Caitlin and Kate

by Iris Adams

Her name was Kate, halfway to the name of an Olsen twin.

I spotted her nose on strangers’ faces. When I walked through the library, I saw her in a man with fluffy, fly-away hair and a woman with a crooked mouth. I saw her in an awkward gait on the street and green eyes on TV. I never could help but think, Kate.

Each time I stopped in place and thought: Oh, there she is! And my heart raced.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. But there I was, seeing her in strangers and feeling sick, like a million little pinpricks of ice in my gut.

That was when I was sixteen.

»»————- ✼ ————-««

When I was five, I met a shrill little girl with bad manners and the outlook of a mad doctor. Kate, the girl with my name and a lunchbox with pudding cups in it each day, told me I looked like a sad llama-face on the first day, and I ignored her for half a year.

Half a year later, I approached her at recess and said, “I heard you poured sand down Johnny Patrick’s boxers.”

She sniffed, carefully digging a hole in the dirt without looking up. “He deserved it.”

I nodded back sagely.

“Lilly said it wasn’t nice… How do you feel about Lilly and her friends?” I asked curiously.

“Bleh.” Kate screwed up her face and stuck her tongue out. I smiled like it was pizza night and the best slice had been saved for me. Finally.

I gingerly sat down next to her. “Let’s build a sandcastle together.”

“Why?”

I frowned. “We can pretend to live in it—and that we never have to go to school again.”

“I like school.”

“You can be the princess of it.” Checkmate.

Kate agreed, and I was her knight, and we built a castle out of mud and dandelions heads. Johnny Patrick tried to kick it over with all his might, so I chased him away with a stick all the way to the road, and the sunburn on my back was a battle scar of accomplishment.

»»————- ✼ ————-««

Kate was nine. She said she wanted to kiss Timmy Madison and I pretended to puke. Kate pouted in return.

We traded clothes like it was the stock exchange because Kate saw that on TV and decided that was how best friends acted.

Kate walked around like she had rocks in her shoes, and her parents told her to walk taller still. Do better, join more.

I wanted to fight them. But I wanted to fight a lot of things. My parents called me a “firecracker” and a “quick whip” when they were happy, and other things when they were not.

I liked Kate’s house. It was quiet. It had coat racks for their clothes and boxes of extra-soft tissues for their noses and scented soap for everything. Kate hated it. We traded clothes and stories, and I felt a little safer in my stretching skin and firecracker mouth.

Kate told me she wanted to kiss Timmy Madison. She said she needed to practice. I was indignant and refused, and Kate reminded me of the time she distracted the teacher when I threw a tantrum and broke paintbrushes in the art room.

I said, “Fine, but Timmy better appreciate it.”

It was our first kiss, a peck, only a peck. I didn’t think it counted; I wasn’t sure it meant anything. But that was when I was nine.

»»————- ✼ ————-««

When we were fourteen, we got in our first fight.

Kate said I shouldn’t hang out with Mary Henry, who smoked and swore and never seemed to be in class. The smoke would kill me; the world would hate me. I said, loudly and full of everything I had ever been, that it was my body and I could try what I like. Kate yelled about how strange I had become, with screamo CD mixes and friends who blinked like the world was turning in slow motion.

For a moment after that, I broke. I bit back that Kate didn’t have enough friends to fill a thimble—only Mike Westhoff talked to her, and Mike was the worst. She held herself like a tiny, angry army general whose parents marched her to the tune of good grades and bad people skills. I told her she had changed as well: a follower with no spine.

Kate cried. And I really was a firecracker, one who blew up in people’s faces. I broke my favorite CD that night.

Somehow, somehow, after a month we found each other again. Still visiting the same ice cream parlor we always did, still ready to give in and trade begrudging “sorrys” and then jokes and homework, and we laughed again. And again.

I didn’t know why I fought her, why I steamed my insides with red heat and worse feelings. But Kate wanted me safe and whole, and if I had to find new friends that didn’t stick cigarettes in my open mouth, then so be it.

»»————- ✼ ————-««

I was sixteen. I saw her in strangers’ faces. My heart skipped a beat at the placement of her hair and crooked slope of her mouth and people doing silly dances at weddings.

I saw her in strangers’ eyes, movie posters, crowds.

Kate’s voice chased me across my dreams, and I woke up in cold sweats and little, beading tears at the corner of my eyes.

Is this it? Is this love?

Kate would have told me that scientists don’t believe teenagers know what love is. Kate would say teens can only feel infatuation and a shadow of the real thing.

She would show me the Wikipedia page and a thousand things on the internet having to do with brain chemistry. She would be so excited.

If Kate knew, if she knew, she would say so many things that I couldn’t guess at. So, I didn’t say anything. I swallowed my tongue and tried not to let the little red hearts around my eyes glow like fireflies in darkness.

I bought Kate a custom novelty shirt for her birthday. I drove two cities over and spent more money than anyone should on a joke. It has Bill Nye saying, “Science is the shit.” Her parents glared at me like the devil was just invented, but they couldn’t do anything in a crowd. Kate loved it.

Loved it. Absolutely, wholly.

Afterward, I cried to myself in the car, placing my head in on the steering wheel and weeping without sound.

Is this love?

»»————- ✼ ————-««

I was twenty-one. I was drunk and telling Kate to come out, take a shot with me, skinny dip in the university pool, break street signs or fingers. Come to my room. Come anywhere with me.

Kate said our friendship should have come with a disclaimer.

I kept my words to myself and my brain on a loop of one day, one day.

Kate spent nights and days in the library, dragging me through classes like a gladiator defending the homeland. I eventually picked up steam and carried Kate through her worst days too.

The ones where she hated her parents and herself, where she wished her face was plastic, her voice automated, and everything gone, where she forgot to eat or cry about it. I begged her to move in with me, so she wouldn’t be alone.

I was twenty-one, and Kate was finally in my house, so close I could lose myself in it.

Kate carried herself with a drooping spine and eyes like lost travelers in a storm. But she stopped breaking things and calling her exes in the middle of the night to tell them she was never good enough.

And I stopped smoking. Again.

»»————- ✼ ————-««

I was twenty-three, and I didn’t know what I was doing.

I graduated, however long it took, but the world was spinning like a top without an edge, directionless and strange.

Kate sat on my porch, boxes in hand, but she looked at me. I looked back.

“I don’t want to go,” she stated dimly, desperately. I reluctantly pointed out she had a job offer somewhere warm with green, green dollars coming in like rainfall.

The next day we stood awkwardly across from one another. I bit my blistering firecracker mouth shut, and it burst so hot tears popped out.

We waited on our porch for a car to arrive. It was a long wait, and there was no helping it- I broke down into a million pieces of lightweight paper. I was in love, in love, in love. Since sixteen, since nine, since six. I finally couldn’t hold it back anymore. Don’t leave.

Kate said she never wanted to go.

I surrendered to it. I was twenty-four, and I got my second first kiss.

»»————- ✼ ————-««

I was twenty-seven and at the beach. The waves rolled in and out. We built a castle in the middle of the sun-streaked, blinding sand. Kate complained, read, and forced me to put on sunscreen.

We built a sandcastle; I was the knight and she was the princess.

I placed a makeshift flag at the very top, a long, yellow, drooping dandelion. I asked Kate to fix its crooked posture, and she touched the base of the flower and stopped, everything stopped. She felt at the ring at the very bottom, touching the smooth round surface and looking down at the cool golden glow. The beach seagulls scattered away when Kate made her next sound after that.

I was twenty-seven years old, at a small-time job, and with no direction, but I was in love. We kissed, again, like people dreamed to be kissed on TV and theatre and when people first invented such things.

Months later, I said exactly all this, the story of our lives, on the aisle of white with lips like confessions to priest’s ear.

From six to ninety-eight. I wanted to be there, and the church bells sounded like pinky swears and childish dares. We drove away in a convertible with the top down. I was older than I’d ever been, and the only face I could see was hers. Kate.

Hi everyone! This is Iris, I hope you enjoyed the story.

 

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