“I guess… this is goodbye then.” Shania stood at the gate, ready to cry. It was her best friend’s last day of school, the last day before she left to move to another town, another school, a world far away from Shania’s closed life. Her parents would not take her to see her best friend. They didn’t even let her out of the house.
“You will be fine, I know it,” Leona smiled, “You can manage on your own now.”
Shania watched her go, wanted to run after her and say something, anything, but she didn’t know what it was that she was feeling. She wanted Leona to stay, would have done anything if she could have kept her by her side forever, but she was going. How many days and nights had she wept about it now? She would have wept less if a family member had died.
She stood in the playground, alone, and cried. Her guardian angel was gone, her friend who had been with her since they had started school. Leona had protected her from the bullies who wanted to tease Shania for being different, for being unskilled in sports and quiet. Leona was well-liked, athletic and outgoing, and so if she said the bullies were to leave Shania alone, they went away.
Now, there was nobody, and Shania felt ill-equipped to deal with the world alone. She had been kept in near isolation, and never saw anybody out of school hours. Even in all the years she had known Leona, she had only ever been allowed to visit her home and stay over for one night, and even then there had been trouble when Leona had let slip they had stayed up until eleven o’clock and watched a movie to Shania’s mother. Everybody else did it, but Shania was still forced to go to bed at seven.
She was afraid of life to come.
Shania knew she was eccentric, even though at ten years old, eccentric was not a word she knew. Still, nothing had prepared her for the terror she would experience without her guardian angel. Bullies tormented her every single day, tearing up her drawings and laughing when she asked them to leave her alone. She didn’t know how to respond, she was inept around people and just wanted them to leave her alone. She had lost the one person who knew how to make her feel better, and nobody had taken the time to ask her how she had felt about losing Leona. She had been torn apart, and that gaping wound had been left to fester by people who were indifferent or did not understand. She was just a childhood friend, right? Everybody moves away and moves on. Nobody keeps their friends forever, or so she was told.
But in those last days, before Leona’s shocking revelation that she was leaving. Shania had felt a warmth and tenderness toward the girl that she had never known before. She found herself wanting to hold Leona, but she had no idea what to make of those feelings or how to approach Leona about it. Nobody had ever held Shania much. Her mother was distant and aloof, her father gone, and her stepfather had found himself unable to keep his hands to himself one day, making Shania afraid of being alone with him. She loved her brother and sisters, but they were much older than she was and were dealing with problems she couldn’t even grasp at that time, the whole boyfriend/girlfriend thing, that realm of “dating” that seemed like some kind of foreign land to Shania. If she asked, she was told that those were adult problems, not for her ears. Never for her ears. She wouldn’t be able to understand, they told her.
So Shania cried alone, for it was as if her friend had died. She waited for the phone to ring, wanting it to ring, but it never did. She made excuses, told herself that Leona was busy in her new life.
Shania found herself more and more alone, the world collapsing around her. Her sisters had come out with shocking but true allegations about Shania’s stepfather, their own father, and the family had all but collapsed. They had asked Shania if she had ever been touched, but what was she to say? She was afraid of what would happen if she said yes, because she had heard nights and nights of horrific screaming between her parents, and so she shook her head and said no, and carried her burden alone. Her stepfather refused to leave and her mother couldn’t cope, so they just continued living in the same house, but the abuse stopped.
Shania went on a school trip, and it was there that the bullying came to a head, becoming the worst it had ever been. A room of over 30 people chanted abuse at her, lead by a ringleader. Shania snapped, throwing a piece of wood at the ringleader, a sadistic girl called Lisa who had spent the last couple of years making her life hell, chasing her with spiders, making her scream with terror, and laughing as she inflicted mental cruelty. The piece of wood missed, as Shania was not a good aim, and they only laughed harder. She had snapped, she had felt murderous rage in her heart for the first time ever, she had wanted to kill Lisa with the wood. So she fled, desperate, longing for Leona’s white wings to fold around and protect her, but they were not there, would never be there again. Shania would never feel her friend’s warm spirit by her side ever again, never know her protection from the darkness.
When she returned home, it had been a long time since she had called Leona, but she knew she wanted to talk to her more than anything in the world. She wanted to see Leona again, arrange a meeting with her, and tell her how much she missed her. She picked up the phone and dialed the number, looking forward to hearing that friendly voice again.
“Hello?” came a voice on the other end.
“Is that Leona?” Shania asked.
“Yes, who is it?” Leona asked.
“It’s Shania,” Shania said, “I’ve missed you, Leona.”
“…Who?” Leona asked.
“Shania!” Shania said, desperate, “We went to school together!”
“Oh, yes,” Leona said vaguely, “I remember now.”
Shania bit her lip, holding back the tears. All she had thought about in the past year had been Leona, how she wanted to be with her again, how much she missed her, but Leona didn’t even remember her now.
“I’m sorry,” said Leona, “How have you been?”
“I’ve been all right,” said Shania, trying to sound brave, “I haven’t really made any new friends at school, but I’ll manage I suppose.”
“I’ve made a lot of friends,” Leona said, “Last week we tried on Sarah’s mother’s makeup, and I couldn’t believe how old it made me look! You should try it sometime.”
Shania couldn’t believe it. Leona had always been a tomboy, it was something they had had in common. Now it seemed she was somebody else entirely, that the old Leona was…
Shania finished the call politely, and when she put the receiver down she knew she would never hear Leona’s voice again. Her heart ached to bursting, filled with sorrow all over again at the loss of her dearest friend, who she had loved, yes loved with all her heart, and now she was realizing this, too little, far too late.
She lay on her bed remembering how Leona had protected her with invisible wings. How her kindness had shielded Shania from so much pain. How now, those wings were crumbling in Shania’s memory. Had Leona ever truly cared about her? Had they just been mere acquaintances to Leona? What had happened to the memories they had made together, all the things they had done together? Had they all been so worthless that Leona had been able to forget about them, just like that?
Shania hadn’t forgotten, and she would never forget, keeping those memories of laughter in the sunshine and that one sleepover deep in her heart. She locked away the pain, and continued with life alone.
Sometime down the road, she unfroze those memories, and came to terms with what it meant to have loved Leona. She did not try to find her, for Leona, even if she was safe and well, was somebody else now, somebody entirely different. Shania just kept the memories close to her heart, with all the other memories of people she had loved and lost.
And somewhere within her, Leona still served as her guardian angel, as those memories kept Shania alive though hard times, giving her the hope to continue on, remembering that there were brighter days to be had, that people could find value in her, because Leona had seen something in her worth protecting. Leona had cared for her all those years ago, even if they had drifted apart, even if she was somebody else’s angel now.