The Strangers

The Strangers

Title: The Strangers
Word Count: 1059 Words
Summary: You’ve spent your entire life seeing each other on the playground, in the hallways, in classes, and thinking you knew each other. You thought of each other as friends, or at least friendly, for a time. But when you sit across from each other, you realize the only thing you know about each other is when you’ve been in the same place at the same time.

Sitting across the table from you in the corner of your favorite eatery is someone you’ve known for your entire life.

When you were younger–when she was louder and you were quieter–your brothers used to be friends. Your parents would coordinate play dates for them, and both of you would be carted along. You’d sit awkwardly together, smiling shyly when you accidentally made eye contact, until your mothers nudged you both towards the swings. You stumbled a couple times, and she looked over her shoulder anxiously at her expectant mother, and then you both ran off. After the awkward silence passed, you would both be laughing. You didn’t know her name right away though. Every time, you forgot you’d be seeing her again–until your brothers stopped being friends because of a girl they both liked in eighth grade.

You’d see her again in middle school, and you’d smile at each other. When people asked how you knew each other, she’d call you her old war buddy from the playground days, and you’d laugh. That was just one time though, on the bus during a field trip. You saw her in the hallway sometimes, and you’d wave, but you never stopped to chat. And then she started dating your ex, and she stopped waving back when you waved hello. She stopped smiling. She averted her eyes when she saw you in the halls. After a while, you took the hint.

There was no mess to clean up from the falling out. You were never close enough to trade notes during class that had to be torn up and tossed away, and she wasn’t the person you called every night or even on weekends after dinner when your parents were too tired to notice you sneaking the cordless phone into your room and shutting the door. She continued to exist in the peripheral of your life for the rest of high school, dancing on the outer edge of your group of friends but never truly being a part of it.

Every time you saw her, her hair was a little longer, a little messier. You thought you saw flecks of paint in it once. She hung out in the art department a lot, where your best friend liked to sit out study halls. You were never there at the same time though. She was always leaving just as you were walking in.

Then you graduated. You didn’t see her in the crowd, but you know she was there. You saw her brother shaking hands with your brother, and you don’t know if nearly eight years of feuding has passed but he doesn’t mention it later. You go home and think about college in the summer and forget about seeing her brother at your graduation or seeing her in the hallways and wondering why she wouldn’t look at you. You spend every free moment you have hanging out with your friends, who are calling this The Last Summer. It isn’t, really. Not for most of you. You’re going to the same community college, if you’re going at all. The Last Summer will come two years later, when you stop going out for afternoon pancakes and midnight bowling.

That’s the year you see her again, sitting in your morning class–and again in your evening class. She doesn’t look at you, not the first day. She’s ten minutes tardy and she’s hiding behind a curtain of frizzy blond hair and clothes pulled out of an 80’s fashion magazine, and it isn’t fair that she looks gorgeous and you don’t know if it’ll make her uncomfortable to tell her, to say hi. You decide not to, until a few days later when she meets your eye after class and smile. You can’t stay–You’ve got another class to get to.–but the next day you make a point to say hi when she walks in, even though she’s fifteen minutes late this time. The professor doesn’t even notice.

Every day in class, she smiles at you, but she doesn’t come near you. You don’t push it. Instead, you smile and say hi–and then bye at the end of each class. The end of the semester comes. The last hello, the last goodbye, you think. Until she calls your name as you walk by, asks if you’ve got a second. Invites you out to lunch sometime, after finals are over. “If that’s okay,” she hastily adds, as you’re staring at her. Wondering why it wouldn’t be okay. But you don’t ask that, you just say, “Sure, I’ll give you my number.” and she smiles, looking so relieved, and you still don’t understand why.

Till you’re sitting across the table. She’s amused because you’re so absorbed by your macaroni and cheese that you aren’t talking. You’ve been talking a lot for some reason, like you’re afraid to risk falling into silence. There’s been a long time of silence. And there’s silence now, while you’re eating the meal you told her you’ve been craving for a week when she asked what you thought you would order. Until she says, “I didn’t think you’d say yes. I kinda thought you’d hate me.”

You stop eating and look up, startled. “I what?”

“Hated me. Because of Eric.”

You think about your boyfriend from freshman year of high school, a relationship that you never even thought of as a relationship. Three weeks, and you both shrugged and dropped the subject. And then nobody was talking to each other anymore, and it happened so quickly you could never figure out exactly how it happened or why. You just knew that it did, that you suddenly had different friends, and more eyes to avoid meeting in the hallways. She expects you to be angry. She’s cringing behind her iced green tea.

“You should’ve known better than that,” you say. She giggles nervously and apologizes, but a silence falls again. Uncomfortable. Heavy. You play with your spoon, but you aren’t as interested in eating anymore. She’s picking at the skin of her apple with her nail.

Neither of you say it, but you’re both thinking it. Why should she have known better than that, because there was a time you both played on a swing set and got shoved off the couch when your brothers wanted to play Halo instead of watch Drake and Josh with you? Just like you didn’t know she was estranged from her family, and she didn’t know you got your first pet the same year your brothers stopped being friends. She knows you like macaroni and cheese and you know she hates journalism. Recently acquired knowledge. You know her name, and she knows yours, but pet names and boyfriends and girl friends and favorite colors and career goals and ambitions and dreams and fears are mysteries.

You’ve known her your entire life, but the girl sitting across the table from you is a stranger.

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