“Close your eyes,” he says, all bravado and fifth-grade-boy machismo.
“What? Don’t be dumb,” I say.
“Just close your eyes. I’ve got a present for you.”
I close my eyes. I wait. Just as I consider peeking, he warns me not to. He grips my shoulders and lunges, to plant a dry-lipped kiss against my mouth, like a chicken pecking at a worm it fears might actually be the tail of a snake.
Words crowd atop my tongue, unable to escape. I stand in silence, my eyes and lips forming uniform Os.
He drops his hands and steps back, surveying me, a self-satisfied grin illuminating his face. It’s this unbearable smugness of his being that finally jogs me from my catatonia.
He senses the shift in my mood. His face crumples into sheepishness.
“They dared me,” he says. “The other boys; Bucky, Digby, Matty Tchan. They said I had to do it because I lived the closest to you.”
Words come tumbling from him in a torrent of excuses.
I feel disembodied, like an audience to this one-act play. I see our protagonist raise her hand, pull it back for momentum, and swing it into action. I watch the slow-motion slap land firmly on the villain’s left cheek. His flesh reverberates under the force of her hand. His once pale cheek blooms first scarlet, then vermillion. A hand-shaped welt rises on his face, like those Pin Art sculptures that were all the rage.
“What did you do that for?” He’s genuinely shocked.
“I was going to tell everyone that you were my girlfriend, but now I’m going to tell them all you’re easy.” He loads the word “easy” with as much salaciousness as he can muster.
My brain finds a path through the fog, and my tongue wheels into motion. “Don’t you dare, Oliver Parish. Or I’ll tell your mum exactly what you did. I’ll tell every girl at school what you did. I hate you, Oliver Parish, and you’re never allowed to come to my house again.”
I’m breathing hard. I want to hurt him, to pummel him with my fists. I’m angry and humiliated. Most of all, I feel betrayed that someone I had only ever thought of as my friend, valued our friendship so little that he was willing to break my trust for a dare.
His cheek still red, tears and snot covering his face, Oliver Parish flees from the room, the house. I imagine him running, sobbing, down the lane and into his yard. I imagine him flying up the concrete steps to his back door, flinging the door open and bolting through the kitchen. I imagine his mother turning from the stove to ask how his day was, only to see her tear-stained, red-faced son as he dashes to his bedroom. I imagine the look of shock on his mother’s face, the questions, chased rapidly by assumptions, that are forming in her head. I imagine Oliver Parish throwing himself on his bed, face down, his sobs muffled by the duvet. None of it brings me solace.
The next day is a school day. I wonder if Oliver Parish will get to school before me. I wonder what he’ll say. There’s a leaden knot in my stomach that makes eating breakfast impossible.
I prolong getting ready. I brush each individual tooth with the attentiveness of an archaeologist on a dig. I drag my feet down the lane, past Oliver Parish’s house, and across the busy main road to school.
Kids are running this way and that in the quadrangle, there’s laughter and shrieking. My best friend waves to me. No Oliver Parish. I breathe a sigh of relief, hang my bag up, and head out to find my friends.
The morning bell rings and we hustle to assemble. Two neat lines per year group; one for boys, one for girls. Then I see him. Oliver Parish is at the very back of the boys’ line. He refuses to look at me.
All day, he’s taciturn and sullen.
The bell rings at the end of the day. As I’m leaving the school grounds, I see Oliver Parish. He sees me. In that moment we know we will never be friends again.
I see him one more time, when we’re both 17, during muck-up day at high-school. We spray each other with shaving foam. I egg his car. We laugh. We’ve never met again.
 Names changed to protect the foolish.
I can so relate to that! And, although it is not something incredulous, but boys stay boys all their lives – even after they have grown into “matured” adults! Why? Oh why do they do that?
Superbly narrated, Asha! I so wanted to reach out and slap Oliver Parish myself!
I wanted to slap that boy myself. Nicely written.
Beautifully written. It feels like you defined every moment of the experience. We were right there with you.
I was cheering when you slapped him! What happens in those years after fifth grade when we are programmed to be polite rather than irate? This story is exactly right. If Oliver grew up to be a decent man, I’m sure it was due in no small part to the lesson he learned in fifth grade.
I really hope he did. I’ve always been too nervous to google him and find out!
This one is that childhood tale that a girl would like to share when old and you did it the best with your writing. I loved how you described brushing. The details that you highlighted were vivid and completed this post.
Asha, I love how you shift to third person when you slap that bugger — it shows the heightened reality you must have been feeling very nicely.
Also, I’m glad you slapped him.
I hate how childish pranks and dares spoil some beautiful friendships forever but I am happy that they laughed together in the end.A brief reconciliation.I also liked your using the word “easy”, that is teenage parlance.
This story felt just right.
I want to know if there’s a story behind the names you’ve chosen. I’m greedy like that. 😀
Finding substitute names is so hard! I aimed for the same number of syllables as their actual names, so when I was reading this, it felt right.
I think everyone can relate to a story like this! Very well told. I am so glad you posted it! I have only one slight criticism. The final line, though wonderful, switched tense. I’m sure it was deliberate, but it threw me. I think it would have had as much or even more power saying we never meet again.
That’s a good point, Melony. I wavered on whether to keep it in the present or put it into the past. The past felt more appropriate on a couple of levels, but I can see how it’s disconcerting.
I really liked how you inserted your own uneasiness with the situation and how you didn’t feel better for having slapped him, even though he deserved it.
It’s more than “just” a betrayal of trust; it’s a sudden dramatic shift in worldview. You suddenly start looking at people differently, relating to them differently. It’s more painful than that slap.
Yes! It really is. They become suddenly alien.
Asha, I love your storytelling. It’s so rich and full of things for me to see and feel. The ending felt a bit like the slap you gave him–abrupt but necessary.
What a great narrative – I’m so glad you stuck up for yourself!
A couple of things to think about… you use “I imagine” five times in a row. I’m not sure if it was a deliberate choice, but as a reader I found it repetitive enough to be a distraction.
In the line: “In that moment we know…” I struggle a little with the word we. What tells you that he also knows you’ll never be friends again? Is it the look in his eye? An expression? I’d love more insight here.
My favorite part of this is the description of the slap – I’ve experience that feeling of being a spectator in your own body before and you captured it perfectly!
Thank you for the considered feedback. Yes, I had used “I imagine” repetitively on purpose, but that’s really good to know that it was too much, and distracting.
I can see I should have been clearer about how “we” knew the friendship was over. It was the same look we exchanged as I left the school grounds all those years ago.
I really loved this. I especially loved how you used the child-like way of using his full name throughout. This was a great moment to capture.
You always seem to find the perfect way to tell a story. I was completely engaged and felt as if I were right there with you. I am not at all surprised that sassy young Asha slapped that boy. One of my HS friends stuck his tongue down my throat randomly in public without my consent and I wish I had had the courage to slap him. At the time, I felt I had to “laugh it off” or risk losing other friends. The abuse of girls and women is so ingrained and systemic, it’s going to be a long crawl out.
Admirably, you had a strong sense of self early on! And that confidence can be so intimidating to boys. Their loss. Love the details in this piece. So wonderful to read your work again.