CRUSHED (an excerpt)

Elise Stewart has been my best friend since kindergarten. I am uncomfortable with the term “best friend.” It seems designed to hurt. Middle school has proven to be an exercise in rank peppered with lessons in exclusion and the entire notion of having a best friend aggravates an already aggravating system. Elise knows me better than anyone else, better than my parents, that’s for sure, better than my new friends, and even friends we’ve both had for years. There isn’t anything we haven’t shared with each other. I don’t have any sisters, but I’m pretty sure we feel about each other the way sisters do: I would rob a bank for her, but other times I want to kill her. She can be lazy, exasperatingly so, and sometimes I just want to shake her. She seems to move, sometimes, in an actual daze, like she’s stoned, but I know she’s not, or like she’s trying on purpose to bug the hell out of me because she knows I hate sitting around. The TV is always on at her house, a low buzz in the background of whatever we’re doing. I always want to turn it off. Either that or make popcorn and find something good to watch and actually do that. Better than static and fuzz creeping around everything we say.

She has a Ouija board we used one sunny afternoon and I was scared of it. I refused to do it at night, in the dark, but Elise wouldn’t take anything seriously. She kept pushing the tile and laughing in a deep low rumble and moving toward my birthday or things like that. Maybe the whole thing is totally stupid, like the Magic 8 Ball we used to consult about boys we liked—or, about boys I liked, Elise has never had a crush on anyone, ever—but I have this thing about dark magic. It should be respected. It could be real.

At school Elise closes in on herself. With me, at home, she can be goofy, physically free. When we were younger I thought she was the most beautiful girl. She got breasts first and had long equine legs; she was graceful and had thick brown hair and silver dollar sized eyes. But she’s been putting on weight, nothing major, just a thickness that takes away from the elegance I always thought was her birthright, and I can tell she’s not comfortable in her own skin. She wears baggy shirts and too-big pants and hardly ever smiles. I feel like seventh grade is killing her a little bit. It’s making me angry, but it’s making her sad. There’s a difference. Energy and lethargy. Resolve and resignation.

I feel like an idiot when I talk to Elise about boys. She is disappointed in me, it seems, for being frivolous. Everything she hates—fake girls, rich girls, pretty girls, mean girls—seems to be summed up in being giddy about a person, in being happy to feel that way about a person. Those girls talk the way I talk when I talk about boys, and I see her rolling her eyes at them; I read Seventeen magazine and want to know what it’s like to be kissed. She doesn’t want to conform.

I have other friends who get it. It’s fun to gush and be moony and pie-eyed and all those other expressions that make it sound like I’m a geyser or a cow, and the more I don’t share this with her the farther apart we’re going to grow. I don’t have anyone else I’d call a best friend, and neither does she, but the truth is, we really don’t have that much to say to each other anymore.