Bridging the Rift
by Cecily Hawkins


This story is dedicated to anyone who's ever lost a best friend, to second chances, and to
Violence: None. Kleenex: Maybe. Subtext: Not intentionally.

"Hot damn!" Nick crowed. "It compiled!"

"The tiger has many skills," Dave grinned.

Tyler Morgan, "Tiger" to her computer science classmates, allowed herself a quiet smile of
triumph before adjusting her glasses and returning her attention to the code on her screen. The fight
wasn't over yet, but it would be soon enough. Her abilities had made her highly sought-after for
group projects, not to mention companies. Although only a junior, she was earning in her spare time, and expected good offers after graduation. Best of all, there had never been a hint of getting specialtreatment because she was a female. She earned her place with skill and grit, not with her blue eyesand long dark hair.

The computer beeped quietly, marking the arrival of a message. Tyler clicked on her mail
window, bringing it to the foreground, and blinked in surprise at the sender's address. She began to

Dave was watching the display on the machine next to her. "Looks like it's running."

"No, the object-tracking's messed up. Look, this one's doubled," Nick pointed.

"Dammit," Tyler breathed. The other two turned to her, but her eyes were on her own screen.

She shook her head quickly. "I'm sorry, I have no right to be angry..."

"The code?" Nick ventured. "We can fix it.."

She shook her head again. "It's not that. It's an old friend of mine. She's sick."

I don't remember ever not knowing you. We were in diapers together. Slept at each
other's houses, bathed together. Spent our grade school years geting into trouble - usually
your fault. Like when we tried to make lace by cutting holes in our clothes, or when we went
climbing on the roof of the church. It was always your idea. But I couldn't deny you anything.
We were an adventure.

Tyler fumbled for her wallet, finding it and presenting ID and ticket to the bored-looking agent
behind the counter.

"Did you pack all of your bags yourself?"


"Has anyone given you any items to carry?"


"Gate A19. Thank you, have a nice day."

The ritual dialogue was completed with plastic smiles, and not an eyelash flickered. Tyler went
on her way towards the metal detector, mentally going over the contents of her purse and pockets,
checking to see if she had anything that would set the scans off. Trying not to think about a voice
from her past, begging for forgiveness.

You told me I was worthless, and I believed you. You didn't want me around anymore,
and so I thought no one ever would. You went on to be popular, to date a string of boys, to
party. I'm of age now, and you're not, but I still don't drink. You never got into trouble you
couldn't handle, though, not that I heard about. Me, I got into hurting people. I found out
everybody's dirty little secret and used it against them. I didn't have to study, I could get
whatever I wanted by twisting arms. People talked behind my back, but not too loudly. They
were afraid. They didn't dare touch me. Or you. They knew what I could do.
I found power. And I found computers, and explosives, and all sorts of ways to mess up
people's lives.
And then I moved on.

Tyler settled into a stiff plastic chair. The television over her head was extolling the merits of a
new line of jewelry. The flight wouldn't begin boarding for at least ten minutes.

An older man in a business suit smiled at her over his newspaper. She met his gaze until he looked down, grumbling to himself. The stare of death, her male friends at school had called it. Not
boyfriends. She had never taken the time to have one. She had experimented a bit, but it had always remained casual. Contrary to rumor, computer programmers were capable of having sex without a manual.

Telling stories. That was the way they used to talk about your tendency to bend the truth, or throw it away entirely. You wove wild fabrications about sneaking on board cruiseships or trespassing and getting shot at by farmers or having starving artists sleep on your floor. And I generally believed you. You laughed at me for being so gullible.
I never believed you were sick. Not after hearing it from several people. Not after
seeing letters to the school from your parents. Never.

Tyler rang the doorbell and waited restlessly. Maybe she should have called first, but somehow, talking without seeing was even more frightening than seeing.

The door opened. "Tyler?"


She was tiny. Jan had been the shortest girl in the class when they graduated, but now she
looked as if a breath could blow her away. Her tan was gone, leaving skin pale and shadowed.
Blond hair pulled up in a clumsy ponytail. Jeans, old white t-shirt, no makeup - this from someone
who used to dress up to go to the bathroom.

Tyler stood with her arms stiff at her sides, uncertain. "I came as fast as I could."

Jan shook her head. "You didn't have to... you look great."

"You look terrible." The words slipped out before she could think.

Jan laughed. "Just what I was looking for, someone to be honest with me."

"I didn't mean -"

"No, it's all right. Come in." The little blonde led the way to her room. The bed was unmade.
Clothing was tossed casually over furniture and stuffed animals. The walls were a neutral beige. No
posters, but a framed baby picture hung beside an award certificate. Jan looked around critically. "I
know it's not much, but when we first moved here they expected my to go to college and not stay
here long, so they gave me the smallest room."

"I remember your first house."

"No you don't, we were too little. You remember my second."

"With the woods out back where we went hiking and you told me there were snakes."

"And you picked up a big stick and looked ready to beat the crap out of anything that came
our way."

I wish there were something I could fight now. "The house where you slammed my finger in
the door that time."

"Yeah." Jan sat on the edge of the bed and motioned for Tyler to take a chair. "I'm so sorry.
About everything."

"You don't have to apologize."

"We were horrible to you."

"You weren't."

Not all the time, anyway.
I remember standing in front of your mirror while you dressed me and fussed over me.
Trying to get me ready to go to a dance with you. Trying to make me look normal. That was
what you said. Just like everyone else.
But I didn't want to be like everyone else.
Or maybe... Maybe I did. I was afraid. I was afraid that I wouldn't fit in even with your
makeover. They would laugh at me. They would laugh at you. So I told you it was stupid and I wouldn't go. And your feelings were hurt.
We had that argument many times. Finally, you stopped trying.

Jan looked down at her hands. "I could have said something. So many times, I could have said something."

"What do you mean?"

"They asked me, you know, when things happened. Like when Lizzie told that story about you pulling a knife on her. And I said it wasn't true, but I didn't say anything to help."

Tyler laughed sharply. "I did pull a knife on Lizzie. She wasn't lying. It was true. Probably everything you ever heard about me was true."

"I know," Jan whispered.


"I knew," she clarified softly. "I covered for you."

You lied. "Oh." I don't know what to say.

Jan shifted uncomfortably. "They asked a lot of questions about why you were the way you were. And I never said anything."

Some things are better left unsaid.

"And I never warned you."

"I managed."

"You must have thought I abandoned you."

Tyler looked away, up to the ceiling. "It was probably for the best. Being around me could have gotten you into trouble. And I made it through, and I'm fine now. I'm getting a good job, I can
forget all about back then..."

"And me."

"I wouldn't!"

"Wouldn't you?"

"I never wanted to leave you."

"But you did."

I never believed, never admitted it to myself. I covered for you. Made sure other people
got your work done and you got the credit. I never said anything to you about it. Maybe you
didn't even know. I just went on like everything was normal.
Deny, deny, deny.
And then there we were, eighteen, "all grown up" and going our separate ways. College does that to people.
I did forget.
Out of sight, out of mind.
No. I didn't want to think about you. I didn't want to remember how helpless I was. I was afraid.

Tyler's eyes widened with sudden understanding. "You're afraid."

Jan blinked, then laughed. "Of course I'm afraid. Look at me!"

"You're going to be all right," the brunette said firmly. "Unless you just sit in here and wither."
She stood and waved her arms around. "Look at this dump. Drab! Dull!"

Jan leaped up from the bed. "Oh yeah? And just what do you expect me to do about it?"

"Not much. Look at you, you can't even take care of yourself."

The blonde's face reddened. "I knew it! I knew I shouldn't have written you! I knew you'd
hate me!"

And in one simple movement, Tyler's arms were around her, holding her gently, letting the
tears fall. "I love you," she whispered. "It's going to be all right."


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