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A Childhood Friend Contacted Me Out of the Blue and the Reason Why Will Horrify You - Part I
Two crazy things happened to me last year.
Firstly, after years of procrastination, I decided to finally to pursue my dream of authoring a novel in the young adult/supernatural fantasy genre (for brevity, let's just say something along the lines of Harry Potter, or Twilight if it didn't completely blow). Up to this point, I'd been mostly content scrubbing out a meagre existence as a bookshop assistant, dreaming up plotlines in between shelf stacking and chatting with customers. For spare change I also occasionally wrote ad copy for an online appliance retailer (for those interested to know, it takes a heinous amount of characters about KitchenAids and chrome six-slice toasters to even buy a beer). At this time, my boyfriend Josh and I were renting a tasteful art deco style townhouse. Achieving my goal meant that I began spending increasing chunks of time at home plugging away feverishly at a manuscript with Jas, our cat purring like a tractor next to me. Sometimes, the weirdest things happened whenever I was alone. I could be totally zoned out in concentration on a chapter. Then I'd swear that someone else was standing in the room just out of my field of vision, as if poised to tap my shoulder. Unexplained puddles of water appeared around the place too. I swiftly texted Josh and received the pragmatic reply 'Must be faulty pipes. Call plumber'. What I didn't mention was that the puddles never even appeared close to the water mains. Another time, a stench of rotting meat pervaded the rooms all day. Jas copped the blame for that one – I suspected he must have slipped out and stashed away a hunted animal somewhere. I never found any evidence though, and mysteriously the smell disappeared as quickly as it came.
Relevant to the second thing that occurred, is an admission that shames me deeply. I was unfaithful – once and once only - to Josh. It brought me to the realisation that our relationship had deteriorated to the point where we lived in separate worlds. Five years earlier, I'd reluctantly accompanied my friend Jamie to a uni bar famed for its kitschy taxidermy animals on the walls, sticky floors and dirt cheap booze. I leaned against a stuffed moose head while Jamie worked the room, trying to be inconspicuous and feeling the exact opposite. Josh approached me and introduced himself with some lame quip thrown in. As Kings of Leon blared at deafness levels, I smiled in spite of myself. That night, we exchanged numbers.
When we started dating I learned that Josh's family were all respected, highly focused, Type A personalities. His mother, a renowned socialite regularly threw lavish garden parties. Once, she announced in a clipped tone 'My son is designing the most prestigious hospital in the country' to a room of guests. When somebody politely enquired about my occupation I flustered hard. 'I, uhh.. Work in retail, sometimes.' I almost saw the word underachiever light up in neon across her forehead. Josh and I loved each others company, but over time I knew his career and reputation – and family's opinions – started mattering more to him. I cursed myself for feeling inadequate, petty for being jealous of his ambitions. When I accompanied him to family dinners I felt like a live insect under a hot microscope light. Then we'd fight, I'd sullenly withdraw. Josh frequently had more reasons to stay later at work. Slowly, the emotional chasm between us grew wider.
What I'd done was inexcusable and weighed heavily on my conscience. Paralysed by
inertia, I threw myself even more completely into writing. For some
reason, my delusional brain believed that finishing the manuscript
would somehow prove that I still possessed some self-worth and wasn't
a total piece of shit for betraying a person who loved me. Then one
cloudless spring day, as I was mentally steeling myself to start on
chapter 35 and sipping a cup of cold coffee, a message pinged into my
Facebook inbox. My eyes popped open in shock when I saw the sender's
name – Erin Mayweather.
Erin and I had been primary school best friends, in the way Stephen King wrote about the kind of friends you only have when you're twelve years old.
The message read:
Hi! Remember me from
Mrs Wanda's year six class?
Just came across your profile, I hope you've been well x
My heart leapt a little at this. Of course I remembered. Erin and I had been inseparable for the entirety of our last two years at Greta Vale. In fact, since the exact day we'd bullied Glenn Bosley, a kid who perpetually wore woollen pullovers all year long, into switching places so we could sit next to each other and liven up a mind-numbing school assembly with sarcastic wisecracks.
I fetched a fresh mug and fed Jas, who was yowling at my feet, then fired off a reply:
Hey! Of course I remember, we were such shits that year haha.
It's great to hear from you. It's been so long since we last spoke, what are you up to these days?
Whilst waiting for the response, I checked out Erin's profile, curious to see what she looked like now. It was clear the profile was freshly created. A couple of years back when social media really took off, I tried searching Erin a few times but all efforts came to nothing. I did find her younger brother, who appeared to be living overseas, realised he probably wouldn't have a clue who I was and forgot about it.
The only viewable photo was an artistic, slightly out of focus distance shot of a girl sitting on a bench in a park. The girl is holding an umbrella and looking over her shoulder, her face framed by the same shock of red hair I remember.
But Erin wanted to know my opinion on well, everything. Over the next days I told her about the music I was listening to, the books I liked. What I thought about this psychological theory compared to another. I confided to her how my mum was doing these days and how I felt about that. It was a welcome diversion to the nagging feelings of hopelessness I had been experiencing, the snag my novel had hit. Josh was away on a five day work trip. Jamie was overseas too, doing the whole year in London thing and hard to catch for Skype sessions if she wasn't asleep or out partying. It felt- lame as it is to admit- just nice having an old ally in my corner again.
The only little thing I noticed, when we touched on the present day- current jobs, relationships, so forth- Erin got a bit cagey and tended to circle back to different topic. But in all other respects, she was so chatty and uninhibited. I almost always received a reply back from her within five minutes of writing. Then, all of a sudden our conversations took a much darker, unexpected turn that I didn't see coming for miles.