• “Now, we’re going to do makeovers!” She squealed as she tottered around the dimly lit room in her six-inch heels that she had bought just last week with her father’s credit card at H&M. Her friends knew for a fact that she had never even imagined owning shoes like these before getting hooked on The Hills two weeks earlier. Her two followers were sitting on a purple velvet beanbag and a loveseat, and before restlessness had struck her she had been sitting on a florally patterned couch. The blonde in the corner sighed and twirled a lock of curly, highlighted hair around her manicured finger, not wanting to do it but not saying anything for lack of something else to do. Her friends always wanted to do makeovers, every second of every day. They made-over their makeup-ed faces, and fried, straight-ironed, and curled their already damaged hair. She breathed in a deep breath, reminding herself that today was not the day for confrontation, as the smell of her own perfume filled her nose. Lilac and honey, bringing her back to that fateful day years ago. She looked at the other girls in the room and reminded herself yet again that she liked these people, that they were her best friends. Best friends were overrated, she thought, her mind slinking back to algebra problems and equations as she tried to blot out her friends’ voices. The brunette in the other corner of the turquoise room flicked her sharp ebony bob around her heart-shaped face and giggled out loud, while reading a text on her new, purple phone with a slide keyboard, identical to the one the redhead had gotten last month. Her svelte legs splayed out across the loveseat, and her Jessica Simpson flats were fabulous. Maybe that’s what got the redhead in such a snit today, thought the blonde.
    “What? Speak up if you want to do something else, you know I’m open,” snapped the first girl, putting the kind of emphasis on the word open that distinctly meant watch-it-girls-or-I’ll-crush-you.
    “Oh, no,” the brunette said, “I was just laughing at a text that someone sent me...” the first girl’s emerald eyes started to narrow into an ugly glare. She hated anyone stealing her spotlight, this the brown-haired girl knew.
    “I hate makeovers. If that’s what you two are doing, then I’m out,” said the blonde, trying to break the mood. Ugh, she was worse than her sister. The first girl, a redhead, scrunched up her nose like she was thinking, though that couldn’t be it. This girl never thought a thing in her life, never said anything particularly intelligent at all. Her face suddenly turned stormy, and the other two knew that one of her spats was coming.

    When this girl was in a mood like liquid lava, like the blackest of nights, the whole world knew. As she walked down the hall people, even ninth graders, would part like the red sea before her grouchy face and her trademark scrunched nose and narrowed eyes. She would hurl words at her two best friends, hurtful ones, and the other two would yield to her, while trying to survive the barrage of ugly words that stung like acid and tasted much worse. They would choke back retaliation, for they knew that this adversary would crush them like walnuts in her nutcracker of ugly, untrue, humiliating gossip if they said anything clever, attractive in any way. So, they followed her like rats to the pied piper of Hammelin, to the point where they didn’t even really know their own identities anymore. They would withstand her every insult without so much as a whisper of revenge, but this resentment was building up inside of them like Mentos in Diet Coke, and soon it would explode into a mess of words and hate and revenge. The redhead knew this, and for once the mighty was frightened. These girls were different from the others that she had used, then wadded up and thrown away like used Kleenex, this she knew with a certainty that possessed her wherever she went, whoever she tormented. And she knew inside her tiny brain, which was very nearly rusted over with disuse, that these girls would crush her. She would be dismounted from her high throne, and the other two would wear her crown. The taunts of “carrot top” and “chubby loser” would return to haunt her. Sure, she wasn’t happy now, but she wasn’t happy then either. So what was worse: to be disrespected and unhappy, or to be popular, feared, the mighty in a crowd of weak. And unhappy.

    As she moved through the halls she was shrouded in a cloud of black, always exuding waves of hatred, the darkest and most frightening kind, to all around her, except her followers, who were surrounded in a curtain, her halo, of light. She didn’t have any friends, really, just followers and people who were afraid of her. She had always wished for real friends even when she was a chubby misfit, walking the halls without the protective layers of designer clothing that others had, praying that a mob of beautiful, thin girls wouldn’t descend upon her like crows on a cornfield with their intentions of tearing her apart. Goodbye, girls, and don’t forget: remember me. That’s what was her parting words were to the other two each time they split into two groups: the weak (and happy) and the strong. She was not a girl to stand aside while others stole her thunder. Never had been, never would be. Others always had to have her on their brains, or she was not content with being who she was. Sure, she was only in eighth grade, but everyone knew this girl would go far, even though she was lacking the smarts to ever be a politician or teacher of any sort. That is, if her followers didn’t topple her off her high, unearned throne, like they should have months ago.
    On this particular day, she was already pained, and desperately needed to take it out on her two best friends. Her parents had been “separated” for a year (the year when she was a chubby loser), but today was the first day that her dad was officially “moved out”. Her mom had held her close, saying
    “It’ll be okay, honey. We just kind of need to figure out our lives a little here. It’ll be fine.” Yeah, sure, Mom. Let’s just keep doing the same things we’ve been doing for a year. We’ll both pig out on chocolate and become fat, and then cry in our bathrooms at 5:30, Daddy’s favorite time of day because that was the only time we were all together, before he had to go back to work and you had to go to night school, leaving me alone in the big, empty house. We’ll be okay. We totally will.
    She had arrived at her best friend’s house in a funk, so the two not responding to her bidding was just not an option today. Whenever her dad had stormed out of the house after what seemed an eternity of of shouts and silence from the other side of the bedroom door, she would race to the kitchen and binge herself on ice cream, chocolate, fried chicken, or whatever else her mom had picked up at McDonald’s for the week. And she wouldn’t purge any of it, she had learned her lesson with bulimia in sixth grade. She would just raid the freezer, day after day, growing big, big as a house, in her mind. Soon she was avoiding everyone, frightened that if she spoke at all, everything, all her pain, would come spilling out. Figuring it was better just to turn off her voice, turn off her brain until she was finally accepted.
    “Hey,” the brown-haired girl’s silken voice broke through her mess of thoughts. “She’s right. You can’t push us around. You always have, and we hate it. Right?” She whipped around to face the blonde, blue-eyed girl who was nodding earnestly. The moment of confrontation had arrived. The world was finally catching up to this redhead, and she was running away. Her once-beautiful, now-gaunt face crumpled inward, and she stood from her cross-legged position on the couch. She tripped on her heels, and ripped them both off. She flung them at the turquoise wall, leaving a dent.
    “Hey,” the blonde said. “That’ll leave a mark, and my mom’ll kill me. Seriously, what’s wrong with you?” The girl’s orange hair flew around her face. She appeared a whole foot smaller, now shorter than the other two, and suddenly she looked like a tiny child of three or four, holding back tears over a scraped knee because she didn’t want her mom to think less of her. She looked as if she was going to say something biting, but instead she turned away from the other two. Her hair, which was now unbrushed, was frizzing around her face, the straightening from the morning long gone. They cringed visibly in their seats, waiting for the flame. Instead, barefoot, she broke into a run, dislodging the note from her dad that she had placed in her pocket that morning. She turned around one last time. Her face was streaked with tears, and dripping with washed-away mascara. She made a noise not unlike the squeak of a mouse, turned, and sprinted out the door onto the rain-soaked street. Without a raincoat, bus fare, or shoes she wouldn’t get very far at all.
    The two remaining girls looked at each other with similar expressions on their faces. Together, they picked up the sealed envelope and opened it. Though they knew they shouldn’t, they read it. They read the final line and they both started to cry. The redhead had crossed it out, but they could still read the end of the letter, which read in a type-written font that was designed to show how little the writer cared:
    ... and so I think that this is the right decision for the both of us. It will save you lots of heartbreak that I may have caused you, and for that I’m sorry. Tell your mother (although she is not a part of my life anymore) to please move on. I have.

    Your friend,


    The two girls looked at each other, and then down at the note again, and then at the door that the redhead had just run through. Like they were connected at the brain, they stood up. They turned toward the door. They always had been like this, even before the redhead had stepped out of New York City, and into their lives.
    “Wait,” said the blonde. She ran to her closet and pulled out a pair of Converse, shoes their friend hadn’t worn for at least a year, and walked to the door with the letter clutched tightly in her palm. The two girls clasped hands, but it felt strange without their friend in between them, holding one of each of their hands. It really should’ve been three people, but the redhead was gone. Right. Their friendship seemed empty without her, like she was the peanut butter to their bread, sealing them together, like she was their glue and they could not go on or even exist without her near them. Two not three. Both, without a third. They smiled wanly at each other, and steeled themselves to save their friend from herself, from the blackness that was eating her alive, but not such in a way that was visible to those around her. It was slowly devouring her soul. They sprinted out the door into the damp November air, their feet cloaked in identical black converse, their heads so thickly adorned with hoods that they looked barely human, much more gnome. They landed, hard, on the sidewalk, and the blonde rolled her ankle as she had done playing soccer, a sport which she detested but her redheaded friend had forced her to do, and she fell to the ground, her leg throbbing. She'd much rather dance instead. She stood up, sluiced water, grime, and mud off her (3 months’ allowance, down the drain) designer jeans, and leaned on her friend for support. But were they really friends, or were they just the jelly to the redhead’s (delicious) peanut butter? Were they really friends, or were they bound together through their joined fear and love of their other friend? Were they really friends, or were they sworn enemies who were joined through hatred and love? They didn’t really even know themselves anymore.

    They had risen to the top of the popularity pyramid from the bottom of the barrel, after swearing to themselves that they would become friends with the winsome, charming, most popular, most unhappy girl in the school. They were now the royalty, but somewhere along the way they had lost themselves, their own identities fading into smudges of gray fog, the brightly lit mall, and the terrible blackness that was slowly devouring all three girls, each being obliterated in her own different way.

    Somewhere between the Stonestown mall and West Portal Gate, the third girl sat, on a curb, trying to stand but her legs giving out under her. She heard footsteps and looked up hopefully. Were her friends (did she have any?) coming to rescue her and whisk her off to the dry, expensive sanctuary of the mall, where she could max out her father’s left-behind credit card in an act of revenge? Better yet, was her dad himself there, his black hair gleaming in the mist, telling her that everything would be all right, that he was coming home, that she could bury her face in his vanilla-smelling coat and cry and cry like a little girl again? That they could be a family again, that he didn’t think Mom was a lunatic anymore, that he just wanted his little princess back.
    But no, it was just an early-evening jogger, her hot pink sports bra seeming to day-glo in the drizzle. She raced along at top speed, iPod in ears, sweat flying off her face, the kind of black spandex pants that no one looks good in, hair yearning to break free of her meager ponytail holder. Her Nike-cloaked feet pounding to the beat of her racing heart.

    This was how all three yearned to be. Free.