TITLE: Apple of Discord
On the way to the funeral Mom said, “The strange thing is, although we were inseparable through school, I haven’t even thought much about her since graduation day. Here we were, living in the same town all this time.” Later, as Victoria watched her slowly approach the coffin—just like in the movies where the weeping widow clutches a hankie to cover her distorted crying mouth and dripping nose, except Mom’s wasn’t a hankie it was a wadded up cluster of toilet paper—she wondered if the tears were real. They were technically real, but were they tears of sadness or regret? Victoria would have laughed if her insides weren’t tied in knots.
Victoria had only been to a few funerals, but it shocked her to see people giggling. You never see a person laugh at a funeral on film—it just doesn’t fit the dramatic sensibility. In the movies, everyone had appropriately teary eyes and slightly red noses. Maybe they were trying to cheer up the bereaved, but it struck her as a little tacky. Maybe they just didn’t know the dead woman very well. Or maybe they just came to be seen. But right there, during the wake, only moments after she was bawling over her friend, her Mom was laughing with a small group of women. Victoria’s cheeks burned. Adjusting her velvet scarf to hide her face a bit, she tried to back away gracefully so as not to attract any attention, but she might as well have been waving a flag. Mrs. Manning called her over. All she could do was flee.
She just didn’t understand this woman who claimed to be her mother. How could she turn her back on her friends! How could she live for years—Years!—in the same town as an old friend and lose contact? How could she…
Suddenly, the reason her innards were twisted revealed itself to her like death dropping his awful cloak.
Could this happen to me? Pushing through the crowd of black mothball-smelling suits she thrust myself out the funeral parlor’s doors. She was blasted by the sudden cold and the realization.
Could this happen to me?
Is that what happens to friends in the end? They just go their separate ways and die off alone, one by one?
Images of her friends swirled through her head. Kira Williams, with her rough edges and uncanny insight; Rose Finan with her gushing sweetness; and Maggie Kavanagh the most brilliant girl at Bethany Middle School. These were her best friends—now and forever! They became friends in the beginning of this school year when some jerks pulled a bunch of pranks on them. They ruined Victoria’s hair, destroyed Maggie’s food drive, nearly got Kira kicked out of school, and kidnapped Rose—but that’s a story for another time. These pranks forged their friendship in fire. They would never stop being friends! Never!
Mom’s voice echoed in her head again—“…we just lost touch.” Could friendship really be this fragile? She couldn’t imagine anything coming between her and her friends. Not EPIC, not graduation, nothing!
EPIC was the ultra-exclusive group of popular girls. Ella, Payton, Ivy, and Chloe created the idiotic label by putting together the first initials of their names. Victoria gagged every time she thought of it. They were popular because they were perfect—perfect faces, perfect bodies, perfect families—and they used their popularity to get whatever they wanted. They weren’t afraid to crush others in the process. But they were friends. They were inseparable.
Would EPIC just drift away and stop talking to each other after school? She just couldn’t imagine it. They would probably all go to the same college—Harvard or something—and be stuck with each other. She couldn’t fathom EPIC not being EPIC anymore. Or even the Ambitious Girls—they had been friends for years already. How could people just stop being friends?
Kira called them the “Ambitious Girls” because they were in awe of EPIC. They swarmed around the popular girls like mosquitoes, showing them their new outfits for approval, buying them treats at lunch, which EPIC would never eat, lest they spoil their perfect figures. Everyone knew that EPIC secretly loved the attention, so while they would swat the Ambitious Girls down, they’d do it gently. The goal of every Ambitious Girl was to become a part of EPIC, and everyone knew that would never happen. Ever. No one would ever break into EPIC’s group. It was like one of those hidden beauty geek girl vs. popular girls movies, except without the makeover and the happy ending. In the past, a few girls here and there had been taken in by EPIC, and then chewed up and spit out like nasty old gum. But no one ever really became their true friend. The Ambitious Girls were forced to stick together. Would they just fall apart too?
Puffy eyelids threatened to swallow her green eyes, and her caramel skin somehow looked pale. She forced herself to stare into the swirling snow, refusing to let any more tears fall.
“We all went away to different colleges and the letters and calls between us just fizzled out,” Mom had said. But Mom never had a friendship like hers. They were bonded together by hardships.
Victoria pulled her fingers through her cropped chocolate colored hair. Last fall it had been long and crazy, until someone had put glue and dye into her hairspray, turning her hair an awful sticky green. It looked like a stalk of broccoli sticking out of her head. Devastated when she practically had to shave her head, the girls had helped her through it. Now that her hair was growing out, it actually looked better. The curls seemed much more cooperative than they used to be. The cold got to be too much, and she could only stand outside pouting for so long before Mom would get worried and cause a scene.