|Creative Writing Competition 2012 India|
|SETTING||College Canteen OR Restaurant|
|OBJECT||Any Jewellery – Necklace, Ring…|
Friends Short Story – The Summer Break
I looked forward to the evening as I had important news to share with Kim. She was back home from college for her summer break. It was almost six months since I had last seen her. Six months from the night when I had helped her pack her belongings into two big suitcases – clothes, soft toys, college books, Dostoyevsky’s novels, pair of tennis rackets, R&B CDs – stuff that would be getting a new zip code just like her.
Our lives had crossed during the interview process for pre-school. The two of us, mere four year olds, had tenaciously clutched onto the fingers of our fathers as they led (or dragged) us. The secretary fetched us one by one to the Principal’s office where we would be interviewed – sans our family or friends. Kim was always smart, she showed these signs from an early age and she emerged from the interview triumphant, smug and sparkly eyed. The secretary showered praises while her father glowed with pride. When my turn came, my hand had to be pried away from my father’s..
Grudgingly I had followed her into the cheerful room of the Principal who welcomed me with a heartwarming greeting that was promptly reciprocated with a scowl from me. I have always had a stubborn streak, which according to my mother I have inherited from the troubled genes of my father. And this stubbornness took gigantic proportions in that room that day. I clamped my lips shut, refusing to even acknowledge the questions that came my way, choosing to look out of the window instead.
The Principal, who was a catholic nun, eventually grew weary of my non-responsiveness and indicated to the secretary that it was time I was dismissed (in her opinion for good). But the secretary who perhaps had a sudden desire to champion the cause of give-the-stubborn-child-a-chance looked towards me with such love that I was mesmerized.
“My child, what is the color of the scarf that Sister here is wearing?” her voice was such a sweet melody wrapped up in an abundance of human love that all my stubbornness vaporized.
“Black” I said confidently, my face breaking into a dimpled smile, my cheeks flushed red with pride at the thought of having not let her down. I saw the two of them exchange looks. The secretary had a helpless look on her face, the Principal was delighted.
“Here, take a candy ” the Principal said. Without hesitation I took a lollipop and jumped all the way back to my father.
“How did she do?” my anxious father inquired of the secretary, who without mincing any words summarized the events.
“The Sister was wearing a White scarf” she said dejectedly.
My father turned a bright red, fuming and he summoned all his restrain to not lash out at me.
“I got a candy” I said waving it in front of his eyes as if that was what mattered. Not satisfied with this, I repeated the action in front of Kim, who looked forlornly at the sugar treat in my hands, trying to figure out the mysterious ways in which the world worked.
It was a stupid thing to do, because a minute later, I was forced to part with it and give it to Kim. Apparently, she deserved it.
I climbed down the stairs, gingerly, for it was slippery and I was wearing a six inch heel that I was not accustomed to. I had taken pains to dress up. The restaurant was a hip one and I didn’t want to stand out in the crowd. More importantly, I wanted to look good in front of Kim. For some reason I kept on picturing that six months would have transformed Kim into the girl from the pages of the Elle magazine – shiny legs, short body hugging deep necked dress, with lips that shone on bronze toned unblemished skin that seemed too good to be real. It scared me that if I was to walk into the Kim from NY in my baggy sweatshirt paired over torn jeans and sneakers, she would turn up her nose and walk away. So I spent my saved dollars in buying impractical stilettos and a little black dress which every women magazine screams is a must have.
I smiled uncertainly at the guy on the door wearing a long tailed coat and a bow tie. He nods and opens the door .
Sinatra’s words drum into my ears, as I walk inside hesitatingly. The place looks like a red carpet event, filled up with beautiful women and handsome men. I feel out of place, scared that everyone would be able to see through my guise and see the real me. I look around searchingly for the familiar face of Kim but in the bright lights and with highly strung nerves I am a complete failure.
The restaurant manager spots me like a hawk and is beside me in a blink of the eye. He coaxes a smile on his face, while his eyes remain steely grey. I am certain he knows that I don’t belong here.
“Can I help you madam?” he speaks softly, obsequiously, as they have been trained to do – with a courtesy that belies sincerity.
“Umm…I am looking for my friend; I think she has a reservation…” I stammer.
“Certainly. And pray what is her name?” he curtsies a bow; his speech and mannerisms are like a character out of a Dickens novel.
“Oh Ok.” He frowns, and gazes at me piercingly, convinced there is a mistake. “The rest of the party has already arrived. Please follow me”
He navigates around the tables, while I follow behind. He pauses after a while and gestures with his hand to a table in the right corner, bows and leaves. I stand still for a moment to get a grasp , as I look at the familiar profile of Kim sitting in a red silk dress, her hair golden like the sunlight. She throws her head back and laughs. Her laugh is like that of ice clinking on a glass – clear and sharp.
Its then I realize that she has company and turn my gaze at the person sitting beside her. The ground shifts underneath and suddenly I feel as if the oxygen around me has been sucked away. I almost expect oxygen masks falling down from the ceiling, but everyone other than me continues to be engrossed in their own private conversations.
The live band is now playing Chopin’s fifth symphony. And for the first time, I seem to agree with the aptness of the music. I feel like I am in mourning of the death of my own dreams. For seated beside Kim is none other than Matt.
My boyfriend. The big news that I had wanted to tell Kim tonight.
The news now sat beside her, his arm around her waist, while they lean closer to each other, their noses grazing, their breaths interweaving. I see Kim close her eyes and lift her face. Matt leans forward and their lips touch and they kiss.
Or they don’t. Perhaps the last part was my imagination, because my reverie is interrupted. “Emillllyyyy…” Kim croons, dragging the last bit of my name long enough to make it sound Chinese. She hugs me tightly, kisses me and I make every effort to reciprocate but I can’t. My thoughts are still in a whirlwind.
“Oh, you look so pretty!” she exclaims.
I smile, half-heartedly, fully aware that my cheap viscose dress is no match for her Italian silk.
“You look great” I mumble. “As always” I add as an afterthought. “If you have money you can pretty much look like who you want and do what you wish”
The words come out of my mouth, as if they have a mind of their own. The moment they are out, I feel disgusted at myself. Kim looks shocked. Money was never a conversation point in our lives. Matt looks pale, but that can be because of other reasons.
“I am sorry. I don’t know what’s come over me.” I look at Kim with pleading eyes. “I have been under a lot of stress lately”
Tears fill up my eyes. Kim’s face softens and she hugs me again.
“Oh never mind…I don’t want to ruin tonight” I fake a laugh, certain that Kim would see right through it. But thankfully she drops it.
“This is Matt. You remember him don’t you?” Her eyes light up as she talks about him.
“I ran into him last week on Times Square. I was so surprised and pleased to see a familiar face that I forgot all our animosity. We then went out for a couple of drinks and one thing led to another and you know how these things work…”
She looks at Matt shyly and winks at me mischievously.
No I don’t know how these things work.
In my world, a boyfriend doesn’t cheat on his girlfriend with her best friend. I stare at Matt, waiting for some words from him to help explain what was playing out here. I am bewildered. Matt and I have been dating since two years; it is a secret that I have kept even from Kim. The six months that she was away, Matt had effortlessly filled in the void that Kim’s absence had created in my life. We sneaked in whatever time we could manage from our daily schedules so that we could be with each other, hold hands over a cup of coffee, while we debated over the new Democrats bill or spoke utter nonsense. Last week, before leaving for NY, Matt had proposed to me.
Remember him? How could I possibly forget him?
“God! I hate him.”
Kim’s voice penetrates the perennial drone of the buzzing voices in the canteen. I glance up with a questioning look.
“I ran into the new guy in our class Matt Peterson, the Mr. I-am-good-at-everything.” Kim says
“He is such a snob. Just because the teacher praised his paper today and he has been selected for the quarterback position, and has money, he thinks he owns the world.”
I didn’t respond as I had nothing to contribute. As far as I was concerned, I was invisible to the boys in the college.
As luck would have it, I was part of the same group as Matt for the workshops being held for creative writing. I kept my distance from him. One week, he didn’t show up for two days, on the third day he made his appearance with a runny red nose and watery eyes.
After the workshop, as I grabbed my knapsack and was dumping my books into it, that suddenly a voice spoke close to my ears.
“Hey. Am Matt”
I turned to face the six foot one inch tall, broad shouldered, sun burnt and freckled Matt Peterson.
“I need your help. I have been out sick and was wondering if you could catch me up on the last two days of the workshops” he blew his nose loudly as if to prove his case.
I couldn’t quite comprehend why he had asked me but I agreed. We met after school and I brought him up to speed. Later we had steaks and fries and he called me “cute”. We started meeting regularly, It was a comfortable relationship that had its roots in friendship with no high-sexual intensity drama attached to it. All of this I kept a secret from Kim, because of her dislike for Matt .
A week ago, Matt had given me a pair of earrings from Tiffany’s and had proposed to me. It was not the traditional big rock, for he wanted it to be different I had blissfully consented.
“We girls are going to the ladies room” Kim says to Matt in a seductive voice.
I am still unsteady with what is going on, and I mime Kim’s actions. We walk towards the washroom, lacing through rows of tables decorated with huge flower centerpieces, bubbling champagne, and white plates with tiny morsels of food, heads bent deep in conversation, or faces with flirtatious smiles painted on them. Everyone I see is happy. Everyone – except me.
Kim is having a conversation with herself, because I find it hard to concentrate on her words, and I keep on staring at her blankly, while I summon up the courage to tell her the truth.
But what is the truth? That I love a man, who proposed to me and the very same week he sleeps with my friend? I feel myself chocking up, as I smother a sob, and the urge to scream out at the unfairness of it all.
“Ok so what do you think about Matt?” Kim flings her clutch on one of the tables, while she looks herself up in the mirror.
I open the faucet, and cupping up some water splash it all over my face. I let the tears that I have been holding back mix with the tap water. I continue throwing the water, getting my hair and dress wet in the process. But I don’t care, for I can’t stop the tears anymore.
“Do you plan on drowning yourself?” Kim admonishes.
I turn off the tap. My hair is now sticking to my face like strands of twisted rope.
“What is that!?” Kim reaches out her hand to touch my earrings. “They are real!” her eyes widen with surprise.
I swallow. Perhaps I should tell her the truth now. But something holds me back, and I look down, afraid that my eyes will betray me.
Kim looks at me with concern written all over her face. “Who gave you that?”
I remain silent, avoiding her stare.
“I hope you are not having an affair with that son-of-a-b*** Percy! He is married for Christ sake!”
I do not deny the allegation. It’s easier than blurting out the truth. I stare back at her, when my eyes are drawn to the earrings she is wearing. They are identical to mine.
Kim follows my line of sight. “Matt gave them to me today” There is stillness in the room, perhaps I am breathing fast or not at all, I can’t say for sure as I look into her eyes. Her mouth half opens, she swallows and for a brief moment, I see a flicker of comprehension in Kim’s eyes and then there is fear. She has read the unsaid words. There is a heavy oppressive silence in the washroom.
She walks towards me, unhooks the earrings while I stand their motionless. She then opens my purse and slips the earrings inside, closing the purse with a loud snap.
“Take my advice and stop seeing him. You are not right for each other.” She says, turns and walks away.
I am not sure if she is talking about Percy or Matt.
That was the last I saw of Kim. Last Christmas they got engaged. It was a big party. I was not invited, but I have made my peace with it. I returned those earnings and buried my feelings deep, convincing myself that it’s a legacy of our friendship that I had inherited from the very first day we met.
A legacy where I had to part with things I love – at times it’s a candy, at times a fiancé.