“Hey, Stranger,” Sam attempted as I walked past him in the opposite direction. He twisted back around to catch up to me. “Didn’t you hear me?” he asked.
“Hey,” I said.
“Did you get fitted yet?” he asked.
“Did you get fitted yet?”
“For the cap and gown?”
“Yeah. What else?”
“Yeah, I just finished. Did you?”
“You know it, you know it.”
I just kept walking.
Sam chuckled away the awkwardness. “What’s with you?”
“In your own little world?” he asked.
“I kind of always am.”
We climbed the slope of the hallway. Walking past the auditorium door, I heard the booming voice of Logan Frazier as he called out theatrical judgments against Mephistopheles. Logan had won the role of Faust and seemed to be enjoying himself.
“Yeah, you are,” Sam said. “Full time resident of Sarah-ville.”
“That was pretty witty.”
“Can’t take a joke anymore?” Sam said, punching me playfully on the shoulder. But when I glared at him, his playfulness tripped over itself. I didn’t want him touching me. I didn’t really want him talking to me either. “Easy, easy,” Sam said, throwing up hands like I had pulled a gun on him. He was trying to pretend nothing had ever changed between us all of a sudden. It was super annoying.
“What do you want?” I asked.
“Can’t I talk to my friend?”
“Is that what I am? Your friend?”
“Yeah. Of course.”
“Why are you being all weird?”
“Me?” He leaned his head closer to mine to make sure I didn’t miss his look of astonishment. “You’re the one who’s been making things weird for weeks now.”
“Yeah, you. But I wanted to be the bigger person about it when I realized you weren’t going to be the one to try.”
“That’s very mature of you.”
“Whatever. Really though, you don’t talk to me anymore, what gives?”
“I talk to you.”
“Only when you have to. Like a couple of weeks ago when we were paired up for that project in chemistry, which you barely helped me with.”
“No big, no big.”
I wondered when Sam started the habit of repeating himself. Would the old Sarah have even noticed, because the new Sarah found it annoying as well.
“At least I got us an A,” he said.
“We got an A?”
He laughed like anything below an A was unthinkable. “Of course I got us an A.”
“Did I help?” I asked, curious.
“You helped enough.”
“Thanks for doing most of it.”
“For sure, for sure.”
“Oh, jeez.” I rolled my eyes.
“Nothing.” I wanted to change the subject. “I heard you’re graduating Valedictorian.”
“You heard about that, huh?”
“And I got into Duke,” he disclosed.
I was happy for him. “Duke? That’s great! I know that probably means a lot to your dad.”
“Not just him.”
“And you,” I said. “Sorry for not giving you immediate credit. I’m really happy for you though. Valedictorian and Duke. I’m not surprised. Are they going to expand the walls in the gymnasium for the graduation ceremony though?”
“To accommodate the size of your big fat head. They’ll probably need to sew about fifty caps together to make one special one just for you.”
“Very funny.” He laughed dismissively. “It’s not like I’m telling everyone about it.”
“I know. You’re being super humble. I just hope you don’t topple off the stage when Principal Jackson congratulates you with a slap on the back. I’m just concerned for your safety, that’s all.”
“I get it. You got jokes.”
“All of them.” I smirked from my shell.
We split apart for a moment in order to fight our way against a slew of backpacks and swinging arms before regaining our path at the top.
“You do that all the time now,” Sam suddenly accused.
“What am I doing?”
“You barely talk to me. And when you do, you hardly even look at me.”
“I’ve been like this for months, Sam. Besides, why are you asking now? Is it because you want to be my friend again? Or because you don’t want to feel bad about how terrible of a friend you are?”
“Me?” he asked loudly. “I’m the terrible friend?”
He was upset. His cheeks were red. I kind of liked it. He finally sounded normal, like the Sam I had always known with real feelings and real mannerisms. But we had both changed so much. To the outside world, Sam was on his way up in life, accumulating successes and accomplishing goals, while I had taken a nose dive in the opposite direction, straight down. Could the people we had become ever be friends? I wasn’t sure. I didn’t think so.
I said, “Yes, you. You’re a terrible friend.”
He took a sudden hop in frustration. “You’ve got to be kidding me! You’re the one who got all weird and immature about, you know, what happened!”
“What happened, Sam?”
“You know – with like – prom and stuff.”
Now I was the one getting upset. “You think this is about prom?”
“Yeah, prom.” He made an expression like it was more than obvious. “Things happened between us. But you can’t blame me for it, it’s not like I knew.”
“That you wanted me to ask you to prom. Besides, the reason I didn’t ask you was because we had always been friends. But I guess I broke your heart or whatever.”
“I can’t believe.” I trembled a moment in anger and disbelief. “I can’t believe.”
“So, is that what all this cold-shoulder stuff is about?”
“After all these months, you think it’s been that. Get over yourself, Sam.”
“Then why have you been treating me like this?”
I pulled Sam aside, removing us from the flow of students. “The reason I stopped talking to you was because you told people I went to the mental hospital. That was the last thing I wanted anyone to know. Do you know how that feels? To have your name whispered when you walk by? To be the school freak? Do you know how lonely that makes you?”
“That was months ago. And I was only joking.”
“What part of that was joking, Sam? You want to talk about friendship? That’s not what friends do. You didn’t ask what happened. You didn’t ask how I was doing. You just went along trying to be cool while hanging out with your cool friend, Mark, who’s a jerk, by the way. That hurt, Sam.” I refused to cry in front of him, but I was getting close. I jabbed a finger into his chest. “So don’t blame me for how our friendship turned out.”
“I’m sorry. I just thought you were upset about Destiny. And, I don’t know, I guess I was embarrassed by it all because I knew I should have asked you to prom. And that’s when you started acting all weird and dressing different and not caring about classes. What else was I supposed to think?”
“It’s fine,” I said. “Besides, I’ve made two friends who actually care about me.”
Sam became instantly curious and doubtful. “Who?”
I started walking away. “You –uh – don’t know them.”
“C’mon, Sarah. I know just about everyone in school. You don’t have to say you’ve made friends if you haven’t. It’s okay.”
“You don’t know them.”
Sam held his arms out, showing me just how many people there were in my life that he didn’t personally know. “What friends, Sarah?”
I screamed, “What do you care?”
My outburst slapped him across his face. He worked to hush me. “Okay, okay, you’ve made friends. That’s cool. Who are they, I mean, if they’re your friends, maybe we could get together and hang out or something.”
“You wouldn’t like them.”
“They’re even crazier than I am.” I smiled.
Our conversation ended abruptly as we walked into class. I walked away, skimming my way between filled desks until finding an open one at the back corner of the room. I slid my book bag to my feet and sat. All around me, the students filled the classroom with easygoing excitement. Spring had erupted in warmth and flowers. Graduation was in a month. A part me wanted to feel what everyone else felt. To be who I once was. But in another way – a very real way – I didn’t want to have anything in common with any of them at all. I spent a moment watching Mike and Sam talk together. Mike was sitting where I used to sit, directly beside Sam in the front row. A part of me missed that. A part of me wished it was still that way. But as I watched them joke around, their animated interactions only added to the mounting evidence of how much the old Sarah was so different from the Sarah I had become.
I turned away. The sounds of the room hummed further and further into the distance as I drifted off to my own thoughts. I thought of my new friends. An easy smile touched my face. I whispered to the window, “They’re even crazier than me.”