Bonnie was never satisfied with boys in high school. She would date them for awhile, get bored, and complain to Craig that she felt there should be something “more.”
“I know it’s just in movies,” she would say as they walked together in the hallways. “But the movies have to be based on something, right?”
Craig would nod, thinking of mud pies and skateboards, back when Bonnie would tell him talking about boys was stupid. He would nod until she began doubting the existence of love.
“No,” Craig said, hands pulling the straps to his backpack. “Love exists.”
Of course, though, how would he know? He dated exactly one person, a girl a grade above them with buck teeth and body odor, who he only really began dating because she asked him out and he didn’t know how to say no. For three months he held her hand when he was told, then finally wrung up the courage to tell her he didn’t love her. The break up was a disaster.
Bonnie, on the other hand, was far more successful (so to speak). She never asked people out, but was also never dumped. Always the askee, the dumper. She dated boys like she was eating cherries, taking what she liked and unceremoniously spitting out the pits.
After graduation but before college, acquaintances began fading away. It was clear within weeks which friends Craig was going to stay in touch with and which ones he would ignore until a reunion. Bonnie was without a doubt one he would stay in touch with—the two of them were inseparable that summer, the first summer Bonnie was single since eighth grade.
“College,” Bonnie announced one June day, her voice gravelly. They were licking ice creams at a park picnic table, their skateboards rolling back and forth under their feet.
“Yeah?” Craig responded when she didn’t go on, smiling behind his ice cream. She still looked like a kaleidoscope , but perhaps a more organized one. Her mane of curly hair was in something of a bun, and a loose blue tank top draped over her lanky body. Her shorts were hot pink.
“It’s stupid. I don’t want to go to college. I want to go to a conservatory.”
Three conservatories turned her down. The fact hung in the air, a stoppage to her complaints. It was easier to complain about not going places before, when it was all someone’s parent’s fault. Now it was her fault, and hers alone.
“I mean, I don’t want to go to college either,” Craig said, though in truth he was rather excited. He only wished his college was closer to Bonnie’s.
June left, and July began. They celebrated the fourth of July with the traditional West Merrimack fireworks. They laid in the grass together, cheering for the small ones and booing the big ones, laughing with each other at themselves.
“Why isn’t everything this easy?” Bonnie whispered at the smoky sky. She scooted closer to Craig and rested her head on his bicep. She did this sort of thing now and then. It was nice.
July, then August. They were both moving out next week and had to spend most of last week packing, so now they sat in Craig’s living room, suspended in limbo, Bonnie’s head resting on Craig’s shoulder. The television was on, but muted, and neither of them watched it.
Craig wondered why she leaned on him, why she led him by the wrist places, why he always followed. She had led them into every fad and every interest since before they knew the times tables. Had he introduced anything? Oh, yes, they were big bikers for awhile, and he got her into several television shows. Spicy food, too, and bocce. He was sure they were about even. Pretty even friends.
“I hope college is fun,” Bonnie said, breaking the solid silence. “But, I don’t know. How could it possibly be better than this? I don’t hate anything in my life, you know? Except my hair,” she added, and the two of them smiled.
“I’m really going to miss you, Bonnie,” Craig said, hugging her with one arm.
Bonnie shifted to her knees on the couch looking at Craig, her hair a blanket of red around her. “Is this all over? Our whole friendship, our whole lives?”
“No,” Craig said. “We’ll still be friends. We’re both coming back here for Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and all of the summer. And I’ll visit you on weekends.”
“Should we have dated?” Bonnie asked suddenly, her eyes shimmering, her shoulders curved.
She asked these rhetorical questions now and then, often when she was in the sort of mood that made her lean on him. Craig sucked on his teeth, studying his kaleidoscopic best friend.
Why had they never given into everyone’s wishes and dated? Why had he never asked her out, like all the others? Maybe it was because he had seen her suck the life out of every boyfriend, turning them into desperate zombies before cutting them loose. Dating Bonnie meant becoming a part of Bonnie’s body, an object for her to use as she pleased, a thing to hold her hand and her backpack. Craig turned a blind eye to her boyfriends because they may as well have not existed. When Bonnie had a boyfriend, she and Craig hung out nearly the same amount as always, just with a sunken-eyed leech attached to her arm.
Maybe, instead, it was that while he believed in love he didn’t believe in love with Bonnie. He liked her a lot. They were best friends. He supposed, if love didn’t exist, he could see marrying her, living with her. It would be great fun to just hang out with Bonnie all the time…but wasn’t there more? Like they said in the movies?
“No,” Craig said, and as he said it he realized he was right. “We work better as friends.”
Craig felt confident in his answer. He knew, no matter what, that Bonnie would be here next year, whether she found another leech or not. He knew he would be there too. What he didn’t know was the strength of Bonnie’s question, the fullness of her heart, the condom in her backpack, the stunted confession in her stomach, the stinging tears she was fighting to keep from falling. She leaned on his shoulder again, and Craig took it as a sign of contentment, perhaps of relief. Bonnie held her breath to keep from shaking.
“Summer is over,” she said in as even a voice as possible.
“Yes,” Craig said in a wistful voice. “A new adventure awaits us!”