the girls i fell in love with and how they broke my heart

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic


Chapter three is here! It's pretty beefy, but hopefully you all enjoy. I apologise for any spelling errors or mistakes with grammar, it is only a first draft after all! Enjoy. Comments and
critiques welcome! TW: this chapter contains some mentions of violence, homophobia and homophobic slurs.

Chapter 4 (v.1) - chapter three

Submitted: July 26, 2019

Reads: 149

A A A | A A A

Submitted: July 26, 2019

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CHAPTER three

 

I don’t hear from Minerva for a solid week – and that seemingly insignificant period of time feels much, much longer than the (nearly) four years we spent separated. Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or in my case, it makes the heart ache with every single, tiresome beat.

A small sliver of me wants to reach out; talk to her, make well-awaited amends. But of course, both of us have changed – and the well-constructed friendship (whether a façade or not) we’d built up over the years may be completely irreparable by now. Minerva may not want to be friends, let alone anything close to what we used to be; following the bust-up in Aunt Macy’s Diner the previous week.

Musing over this, I sit cross-legged on the creaky floorboards of my mum’s attic, shuffling through box after box of ancient trinkets, photographs and relics. Out of the blue, my mum had contacted my brother, Leo and I, proclaiming that it was time for a “Clean Out Sunday.” This basically translated to: “Get your junk out of my house ASAP”, so Leo and I begrudgingly obliged.

Leo rests on the doorframe behind me, slumped and positively bored out of his mind. He’s only twenty-one years old and yet he has the posture of a sunken, old man with knobbly knees and undiagnosed scoliosis. I’m in the middle of opening up a new box with a pair of rusted scissors when he finally initiates conversation.

“I like how most of this shit is yours,” he states simply, chewing on the side of his thumb.

Holding up a wrinkled Playboy magazine, I scoff, “What’s this then?”

He seems defeated, shuffling forward slowly and sinking to his knees next to me. “At least I don’t keep photos of all my ex-girlfriends.”

Leo pauses and I freeze; and the shift of tension in the air lets him know immediately that he’d treaded on eggshells. Crushed them, rather. It seems scripted that at that particular moment, a faded, polaroid of Cami rests between my fingertips.

He hangs his head, blond bedhead obscuring his regretful eyes. He traces the box with a slow fingertip. “Sorry. You know I didn’t mean her.”

And I get it, I really do. He knows that so much as uttering Cami’s name in certain circumstances can leave me with a feeling of hopelessness and despair; leaves me with a cavity in my chest that houses four years of heartache  – and he respects that. Deep down though, I know that the question on his (and everybody else’s) mind is regarding why I still haven’t moved on. Truthfully, that question still sticks to the inside of my mind like chewing gum.

Four years. Four years. By now, shouldn’t I have at least begun to heal? Shouldn’t those gruesome memories have began to fade by now? Why, after so long; had I not even made an ounce of progress?

When Leo notices my silence, his hand finds mine and covers it; shooting a knowing and comforting smile my way.

“It wasn’t you fault, Honey.”

Wasn’t it?

He offers a heavy sigh as he sinks further to the floor, crossing the legs of his ripped jeans and turning to face me.

“You understand that, right?” Leo questions, our whispers seemingly bouncing off of the walls of the attic, ghostly and barely audible. “None of what happened was your fault. You can’t spend the rest of your life torturing yourself over something you’ll never be able to change.”

Considering the vast amount of pep talks, therapy sessions and pitiful expressions targeted my way over the past few years, you would think I’d have come to accept and live by these sentiments. Now, though, they feel like lines from a play, a depressing pantomime that continuously takes the piss out of my grief.

If Cami were still alive, if she were in Leo’s shoes – she’d waltz into the room with a grin made of sunlight and a spring in her step. She’d grab my hands, pull me into a tender kiss and then ask me where I wanted to go. What would make you feel better?

It doesn’t matter if I answered her question or not, if I simply ignored her or huddled under my duvet. She’d link her arms with mine and take me bowling (and let me win) or buy me a blue raspberry-strawberry swirled slushie. If I were particularly stubborn, she’d order us Chinese food, and read my favourite books to me whilst stroking my hair until I eventually fell asleep.

Nothing was ever too much trouble for her. Nothing. I was never too much trouble. She would look at me as though I was made of stars and would touch me as though my body was a temple. She was the kind of girl who would help old women cross the streets; she was the kind of girl who would give you the rest of her fries even when she was starving; she was the type of girl who would hold you until you melted into stardust.

She was perfect, and she was mine.

The attic is silent for a good few seconds. I open my mouth, catch my breath, and settle on a quiet, almost reserved, “This is all I have left.”

“Of her. Of us.”

Leo stays quiet; observing. He lets me talk, whether to myself, him or the space before us – he understands that I need to talk. To anyone.

“I didn’t want to admit it, but,” I continue, rubbing soft circles across the photograph of Cami, “I’ve been avoiding this house like the plague. This attic. If I don’t open up these boxes, what’s inside can’t hurt me.”

Gently, I move the photograph from the top of the pile and set it down on the floorboard below me; the sure first of a growing collection. Cami’s glowing face stares at me from the floor, her expectant grin a beacon of hope. She remains as she always had been, her short, blonde bob swaying against the wind, cheekbones high; her eyes soft, dilated and open.

Leo is oddly still next to me, neglecting to move even a muscle. He watches and waits as I continue to pick photograph after photograph out of the cardboard box.

“She was beautiful,” he finally says, leaning over to examine the pile of Cami photos. He smiles at them, “Now, I understand why you keep all these photos.”

Together, we sift through the huge pile of photographs, beginning to silently organise them by date. I’d expected to be a nervous wreck, sinking into a panic attack at the first glance of Cami’s face. But instead, I feel utterly, utterly numb. Maybe that’s a positive thing – that I can set aside my emotions for a while and allow myself to forget. Even for a moment. Even if it’s only to pack up these photos.

At some point, I have to force myself to look away from the photos, simply electing to turn them over, and tossing them into the appropriate pile upon spotting the date scribbled across the back. Some of those memories are simply too painful; the ones where a teenage Cami and I pose together, where Cami grins wildly and laughs at the camera lenses; the ones where she kisses me on the cheek – and then the forehead, and the nose, and the lips. Nowadays, those memories feel as though they occurred in a different universe entirely.

Once we’re finished, my body is covered in a slick sheen of sweat, palms shaking as I mildly escape the onset of an anxiety attack. Leo notes this, drapes a brotherly arm across my shoulders and pulls me closer as my breathing eventually evens out.

“There,” he tells me, forcing a small smile, “We’re done. I promise, Honey, you’ll be able to look at these photographs one day and simply smile.”

I nudge my chin against his chest, wanting to burrow into his jumper. Sorting those photographs had sucked an enormous amount of emotional strength out of me. I sigh deeply against my brother.

“I hope that day comes soon.”

After a short break, we resume our task – wanting to escape the dusty cage of our childhood attic. We delve into the bottom of the box, scooping the remainder of the photographs, books and trinkets from inside. To my surprise, a heavy, leather photo album sits discarded at the very bottom.

I narrow my eyebrows, turning to Leo, “I don’t recognise that album.”

He ‘tchs’ at me in response, heaving the album from the bottom of the box and setting it on the ground in front of us. “Some of this stuff has been in here for nearly half a decade, Honey. I’ll bet half of this shit you won’t even recognise anyways.”

Satisfied, I settle onto the floor; deciding to scoop my hair into a lazy ponytail to convey that I ‘really mean business’. The pile before us is even larger than the one previous, and so Leo and I tackle separate parts of the pile.

“See you on the flip-side,” he jokes, with a quick mock-salute.

I shake my head, fingers immediately darting towards the mystery photo album, “It’s a clear out, Leo. Not an MI6 mission – catch yourself on.”

With that, we both begin sorting and examining our separate ends of the memoir pile, working as quick as we can – aware of the eager sun settling behind suburban clouds just yonder of the attic window. My apprehensive fingertips slowly turn the heavy cover of the photo album over, and immediately – I feel as though I’m trespassing. My eyes scan the length of the first page, eventually landing on the name that has been hastily scribbled across the top left corner in faded, blue ink. It reads simply: Minerva ?

From his side of the sorting pile, Leo hears my quiet gasp and immediately responds with a quirked eyebrow and a, “What? What is it?”

“I knew it wasn’t my photo album,” I tell him, almost with an excited edge to my voice. My hands eagerly find the bottom of the crisp, white page and begin to turn to the next one.

“It’s Minerva’s,” I say simply, and from the corner of my eye, I see Leo staring at me blankly.

Tracing the first photo with my index finger, I allow my pupils to trail across the entire page. There’s childhood photographs and family photoshoots: a familiar figure prancing around the pages, her bright red hair and toothy grin innocent and fresh.

But of course, this discovery begs an obvious question: If this photo album belongs to Minerva, then how did it get in my childhood attic?

Regardless, Leo and I persevere. He’s halfway through ordering and sorting my school pictures and report cards – and I’m quickly whipping through the pages of Minerva’s album. Oddly, this collection of memories is like having a snapshot into the journey of Minerva’s life – extending from birth to roughly late teens. At the pre-teen mark, my acne-covered face and awkward smile begin to appear in some of the photographs.

“You were always cute,” Leo tells me fondly, sneaking a peek at one of the photos over my shoulder, “You were geeky, and a little weird at times. But you were always sweet. Never had a bad bone in your body.”

I stretch my legs out across the beaten, attic floor, gazing at the ceiling fondly with the photo album open in my lap. Gotta relieve some of this leg cramp.

“Thanks,” I say to him, as he shuffles idly through a collection of paintings and drawings, “Wish I could say the same about you.”

Leo laughs; a real, toothy chuckle that I hadn’t seen in a while. Leo is the most understanding guy you’ll meet; never takes offense to anything. Sure, he’s made a few mistakes in his youth and young adult years, but he’s a jerk with a heart of gold. He beams at me from across the attic, then decides to mimic me and stare up towards the ceiling.

“One day,” he begins, “when you’re a famous writer, this attic will be filled with all your signed books and shit. Every time I meet somebody new, I’ll be able to tell them that my sister is a famous author. An author, for fucks sake. That’s incredible.”

I reach out and pat him on the knee lightly, “Steady on Leo, I’ve still gotta work on my portfolio before they even consider publishing me.”

He scoffs, sinking backwards onto the crook of his elbows. For a split second, he looks sad.

“Don’t be modest,” Leo says, chewing at a fingernail, “We all know you’re gonna do it. It’s been your dream since you were in diapers.”

He pauses suddenly, pulls his hand away from his mouth; and sinks even further down onto the floor.

“And me? What have I got? My name ain’t ever gonna be on display anywhere except for my gravestone.”

I hit him on the arm, perhaps a little harder than I intended. He pulls back with a hiss. “Shut up.”

He doesn’t shut up. “It’s true though, isn’t it? You’re doing all this amazing shit with your life; you’re going places. I’m a university dropout, a has-been. I’ve got nothing to my name except a pack of gum and student debt.”

I glance around the attic; the floorboards are coated with an endless layer of dust, empty boxes and ancient photographs. The simplicity of youth – summer breaks, blossoming relationships, first kisses and rejections – are scattered within these tokens of mine. My belongings, my past; are strewn across the room as though they were born and bred there. Leo’s belonging – an acoustic guitar and single, taped box – sit in the corner, uncomposed. Compromised.

My sisterly instincts jump to comfort Leo,to  offer a solemn speech about how young he is and how there are people in the world who he hasn’t even met who will love him and believe in him – but Leo himself shatters that thoughts.

He bolts upright, eyes wide and cautionary. He reaches towards the open photo album on my lap, and quickly snatches one of the photographs from its plastic pocket. Leo stares at the photo, almost stunned.

“I knew it,” he almost whispers, bringing the photo closer so that he can inspect the details, “I knew that I recognised her.”

Puzzled, I rise from the floor and sit cross-legged beside my brother, snapping the photo album shut and peering over his shoulder to see the photograph that has him so shocked.

“Minerva?” I ask, pulse racing. He knows, doesn’t he?

Turning to me, he holds the photo in the air as though it’s solid gold.

“I thought so!” He says, triumphed, “I’ve been seeing her all over TV recently. Recognised that tooth gap instantly.”

Rolling my eyes, I reach upwards to take the photograph from him. “Yeah, she was my friend; her name’s Minerva. She’s a model, sometimes an actress. I haven’t seen her on TV for a while though, not since filming for Mixed Up finished. She’s always been a primadonna.”

He hums, passes me the photo back in defeat. “And always been a liar, too.”

At that remark, I pause – the photo halfway back into its plastic pocket. My fingers shake a little and I can’t resist the urge to lash out.

“What?” I almost hiss, still as a statue. The way Leo’s jaw drops to the floor is almost comical.

“Seriously?” He asks, his surprise seemingly sincere. “She’s your friend and yet you haven’t heard?”

My heartbeat is akin to that of a drum by now, and my fingertips curl tightly around the photograph of Minerva and I. What now?

“What do you mean?” I question, leaning forward and raising my voice. This isn’t funny anymore. “What’s happened, Leo? Don’t be fucking around.”

Suddenly, Leo’s facial expression drifts from one of disbelief and confusion to a strange mix of pity and unease. I know my brother, and his emotions are nearly always cuffed to his sleeve like a makeshift watch. He seems genuinely sorry to have to tell me.

And yet, he does. He tells me the words that change my life forever.

“I think we should switch on the telly, Honey,” he tells me, voice serious and strained. Slowly, he pulls the photo album away from my hands. “You’re clearly well out of the fucking loop.”

 

 

_______

 

 

Thirty minutes in, the divorce lawyer strides into the room with a fresh cup of coffee, a fat wallet and an acquired taste for domestic stirrups. He settles at the head of the table, slides a pair of reading glasses over his nose, and takes a long look at the site before him.

“Mr. and Mrs. Grange,” he begins, voice much more chirp than it should be for a divorce settlement. “Thank you both for being here, I’m sure it isn’t easy for either of you. But your effort does not go unnoticed.”

Both parties remain frustratingly quiet; and so the divorce lawyer – who introduces himself as Bill Epstein – takes a seat between the couple, trying (and failing) to slice the tension without even an ounce of subtly.

“Let’s get this show on the road, shall we?” He offers, keen to keep spirits bright. To his left, Parker offers a disgruntled nod of the head, his button-up shirt wrinkled and his tie unevenly knotted. He hangs onto the conversation by the bags of his eyes.

To Bill’s right, Minerva sits, unbothered and seemingly in another world altogether. Her ginger hair is tucked up in a bun, nice and neat – her blazer and pencil skirt specially dry-cleaned. Behind Minerva, the window is being bombarded by journalists and reporters alike, their cameras flashing against the glass and their voices – thankfully – drowned out by soundproof walls.

Minerva should care – hell, Parker should care, too; but both Mr. and Mrs. Grange remain entirely still, staring into space; looking as though they wish to recreate Dawn of the Dead. With some luck, Bill might make some real progress today – he might finally get them to look in each other’s general direction.

Bill immediately shifts in his seat at the uncomfortable tension in the room; so thick it could be cut with a knife. On the table before him, sit three, pale, yellow folders – practically bursting at the seams with their content. Opening the first, he presents two identical forms in either hand.

“Read these, if you would,” he says, less of a question and more of a rehearsed command, “Read them fifteen times if you have to, just make sure you understand what you’re agreeing to. These are your lifelines.”

Having been entirely silent this entire time, Parker leans forward in his seat dramatically, snatches the closest form from Bill’s hand and thwacks it onto the glass table in front of him. He immediately places the nib of his pen on the dotted line; flicks his signature onto the page with a simple click of a ballpoint pen.

“Fast reader,” Bill says, face blank, “Make sure you understand the terms.”

Sniffing, Parker slides the form across the table, before sinking back into his seat with an unenthused expression. He doesn’t speak, and so Bill is forced to accept the other man’s apathy – tucking the form back into the folder and turning to Minerva expectantly.

“And you, Mrs. Grange?” Bill clears his throat; watches as Minerva copies her husband’s actions almost to the T. The divorce papers sit together, lonesome and depressing in their respective folders. It feels like a bittersweet ending – and no amount of persuasion, not from family members, friends or even Bill himself – could sway the couple’s minds. But again, how could anybody blame them?

Frustrated with the silence, Bill rises from his seat suddenly, grabbing the folders and tucking them under one arm. He offers a simple, “Excuse me,” and swings open the office door, making an instant beeline for the photocopier.

The second the divorce lawyer steps out of the office; the room becomes a ghostly silent battlefield. Minerva, with French acrylics, taps against the table, kicks the heel of her shoe against the floor – Parker, with his purple eyebags and unwashed hair, avoids any shred of eye contact.

Even as he speaks, he looks behind Minerva’s head, blinking at the ticking clock.

“What time should I get Heidi?” he asks, cold and distant, which is understandable considering the circumstances, “She finishes playschool at 3pm so I was thinking I could pick her up and take her for dinner.”

Always his opposite, Minerva has no problem staring straight through Parker, as though he’s nothing but a ghost. Her incessant tapping of her heel and acrylic nail halt suddenly as she says, “I know what time my child finishes school.”

He sighs, moves uncomfortably in his seat – green eyes burning daggers in his forehead. “Can’t you give me a break here? I’m trying to be civil.”

“I don’t consider a fifty-fifty split ground for civility, Parker.” Minerva hisses, “Everything in that house is mine.”

“Don’t start this again.”

“Don’t tell me what to do.”

He almost jumps from his seat, settles his knuckles against the table, “You know, I think I consider a little compensation considering that I wasn’t the one who had an affair.”

There’s a pregnant pause; and then Minerva stands from her chair, almost knocking it backwards. She lifts an eyebrow, offers him an unpleasant scowl.

“And I’d do it all over again. I’d never felt more alive,” she tells him, voice low and serious.

They remain like that for a few moments; Parker’s chestrising and falling and his knuckles curled furiously against the table. Minerva glares down her nose at him – challenging him, daring him, almost begging him to defy her. A confrontation like this is exactly what she needs – it might just satisfy her tastes.

The office door swings open suddenly; the heavy tension in the room dissolving almost as quickly as it had rose. Bill enters the room, a pile of photocopied papers clutched between his fingers.

“Right!” he begins, perching on his office seat without even offering so much as a glance to the stand-off before him, “That’s all settled then; any questions?”

By the time Bill notices the awkward stance of the two parties and looks upwards; Minerva has grabbed her faux fur jacket and Chanel boy bag – and is already storming out of the office. Both men watch, as she exits; leaving a trail of unease in her awake. The dramatic settlement ends with a slam of the door and a couple of puzzled expressions.

Eventually, Parker reaches behind him and drapes the sleeves of his blazer over his shoulders, “Thanks, Bill, but I think we’re done here for today.”

 

 

_______

 

 

The wheels of a silver BMW crunch nosily against Autumn leaves as it rolls up the driveway; sliding onto the beaten gravel as though it belongs there. The car is locked with a simple flick of the thumb and a barely audible hum – punctuated by the click of a sharp heel against cement. Minerva saunters towards the front door of the apartment complex, presses the buzzer with a hesitant thumb.

Over the intercom, Lauren’s voice answers, “Hello?”

“Hey,” Minerva begins, adjusting the buttons of her trench-coat. She feels droplets of crisp rain begin to drip against her shoulder; and taps her shoe impatiently, “Can I come in?”

There’s a shuffle over the intercom, and for a moment, Minerva thinks that Lauren has hung up on her. It’s only when the heavy, oak-wood door swings open that she breaths a long sigh of relief. Lauren’s silhouette appears for a moment, gesturing silently for Minerva to enter. Which she does, cautiously following Lauren down the corridor without so much of a word.

The other night, Minerva hadn’t had an opportunity to inspect the entrance and porch of Lauren’s home – and so she does so now, trailing fingertips along the shelving unit; gazing at the vast array of art and literature upon the wall. A single, white candle sits on the unit; lights up the darkness of the home – guides Minerva towards the kitchen at the end of the hall. There, Lauren looms over a sizzling wok, quietly humming along to George Michael as she works.

A nervous smile spreads across her face, one that Minerva immediately pities, “Sorry, I know I didn’t really get a chance to feed you when you stayed over the other night. How did the hearing go?”

Awkwardly, Minerva rests against the kitchen counter, twiddling her thumbs, “It was alright. As alright as it could’ve gone, I guess, although I could’ve done without an audience.”

Pausing for a moment, Lauren turns to face the other woman; her face glowing with ease and happiness. She seems genuinely thrilled at the prospect of preparing Minerva dinner, or spending time with her – in any capacity.

“You’re officially a single woman now, then?” She asks, kitchen stove hissing behind her, “It’s finished?”

Glancing at the kitchen tiles, Minerva feels empty, almost hollowed out. She sighs, “Yeah, I guess. I mean, it’s gonna take at least six months to process, but it was approved.”

“And Heidi?”

“Joint custody.”

Seemingly satisfied, Lauren hums and turns on her heels to resume tending to her meal. Absentmindedly, she sprinkles a pinch of salt and pepper into the pan, and she marvels as a miniature flame bursts in the centre for a split second. Behind her, Minerva watches as the young woman tips the contents of the wok onto two separate plates. Her stomach growls desperately at the sight, and yet at the same time; for some reason: her heart aches.

She glances down, looks at the empty space upon her ring finger. With one hand, Minerva reaches into the damp pocket of her trench-coat, twirls the piece of diamond between her fingertips. It’s materialistic bullshit, a faux token of affection. And yet, without that ring on her finger – Minerva feels exposed, begrudgingly freed from her shackles.

She doesn’t know what to do. This sense of freedom is fresh, complex and somewhat unnerving. She could reach out and touch Lauren, embrace her, plant a wholehearted kiss upon the crux of her neck. And that prospect itself is terrifying.

And that is the moment in which the reality of the situation sinks in. For the first time, in a long time, Minerva is alone. She has no cage, no means of protection. Half of what she owns belongs to Parker, including Heidi. Heidi, whom she crafted from her own flesh and bone. The press is stopping her in the streets, harassing and pressing her for uncomfortable answers and explanations. Her social media has become flooding with unprompted insults and critiques.

The truth is out, and there’s no way in hell Minerva can even begin to deny it.

“Hey,” Lauren chuckles, cleaning her hands with a kitchen towel as she moves towards Minerva, “What’s up with that frown? I promise my food isn’t that bad, Minnie.”

“I was thinking after we eat, maybe we could watch some old Mixed Up episodes. I always loved that show, you know, even before I met you properly. It’ll be a laugh, I reckon. What’d you think?”

But Minerva isn’t listening -  no, she’s clutching the kitchen counter in an attempt to keep herself upright. Her breathe falters and her legs wobble involuntarily as the harsh reality of the situation begins to weigh in.

Lauren pushes forward, places the cusps of her hand around Minerva’s face, as though she were cradling it. She puckers her lips and leans forward to seal the gap with a tender kiss, but the moment is suddenly ripped apart by Minerva’s protests.

“What are you doing?” She hisses, back slamming against the wall as she heaves, “Why the fuck are you trying to kiss me, Lauren?”

Utterly astonished, Lauren’s hands fall to her sides in defeat. Her mouth hangs open as she mutters, “I thought…I thought—”

“You thought what?” Minerva questions, wiping away beads of sweat, “You thought everything would be fine? That my divorce meant we could be together, like some kind of sick fairytale?”

Lauren almost chokes on her own works, “Then why did you come back?”

“I came to get my clothes,” Minerva clarifies, her chest rising and falling as she tries; and fails to justify her own actions, “I just came to get my stuff. I left most of it behind the other day, you know – wasn’t really thinking about my knickers whilst my face was on national news.”  

There’s silence between the two women, an extremely uncomfortable tension sliding into the room as the both of them glance towards the floor. It’s only then that Minerva’s eyes spot a pile of laundry in the corner of the kitchen, sitting neatly on a wooden chair.

Washed, ironed and neatly pressed. And Minerva doesn’t even need to guess who those clothes belong to.

In fact, she makes a beeline for them. Minerva works silently, stuffing the handful of clothes into her handbag as quickly as she can. Of course, she takes absolutely no pride nor pleasure in hurting like Lauren this – but the mere thought of entering another relationship; and a relationship so deviant and unorthodox, is far, far too much to handle right now.

Instead, she avoids the entire issue altogether. And in typical Minerva fashion, she would be content with never discussing this encounter ever again. But that isn’t really Lauren’s style, which is exactly why she grabs Minerva’s attention on her out; protesting in a latch-ditch attempt to change her mind.

“I really thought you liked me,” she says simply, the last few words choked off, “I thought we had something. I thought I was helping you to be who you actually are.”

Scrunching her eyes together, Minerva resists the urge to sob. Fucking hell, you remind me so much of Honey.

“You always knew this could never be permanent,” Minerva responds, pulling her hood up once she spots the rain through the kitchen window, “A couple of good, off-the-grid fucks here and there, nothing more. I had a husband; I had a life. I was safe.”

Lauren shakes her head wildly, following Minerva to the door. “No, you were a coward.”

And so Minerva leaves her like that – leaves Lauren’s home and hops into her car as though nothing had happened. Running away from situations; running away from the truth – these things had become almost second nature to Minerva, and she subconsciously intends on keeping it this way.

Later, at a red light, something within her commands Minerva to look at the seat beside her. She’d hastily stuffed her clothes into her handbag without so much as a second thought and it’s only now, after leaving, that she spots something sitting atop the pile, askew and out-of-place.

It’s a photograph. Black-and-white. Untouched.

Undeniably, it’s a snapshot of Lauren and Minerva (or Audrey) – taken at the nightclub a week earlier. A keepsake, a trophy, even. Something to remind Minerva that this had been real, genuine – that it wasn’t something she could lock at the back of her mind and never address again.

Someone behind her beeps incessantly, and she drags her eyes away from the photo and back to the now, green stop-light. The car moves forward – and Minerva notes how the dusty streets of downtown city life seem so much more sombre at sunset. At night, it’s like entering a parallel, alien universe – one that Minerva offhandedly wishes she could remain in until the end of time.

 

 

_______

 

 

“You’ll get in trouble for that, you know,” Honey reminds her, voice stern but somehow still playful. She watches carefully as Minerva unscrews the cap of her lipstick and traces it over the bathroom wall with fine, precise strokes.

“You think I care?” the other girl replies, finishing her masterpiece off with placing an over-exaggerated kiss under the writing. The two teens admire her handiwork.

MH  ?s  HR

2006, bitches

A keen smirk crosses Honey’s face as Minerva saunters over to her. She swings her pale legs back and forth, knocking the bathroom counter with her heel.

“You love me do you?” She offers, wagging her eyebrows, “Scandalous.”

Naturally, Minerva drapes both of her arms around Honey’s neck, serving as the chain of an impromptu necklace. A strand of ginger hair falls loose from her messy bun and trails across Honey’s collar-bones. The touch between them is intense, electrifying.

“Don’t be shocked by shit you already know,” Minerva orders, before nodding her head towards the pocket of her denim jacket “Cig, please.”

The other girl obliges, producing a crumpled cigarette from the depths of Minerva’s jacket. She even takes the liberty of popping it between her lips and lighting it with the expert flame of a lighter. Minerva accepts readily, inhales and exhales slowly; savouring the nicotine aftertaste as though it were chewing gum.

“Marlboro,” Honey admires, “your taste is getting more and more expensive by the day.”

Minerva has never been shy about letting cigarette smoke blow in Honey’s face; and this occasion is no exception. The strong scent fills the compact bathroom in an instant and the brunette almost gasps at the newfound cigarette cloud in front of her. Instead of getting angry, she simply rolls her almond eyes and tilts forward. She shuffles forward onto the edge of the bathroom counter, desperately wanting to plant a peck on Minerva’s lips, cheek, hell - even her forehead would do.

The other girl retracts immediately, pulling backwards and removing her looped arms from Minerva’s neck, “Not here.”

“Why not?”

She sighs, glancing around the derelict bathroom with suspicious eyes, “Too dangerous. It’s a public school, dumbass.”

Dissatisfied with that answer, Honey slumps against the bathroom mirror –  exhausted and angry; emotionally, physically and mentally. She traces a slow finger over the  mirror behind her, drawing a half-assed heart across the fogged screen.

“I just want to kiss you,” she says, “Or hug you. Or just do anything in front of people. And it would be nice not to have to look over my shoulder every time we did it.”

Stubbing out her cigarette, Minerva seems to agree with Honey’s proposal; electing to nod her head softly. She begins rolling her own cigarettes for later on, licking the skins whilst continuing to nod along to Honey’s sentiments. When the younger girl is finished, Minerva looks upwards and finally speaks.

“Cynthia Webb. You remember her? Year 10, you sat behind her in Geography. Last summer, two of the upper-sixths found her making out with another girl in the smoking hub after hours. Do you know what happened to her?”

Honey doesn’t reply. But yet, Minerva continues, talking as she fiddles with the skins.

“They dragged her to the showers in the gym and scalded her with boiling water until her skin blistered. They set her belongings on fire and cut her hair off. Told her, ‘If you wanna act like a dyke, you might as well look like one.’”

Shoving the newly-rolled cigarettes into her jeans pocket, Minerva looks towards her best friend with a sullen, desperate expression. She doesn’t like the truth any more than Honey- perhaps even less.

After a long while, Honey decides to reengage. For a good minute or so, she considers and weighs her options – unwillingly reminded by the horrific incident of Cynthia Webb. She remembers, how photos of Cynthia’s second-degree burns were passed around the school like a volleyball in gym; she remembers, how Cynthia was shipped away to another part of the country entirely, cast aside as though she were something to be ashamed of. She recalls, how Cynthia had dropped off the face of the Earth altogether – slowly, but surely.

That’s what happens. That’s what happens to kids like us, Minerva had said one day, eyes glued to the newspaper and cheeks dripping with empathetic tears.

“So,” she says quietly, beginning to hoist herself down from the bathroom counter, “It’s better to live a lie?”

Tight-lipped, Minerva inhales and exhales sharply, as though considering the other girl’s statement intently. Eventually, she settles on, “Well, we’re happy, aren’t we?”

“Are we?” Honey questions, tossing the strap of her backpack over her thin shoulder, “Is anyone ever really happy in a lie? Or do you convince yourself you’re happy because there’s no other way out?”

Minerva seems to prepare a response, opening her lips quickly. However, the school bell rings, effectively ending the conversation and guiding the girls to third lesson. The bathroom door swings open and one by one, girls begin to trickle into the room.

The walk to English class seems much longer than usual – perhaps because of the heavy conversation that had just occurred between the two girls. Or maybe, it’s because Honey has to fight to stop herself linking hands with Minerva.

Eventually, she settles on simply grazing their fingertips together as they stride down the hallway, hoping the simple contact is enough evidence to reassure that Minerva that she wants this, that she wants her. That Honey would pick her every single time, without hesitation or the fear of repercussions.

And that’s enough.

It has to be.

 

 

_______

 

 

Minerva decides to set her alarm for 6:00am, speeding down to the modelling agency’s office as quickly as she can, keen to beat the morning rush and the judgemental glares of onlookers and, God forbid, co-workers.

Honestly? She’s far from clueless as what to expect from her manager, Carlos. Models, actresses and those in the public eye are no stranger to scandals by any means, but undeniably, Minerva’s infidelity and subsequently, her divorce, is a whole other kettle of fish.

Which is why, she’s relieved to find the entire floor empty, devoid of noise save for the soft whirring of the coffee machine in the corner. She makes her way down to Carlos’ workspace, spotting his faint outline through the shutters of his office. Internally, she’s preparing herself for an absolute bollocking.

She knows exactly what to expect: furrowed monobrow; hands on hips; voice annoyed and louder than necessary. She’s good at predicting people’s words, their movements and actions. She’s expecting the protocol for this kind of thing: How could you represent our company in this manner? and Do you think this is a good look for us, as a business?

Minerva barely waits a second after knocking against the door-frame, letting herself into the room with a braced expression. Just nod your head and smile. Get through it; bite the bullet.

Carlos is sat in his computer chair; laptop closed and coffee mug empty next to him. When she enters the room, he immediately rises from his seat and places his hands against his desk. And his expression is not at all subtle. Boy, is he pissed.

“I know what you’re going to say,” Minerva begins, rehearsed both in words and faux apology, “And I’m truly—”

She pauses; stops dead in her tracks. Next to Carlos’ desk, sits a small, cardboard box – filled to the brim with picture frames, certificates, trophies and letters. Across the front of the box, MINERVA is scrawled in thick, black marker.

Her stuff. Packed and ready to go.

Carlos lifts his chin upwards and glances towards the ceiling, looking as though he genuinely wishes he didn’t have to say what he does next.

“I’m sorry, Minerva,” he says, simply.

She’s stunned, totally baffled. Shell-shocked is an understatement. Sure, she knew Carlos would be angry for her behaviour, for showing up the agency in the way that she had. But being dropped from the agency? That was a reality that she had not considered in the slightest. In fact, for the first time since she’d been signed to the agency – she finds herself unable to say anything to Carlos.

He takes the liberty for her, hauling the box onto his desk and pushing it towards her.

“I know how much you loved being here,” he tells her, as if he has the slightest damn clue, “but I just can’t keep you signed to this agency, not with that kind of behaviour. I’m sure you understand, Minerva.”

Unable to speak, Minerva glances towards the box, noting all of her achievements within it: magazine covers, letters of achievement, certificates from when she was first signed. All of her proudest moments rest within that box, and now, it’s being handed over to her as though they had no value in the first place.

After what seems like a lifetime, Minerva speaks.

“You’re…dropping me?”

Carlos nods, “Yes.”

“Me?” she chuckles in disbelief, “Carlos, me? I’ve got you more photoshoots, cash and interviews than any other fucker in this place. Hell, I practically bought you your fucking Gucci belts and Majorca trips.”
 

He shuffles at her reply, visibly uncomfortable and unnerved. He pushes the box further across the table with his knuckle, silently motioning for Minerva to get out. She doesn’t comply.

Instead, she slams her hands against the table in anger, teeth clenched and face swelling with rage, “Without me, you’d be a deadbeat, pervert photographer. And now, you’re screwing me over because—”

She daren’t say that word – doing so would make it too real. Instead, she simply whispers the words, “of her.”

Carlos seems genuinely disgusted at the prospect of being accused of bigotry, and so he scowls at his former client – almost seething with his own taste of anger.

“Really, Minerva? Are you going to pull that card?” he bites, “I couldn’t give a shit about the gender of the person you decide to kiss, or fuck, or marry. I don’t care if that person is a woman, a man, purple, yellow or Barney the fucking dinosaur. What I do give a shit about, is representing someone who cheats on their partner.”

Minerva could retaliate, she could hiss and spit and call Carlos every name under the sun. However, her ex-colleagues are being to show up to work – and the crowd suddenly popping up around the office suggests that this argument has clearly caused a commotion. So instead, Minerva grasps the handles of her box and chucks it towards the window – cracking it wide open with a louder CLATTER and CRASH.

“You’re fucking crazy!” Carlos shrieks, shielding his face as the glass scatters across his office’s carpet.

In agreement, Minerva spins on the heel of her shoe and storms out of the office, smirking wildly as the crowd outside parts like the Red Sea, silently allowing for her to make her exit. There’s whispers, stares and even a couple of insults thrown her way as she marches out of her old workplace, the thrill of adrenaline and confrontation coursing through her veins.

Now, there’s officially nothing holding me back, Minerva tells herself as she sticks her keys in the ignition, keen to make her exit.

As she reverses out of the parking lot, Minerva makes no attempt to avoid driving over the beaten and battered box of her belongings. In fact, she makes sure of it.

 

 

_______

 

Receiving an e-mail from Honey is extremely rare nowadays for Minerva; even more so at two thirty in the morning. The momentary buzz of her mobile phone wrenches Minerva from her slumber, and although she takes a moment to wake herself up – and upon heading to her inbox and reading the e-mail, she has to assure herself that she is still not dreaming.

In fact, she reads it; and then rereads it.

 

I heard about what happened. Let me know if you want to talk about it.

 I’m always here for you if you need a listening ear.

 

Sitting upwards and flicking on a lamp, Minerva immediately begins writing back, giddy and flattered at the genuine concern Honey feels for her. She feels like a flustered school girl again – cheeks beginning to ache as she fails to stop a grin sliding onto her face. Minerva doesn’t even notice how empty the bed feels without Parker being here; his side of the bed having been made properly for the first time in over a year.

Silently, Minerva proof-reads the e-mail in her head at least four times, fingertips shaking as she taps each key. Eventually, she hits the SEND button on her screen, before sinking backwards unto her bed and holding the phone close to her chest like a newborn baby.

 

I feel amazing. When are you next free to meet up? I wanna take you up on your offer about the book tenfold.

People will only understand my side of the story if I tell it.

 


© Copyright 2019 beccamidmoores. All rights reserved.

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