Part 8 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!
Of course, my luck being what it is, there was only one day they could both come for the final fitting. I thought with careful time management, I could avoid them meeting.
I was wrong.
Jo arrived and we chatted for a while as I waited expectantly for the fee, and repayment of uniform deposit to appear in all its glorious physical form. Finally, during the awkward pause when all conversation had been explored, I asked directly.
“Oh, I came over earlier and gave it to your Mum.”
When was Mum here when I wasn’t?
Jo was gone, tripping past me and into Grandma’s room before I could follow up. The fight with Mum had left me tired of conflict, but working on that dress had helped me manage the drama, and there was no way I was letting her take it gratis.
Yeah. Just go in there! …Now! “Show me the money!” I was working up the courage to follow her in using when the doorbell rang. Sara.
“I’m really sorry, Rachel, but something came up, I have to do this now.”
“I’m with another client right now.”
“It’ll take 2 minutes, I swear, and I’ve got your payment.”
At least one of them does. “Fine, you’ll have to use the bathroom though. Go, go! I’ll get your dress.”
No doubt wondering why I was hustling her so fast through the house, I closed the bathroom door on Sara, before rushing back to the dining room to collect her silky, black dress. The door open only to the extent that a seriously slippery, sheer dress could pass through, I heard Sara’s gasp of admiration. All I wanted to do was go in and go into girly meltdown with my best friend as she tried on her dress.
That’s it. I’m going to kick Jo the fuck out unless she pays up now.
Jo was behind me.
The red looked fantastic on her. The lines accented her bust, but swept outwards from there, swishing down to her knees, making her form seem taller, lighter.
The bathroom door opened. I had forgotten Sara’s dress would take a lot less time to put on.
I began to feel a sensation of floating.
Maybe I’m going to have an out of body experience… or a stroke? But then I’d miss the stylish show down…
I expected Sara to act first, and backed towards the door to try and block her rampaging run, but it was Jo who, knees bent like a Maori haka, began moving towards us aggressively. “What the fuck, Rachel! Are you trying to protect her! I’m the one who needs protection from fucking Certifiable!”
Sara gripped my arm and she pulled me aside. “Nice work!” She winked, before facing down Jo. She wasn’t yet in her stilettos, thank god, but she towered, cool and strangely calm, over her adversary, frothing and feisty, turning the same colour as her dress.
“Joanne. That dress looks nice on you. I bet Rachel spent a long time making it. I bet you haven’t paid her though, because you’re a lying piece of shit who likes to steal things. Things you don’t even use. I wonder what you have in your bag? Some pins? Some scissors?”
As Jo shot a look back into Grandma’s spare room, I knew Sara had it right.
“Those belonged to my Grandmother. You give them back.”
Sara nodded next to me. While my fists had clenched, she still stood serenely. How could I be the more visibly angry of the two?
“Look! Look. I saw it had fallen on the ground and…”
“Joanne, I feel sorry for you. You are such a liar, you can’t even stop.” Sara began to walk slowly, putting herself between Jo and the front door. Barefoot on carpet, with not a noise from the sleek fabric, she had become a panther, playing with its food. “Bring out her bag, Rachel.”
I complied, as mesmerised by the cold ferocity of Sara as Jo was. As I dropped the huge bag on the table, the mouth gaped open we all stared into it. I could see the round shape of my Grandma’s pin-cushion half hidden beneath her phone.
“Take out Rachel’s stuff.”
Jo didn’t take her eyes of Sara until she reached the table, and had the bag and me as a buffer between. As she dug through her rubbish tip of a bag, surrendering a pile of my things, from my tape measures, to rolls of ribbon and lace, and yes, my scissors she repeated, “It was all over the fucking place. I thought you’d dropped it. I just put it in here to have it in one place.”
“Her money, too.”
Jo’s eyes rolled up. “But, I gave it to her-”
“But, I only started work, I don’t have-”
“Don’t… Lie.” Not even looking at Jo any more, Sara began taking out bobby pins and lining them up on the table. She shook her hair loose and then locked eyes again.
After a long, endless minute, Jo took out her wallet, and flicked some bills on the table.
“Is that enough, Rach?”
I did a quick count. “Nope. Missing the uniform deposit I spotted her.”
“Oh. Well, silly as it was of you to lend her money…” Sara looked meaningfully at Jo.
“This is fucking extortion. I’m going to tell the cops.” More bills fell into the pile.
“They know you pretty well by now.”
I picked up one of my pens from her 5-fingered-discount pile, and my receipt book from the counter, where it had been miraculously let lie and signed the detailed, itemised receipt with a flourish.
“There you go. Pleasure to never do business with you again.”
“Whatever Loopy, don’t expect anyone else to come over.”
Sara smiled. “Oh Joanne, you are so great at making up nicknames for your friends, and really good at playing the victim, but at the end of the day, you have to keep on being you. And that must suck.” She picked up a bobby pin.
“Um. I’m going now. You got your shit, and your money.”
Sara walked towards us, with that same, slow step, putting Jo again between herself and me. The bobby pin in her hand held prongs out. The narrowness of the space, between the table and the wall, with me in the way, had blocked that route for Jo to escape.
“You’re fucking crazy. Let me get my clothes!”
Sara flicked her eyes from Jo to me momentarily.
“Get ready to hold her arms back.”
“What!” Jo began to shake.
I took a step back. “She’s not worth it, Sara.”
A line marred that smooth, chill mask. “What?”
“Just let her go.” I took another step back, which was the only direction now possible, as Jo, sensing escape, crushed into me. I let her past, getting a whack from her bag as she vanished into the spare room, closing the door with a bang.
Sara stared at me. “I helped you get all your stuff back. I thought we were friends, Rachel.”
“She’s not worth it.” I repeated. “One day, soon, everyone is going to know what she is. People at her work, people at school… ” Your Dad. “She can move town, change jobs, but if she can’t change who she is, it’s going to happen over and over again. Don’t wreck your own life over her.”
A second slam indicated that Jo had left the house. My relief was only marred by the concern she had restocked her bag, or broken something out of spite. For the moment however, I cared more about how the cat, deprived of her prey, would react. Sara’s eyes had trained on the door as it closed, but she hadn’t moved. She slowly looked back at me: less marble and more tired than before.
“What if I can’t change, huh, Rachel?”
“Well, that’s what I’m here for. To remind you of what does and doesn’t matter.”
She snorted, then sighed. “I don’t know if I need that kind of friend.”
In the weird silence after, she changed, and helped me clean up. Then, her money placed in an envelope by the scattered pile of Jo’s notes and, dress protectively wrapped and over one arm, she left.