this is the way it ends

It’s the end of the world, or it’s just another Wednesday.

You are the prettiest girl in your year. Well. You are the prettiest girl in your year next to your best friend Prisha, in your opinion.

In year 11, a boy invites you out to dinner. You go through the McDonald’s drive-through on his bike, sitting on the handlebars, clinging on for dear life. He doesn’t tell you how pretty you look in your dress, but Prisha does, before she is whisked away to her boyfriend’s empty house. Your stomach twists.

One day, you wake up, and you’re not the prettiest girl in your year anymore. Your friend Hannah has grown into her little-girl looks. She’s petite in a way you envy, delicate in a way you can’t be. Su’s features have always been too harsh for her to be beautiful, but now she is stunning. A long nose and high cheekbones, straight black hair falling to her perfectly slim waist.

Morag is the tallest of all, even you. Her legs go on forever. Her skirts sit on her mid-thigh, and in the summer, boys watch, transfixed, as the pleats move. Mandy has the best tits in the year, you overheard the older boys say once. No question.

Sophie has long blonde hair. It moves with every shake of her head, and it tumbles down her back in princess curls. She runs her fingers through it whenever she’s thinking too hard.

Juliet is a heavy-set girl with muscular legs and arms. She might’ve been a rugby player, if she had the coordination. Her face is surprisingly kind, and soft, with full lips and a button nose. When she smiles, her cheeks rise, crinkling her dark blue eyes.

Veronica wears push-up bras beneath her uniform, you note with disdain. She has tightened her blouses around her ribcage and hemmed her skirts. She wears dark red lipstick, no matter the day, and bites her lip with a single, perfect canine. Veronica has perfected the art of seduction without ever saying a word.

Prisha’s boyfriend somehow convinces her she isn’t special, when she’s the most special person you’ve ever known.

In your last year of school, you aspire to be better than these other girls. You have learnt at your mother’s knee how to flirt, how to flatter, how to marry a good, rich man. You start to date boys who don’t love you, but could.

You do what you have always been told to do; you dig your claws deep. You set his phone background to a picture of the two of you, so he’ll think of you. You give him support on chilling football side-lines, or smoke-filled bars, so he’ll support you back. You give him everything, in the end, hoping he’ll thank you.

He doesn’t thank you. Neither does the next one.

Prisha says you don’t have to be like your mother. You don’t have to stay in the middle and tame your hair so some white boy will like you. You say you don’t know how to be anything else.

Veronica screams at you in the hallway. She asks why you think you’re any better than she is. She tells you to get over yourself. She says at least she likes herself.

You say you like yourself. You don’t sound so sure.

Veronica tells you that Prisha and her boyfriend have broken up. She says that he’s left her for a girl with long legs and long blonde hair and pretty blue eyes, instead of Prisha’s short black bob and small, sloped shoulders and deep brown eyes.

“It’s stupid,” Prisha says, when you turn up at her house with stolen vodka and a shoulder, “It feels like the end of the world.”

You want to say it is. You want to say the world ended when a stupid boy made her feel anything less than perfect. You want to say you’re going to bring his world down around his ears for even daring to hurt her.

“It’s not,” you say instead. “It’s just another Wednesday.”

Prisha giggles wetly, and her tears leave a stain on your t-shirt. Together, you get through half the vodka bottle, and she’s even pretty when she’s grimacing. You watch bad films and slide around in your Christmas socks in February and you make her forget, for a little while.

The next morning, you wake up curled around each other in her bed, touching-but-not-quite.

You sit up, careful not to disturb her, and tip-toe downstairs for a glass of water. When you return, she hasn’t moved. She’s left space, though, next to her, and that is where you lay. You close your eyes and feel a warm hand brush at the hair on your forehead.

“I like your hair like this,” Prisha says, touching the softened curls. “It’s beautiful.”

Beautiful, you think.

You think of Hannah’s smile and Su’s quick-fire eyes. You think of Morag and Mandy; Mandy’s got into Cambridge, and Morag wants to be a vet, and you realise you’re proud of them. Sophie chews on her pens and it turns her teeth blue, but she smiles still. Juliet paints fireworks and portraits in the back of her notebooks. Veronica knows herself, inside and out, and doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her and her ruby-lipped smirks.

You think of Prisha.

“Couldn’t sleep?” she asks.

“Could now,” you whisper and you open your eyes to peer at her. She should look tired, too thin and too wary to be beautiful, but she still looks like Prisha. You smile at her softly, and she smiles back.

“Come on.” She tugs at your arm until her chest is flush against your back. She puts her hand across you, right over your heart. She strokes your chest and you hadn’t realised how much your heart hurt until she started to soothe it.

“It’s morning,” you say, but your eyes are already half-way to closed.

“I know,” she replies, still rubbing circles, over and over, “Go to sleep.”

The world doesn’t end on just another Wednesday. The world doesn’t end because of a boy, or a girl. The world breathes softly around two friends, around you and a realisation.

It’s Thursday, now. You can begin again.

Image courtesy of Sharon McCutcheon.

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