25 June 2019

 

When the girls and I are together like this, we sometimes talk about serious subjects – like how social media is simultaneously the greatest triumph and disaster of the 21st century, politics, or whether it’s acceptable to say Stalin was ‘fit’ when he was younger. But today, we talk about local news (‘some guy got arrested in Card Factory yesterday for wearing transparent trousers; where the hell do you even buy transparent trousers?’), men we know from town (‘Phil was on the news the other night for sleeping rough in the library; no, not the Phil who got drunk and threw up in Psychology on the last day of school, the Phil who stamped on a pigeon in the park when we were fourteen’), and girls we went to school with (‘Claire Bryant Instagrammed her spiralizer last night; I’d rather be that pigeon that Phil stood on than replace pasta with sodding vegetables; wait, do they even make spiralizers anymore?’).

Suddenly, I see Nat’s face change. Her skin is white and her chest looks heavy, like it’s battling just to take in air and push it back out again. There are deep lines across her forehead and her eyes are wet.

“Nat?” I say, turning Nina down. She’s singing something about being free.

“Matt slept with Kim,” she says, her eyes streaming now, her breathing rushed and shallow.

“What?!” we all cry in disbelief, Mackie clutching at Nat’s hand. I rush to her side and stroke her back in an attempt to calm her breathing. Her shoulder blade feels sharp and protuberant even through her thick black jumper.

“Breathe. You’re okay,” I say, trying to be as reassuring as I can, but I can’t help but notice how forced and clumsy the words sound. What I meant was: “I hope you’ll be okay”, because I have no way of knowing if Nat will be okay. I’ve never had a man destroy my life and shag his best mate’s sister in practically the same breath.

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We sometimes talk about serious subjects – like how social media is simultaneously the greatest triumph and disaster of the 21st century, politics, or whether it’s acceptable to say Stalin was ‘fit’ when he was younger.

“I can’t believe him,” Edele says venomously, her eyes blazing with rage. “How do you know? Are you sure?”

Nat wipes the wet clumps of old mascara from her cheeks and inhales deeply, her mouth gasping for air and her back straightening. It looks like it’s taking all her strength.

“Claire Bryant’s sister, Lacey, the one who’s friends with Jack? She Facebook messaged me yesterday. Said it happened last Saturday at Kim’s birthday party. Jack went with Matt, they got drunk, and Matt took Kim back to Jack’s. The day after he dumped me. Or, technically, the same day. Who does that? How could he do that to me? How could he?”

Nat’s breathing is shallow and fast again and her head is in her hands. She’s sobbing relentlessly; the kind of crying that hurts your stomach and chest and throat and head and makes your whole body convulse. Suddenly, she starts retching, the shock and the alcohol and the weed overwhelming her body. I pull her hair back from her face as she turns away from the group heaves towards the sand, gasping for breath in-between sobs.

“Breathe, Nat,” I say, still stroking her back. “Come on, you can do this.”

“It’s all right,” Edele says, as Mackie passes me a bottle of water from her bag to give to Nat.

Nat has nothing in her body to bring up, so she spits into the sand, taking the water.

“I’m sorry, guys,” she says weakly. “I just don’t know how he could do this.”

“I don’t know, Nat, I really don’t,” Mackie says softly, shaking her head. “But what an absolute bitch Lacey is for telling you! What good does that do? Why would you need to know that?”

“She said she’d been debating whether to tell me all week, but that I ‘had a right to know’,” Nat whimpers.

“Bullshit! People like that just want to stir the pot, it’s pathetic,” I say – perhaps unhelpfully – still stroking Nat’s thin back and resting my head on her thin shoulder as she sips from the water bottle.

 

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You know you’re friends for life when you can make each other laugh even when your body is shaking with sadness.

“Right, first off, who the fuck still uses Facebook messenger?” Edele says, passing Nat a nearly-empty bottle of wine and picking up Jay’s Finest to roll another joint. We all laugh – even Nat. You know you’re friends for life when you can make each other laugh even when your body is shaking with sadness.

“Second, Mack’s right, she’s obviously some sort of sadist who hasn’t been laid in a while so gets her kicks from hurting people. Also, how do you even know it’s true? We all knew Matt for seven years too, and I can’t imagine him doing it – and you know I think all men are trash, even if they’re going out with one of us. Apologies, Craig,” she says mockingly, again holding up a wine bottle as some sort of signalling device, this time in the direction of mine and Craig’s flat. I laugh. I’m not sure Craig would laugh.

“Lacey saw them leave together, Ed!” Nat shouts in a sudden rush of fury. “Said they were fucking holding hands!”

There’s a moment of silence now. I can feel the anger radiating from Edele.

“That pathetic little bastard,” she says quietly with palpable rage. “I’m so sorry, Nat.”

“Why don’t you stay at mine?” I say, turning my face towards Nat’s. “The last thing we want is for you to be alone tonight. You might feel better to have some company and a change of scene,” I add, not wanting her to have to go back to the flat they shared and torture herself even more.

“It’s okay,” Nat replies quickly, as if considering her answer took no time at all. “I don’t want to intrude on you and Craig! He’s probably waiting for you with dinner ready or something. You guys don’t want me being all sad and pathetic in your home.”

Before I can reply, Edele interrupts: “I can stay at yours, Nat? It’s not like I have anywhere else to be. Please, save me from my mother and brother for the evening!”

“That’d be nice,” she says. “I’m sorry for shouting,” she says weakly.

“Don’t apologise,” Edele says warmly. “I’m sorry for pushing. I just didn’t want it to be true. Here,” – she passes her the joint – “smoke this, then let’s get out the freezing cold and go home. I’ll stay at yours, we’ll spoon, we’ll smoke, we’ll cry if you want to cry, we’ll laugh if you can laugh, we’ll watch the Holiday Armadillo episode of Friends because it’s your favourite, we’ll order takeout instead of eating Mackie’s weird dick soup, and we’ll be okay. Okay?” Nat smiles and nods.

“Ungrateful bitch,” Mackie laughs. “It tastes a lot better than it looks, all right?”

“Sure it does, Nigella.” A loud laugh from Mackie, a quiet forced chuckle from Nat. 

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