This is the beginning of some kind of story which I may or may not continue. It’s been a long time since I’ve written fiction of any length so please be kind, but I would be interested in feedback. 🙂
The thank you card was more gaudy than I ever would have picked out, but she had always sparkled more than I: I was never sure if it was gilt or gold, but like some silly magpie I always found myself edging closer to her sheen. Sadly the metaphor stops there and turns into one about moths and flames: she could burn a girl up as fast as she said hello.
But these words were different. Cherie rarely took the time to say things like thank you, and sitting still long enough to write something when she could have picked up the phone and said it, or even when she simply could have appeared out of nowhere (as she was wont to do) and yelled it at you in person was not her natural mode of operation. But there it sat, pale blue and gold with floral designs and a short message inside:
“I was so glad to see you this weekend. It’s been too long. Call when you can, I have news. Thank you for the vase, it’s truly lovely.
The vase had been a last minute gift, picked to the tastes of Cherie’s new wife. Generally Cherie did not bother with politeness for the sake of others. I had never before given her a gift without some critical remark on her part, and the note left me sitting in stunned silence for a long minute. What was she trying to say? Was this an apology? An attempt at reconciliation?
I couldn’t read this new Cherie, so I retreated to the only haven I knew: a book and a cup of tea, hoping the note would disappear and I could continue with my mundane life. I pointedly ignored my cell phone sitting next to me, refusing to call. I did not want the kind of excitement that Cherie brought. I didn’t want whatever reconciliation she offered. I had broken it off, and I was not about to start it up again.
It was raining on Wednesday. I had always felt that rain should not be allowed on Wednesdays for the obvious reason that the week feels endless on a Wednesday and the day feels endless when it’s raining, and this leads to an inevitable feeling of soul-crushing. But this Wednesday was the day after the thank you card, and despite the calming pit-pat on the roof, my nerves were edgy. I couldn’t sit still, and whenever I had a spare minute I found myself twitching and jumping. Thankfully I had a busy day, and barely noticed the anxiety until I found a pause for lunch at 2:30. I was nearly tingling with the anxiety, wondering when Cherie would come crashing back into my life. Would she call me if I never called her?
‘She’s married now, she can’t just tell you she wants to get back together’ I repeated to myself. My phone buzzed and I jumped. I picked it up. Mom. Deep breaths I reminded myself before answering.
Four hours later on my way home from work my phone rang again. By now I had convinced myself that this whole day had been spent in simple paranoia: Cheri would not call. She had not reason to. I had worked myself up over nothing, and all I needed was a glass of wine and a hot bath. I picked up the phone. Cherie. I put the phone down and focused pointedly on driving.
“Ingrid, hi. I know you’re there, but I don’t care if you don’t pick up as long as you listen to the message. Look, I meant what I wrote in that card. I’ve missed you. I wish I had the time to just talk to you again, but I have to tell you…I’m not ok. Renee doesn’t understand, she thinks I’m crazy, but I know you’ll hear me out. Please call me back. I’d like to see you.”
That was the whole message. She hadn’t even bothered to identify herself: she knew my whole body was tingling from the first word she spoke. Renee was Cherie’s wife, their wedding was the occasion for the thank you card. I wasn’t sure what to think that my ex was calling me over her wife.
Cherie’s problems had always been different. When we were together I had tried to tolerate them, to ignore them, to pretend I didn’t see the insanity. They had been the cause of many breakups followed by tearful reunions, and I suspected they had lent a helping hand to the development of my eating disorder.
I didn’t want to go there again. My therapist had told me again and again to reside in the present. I could finally eat three square meals a day without anxiety. I didn’t count calories and food was not the first thing on my mind in the morning. I had to keep myself away from her. I needed to protect myself.
So why was I picking up the phone and dialing her number, still firmly engrained in my memory? Why was my breath catching? What was I getting into?
“Shoo-rah, shoo-rah oh I can hear you coming, shoo-rah, shoo-rah but you won’t catch me.”
I sighed, waiting for the energy of the music to hit me and telling myself over and over “You won’t catch me.” I had put the song on in the hope that it would give me some sort of strength, but it was a lie and I knew it. I looked down at the note in my hand. I had made the call, taken down a time and a place, and now I was waiting.
I wouldn’t let her draw me in again. Our last breakup had been vicious. She had been raving, yelling, “Can’t you see?” and pointing ferociously at her back. I had tried to listen, tried to understand, but when she had grabbed my hand and placed it not on but just above her back, I had felt something tickle my palm, something feathery and soft. I had panicked, run out the door, and not spoken to her again until I had received a wedding invitation to “A Midsummer Night’s Wedding”.
And now I was going to walk back towards that confusion. I didn’t know if I could trust my senses this time around, and I knew I couldn’t trust my emotions.
The clock flicked to 11:45. I paused my music, picked up my keys and walked to the door.
There she was, same as ever. She didn’t look a second older than the day I first met her, the only difference being that her long dreadlocks were now shaved. She was small, barely five feet, but all curves. Except her face. Her face was pointed, angular, pixie-ish. I walked into the coffee shop where she waited and ordered a mocha-my standard. I didn’t drink coffee unless it tasted like dessert. Hesitantly, I sat across from her and she looked up from her book: The Great Gatsby. Pretentious.
She saw me looking and explained: “I’m prepping for the movie. I’ve forgotten a lot.”
“Something about love and death,” I supplied, pulling a chair up across from her. She smiled almost wistfully and put the book down. For a long moment she just looked at me, her eyes roving over every part of my body. I tried to stare back, unfazed, but I found myself blushing. She had a talent for undressing you with her eyes.
“I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to talk to you at the wedding,” she said suddenly. “I was glad you were there though. You mean a lot to me.” My heart jumped at the words.
“It was a lovely ceremony,” I choked out, feigning coolness. Silence again. I waited for her to explain what we were doing here. I had no responsibility to break the awkwardness. She just looked at her hands, fidgeting and picking at her nails. I’d never seen her like this before, shy and nervous.
Finally I gave in to my impatience.
“Look Cherie, you asked me to come here. You said you needed my help. I don’t know why I’m here so you’ll have to start talking,” She looked up at me and for a moment the look on her face inundated me with guilt. Then she sighed.
“You’re right. I just don’t know how to start. Especially after the last time I saw you. But it’s not like I can ask anyone else.” She paused and her body slumped. “Ingrid. I’m in trouble. I know you remember all the things I tried to tell you before and you didn’t believe it, but I’m really, really in trouble and you have to believe me now. My mother is dead. I need to go home,” she stopped and looked meaningfully at me.
“I’m sorry Cherie. That’s horrible. I still don’t understand how I can help though…do you need help with a plane ticket?”
“Oh Ingrid. Not home to Portland! I told you before that’s not really home. Home to…the other place. The one you wouldn’t hear about. And I need you to come with. I need someone from here with me, otherwise I’m not sure I can find my way back,” she was leaning forward now, reaching for my hand. “Please say you’ll help, please. Renee tried to send me to a therapist, she thinks I’m crazy. I need you. No one else can help,”
I was afraid. Absolutely afraid that she was pulling me in again, that Renee was 100% right and I was sitting in front of a crazy person. But the most beautiful woman I knew was sitting before me begging for help. I was lost before I began.
“Where are we going?” I asked reluctantly.
The next day at 11 PM we drove up to an abandoned warehouse.
“This is it?” I asked, my voice dripping cynicism. “This is the super secret special entrance to your Other home?”
She threw me a look that left me shrinking in my seat and sauntered out of the car, leaving me to remember how many times I’d seen that look before. Reluctantly I followed her, taking a flashlight out of the bag she had told me to pack.
She was standing at a rusted door, tapping it gently and listening to the tink-tink it made in return. I was about to open my mouth and make a quip about a secret knock when the door creaked open, seemingly of its own volition. With a smile, she led the way inside.
There was a low thumping, almost a rumble coming from deep inside the building. I hesitated, but Cherie stepped forward unafraid and I had no choice but to follow. The noise grew and grew until I realized it was the repetitive “wub wub” of dubstep.
“Cherie, what-” I cut off my query as we rounded a final corner and came upon a seething wall of people. My question was answered: we were at a rave. I looked again, and stopped to reassess my initial impressions. Not people. Bizarre costumes were everywhere: gas masks, neon tutus, steampunk goggles, but mixed in were things a bit too realistic to be costume. A woman slid past with cat eyes glinting in the darkness, another gave me a salacious smile that showed his flickering snake-tongue, while a third held up a hand in greeting that was not properly flesh colored. But everyone was moving, relentlessly dancing. I was overwhelmed, with colors and sounds and a lingering smell of pot.
“You can’t be serious,” I screamed over the noise. “You brought me to a rave? I can’t believe I almost bought your story!” Cherie grinned at me, raising her arms in an innocent looking shrug before diving forwards into the crowd. With a yelp I threw myself after her into a chaos of sweaty, moving bodies, bizarre smells, and kaleidoscope colors.