We were sixteen and I knew she wouldn’t be my best friend forever. I was losing her, had maybe already lost her, to boys. Marla had long legs and long hair and these perfect straight teeth that she would show off in a wide-mouth, tipped-head smile, and if you didn’t know her you might think she was twenty. At least, that's what my mom said one night after Marla went home. "That girl," my mom said, in her nightgown at our dinner table, cutting coupons out of the advertisements that came in the mail, "is asking for trouble."
I'd never heard Marla ask for a single thing in her life. She seemed to just get things, whether she wanted them or not. But I guess what my mom was talking about were Marla’s shorts, the ones that used to be regular jeans until she cut them off so they ended right under her crotch. And the way she stole her sister's push up bras and wore them even though they didn't fit quite right. But I couldn’t hold it against her. It was like she was a moth and boys were the flame--or maybe it was the other way around.
Our favorite place to hang out was the roller rink. Marla liked it because all the boys who worked there went to our school, and they stared at her and gave us free stuff. I liked it because I was a good skater.
My mom dropped us off there on Friday night. Even though we both had our licenses, our parents wouldn’t let us drive anywhere that wasn’t school. “I’ll be back at 9,” my mom said, narrowing her eyes at us before we slammed the car doors.
We waved at her receding Chevy and Marla said, “Your mom hates me.”
I shook my head. “That’s not true. She just thinks your clothes are skanky.”
Marla stared at me. Her lips opened and closed a couple of times. “Someday,” she said, “you’re going to learn that there are some things you just don’t tell people. You don’t have to say every little thing that goes through your head.”
My face got hot and my armpits tingled, but I didn’t say anything. We walked into the rink and some REO Speedwagon song was playing, which I knew because it came on the oldies station my parents liked.
“Would it kill them to play something from this decade?” Marla rolled her eyes. “Ready to skate?”
I smiled, grateful she couldn’t ever hold a grudge. “Definitely.”
Tim from Bio worked at the rental counter, so Marla leaned forward and smiled and we got free skates. I loved putting the skates on, tightening the laces until they squeezed the tops of my feet. I felt ready to go, to block out the old music or maybe just turn it into my personal skating soundtrack.
On the rink, I skated ahead of Marla because for all of her good qualities, she wasn’t a very good skater. I liked to glide through the crowds by myself, to feel my hair lifting off my shoulders as I dodged parents and their little kids, their skates clacking against the wood as they stomped instead of skated.
I’d almost skated a full lap when I saw Marla was just ahead of me. She was leaning against the half-wall talking to a man. He wasn’t cute like Tim from Bio. He looked old, his flannel shirt open to show the dirty white tank top underneath, and I couldn’t tell what he was saying to Marla. She shook her head and hunched her shoulders.
I started to skate past her, the way I always did when she was with a boy, but when I was beside her, the man reached out and grabbed her arm. I heard Marla’s gasp over the music and the clattering of skates.
She pulled her arm away and grabbed me. “Run!” she shouted.
I wanted to tell her we couldn’t run right now, and she probably should have said, “Skate!” but I remembered what she said about keeping some things to myself. Holding on to Marla, I maneuvered around everyone, my skates pulling us across the rink. We hit carpet and kept skating, even though the signs posted all around clearly stated that you weren’t supposed to be wearing your skates outside of the rink. We flew past people lacing up, past the rental counter, past Tim from Bio. Even though we weren’t in the rink, this was the best I’d ever skated. I wasn’t skating for fun anymore. I was skating with a purpose.
I pushed open the bathroom door with my shoulder. Our skates bumped over the tile as the door swung shut behind us. We leaned against the wall, out of breath because skating on carpet is difficult. There’s a reason it’s prohibited.
Marla’s chest rose and fell. “That old guy,” she said through breaths. “He just started talking to me. He asked how old I was. And if I had a boyfriend.”
“Ewwwww,” I said, drawing it out like she'd shown me a bug or a blister. “He looked like somebody’s grandpa.”
Marla smiled, laughed, covered her face with her hands. “He’s still out there,” she said, her giggles coming out in wheezes. “We are gonna be stuck in this bathroom forever.”
I laughed too, and then we were clutching each other’s arms like we were still on the rink, like she still needed me to skate her to safety, like she wasn’t already growing up and away from me. Here in this bathroom, we were best friends forever, laughing at a joke no one else would find funny. Maybe we would climb out the bathroom window and I could skate us away from here, down the sidewalks, down the roads, all the way back to my house.
Story Song: "Keep On Loving You" by REO Speedwagon
Photo Credit: Loran Smith