“Natalie,” I cut in, my head spinning with her run-on sentences, “just calm down for a second, alright?”
I toss the blanket off me and get out of the bed with the phone still pressed to my ear. I know that I have to do this, to tell her what Damon did. I have to. Not only would she never forgive me later when she found out, but I would never forgive myself. If the tables were turned I would want her to tell me.
But not over the phone. This is a mandatory face-to-face discussion.
“Can you meet me for coffee in an hour?”
“Uhh, yeah, sure. Are you sure you’re alright? I was so worried. I thought you got kidnapped or something.”
“Natalie, yes, I’m…,” I’m totally not fine, “yes, I’m fine, OK. Just meet me in an hour and please come alone.”
“Damon’s passed out at his house,” she says and I detect the grin in her voice. “Girl, he did things to me last night I never knew he could do.”
I shudder at her words. They’re like screaming entities blaring at me on the other end of the phone but I have to pretend they’re just words.
“I mean I couldn’t even think about sex until I knew you were OK. You wouldn’t answer your cell so I called your mom at like three and she said you were asleep in your bed. I was still so worried because you just left and—”
“One hour,” I interrupt before she goes off on another tangent.
We hang up and the first thing I do is look at the missed calls on my phone. Six were from Natalie, but the other nine were from Damon. The only voice mails though were left by Natalie. I guess Damon didn’t want to leave any incriminating evidence behind.
Not that I need evidence. Natalie and I have been best friends since the bitch stole my Corduroy Cool Barbie Doll at a sleepover.
I’m fidgeting by the time she shows up and have drunk down over half of my latte. She plops down on the empty chair. I wish she wasn’t smiling so much; it’s only making it that much harder.
“You look like hell, Cam.”
She blinks, stunned.
“What? No sarcastic ‘thanks’ followed by your famous rolling eyes?”
Please stop smiling, Nat. Please, just take my strange UNsmiling behavior serious for once and look at me with a serious face.
Of course, she doesn’t.
“Look, I’m just going to cut right to it, OK?”
There it is: finally the smile starts to fade.
I swallow and take a deep breath. God, I can’t believe this happened! If it were some random guy she had been seeing during one of her and Damon’s short breakups, this wouldn’t be so difficult. But this is Damon, the guy she’s been with for five years, who she always runs right back into the arms of after a breakup or a fight. He’s the only guy she’s ever truly been in love with.
“Cam, what’s going on?” She senses the severe measure of what I’m about to tell her and I can see in her brown eyes how already she’s trying to figure out if this is something she wants to hear, or not. I think she knows it has something to do with Damon.
I see the lump move down the center of her throat.
“Last night, I was out on the roof with Blake—”
Her worried face is suddenly assaulted by smiles. It’s as if she’s grabbing a hold of the opportunity to mask the inevitable news with something she can joke around about.
But I stop her before she has a chance to comment.
“Just listen to me for a minute, OK?”
Finally, I’ve reached her. The natural playful spirit that always exudes from her face drains right out of her.
I go on:
“Damon thought Blake took me out on the roof to have his way with me. He stormed out and blew up on Blake; beat the shit out of him. Blake left understandably pissed off and then it was just me and Damon. Alone.”
Natalie’s eyes are already giving away her fears. It’s like she knows what I’m going to say and she’s starting to quietly hate me for it.
“Damon forced himself on me, Nat.”
Her eyes grow narrower.
“He kissed me and tried to tell me he’s had a thing for me since seventh grade.”
I can tell her heartbeat has sped up just by how heavy her short breaths have become.
“I wanted to tell you—”
“You’re a lying bitch.”
I feel punched in the gut again, except this time it completely knocks the breath out of me.
Natalie shoots up from the chair, shoulders her purse and glares down at me through ravenous dark eyes framed by equally dark hair.
I still can’t move, stunned by what she said to me.
“You’ve wanted Damon since I started dating him,” she hisses down at me. “You don’t think I’ve seen it all these years, the way you look at him?” Her mouth stretches into a hard line. “Shit, Camryn, you’re always taking up for him, bitchin’ at me when I joke around about other guys.” She starts motioning her hands out in front of her and imitating me in an exaggerated, nasally voice: “You’ve got a boyfriend, Nat—Don’t forget about Damon, Nat—You should think about Damon.” She slams her palms down on the table, causing the table to sway precariously side to side on its base before becoming still again. I don’t even move to catch my drink, but it doesn’t fall over. “Stay away from me and away from Damon.” She points her finger in my face. “Or I swear to God, I will beat you senseless.”
She walks away and right out the tall double glass doors, the ringing of the little bell at the top of the door echoes around the space.
Once I finally snap out of the shock, I notice about three customers watching me from their tables. Even the barista behind the counter looks away when my eyes fall on her. I just look down at the table, letting the patterns in the wood grain move around in my unfocused vision. I rest my head in my hands and sit here for the longest time.
Twice I go to call her, but force myself to stop and just set the phone back on the table.
How did this happen? Years of inseparable friendship—I cleaned up after the girl’s stomach bug for Christ’s sake!—and she tosses me out like moldy leftovers. She’s just hurting, I try to tell myself. She’s just in denial right now and I need to give her time to let the truth sink in. She’ll come around, she’ll dump his ass and she’ll apologize to me and drag me back to The Underground looking to find both of us new guys. But I don’t really believe anything I’m saying, or rather, the less rational, wounded part of me won’t let me see past the angry red.
A customer walks by, tall older man in a wrinkled suit, and sneaks a glance at me before walking out. I’m totally humiliated. I look up again and catch the same pairs of eyes as before looking, only to look away. I feel like I’m being pitied. And I hate being pitied.
I grab my purse from the floor, stand up and throw the strap sloppily over my shoulder and storm out almost as indignantly as Natalie had.
It’s been a week and I haven’t heard a word from Natalie. I did eventually break down and try to call her—several times—but her voicemail always picked up. And the last time I called, she had changed her greeting to: Hi, this is Nat. If you’re a friend—a real friend—then leave me a message and I’ll call you back, otherwise, don’t bother. I wanted to reach through the phone then and punch her in the face, but I settled with chucking it across the room. Thankfully, I bought that protection case when I bought this phone, otherwise I’m sure I’d be at the Apple store shelling out another couple hundred bucks for a new one.
I even broke down and tried to call Damon. He’s the last person on this planet I want to talk to, but he’s the one holding the key to mine and Natalie’s friendship. Unfortunate, but apparently true. I don’t know what I was thinking: That he would sell himself out and tell Natalie the truth? Yeah. Fat chance.
So, I stopped calling. I purposely avoided our favorite coffee shop and settled with the crap at the closest convenience store and I went two miles out of my way to go into my job interview at Dillard’s, just so I didn’t have to drive past Natalie’s apartment.
I got the job. An assistant manager’s position—my mom put in a good word for me; she’s good friends with Mrs. Phillips, the lady who hired me—but I’m as excited about working at a department store as I am about drinking this craptastic coffee every morning.
And it hits me as I sit at the kitchen table and watch my bleach-blonde mom sift her way through the refrigerator: I’m no longer moving out on my own and in with my best friend. I’m going to either have to find an apartment and live by myself, or be stuck here for a while longer with my mother until Natalie comes to her senses. Which might be never. Or, it might take so long that I become unforgiving and tell her to screw off when she does.
The room feels like it’s swaying.
“I’m going out with Roger tonight,” my mom says behind the refrigerator door. She lifts up from leaning inside and looks across at me, wearing too much eye shadow. “You met Roger, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I met Roger.” Really I didn’t, or maybe I did, but I’m getting his name mixed up with the last five guys she’s gone out on a date with in the past month. She signed up to one of those weird speed-dating things. And she sure speeds right through these guys, so I guess the term is literal in her case.
“He’s a nice guy. It’s my third date with him.”
I squeeze out a smile. I want my mom to be happy even if it means getting remarried, which is something that scares me to death. I love my dad—I’m Daddy’s little girl—but what he did to my mom is unforgivable. Ever since the divorce four months ago, my mom has been this strange woman who I only know halfway anymore. It’s like she reached inside a drawer that has been locked for thirty years and pulls out the personality she used to wear before she met my dad and had me and my brother, Cole. Except that it doesn’t really fit anymore, but she tries her damnedest every day to wear it.
“He’s already talking about taking me on a cruise.” Her face lights up just thinking about it.
I close the lid on my laptop. “Don’t you think three dates is a little soon for a cruise?”
She purses her lips and waves the notion away. “No baby, it’s just right. He has plenty of money so to him it’s as casual as taking me to dinner.”
I just look away and nibble on the edge of the sandwich I made, though I’m not at all hungry.
Mom flits around the kitchen, pretending to clean. Usually, she has a housekeeper come in on Wednesday’s, but when a man is stopping by, she thinks running a dish rag over the counter and spraying the house with air freshener is cleaning.
“Don’t forget about Saturday,” she says as she starts to load the dishwasher, which is a surprise.
“Yeah, I know, Mom.” I sigh and shake my head. “Though I might take a rain check this time.”
Her back straightens up and she looks right at me.