The first I knew was the phone call from an old friend. It was Christmas Day and to see her face smiling back with full lips and bright white smile was a perfect season’s treat. With the festive joy skipped, she hurried, breath panting as told me her story reminiscent of the TV horror series that had just finished its millionth season. Invasion of the Bodmin Snatchers, I could almost read the headline. It was a well-timed prank, my guard had dropped the furthest it ever would, but my blood pressure still skipped every time the chimes came, only calming when I saw it wasn’t the newsroom. I listened throughout the short call, barely took in the tall story as I heard Jamie’s growing voice in the background as he egged her on. With a true dramatic climax, the call cut with a slap to the mouthpiece, over dramatising the phone falling to the floor just before the line went dead.
She was my once best friend. “You remember Toni, don’t you mum?” and she did, of course, we were inseparable at school, like sisters until we had to grow up, limited now to infrequent calls when we plucked up the courage. Either I was following a scoop around the world, or she was locked in some government lab for months at a time. The result was a gap of two years since we’d last met in the flesh. Each time she came into my mind, I had to push away fear that life was just an excuse. We’d grown too close, too young and providence had stepped in. If they only knew, my parents would have said it was Jesus.
The call stuck in my mind as I ate through the Christmas plate, skipping the pudding, much to my mother’s distaste, barely hearing the lecture about my weight. I wasn’t in the mood for the usual debate about how the British public were wrong to want their TV presenters emaciated, my dad reminding me I was a journalist first.
Out alone in the garden for a cigarette, I called Toni back, ready to give her a piece of my mind. It wasn’t right to do that on the first call they’d had in three months. It wasn’t fair on either of them. I softened with every unanswered ring, with every echo of the chirps down the wire. By the tenth I’d changed my mind, had already forgiven her, was ready to say I’d be on the first train, we could spend the next four days together, if she could handle it. As the call rang out, so my mind swung back. Screw her. She’d crossed the line.
I barely glanced at the call when Jamie’s eyes appeared, the bottom half of his face obscured with his index finger as he frowned at the unexpected shot. They were together and playing games. Mum offered me white wine and I took a beer. If she hadn’t of launched into a lecture I’d have let the screen go blank.
“Not funny,” I said, knocking back half the bottle, back in the garden. I let him talk, defend himself, dig deeper as he denied all knowledge. Jamie was a mutual friend, someone we’d both grown close to as we went though school, the third musketeer in our dysfunctional pack. Years ago I thought I’d lost him, the world cracking down the middle as Toni and I crossed the line. Ending the call I couldn’t help but analyse his tone, using my professional tools to dissect the conversation. He was at home only ten minutes away with his husband and their two kids. Of course he was, it was the season for family. My breathing grew shallow and mum asked me if I was okay. I nodded, leaning against the counter to keep myself upright realising it could mean only one thing. Toni was playing a game. She was trying to tell me she was here in town. She was just down the road at Jamie’s.
I looked up to see dad offering me a beer, the empty gone from my hand already. I took the glass which was wet with condensation, placing it on the side, grabbing my car keys as I told the family I’d be back within the hour.
With my breath pluming white, I knocked using the brass and counted my beats as I waited. Jamie’s face lit up, his hands opening wide as he pulled open the door.
“Where is she?” I said, pecking at his cheek, peering over his shoulder and into the kitchen.
“She’s not here darling. I haven’t spoken to her in weeks.”
So, Season Two has begun. If you like what you read, my not see if you enjoy Season One.