When I saw her, my heart skipped a beat. Of course, I was happy to see her. But a part of me was scared. When we hugged, it felt familiar and strange at the same time.
She complimented my fangs and the stab wound on my chest. I complimented her entire outfit. She wore red lenses and looked like she'd just walked off a Hollywood horror movie set. Even dressed up like a scary demon, there was still something ethereal about her.
"You flew all the way over here for this Halloween party?" I asked, dumbfounded by the fact she was here. Because if I'd known she would come, I probably would have skipped the party — I love nothing more than canceling plans and avoiding confrontations.
She shrugged and said something about wanting to party with her besties. Even though we'd slowly been growing apart, it felt good she still saw me as one of her best friends. But I also knew that would probably change tonight if she knew what had been going on while she was abroad.
Pearl and I became best friends forever when we were thirteen years old. She was the coolest kid I'd ever seen. While my anxiety-riddled self tried to move through the hallways of our school unseen, she walked around like she owned the place. Not in an arrogant way, but with great calm and confidence. She wasn't afraid to take up space.
The first time she talked to me was at the school dance. My new classmate was her best friend, so she introduced us. As always, her styling was impeccable. Since it was my first school dance, I had spent weeks worrying about my outfit. So when she, out of all people, complimented me, I was stunned.
Shyly, I pulled down my crop top a bit. "Yeah, I dunno if I really like how it fits."
She rolled her eyes. "Trust me; you don't have to worry about anything."
I looked her up and down. "No, you don't have to worry about anything. You are flawless."
And that is how the three of us became best friends. We were there for each other during every massive milestone in our lives. When I was 18 and got a text from my boss inviting me to stay over at his house, Pearl was sitting next to me. She immediately questioned our 10-year age gap and how unprofessional it was to hit up subordinates.
"He's not even good-looking," she said.
"Don't be so shallow," I retorted. "I like him. He is nice."
"Yeah, I doubt that, too."
"Come on; it's going to be a fun adventure. He's Mr. Big, and I am Carrie!"
"Yes, and Big just married Natasha, so..."
We decided to drop it. Because of our opposing temperaments, we'd become pros at agreeing to disagree.
And as my one-night stand with my boss grew into a relationship, she learned to tolerate him. And then, right around our first anniversary, Pearl discovered he'd been cheating on me with a girl that worked for her parents.
It seemed unreal. How dumb do you have to be to cheat on your girlfriend with someone her BFF knows? When I called the girl to ask what exactly was going on between her and my boyfriend, she had the exact same question for me. And to make things even more dramatic, he'd cheated on both of us with one of her friends.
I talked to the other girl. And she, too, thought she was the only woman in his life. So all three of us decided to break up with him.
Pearl dried my tears. At 19, this was my first major heartbreak. I had a hard time processing how easy it had been for him to deceive me, and I had a hard time letting him go. So Pearl did what every BFF would do; she suggested we'd go on a holiday together.
So there we were, on a Greek island, surrounded by ridiculously good-looking men. We made so many friends, we decided to get jobs and stay for the whole summer. Even though I was having fun, I still missed my ex, who called me every day and begged me for forgiveness. He even bought me a plane ticket and said I should move in with him.
When I told Pearl I was leaving, she demanded to know why on earth I wanted to give him another chance. No matter what I said, none of my reasons were good enough in her eyes. Our goodbye was awkward.
We didn't see each other for months, because she had moved to Athens to live with her Greek boyfriend. But by the time they moved back here, all animosity was forgotten.
I would always hang out at their house, but my ex never came with me. Not just because he wasn't welcome, but also because he seemed intimidated by Pearl. She was one of the few people that saw right through his BS, and he knew it.
Three years later, he cheated again. Pearl wasn't surprised, yet I was. After I had specifically asked him not to cheat on me again, he still did it.
"A leopard doesn't change his spots," she said as she tried my tears. "You have to be strong. Find your footing."
And I did. I moved out and quickly found a rebound boyfriend. But just like the previous time, I had a hard time letting go. And slowly but surely, he reeled me back in. He had learned his lesson. He was sure he wanted me, and only me.
Pearl called me an idiot for giving him another chance, but as time passed, the two of them learned to love each other.
Ten years later, he proposed to me. Pearl was ecstatic when I asked her to be one of my bridesmaids. Even though we'd drifted apart, I couldn't imagine getting married without her by my side. My other bridesmaid was my bestie from school, who'd introduced us to each other. So the trio was complete again for another milestone.
It was fun to talk about wedding stuff with her. Yet we never spoke about the groom-to-be or my expectations of marriage. Immediately after my ex slid the engagement ring on my finger, I started second-guessing my eager yes.
I couldn't talk to any of my friends about my doubts. We had a lot of issues, and marriage wasn't going to fix any of them. We disagreed on almost everything trying to plan our dream wedding, and even though our wedding date crept closer, the idea of the two of us getting married seemed surreal.
Four months before the big day, I canceled the whole shebang.
He had been living a double life for five years. So instead of not cheating anymore, he did the opposite and stepped up his cheating game. I wasn't surprised.
Pearl wasn't surprised, either. She visibly struggled with my pain. "If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. This is the third time; how are you so shocked?"
I couldn't answer her questions. His lies were convincing and beautiful, so I closed my eyes to the ugly truth.
And now that we couldn't talk wedding prep anymore, there wasn't much left to talk about. When she moved to Curaçao, we barely kept in touch.
So when she asked me about my life at the Halloween party, I froze. "Do you still live in that apartment? Or have you found a more permanent place to live?"
I scraped my throat and almost swallowed my fangs. The words tumbled out of my mouth, and with a nervous little laugh, I told her my six-month lease had just ended, and I was moving back home.
She looked like she smelled something filthy.
"You are going back again?"
I almost crumbled under her stare. I tried to avoid eye contact, but she wouldn't back down.
The rest of the table went quiet. "I don't want to get into it, right here, right now," I stammered. I felt like that awkward thirteen-year-old again, longing for her BFF's approval.
"So you can't even say why you are going back in one sentence? So that means you don't even have a proper reason."
Her smug and cold face broke my heart. "I do. But I don't want to get into it here," I said, nearly swallowing my rogue fangs again, reminding myself we were grown women in our thirties, and I didn't owe her an explanation for my dubious life decisions.
"So you don't have a good reason then; otherwise, you would just say so."
I excused myself and did what I do best; walk away. I stood outside for a minute, trying to catch my breath. Avoiding her was pointless; the house was too small.
When I walked past her, she grabbed my arm gently.
"Jude," she said. All the coldness was gone from her voice. This is what my Pearl sounded like. "Look, I..."
I shrugged. "Forget it. Just forget it, OK."
We quickly made eye contact. "You deserve to be happy," she whispered.
I smiled and walked away because I knew if I stood there any longer, I would completely fall apart.
She texted me the next morning. "Do you have some time today to hang out with an old friend?"
Pearl's stubbornness was legendary. She was no fan of big apologies. But I understood what she was asking. So for old times' sake, I agreed to take a quick walk by the lake.
It was misty, and we could barely see the water. The eerie vibe perfectly fit my mood. She admitted that she didn't fly back for the Halloween party, but some unfortunate events on the island had made it dangerous for her to stay there.
Once again, her confrontational, never-back-down-personality had caused her issues. The story was a nice segue into our relationship.
"You know how hard I can be," she sighed as our hands brushed together. "I don't have bad intentions. You know that, right? Life is already hard enough without people actively seeking out more drama."
I nodded and changed the topic. I couldn't talk about it. I couldn't talk about all the unspoken things lingering between us for years. Our friendship was over. She didn't want to hang around for another round of me getting hurt.
When we got back to the car, we hugged goodbye. It was the last time we talked to each other.
One year later, my ex and I broke up for good. I thought about telling Pearl, hoping she'd be proud. But it was all water under the bridge.
From day one, she had been right about my relationship. She saw him for who he really was, and I saw him for who I wanted him to be. And it took me seventeen long years and a lot of heartbreak to finally understand that. But back then, I needed support, not judgment.
Even though I resented her harsh words at the Halloween party, I don't blame her for walking away.
I still don't fully understand why I gave that man another chance. And I accept that some people didn't have the energy to hang around and watch me get hurt — again.
I still love her. I still consider her my friend, even though I lost her number years ago, and I have no idea where she lives. Some of my greatest memories are with her.
We all like to tell ourselves our friends have to be ride or die. But I can't blame her for not sticking around while I was knowingly poisoning myself.
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