by Nancy Stone
“Here. You need this.” Miranda Jones hands me her comb, the pink long-handled one she keeps in the back pocket of her jeans. She motions with her head, a signal that means Follow Me.
In the bathroom next to algebra class, I comb the knots and curls out of my hair while she watches. Supervises. When I’m done, she gives me a purple elastic hairband, glittery. “You look more normal with your hair up.” She told me this last week, too, but I forgot. I don’t like mirrors. If you stare into them long enough, you can feel yourself invited in. You can think of lifting out of your own head and diving through the glass like it’s water.
Miranda Jones gives my new ponytail a short hard looking over. “Better.”
I nod and I smile, but can’t think of anything to say. I sometimes can be quiet that way, like a cat when you’re trying to chat with it.
Later, at lunch, Miranda Jones doesn’t bother to nod or smile at me from across the cafeteria. This is how it’s been since we started high school last month. In middle school, she let me sit at the end of her table. In elementary school, she let me sit next to her. In kindergarten, she told me she loved me. Best friends forever. Friends forever. Friends.
I walk home from school because everyone else takes the bus. I take the long way, around Oxoboxo Lake. No one goes to the lake after Labor Day, so it’s always how I like it—just me, alone, me. I say the letters F-R-I-E-N-D as I walk, a six-count matched to my footsteps, one letter per step. Eleven times, for a total of sixty-six steps, until the lake distracts me with its black-green body, the little kissing sounds the water makes when fish float up and put their fishy lips to it. Once I start thinking about the lake, it’s all O-X-O-B-O-X-O, all the time. Seven letters, perfect, beautiful to multiply and factor, again and again, to the rhythm of my steps.