Patrick and Janine

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Commercial Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
It's been five years since they graduated, but at a party with her old friends, Janine can't help the sinking feeling that nothing has changed at all.

Submitted: December 31, 2018

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Submitted: December 31, 2018

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Patrick and Janine looked into the mirror and, as one, sighed in dissatisfaction.

The dissatisfaction itself wasn’t unusual to them: they spent most of their lives feeling dissatisfied with all aspects of their lives, from the overarching themes to the smallest details. Dawn ‘til dusk, their lives were an endless parade of failing to live up to their mental expectations. They were dissatisfied with themselves, with each other, with the colour of the hardwood floor in their apartment and the amount of fur that the cat shed.

What was unusual was that for once they’d made an effort to not be dissatisfied.

“Do you want to brush your hair?” asked Janine.

“I already did,” replied Patrick. “Do you really want to wear that sweater?”

“Yes,” said Janine. They sighed again, climbed into the too small car that smelt partly of motor oil and partly of fry oil, and drove towards the party.

It’s important to clarify that they were, in fact, dissatisfied with their lot, and not disappointed. Disappointment conveys a hopefulness, suggests that at least one point there was a belief that things could be different; it suggests a whimsy, perhaps fanciful, but probably not malicious. Dissatisfaction, however, conveys entitlement. It suggests an acceptance, but not a liking, of one’s lot in life, a belief that you deserve better. Dissatisfaction does not convey effort made to change the situation, as failure of that effort would have lead instead to disappointment. No, dissatisfaction is a much uglier feeling than disappointment, and it makes the person feeling it uglier too. Dissatisfaction is with the fact that your car smells like fry oil, even though you’re the one who ate fries in it.

 

They had started dating in university close to eight years before and had stayed together because both were scared that they’d never find someone else if they broke up. Janine had majored in history and minored in linguistics, while Patrick had followed the political science stream. He was two years older than her, and graduated a year before, and when he graduated they had moved in together. After graduation, she wanted to move back to the states to be near her family, and he wanted to move to Ottawa to be near the political hub. They remained in Vancouver, where they could be equally discontent.

Maia lived in a ritzy apartment downtown, with a kitchen/living room combo the size of Janine and Patrick’s entire flat. Music that was popular when they were in college, a sort of slow, melodic indie rock, thrummed through an expensive speaker set. If Maia’s face didn’t light up when she opened the door, she did at least smile.

“Come in, come in! The party’s just getting started!” She drew out the last word, voice melodic, and gestured for them to take their shoes off. “Do you know how hard it’s been coordinating this? Nightmare!”

Maia was a tall, slim Korean girl who had been in several of the same clubs as Janine in university. Her hair was cropped into a stylish bob, accented by large gold earrings; a skin tight, floor length, purple velvet dress completed the look- if anyone hadn’t known beforehand that Maia went into fashion, they could likely guess from a glance. Makeup-wise she was bare-faced, save for a swipe of dark lipstick.

“Coordinating?” Asked Janine, trying not to feel too much like a spud that had rolled out of Maia’s grocery bag.

“Yes!” The word lasted several seconds. “I’ve been wanting to do this for months, but I’ve had to wait until everyone was back in Vancouver.”

“Back in-“ The rest of Janine’s question was cut off as Maia’s front door burst open.

“Five years, bitches!” Shay had somehow managed to get her shoes off in less than half a second, and now slid towards them at high speed, surfing Maia’s hardwood floors with brightly coloured otter socks. Maia squealed and grabbed her, and they bounced up and down a few times. Giggling and breathless, Shay paused. “Oh, hey Janine! Long time, huh? When did you get back in town?”

“Maia!” yelled a voice, and another woman keeled into them. The giggling and jumping was repeated, saving Janine from admitting that she’d never left. She looked helplessly at Patrick.

“Let’s go get a drink,” he said in a low voice. There wasn’t much need to speak quietly- the others weren’t paying them any attention anyways- but she found it reassuring. They peeled away and made their way to the kitchen counter, where a variety of drinks were on offer.

“Who’s driving?” asked Patrick.

“I can drive if you want to drink,” Janine replied. He shook his head.

“No, it’s fine, I can drive.”

“No, seriously.”

“Honestly, it’s fine.”

They both poured themselves a Sprite and found an armchair, surveying the room. There were a few too many familiar faces to be comfortable, and Janine fought the urge to angle her body away. She frowned, looking at Patrick.

“Five years?” He shrugged, then paused.

“Oh. It’s your grad anniversary.” Her frown deepened.

“But there’s no reunion parties until ten years?”

Over by the door, Maia, Shay and Ji- who was the one to arrive after Shay- were all talking a mile a minute, at the same time, gestures large, somehow managing to maintain multiple conversations about each other’s lives and jobs and memories from university. Shay began craning, clearly looking for people, and shooting questions to Maia; Janine read her lips, caught ‘…here yet’, and heard Maia’s voice trill ‘delayed’.

“Maybe Maia took it upon herself to organise one.” Patrick looked uncomfortable- he hadn’t gotten on with her friends while they were at uni. They hadn’t not gotten on, though, but though they were friendly it was clear he didn’t fit. As time passed, she’d found herself seeing him more and them less- but that was normal for people who were dating, wasn’t it?

“Janine?” asked a voice, and they both looked up. The man smiled, and leaned against the counter. She paused, but leapt to her feet when she realised who it was.

“Jackson! I nearly didn’t recognise you, you look so different. Wow, you look… so different,” she trailed off, unable to articulate her surprise and, to her surprise, delight in seeing him. He laughed, running a hand through already tousled hair.

“Can’t say the same for you Janine, you haven’t changed a bit!” Her heart sank at that, though it wasn’t said with malice, but she forced her smile to stay in place. “But yeah, a year and a half in the jungles of Cambodia is a fantastic way to lose weight; I don’t know why the doctors didn’t mention it sooner.”

“How much did you lose?” she asked, her eyes drawn to the muscles in his arm as he continued to mess with his hair, a nervous tic she remembered from college that had eventually prompted him to get an army buzz in third year. It hadn’t helped, as he’d simply turned to running his hands over his stubble, and only served to emphasize his fatness.

“I lost around 80lb the first two years after we graduated, but the Cambodia trip really helped me shift the final stubborn 25. Food rations, lots of exercise- and a lack of barbers too.” He smiled ruefully; there was a long pause as Janine continued to stare, drinking in the thick hair, tanned skin, and lean build. Finally, Patrick coughed, and Jackson’s eyes shifted backwards. “Patrick, hey, how are you man?“

Across the room, Maia and Shay were watching Ji, laughing as she recounted some story, all large hand gestures and exaggerated expressions. If Janine just looked at their stances, the way they held themselves and how they interacted with each other, she could pretend that they were all still 21, waiting for everyone to arrive so that they could catch a bus to the restaurant of the week, or head to Shay’s for a movie, or set off to explore a trail on the North Shore. The first half of university, she would have been stood there with them, grinning at whatever weirdness had happened to Ji on the bus that morning. The second half of university, she’d have been where she was now, off to the side and watching.

For a brief moment, Janine imagined herself picking up the pitcher of orange juice helpfully placed next to the champagne. She pictured herself walking over to the trio and them pausing as she approached; she would hold out the jug as if offering them a drink, and then tip the contents over Ji- and whack her over the head with it just for good measure.

Ji concluded whatever she was saying, and the others burst out laughing. Janine turned back to Patrick and Jackson.

 

The night wore on, and the party continued to swell, Maia’s spacious living room seeming to stretch and make room to fit everyone comfortably. There were some people Janine recognised immediately, and others who looked vaguely familiar, but still others who she wasn’t sure if she’d ever met at all. Patrick shrugged when she brought this up.

“Maia’s pretty popular, she seems like she knows a lot of people. Besides, maybe she met them third year.”

Watching Shay and Ji was no help, as neither of them had ever had problems with meeting new people. Their cluster at the door had broken up and the two of them easily circulated the room, letting off occasional cries of delight as they ran into old, close friends. When they found Jackson, they fired question after question at him about his research, his time in Cambodia, his life in general- questions Janine had wanted to ask but hadn’t thought of at the time. For the others in their original, close friend group- Maia, Shay, Ji and Jackson- social interaction seemed to come easily, with friends and strangers alike. For Janine, it felt impossible with either.

“Ok but where’s Maggie?” she overheard Ji ask Jackson. He shrugged, looking at his watch.

“Knowing her, arguing with the staff at Indigo that their closing time is too early.”

Patrick leaned forward; he had sunk into that chair when they first arrived, and had wrenched himself from it only to refill his Sprite or his plate of snacks. Janine, perched on the arm of it, hadn’t strayed much either. He tapped her arm, and nodded towards the door.

“We can leave any time you want.”

“I know.”

“You don’t have to stay if you’re not enjoying it.”

“I want to stay.”

“I have work in the morning.”

“I know.”

It was a conversation they’d been having for eight years. Patrick didn’t like staying out, didn’t much enjoy leaving home in the first place unless the end destination was food or the cinema, and usually had to leave early to beat the traffic. Janine wondered if the friendships had started to fade when she started leaving with him, or if she’d started leaving with him when they’d started to fade.

“We’ve got an announcement when Maggie arrives,” Jackson was telling Ji.

“Who’s ‘we’? Because the only thing I’m announcing is that I want more snacks.” They drifted closer, Ji piling her plate with chips and carrot sticks, neither of them looking towards Patrick and Janine.

“Maggie and I.”

“What is it?”

“You’ll find out soon enough.”

“Does Maia know?”

“Of course, we can’t make an announcement at her party without her permission.” Ji swatted him and laughed.

“That’s not fair! Why can you tell her and not me?”

Janine suddenly pushed herself to her feet. She’d had this sudden rush of- not courage, because she certainly wasn’t feeling brave; more like a rush of desire, of need, to understand once and for all what had gone wrong halfway through university. To put this matter to rest.

Ignoring Patrick’s startled ‘where-?’ half asked behind her, she sidled up to the pair of them and tapped Ji on the arm. Both paused, Jackson surprised, Ji confused. It took half a second for the other girl to register what was going on.

“Janine, hey, when did you get here?”

“Early,” said Janine flatly. “Can we talk?”

 

No one ever claimed university would be easy, but Janine was finding it harder than expected. In a new city and a new country, without anyone she knew around her, and with a timidity that she wrapped around her like a soggy woollen coat- perfect for keeping herself cold, and others away- most nights were spent with packets of cookies or ice cream, in the blue glow of a laptop open to Adventure Time. Her weight was creeping up, and her grades were creeping down, and she felt like she was losing control.

And then she met Ji.

Ji, who’s attitude to everything was summed up in the ‘work hard, play hard, kick ass’ sticker she had on her laptop. Ji, who then met Shay, who also knew Maia, who brought Jackson for the ride. Ji, who confiscated her phone when she needed to study for finals, and taught her to grocery shop and lent her cooking books; who hugged her when she was crying, and let her sleep over when she was homesick, and walked with her to her first counselling session.

Ji, who had one day stopped texting.

And suddenly there weren’t sleepovers or grocery trips. When they got together as a group, things seemed fine, but she would hear Shay and Maia talk about how they’d gone thrift shopping together, or that Ji and Jackson had spent the day at the beach together, and wonder why she was only finding out about this now. She was a few months into dating Patrick at this point, and slowly her life moved from their circle to his, until she realised she hadn’t spoken to any of them in the six months… one year… two years since they’d graduated. Birthday wishes were posted to Facebook walls, but beyond that it was radio silence. After a while she stopped going on social media.

“It’s just a highlight reel anyway,” Patrick had said when she brought it up. “Their lives probably suck in reality.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” He shrugged, and steered the conversation back towards safe topics, like recent movie releases.

Now Janine and Ji were stood on Maia’s balcony, surveying the city lights and watching their breath puff into the night.

“Bloody Vancouver,” muttered Ji, drawing her coat tighter. “It’s April, it shouldn’t be this cold.” Janine remained silent, running through the best way to word things. She hadn’t thought this through. If she had, she would have aborted the mission before it started. “So, what did you want to talk about?”

“What happened?” asked Janine. She could see Ji turn to look at her out the corner of her eye, but kept her gaze focussed on the city.

“When?”

“In university.”

“When we stopped?” Stopped talking, stopped texting, stopped hanging out, stopped being friends hangs in the air between them; a dozen ways to end that sentence, none of them fitting because all were true. Janine found herself bristling. There was no ‘we’ involved in that process, just Ji and her whims.

 “Yeah. Why did you decide to change everything? We had a good thing, what went wrong?” She  finally turned to face her companion and found herself flat footed by the hurt on the other’s face.

“I got tired of always being the one to initiate. It felt like I was doing all the work of the friendship, like you weren’t bothered at all. I decided, just once, to let you message me first.” Ji sighed and shivered. “Seven years later, here we are.”

And just like that, Janine’s anger was gone. She felt deflated, like a week-old helium balloon. Once again, it was no one’s fault but hers. Like almost everything she didn’t like in life, she could have changed it if she’d tried.

Instead, once again, she’d chosen to remain dissatisfied.

“I didn’t realise,” she said, after a long pause. “I’m sorry, I…” She trailed off, tried again. “Wasn’t there anything? Anything about our friendship, anything about me, that made you want to change your mind? Was I so bad that you could go from seeing me every day to hardly seeing me at all? There must be more to it, you don’t just shrug off a friendship!”

Ji’s faced was closed off, hands rammed deep into her pockets. She pursed her lips.

“You want the truth?” Janine nodded. “Knowing that you shouldn’t ask questions you don’t want the answer to?” It was an old refrain from when they were in university, usually said when the ever-prudish Maia started asking about people’s sex, drugs or drinking habits. Janine nodded again. Ji sighed, and turned to go back inside, pausing at the door. “It wasn’t the presence of negative traits. It was just the absence of positive ones.”

 

“Whenever you’re ready, we can go,” Patrick said, looking up from a text chain on his phone. There was an empty bowl of chips in his lap and his glass of Sprite had been refilled again, the only indication that he’d shifted at all while Janine was gone. Janine looked at him and imagined dumping the Sprite all over his head, throwing his phone off the balcony. A few second were given to indulging the thought, then she shook her head.

“A bit longer? There’s still people I want to talk to. And I haven’t met Maggie yet.”

“Who’s Maggie?”

“Jackson’s girlfriend.”

“You haven’t spoken to Jackson in years, why do we need to stay to meet his girlfriend?”

Because I want to be relevant to the people relevant in their lives she thought, but didn’t say out loud. In this, she wasn’t sure whether she or Patrick was wrong; whether he was too callous, and discarded people too quickly, or if she needed to move on from people who stopped wanting to be her friend before they’d even graduated.

“What’s your favourite thing about me?” she asked him, suddenly feeling off kilter. He shrugged, then held out his empty bowl and smiled sweetly.

“The fact that you’ll get me more chips?” Janine sighed.

“No, really, what’s your favourite thing about me.”

“I don’t know. That we fit together well. You’re like my old, favourite sweater.” He was spared her response by a loud squeal, that started with Shay and seemed to spread across half the room.

Maggie had arrived.

She was tall, dark skinned, with a dark green dress and a head of close cropped curls. Her jewellery was elegant, but the shoes she kicked off were sensible flats, and her nails were free from any dramatic shapes or embellishments.

A beautiful woman who also matched Jackson’s lifestyle.

She hugged Maia, hugged Shay, hugged Ji, and a few others, and Janine felt a flare of jealousy, because of course everyone else had already met her. When? Where? Besides Maia, none of them lived in Vancouver. Before Jackson went to Cambodia? When he was in Cambodia?

How long had they been dating?

Like something from a movie, Janine watched as Jackson strode up to her and pulled her in for a deep kiss, her ebony hands brightened in contrast to his black hair. Ji wolf whistled, and they broke apart, laughing but not actually embarrassed. Realising he had the attention of the room, Jackson seemed to decide to capitalise on it.

“We have news we’ve been hoarding for a while, Maggie and I,” he began, linking his hand through hers. She smiled widely, meeting the gaze of each person in turn, and when her eyes settled on Janine the latter had to resist the urge to duck away. “But we wanted to share it with our nearest and dearest before humiliating ourselves on Facebook. Of course, our parents already know.”

“Even close friends don’t rank above immigrant parents,” said Maggie with a laugh, and her voice was lovely- rich and light, with a noticeable Caribbean accent. Jamaican? Janine wondered. The room laughed too.

Then Jackson turned to her and produced from his coat pocket the most beautiful ring Janine had ever seen in her life. It smoothly slid onto the fourth finger of Maggie’s left hand as the room erupted into applause, cheering and whistling and rushing forward to hug the couple.

Janine felt like she’d been punched in the gut. Turning to Patrick, who’d watched the announcement with one eye on the couple and one eye on the phone, she forced her lip not to quiver.

“I’m ready to go.” He pushed himself out of the chair and they made their way out, the guests too focussed and Jackson and Maggie to notice.

“Where did you get that ring, I’ve never seen anything like it?” Maia asked.

“I may have saved a lady from a river,” said Jackson.

“Cheap bastard didn’t even buy it himself!” Interjected Maggie. Under the cloak of laughter, Patrick and Janine left.

 

It was raining in Vancouver. Patrick drove and Janine watched the buildings of downtown slide past. Light and shadow washed over her face. The car still smelt like fry oil and motor oil. The clock on the dash showed that they’d been at the party just under three hours.

“Jackson asked me out in first year, you know?” Patrick didn’t take his eyes off the road, but his lips did turn down at the corner. There was a long pause. Janine shifted, so that she was facing out the window and couldn’t see him at all. She thought about how she’d never messaged first, about her apparent absence of any traits whatsoever. “We probably would have broken up after a few weeks anyway.”


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