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March 18, 2015

Friends Like These

The Monongahela River had never looked so intimidating. Jamison had crossed it countless times: in cars, atop bikes, on foot. He had seen it undergo the effects of all four seasons, and he had occasionally gotten close enough to stick in a toe or two.

But dangling from a bridge offered a view of the river Jamison never wanted to see.

“What the hell, Dorian?” Jamison cried out at his friend, the guy who had nudged him over the edge. “Pull me up!”

Dorian stood there, a scowl on his face. He took a step forward, but instead of extending a hand, he stomped his foot a few inches from Jamison’s fingers. This caused Jamison to temporarily let go, the few seconds he spent hanging from one hand scaring him more than anything thing else ever had in his life, including the few seconds prior.

“I can’t believe you,” Dorian said, shaking his head before walking away.

“What?” Jamison hollered. “Hey! Man, I’m sorry. I’m sorry, okay!”

But his cries brought no response. Dorian kept walking. Jamison couldn’t see him anymore, but he felt the vibrations in the bridge as his friend’s steps moved farther away.

“Help! Somebody!”

It was early evening, the time of day that filled the space between schools letting out and adults leaving work. This bridge, despite its proximity to downtown, was usually sparse this time of day, not only to pedestrians, but to cars as well. That was why Jamison and Dorian had taken to hanging out there in the first place. It offered an escape from home that brought more edge than hanging out at the public library or the YMCA. It was the kind of space where a teenager could be a young adult.

Dorian and Jamison weren’t long-time friends. They had only just met their sophomore year of high school, but as the only two guys in their Algebra I class, they bonded quickly. And since they found themselves surrounded by the same girls in Geometry the next semester, it was especially in their interest to get along.

The girls in this class weren’t the chill, flirty kind that guys would gladly ditch one another for. These were bratty, awkward ones that were frustrated their transition to middle and high school hadn’t brought them any success in the dating pool. They were bitter, so they didn’t see these two guys as boyfriend potential; these boys were the enemy. They were dumb, selfish pricks who represented everything wrong with their gender.

There was one girl, Anisa, who treated the boys differently. She didn’t necessarily choose them over her female comrades, but when the teacher placed them into groups that left her working with either of them, she tended to run defense. Then when Geometry class started, she and Jamison ended up seated side by side. They didn’t overtly flirt, but there was still flirting to be had for sure.

Dorian wasn’t bothered by this in the beginning. He didn’t have a crush on the girl, even if he thought that, sure, he’d do her if the opportunity arose. She was plenty attractive, despite not being his type.

For the most part, Dorian was just happy to see Anisa gradually shift over to their side of the fence. The more she talked to Jamison, the more often she defended them from the other girls. Eventually, she was lumped in alongside them. She was a guy-lover, so to speak, and that was even worse than being a guy. It meant you were someone who managed to catch the eye of the opposite sex, and there was no one these girls hated more.

It didn’t even matter that two of the girls had dated each other over the summer and couldn’t stand one another’s guts. In this room, even as they didn’t so much as glance in the other’s direction, they somehow managed to ally with their fellow women.

Then Jamison and Anisa’s relationship started to continue outside of class. They’d meet up in the halls, at lunch, online, and all the while, they weren’t a couple. In a way, this bothered Dorian more. If she’s going to infringe on our space all the time, you two should at least be a thing.

Jamison didn’t see the need to ask Anisa out. For the most part, he was just happy¬†to have a girl give him so much attention. He didn’t want to do anything that could jeopardize that. Having a girlfriend wasn’t worth the risk of again having no girl friends at all.

Sure, he understood when Dorian would say, “at least you could be getting some right now,” but this thought didn’t translate as anything more than fantasy. He knew some of his classmates were allegedly having sex, but he couldn’t grasp it. What kind of world would it be if some kids were getting action while others hadn’t even managed to hold a person’s hand? Surely no one moved as quickly as they said. He managed to believe this even as younger kids in the middle school were getting suspended semi-frequently for sneaking a quickie under the bleachers, behind hall doors, and anywhere else two bodies could find space to fit.

Then LeeAnn happened. She and Dorian were stuck beside each in the auditorium one day while the principal droned on about something or another to the entire student body. By the time they were done cracking jokes, they figured they might want to see each other again.

So they did, and as Dorian brought her around more often, Jamison found himself jealous. It wasn’t that Dorian was also getting attention, it was that he was getting from LeeAnn, one of those semi-goth chicks who played video games and was otherwise known as a teenage boy’s dream come true. This would probably be Jamison’s one chance to ever snag a girl like that, and if he was lucky, maybe she’d stick with him for life.

“What gives?” Dorian asked one evening as he and Jamison walked along the bridge together, the same way they did multiple times a week. There were no girls here. This time belonged just to them, just like the hours they would spend playing video games afterwards.

“What do you mean?” Jamison asked.

“You have Anisa, and I’ve never said anything about her. But now you have to have LeeAnn, too?”

“I don’t have anyone.”

“Don’t give me that. It’s bull and you know it.”

It was bull, and Jamison did know it. But he continued to flirt with LeeAnn until, gradually, she paid less attention to Dorian. Eventually it got to the point where, when the guys were walking along the bridge together, just as they always did, Dorian didn’t say anything about LeeAnn. He simply pushed his friend over the edge.

And there he hang.

A million thoughts rushed through Jamison’s head as he felt his arms weakening. All of them consisted of please, oh, please, will someone just “HELP!”

Then a hand reached down, got a firm grip on Jamison’s, and pulled him up. It was Dorian’s. Then, after both endangering and saving his friend’s life, the sixteen-year-old walked away without another word.

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“Friends Like These” by Bertel King, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.