Home > When We Were Friends

When We Were Friends
Author: Holly Bourne





   If I’d known Jessica was going to turn up unexpectedly after all this time, I would’ve worn a different outfit.

   Though it’s not as if that would’ve stopped her looking better than me, and no outfit could rescue my general limp appearance that day. I’d woken up to a vibrating notification from my period tracking app. “Warning—you may be experiencing PMS symptoms today.”

   “What is it?” Ben had asked, in a voice thick with sleep.

   I’d kissed his creased face and handed over my phone.

   He read the screen and smiled. “Thanks for the heads-up. I’ll get my panic room ready.” He cradled my head and kissed me quickly on the lips, before returning my phone and rolling out of bed to get ready for work.

   I grinned as I listened to him sing in the shower, shifting to lie in the leftover warmth of his sleeping body. I inhaled his scent on the pillow and couldn’t imagine any PMS capable of breaking through my Ben-induced oxytocin.

   My boyfriend emerged dripping in a towel, looking both cute and sexy. “How are you feeling about tonight?”

   “It will be fine,” I sighed. The thought of the upcoming evening curdled the edges of my good mood. “It’s not like I sell out every day.”

   “You’re not selling out,” Ben repeated for the twentieth time. He leaned over to kiss me, sprinkling me with drops of shower water. “Remember, Fern, some days you just need to do your job and pay the rent.” He glanced at the time on his phone to check he wasn’t late. “If this ‘author’—” he made air quotes with his fingers “—says some stupid things, then that’s on her, not you.”

   “Stop being so nice to me if you’re now going to dare to leave for work when you’re so naked and brilliant,” I groaned.

   He laughed into my mouth as he kissed me, and I felt positively sickened by my own happiness.

   “I’ve got to go.” Ben gave me a final kiss, before straightening up, and pulling a shirt and trousers over his damp body. After he’d finished brushing his teeth, he appeared in the doorway with a breakfast bar in his hand to eat on the bus. “See you later, gorgeous. Message me when the event’s over. You’re going to smash it.” He picked up my phone, which still had the warning up. “When you look at the PMS dark side, careful you must be,” he said in a Yoda voice.

   I couldn’t help my smile. “You’re ridiculous and I love you.”

   “You too. Oh shit. Late. Always, always, late. Right. Gotta go.”

   When the front door clicked behind him, I sank again into the glorious smell of his pillow.


* * *


   Of course, it didn’t take long for the app to be proved correct. My best friend, Heather, messaged me to say she wouldn’t be able to make it that night as she’d been given a last-minute late shift at the clinic. I dropped my toast peanut-butter-side down, spilled legions of coffee over my notes for that evening, and couldn’t get through Week Five of my Couch to 5k app. After I showered off the sweat from my failed run, I found my body had swollen like proven dough. My chosen outfit, which had looked fine a week earlier, now taunted me with its clinginess. Despite my shower, my hair still had a greasy sheen to it, and hung lankly around my shoulders. I tried curling it, but burned my neck—flinging my GHDs onto the carpet, and calling them “a self-satisfied pair of cunts.” These “cunts” proceeded to singe our landlord’s acrylic carpet in retaliation, and, it was just as well I hadn’t applied makeup yet, as I actually rage-cried for a full minute.

   By the time I left for the event, I’d masked my low mood and estrogen levels with red lipstick, and arranged my hair so it covered my GHD hickey. I wore an old and reliable black, long-sleeved jumpsuit and had gold heels I’d change into when I got to the venue. I was pelted with long strings of rain as I ran to the bus stop, soaked by the time I reached shelter. I checked my appearance using the selfie mode on my phone, and admitted defeat. This was just going to be a ball-ache of a day, with the event still to come.

   “At least no one you know is coming,” I reassured myself, as the bus hissed its way around the corner, splashing the bottom of my jumpsuit with puddle water.


* * *


   “Fern, you made it. Oh my God, isn’t the weather terrible?” Gwen, the bookshop’s event manager, met me with the standard publishing industry two air kisses.

   “February is a very determined month,” I said, while my umbrella dripped onto her brogues. “Oh no, I’ve made you wet. Sorry.”

   She waved her hand. “Don’t worry. Right. Sit down. Can I get you anything? Tea? Coffee? Wine? Stacy isn’t here yet.” Gwen checked her watch as she clattered over to a laden table and started putting food I’d not asked for onto a paper plate. She checked the time again as she dumped freshly cut melon onto my palm.

   “Oh, right. Thank you. Umm, Stacy’s just posted an Insta story on her way here. She’s on her way from the hairdresser. Stuck in traffic by all the rain.”

   Gwen twitched. “Oh, yes. OK. Have you seen the queue outside? They’ve arrived so early. They’re all going to be soaked.”

   “I’m sure they’re too excited to care.” I pushed a watermelon slab into my mouth to stop me making a sarcastic comment.

   “Shall I show you the stage setup? I know you’ve done this loads of times before, but can’t hurt to go over it, can it?”

   I sensed it was to ease her nerves rather than mine, but nodded, and followed her scuttling through the corridors out onto the giant empty stage. Stacy was too big for her events to fit into a bookshop, so they’d hired out a theater. Gwen and I stepped out into the blinding lights, while a technician paced around the stage, clapping at different moments. A jolt of nerves went through me. So many people would be witnessing this damn carry-on. Stacy’s publishers had done a paid partnership with Gah!, the website I worked at, and wanted me to chair the event to give her autobiography credibility. From what I’d been told, we couldn’t afford to turn down the advertorial, and I was stuck pretending to like a book I’d thrown across the room seven times the previous weekend.

   “It’s dangerous and outdated...nonsense. I don’t think Stacy’s ever met a psychologist,” I’d told Ben—both before and after lunch, and twice more before bedtime. “And yet Gah! are splashing it all over their home page for a whole week.”

   He’d laughed and lowered his lips onto my eyelids. “And just think, out of all the chair people they could’ve chosen to peddle such misinformation, they chose you.”

   I stared out at the ocean of space. “That’s a lot of seats,” I said.

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