“Tell her to get out. Tell her to leave us the fuck alone,” Sara screamed as we brawled and Mom tried to separate us. “Naomi’s my best friend. Tell her to get one of her own.”
It took all the air from inside me when Sara said it, like a bad fall.
The summer before we started high school, Sara and I were virtually estranged. During the day you could find me moping in the basement of our baby blue two-story house, deep in the suburbs of northeast Calgary, watching TV alone. If I wasn’t there, I was in my room with the door locked, playing music so loud my ears rang. While my mom and stepdad Bruce were at work, Sara and I either aggressively ignored each other or were at each other’s throats. We fought, mercilessly, for time alone, but I still felt a primal fear of being apart from her, especially as high school loomed. I was plagued with anxiety dreams all summer, in which I wandered the halls of our school searching for her. The dreams stoked the dread I already felt, adding layers of questions I avoided in the light of day like I avoided Sara. We hadn’t always been like this.
Naomi had complicated things. We met her in grade nine, our final year of junior high, when the French immersion program she was enrolled in moved to our school. Naomi was small, blond, with lively, sparkling green eyes. You couldn’t miss her in the halls. She dressed in brightly colored clothes and said hi to everyone. She oozed friendliness and kindness. Around her, a tight-knit pack of equally cool-looking girls we’d nicknamed the Frenchies was always with her. Sara and I became fast friends with all of them, but Naomi drew Sara and me in closest. For a time, we were both Naomi’s best friends. This was nothing new; Sara and I had always shared a best friend growing up. Our shared best friends acted as a conduit between us: we confessed to them what we couldn’t tell each other, and knew they’d pass along the message. We seemed to prefer it this way. But at the end of grade nine, Naomi and Sara forced an abrupt unraveling of this friendship after Naomi told us she and some of the other Frenchies planned to attend Sir Winston Churchill High School, instead of Crescent Heights, like us, that fall. After that, Naomi and Sara acted as if Naomi was being shipped overseas, rather than across town. They isolated themselves as summer started, hid behind the locked door of Sara’s room, and left me out of their plans for sleepovers. I felt confused, injured, abandoned. I instigated violent clashes with Sara in front of Naomi when they left me out, further damaging whatever bond remained between the three of us. It was war.
It was minus-twenty degrees Celsius, and I wasn’t wearing long johns under my ripped jeans. The exposed skin on my knees had turned purple, and the wind burned my cheeks and the tips of my ears. Burying our hands in the shallow pockets of our winter coats, Tegan and I didn’t speak as we made our way from the bus stop on the highway across the subdivision’s shortcut to our house. At home, we hovered near the back deck. We smoked a pinch of weed I spilled into a crushed Coke can punctured with pinholes.
“Hurry,” is all Tegan mustered as I flicked the lighter with my frozen thumb, forcing sparks but no flame. “Give it to me; we’ll die out here.”
Sucking deeply, she passed the can back and I inhaled the smoke lacing out of the hole. When we got inside, I should have done homework, but I went straight to the basement, where I used Mom’s computer to write secret letters about the girl I liked. It was still a shock to feel desire for girls, addictive thoughts that stole hours of my time at school and in bed before I fell asleep.
Girls had always been interested in Tegan and me. They sometimes followed us home from school or watched us at choir practice. As a twin, I was used to being stared at by people, but this was different. I started imagining them observing me, even when I was alone. I wanted these girls to look at me; I wanted to be seen.
Tegan came into the office and flipped on the television. “What are you writing?”
I always told lies to protect her from what scared me, but this one I told only to protect myself. I printed what I was working on and walked upstairs to my bedroom, where I stashed the pages deep inside the torn-out gut of a stuffed animal. A few months earlier Mom had come into my room and read a few lines of a letter I’d accidentally left in the printer tray downstairs. It was addressed to my best friend, Naomi.
“Do you like Naomi as more than a friend?” she asked, saying each word carefully.
My arms and cheeks went numb. “I just wrote the words to see what it would feel like.”
Her face softened, and she placed the paper next to me on the bed. “You know, when I was fifteen—”
“Mom, I don’t want to hear again about how you kissed a girl at boarding school!”
She flinched. “Well, in the future, if you don’t want people to read your thoughts, then don’t leave them where everyone can find them.”
A few weeks later, Tegan found my letter stash, pulled them straight from the guts of my hiding place. “Stay out of my shit!” I hollered at her, ripping the papers from her hands, then slamming both our bedroom doors so hard the windows rattled. I cut each page into strips and threw them in the garbage. Then I called Naomi and told her what I’d done.
“I wish you hadn’t thrown them away. They were so beautiful.”
“No one in this house respects me or my privacy!”
I knew both Mom and Tegan were trying to figure out what was going on with me. But the harder they looked, the more I wanted to retreat. I was afraid of being caught in a trap.
I wasn’t just kissing girls.
I was in love with my best friend.