Conversations with Strangers
The shrill beeping from her mobile shocked Michelle out of her brooding thoughts. She frowned down at her plain black phone, wondering who was texting her at such a time. The glowing numbers on the digital alarm clock at the side of her bed told her it was nearing half past one. She supposed on a Friday night in wasn’t completely implausible for people to still be out and about, but none of her friends were big partiers; especially at the moment.
She quickly opened up her message and was slightly surprised to find her phone didn’t recognise the sender. The number didn’t appear familiar to her either. Feeling curious, she opened it.
Nat: hey Charlie its Nat could u and Matt cum pick me up? parties boring L
Sighing, Michelle realised it was another one of this mysterious ‘Charlie’s’ friends. Michelle had recently gotten a new number after her jerk of a younger brother had posted her old one on some sleazy dating website. The new number had to be this Charlie’s old one, or close enough to Charlie’s that people kept typing it wrong. She had taken to ignoring them: most were small jokes, or about some homework project and she thought it wouldn’t hurt for them not to get a response until they saw Charlie in person. But this person seemed to need some sort of response from Charlie and she wasn’t going to get it unless Michelle texted her back to say she had made a mistake.
She sat staring down at her mobile’s softly glowing screen. She had been told her whole life to not respond to strangers; in person or over the internet. In this case it was over the phone, but this person was a still a stranger. She also seemed to be stuck in a situation she wasn’t happy with and was hoping for a friend to bail her out.
With a sigh, Michelle realised if she didn’t text this Nat girl back she would feel guilty about it for at least a week, possibly more. Ignoring the tight feeling in her chest, she pressed reply.
Michelle: Sorry you have the wrong number. I’m not Charlie.
She leaned across her bed and set the phone on her wooden dresser, near her alarm clock. Peeling back her doona, she took off her slippers and tucked her legs under her covers. The text had broken her out of her thoughts, which had been steadily spiralling down into darkness. Free from the grip of her worries momentarily, Michelle decided it was time to try and get some sleep while possible. As she was reaching over to switch of her lamp, her phone went off again, right near her ear. Jumping and swearing, she placed a hand over her rapidly beating heart.
Picking it up, she was surprised to see Nat had replied back to her. She had thought the girl would be silently grateful and simply text the real Charlie: not text her back. Opening it, she couldn’t help but laugh quietly.
Nat: oops one to many 2nite my bad. thnx 4 the heads up! J
The light-hearted and friendly response was so different from the conversations Michelle had been having recently she couldn’t help but let her thumb slip over the keys to press the reply button. She shook her as she typed, imagining what her mum would say to her actions. But Nat reminded her of her older sister and Michelle reckoned she couldn’t be too bad. It wasn’t like Nat knew her name, or where she lived, or her age or anything. All she had was Michelle’s phone number and they were easy enough to change; especially when you didn’t have many on your contacts list to notify.
Michelle: Its alright. I needed the distraction. Charlie coming to pick you up?
Relaxing back into her pillows, Michelle left her lamp on, cradling her phone in front of her. She wondered if Nat would text her back; or if she thought talking with the overly-friendly stranger was a bit too weird. Michelle wouldn’t blame her, and she was used to being ignored so it wouldn’t bother her too much. After three minutes of nothing, Michelle came to the conclusion she wasn’t getting a text back and sighed, brutally squashing down the slight spark of disappointment. The shrill beep of her phone made her jump. Again. Shaking her head, Michelle cursed her jumpy nature and quickly opened the message.
Nat: yeah she just picked me up. why did u need a distraction? if u dont mind me asking?
Michelle was surprised to find herself not minding the personal question. It wasn’t like she would be given away any traceable information if she answered, and it would be nice to get her thoughts off her chest to someone not right in the middle of the confrontation.
Michelle: I dont. my friends r havin a massive fight. im stuck in the middle. havent had a moments rest in weeks.
She felt an almost giddy feeling overtake her when she pressed send. Talking to a stranger about her personal problems; she was breaking every rule her over-bearing, over-protective mother had every put down about this sort of interaction and it made her feel daring and naughty. Her eyes flicked up to her bedroom’s door, shrouded in shadow in the corner of her room. She knew logically that she had moved out of her childhood home ages ago, but she still half expected her mother to burst in and demand to read over her texting history; something Michelle had to endure often as a teenager.
Nat: Poor u. ive been in that position. it sucks. is it a stupid fight or real?
Michelle sat wondering how much information to give out. It would be just her luck that Nat was actually a friend of a friend of either Adrianna or Kaitlin or Mike and what she really thought of the whole situation got back to them. Sucking in a deep breath, Michelle thought screw it, her brother was always telling her to take more risks.
Michelle: friend A had a fight with her boyfriend and they ‘broke up’. boyfriend then went and had sex with friend B. boyfriend got back 2gether with friend A. friend B stopped talkin to both claiming she loved boyfriend and boyfriend had said he loved her. friend B then found out she was pregnant. boyfriend claimed friend B seduced him. friend B said he came to her becus they loved eachother. friend A broke up with boyfriend and wont speak to friend B. other friends picked sides. boyfriend wont take responsibility for baby. everythings crazy. they all blame the other 2 and refuse to take responsibility for any of their actions. its frustrating!!!
As she typed it out Michelle realised just how crazy the whole story was. When she had started college; excited and free, she had only one close friend from high school and her one friend’s friends who she was social with. A week into college a bubbly, always-smiling red-head called Kaitlin had taken her under her wing. She had introduced Michelle to all of her friends. Everyone was friendly, funny and welcoming. Michelle was easily accepted into the group and for the first semester everything had been fun and easy; something Michelle had never found with friendships. Then Kaitlin’s friend, Adrianna, had introduced everyone to her boyfriend Mike.
Mike and Kaitlin had really hit it off. But then, everyone hit it off with Kaitlin, her bright smile and skill at conversation making her very likeable. Mike himself had a great sense of humour and was very easy on the eyes. Adrianna hadn’t been too happy about their closeness but everyone had waved her off, saying it was just their personalities to get along with everyone. However by the end of the year, Kaitlin and Adrianna’s friendship had become strained and they refused to see each other without another friend to be buffer. Then over the summer the whole fiasco had happened, and nearing the end of the first term the group was still strained and awkward. Sides had been taken and were being defended with sharp, hurting words and lies. Michelle sometimes wondered if staying friends with any of them was worth it. On nights like this, her answer was no.
Pressing send; sending out the whole crazy fight, sharing it with a sympathetic stranger, made Michelle feel more reckless and alive than she had since moving out of home to start college. Giggling to herself she slumped back into her fluffy pillows, letting her arm drop onto the bed as she waited for the response.
Nat: wow. My friends fight but normally its about someone took a prank too far. That whole thing sounds crazy. oh i was in a similar situation a while back in high school. male 1 told female 1 he loved her and he wanted them to be eachothers first he then had sex with female 2. it didnt come out til female 2 had a pregnancy scare and confrontated male 1 in the middle of the lunch at school one day, female 1 dumped male 1 blaming it all on female 2, male 1 blamed female 1 for overacting.
Michelle stared in shock at the text. The chances that the one text she would respond to was to a girl who had been in a situation scarily close to hers were so close to none it took her a minute to process the words. Fingers shaking, she quickly typed her response.
Michelle: wat happened?
Nat: it happened in year 12. i went 2 a different uni 2 all them. havent spoken to any since. ive learnt from my mistakes. i have real friends now.
Michelle felt a sense of hope well up inside her. Maybe that’s what she could do. Cut her losses with these people and find some true friends. Her roommate Alisha had been asking if she had wanted to go out with her and her group of friends for a year and she had always turned her down. But her roommate was a fun girl: always laughing, understanding and caring. From the short crossovers with Alisha’s friends before and after parties, it was apparent to Michelle that Alisha seemed to attract people similar to her as friend. Maybe it was time to take her up on that offer.
Michelle: so ur saying cut my losses and find friends who arent batshit insane? J
Michelle laughed even as she typed the text. She would never say something like that in a face to face situation.
Nat: exactly! J ur a quick learner
Michelle: ive been told.
Nat: I gtg. home at last and my bed is looking 2 inviting 2 ignore.
Michelle: ok. night.
Nat: night. oh and would it totally freak u out if I continued this txt convo 2morrow?
Michelle: no. u can convince me 2 stick with the ditching plan in the lite of day.
Turning her phone off, Michelle placed it next to her alarm clock and switched off her lamp. Feeling lighter than she had in months she found sleep easy. Maybe strangers weren’t as bad as her mum had always told her. Really, everyone was strangers when they first met; and if Nat turned out to be some psycho she could always give the girl her brother’s number; pay back and all that.