A short story I wrote for a competition entry.
Catching sight of my reflection while passing my vanity unit, I paused, taking stock of my appearance. I rarely gave mirrors more than a cursory glance to check for food stains. Today, though, I couldn’t help but consider myself through Lara’s eyes.
No wonder Lara felt responsible for us - like it was her job to protect us. She had always been hard as nails - the tough chick nobody ever tried to mess with. Mike might have been a professional boxer, but it was Lara who knew how to win a fight.
I looked so...what was the word? Lara would call it “vulnerable”. Did Jenna have this same affliction? Was that why people - men - had treated us so badly? Were we always destined to be victims?
Jenna. Thinking about her, locked away in that awful place, was painful. She was my oldest friend, and I felt like I had failed her. It wasn’t fair that Lara and I were free, with Jenna cut off from the world, held hostage by the consequence of her own suicidal thoughts.
Her letter lay face-down on the counter beside me. My hand crept towards it, but I had already committed it to memory;
I’m so sorry it’s taken me this long to write. Losing Mike has been harder than I ever thought possible. I’m starting to come to terms with it all now.
I miss you and Lara every day. I’ll never find the words to tell you just how much I appreciate you both.
I’ll be home soon. I can’t wait to see you guys. I’m so nervous, but I can’t wait to take the next step with you both. You were right, it’s time. I just hope Lara is ready.
All my love
P.S. I hope Lara hasn’t been too much for you to handle. Remember what I told you! You’re stronger than you think.
Her words were a catalyst, reminding me what I needed to do. I’d put it off too long already; there was no sense in delaying it any more.
I knew Lara would believe I’d betrayed her. She was so fiercely independent; the concept of trusting anyone else, even her oldest friend, was impossible.
I hated the idea of taking that away from her - it felt like stripping her of her identity. But I also knew I had to try, for her sake. For mine, too - and Jenna’s, in a way.
On impulse, I rooted around in my drawers until I found a barely-used lipstick shoved into a pair of socks. The bold colour felt unnatural on my lips, but it gave me an odd sense of confidence.
The vulnerable Darcey who always needed a protector might not be able to stand up to Lara, but this other Darcey - the fierce woman I saw gazing into the mirror - she might be up to the challenge.
I jerked to my feet with a sudden rush of nervous energy, striding out of my bedroom before I had a chance to change my mind.
It was impossible not to glance across into Mike’s old room as I passed. We’d cleaned it up as best we could; the broken glass, the used needles, the rotting food - but we hadn’t been able to hide the holes in the walls, or fix the broken cupboard doors. It was a stark reminder of too-fresh loss, and I tore my gaze away with effort.
I knew Jenna’s darkened room would be locked up tight, but I still ran my hand across the carved wood as I passed, as if it might hold a faint trace of her spirit within. I wished, fervently, that she could be here to do this with me.
Lara was settled comfortably in her favourite chair, one hand holding a dog-eared book, the other draped over the armrest, in easy reaching distance of a large glass of red.
I could feel my throat tightening in tense anticipation and I tried my best to shut out the overwhelming need to back out before I waded in too deep.
Sensing my presence, Lara glanced up from the book and turned her attention to me. I felt like some kind of prey animal, suddenly aware of a lioness catching its scent. I swallowed and moved forward into the room.
I glanced up to see Darcey staring at me like a rabbit caught in headlights. Her lipstick made her look a little less like a scared girl, somehow, but her eyes held their usual timid, wary expression as she sat down next to me.
“Hey, can we talk?” she asked, lowering herself into a chair. Wearily, reluctantly, I closed the book I’d been enjoying, and resigned myself to the fact that my plans for a restful afternoon were probably about to be cancelled. “You’ve been avoiding me.” She admonished.
It wasn’t a question. And she wasn’t wrong. Still, the statement annoyed me, for reasons I couldn’t quite fathom.
“I’m fine, thanks for asking, how are you?” I replied sarcastically, already wishing she’d just leave me alone. I was in no mood to endure her endless need for validation.
“Lara, don’t be petty. This is serious. We need to have a discussion. You know, you can’t just keep leaving the room every time you see me. We live together, and the house isn’t that big.” The assertive tone took me aback for a moment - confidence wasn’t exactly Darcey’s forte.
I rolled my eyes, holding up my hands in mock surrender. My headache was starting to come back and I didn’t know what kind of “talk” I was in for, but I’d pretty much been the roommate from hell recently, so I bit back the scathing retort that came naturally. If a stupid talk about “respecting boundaries” or whatever, would get me off the hook, it was a small price to pay.
“I know, I know. Look, Darcey, I’m really sorry about the last couple of days, okay? But this hasn’t exactly been an easy week, and we’ve both been dealing with a lot! I just needed to get it out of my system, that’s all! You know how I get. Are we good?”
She wasn’t quite smiling, but I could see her mouth twitch a little. “Lara, stop. We both know you’re only apologising to try and get me off your back!” She was right, as usual. I flashed her a wolfish grin, but while her mouth was smiling, her gaze remained serious.
“Look, I know this has all been a lot. But please, please don’t push me away.” Darcey leaned forward in earnest as she spoke. “I’m only trying to look out for you, like you’re always doing for me. It’s okay to not be okay.”
Where the hell was she going with this? My eyes searched hers curiously, trying to penetrate her thoughts. “Darcey, I’m fine. You know me. I can always handle my shit.”
I watched her take a shaky breath as she tried to build up the nerve to spit it out. I had a feeling I knew what was coming. We’d been friends long enough to read each other pretty well.
“Lara. You - you haven’t been taking your meds. You know you aren’t supposed to come off them. You’re going to end up back in the psych ward!”
Her reaction, predictably, was defensive and savage. “What the hell, Darcey? Have you been counting them again? Stay out of my stuff!” She was on her feet; her wine glass tinkled lightly as it hit the coffee table. From the corner of my eye, I watched a stream of blood-coloured liquid lazily making its way across the glass table top.
“Lara, I can tell when you don’t take them! You start having those awful mood swings, and getting paranoid...and...and I noticed your hand this morning. Did something happen?”
I watched as she instinctively glanced down at her hand, reflexively curving her fingers into a fist before spreading them wide once more. The knuckles were starting to bruise, and she hadn’t bothered to clean off the dried blood.
Lara’s nostrils flared as she inhaled sharply, struggling to contain her emotions. I could tell she was growing angrier by the second, and doing her best not to go ballistic.
“Darcey, I’m fine. I am taking the meds, I swear. It’s just - my time of the month. Probably PMT or something, that’s all. You know how bad my cramps can be. And my hand - it’s nothing, seriously! I tripped coming up those stupid concrete steps last night and scraped my hand trying to catch myself. You should see the state of my knees!”
Even knowing her like I did, it was truly a marvel how quickly and perfectly she could lie when she chose. The words seemed to become truth the moment they rolled from her tongue, as if she herself believed what she was saying.
She was so used to seeing me as this naïve - victim - that my nervous attempt at a smile seemed to reassure her. Let her think she’d managed to cover for herself. I was clinging desperately to the hope that if I could keep her calm enough, I might actually be able to pull this off.
“That’s such a relief!” I enthused, suddenly finding it a struggle to stay focussed. The spilled wine had begun to splash onto the cream carpet, and the rhythmic drip, drip, drip of each fresh stain tugged at me, demanding attention. With an effort, I forced myself to remain present.
“I’ve probably been worrying for nothing.” I assured her brightly, bracing myself for the reaction to my next words. “I know how they mess with your sleep. It’s just that - well - Jenna will be coming back soon and I know she was really hoping that you’d-”
I was used to Lara’s temper - I’d lived with it almost my whole life. But that cold, dangerous look in her eyes now was one I’d only seen a handful of times before. It has always terrified me, and she’d never before turned it on me.
“Jenna - is - gone -” she hissed through gritted teeth, and it took everything I had not to shrink from her. “That weakling couldn’t handle being a part of the real world anymore and she left us! She’s not coming back, Darcey! She chose this, remember?”
“Lara, she’s our friend! We both love her, we’ve been friends forever. And - and this is her h-home!” My old stutter was beginning to creep in under the pressure, but I did my best to ignore it, knowing Lara would seize any chance to tear me apart - for what she saw as a sign of weakness - if I let her.
“Her home?! She abandoned her home when she abandoned us, Darcey! Did you forget that? Or did you just decide to check out when shit hit the fan? I mean, that’s how you deal with stress, isn’t it?” I could feel the explosive rage building up inside me at the mention of Jenna’s name. How could Darcey have forgiven her so easily?
Darcey pressed her fingers to her eyelids - I could see her fighting back tears. Briefly, I felt a pang of guilt; I let my fury override it.
“That’s not true, Lara. Jenna loves us. Both of us. She just...she had to leave to - to help Mike, before he could get himself killed. He was getting out of control. You know she would never abandon us if she had a choice.”
I laughed, bitterly. She was so hopefully naive, it was actually sickening. “You seriously think she was trying to help Mike? He is dead, Darcey! Jenna killed him.”
She was staring at me as if I was a stranger, as if she was really seeing me for the first time. I could see she thought I was starting to lose it. Fortunately, Darcey knew better than to go in my room - but it dawned on me that she might have seen more than she was letting on.
“You’re lying to yourself, Lara. You know that’s not what happened. You know the truth as well as I do. Mike was messed up, but Jenna loved him. She wanted to keep him safe. She wanted to keep us all safe, and that’s why she had to take him away before he got us all in trouble, or killed. She did what she had to, to protect us.”
“Protect us?” I could see Lara’s eyes growing colder and more dangerous with every word. “She was protecting herself! That’s all she knows how to do. She’s always been a victim. How can you not see that?”
I stared at her, speechless. It was finally sinking in how ill she’d gotten. I wondered if I could still reach her, or I’d left it too late. “Lara, that’s not fair. She was just a kid when her dad was hurting her! What was she supposed to do?”
“She should have been stronger! All of this is her fault. The only reason you existed to her was to protect her! And when you couldn’t, it was Mike’s turn. He helped her forget, and look how that turned out. I was the only one who could ever cope with what she put us through!”
“Lara, stop! You aren’t being fair - ” I tried to break in, but there was no grounding this flight now.
“No, I’m serious, Darcey. I mean, come on! How many times did you clean her blood off the bathroom floor after an episode? How many times did we drag the two of them to rehab or cover for them at work, after they went on yet another week-long bender? And that’s without starting on what I’ve done for you!”
Part of me agreed with her. She had always been the only one of us who could handle living in the real world when things got serious. “Lara, please,” I begged, resenting the weakness I heard in my own voice. “It’s still her life. She deserves the chance to heal.”
“She deserves it? She doesn’t deserve anything. She’s not the one who kept us alive all these years. No, that was me. All she knew how to do was hide. You weren’t much better. Mike was the party guy - oh, he made sure we always had fun. Until he couldn’t stop having fun, that is. And now, he’s dead, and Jenna ran off to hide. Again! Like she always does. That stupid, pathetic little coward couldn’t handle it, and she left me stuck with here you, like always.”
I stared at her, struggling to recognise the woman I thought I knew. I knew I was out of time to decide. I had to do this. Now.
“Lara, no. Stop. Just stop, and listen to me. Mike is gone, he isn’t coming back. That’s true. But he’s not dead - Jenna didn’t kill him. It was time for her to start healing, Lara. That’s why we went through all that therapy with her, remember. To help her. Help all of us. And now, you need to let her come back so she can keep doing that, Lara. It’s time.”
For just the briefest of moments, I saw a flash of something in Lara’s eyes - something I’d never seen there before. Fear.
Darcey was giving me the strangest look. What was it? Hate? Love?
“Oh Lara, it’s okay. I promise; it’s going to be alright. You have to stop fighting it. We have to let Jenna choose.”
“Not happening.” I snarled. “I’ll kill you before I let you bring her back. She’s not getting rid of me that easily! I’m the only reason she’s survived this long. She needs me!” She just stared at me, with that same, strange expression on her face. I finally recognised it; pity. And I hated her for it.
“I’m sorry. I hate having to do this, but I promised Jenna. I know you’re scared, and I know you think you’re protecting her, but you’re not. This is hurting her. It’s time to let her move on. She needs to live her life, Lara.”
I swallowed, my body tensed for her reaction. I could see she wasn’t going to give me a choice. I pulled out my phone, shakily dialling 999.
Realising what she was about to do, I lunged, sending the phone flying. Time seemed to slow as our eyes locked on one another, each waiting for the other to act. I could hear the thudding of my heart in my chest.
I glanced down at my hand, seeing the bruised knuckles and remembering what had caused them. Without stopping to think, or give Darcey a chance to react, I braced myself for the impact and lunged.
I felt the silent scream stretching my throat as our fist smashed into the glass. Lara’s image seemed to splinter as the mirror shattered into a thousand shards of glass. Her arm fell to our side and, for a few seconds, I distantly registered the faint drip, drip, drip of fresh blood spattering on the hardwood floor. Then, the blood was rushing in my ears and I blacked out.
Opening my eyes, I rolled on to my side and hauled myself to my feet, careful to avoid the shards of glass I seemed to be surrounded by. I sighed, lamenting the loss of yet another mirror. I looked around, making a quick mental note of the extent of the clean-up operation I was about to embark on, pleased to find it wasn’t too extensive. Just before I went to fetch cleaning supplies, I caught sight of myself in an intact section of mirror. It felt good to be back in control, and I couldn’t resist smiling at myself. “Welcome back, Jenna.”
*Note: This story was written in response to the following prompt from Reedsy: Write a story where one character needs to betray the other, but isn’t sure if they can.