It’s Friday morning and you haven’t called once. I keep looking at my phone and expecting to see at least a drive safe, baby, but all my recent messages are from my friends and my mom. I call you twice (not more because I don’t want to feel desperate) and go on with my day and think I’ll probably drunk text my best friend about how annoying you’re being.
It’s Friday afternoon when you text me: can you get to the hospital?
I call you twice more and you don’t answer, so I just drive over, hoping I picked the right one. When I walk in, I don’t know what to say: my girlfriend is here and she’s visiting someone and she didn’t call me and I was supposed to go on a ten-hour drive today and I’ll have to wait until tomorrow because I’m her backup.
My girlfriend is visiting a resident. I think she needs to be checked in too.
My girlfriend is visiting a resident and I’m still jealous she gets all her attention.
Finally, I decide not to say anything — how can I, anyway, when I only know your best friend secondhand — and go back to my car. I drive around aimlessly until I find a Starbucks and pick up two coffees, one black and one with four creams and two sugars because you’ve always liked your coffee too sweet. By the time I get back to the hospital, you’re standing outside. Your nose is stained pink from the cold even though you’re wearing a huge scarf, easily as big as you are when it’s unraveled.
“Hey,” you say, and then, “sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it.” I say this often: I can’t make you feel guilty because you didn’t text me back in time or show up to our date or call me when I’m going on a drive upstate, not when the alternative is letting your friend die. It’s okay being second-choice when it’s like this, I think, so I add, “Seriously, it’s not a big deal.”
Your smile is small and reminds me of one of those wobbly cartoon ones. This is the part where you should say something like you’re the best or even just thank you, but instead you fidget with the hem of your skirt before turning the radio on and half-heartedly humming to the top forty song that starts playing, too loud and too fast. It’s the kind of song I’d be belting with you if your best friend didn’t try to kill herself again today, but she did, so I just stare at the road and wonder how long it’ll take before one of us gives up.
“You should talk to someone.” I can’t say you should talk to me because it feels self-obsessed and I can’t afford to be, not now. “Even, like, those online sessions would be better than nothing.”
“I know.” It’s always here where we start sounding like broken records, scratch and repeat and scratch and repeat. “I will when I’m ready.”
Two and a half months later, you’ll call me and say you can’t do this anymore: because you feel bad about always leaving me on hold, because you can’t make a relationship your top priority when someone’s using you as a lifeline, because you still don’t know how to talk to someone. I’ll say I understand even though I want to yell at you or cry or do something insane, at least a little bit, and then I’ll consider blocking your number but I won’t, just in case you end up needing me again.
Six months later, you’ll text me: thank you. I’ll draft eight different texts back, some of them angry, some of them upset, one of them asking how you’re doing, how she’s doing, and then I’ll just say no problem. I’ve never been good at tying up loose ends, especially not with you.
Right now, though, we’re in my car drinking lukewarm Starbucks outside your garage. “Drive safe tomorrow,” you say. You kiss my cheek and something about it feels like I love you, though maybe it’s just wishful thinking. I say I will, don’t worry, and I watch you go in until the garage door closes behind you, a long, low hum.
I drive home. I text my best friend. I think about yours.
Mrinal Pattanaik is a senior at Neuqua Valley High School. Her work has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, Sandpiper Magazine, and Up North Lit, amongst others.