Final part of a longer short story about a teenager still learning how to navigate tricky situations, the price of loyalty to the unworthy, and the demands of any relationship. (Go to the beginning: Part 1 )
As always constructive criticism, feedback or even a note to say hi in the comments is welcomed!
I saw Sara just one more time after that. School was over, with our, on occasions sweet but mostly long, graduation ceremony. I hadn’t seen her all day, as we were placed in different seats in the huge concrete lunch-area-slash-ceremonial-hall, then missed her during the rush of farewell hugs and tears, scribbling notes in everyone’s Year Books, and cleaning out my locker for the last time.
The school drained away. Younger students trudged back to their classes, and graduates with cars made their dash to freedom, and home, to prep for the graduation party. The crowd waiting for the specially chartered, early bus was small, and my usual seat mate wasn’t amongst them.
Home was stifling. Too empty and hot. I had hung my dress up on a curtain rod in the morning, hoping that if I stared at it long enough, it would help me decide whether or not to go tonight, whether I should continue sewing, whether I should accept any of my uni offers or just give up and become a hermit living off scraps behind Andy’s Legipops. I was placing a lot of unrealistic expectations on that dress.
It met none of them. I walked to the supermarket instead. If I didn’t go to the party, I would need junk food.
I recognised the dress first, before realising it was Sara wearing it, as she stood contemplating our usual meeting nook by the vending machines. She had her stilettos on this time, black, with matching dark eye make-up. I had been right about how intimidating she would become, particularly as she watched my approach without a smile, or a word.
“Dressed up already?” Decision procrastination had sapped my energy to the point that I hadn’t even changed from my school uniform yet. Even in flat, leather shoes we were the same height.
Professional female basketball? Top shelf grocery stacker? Possible career paths tempted me.
“Yeah, I’m heading out soon, just came down to grab some drinks’n’stuff for the trip.”
“Oh?” Despite her unusually stern expression, Sara moved closer to talk.
“Dad called.” She cleared her throat a little, and looked away.
Oh no… My hands twitched, as I wondered to what extent she would accept my comfort, but she looked back, eyes glassy with unshod tears, yet smiling.
“He said he’s sorry for everything. For trying to force me into a relationship with “a damn liar like Jo”. She ran home to mummy yesterday, and spun some great horror story. I don’t know what she asked him to do, but for once, he took my side and now he’s taking me and Mum up to Sydney tonight to celebrate my graduation… as a family.”
“Wow. That’s great, Sara.” I didn’t really know what else I could say. Maybe she heard the slight reservation in my voice, because her smile shrunk again.
“I wouldn’t worry about Jo. Nothing even happened to her, thanks to you.”
Peace negotiator? Bomb defuser? Psychologist who talks people down off bridges?
“She wasn’t worth it.”
She tapped her long, fake fingernails against the vending machine, before holding my gaze again.
“No. I guess she wasn’t.”
She broke the awkward silence that followed with a quick glace at her watch. “Look, I gotta go. And you have the grad to get ready for.”
“Mmm. See ya then?”
“Yeah… sometime maybe.” We didn’t hug, and she didn’t turn back or wave as she clicked those stilettos away through the car park.
I stood by the vending machines for a while, filled with the sense that no matter what my future was, it wouldn’t contain any more late night conversations behind them.
Mum was home when I got back, and talking quietly on the phone. Pausing at the door, I blatantly eavesdropped, however she wasn’t doing much talking.
As she hung up the phone, I caught her eyes and raised my eyebrows.
She ignored them. “Congratulations, big graduate. How do you feel?”
I collapsed dramatically across the table.
“That good, huh?”
“I had a client try to cheat me out of my money after I made her a dress, and I don’t think Sara wants to be my friend any more.”
“Wasn’t Sara that girl who beat up people?” Mum had made us both tea, and brought them over to the table. “If you want my advice, and you never do, not having her as a friend doesn’t sound like a big loss. As for the other one… haven’t you heard of payment in advance?”
I sighed and accepted the tea. “Maybe you’re right.”
“Oooh, that’s a first from you.” She smiled though and a packet of chocolate biscuits joined our tea on the table.
“Was that Dad?”
“Yeeep. He wants to meet. Talk my ear off some more. Maybe over dinner somewhere. He said he’s paying.”
“Romantic.” I thought I had misjudged the mood as she stared wide-eyed at me, before giving me a whack with a nearby tea-towel.
“Just dinner! Don’t get your hopes up. Wrong choice of wine and it could be all over!”
“Wine? Sounds fancy.” I suddenly saw Mum in all her cotton uniform, broad shouldered, taller than average, shapeless, beige-ness. My fingers edged towards a spiel of measuring tape.
“Mum. I think you’re going to need a new dress.”
Scallop skirt, just below the knees, to accentuate her long legs, orange, like the one in her student photo. The blouse, cobalt blue, flaring to accentuate her curves, with a wide neckline and short puffed sleeves. It would be the outfit of a curse-proof scheme.
Mum sucked on a chocolate biscuit, her eyes lingering on ruffles of my creation. Watching her, I was finally able to make a decision, at least regarding my near future. Dresses were made to be worn. I had a few more hours left before the party to prepare.
Mum finally nodded. “Yeah, I think I might too. I guess I better put in my order now quick before they all that dress tonight and your schedule fills up.”
Am I hearing this?
She took out her wallet. “How much do you charge?”
And for one, probably transient, but still euphoric moment, everything seemed clearer.
Professional dressmaker? Worth another shot.