Today I got an unnerving call from Darcy. She hardly ever calls me, but prefers to just turn p to my house directly. The last time she called me, her long-term girlfriend had broken up with her. She wanted me to come over to her house as soon as possible, but I don’t know why she didn’t just text me. Sensing her urgency, I briskly walk to her cottage only a few minutes from my apartment. Strangely, Eden answers the door, with a tear stained face. Alarm bells are ringing in my head. I burst in, knowing I’m always welcome in Darcy’s home, and Eden silently leads me upstairs. Darcy is sat on her bedroom floor, legs crossed, waiting for me.
“What’s going on? What happened?” I blurt, panic clear on my face.
Darcy’s lip quivers, she rubs the tears from her mole-spotted eyes, and breaks into a hearty laugh, which Eden joins in on.
“Is this some kind of cruel joke?”
Eden answers, “No. But your face was hilarious.” Her and Darcy exchange looks. Eden takes a deep breath. “I broke up with Colin, and me and Darcy are dating.”
Now it was my turn to laugh. “And you made that much of a deal of it? You guys shouldn’t have been so worried! Congrats!”
“But Colin is livid.” Darcy remarks.
Colin doesn’t deal well with breakups, and he and Eden seemed really serious. “You called me over to tell me the news, and to tell Colin to back off? I can do that. But I hope we all stay friends after this.”
“I hope we all do too.” Eden replies, brushing Darcy’s hand with her own. And with that, I take my leave.
I don’t bother calling Colin, I’d rather just turn up at his house, which I do often, and he doesn’t mind. I enter without knocking, greet his mother Cate, and go upstairs to his room. Strangely enough, everyone seemed to know about this breakup apart from me, as Colin’s desk is full of baked goods from Joel, as a way of comfort I guess. Joel doesn’t really have a way with words, but his gestures say it all.
“I know what happened, Colin. I’m here to make sure there’s no hard feelings because I love both of you and I don’t want you falling out or getting jealous of Darcy.”
Colin’s eyes don’t leave the ground, as he spins aimlessly around on his desk chair. “State your case, then. Because I feel like crap.”
I perch on his immaculate bed. “Wouldn’t you rather she broke up with you instead of forcing herself to stay in a relationship she didn’t want to invest in?”
“Now that you put it that way, I guess I’d rather see her with someone else than be stuck in a loveless relationship.”
Colin can be easily persuaded. I know that one sentence has basically done the trick and made him see sense, but I’m not done. “And wouldn’t you rather she dated someone you know and trust? At least you know she’s in good hands.”
“Yeah, you’re right. It’s just it came as such a shock, and to know that she moved straight on to Darcy was a bit unexpected. I know I can’t do anything about it now, anyway. Thanks again, Glenn. You’re the real love guru.”
“You’re welcome, mate. I don’t want there to be any bad blood between you, Darcy and Eden.” I give him a pat on the back as I leave, but am surprised to be embraced instead. Colin was never really a hugger.
“I mean it. I know you didn’t say much but it’s really cleared my head. Just give me a ring if you and Pemma ever need relationship advice.” He winks.
“Thanks, but you’re the last person I’d come to for relationship advice, Colin.” I laugh, and he pushes me out the door.
Tonight is bonfire night, and it’s on a weekend. The cold November breeze creeps in through the open window in my two-storey apartment, as I lay napping on the sofa in the middle of the airy living room.
As I hear a knock on the door, I hear the click of the key in the lock. I don’t know why she bothers knocking if she has a key to get in anyway. I hear the rustle of grocery bags, and a strong waft of her earthy perfume before I see her. Pemma, dressed in a green scarf and red autumn coat, looks like the embodiment of falling leaves. Her auburn hair shines in the dull light, her eyes enlarged by her thick-rimmed glasses, her lips pale from the cold.
“Yo.” She says, abruptly, as always.
“Hey,” I say in a thoughtful tone, “isn’t it bonfire night tonight?”
“November 5th? Oh yeah.” she mumbles, disinterested.
“Should we go see the fireworks?”
“No. It’s too cold outside for you, it’ll be too busy on a weekend, and you’ll get exhausted before they even start.” My idea is immediately shot down, until I think of a devious plan.
“How about we watch it from the spare bedroom window? It has a great view of the park where it’ll be happening.”
“Hmph. If it’ll shut you up. Keep the heating turned up though, if you’re going to keep the window open for it all evening, you know how easily it is for me to freeze to death. Now, have you had any breakfast? It’s nearly midday.” She says, unpacking the contents of her plastic bags into assorted cupboards.
I see loaves of bread, fruit, orange juice, margarine, and all the other boring things. That’s the only bad thing about Pemma- she’s too sensible. The others, especially Colin, always bring round things like alcohol and crisps, much to my delight at the time, not so much the next morning. I guess I’m thankful to Pemma, because she is so sensible. She has my best health at heart, instead of my best interests, which I guess is that much more important. Since I’m still technically in recovery, I shouldn’t be drinking and eating unhealthily, but I find it good to have it in moderation.
“No, I haven’t,” I remark as I swing my legs over the back of the sofa, in an attempt to gracefully exit the room, “but I’m not hungry. I’ll go set up the firework-observation room.”
“…sure. I’ll... bring you lunch anyway, later.” She’s obviously too engrossed in lunchmaking to hear me.
Usually, the spare room belongs to whoever is caring for me over those days, but for tonight, I kindly sweep aside all of Pemma’s belongings to make room for my magnificent structural masterpiece- a blanket fort.
I gather all the pillows and winter blankets I can find, and using various nightstands and chairs to build an (almost) structurally sound blanket fort. It’s quite cosy, but big enough for two teenagers to fit into. I strategically tape up fairy lights from the Christmas box, setting them to twinkling mode, which is kind of mesmerising. My arms ache, this is a lot of exercise and effort for my body, and my arms feel like lead weights. Building really wears you out, as I crash into the pillows and drift into a dreamless sleep.
I’m awoken to the gentle nudging of my stomach, as Pemma looks down at me through the dim light of the streetlamps outside, her hair tickling my face.
It’s already dark- did I miss the fireworks?
As if reading my mind, I hear a soft exhalation next to me, “No you idiot, you haven’t missed them. You really think I’d let you sleep through it? Nice blanket fort, by the way.”
“Thanks,” I say with a sly grin, “YouTube taught me how to make it.”
“Typical.” Pemma states, rolling her eyes.
She really has changed, from the way her mouth now always curls slightly upwards, to how comfortable she is around other people. Before the incident, I’d never have thought this girl would acknowledge me, never mind lying next to me in a blanket fort, alone.
That’s why I was so drawn to her in the first place- she treated everyone equally, and by that, I mean she ignored everyone. Regardless of their age, popularity, or even the threats made toward her. She always lived in her own little bubble. Now, her bubble has expanded, letting in me, Darcy, Colin, Eden and Joel. I feel like I made her world a little less lonely and it fills me with a warm feeling- pride?
My thoughtful reverie is interrupted by a soft, but forceful pillow to my head.
“Look! You’re missing the fireworks! There’s a Catherine Wheel!” Pemma exclaims, pointing to the window like a little girl to a doll shop.
Her eyes look alive, the golds and greens and browns all swirling, twinkling in harmony with the fireworks outside, framed by her thick round spectacles. The colours of each explosion shine through the window and mask her face, in luminous greens and powerful magentas, accentuating the constellations of freckles across her cheeks and nose. I can see the emotion in her eyes- something that she used to hide with all her strength, is now opened to me, like a gift.
As much as I want to look at the fireworks outside, the real beauty is right next to me.
I think I’ve fallen in love.
After what only seemed like a few minutes, the excited light dies from her eyes, and she turns to look at me- the first time since the fireworks started.
“They’re over now, and it’s late. We should take this down and get to bed.”
“Did you enjoy them?”
“Did I enjoy what?”
A raging blush engulfs her face, making all her freckles disappear.
“No! I was just here so you didn’t have to watch them alone! Don’t look at me like that!”
She pushes herself forcefully off of the nest of cushions in the small fort, but I pull her back, my arms wrapping around her square waist.
“Get off of me! This is harassment!” She exclaims, stuttering.
“It’s not, because you’re my friend.” I grin, not letting go.
However, I do let go, when her fist connects with my nose. She twists round, and leaps to the side of me, far from arm’s reach. A sharp pain explodes in the front of my face, followed by a muffled apology from the surprisingly strong girl in front of me.
She rushes off, flustered, leaving me in a pile of cushions in a dim room, holding my bleeding nose.
Only minutes later does she return, carrying a first aid kit, with me still in a daze. As a cold icepack is carefully held to my face, I’m snapped out of my shock. Even in the darkening evening light, I can tell her eyes are apologetic, and even worried.
“I-I shouldn’t have hit you like that. I’m sorry.” The words come tumbling out of her, in one big wave.
I wave it off. “It’s fine. It’s just a nosebleed, and I shouldn’t have sprung that move on you like that.”
As if she needed to be reassured that I was in the wrong, she says, “Yeah, you were in the wrong. Don’t touch me again.”
“Not even a hug?”
“Not even a hug.”
I smell bacon and eggs, typical. I wake up in familiar surroundings, in my own bed, but because I thought I was still lying on the pillows from last night, I roll around, subsequently falling off my bed. The sound of cooking downstairs suddenly stops for a moment, as the cook realises I’m awake.
Cook Pemma calls from downstairs, “Day DON’T KNOW!!!” Come downstairs for a cooked breakfast!”
Groggily, I stumble down the stairs, still in my clothes from last night, my hair presumably a birds nest.
“You look positively exhausted.”
“That’s not how you greet the owner of this house in the morning. Where my eggs at?” I hungrily look around the small, modernised kitchen.
“Speak proper English, and you’ll get your eggs.” As Pemma slides them along the breakfast counter to me, she starts to serve up the bacon and toast.
“Curt as always, I see.” I remark, stuffing my face with sunny-side up eggs and the frazzled bacon.
“Oh, and before you ask- the way I cook bacon is the only way bacon should be cooked. Undercooked bacon should be a crime, and crispy bacon is the way to enlightenment.” Her arms are working madly to make sure none of the food burns, constantly shifting pans and opening oven doors.
With her back still to me, and my body now full of fatty energy, I fiendishly ask,
“So, what does your apron say?” Knowing that I have a cooking apron that says ‘Kiss the Cook’, I eagerly await her answer.
To my utter dismay, she turns around, with a triumphant smile on her face. Her apron says, ‘Do Exactly Nothing to the Cook’. Of course it would.
“I brought this especially, it’s my favourite apron.”
“Yeah, I can see why. Also, how did you get me into bed last night? From what I remember, I fell fast asleep in the pillow fort after you’d tended to my wounds.” I flirt, bringing up the painful and shocking memories of last night.
“I carried you.”
“Wait- you did what?!”
“Simple, I carried you.”
“I’m like, twice your height and probably more than double your weight. Are you some kind of heartless mutant, sent here to make sure I was ravaged by wolves and make burned breakfasts?”
“That’s exactly what I am,” as she approaches the table, her own breakfast plate in hand, “and I’m here to make your life a misery.” She grins, passing me two yellow rubber gloves and a sponge.
“Washing up duty, really?” I moan, only just having finished my breakfast. She doesn’t reply, but only smiles into her freshly brewed coffee, black.
This kind of normality feels weird, usually none of the others have stayed long enough to cook me breakfast in the morning. They simply leave a note to say they need to go home, or to work, before I’ve even woken up. It feels like this is the way it should be- me, messy and groggy in the morning, Pemma, prim and tidy, making us breakfast. I feel a warm homely feeling, like this is how it should be, even though it’s never been.
After washing up in comfortable silence, I sit down with an old Jules Verne book, Pemma balancing a tattier one, How to Kill a Mockingbird ,between her fingers.
“The hell’s that, in your book?” I look up from my novel to point accusingly at hers, which has some sort of foreign object wedged between the pages.
“It’s a bookmark.” She states, matter of factly.
“It’s like a whole other book stuffed inside another book. Aren’t bookmarks supposed to be discreet?”
“I don’t own a bookmark, so I use my phone. She says it like it’s the most normal thing to do in the world; why not just go buy a bookmark?
“I do hope you realise that despite our failing economy, the prices of bookmarks are hardly extortionate.” As I fling the bookmark I’m using at Pemma, hitting her square in the face. It makes a satisfying slapping sound. I turn to her. Her clothes are wrinkled and stained from my nosebleed last night, and looking closely, I can see her hair falling out of her bun in strands, her mascara smudged under the eyes, wearing a very pissed off frown and a strip of red down her face from the bookmark.
“How long do you plan on staying? Don’t you want to go and see your family for a bit? I really don’t mind.”
“Getting rid of me now, are we? Today’s Sunday you idiot, I take care of you on Sundays.”
“I know, but the others usually go home for a bit to see their family. Don’t you want to see yours?”
She looks up at me, and with an almost pained expression, before sighing.
“No, I don’t.”
She puts her book down, and looks me straight in the eye.
“My father’s back and he’s welcome in my home. Wherever he’s welcome, I make sure I’m not.”
“Is this the guy who influenced your opinion on all boys, until you met the dazzling exception that is Glenn Adkins?”
“Yeah, something like that. He’d just divorced his fifth wife, with my mother being his first, and he expects her to let him back into our lives!” I can see the rage building up inside of her, but I know she needs to let it out somehow, so I don’t interrupt.
“He gambled all our money away, left us in huge debt, stopped working, left, divorced mother, and expects us to want him back? Is he insane? He left us in crippling debt for years, we had to sell the house, mother had to get three jobs just to keep us afloat, and now he thinks he can just waltz back into our lives, after he gambles another one of his marriages away? I don’t think so. When he turned up on our doorstep, he looked positively bedraggled, so mother let him in, and he’s been abusing her kindness ever since. And because Leah and Nathan weren’t old enough to remember him, they don’t mind him being around! The only sane person in that house is me, and I made it clear that if he was going to stay in that house, then I wasn’t.”
This is the first time that Pemma has ever vented to me, ever told me about her personal life as a friend.
“And then what?”
“Then, I picked up my bag and walked to yours.”
“What? Does your mother even know where you are?”
“I don’t know, probably. She says I’m pretty predictable, well my father is too, and she seems completely blind to that! I’m so mad right now, I need something to break.” Her hands are shaking with rage.
“You could try my nose again, if you want.”
“Don’t tempt me,” as she lifts up a heavy plate from one of the bottom cupboards, “is this breakable?” She looks at me with pleading eyes.
She dramatically lifts her pale, thin arms, far above her head, plate in both hands, and in a flash, they’re at her side again, empty handed.
A loud tinny crash of the ceramic plate shocks me, as it hits the slate floor. As soon as it collides, the plate shatters into hundreds of smaller pieces, all jagged and intimidating.
“You better clean this up, before I accidentally stand in it.”
Without replying, she rushes to the sink, and opens the cupboard beneath it. It’s amazing how she already knows where everything is in this apartment. Hastily sweeping up the tiny shards of white and blue pottery, like a discarded masterpiece, she tips it into the bin before turning to me. Her hands are shaking considerably less than before, as she takes a deep exhalation.
“So, when will you be going back home?”
“…I don’t know. I left before she said anything, I’m not even sure if I’m welcome back.”
“Of course you are! You’re her daughter, and Leah and Nathan’s sister. You belong there much more than this ‘father’ guy does!” Then my voice changes, to a more comforting, soothing tone, “but if you do need to, you can stay here for as long as you’d like. I’m sure the others won’t mind if you take over their shifts for them.”