“Close your eyes,” he says, all bravado and fifth-grade-boy machismo.
“What? Don’t be dumb,” I say.
“Just close your eyes. I’ve got a present for you.”
I close my eyes. I wait. Just as I consider peeking, he warns me not to. He grips my shoulders and lunges, to plant a dry-lipped kiss against my mouth, like a chicken pecking at a worm it fears might actually be the tail of a snake.
Words crowd atop my tongue, unable to escape. I stand in silence, my eyes and lips forming uniform Os.
He drops his hands and steps back, surveying me, a self-satisfied grin illuminating his face. It’s this unbearable smugness of his being that finally jogs me from my catatonia.
He senses the shift in my mood. His face crumples into sheepishness.
“They dared me,” he says. “The other boys; Bucky, Digby, Matty Tchan. They said I had to do it because I lived the closest to you.”
Words come tumbling from him in a torrent of excuses.
I feel disembodied, like an audience to this one-act play. I see our protagonist raise her hand, pull it back for momentum, and swing it into action. I watch the slow-motion slap land firmly on the villain’s left cheek. His flesh reverberates under the force of her hand. His once pale cheek blooms first scarlet, then vermillion. A hand-shaped welt rises on his face, like those Pin Art sculptures that were all the rage.
“What did you do that for?” He’s genuinely shocked.
“I was going to tell everyone that you were my girlfriend, but now I’m going to tell them all you’re easy.” He loads the word “easy” with as much salaciousness as he can muster.
My brain finds a path through the fog, and my tongue wheels into motion. “Don’t you dare, Oliver Parish. Or I’ll tell your mum exactly what you did. I’ll tell every girl at school what you did. I hate you, Oliver Parish, and you’re never allowed to come to my house again.”
I’m breathing hard. I want to hurt him, to pummel him with my fists. I’m angry and humiliated. Most of all, I feel betrayed that someone I had only ever thought of as my friend, valued our friendship so little that he was willing to break my trust for a dare.
His cheek still red, tears and snot covering his face, Oliver Parish flees from the room, the house. I imagine him running, sobbing, down the lane and into his yard. I imagine him flying up the concrete steps to his back door, flinging the door open and bolting through the kitchen. I imagine his mother turning from the stove to ask how his day was, only to see her tear-stained, red-faced son as he dashes to his bedroom. I imagine the look of shock on his mother’s face, the questions, chased rapidly by assumptions, that are forming in her head. I imagine Oliver Parish throwing himself on his bed, face down, his sobs muffled by the duvet. None of it brings me solace.
The next day is a school day. I wonder if Oliver Parish will get to school before me. I wonder what he’ll say. There’s a leaden knot in my stomach that makes eating breakfast impossible.
I prolong getting ready. I brush each individual tooth with the attentiveness of an archaeologist on a dig. I drag my feet down the lane, past Oliver Parish’s house, and across the busy main road to school.
Kids are running this way and that in the quadrangle, there’s laughter and shrieking. My best friend waves to me. No Oliver Parish. I breathe a sigh of relief, hang my bag up, and head out to find my friends.
The morning bell rings and we hustle to assemble. Two neat lines per year group; one for boys, one for girls. Then I see him. Oliver Parish is at the very back of the boys’ line. He refuses to look at me.
All day, he’s taciturn and sullen.
The bell rings at the end of the day. As I’m leaving the school grounds, I see Oliver Parish. He sees me. In that moment we know we will never be friends again.
I see him one more time, when we’re both 17, during muck-up day at high-school. We spray each other with shaving foam. I egg his car. We laugh. We’ve never met again.
 Names changed to protect the foolish.