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Since Stacey already had the project figured out and discussing her plan took five minutes of the thirty the teacher allotted, Stacey launched into getting-to-know-you talk. Where did you move from? The city, I boasted, having already decided Chicago was superior to Oak Park.

It had taller buildings, the lakefront, and far friendlier kids. I lived on the South Side until I was four, Stacey told me. My dad still lives there. She seemed equally as proud of her Chicago roots, but then she frowned, becoming defensive. I shook my head so vigorously that auburn strands of hair slapped me across the face. With that out of the way, we moved on to our favorite cartoon ThunderCats , color blue , and food peanut butter , marveling that we shared all of these common interests along with our non-Oak Park origin and ethnicity Irish.

I nodded, beaming.

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Her words melted the feeling of insecurity that had been lodged in my gut since Maggie mocked my clothes. Stacey was a genuinely nice person; I was relieved to have a real friend, and so was she. She lived in a tiny apartment, not the prime locale for elaborate sleepovers, and all the other parents looked down on her mom.

Beth had scrimped and saved to move Stacey to the burbs for that mythic better life. Two years into our friendship, in fourth grade, I went with Stacey to visit him. We waited anxiously in the backseat while Beth went in to talk to him first. On the drive back to Oak Park, I stared out my window, feeling sick to my stomach for Stacey, who chewed on the ends of her dark hair, trying not to cry. Beth played the radio as loud as it could go, Led Zeppelin making the windows rattle, Stacey and I learning to find solace in a blaring rock song.

My friendship with Stacey was never supposed to change. It would be okay if our hair and clothes changed with the times, but we were supposed to be standing side by side with wacky smiles on our faces until the day we died. A week after eighth grade graduation, Beth broke the news that she and Stacey were moving to the neighboring town-and different school district—of Berwyn.

She tried to butter us up first, ordering pizza for dinner. We need to talk about something. Stacey and I both sobbed and begged and pleaded, but it had no effect on Beth. She scowled, one hand on her hip, the other palm outstretched, sliding back and forth between us. You girls wanna get jobs? Wanna see if I can get you dishwashing positions at the restaurant?

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She jerked her hand away. I wrapped my arms around myself and cried harder. Stacey grabbed my hand and yanked me down the hall. She slammed her door and blasted a Black Sabbath album. Beth shouted at her to play it louder. Stacey changed the music to Nine Inch Nails, but Beth said she could turn that up, too.

But I kept scheming to keep us from being separated. I even tried to convince my parents that we should move to Berwyn, too. I accosted them in the kitchen one night while Mom prepared dinner and Dad thumbed through the files in his briefcase.

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I contended that we could find a cheaper house in Berwyn and the taxes would be lower. Dad snorted. Kara, that thing is beyond tacky. Maybe she could live with us or at least use our address-. Mom gently stroked my hair. I understand, she murmured. I turned my head to look at her. Mom smiled in that patronizing parental way. Sweetie, Jane and I stayed friends even though we went to different schools.

We hung out after school almost every day. I spat, feeling betrayed. Mom tried to hug me, but I flopped over on my stomach, growling, Get out of my room! My family always spent the second-to-last week of August at the cabin and Stacey had been joining us since fourth grade. On our last night, we snuck out after everyone went to bed. We crept through the backyard, down the dirt path to the lake.

We did this every year, settling on the edge of the small pier just past where the motorboat was moored to talk and look at the stars.

That's not you, right?

But this time we had a mission: to smoke pot for the first time. We thought getting stoned would help us forget the move and laugh and have fun like we used to. We sat on the pier in silence at first, listening to make sure none of the adults had woken. Stacey extracted the joint and placed it in my palm.

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  4. I studied the rolling job. It looked like a regular cigarette, but with the paper neatly twisted at both ends. Whoa, I breathed upon examining the craftsmanship. Did Beth give this to you? I took the pot and the papers from her dresser drawer while she was at work. Stacey nodded, obviously proud of her accomplishment.

    Learned from watching the best. She smirked and handed me her lighter. I coughed, tucking my chin toward my chest to mute the sound. Stacey took the joint and her first drag yielded the same result. The only thing I saw in my future was torturous days at high school without her. The future is going to suck. Stacey kept the impression going, attempting to cheer me up.

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    The physical world does not bind us. We are linked sooooo-uls. I raked my hand through my hair and turned to Stacey. You have to promise me that no matter what happens, you and I will always be best friends, exactly like we are now. Stacey inhaled from the joint, cupped her open fist to her mouth, and pulled my face toward hers, my lips connecting with the other side of her hand. She blew smoke through her circled fingers into my mouth. Smoke sisters, she pronounced with a grin, handing me the joint. I smiled, but decided to one-up her. Pulling a Swiss Army knife from the pocket of my frayed cutoffs and flicking open the tiny blade, I suggested, Blood sisters?

    Stacey blinked hesitantly.

    She hated pain. Okay, she finally agreed, extending her forearm. I traced a thin line in the smooth space between her wrist and her elbow. It was a tiny scratch, barely splitting her skin, and producing only a few droplets of red that dried almost immediately. The blood oozed out and formed one fat drop that lazily rolled down my skinny arm. Blood sisters, I pronounced, admiring the sticky smear that stained my skin when I pulled away. Stacey and I both were like that.

    We sat in the back of the classroom and passed notes. We even smoked cigarettes in the bathroom once. However, I could tell that in high school, I was going to have to work hard, especially without Stacey, who usually tutored me in science while I helped her in history. That day I thought about Stacey every few minutes. I wanted to ask her where we should sit when I got to class.

    I kept looking for her in the labyrinth of hallways. The school teemed with a few thousand students. I had acquaintances, people I could sit next to and ask about their summer, but when the small talk ended I was alone. It was anticlimactic, really. I wanted to tell her that I missed her, but I wanted her to say it first. Maybe she was just tired, but she sounded a lot more nonchalant about the situation than I felt. Do you have a lot of homework?