The first thing I remembered from the day that I met Ashley was the red dress that she was wearing. It was shadowed in the wrinkles from her movement and it hung just below her knees. The fabric that wasn’t wrinkled had a life of its own as the sun splashed itself through the wide windows and onto her awaiting dress. Small white lace ribbons crawled up her short sleeves and a black ribbon hung like a chastity belt around her waist.
Her face was a collection of activity. I remember not being able to focus on any one thing. From her wide green eyes to her china doll’s cheeks there was always something different to look at. She had a sprinkling of freckles in the crevices of her smile and her upper lip was slightly larger than her lower lip. Her black hair, untamed and electric, flew in all general directions from her ponytail. I remember, much like you do when you think of memories of your best friend, that I thought how the girls in that particular class all were gross, in a ten year old way, but not Ashley. She offered me a free smile—forgetting that I was the new kid. Her fingers, perhaps the strongest memory of all, stood out at odd angles as she offered her hand to me much like, I am sure, she had seen her parents do to strangers.
I had the desk in the corner of the room to the left, hers was up front. Her personality had appeared odd to me. I couldn’t understand why she never spoke to others when she could hardly breathe out her words to me. Her Nike worn feet would tap to an imaginary rhythm and before the year was gone, I too found my own feet humming the same tune.
I found it hard to become friends with others when I had Ashley. The rules of society were so instilled in the playground that no one would talk to me, Ashley’s apparent best friend. They thought that she did not deserve friendship because she was greedy with her cookies, or because she didn’t like answering the easy questions in class. But what the social hierarchy of elementary school never saw was Ashley’s independence. I myself didn’t see it until the day that my best friend’s mom stopped by her house to drive her to school with us.
It had been my first trip to her house since we had become friends, it was the only girl’s house I had ever gone to, and much like any childish mind, I imagined only horrible things to invite me into the feminine household. But what greeted me was completely different from my nightmares. My young mind found it hard to find answers to my questions about what I saw. For that first viewing I forgot that my mom was no longer going to tuck me in at night and that I would no longer hear my father crunching up another beer can in his rusty hands.
The lawn stood yellow near the beginning of summer and the garden was a mess of weeds and dirt. Cans and cigarette buds formed the path to her beaten down white door and the wood on the worn porch had threatened my every footstep. I had imagined the echoes of monsters staring through the windows and I nearly covered my nose. While I waited for Ashley to open the front door I forgot my childish mind, for a simple instant that lasted no longer than a minute. I heard from within the cries of solidarity. In my mind I reached out to her. I knew that she couldn’t see me wanting to help, understand her situation—but we were children, nothing more.
Her door flew open, a loose splinter of wood slicing through my plump cheeks. I remember the hot trickle of blood. Ashley’s wide eyes had seen me then, had traced the flow of blood quietly up towards the source and, with a swift movement, pushed me away from her door.
“Let’s go.” Ashley always had a way of making her every word important. Her rapid use of the words made them emotionless, forceful. She had once asked me why I had switched schools. I would never have told anyone else why, but her words made me want to tell her.
The afternoon that she decided to trust me with her secret wish is where my story, our story, took on the magical beginning that most children’s stories envy. I remember the smell of the early summer flowers blooming under the large maple tree that we had called our own. Tiny ants gathered their feast around us as crumbs fell from our snacks and splotches of dirt broke through the greenery of our shabby elementary school playground. The sky, I recall, had been overcast, with several clouds breaking our tranquility and her smile was a shallow reflection of what I had seen earlier that morning.
“Did you have brothers or sisters before your parents left?” She had asked me calmly, while wiping away crumbs from her slick lips.
“No.” I had answered, knowing that there was more to the question.
“Me neither,” she had grabbed my hands then. I still remember the calluses that I could see from the rusted monkey bars. “Wanna be my brother? Sort of like a twin?”
I could only nod, Ashley was the kind of person who set their minds and never changed their decisions. She held my hand firmly and I had watched in horror as she had taken a sharp tree branch and had sliced her palm. Without flinching she pressed down on the cut and allowed her blood to slither down her palm, like a snake escaping from a hole in an unexplored chamber of darkness, and she pressed it up to my cheek, re-scratching my wound. I had felt the pinch of her fingernail and an odd sense had filled me then.
Ashley had sat beside me, a girl of ten, with her bleeding hand on my ruby cheek and we had connected. I could feel the magic in the moment and my fingers had tingled as they held my weight behind me. I could see a blue color emerge from Ashley and I remember that I had simply just accepted it. We had become one. Two destinies formed into one.
Age did not matter then. Perhaps it never did at that instant.
But the day after, Ashley wasn’t in class and her house had been surrounded by police cruisers.
It took us a decade to meet again on the streets of the University campus that I attend. Her voice was lower and raspier, but it held the same decisive tone.
“Castiel, it’s been a while.”