There's an Imogen Heap song that goes, "The moment I said it, the moment I opened my mouth, lead in your eyelids bulldozed the life out of me."
You know how sometimes you can hear something a million times, but never really know what it means? Like when your parents tell you "You'll understand when you're older," and it makes no sense, because right now is all you know, and what difference would it make to get any older?
Or when someone tells you how they feel about something, and you think you understand, even though you've never been there yourself, so you nod and smile and hug and support and pat yourself on the back for being such a good friend.
And then it happens to you.
The whole experience tonight, with the school play, and me in the Peter Pan harness, flying out there in front of everyone and confessing my feelings, and Bret Anthony's eyes...
I know what Imogen means.
I feel thoroughly bulldozed. Deflated. Smashed.
Lace has spent the past hour holding me while I sobbed, but now all the tears are dry, and I just feel...empty.
We sit on her bed. She's leaned up against the wall. My head lays in her lap, my eyes gazing at nothing in particular. She gently strokes my hair, pushing it softly behind my ear. A simple touch, but one I appreciate. It's the only thing keeping me tethered to the moment.
We haven't said anything for a while. How long a while, I don't know. I'm not paying attention to the clock. All I can see are Bret's eyes. Not a drop of returned affection in them. Nothing was there but confusion, alarm, with a hint of anger.
That's all he said.
I keep replaying it in my mind. After all my effort and planning, I got...I don't even know what I got. Frustration? Hurt? Or maybe something worse. Maybe it didn't even come as that big of a shock to see me hanging from a stupid harness, interrupting the school play to tell Bret Anthony how much I loved him and to ask him to prom. Maybe it was just the cherry on top of an unending collection of vaguely creepy acts performed by that weirdo stalker chick.
Maybe the look in his eyes was exhaustion.
"I, uh, I have something to tell you, Gwen." Lace's voice sounded strange and out-of-place in the silence we'd created together. I opened my mouth to respond, but my voice didn't seem to want to work, so I just nodded.
"I...you have to know that...I mean, I never wanted to hurt you."
I can tell she has something important to say. It's obvious, or she wouldn't have such a hard time saying it. Normally, I'd feel a sick knot in my stomach, or a growing nervous sensation, wondering what she's about to drop on me.
But I feel none of that. All I can do is listen and wait.
She sighs. "Bret has...um...kind of always had a crush on me."
I knew that, somewhere, locked away with all the other truths I didn't want to believe. It's not like he'd never asked her out, but I could justify that because, for a while there, he asked everyone out.
The silence feels deeper now, since I know she has more to say. The lack of sound fails to provide the vague comfort it had before.
"He...I mean, we both..."
I know where she's going with this. I want to tell her to stop, because I don't need to hear it.
But I still can't make any words come out. So I continue to stare at the shapes created by the objects in her room. The small rectangle of a picture frame containing an image of us as kids, playfully fighting over space on the couch. It's sitting on top of the larger rectangle of her dresser, which still has the stickers on it that we stole from the art room, and Lace's mom yelled at us for half an hour about defacing property, and she tried to make us take them off, but they stuck too firmly to the wood, and pulling them off created a sticky white mess, and so they stayed.
"I made out with Bret."
I close my eyes. I thought I knew how I felt about it, but hearing her say it makes it true. Another truth. Another bulldozer.
"Just once," she continues, as if that helps. And suddenly she couldn't stop talking. "I don't even know why, it was one of those things where it just happens, you know? And he tasted like cigarettes, and the whole time I felt awful because I knew you had feelings for him, and I told him I didn't want to do it anymore, and he was such a jerk, Gwen, you don't even know how mean he can be, but he's really an asshole sometimes, this whole thing was probably for the best-"
I hold up a hand to indicate that I don't want to hear any more. I sit up, pulling myself off of her lap and looking her in the eyes. Hers are full of fear, sadness, lined with tears threatening to spill over.
"Gwen, I'm so sorry," she says.
I give her the best smile I can manage, which isn't much. But it's a peace offering.
Because yes, of course it hurts to know that my best friend got to experience something I'd only dreamed about. But it doesn't change the fact that she's here. She's the one that left that auditorium, found me wandering the hallway in tears, and got me out of that school. She's the one that drove me home, gave me tissues for my hideous mess of a face, and held me in her arms while I dissolved.
She's the one who's here.
She's the one who loves me.
Bret Anthony never mattered.
The whole point of this experiment was to become a new person. Do something that would change my life.
My whole body feels empty. But the extra space is calming. I'm not thinking about what Bret's doing right now, or what he might be wearing tomorrow, or if he'll like it if I do my hair in curls, or if he'll loan me a pen. I'm just here.
And Lace is here.
And tomorrow is a blank slate.