by Nicole Bayes-Fleming
It was almost noon and Lizzie opened the door in a pair of faded blue boxers and an oversized white tee. She wasn’t wearing a bra and you could faintly see her nipples poking out from her small breasts. She was the kind of thin that made me flush with envy – her collarbone cut clean across her shoulders, her legs had a muscular arc preventing her thighs from rubbing together. In this moment, with her strawberry blond hair in a sloppy knot on the top of her head and her face scrubbed of makeup, I could see the light flecks of freckles across her nose and up around her eyes, which were a dull greenish brown, like dead grass.
I’d always been too jealous of Lizzie to be friends with her. She was gorgeous, her laugh was infectious, she had a substantial scholarship, and I was the only person I knew who didn’t like her.
“You can leave your coat on the couch,” she said now without concern, and
wandered back into her apartment without making any special concession to the fact that I’d never been over before and we didn’t know one another well enough to be hanging out without anyone else around. I pulled my feet out of my boots without unlacing them, dropped my coat on the couch as she’d suggested, and timidly found my way from the front door to her bedroom, where she was sitting in the middle of her bed with her legs crossed, blowing on a cup of tea.
I hovered in the doorway. Her room was smaller than mine, and messier. Papers dusted the wooden floor, the bed was unmade, clothes spilled over her laundry hamper, her curtains were rolled at the bottom and tied up with hair elastics, holding them just short of missing the radiator.
I imagined her mother heckling her over the phone: “And make sure you do
something about those long curtains you wanted! It’s a fire hazard to have them hanging down so low when you’ve got the heat on!”
“Yes, Mom,” – squeezing the phone between her shoulder and ear as she rolled up one curtain, pulled the elastic from her wrist – “I’ve got it sorted.”
I was looking for things to prove I was better than Lizzie. My hair was a bit
longer. I was studying science, she was in humanities. I had three more followers on Instagram than she did. She came from a small town up north and I was from Vancouver. Her room was messier.
“Do you want some tea?” she asked.
“No,” I said.
The question wrapped itself around me too slowly and I didn’t acknowledge its kindness quickly enough to be polite. Lizzie sucked in the bottom corner of her lip, peered around her room as if there might have been a chair in there she hadn’t seen before, and finally offered me to sit on her bed. I scooted past the doorframe, picked my way around the papers – they were study notes, lines of poems, grocery lists – and perched awkwardly on the edge of her bed.
“I don’t care that you slept with him,” she said once I’d stopped fidgeting.
“And I’m not going to tell Danielle,” she added, guessing my next question.
There was no pause. She’d thought this through already, too.
“Fuck him. Fuck, he’s the one that looks at her and says I love you. He’s the one that’s supposed to love her. If she finds out you had sex with him, she’s not going to get mad at him. She’ll only get mad at you. That’s what girls always do. You’re not the one telling her you love her. Sure, it was shitty for you to do it, but you were drunk. And fuck him. I want him to take the blame. Not you.”
The anger trembling her voice surprised me. This was a rant, the kind I was used to listening to over milkshakes at Dairy Queen at midnight after one of my best-friends from home had gotten in a fight with her own boyfriend. It occurred to me these words had been rolling around in Lizzie’s head for a while, gathering momentum, and there had never been anyone to throw them at until I showed up at her door.
I wasn’t sure what to say. I opened my mouth by default, to see if anything could crawl out on its own, but when nothing did Lizzie continued.
“Look, I don’t know you that well. And I don’t really fucking care. It’s none of my business. If I tell Danny, I’m just going to have to deal with a bunch of stupid drama. I’m going to have to tell her you’re a shitty friend and he’s a shitty boyfriend, I’m going to have to tell her I hate your guts and his guts and she can do better, and I’m going to have to deal with all her debating – ‘Oh but I love him so much, oh but we’ve been together forever, oh but it didn’t mean anything,’ and fuck, she’ll go back to him and I’m going to have to pretend like I’m happy for her. And really I’ll just be happy all the fucking drama is over, except it’ll come back when there’s a party we want to go to except you’re going to be there and blah, blah, blah. I can’t deal with that right now. Finals are coming up and I have, like, a trillion stupid papers I need to focus on.”
My eyebrows had stretched their way all the way up to my hairline without my noticing. Lizzie rolled her eyes at my face and said, “Don’t look at me like that. I’m not the one that fucking slept with her boyfriend,” and then she laughed.
It wasn’t a malicious laugh, one saying she had me in a corner, she won, was better than me – it was laughter at her own twisted joke. I didn’t know I was going to, but I laughed too, shifted my weight so more of my body was on the bed and I could face her.
“I don’t know why I slept with him,” I said. “It’s stupid. I was just drunk and he was kissing me and it made sense.”
She took a sip of her tea, lifted one shoulder in a bored shrug and muttered, once she’d swallowed, an unconvincing, “Whatever.”
“I know being drunk can’t be an excuse and blaming him can’t be an excuse,” I rambled quickly, choking on my guilty conscience, “The problem is, I didn’t feel bad about it until I remembered you knew.”
“I’m not judging you.”
It was a lie every girl ever had to utter eventually, but it didn’t seem like a lie walking out of her mouth. It just seemed like she was thinking of more significant things, and it made me take a deep, shuddery breath, put me into a sudden frame of perspective: Lizzie was thinking of more significant things.
Lizzie had a dozen more responsibilities to think of before she could contemplate the implications of me sleeping with her best-friend’s boyfriend. And I didn’t. And it was that reason, not her scholarship or perfect figure, which made Lizzie a better person than I currently could be.
Yet inexplicably, I felt this understanding shift something in my chest, smooth away some of the sharp points of loathing I felt whenever I looked at her. Lizzie seemed tired. And I remembered her in the drunken flash of memory I possessed of the party, the door opening – her eyes, darker and smaller with makeup, widening with embarrassment. She had just looked so worn out.
“If Danielle finds out about it, and finds out you knew, she’ll be mad,” I warned her now.
Lizzie smirked a little, then straightened her expression once more into one of impassivity.
“She’d only find out I knew if you told her.” The smirk returned as she added, with warped irony in her tone, “Besides, she couldn’t be mad at you and me. She’d need at least one friend.”
“Ok…” I looked around the room again, the old coral paint faded from the sun, and years of university tenants.
“Ok, well. Thanks.” I managed a smile, surprised to realize it was genuine.
Lizzie rolled her shoulders back and said – “Just stay the fuck away from that guy. He’s a creep.”
“You don’t like him?” I asked, a little surprised. I liked Andy. He was a fun guy, always took the time to say hello to you whenever you ran into him.
“He gave you a drink, didn’t he?” Lizzie asked in response.
“Sure, just a beer.”
“And he told you how good you looked in that shirt you were wearing?”
I pressed my eyebrows together and waited to see if Lizzie was going to make fun of me.
She didn’t. Instead, she wrinkled her nose in a look of ultimate disgust and said, “He fucked my sister, at a party at home, before he was dating Danny. Then he told all his friends about it. He told them she sent him nudes – she never did. She told me to stay away from him, but Danny thought he was cute. And he’s an older guy. There’s always that extra attraction, you know?”
I’d never hooked up with anyone at a party before. I’d certainly never hooked up with one of my friends’ boyfriends before. Knowing he was a crappy guy didn’t make me feel any better. Knowing he’d pulled the same moves on other girls didn’t make me feel any less guilty. I’d taken a beer from a guy I thought was cute and decided to forget who he was dating.
I was a shitty friend.
I didn’t even like beer.
I pursed my lips and twisted the silver ring I wore on my thumb.
“Danielle doesn’t know? About your sister?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Lizzie sighed, “Danny loves him. She’ll get over it
“They’ll break up.”
“They have to,” Lizzie shrugged, “It’s too on and off. Or you know, they’ll get pregnant, married and divorced. But that’s so cliché,” and she laughed again, so viciously it was almost a snarl.
I had a strange feeling then, as if I’d rolled the next five years into a pill and
swallowed it down without water. It sat tight in my throat as I imagined us, so far away from this conflict that meant so much now, which would have little impact on our lives less than a year from now. And I felt a little bit calmer. I looked around Lizzie’s room, at the grocery lists and poems and all the clutter reminding us there was something bigger and better than our drunken hook-ups and relationship gossip.
For the first time I realized sleeping with Andy had nothing to do with how
Danielle felt, and everything to do with how I felt. Was I ok? Had I been safe?
“Hey – ” I said suddenly, and looked over at Lizzie, and she jerked her head up from her cup of tea, which she’d been sipping pensively, “– well, thanks.”
Lizzie smirked again. I wondered if she ever got lonely. Somehow it seemed
isolating to have such a flawless life.
“You’re welcome,” she said, and I tried to hate her but I couldn’t anymore, and I couldn’t hate myself either.
Lizzie chewed on the edge of her lip. She peered into the bottom of her teacup, now empty, and rolled back her slim shoulders.
“Um,” she cleared her throat, and it was the first time throughout my entire visit she seemed uncertain of herself. “I’m going to put the kettle on again,” she decided, “You – do you want some too? You could stay a bit longer, if you wanted.”
So I did.
Nicole Bayes-Fleming is a fourth-year journalism student at Carleton University, with a minor in women’s and gender studies. She grew up in Scarborough, Ontario and has been writing stories since she was eight years-old. She received an honourable mention in Carleton University’s 2016 writing competition and is the current Opinions/Editorial editor at the Charlatan.