Rachel sat at her kitchen table, leafing through the Sunday newspaper. Comics, sports, politics… nothing caught her eye. She briefly skimmed the weather page, which had predicted sunshine; however, it was pouring outside.
Looking up from the black-and-white pages, Rachel saw a world of gray. The smooth gray tile of her kitchen floor, the gray of the walls, the windowpanes, the bland chairs. Gray curtains bordered the windows. Through the dirty glass smudged with water droplets Rachel saw more gray—the sky, thick with rain and smog, the skeletal trees, the snow from that morning that had turned into unpleasant slush. Gray.
Rachel sighed, lost in her thoughts. She was alone in the house, and her breath seemed to echo off the walls. She was alone more and more these days, since the divorce had taken over both her parents’ lives. In fact, she probably wouldn’t be in this house much longer—her mother was moving to New York City and buying an apartment, while her father was selling their current home and buying a smaller, more boring one in downtown Durham.
Rachel and her younger brother, Grayson, were going to live with their father and then every month visit New York, where their mother would be living. It would be a lot of money, and Gary, Rachel’s father, would have to work another job to pay for it.
“It won’t be far, Rach,” Rachel’s mother had said. “A two-hour plane flight, sweetie, and three seconds to dial the phone, I’ll pick up, and we can talk, dear, anytime. Right, Rachel?”
The truth was, it seemed like Clair, Rachel’s mother, was trying to reassure herself, not Rachel.
Rachel glanced into the hallway There stood boxes, brown cardboard boxes, stacked as high as the ceiling. The boxes were neatly labeled in Gary’s neat cursive, and each stack was categorized by name. To the right, a stack was labeled “Clair.” Another yet taller stack was labeled “Grayson.” Gary’s own stack was the highest. Next to it, there were three boxes with “Rachel” written on them.
Rachel, unlike her mother or father, didn’t like to keep things. Gary kept every letter he received, every doodle from Rachel and Grayson, every newspaper article about a friend. One box, Rachel knew, contained some thirty diaries, kept over the course of Gary’s life.
Clair was a little less extreme, yet more eccentric. Clair’s belongings were more unusual: a smooth stone with the word “believe” carved into its surface, a broken pocket watch, a Tootsie-Roll wrapper from when she was a child. Sculptures she had bought, and paintings she had created. While Gary’s things were neatly stacked inside the boxes, Clair’s were thrown pell-mell into the containers.
However, Rachel’s possessions were minimal. A scrapbook. A photo album. Five of her most beloved novels. A spiral-bound notebook. A ragged old teddy bear.
Because Rachel didn’t like things. She liked memories, not little trinkets symbolizing lost moments. Her room, empty now in preparation for the move, had been arranged simplistically, painted the palest of purples and decorated with wispy green leaves. Her bed had been a simple cherry wood frame with a sage-colored bedspread. She had had a desk. That was it.
Rachel savored the memory, clinging to it, holding it, letting it comfort her.
Rachel shivered as the warmth of the memory left her. Sighing, she stood up from the table, hoping her parents would be home soon. She was bored. Rachel had no hobbies, no likings, no special talents. She had nothing that could provide solace in her life, the life that was so scrambled from the divorce. No religious group, no tradition, no cultural beliefs. She had nothing.
When the phone rang, Rachel screamed, as her ears had become accustomed to the utter silence. It felt good to scream, to let out some of the awful emotion that had entered her soul since the divorce. She screamed again, and then realized she should probably answer the phone.
No, she thought, she didn’t have to. The answering machine would do it for her. She kept screaming, not caring who was calling. She didn’t have the heart to worry about anyone else right now.
Rachel climbed the stairs to her dreary, empty bedroom. The quiet was haunting. It had been so long since this room had seen laughter, so long since there had been hordes of gossiping girls sitting on the floor and talking. So long. So long since Rachel had had a friend.
* * *
The last time Rachel had had a real friend was in the fourth grade. Now she was in eighth. The friend had been an Indian girl named Rubaina Tej. Rubaina was, in Rachel’s opinion, perfect. She was smart, kind, pretty, and creative. Rachel had passing grades, but nothing compared to Rubaina’s outstanding ones.
The friendship had met a harsh end, with a large fight at the beginning of fifth grade. It began with the teacher mispronouncing Rubaina’s name. At recess, Rachel and Rubaina went to the swings.
“Hey, Rub-in-ia,” Rachel had said, mockingly imitating the teacher’s mispronunciation. “Why don’t you get up and give me the good swing?”
Rubaina looked disgusted. “Um… I… guess so… “
Rachel quickly jumped on the swing.
“So, maybe you should call yourself Ruby, y’know, it sounds way more American, and it’d be way easier to spell.”
Rubaina gritted her teeth. “I don’t think so.”
“Well, I think it’s way better. Much more… nice and normal. I like more normal things. So, Ruby! What’s going on, Ruby? How are you, Ruby?”
Rubaina jumped off the swing, cold flames rising in her unusual blue eyes. “You know what, Rachel Lewis? You know why you like average things? Because you are average. You have nothing special. You’re not smart, not artistic, you aren’t athletic, and you don’t win anything You know what, Rachel? I don’t have patience or time to waste my life with people like you. Your stupid jokes aren’t funny anymore. They’ve gone way past friendly teasing. And you know what? I just don’t have the time.”
Rubaina turned her harsh blue-eyed gaze away from Rachel and stalked away, black bun hitting the back of her neck rhythmically Rubaina would have nothing to do with Rachel for the rest of the year. Rubaina easily made new friends in all social groups, the smart kids, the popular kids, the artsy kids. But Rachel met no one. She waited for Rubaina to come to her, to talk to her, to apologize to her.
Finally, in mid-April, it occurred to Rachel that maybe she should go apologize to Rubaina. So, on April Is, Rachel approached Rubaina, the girl who had been her friend for so long.
It was a day that would forever stick in Rachel’s mind. The sky was so piercingly blue it hurt to stare at it, and the spring sun shone lightly on the trees, dappling the gray cement. It seemed like a day full of promise.
Rubaina sat outdoors, at a wooden picnic table with her popular friends. They were laughing and gossiping and sharing food. Rachel felt a stab of jealousy pierce her heart like a lick of white-hot fire. Rubaina looked so radiant, her dark cheeks flushed, her unusual blue eyes alive, her black hair braided neatly and pinned to her head with a blue butterfly clip. Cautiously, Rachel approached her old friend. Rubaina stopped talking and stared at her.
“Um, hi Rubaina,” Rachel began nervously, the words coming out awkward and fragmented. A few of Rubaina’s new friends sniggered. Rachel tried to ignore them. She took a deep breath.
“I… I’m sorry for all the times I teased you, and I’m sorry about the fight we had, and… and… ” There was a look of desperation in Rachel’s red-brown eyes. “And I just want to be friends again.”
There was silence for a moment, and Rachel could see from the lack of emotion in Rubaina’s eyes that their fractured friendship could never be fully repaired. It would never be the same again.
Rubaina’s brow rippled quizzically, and for a minute Rachel thought she was going to laugh. Instead, though, Rubaina stood up and jabbed a bony finger at Rachel.
“If you valued my friendship that much, you should have apologized months ago, when it was still relevant. Now,” Rubaina said, her voice barely above a whisper, “it’s too late.”
There was a collective “oooh” from the popular crowd. The memory ended in a blur of tears and mix of thought and reality.
* * *
Rachel came back into the present, but instead of hearing the ominous silence she heard song. Loud, throaty, high-pitched, wistful notes. Then Rachel realized it was her. Her desperate screams had turned into music.
She listened, and let the emotions flow from her mouth, let the notes comfort her. Had she finally found an outlet? Was this her hidden talent? She didn’t know, and she didn’t care. It made her feel good, and it made her feel reassured. Everything was going to be all right. She was sure of it.
Divorce. Hurt. Lost friendship. Words. Just words. Just heart sores, just little hills. Life was not an ironed blouse, it was crossed with countless wrinkles and ridges.
And that was OK. Rachel would get through it.
Because even if she wasn’t special, she was strong. So strong. Hurt had toughened her. She would make it through the messy divorce. In fact, Rachel Lewis could make it through whatever life threw at her. She knew it. And that knowledge was the most comforting thing of all.