The boy called. I didn’t know how he’d gotten my number. He asked for me by name, and my mom put her hand over the receiver and mouthed, It’s a boy!
A popular boy. The kind who wore slouching khakis and a worn-in white baseball cap, who would grow up to have a line of premium vodka and a featured story in the wedding announcement section of the New York Times. Not really my type, but I didn’t have a type back then.
I was more concerned with being a type, the type She had patented.
She was my best friend. I was Her second best friend. I could live with that.
When she wasn’t looking, I studied Her — the way she held Her pen in class, elbow pointed outward, bracelets chiming. The way she tilted Her head to drag on a Parliament. And once, through a crack in Her bathroom door, I watched her twist around and take a tissue to her backside. So this is how you’re supposed to look when you go to the bathroom, I thought.
“How’d you get my number?” I asked the boy on the phone. It was something I’d heard her say to a boy before, though her voice had a lilt that gave it a less accusatory tone.
He spoke of the Hebrew-school directory. She had introduced me to him in the elevator at the synagogue after our weekly confirmation class. At 14, She was the access point to boys from other schools, and that was powerful to students at an all-girls school.
Boys defined us, despite their absence in our formal education. And they liked Her. I was the friend who flanked Her, waiting outside rooms they pulled Her into and knocking on doors when our curfew was getting close. I was the short one with the big nose, the one who visibly shook around the boys, who didn’t matter but whom She insisted come along and they said fine.
Once, I thought we were the same. We were neighbors, B-plus students, lefties. Our moms were friends, and we both hated our moms, but not really. We liked chocolate cat tongues and sleepovers, kiwi Body Shop soap and walking to school together, pretending we were famous people engaged in a famous conversation, using words like agent and movie trailer loud enough that strangers might hear.
But boys changed things.
“You’re funny,” the boy on the phone said. “I want to take you out.”
“Where would you take me?” I asked him.
The other line beeped. It was Her.
In Her bedroom, we listed what embarrassed us — beyond farts and period stains — the weird stuff we couldn’t explain. Her dad’s baldness, my father’s predilection for cowboy hats, saying the word Guggenheim. These were the conversations that made me love Her.
For a time, we were so similar — same bra size, same skinny legs and arms, same pinkish, freckled skin and green eyes — I imagined we were one person, split in two. But after boys, when we compared our reflections, I noticed Her green eyes were jewel-toned rather than swampy, Her lower lip was fuller than mine, and despite Her protestations, Her nose wasn’t as prominent. Nothing could be done about my hair, a halo of wool that was all I could see of myself in Her bathroom mirror, unless I stood on a stool.
“You’re obsessed with Her,” Her first best friend once told me, and I resented her for implying the feeling wasn’t mutual.