di·chot·o·my /dīˈkädəmē/ noun

  1. a division or contrast between two things that are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different.

Content warning: language

They last got their nails done together four years ago. After a summer of lemonade stands, saved allowance, and nagging their parents, Merry and Kelly's moms finally agreed the best friends could get manicures before the start of eighth grade.

It was surprisingly chilly for August. But it wasn't even lunch yet, so Merry didn't overthink the slight breeze. She strode up to the salon on the outer wall of the local mall, hyper-focusing on what color she'd choose for her first-ever manicure: fuchsia…or hot pink. She'd grown out her nails carefully for the past month. The start of eighth grade was her one chance to make a statement. It was practically high school. It would basically set her up for life, really.

Merry stood outside the nail salon, fidgeting while she peeked into the window. She squinted to see the wall of shelves holding all those precious little bottles of polish. The salon itself wasn't the nicest, but Merry only had eyes for the shelf and a half of all shades of pink, from pale to vibrant to everything in between. She kicked the toe of her shoe at the wall impatiently. Where in the world was her BFFL?

A lone gust of wind picked up behind her, and Merry turned around. There was Kelly, in her favorite patched denim jacket and her untied chucks. Her eyes were rimmed with red.

“Kelly,” Merry started. “Is everything ok?”

“Yeah, it’s nothing,” Kelly waved her off. “Allergies.”

Merry frowned, but Kelly quickly broke into a grin. “You ready for some kickass nails?”

Merry shrieked, giggled. “Kelly! Language!”

Kelly continued to grin wickedly. “I’m gonna get jet black.”

Merry gaped in awe. “Kelly! That’s so high school.”

“Yea. I know.”

They bustled into the nail salon, dreaming of the future compliments and gasps they’d get from the crowds at school, feeling a bit naughty about how colorful their nails would be when they got home. What would their moms think?

At the end of their appointment, Merry’s nails were long, perfectly sculpted, and pale pink with darling fuschia tips. Kelly’s nails were short, stubby – there had been almost nothing to file or trim. They were jet black, just as she had wanted.

The manicurist deliberately avoided Kelly, instead profusely complimenting Merry on her nail design choice. That is, right until Merry exited the store without leaving a tip. Kelly stuck her hands into her pockets, pulling out an extra five from her jeans. The manicurist took the bill, displeased.

The best friends walked around to the mall entrance to beeline for the food court. Though their stomachs grumbled impatiently, Merry's eye caught on the photo booth's flashing sign. She steered them over excitedly. The rest of their money was supposed to go toward lunch…but Merry did have that tip money she hadn't used…she pulled Kelly into the photo booth with her.

They preened and posed with their nails on display.

Fanning their hands out in front of them like celebrities.

Squeezing each other around the shoulders in a tight hug.

Posing cutely with peace signs and bunny ears.

Contorting their faces into crazy expressions, complete with their fingers pulling their eyelids down and stretching their lips wide.

The machine spit out two photo strips, and the girls oohed and aahed. What a way to end the summer, start eighth grade, and commemorate their friendship.

Four and a half years later, Kelly walked sullenly past the nail salon. It had changed ownership at least twice in the time since she’d celebrated that forgotten summer’s lemonade stand earnings.

With Meredith.

Now the salon looked all posh and expensive. Simple light fixtures had been upgraded to extravagant chandeliers. The new owners took out ads in the school paper, advertising specifically to a certain type of clientele.

Not Kelly clientele.

She kept walking, passed the salon, passed the door into the mall, and around the corner to the back dumpsters. Her mom thought she had an after school job at the Orange Julius, but she didn’t, not really.

Well, she'd had a job there. Before she couldn’t take any more of the ogling and touching of the shift manager. Before she had quit in a fury of anguish. Before she'd left, running in a panic, and slipped on a slushie on her way out of the food court. The cosmic irony was not lost on her.

She wanted to assume it was accidental, that someone had just spilled and was going to tell an employee soon so the puddle could be cleaned up. But sitting on her butt on the floor, she heard the cackling of Janice, Jessica, and Meredith. Those bitches. Looking up she saw two slushie cups between the three of them. “Oops,” Meredith mouthed, before continuing to laugh with Janice and Jessica.

Meredick more like it. Kelly had wanted to shove her and yell at her to go fuck herself, but she already felt raw from the humiliation of the moment and the anger toward her shift manager. Instead, she picked herself up from the floor, brushed herself off, and limped away. She kept looking down, didn’t even steal a glance at Meredick. She didn’t know what she’d do if she did.

So Kelly sat at the dumpsters each “shift” until her mom picked her up in 4 hours. The family only had one car; Kelly wasn’t about to argue who got to use it between her, her mom, and her two brothers. Plus, getting out of the house wasn’t a bad thing.

Kelly took her seat on the sidewalk by the least smelly of the dumpsters—or as she called it, Cleaner Dumpster—and set her backpack to her side. She gnawed at her fingernails, already basically nonexistent.


How to spend her time today?

Only a handful of months of senior year remained. It wasn’t as if there was much homework to occupy her time. The teachers had all but given up restraining their students, instead letting them focus on the things they really couldn’t stop talking about — prom, graduation, etc etc.

Kelly didn't even pretend those things mattered to her. She only looked forward to one thing: move-in week. She’d worked her but off to get a scholarship and acceptance into a summer program at the state polytechnic university. One week after graduation, she’d be living on campus and starting pre-freshman summer classes.

No more faux Orange Julius.

No more dumpsters.

No more crying brothers or microwave meals or staring at the crooked hole in the wall above her headboard in the shape of her late stepfather’s fist, the first thing she always saw when she woke up and the last thing she saw before she went to sleep.

Oh, who was she kidding? There were plenty of microwave meals in her future as a college student.

The cool spring breeze whistled past her, and she heard a faint retching noise. Disgusted but also grossly fascinated, Kelly eased herself up off the sidewalk and peaked her head around Cleaner Dumpster. Nothing. Just Nastier Dumpster, emanating its signature vile scent.

Then the retching started back up, and Kelly cautiously walked to peek over to the other side of Nastier Dumpster.

To her surprise, there was Meredick, puking her guts out.

“Merry—Meredith,” Kelly started, catching herself.

Meredith froze, keeled over, before wiping her mouth on her arm and standing upright.

Kelly stared, begrudgingly impressed that Meredith’s makeup still gleamed the picture of perfection. Not even a false eyelash or a smudge of lipstick out of place. Only the musty puddle on the ground gave anything away about Meredith’s state. And even then, that scent was almost fully masked by the putrid smell of Nastier Dumpster.

“What the fuck, Kelly?” Meredith accused. Kelly immediately released any smidge of sympathy she'd had for her ex-BFFL. “Did you stalk me all the way out here? Ugh.”

“Yeah, no,” Kelly intoned. “We’re not doing that.”

“Oh, not doing what?” Meredith mocked. “Talking about the fact that you’ve never stopped being obsessed with me?”

“Goodbye, Meredith.”


Kelly paused, mid-turn.

“Don’t tell Janice or Jessica that you saw me here.”

Kelly sighed. “Goodbye, Meredith.”

Kelly reclaimed her spot by Cleaner Dumpster. She sat down and took out the course catalog from her backpack, reading for the hundredth time the summaries of the classes awaiting her.

Just a few more months.

She turned a page before unconsciously drawing her hand to her mouth, biting her thumbnail absentmindedly.

Meredith used the door by the dumpsters to get back into the mall. She slipped quickly into the nearest restroom and washed her hands, smiling absentmindedly at her glossy nails, perfectly shaped and painted in a french manicure, as the sink water ran over them.

She looked up into the mirror.

Practiced her smile one more time.

Meredith met Janice and Jessica in Victoria's Secret, right where she'd left them when she excused herself to go to the bathroom.

And, ugh, Jules. There was Jules, in the middle of Janice and Jessica, giggling excitedly over a particularly flashy bra.


Meredith hated her. Jules with the extra large tits and the fancy car, both of which her daddy bought her. Jules, with the cool parents who never gave her a curfew, with the early acceptance to half the Ivies.

Jules had the entire senior class wrapped around her finger all last fall as she fanned the acceptances into everyone’s faces. Even Janice and Jessica had become obsessed with her.

Oh, sorry, they wanted to go by Jan and Jess now. Now that Jules called them that.

“Hey Jules! Jan! Jess!” Meredith called as she strutted over. With a quick “hey” the trio turned back to the intricate lingerie that absorbed their attention. But Jules took another glance in Meredith's direction.

Merrrrr,” Jules whined. “This would look so much better on you than on me.” The bra she held up had a sweet lacy detail, but a shit ton of padding. Oh Jules, how obviously underhanded.

Jules looked away, and Meredith gave her the side-eye, anticipating camaraderie from Janice and Jessica. But Janice only smiled and nodded in agreement—with Jules. “Yea, Mer, you’d totally rock that under the crop top you were planning to wear to the kickback this weekend.”

“Oh, yea, I’ll think about it,” Meredith smiled back hollowly. “Actually, I’ll try it on.”

She picked it deftly out of Jules’ hands and headed toward the dressing room. Her eyes darted sharply around, seeing a lack of sales people on the floor. Perfect.

In the dressing room, she yanked the padding out of the lacy bra and replaced it into her current bra, switching the barely there padding into the lacy number. She looked at herself in the mirror. Damn, she was hot. She left the lacy bra lying on the floor of the dressing room and walked back out to her friends.

“Honestly, it did nothing for me.” Meredith said, smiling viciously to Jules. “I prefer how I look naturally.”

Ugh, Victoria's Secret was so overrated.

With one manicured hand, she waved her friends to follow her out.

With the other, she dug her perfectly glossed, perfectly shaped nails into her palm behind her back.