Author's Note: Before you begin, I'd like to dedicate the ideas that went into this particular article to a very special Whyvillian. She's been standing beside me from Part One, and her thought-provoking, awesomely alicetastical articles and BBS contributions have always been a source of inspiration. Grace, this is to you, for loving Sean, even when I'd forgot he existed.
Every person I'd ever loved had come into my life through a sandwich.
My parents? They first met at a diner, where my dad worked. My mom ordered a steak sandwich. A year later, my sister, Vanilla, came into the world, and, two years after that, me.
My cannibalistic hamster? Mom was sick of cooking, and took my sister and I to the same diner where she'd met my dad. We passed a pet shop. I snuck Fairfax home in my pocket after convincing her to stop in on the way home. I never returned him.
Rayne Marks, the only girl I'd ever had a crush on?
I can remember the strangest things about that day. I couldn't, for the life of me, had told you who our teacher was that year, or what month it was. However, I'll always remember the devastation clearly written across her pixie's features when she glanced at the empty space on the lunch table in front of me.
"Don'tcha have a lunch?" She looked like she was about to cry. I had no idea who she was or why she was talking to me.
"No. My mom forgot to pack it." It wasn't the first time, and it wouldn't be the last that this would happen while my parents struggled through a nasty divorce.
"What're you gonna eat?"
Her lunchbox was green; I remember that. It had her name written in shaky letters on the top. R-a-y-n-e M-a-r-k-s.
"Nothin', I guess." I wasn't hungry. Timmy Spendler had given me half his cookie at snack time.
For the first time ever, someone sat down across from me. I'd always been the weird kid in tie-dye shirts that never fit and baggy jeans. I'd never fit in . . . I'd always been alone.
Rayne opened up her green lunchbox and riffled around for a moment. Finally, she emerged with a carton of milk, three chocolate chip cookies and . . .
"I'm sorry it's tuna." She seemed sincere as she pushed over her gifts. "It's all we had this morning."
I'd never had tuna before. I was touched.
Later, I'd realize that, in giving me her food, she'd left herself with three crackers covered in peanut butter. I don't think she wanted me to know that.
We'd been friends since then. She was there for me when my parents finally split, and I was there for her over those scary months while we watched her dad being eaten alive by leukemia. She shared my glory when I was elected Student Body President, and I shared hers when she nabbed the part of "Gabriella" in our school's production in High School Musical.
It was no exaggeration to say that she was the best friends I'd ever had.
Falling for her came later, about five years after the conception of our friendship, in the midst of eighth grade.
That day, I don't remember anything about, except looking at her and thinking "Wow, she's really gotten pretty." I couldn't remember when that had happened. That made me mad. Had I really not thought about her, been grateful enough to notice her the whole time she'd lowered herself into the position of my best friend? Did I honestly expect to see the nervous fourth grader, a hole where one of her front teeth should have been and hair in messy pigtails?
And that's when I realized that I had a crush on my best friend.
It had been a hard secret to keep; sleepovers in short-short pajamas, frequent hugs, ritual kisses that meant nothing. The boys had started to realize things about her I didn't even want to think about. Unconsciously, she waved each one she chose under my nose, and gave me a fierce rush of satisfaction every time she deemed them unworthy.
I had to admit that I'd never seen her act the way she did around Azi. Secretive. Happy. Oblivious.
It made me like her more.
She'd called yesterday, asking me to come over, to help her with some Science homework. She hadn't been paying attention since Azi started the class.
My car wasn't working, so I bundled up and walked the three blocks to her house. I couldn't feel my toes.
When I knocked, no one answered. I tried jiggling the doorknob (Rayne's doorknob, we decided, is a mutant who is trying to stage a rebellion against all normal doorknobs by refusing to act like a normal doorknob). It took a few minutes, but the door popped open, and I stomped into the warm of the house.'
There were quick footsteps on the stairs through the kitchen.
"Where have you been?" A voice demanded. It was smoky and low, even in it's attempt to be shrill. "I've been worried si-"
The source of the noise bumped square into me.
It was a girl.
She was very blonde.
That's all I noticed about her before she looked up at me and hypnotized me with her blue blue blue eyes.
She giggled. "You're not Azi."
I cleared my throat and tried to speak.
"Do you know where he is?"
She giggled again. "Azi, silly! He's been gone for a long time with that . . . that . . . girl." I almost expected her to growl after her statement. What did this bombshell have against Rayne?
"Who are you?"
She smiled at my admittedly bewildered sounding question.
"I'm Grace, Azi's fiancee."