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One Perfect Day
I was seven when she walked through the doors to our classroom in bright pink socks, sky blue Converse trainers and t-shirt, red leggings and a huge smile.
The rest of us sat there in our boring, monotone uniforms, stunned by the entrance of this strangely confident girl, but glad to have a distraction from learning our times tables.
Our teacher told us her name was Lara, and she’d just moved here from somewhere far away. Miss Hart told us to make her feel welcome and to make sure she had someone to play with at lunch time. As Lara sat down in the spare seat at the front of the classroom, I watched the way her brown hair swished and caught the light to show orangey undertones. I thought Lara was beautiful, in a perfectly dishevelled kind of way.
As the years went by, our tentative introductions turned into friendship, and pretty soon we were inseparable. We climbed trees together, we did homework together, we played soccer together... She was my best friend in the whole world.
At the end of grade six, tragedy struck. We were both going to different high schools – Lara to the local high school, and me to the private high school in the next town over, much to Lara’s and my disgust. My parents thought I needed to be educated better than I would be in the “notoriously difficult” local school; therefore I was forced to be separated from Lara for prolonged periods of time and wear an ugly yellow and grey uniform. With a tie. My life was officially over.
“Have fun, Flash. Don’t turn all snobby on me,” Lara said, punching me lightly on the arm.
“Yeah. I won’t.” For some unknown reason, this moment of our first goodbye had made me strangely aware that she was a girl, and I was a boy. I could quite honestly say that I had never thought of us that way before: as two separate species that could possibly have a relationship if the time was right and our hearts ruled out heads. It made me feel awkward, like I’d just stumbled across someone’s dusty, well-kept secret. I think she felt it too, or something like it, because our embrace was clumsy and quick, making sure the other person didn’t get the wrong idea.
All this aside, I was going to miss Lara. She was my first ever best friend. We were growing up now; I just hoped that wasn’t the same as growing apart.
My last-ditch effort in the final week of the holidays to persuade my parents that St Damian’s wasn’t the school for me, that I’d be encouraged to try all sort of dodgy things, failed miserably. So there I was, broken and depressed, sitting on a cold, metal bench waiting for my bus to come and take me to hell.
As the school year went on, I seemed to see less and less of Lara. It was something that happened slowly and unexpectedly on my behalf. It started with an excuse – “Sorry, Flash,” she’d said. “Too much homework.” This happened once or twice a week to start with. It then became three or four times, until I stopped seeing her altogether. It was the same with phone calls. The daily calls we had promised each other before we’d split still occurred, but they felt odd and tense. But still I kept trying – clinging with my fingernails on to the edge of the cliff that was our friendship. But my efforts weren’t enough. I needed a mutual want for that friendship to survive, and it wasn’t being delivered.
Still to this day I am ashamed of what I did then. I could have saved things. I could have made Lara see the light, instead of the dark which she seemed to have gotten so used to. But I didn’t. Instead, I took the coward’s way out. I gave up. I let the remains of our friendship burn, along with any feelings I may have had for Lara. I promised myself I would never be burdened with them again, and tried to convince myself that what I was doing wasn’t a mistake.
It’s sort of strange – the minute you’ve gotten your life sorted, all figured out and you think you know where you’re going, life deals you another blow of the worst kind. It knows what you don’t want to hear and don’t want to know and forces you to open your eyes and ears by throwing this demon right in your face.
That’s what it did to me.
“My boss reckons he has a friend who’s looking for a flatmate for her daughter,” said my father over a breakfast of Weetbix and jammy toast. “You’d be interested, wouldn’t you, son?”
Actually, I was. I’d been looking high and low for a flatmate – I couldn’t afford to pay all of the rent in town myself, and there was no way I was going to keep living my parents. I wanted to have some fraction of my sanity left for college.
So that was that. A couple of days later, it was all settled. This mystery girl would pay half the rent and share the next two years of her life with me, whether we liked each other or not.
I sat at the table, fiddling with the edge of the red and blue checked tablecloth. This girl was due to arrive three minutes and seven seconds ago. We were supposed to be going to the flat she and I would be sharing, looking around, and then going out for dinner to get to know each other. And I was nervous, to say the least.
This explains why I nearly had a heart attack when the sound of the doorbell interrupted the monotonous tick of the clock.
“Hey, my name’s Braidy, I...” my voice trailed off as I got a proper look at this girl standing in the doorway of my house. The hair that used to be the brown of rich, new soil was now a murky, muddy colour, limp and pulled back into a neat ponytail, which didn’t seem to match the unkemptness of the rest of her. The eyes that were always so full of life were now blank and hollow. The mouth that was always a perfect shade of pink, full, and always smiling was now thin and taut. The person standing in my doorway was a stranger. The Lara I knew was now a stranger.
“Flash,” she said in little more than a whisper. “I didn’t know...”
Almost every ounce of my being wanted to reach out and hug her, to breathe in her familiar scent, to find inside her the girl she used to be, but I was scared of this foreign girl. She seemed fragile, almost as though she would break if I dared even touch her.
“Lara,” I said. Her name felt oddly comforting in my mouth. Just saying it brought back memories of warm summer nights spent roaming the neighbourhood, with only the street lamps lighting the way. Memories of Lara breaking her ankle while I tried to teach her how to do an ollie on my skateboard. Memories of learning Michael Jackson’s song ‘Bad’ off by heart - dance included - and performing it in front of a crowd of family and friends.
But the memories did not match the beautiful mess of the person standing before me. The person from the memories seemed all but gone, and it scared me. If Lara could change so much that she was no longer a person, but more a hollow being, then what hope did the rest of us have?
As I lay in bed that night, I cried.
Living with Lara was a trial. She didn't talk, and when she did it was lifeless and half-hearted. At least I didn't need to worry about her being by herself - that she seemed to prefer.
The first Tuesday in April would be the third month we'd been living together, and it seemed as though we hadn't talked more than a dozen sentences to each other. I had to get away from the tenseness, so I went into town for a coffee. Walking stopped me from thinking. And lately that was all I seemed to be doing, and it was wearing me down.
I bought a takeaway coffee from the deli down the road, and a hot chocolate as well for Lara. Just because she didn't do anything for me, didn't mean I wouldn't stop trying.
"Lara?" I yelled when I got home. "I bought you something. Thought you might like it." I didn't mention that I knew for a fact she'd like it, because all those years ago hot chocolates had been the only thing she'd drink. "Lara?" I shouted again as I took the cooling drink up to her room. I was used to her hiding away for endless hours of the day. But there was no answer when I knocked, and when I gave up and pushed the door open, she wasn't there.
Confused, I went into the kitchen and found a note sitting on the chequered tablecloth. The note was ripped from a notebook, and the handwriting on it was still the same as I remembered. Something in my heart didn't want to read it, but my head knew I had to.
So I picked it up and began to read.
I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I didn't want to see you again once we'd gone our separate ways. I knew it would hurt you too much, and that was absolutely the last thing I wanted to do. I missed you, you know. I never went a day without thinking of you. You were - are, in my head at least - my best friend. Something like that is special you don’t just forget about it. You were there when I needed you the most, even though I pushed you away, but please know I never wanted to lose you. Thank you or standing by me.
I only left you because I didn't want you to see what I was becoming. A monster, Flash. It wasn't me. Sex. Drugs. I guess the only thing missing was the rock and roll, hey? It ruined me. I'm so, so glad you never came to my high school. You are worth so much more than what you would have gotten there. You are worth everything.
Now I can't think of any other way to fix this mess I'm in - I've stuffed it all up, gotten rid of everything I really cared about, convincing myself I wasn't worth any of it.
I'm still not myself. You can tell. I know you can. I saw you when I first turned up at your door. Your face was the same - still open and friendly, and I loved you so much for not making me feel like an invalid, like most people would - or do. But I could see your eyes - your eyes never hid anything. You were scared. Maybe you were scared for me, rather than yourself, and that killed me. So to speak.
But now I really just can't cope with it any more. I hurt too much. I have nothing left I care about.
I just had to write you this letter to thank you for being there for me when I wasn't there for myself.
I never wanted it to be this way, Flash. Please believe me.
I love you.
By the time I'd finished reading the letter, my eyes were streaming unconsciously. I knew what she was doing. And I had to stop her. I would never be able to live with myself if I let this happen. I grabbed my keys off the counter and went.
I knew Lara better than she knew herself - I knew where she'd be. Where she'd want to end it all. I knew the last thing she would want to see before... I couldn't bring myself to think of it.
No matter what she had done to me, or put me through, I would never desert her. She was my best friend, then and now, and that was something I would never walk away from.
I’d only been here once before, but it still seemed so familiar. The towering trees and blossoming bushes seemed just as beautiful as the last time, and it was unnerving. Something so horrible and unspeakable was about to happen to the girl I loved that it seemed like it was all in black and white. It may as well have been.
As I entered the clearing I couldn't see anything, or anyone in my case. Maybe I was too late. Maybe she was already gone.
"Lara?" I called into the trees. "Lara!? LARA!!" I started running. And I didn't stop until I'd reached the place where I thought she'd be: the place where, the day before we'd started high school, we had come for one last worry-free day before we parted. I saw the tree where we'd sat, where we'd laughed, and where Lara told me that she was scared she would change so much that she wouldn't recognise herself any more. I told her that whoever she ended up, I'd always be here for her, and kissed her. She told me that she loved me and whatever happened in the future, that was one thing that would never change. I said I loved her too, and we left, high on fresh air and life. Who knew just how true those words spoken would actually turn out to be?
Then I saw her, hunched into a bush about thirty metres away, quivering. “Lara!” I screamed, and started to move towards her. “Lara! I’m here!”
Her head snapped around. “No, Flash, don’t. Don’t come over here. I don’t want you to see me. Leave now. Please.”
“What? Lara, I don’t –” then I saw what she was trying to protect me from. Her shirt, which probably started out a creamy white colour, was now stained red. Her hair was clumpy, and her eyes wild. I grabbed her arm and unfolded it from around her stomach, outstretching it towards me. Lara just let me do it – I don’t think she had the energy to resist. She was already on her way out. Her arm was smeared with shiny blood, slowly and steadily trickling out of a jagged gash right up the length of her arm.
“What...” I whispered at her, and she started sobbing. The sort of sobbing that comes from deep within – gut wrenching and heartbreaking. “It’s going to be okay, Lara. I won’t leave you.”
What was happening? The doctors and nurses had been in there a while. Sometimes one rushed out and made a low comment to the girl on the desk who then glanced my way but no one spoke directly to me. I knew what had happened hadn't been my fault, in fact no one's fault, but being there at the time was just so scary. All I could think to do was phone the ambulance.
It is really hard living with someone who one day could end up like this. What would happen now? Would life go on the same or was it changed forever?
Eventually one of the nurses approached me. She was short and slight, with the biggest eyes any one could have without looking, well, alien. “Are you Braidy Webster?” she asked. “Lara Redson’s friend?” I nodded. “Well, I’ve got some good news. Lara’s going to be fine, thanks to you. You called us just in time. Well done.”
A crazy grin enveloped my face – I couldn’t hide my relief. “Can I see her?” I asked.
“Hmm... well, technically no, but I think you’re someone she really needs right now. Follow me.” She led me down the corridor, until she reached a door with the number ‘235’ on it in small, metal letters. “Right through here,” she gestured, and smiled before walking off.
All of a sudden I felt more nervous than I should have. My head spun, and I took a deep breath as I put my hand on the door knob and pushed.
She looked so small and frail lying in the hospital bed. The white everything made her washed out and she looked as though she was about twelve years old. “Hey,” I breathed.
She smiled and waved. “Hey, Flash,” she said and patted the bed, indicating for me to sit down. I did so carefully, scared I would break her. “Flash...”
“What?” I asked, pushing the hair off her face.
“Look, Flash, I am so sorry. I didn’t want you to see that. But I’m glad you did, because otherwise I wouldn’t be here right now. Thank you. And I know I’ve been a total cow to you these years, but I guess you read the letter, but I never wanted to hurt you and I –”
“Shhh,” I whispered, and leant down to touch her lips with mine. “I love you. That’s all that matters.”
“I love you, too, Flash. I never stopped,” she replied, kissing me again. “I’ll never leave you. That’s a promise.”