Girl’s Best Friend

 

This year Eden Baylee and I are  offering two stories a month. The stories have now been running for over a year. Our intentions have been indicated several times previously so we’ll offer no more ‘explanations’ and just get straight on with this month’s effort.

 

Prompt: On Tuesday she asked me the most peculiar question.

PARTS 1 and 3 EB
PARTS 2 and 4 BK

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Girl’s Best Friend

I don’t know why Lucy behaved the way she did. She came from a family similar to mine—white, middle class, two parents. The only extraordinary thing about her was her shock of red hair and freckles. Like me, she was an only child, so maybe that’s why we gravitated to each other.

All I know is Lucy had a way about her that both attracted me and made me feel uncomfortable at times. She was edgy.

“Janice, feel like a drink after class?”

We still had half an hour before the end of Chemistry. “Lucy, we need to study. We have an exam in a week.”

“Yes, but that’s in a week. We can always make up for it tomorrow.”
I gave her side eye.

Later that night as we sat in the bar with other students stressed over upcoming exams, I asked Lucy, “How do you do it?”

“Do what?”

“Stay calm when you’re failing your classes? Convince me to drink with you even though I should be studying? Your power of persuasion is impressive.”

Lucy laughed and signalled the bartender for another round.

On Tuesday, a day before our exam, she asked me the most peculiar question.

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We were sitting on a bench in the park beside school watching kids from the nursery play on some swings and slides.

“When you’re twenty-something, right?” she said, “And you’re married and that…”

She paused.

“Yeah,” I said “And…?”

She took a deep breath and went on “Well, d’you want kids or pets?”

I just stared at her. She looked back at me, her expression completely normal, as if she’d just said “hello” or something.

“That’s a stupid choice,” I said.

“Not really,” she said. “Mind you, it depends on your husband, I suppose. I mean, if he’s like my dad, you’ll have no choice anyway.”

“Why not?” I said.

She shrugged. “He says women don’t have thoughts, they have hormones.”

I didn’t know what to say. I’d seen her dad. He was enormous. Not fat, just big. And her mom was tiny, like her.

We didn’t usually talk about family stuff but I suddenly felt afraid for her.

“Are things… you know… OK? At home.” I said.

She looked at me, puzzled.

“What d’you mean?”

“You know. Your mum and dad. That sort of stuff.”

Her expression just got more puzzled.

‘Want a go on the swings?’ she said.

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Lucy didn’t show up to meet me as planned on the day of our exam. The final wasn’t until one in the afternoon, but I’d insisted we go over study notes in the morning. I was heading into the final with a B+. A little extra work would move me up to an A. Lucy was satisfied to just pass the course. I sent her a text and figured she’d decided to sleep in.

By lunch time and the absence of any texts from her, I was beginning to worry. I called and left a message. I checked all the social media networks but saw no recent posts from her. With only enough time to pick up a sandwich and wolf it down, I headed to campus in hopes of seeing Lucy there.

Hoover Hall was packed by the time I arrived. No sign of Lucy, though it would’ve been near impossible to find her in this crowd. I put my cell phone in my backpack and turned in my belongings at the front desk.

When I entered the exam room and saw rows and rows of desks at least twenty deep, my anxiety ratcheted up a notch.

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It’s amazing how quiet a roomful of exam takers can be. All those students but only the occasional rustles of pages being turned and the tap, tap, tap of the invigilator’s footsteps as she makes her regular little checks, stepping down from her rostrum to stroll among the desks.

We’d been at it for maybe half an hour when, suddenly, the door at the back of the room creaked open and made us all jump. Everybody turned to look. It was Lucy. She had a little mongrelly dog on a lead and a big smile on her face. The invigilator was standing but just staring at her, obviously not knowing what to do. Lucy looked around, saw me, waved and came along to my desk.

“Hi Janice,” she said, then squatted down beside the dog. “This is Princess Elizabeth the 4th. I got her this morning. We’re just going down the beach. See you later, OK?”

I didn’t know what to say. The invigilator seemed to be just frozen at her rostrum, staring at us. Luckily, Lucy wasn’t waiting for an answer and, with a “Come on, your majesty”, she led the unprotesting royal dog back the way they’d come.

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We hope you enjoyed it. It would be good to have some feedback.

Love?

The 800-word story experiment has run its first year and now, at the beginning of its second, Eden Baylee and I have agreed to double the output and offer 2 stories a month. This week we’ll start with a solo effort each, basing our separate tales on the same prompt.   Mine’s called Love? and you’ll find Eden’s here.

Prompt: ‘I loved the way she said “balloon”. She said it as if she was blowing bubbles’.

Writer: BK

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Love?

In a way, it baffles me that people are still saying ‘I love you’ to one another. OK, I know the songs and movies still plug it, but you’d think all the reports of domestic violence might make kids think twice about it, wouldn’t you? Or that all the individual freedoms that have been won would put it in perspective as a mainly teenage thing that’s really just about getting access to sex.

I mean, kids nowadays want to be cool, independent loners. It’s an attractive image. Why ruin it by becoming a couple? Maybe it’s just that they’re young and don’t know any better, don’t yet have too many scars. That’s not a criticism; it’s an observation. I mean, we’ve all said it to different girls, boys, men, women, time and time again. Sometimes when we’re theoretically still ‘in love with’ somebody else? And did we really know much about who they were? Or was it just two big brown eyes widening slightly as they looked at you, a smile, a finger trailing across your cheek, a laugh, the rhythms of the words they spoke?. Or simply a knee-jerk reaction to some part of their anatomy that made them particularly attractive.

Cynical? Yes, probably. But mostly it’s me I’m getting at. I fell for it so many times with no real end result. Ever. Oh sure, there are the times when you convince yourself that those ‘others’ really mean what they’re saying, that maybe you are special to them. Be honest, though. You know very well whether you’re special or not. Or rather, you shouldn’t be afraid to tell yourself the truth. If you really did ‘love’ all the ones you said it to, it’s hardly that unique thing that all the songs and poems are about, is it?

In fact, to be honest, I’ve only once said it and meant it. She was French, I think. Maybe Portuguese. A student anyway. Maria, she was called, or maybe Marie. No Maria. She had this accent. In fact, this’ll tell you how crazy I was at the time, her English wasn’t very good at all, so I didn’t really even know her, what she thought about things, her background, who she actually was. I met her at a party. Loud music, so there wasn’t much in the way of talking anyway. But I’d had a few beers and… well, the way she danced… you don’t need talk when you see someone moving like that.

There wasn’t much in the way of competition there either. She looked great, just standing there with her mates. I suppose I was staring at her and she smiled. I smiled back, then it was a sort of flick of the head from me and a ‘come on then’ gesture from her and we were… well, dancing. Together.

And we stayed that way until she went back to France. Or Portugal. Not much more dancing but trips to the beach, nights at the pub, long walks in the hills.  I think in the end I said I loved her because she didn’t. In fact she made it pretty clear that, as far as she was concerned, it was a short term thing. Which made me want her even more. And I really did miss her. Did all the clichés – crying, having semi-suicidal thoughts, the lot. In fact, playing the distraught lover was what got me her replacement,.

I was bored, sitting at a party and this girl came up. Called Evie. Pretty enough. And we started talking, and I went on about Maria. Just role-playing really, lovesick melancholy stuff, and Evie was sweet, sympathetic, understanding. Seemed to fall for everything I said.

And suddenly, she’d taken Maria’s place. Eventually said she loved me. The strange thing, though, was I couldn’t say that to her. Maybe I really had loved Marie. Maybe still did.

Anyway, Evie didn’t last long. My fault. Took the role play a bit too far. We were in my room at uni and she asked me if I’d spent much time there with Marie.

I just nodded and went quiet. All still part of the act, of course.

‘We just used to talk,’ I said. ‘Nothing else. I could listen to her for hours. That voice, her accent.’

‘Still missing her?’ said Evie.

I nodded again, tried to get some tears going, but failed.

‘There were some words…’ I just shook my head, as if remembering stuff, and lay back on the bed. Evie just looked down at me. I did a sort of sigh and said

‘I loved the way she said “balloon.” She said it as if she were blowing bubbles.’

‘Blowing bubbles?’ said Evie.

I wiped my eyes and nodded.

She shook her head, went to the door, said ‘Wanker’ and left.

 

We’d love to hear your reactions.

ARRIVALS AND DEPARTURES

After a year of these collaborative stories, (and much more if you count those we wrote originally for Richard Wood’s Word Count Podcast), Eden Baylee and I are still very good friends. There have been interesting exchanges between us reflecting our different approaches to the form and its purpose and, for my part, I’ve learned plenty about my own approach to the genre and writing in general. Essentially, though, the idea is to entertain and perhaps provoke readers. We hope you like this one. And, if you’re new to the blog, the background to our collaboration is spelled out here.

Prompt: The plane was two hours late.
Parts 1 and 3: Eden
Parts 2 and 4: Bill

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ARRIVALS AND DEPARTURES

I grabbed my jacket off the couch and ran outside. Dan was behind me, moving at his usual pace—irritatingly slow.

“I don’t want to be late!” I yelled. I stood at the passenger side of the cherry-red BMW. “Can you please unlock the car?”

“Hold your horses! I have to set the alarm first.”

My eyes rolled back in my head as I waited for him to exit the house. I should’ve never asked him to come!

When Dan finally came out, he pointed the key fob in the car’s direction. The piercing beep startled me. I pulled open the door and stepped inside his mid-life crisis purchase. Six months later, and the interior still reeked of “new”car smell; I hated it.

What seemed like an eternity later, he opened the driver’s side door. I was already buckled in and on my cell phone. “Kate’s flight is still showing on time.” I tried not to sound too obvious that I wanted him to start the car and go.

“Good,” he said, slowly strapping himself in. “Hey, this car still smells so fresh, doesn’t it?”

I counted to three in my head and took a deep breath.

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There was a time when I suppose I must have found his laid-back approach to everything charming or attractive or cool or something. I mean, he’s forever in a stress-free world or at least one where any stresses are hidden or dismissed or … Oh, I don’t know.

Kate had been away in Europe for three months. Three bloody months! You’d think he’d maybe… well… show a bit of enthusiasm or something… But as we sat there, his fingers tapping on the steering wheel, the anxiety I’d been feeling ever since I woke up making my pulse hammer in my ears, I just lost it.

“This is ridiculous” I said. “Dan, start the car, for Christ’s sake!”

He turned to look at me, that irritating smile in place as usual.

“We’ve got plenty of time, honey. Relax.”

Huh! Relax! His usual mantra.

But he did back out onto the road and we were at last on our way.

Infuriatingly, he was right, of course. The roads, even around the airport, turned out to be relatively clear and we were at the gate ahead of schedule. But not Kate’s schedule. The notice board told us her flight had been delayed.

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The plane was two hours late, or at least that’s what the most recent update showed. I paced back and forth beside Arrivals. Dan approached me and casually asked, “So? Any more news?”

“No.” I looked around and saw empty seats where people had packed the waiting area only minutes ago. “Everyone’s headed for the bar, I guess.”

Dan looked down at his watch. “We can go too if you like.”

I shook my head. “You mind if we don’t? Let’s stay here where it’s quiet.” I needed a clear head to tell him what had been bothering me. We sat facing a wall, as far away from foot traffic as possible.

“Look, Dan, I’m sorry I was so impatient earlier.”

“Don’t worry about it. You miss Kate, I understand.”

I sighed. “And you don’t?”

After a moment’s hesitation, his expression turned somber. “Honestly?”

“Yes, of course.”

He took my hand in his. “I wish Kate had decided to stay in Rome.”

A lump formed in my throat. “What are you saying?”

“You brought Kate into our relationship. I wanted to give it a try … for you, but I’m not cut out to be in a throuple. I’m just not.”

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It came as no surprise really. I knew the answer before I asked the question. That little hesitation before throuple was the same as ever. Poor Dan. At first, when Kate and I told him about us, he’d grinned and made predictable guy remarks. “Throuple? Sounds like a circus act.” Stuff like that. But in the end, he knew it was a sort of ultimatum. He could either join us or … well…

I think it was the only time I saw him close to losing his cool. For all his chilled, flash car persona, he was pretty fragile. I loved him, but had room for more. Not Dan, though. He needed me. Exclusively. At first, he hid behind something he started calling monoamory. I tried throwing my own guy remark back at him. “Sounds like a science course nobody wants to take” I said. He didn’t laugh.

Suddenly, the ding-dong warning sounded as the arrival board lit up. I felt the adrenaline surge. Kate was here.

“Come on,” I said and hurried to the gate to scour the incoming passengers for her lovely red hair. When I saw it, I turned to point her out to Dan.
He wasn’t there.

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All comments welcome.