Authors: KK Bauer
The Bond That Built Us
I knew friendships came and went all the time, but when it’s your cousin, you expect it to beindestructible. The relationships you grasp a hold of and desperately cling tightly to tend to be the ones that fall apart. It’s the ones that are effortless and unexpected that stay with you for a lifetime.
My cousin MJ and I were the best of friends growing up
, we were kindred spirits. We literally did everything together. We even tried to legally change our names, from Aubrey James and Megan James to just AJ and MJ. Needless to say, our parents didn’t approve.
“You aren’t Prince, you can’t just change your name because you feel like it. You have to have a last name,” my mom said. My nine-year-old self was crushed
and I didn’t even know who Prince was. So instead of the legal way, we just slowly and stubbornly forced everyone to call us by our shorter, and cooler, names.
But the start of our junior year of high school changed everything. Suddenly our friendship wasn’t effortless anymore. I struggled to keep up with her and her new friend, Cara Cantele. Somehow within those first few weeks, Cara convinced MJ to try out for the cheerleading squad- without me, skip lunch period and go to Taco Bell- without me, and go to a party to make out with boys- without me. They bonded over those things together and suddenly I was the outcast.
I always hung around, though, trying to mend the thread that kept us together.
Throughout the rest of
the school year, I sat back and watched her transform into the cliché cheerleader, with the hair tosses and the football team at her heels licking their chops. I had heard from many of them that she wasn’t as innocent as she used to be. And Cara was always at her side, effectively taking over my spot on MJ’s left. The only time she spoke to me was to ask a favor, which I always obliged. I guess I thought she would come back to me if I washed her car, or bought her lunch, or did her math homework. But every time she would give me her fakest smile, say ‘thanks’ and flip around to walk off with Cara.
The last day of our
junior year, I came to school with the word “LOSER” graffitied to my locker. When I opened it up a Sex for Dummies book came tumbling out. The cherry on top? They were behind me filming the whole thing. It is now on YouTube for the world to see. I still don’t know why everyone found it funny; it wasn’t that great of a prank. Maybe it was my total meltdown afterward that was amusing.
I immersed myself into being the perfect student once
the new school year started, agreeing to any extra assignments and tasks the faculty needed. I wasn’t ashamed because I wasn’t aware that everyone perceived me as
girl. And just like the doormat that I was, every time MJ asked me for something I bent over backwards and did it with a smile. Then when she disappeared again all I could do was cry and kick myself for letting it happen again.
I hadn’t been her friend in over four years. Those four years I was the shy, cowardly
(and slightly unstable) introvert who was just waiting for my cousin to come back into my life so I could be myself again. I used to be a lively, bubbly person who spoke her mind and was able to get out of anything. After that, I was almost like a zombie… until I met Kellan McCabe. He somehow filled the void inside me, making me whole.
My family is sitting around my parents’ living room passing out the Christmas presents. My mom went all out this year with the decorations, covering every facet of the huge house I grew up in. I am wedged in between my grandpa who can’t stop farting and my little cousin Maggie who keeps whining every time a present isn’t passed to her. I
grimace as I lean forward and pull a snowman shaped pillow from under my ass.
I open my first present from my Aunt K
im - an iTunes gift card. The next present is from my grandparents. I rip open the red, white and green paper and wad it into a ball and chuck it at my dad. It grazes his arm and careens straight into the tree. A few ornaments quiver and sway and jingle with the anticipation of falling, but soon settle in their inert positions. I glide my fingernail at the edge of the box to tear at the tape and lift the lid. I look down at the pink sweater folded cleanly in the box. I lift it up and get a closer look. There is a picture of Santa’s head on the front and the caption “I Believe” written in a script font under Santa. My eyes wander around the room, wondering who this gift is really for.
Maggie is the only younger family member I have. I begin to hand her the sweater as she opens up her own box and pulls out the same sweater, only in a youth size. She squeals and hugs it to her. I stand up and parkour my way through the space around my family and the sea of paper and boxes until I reach my dad. I pick up my discarded ammo from earlier and un-crinkle the wad to look at the tag. It
written to me.
t’s wrong, sweet pea?” Dad asks, handing a brownie to my mother who looks at it like it is the devil then devours it.
“I think I got this on accident.” I display the God-awful sweater against my front and frown. My grandma comes up beside me and beams up at me. Her tiny five-foot-one frame is no match for my five-foot-seven.
“Oh, look at it! You look so adorable, AJ,” Grandma coos. She reaches her cold wrinkly hand and pinches my cheek. I close my eyes and let out a breath. I am a junior in college and my grandma still treats me like I’m a child. I steal a quick look at MJ on the other side of the room, seeing that she also has the same sweater in her hands and a snarl on her face.
I make it back to my seat on the couch just as Grandpa lets one loose. I cower closer to Maggie, afraid that this one has a stench to it. I prepare myself for the invasion to my nose and mouth, but nothing comes. I let out a sigh of relief and focus on my six year old cousin beside me. Since she is the only kid on this side of our family, she hits the jackpot every year. I grew up with MJ and her brother
Matt who is two years older than us so our loot was nothing compared to what Maggie has surrounding her.
I hear MJ’s phone beep a couple times in rapid succession and she stands up and walks into the kitchen to text for five straight minutes. That girl
is going to sprain a thumb if she keeps up. Suddenly I hear a shriek and MJ storms back into the living room and plops back into the chair with her arms crossed over her chest.
I occasionally glance over at her, willing her to make eye contact. She finally does and her expression doesn’t change for a few seconds until a light bulb snaps on in her brain. Her frown slowly transforms into a smirk then a smile. She stands up and makes her way over to me.
“Hey, AJ. What are you doing for the rest of break?”
I shrug in indifference, when I know I ha
ve nothing planned.
“Great! You are coming with me to Cancun.”
That causes my faux-blasé attitude to shatter and I snap to attention. “Wait, what?”
She smiles at me, the fake smile she saves only for me and her minions. “
Yes. Tricia backed out, we still need a fifth person.” I still don’t look convinced so she continues. “We can’t cancel her flights and I know Aunt Mary and Uncle David are loaded. They can afford to pay for you to go.”
I don’t like my mom and dad paying for me to go on some stupid
vacation with a group of spoiled rich kids, but maybe this will be the chance I have to get my best friend back. “I have to ask them first. They might say no,” I say quietly, though I know they will let me. They are always on my back wanting me to go out and enjoy my adolescence before I graduate and move on to the real world. I guess they assume I’m going to land a perfect job as soon as I walk across the stage at commencement. That’s how it was when they were in college, but certainly not now.
She squeals and prances over to my mom. “Aunt Mary, is it okay if AJ comes with me to Cancun?”
Mom looks over at me and I see the twinkle in her eyes. “Who is all going?”
“Just a few friends,” she says flippantly. Her vagueness clues me in that boys are involved.
Whenever MJ wants to get her way she does one, possibly two, of these things: bat her eyelashes and act innocent, lie, or throw a raging fit. So far it’s only been the first one and I hope it doesn’t morph into the last one.
My mom narrows her eyes at MJ but keeps on. “When are you leaving and how long will you be gone?”
“We leave on the twenty seventh and come back January sixth.”
wo days?! Like in forty eight hours?” I interrupt. How was I going to pack and get all my shit done in two days?
MJ turns to look at me and gives me an uncouth look. “Congratulations, you can tell time.”
Mom decides to ignore MJ’s rude comment and agrees to me going. MJ screeches in excitement while I sit there a little shocked. That’s it? No more questions or anything? I am excited and freaking out all at once. I have less than two days until I am on a plane with my cousin and three of her friends. Even though I’ve known her all my life, I won’t truly
anyone on this trip.
Cara. Fucking Cara
. I should have known she is one of MJ’s friends going. For a second, multiple excuses to get out of going rattle through my head. But, no. I need to go and try one more time. Try one last time to rekindle the longest friendship I’ve ever had.
The day is here that we leave for Cancun. MJ and I are in my car heading to her boyfriend’s apartment to pick him and his roommate up.
The music is blaring through the speakers, because that is what I do when I drive. I
have my music so loud I can’t think. MJ used to like it, but now she just seems pissed. I pull into an empty parking spot in the lot and wait. She climbs out and walks a few strides before stopping and turning around.
“You comin’? I can guarantee they aren’t ready yet. You’ll be waiting for a long time.”
I reluctantly get out and lock the doors, shoving my keys into my purse. I start to follow MJ but she stops and turns to me.
“You go first, I don’t want to get my feet in the snow.”
I shrug and push forward and let her tiptoe inside my footsteps. Why she would wear expensive white suede bootieson a snowy winter day was beyond my comprehension. After she tells me which apartment, I take the stairs one careful step at a time and turn to the left toward Apartment 21. The stairs and deck are a little icy and it takes all I have to not bust my ass. I stand to the side while MJ opens the front door without knocking and disappears inside without a word. I peer inside and have a tiny freak out because I don’t know if they want me inside or not. I guess we will be spending the next ten days together so they had better get used to me.
I close the door behind me and look around. The apartment is huge but bare, like a typical college male apartment. The walls are white with a rough texture on them. The couches and recliner are positioned in an L-shape, with an enormous flat screen TV in the corner. A small fireplace sits against one wall and looks like it’s never been used. To the left is the dining room and kitchen. All the appliances are stainless steel and the marble counter
top is black as onyx. Alcohol bottles and a few empty beer cans litter the counter and there are two bananas way beyond ripe near the microwave.
I stand in the tiled entryway and stare awkwardly at the fridge, keeping my
eyes away from my cousin and her boyfriend who are making out in the hallway in front of me. I can hear little moaning noises coming from her and it is making my stomach turn. It reminds me of when I lived in the dorms and my roommate would lie in her bed above me and watch porn, thinking the volume was too low for me to hear. I never had the balls to tell her it wasn’t.
After a lifetime, I hear footsteps come toward me
so I tear my eyes from the fridge to see MJ’s boyfriend in front of me. He smiles at me and raises his arm, extending his huge hand. I reluctantly take it and give a timid smile back.
“Hey, AJ, right? I’m Josh. MJ’s boyfriend.”
All I can do is nod. He is only a couple inches taller than me but built like a fighter. His biceps bulge from under his sleeves and his forearms are bigger than my thighs. It’s obvious this guy works out religiously. His blonde hair is shaved short and his pale blue eyes are kind of creepy. But overall, he is a catch.