The bus is warm, smelling of gasoline and old fabric. The loud humming of the engine and the bumpy ride makes me a little car sick. Bare trees and swaths of browning bushes whizz by. Trying to ignore the feeling of motion sickness rising up my throat, I turn to the quiet girl sitting next to me. Anastasia is short with strawberry blond hair cut right under her chin. She has a fierce set to her brows and the way she clenches her jaw makes her look more foreboding that her slight stature would suggest.
“Thanks for inviting me to go see this film with you.” As soon as I address her, Anastasia’s face melts into an excited smile.
“No way bro, I’m more glad you came with me. I feel like you’re the only person at Bothell that knows Mads Mikkelsen, well except Gabby of course. God, wasn’t it so amazing? I was ugly crying at the end.” Her voice is firm with a slight Eastern European lilt to her consonants. Anastasia is an Israeli war refugee; she’s only been in the US for five years.
“Oh man! I like sobbed three times. That old couple sitting next to us kept looking over at me concerned” We laugh quietly since the bus is almost full and dead silent.
“Oh my god, you’re so right! Did you seen him in Valhalla Rising though? He was so amazing in it but the movie itself was so bad. Bro! They had such phenomenal visuals and yet they managed to mangle such a great premise and don’t even get me started on their use of dialogue!” Anastasia gets this manic light in her eyes when she rants about films. She is a whole different person when explaining the metaphors created by changing the camera angle or using a specific color palette.
“I forgot to ask. How’s the visa process coming along? I know you’re worried about getting it on time for college applications.” I regret asking.
Anastasia launches into a lengthy and detailed description of the phone calls between her parents and the US government. I can’t follow her explanation of the process of applying for asylum as she starts rattling off legislation and government agencies I never even knew existed. When she finally finishes I sit quietly, the silence pressing into my eardrums like invading fingers.
“I’m sorry, that sounds terrible. I really hope it works out.” The words feel like marbles in my mouth, just glassy and pretty to look at. She shoots me a wry smile.
“I certainly hope so because the Tel Aviv University’s film department is absolute shit compared to the Columbia College one!” I laugh because I am supposed to.
“How’s Gabby?” Anastasia falters on the question, as if regretting asking it.
I shrug, “She’s fine, I think. I mean she’s been busy so I haven’t seen her much outside of rehearsal. She has this new girlfriend who's nice I guess. But like this girl’s always fighting with her parents and having to stay over at Gabby’s house and you know Gabby’s mum can’t stand the fact she's dating a girl so that’s making their relationship even more strained. Oh and also her girlfriend keeps starting fights with Gabby’s cosplay friends and actually got them thrown out of Sakura Con this year. It’s all over Facebook.”
Anastasia lets out a harsh laugh, the kind that ricochets around in the ensuing silence. “Let me get this straight. Gabby has a new significant other who is troubled and keeps getting her into trouble? How unlike her.”
The bus jerks to a stop in front of the Bartell Drugs on Lake City Way and the doors hisses open letting on a crowd of passengers.
I couldn’t bring myself to laugh at her sarcastic comment. I had met Anastasia though Gabby as she had been her best friend in Junior High. We had all technically gone to the same junior high but I had only been at Canyon Park Junior High for a single semester in the 9th grade before fleeing back to my boarding school in the Chilliwack Mountains. I never actually met them. Gabby and I became friends when we performed in a musical together in the summer between sophomore and junior year. We had officially met sophomore year and had numerous mutual friends, but we never became friends before that summer. I can’t even remember what sparked our friendship. All I remember was talking about TV shows we both watched and suddenly we were best friends.
Gabby was not a person with whom you had a half hearted friendship. She was a quasar in a school full of red dwarfs with a huge personality and more talent than the whole theatre department combined. She wanted out of our suburban sinkhole, just like I did. She was the first person I met at Bothell High School who felt like a kindred spirit. We were instant best friends, joined at the hip with our own secret language of silent looks and small touches. Gabby was magnetic and before I knew it I was pulled into her orbit and she became my world.
Stories of close female friendships are written all the time. In Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina there is the idolization of Anna by Kitty. In Anne of Green Gables between Anne and her bosom buddy,Diana Barry. This concept even shows up in contemporary films such as Ghost World and Fort Tilden. The unique qualities of the female teenage girl psyche allow complex relationships that dance the line between romantic and platonic feelings. These feelings are invigorating and precious, even more so than a crush or a first boyfriend. With your bestfriend there isn’t the awkward fumbling of romantic expectations or the confusion of gender politics. It’s pure, beautiful and intoxicating.
“Gabby does try her best you know. She’s just been through so much with her parent’s divorce and the whole ensuing cluster fuck. I mean, it’s why she has questionable rationale when it comes to romantic partners.”
Anastasia raises a single blonde eyebrow, “So that makes it okay to drop her friends and devote her life to appeasing her problematic and emotional unstable partners?”
The long terrible months of Gabby dating Mitch flash in front of my eyes. Mitch was the physical manifestation of a black hole, only more emotionally manipulative. Alex who was after that was somewhat better, but not by much.
“Well, I mean Mitch was pretty bad, and sure when she was dating Alex there was some slight tension over who got to spend time with her but we worked it out in the end. She always comes back eventually.”
A man sits down in the seat across from us so Anastasia lowers her voice to ask, “When was the last time you hung out with her one on one?” The question slams the air out of my lungs and the whole world constricts around the two of us. I can’t see Lake City Way merging into Bothell Way or hear the quiet murmur of conversation on the bus. The question even dwarfs the motion sickness building up in my stomach and the tightness between my brows.
I wrack my brain. I see her at rehearsal everyday, but that’s a group setting. We hang out at Meg’s, but five other girls are usually there. Even when I go to her house, which is a rare occurrence despite living 10 minutes walking from each other, her girlfriend is always there.The last time Gabby and I had hung out one on one was a coffee date at a Starbucks six months ago. We live ten minutes away from each other and it hadn’t been just the two of us in half a year.
“Yeah” Anastasia went on, but she didn’t sound vindictive or bitter, only forlorn. “Next she stops coming to your sleepovers and study parties and before you know it you only see her in the lunchroom or passing in the hallways.”
Icy resentment made my blood feel cold and my heart stony. I remember how infectious her dancing was. Gabby would dance anytime anywhere whether it was in the middle of the mall food court, in line at a convention or late at night in the high school parking lot after a long rehearsal. There would be no music and yet you would find yourself dancing with her, throwing your body around and flailing your arms to her bellowing some classic rock song.
I have to take a deep breath before I answer Anastasia. “That’s not going to happen,” but I choke on the words and I have to clear my throat before I can continue, “Not to dismiss your friendship or anything, but it’s different this time. I mean we went to Emerald City Comicon together. I went as Sam and she went as Dean.”
Anastasia shrugs, “We went to Sakura Con together. She was Hikaru and I was Karu.” They were both fictional characters that were brothers. Gabby and I had bonded over our love of Supernatural; Anastasia and Gabby had bonded over their love of anime. Silence stretches out between us. I can feel the beginning of an argument building, like a volcano starting to rumble. Comparisons of our friendships and insults about Anastasia thunder around my brain until Anastasia finally breaks the tense silence.
“I’m sorry bro. I know you’re her best friend right now but I just,” and here Anastasia pauses, “I don’t want it to blindside you the way she blindsided me. Leela, one moment Gabby is your best friend in the whole world and it feels like the next day she is brushing you off to hang out with someone new.” I can’t even look at Anastasia right now but I know she’s right. I see the way Gabby jokes around with John and how they bond over being gay. I feel the distance between Gabby and me getting wider and wider.
Anastasia smiles at me consolingly but pity creeps into her voice, “I remember what it was like, how amazing it felt to get to be friends with her. She’s so magnetic and enigmatic and that’s why it hurts so much when she pulls away from you.”
Anastasia and I share a bittersweet moment, both of us trapped in our own minds remembering the intoxicating experience of being Gabby’s best friend. I remember hushed conversations in the back of rehearsal, heads bowed, shoulders touching, her breath on my cheek as we laugh over inside jokes. I remember the secret smile she saved for me when our eyes met across a crowded room. That smile felt like sunshine in a cozy bedroom. I remember holding hands at parties, her thumb stroking the back of my neck where skin turned into hair, the smell of Old Spice and her coming to my rescue every time the boys started harassing me too much. For the first time in my life, I was thin, pretty and overwhelmed by all the attention I was getting. One day at rehearsal my current crush had me on the floor tickling me and what he thought were shrieks of laughter were actually shrieks of terror. Gabby came roaring into the room and pulled him off me. She shouted at him infront of everyone before helping me off the floor. She wrapped an arm around my shoulder and gently lead me outside to talk quietly until I had calmed down. I look at Anastasia’s face, see the memories flickering in her eyes and feel such pity. Whatever I am feeling now is nothing compared to what Anastasia feels.
Anastasia looks past me, up at the display at the front of the bus.
“My stop’s next.” We don’t talk, just sit side by side not quite enjoying the silence but not having anything else to say. She gets up when the bus pulls in front of the Kenmore Park and Ride. “Thanks again for going to see the movie with me.”
“Don’t mention it, it was fun to go downtown. I felt like a cool college student.”
“Take care of her.”
Anastasia gets off and the bus glides away into the gaining twilight. The bus passes Gabby’s house before it gets to my house. I stare at the light coming from her bedroom window and wonder what she is doing. I don't text her because I know she won’t answer and I can’t handle that disappointment right now. Instead I fix my eyes on the horizon and watch darkness creeping into the lavender clouds of sunset.