Only one thing hadn't changed over the years; we were still just kids on the swings.
“Max!” I screamed, chasing him around the play structure. “That’s mine!”
“It’s mine, now!” he shouted, laughing.
We were only five. Best friends who met at Willow Creek, a park only a handful of blocks down from my house. We were having a secret lunch there—as secret as two five year olds and their mothers who sat in the gazebo a little ways away could get—because that’s what we did. Have secret stuff. Like secret lunches.
And he stole my unopened box of orange juice. What a dumb-head.
I stopped running, and stomped over to the swings, folding my arms and pouting. There was sand in my shoes. Max stopped, and sighed, walking over to me, holding out my juice box.
“Here, jeez,” he said, rolling his eyes. I smiled, taking the box and puncturing the little foil circle with little bendy straw.
I took a sip then handed it to him. “I’ll share,” I said simply.
“Thanks, Cee,” and he took my hand. “Best friends forever?”
“Forever and ever and after and after and after!” I confirmed enthusiastically, giggling as I squeezed his hand back. “Promise this will be our place and no one else’s? Only ours?”
“Promise,” he agreed. “If I ever break my promise, you can have my baseball bat and hit me with it!”
I giggled again.
“Only ours,” I said quietly, smiling up at him. I sat on the swing nearest to me and he sat on the one beside me. It was so very simple, then. We were just kids on the swings, watching the day go by.
“Cee,” he sighed, leaning against the pole that held up the swings. He had his hands in the front pockets of his jeans, the early summer breeze ruffling his light brown hair. What little light that was left of the setting sun shone over us. It elongated our shadows. Twilight was fast approaching and it was a good thing; it had become our time—the time we always met here.
I stood behind him, leaning on the opposite side of the pole. “Max,” I replied, staring at the tree in front of me. A squirrel that was climbing a branch fell to the ground with a thud.
What a dim-witted squirrel, I mused. It got up and looked around, confused before climbing the tree again. The breeze that played with Max’s hair also tugged at my shorts, too and made me shiver. I wished I had brought my sweater.
We were nearly sixteen now, almost eleven years from that day he promised to keep this our place and only ours, with a squirrel—that I’m sure is dead, now—as a witness.
A week from today, it would be exactly eleven years; the day that marked our friendship, our promise.
A week ago he broke it.
He brought his girlfriend; the perfect, blonde-haired blue eyed Casey to our place. Here, to Willow’s Creek.
I wondered where that baseball bat was now.
“I’m really sorry, Celia,” he started.
“I know,” I replied, indifferently. Stupid, stupid promise-breaker named Max.
“Do you forgive me?”
“No.” I answered in the same tone. He sighed again.
“C’mon, Cee, we’re not little kids anymore. Stop acting like it.”
“You promised me.” I said, hurt.
“I know I did,” he reached back, placing his hands over mine which were wrapped tightly around the pole. “I’m sorry.”
“Why would you bring her here?” I asked angrily, letting out all my pent-up annoyance and rage flow out of me. Stupid, stupid perfect girlfriend named Casey.
“I thought it would work,” he paused. “You know, for the three of us.”
“Oh, yes, Max, because Casey and I are super, super-close!” I answered sarcastically, in a shrill mocking voice which was my imitation of Casey. I lacked enthusiasm, I think. In my normal voice, I added “Max, she hates me.”
“Only because you’re so pretty,” he murmured a hint of a smile in his voice.
“You’re getting worse and worse at distractions,” I snapped, feeling a blush creep across my face all the same.
“What can I do to make you forgive me?” he asked in a small voice.
“There is nothing you can do to make this right,” I responded mechanically, my eyes closed against the light. “Just forget it, Max.”
“Why can’t you leave it alone?”
“Because I promised you, Cee,” he said softly. “And I feel shitty about it.”
“You should,” I frowned.
“You’re my best friend, and I hurt you.”
“You hurt me all the time,” I rolled my eyes, referring to his habit of swatting at my arm. “You’re very abusive, you know that?”
“I wasn’t talking about that.”
I frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“I made you cry, Celia. Don’t you see? When I hurt you like that it hurts me, too,” he sounded exasperated.
“So you’re just being selfish, then.” I finally understood. What an asshole—A stupid, stupid promise-breaking asshole.
“I really couldn’t care less about what I do to myself—”
I coughed loudly. I could almost hear him grin.
“Are you really that serious about Casey?” I heard myself asking. I was careful not to inject any venom or any hint of jealousy. “You’ve been dating for two months.”
“I really want to be with her, Cee,” was all he had to say to fire another bullet into my heart. “Why don’t you like her?”
“She hates me.”
“Give her a chance.”
“Tell her that.” I said, irritated. I had given her plenty of chances. Two was certainly enough.
“Would you give her a chance if we stopped dating first?”
“Casey wants us to stop being friends because she hates me, Max. Why can’t you understand that?”
He was quiet, again as he squeezed my hands. “I’m sorry, Celia.”
I knew he was. What a stupid, stupid boy. I looked down at the sand, feeling a painful lump in my throat. Didn’t he know—didn’t anyone tell him that you’re supposed to put friends before girlfriends?
Apparently, no one did.
I gave a shaky laugh, incredulous. We weren’t even “together”—in that sense—and he was “breaking up with me” for his girlfriend of two months.
He chose her, over me; his best friend of nearly eleven years.
“Only for a little while,” he promised me softly, as if he read my thoughts.
“Sure, sure,” I whispered, trying to lighten the conversation. “What’s losing my best friend for a few years?”
“Not years, Celia. Just until Casey gets it that you’re part of my life, too.”
I didn’t play as big a part in his life, as I wanted.
“I will make it up to you, Cee, promise. I love you.”
Those were the three words I wanted to hear, but he didn’t mean it like that. It hurt, knowing that he wouldn’t ever mean them the way I wanted him to.
I sighed. “Love you, too, Max,” this was my automatic response. “Love you more.”
I took my usual seat on what was now “my swing”—always on the left—and he took his. Max was quiet as we swung. I kicked off my shoes, wiggling my toes. I stared at the striped pattern on my socks. After a while, I stopped kicking my feet, and let my feet drag in the sand. He spoke first.
And I froze.
I knew Max well enough by now, to know that he wasn’t referring to our current topic. He knew.
Max Andrews knew I was in love with him.
“How…?” I asked stupidly. My brain wasn’t working. My mind whirled, trying to come up with an explanation, but all I was getting were the words he knows repeatedly.
He stood up, and walked in front of me, grabbing both of the chains so as to block my escape. The only way out would be painful—I’d have to fall backwards and kick him in the face, which I didn’t want to do. I would probably break my neck trying to do a somersault off the swing. So, I gripped the chains tighter, so I wouldn’t be tempted. Bright green eyes bore into mine and I couldn’t look away.
“I love you, too, Cee,” he said, his voice unsteady with all the emotion of the now dramatic atmosphere. He reached over and placed his left hand on my cheek.
I couldn’t breathe.
When I remained silent, he dropped his hand sat back down on his swing.
“Really, I do. I love you, Celia. I’d do anything to keep you happy, just to see you smile—I’m an asshole to be doing this to you, but I have to and it’s killing me to know that I’m hurting you. Please, Cee, please, after this whole Casey thing blows over, stay with me. Don’t leave,” he pleaded me. “Stay my best friend. Stay mine, Cee.”
He loved me, but he wanted her more. Was it because she was prettier than me? I couldn’t understand. He loved me. How did that work? I asked myself, bewildered. Why didn’t he want to be with me? I wanted to tell him he was being absurd—that I would always stay his.
I said nothing.
“It doesn’t change anything, does it?” he asked me softly, sadly. It was a while before I said anything.
“No, it doesn’t,” I replied finally, quietly. My eyes were fixated on the sand in front of me, but I wasn’t really seeing it. It never worked out in my favour. Never. Not for Celia Laurence.
Casey was always going to win when it came to Max.
Nothing was going to change. My heart kept sinking as it broke, delicately, cracking before any major damage was done. It was a warning sign. How many more blows—how much more pain—could I still endure before I shattered completely?
At this rate, not much.
The worst part of this whole predicament was split in two.
I knew that Max loved me. He loved me as more than his best friend, Celia—maybe even more than he loved Casey.
He was going to keep fighting it.
Worst part of the situation part A.
The second half was even more terrible than the first part of the worse bit. He was going to keep fighting it and this would drive a wall between us.
We couldn’t go back.
He broke his promise—a silly kindergarten promise, I know, but a promise all the same—the moment he brought her here. That was probably when, I theorized, that he realized he loved me. I heard the water from the creek running, somewhere off behind me. Just like the water, our bond was slipping away. Maybe he really didn’t love me as much as I had hoped. Tears stung at my eyes, threatening to fall. I tried to control my breathing, as I carefully blinked back the tears.
We couldn’t be best friends anymore.
Sure, Max could try to patch things up.
And it would work, for a while.
Just until the time Casey became an insanely jealous girlfriend.
Because Casey wasn’t blind—nobody was, when it came to a situation like this. I wondered if she could see to what extent—how much I loved him. I was losing my best friend, thanks to these damn hormones.
Only, I knew that I loved him so much, way before we were teenagers.
And maybe he knew it, too.
How can best friends keep being best friends when they love each other this way?
And this is the way Max wanted it. It would never change; he would never give up Casey for me. I was surprised that it pained me so.
Funny, how much it hurt now, when I knew it then. The words I had written beautifully, in my personal calligraphy on my binder, notebooks—the words that became my signature line—echoed in my head.
Once childhood friends, forever crestfallen lovers.
Only one thing hadn’t changed over the years.
We were still just kids, on the swings.