Poison Oak

“My favorite part is the darkness, because that’s what makes the stars shine.”

You looked over at me then, your eyes studying my face. “I can see them,” you said after a while. “The stars, and the darkness. I can see it in your eyes.”

A story inspired by the song "Poison Oak" by Bright Eyes

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2. Part 2: Polaroids

 

    I never realized half of these pictures existed. Before your brother had given me this box, I thought our time together was limited to memories which would fade one day - fade into the haze, no matter how hard I fought against it. It was strange to realize that here, in my hands, were the documents of my memories - real, tangible items to hold onto. I didn’t know whether to be grateful or angry that he dredged up all of these old memories, raw and filled with pain. 

    I dug to the bottom of the box clumsily, my movements dulled by the bottle of Jack Daniel’s I was diligently working to polish off. One faded photo caught my eye, and I squinted at it, trying to make it out. It was you at the age of six, or maybe seven, in a dress and feathered headband.  For a moment, I was speechless. I had never known that about you, but I wish I had. I wish I knew everything there was to know about you. 

    Your smile beamed out from the photograph, capturing me in the same magic that it always had. The pain abated, if only for a brief moment. I wondered if you were ashamed, and the thought brought all the pain back with it. I was suddenly angry at whoever or whatever had forced you to lock those clothes away and to never speak of it again. If it was a part of you, I wished you would have told me. You could have told me anything, and I still would have loved you just as much as ever before. 

    I thought you knew that. 

 

    It wasn’t until we were older that things began to get strange. You and I had been friends for so long that nothing could be awkward between us anymore, but it was the outside world that had changed. We were teenagers now, sitting crosslegged in your garden, shredding blades of grass between our fingers. It would happen sometimes, these silences, but they were never uncomfortable. They were just part of our friendship. 

    “You know what people are saying about us, don’t you?” you asked quietly. I nodded. “You know what they’re calling us?” you continued. I nodded again. “Does it bother you?”

    “Should it?” I replied with a frown. To be honest, I wasn’t sure whether or not it bothered me. All I knew was that the thought of going without you simply because people made fun of us hurt too much to bear. Ever since we had begun school, we had stopped holding hands, but that didn’t stop the rumors. You and I spent every moment together, and often times it was alone. I tended to forget that most other people had more than one friend.

    “I don’t know,” you replied. It was weird to see you uncertain about anything.

    “Does it bother you?” I asked.

    I saw the blush as it colored your cheeks. You hesitated, which was another unusual thing. For you. “Can I tell you something?” 

    I felt the first dredges of trepidation, but I replied, “Of course. You can tell me anything.”

    Your blush deepened. “I…I kinda don’t mind. Um, I actually kind of like that they think…that… about us.”

    You looked over at me as if to judge my reaction. I didn’t know how to react. It didn’t bother me, what you said. It was oddly comforting, but for the first time, you actually looked scared. It terrified me to know I held that kind of power over you. After a long moment, I realized that you were waiting for me to say something, and the words sprang unbidden to my lips, “Can I tell you something?”

    You nodded, lips pressed into a tight line. I wanted to see your smile again. I swallowed, blurting, “I wouldn’t mind if they were right, either.” 

    The disbelief was written on your face, right underneath the hope. “Really?”

    “Really,” I confirmed. I might not have entirely known it until I said it, but I had never been more sure of anything in my life. When you reached over to grab my hand, they fit into place like they always had, like they were meant to be.

    You were looking down when my eyes found your face, but you were smiling gently at the ground. “So.”

    “So,” I grinned.

    You looked up at me through your lashes, and my entire world was contained in your eyes. A hint of darkness crept in as your smile faded a fraction. “You know,” you said, “us doing… this is like…” you trailed off. “It’s like declaring war against them.”

    “Against who?”

    “Against everyone who’s going to hate us.”

    I shrugged. “We’ll win, then.” I was confident in us.

    You looked unconvinced, but you nodded. “Okay.” You shifted so that you were next to me, and rested your head on my shoulder. “I believe you.”

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