THE ONLY THING WORSE than having my best friend sleep with my boyfriend the night of my father’s funeral would be if she killed my dad herself. Becca didn’t, which was the one thing that redeemed her. Still, I allowed myself the entire summer after the trampful event to be mad at her.
It’s not as though I haven’t done shitty things to Becca. In third grade, I announced in front of our whole class that she would never make the lead in the school play because she had boy hair. Which she did. Kind of forward-thinking of her for a third grader, although it was probably her mom’s choice after the Lice Crisis of Room 143. In junior high I managed to leak the fact that she stuffed her bra when a tuft of tissues fell out of her shirt, and I yelled down the hall, “Becca! I think one of your boobs fell out!” And just last year, even though I swore everyone already knew, I let slip that she lost her virginity to her second cousin the night of her Bat Mitzvah. All of the above seemed unforgivable at the times of occurrence, and yet she forgave me.
Just like I forgave her for stealing my thunder as Mary Todd Lincoln in the fourth-grade play by accepting the lead male role of Honest Abe. After that, the entire play went drag, and Becca was hailed the class comedian. I quickly learned I preferred being behind the scenes, anyway. I also forgave the time she announced I had my period in sixth grade by asking in front of the alpha girls if that’s why I took so long in the bathroom. And the time freshman year when she accidentally shredded my twelve-page English essay because she thought they were pages of my pathetic attempt at a vampire novel she needed to rid the world of.
Best friends forgive each other. And I knew I’d forgive her for screwing Davis. Eventually. It’s not like he was my one true love or anything. We had only gone out for a month before my dad was killed in a cab on his way home from the airport. Davis and I didn’t talk until two days after the news of my dad went around. I had to call him to get some sympathy. Maybe if I’d had sex with him, he would have called sooner. But there was something about him that turned me off. He was always listening to misogynistic rap songs with ridiculous lyrics, like, “With my nuts on your tonsils.”
“Sick.” I reacted to the lyrics.
“What?” he asked incredulously. He was always incredulous.
“Dude, that’s like me saying, ‘With my ovaries on your uvula.’”
“Is my uvula near my johnson?”
It wasn’t worth an answer. It was just one of those lazy boyfriend situations because I was bored while Becca was off starring in the school musical, and Davis was always around. Plus, he had a car. At first, his long, wavy hair and busted-up knuckles from working his dad’s deck-sanding business were a turn-on. But the thought of his nuts on my tonsils? Not so much.
It’s not like Becca slept with guys all the time, although losing her virginity to her second cousin at the ripe old age of thirteen made it sound like she did. He wasn’t a blood relative; there were divorces and remarriages. And he was older and super hot, plus there was Manischewitz wine involved. It was stupid, she was mortified, and lucky for her the only consequence was the agonizing guilt and residual slut label that hung around for a couple of years. That wore off once we hit high school and other people really started sleeping around.
And it’s not like Becca didn’t give me a good reason for the sexual mishap with Davis. Becca loved my dad. I did, too, of course, but Becca had never had a real dad in her life, so she idolized mine. Her parents divorced when she was one, and all Becca knew from men were her mom’s grotesque attempts at finding fatherly replacements. Becca preferred my dad, a constant and caring male authority figure. Since we were little, he sort of became my designated parent while Mom attempted to wrangle my younger twin brothers, AJ and CJ. (Our family likes to shorten names as much as possible, so Andrew Jacob and Charles Joshua became AJ and CJ, and I went from Alexandra Judith to Alex, occasionally Al.) Dad took me and Becca to parks, zoos, museums, and restaurants throughout our childhood. As we got older and the twins became more outdoorsy, Dad broke out the camping equipment and fishing poles. I preferred camping in front of the TV, but Dad was still the go-to parent for talks. Becca even somehow managed to share in my first big sex talk from Dad, which went something like this, “You go near a boy’s penis, it better be wearing a condom.” Dad was frank and realistic about things, which is where I got it. He wasn’t afraid of his daughter going out and experiencing things. At least, he never showed it. Like when I told him I really wanted to study film when I head off to college, he didn’t try to convince me to go into something more practical, like Mom.
“You’re so good with numbers, Alex. You could be a math teacher. Or an accountant.” Mom was sweet, but way serious about life. Dad always said life was too short to be serious.
I wish he wasn’t right about that.
While I huddled with my mom and the twins at the funeral, Becca was in Davis’s backseat drowning her sorrows between her legs.
She told me about it, which was something. When the funeral ended, and we went back to our house for shivah, Becca busted in the door bawling her eyes out. It wasn’t beyond Becca to milk any situation for drama (she was well known for her crying-on-cue abilities), but this was over the top. She dragged me by my black-sleeved arm up the stairs of our house, so I grabbed for a tissue and thrust it at her. Instead of taking the tissue, she dove into me and cried between gulps and heaves, “I’m so sorry, Alex. So so sorry.”
“I know. It’s horrible. But you didn’t kill him. Stop. You’re crying more than I am.”
That drove her into another crying jag that lasted a good five minutes, complete with hiccups. I was all cried out from hospital visits and coffin choosing, so I lay down on my bed and stared at the green-tinted, glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling. Becca, of course, helped me affix those back in sixth grade.
When she managed to calm herself and finally took advantage of the tissue, she whispered with a look of wide-eyed horror, “I slept with Davis.”
I didn’t say anything, unsure whether she meant they just took a nap together. Like, how the word “ridiculous” can be good or bad.
“In the back of his car,” she continued, and the meaning cleared up.
“What? Why?” My empty stomach tensed into an even larger knot than had already rested there from my dad’s death.
“I’m sorry, Alex, it just hurts so much, and I felt so alone because I’m not really part of your family and Davis drove me to the funeral and we smoked some pot in his car—”
“What?” Becca and I were anti, so that was a double “what?” One of our favorite party pastimes was insulting people who drank or smoked because they were too insecure to show their real selves. Unlike us, we thought superiorly.
“I didn’t know what to do. He offered, and I thought it would make things feel not so bad, and then I just felt sleepy and he was so close and I was wearing a skirt with no tights because it was too hot—”
“TMI, Becca. Stop before he inserts his penis.”
She laughed because it did sound absurd. But she wasn’t allowed to laugh. She was my best friend. My dad just died. And she slept with my boyfriend. Who I had planned to break up with anyway, but still.
“I can’t deal with this now.” I stood up. “There are people downstairs waiting for me.”
“I’m really sorry.” The tears tumbled out of her eyes again, but all I could do was give her an exhausted glare.
“Don’t call me, okay? Don’t text or email or smoke signal or anything. I need some space right now.”
“Are you breaking up with me?” she choked.
“I just need us to take a break. I don’t need something else to deal with.” I stood up without another look at Becca and walked back downstairs to accept the trays of deli food and hugs of sympathy from everyone who knew and loved my dad.
That was the beginning of June and the end of our junior year. Becca called, texted, emailed, messaged, left notes in my mailbox, and sent a muffin basket. It was all duly noted in my mind, but I meant what I said. I needed some space and time to process the summer of shit I had ahead of me. Mourning the loss of my dad, helping my mom with two middle-school brothers, and working at Cellar Subs was all I could handle. I steered clear of social situations, unless they involved family, and I dove deeper into watching horror films as inspiration for a movie I planned to make someday.
The first day of senior year, the plan was to head straight to Becca’s locker and tell her, “Okay, I’m over it.” Then hug her and never look back.
Only it didn’t happen that way. Because Jenna Brown, a peripheral friend who was fun because of her song-parody-writing abilities but also lame because of her obsession with weight loss, waited for me by my locker. When she saw me, she offered her arms in a sympathetic hug. I assumed the gesture was about my dad, which I had hoped was already so last year, when she said, “Oh, Alex, I’m so sorry about Becca.”
“It was just a fight. I’m over it. What’s to be sorry about?”
“You don’t know?” She backed off the hug and looked at me with concern.
“Know what? What happened to Becca?” My heart leaped. Was she dead, too?
“I thought you’d know, since you guys are best friends—”
“Yes, yes, and she fucked my boyfriend. The end. What the hell is wrong with her?”
The problem with being friends with so many people from the drama department was that there was always drama. I had no patience for games of communication. Jenna looked around, frazzled, so I grabbed her shoulders and shook. “What. The. Fuck. Happened. To. Becca?”
She looked genuinely terrified, like I was going to bite off her ear. Which I actually felt like doing. She managed to eke out the worst string of words I’d heard since my dad died. And all of them before that day, too.
“Becca has cancer.”
Copyright © 2013 by Julie Halpern