Knight + Princess
Suphala Nibhanupudi | Art by Joy Song
There was a particular advertisement that would interrupt the comforting lull of Saturday cartoons. Julie would perch on the carpet, vibrating with excitement in front of the boxy old television as it enveloped the living room with pink and blue light. Yolande leaned back on her elbows, most likely chewing a wad of gum that had been in her mouth for hours. She stared dazedly at her converse shoes, as she had every frame imprinted in her mind, and could recite the words like they were a multiplication table.
“WHIMSYWORLD,” the television sang, “the land of treasure lost and friendship found! The kingdom of the brave Sir Jemma and the beautiful Princess Bria! Journey to the Whimsy Kingdom for the vacation of a lifetime!”
As the television blabbered on, Julie gripped Yolande’s forearm. “We have to go there. I will literally die if we don’t go there, Yole, I will literally perish.”
And Yolande would just nod in agreement, staring up at the ceiling as pink and blue fluorescent light played upon its surface.
Of course, Julie would be the knight, brave, shining Julie, who took to the world with the fierceness of a cornered fighter, and the elegance of a nobleman. As instructed, Yolande would be the princess, cause the princess was lazy and didn’t have to do too much.
* * *
Yolande would carry with her for the rest of her life three round scabs on her knees from the day in the fourth grade when she fought that boy who called Julie fat. It was a quick tussle; all she could do was shove him once and scream, but it was over in an instant and she crashed, her knees brushing over the blacktop for an instant before smashing into the ground. Yolande screamed even louder, and the crowd around her screamed back in evil childlike glee.
Julie was silent, pupils skittering in place, her hand reached out, fingers splayed because that was all she could do. When the teacher jogged up, and the swarm of children scampered back, she stayed staring at her friend on the ground, whose grubby fingers smudged in red.
Julie didn’t talk to her for three days. Yolande waited in despair. On the fourth day, Julie bequeathed Yolande a picture of a knight with short hair like Julie and a princess with a scrawl on the bottom. Best Friends Forever. She said thank you, in a grumbly sort of way, grabbed her wrist and pulled her to the playground, to play Kingdoms. They never spoke about it again.
Julie chattered excitedly about their upcoming trip to Whimsyworld, which they were sure their parents would let them go on. Yolande listened, hands clasping Julie’s as she summoned up the rollercoasters and the cotton candy and the glittering sun that banished dark clouds in front of them… Julie’s eyes glinted, and she puffed her chest in authority.
Yolande put Julie’s pink and blue portrait on her wall, right next to her bed. Julie had sworn an oath that the two best friends would soon be on an adventure of a lifetime, and what Julie promised was destined to happen.
* * *
“I just don’t think we should be friends anymore.”
The light of a darkened red sunset pierced through the dingy windows of Yolande’s old car. It was growing dark. Julie had to go home. It was Yolande’s responsibility to drop her off.
Julie scrubbed the edge of her jacket with a vengeance, her eyes trained at the litter of fast food wrappers and crumpled theme park flyers long forgotten and neglected at her feet. Yolande brushed her thumb slowly against the steering wheel. She didn’t attempt at a reply.
Julie waited a moment longer, maybe just to seem polite, maybe waiting for some sort of desperate plea to hold her back. The vestiges of Julie’s commanding influence had dissipated. Julie unhooked her seatbelt with much more force than necessary and trudged, vanquished, into her house. Yolande’s hands stayed attached to the wheel. Against her will, she turned to watch her disappear into her house, as the red sun sank lower and lower.
It took her a moment, but Yolande was able to unstick her hands from the wheel. Her fingers automatically reached for her knee, where her skin had been gouged in three places, in the name of an unbreakable friendship. She let out a breath.
Julie collapsed in her darkened room, seething, as the stupid Whimsyworld commercial blared over and over inside her head.