do, my heart beating rapidly, my breath momentarily frantic.

“Do you remember the first time we came up here?” his voice is almost a whisper.

I tried to think… it had been when I was twelve - a seventh grader and he was a Freshman in High School - fifteen years old. It had been Valentine’s Day and no one got me anything. Jonah didn’t even gift me a card, none of my friends even did anything #GalesntinesDay. I guess after the routine of everyone getting everyone something in class in Elementary School, it made me think no one liked me.

“Yeah…”

His voice is low, soft, “I don’t want you to ever think nobody cares.”

I didn’t know quite what to say when his phone started chiming in alarm. Letting go on my hand quickly, he sits up. After the alarm is shut off, he turns to me. With the bright light of the Moon, I can see the intensity of her stare. He reaches up, his fingers brushing my Heart pounding so hard it shakes my chest, breath caught in my throat; I just look into his eyes. But then I feel a buzzing in my pocket. I blink a few times then look down; I can see the light from under my phone.

“Ignore it.”

I nod, almost in a daze and look back to him.

He’s looking at me the way he does that makes my stomach flip-flop. His face is thoughtful and almost… careful, as if I am breakable. His grey-blue eyes keep to my face though it seems like a strain to do so, and he runs a hand through his hair. “So…”

“Mhm?”

“I got you three presents actually.”

“Oh?” I breathe.

He nods slowly, hesitantly. “I…,” he clears and throat and gestures to the guitar, “I wrote you something and then I’ve got something to give you,” he pats his pocket.

“And the third?”

His eyes fall on my lips.

After a moment, I whisper, “Clark?”

His eyes come back to mine, “Candice?”

But I just don’t know what to say. How could I possible tell him how I feel? It isn’t my fault he’s so attractive, it isn’t my fault we’ve spent all our lives together, it isn’t my fault that my stomach gets butterflies. He just is there… all the time, whenever I need him or even if I don’t.

I think back to the first time we talked privately at all - when I was, like, ten and I’d been fighting with Jonah, and he carried me to the other side of the house and sat me down in the grass. I was crying and then I got angry, then I just fell back. I said I was sorry, or something, about him seeing me a mess - my mom always told me I need to keep my emotions private. But he just shrugged and asked if I needed to talk about it.

It’s always been easy for us to talk. Maybe because we knew we’d keep each other’s secrets. Maybe because we simply didn’t judge each other. He is Clark, I am Candice, and that’s that.

A chicken, I nod to the guitar. “So, you wrote a song, huh?”

He frowns and looks down. “Yep….”

“Trying something out for your next show?”

Surprisingly, with a chuckle he eases. “No. This is for you.” He gets settled and the same look he always has when he plays washes over his face. Though he never lets himself sing lead, I always liked his voice better than Erik’s. But there’s something different about this… I can tell by the way he’s slow going, how is voice is a little lower.

What is it about you,

That stays in my mind,

What is it about you,

That is truly so kind.

I never know what to do,

With or without you,

I never know what to do,

With or without you.

What have you done to mind,

Effervescent and oh so kind,

What have you done to my mind,

I can’t be with or without you.

The last cord fades on the wind, leaving a comfortable silence between us. Though I’m focused on his face, lips parted, eyes getting teary, he doesn’t even look up when he tries to pull the little gift out of his pocket. (He starts nibbling on his lip as he gets the little thing out, the corner slightly stuck on a seam.)

He doesn’t really give me time – or us time – to respond to the song before he’s offering a little box to me, I take the little box gently and open it with a soft creak. I gasp quietly and look to the clearly authentically antique heart-shaped locket on a white cushion. “This is beautiful!”

Relief spreads across his face and he smiles, dimples and all. “You like it?”

“I love it.”

He runs a hand through his hair, “Do you… need help putting it on?”

“Actually, yes,” my giggle is soft, a little uncontrollable. I quickly add “I usually get stuff caught in my hair.”

I hand the box back to him and then turn around. The blanket falls off when I lift my mane of curly hair above my shoulders with one arm. I feel his fingers brush by my bare skin as he tries to get the necklace around my neck and then clasped close. The chain is longer than I expected, the heart falling to the middle of my chest. Under my shirt it would land perfectly between the bra cups.

Happy tears rolling down my cheeks now, I turn around quickly and tackle-hug him. “Thank you so much!” I say into his shoulder.


*


Tears of joy tickle my neck as Candice holds herself close to me. I had heard a muffled “Thank you so much!” into my shoulder. I wrap my arms around her slowly and tug her a little closer. I don’t know how long we stay this way, us sort of melding together more comfortably, but finally she pulls back at a glacial pace. Like a sloth, she wraps the little blanket around her shoulders – looking sort of dozy, but in a happy way.

My next words spill out, “There’s one last thing.”

She presses some fabric to her cheeks, cleaning up her face. “Yeah?”

My fingers shove through my tuft of hair, slipping down to hold on the back of my neck. “Candice?”

“Clark?” she muses.

“I didn’t tell you before ‘cause I didn’t want you to not take it.”

She frowns and her fingers move from her blanket to the locket, “What is it?”

My eyes come to hers and I’m swimming in the green of a Summer field. “That was my mom’s.” I finally say, unblinking. “She gave it to me to give,” to give to the woman I love, when the time is right, “to the right person.”

“Clark?” she whispers, “Are you sure?”

I nod, my eyes stay level with hers, “I’ve always thought of it as yours.”

Finally, her smile is soft – sweet, kind, genuine. “I’ll never take it off.”

I don’t doubt it.

I enjoy her smile for a moment, building the courage to kiss her. But right as I lifted my hand to her face, her phone started ringing. “Ignore it,” I instruct again.

It is ringing though, not just a notification. She frowns and slips it up from the roof. “Oh, it’s Jonah.” She clicks talk. “Hey.” Her eyes drift to the side and she wiggles to sit criss-cross. “No, I’m awake and Hades is okay. I’m just -” But he is obviously talking over her (a habit I can’t stand) and she brings her fingers to her temple and rubs carefully. “Yeah, maybe. Yeah, no… I’m coming.” A pause. “I’ll be right there. Yep, bye!” and she sighs.

“I take it we need to get back?”

She tosses any loose hair over her shoulder, sighing, then takes another look at the starry sky.