Burning Bridges

By Lacy

"You're an amazing girl, Winters. No matter what happens to us, you should never forget that. I mean honestly, I've never had a friend like you and that means a lot to me, probably more than you know. You've known me since we were in preschool together. You've been there when I was weak, when I was stupid, when I was angry. You've stuck it out even until now and we're in high school. Not many people are willing to stay with a guy like me for that amount of time, but you did. And I know this is the part where I am supposed to tell you that I would never trade what we have for anything in the world, because it's what has got me through all these years, but..." He swallowed noisily and his Adam's apple bobbled nervously in his throat. I let out an imperceptible breath and waited patiently, shifting the weight of my textbooks in my arms as I studied his face, waiting for his final blow. I had known this speech was coming for weeks, perhaps months even and I was ready for it. There was no absolutely no way he could possible hurt me now; I was ready. That was the most important thing.

"Stephanie and I have agreed that it may be best for our relationship if you and I cooled it a bit and saw a little less of each other. We can still be friends, of course. We just won't see as much of each other as we always have anymore. It's nothing personal, okay, so don't feel bad and beat yourself up about it. Stephanie just thinks—we just think it might be better this way for our relationship if we went about it this way." Alex looked up at me to see my reaction, but I didn't give him the pleasure of seeing one and stared blankly back at him. I wanted to let him know he couldn't hurt me and that nothing he would say could change that. I was made of stronger stuff.

"Winters, say something, please," he pleaded.

I shrugged my shoulders and knelt by locker to put my books away. "What's there to say? I understand."

Alex dropped on the floor next to me. "Winters?"

"Don't worry about me, Alex," I told him, "You and Stephanie want space so I'll give you space. Friends like me, we come and we go, but the people you really love, they're the ones you've got to worry about keeping around. Who am I to stand in the way of your relationship with her? What you and Steph have, it's not something people can buy. You can always find friends. They're like leaves, everywhere. But the people like Steph, you can't. So, I understand what you guys want and I'll step out of the way and leave you alone." I stared levelly into his inky honey blue eyes the whole time I was talking. I would look more convincing if I didn't break eye contact, and I didn't want him to think I was bluffing my way out to save face.

"You honestly mean that, Winters?" he averted his eyes to the floors, gazing at them as if they were the most magnificent things he had ever seen.

I closed my locker with a satisfactory slam. "Wouldn't say it if I didn't."

"Caitlin," Alex scooted an inch closer to me on the floor and I could smell the spiciness of the cologne he was wearing, the cinnamon flavored gum he had been chewing this morning, and the thick black coffee he had ordered undoubtedly from Starbucks on the drive to school. His blue eyes came down to observe my face. "I want you to know that if I could change all this, I would do it. If I could do things differently, I would. I don't want to hurt you. That's the last thing I would want to do."

I waved him off dismissively. "Whatever, don't make this a bigger deal than it has to be."

"But this is a big deal, Winters. Don't act like it's nothing."

I drew in a sharp sigh. "Look Alex, I told you I understood what you wanted. I told you I was fine with your decision and I wouldn't interfere and I would respect you. What else do you want me to say to you? What's said is said. What's done is done. Leave it at that and just go. I'm not hurt, you're not hurt so what's the problem."

His hollow cheeks bloomed with color and his eyebrows knit together. "Screw that, Winters. I know you better than that. You can't tell me that you're okay with all of this."

I glared coldly. "I just did, didn't I?"

"So this is it? You're just going to walk away and close the door like that. You don't even care about what's going on?

"I'm supposed to care about what's going on? Don't preach at me, Alex. You're the one who wanted me out of the way. Was I the one who came up to you and told you to back off? Am I the one who's always putting other things before my best friend? Am I the one who's always hurting people just to make life easy for myself? Take a look in the mirror."

"So you think I wanted this? You think I wanted to break up with my best friend?"

I was incredulous. "What do you want me to believe?"

He stood up angrily. "I thought you knew me better than that."

I stood and glared into his eyes. "No, I do know you. I know you're trying to slide out of this without any scratches. I know you were trying to assuage your guilt by giving me that long empty speech. I know you and Stephanie decided to do this, because she's insecure and she thinks I'm trying to steal you away. I know you went along with it, because you always choose other people over the people who have been with you through and through. I know that later you'll come crying back to me like you always do and tell me you're sorry. And you know what else, I know? I know that this time I'm not going to be there. I'm going to watch you fall and I'm not going to do a single thing about it. Because I'm tired and I'm sick of you and all the crap you've put me through since the first day I met you." I stopped and waited.

I waited for the world to stop turning. I waited for hell to freeze over. I waited for the moon to turn to blood.

But nothing happened.

Alex was standing there, a mixture of pain and shock written all over his face. And it felt good. It felt good to get out what I had wanted to say to him for a long time. It felt good to just let everything out. And so I smiled. I smiled at him and flicked my coppery red hair over my shoulder. "Have a nice life, Alex."

I turned and walked away, knowing somewhere in the back of my mind that after my state of ecstasy wore off, I would cry. I would cry, because I'd just lost my best friend. I would cry because I wasn't getting him back. And I would cry, because I didn't know where to rightly put all the blame. Our friendship was just another bridge burned.