My Best Friend
“Will you always love me the most?”
“Cross my heart and hope to die.”
This was how we made promises back then. Nose to nose in the playground, we solemnly swore allegiances and spat on our thumbs and pressed it together to seal the deal.
“Words mean something, Jojo.” Amber Burroughs, my best friend said with a threat in her voice. “If you break your promise you will DIE.”
“You know what makes it mean even more?” I said, and she lent in. “If we do it with blood.”
The idea hung for a while, each of us staring at the other.
“Have you done it before?” she said.
“No!” I spoke loudly when I was with Amber. I was brave when I was with her. “I’d only do it with you.”
She seemed to like that, and she nodded decisively, brown ponytail bobbing up and down.
“We’ll do it at my house with a kitchen knife.”
“Actually I have a knife.” I had been waiting for a moment to announce this, and Amber’s reaction made it worthwhile.
“No way! Show me!” She pulled me to the ground in a huddle, looking out for a teacher.
With some pride I drew out the knife. It was the kind where you click along to push the tiny blade out.
“It’s less than 2cm, so I can’t be done by the police.” I explained, importantly. Somewhere we had all heard that rule.
“It looks like a pencil sharpener!” Amber snorted.
“It’s sharp enough. Are we doing this or not?” I stared her down. Amber had eight freckles on her nose. If I closed my eyes I could tell you where they all were, like a constellation. I wondered if she knew my face like I knew hers.
“Yes, I said I did.” Amber nodded. “Me first.” She extended a pale freckled finger, with a spot of chipped pink polish in the centre of the nail. Flamingo was the hue. I knew because I was wearing the same polish.
“Okay.” I stuck the corner of the blade into her finger, and she yelped and pulled back.
“That didn’t do anything, Jojo!” She examined her finger. “You can’t just poke a hole in someone like that. You have to slice them open. I’ll do it.” She grabbed the knife and sliced without hesitating. A bright red line opened up.
“Now give me yours.”
She had taken charge, as she always did. I didn’t argue. Better for her to do it than for me to back out, scared of hurting myself, and for her to laugh at me. I held out my finger, hand shaking, and Amber sliced with the knife.
“Ow!” I pulled away, bringing my finger to my lips to suck the pain.
“No, now we put them together.” She pulled my hand down, and pressed our fingers together until I didn’t know whose pulse was whose.
“Now we promise. We love each other best of all. Cross our hearts and hope to die.”
“I promise.” I said, and I meant it.
They told me Amber died in her sleep that night, and the cause was never determined. But I knew. Amber died because she didn’t love me enough. You should never make a blood promise you don’t mean. A liar once told me that words mean something, and they do. Amber laughed at me for crying that day because she thought I was being a baby about my finger. I was crying because I knew that I was testing my best friend, and she would fail.