Chapter Five

"I'm still remembering my life

Before I became your wife.

I'm still remembering the pain

And the mind games.

Reverse psychology, never tainted me.

I didn't sell my soul, I didn't sell my soul."

-The Cranberries

"I'd kind of hoped they'd go with a traditional handfasting." I commented to August, as we sat down in the reception hall after Holly's full-blown Catholic wedding.

"Alright," said August exasperatedly. "What's a handfasting?"

"A Pagan marriage. It's v-very cool, but I've never seen one. I j-just thought that they might go that way since Peter's Wiccan."

"You think he's going to tell his in-laws that?" August responded nonsensically.

"Um, August, there are no in-laws. Holly, r-remember?"

August, however, wasn't even paying attention. She was too busy looking around for Maria.

"She's over there, you know," I said, pointing.

August looked. "Ha. She's here alone."

"She's not." Matt said suddenly, sitting down next to us. "She's with that guy next to her."

August let out a snort of disbeleif. "A guy? Please."

Just then, however, the man next to Maria leaned over and kissed her on the lips. She laughed and kissed him back. August's mouth fell open. "What does she think she's doing?"

"Er…" said Matt. "She, uh, she told me she was just going through a-a phase… with you." He glanced at August fearfully. Her mouth opened and shut several times, and the color drained from her face, leaving it deadly white. She seemed to be at a loss for words.

I sighed. It felt too strange to have Maria and August fighting like this. Between their feud, and Holly marrying my ex, it felt like the sisterhood of the cream soda was deteriorating. It used to be the four of us, no matter how the rest of our friends changed. At least Holly and I were civil with each other. She had made me Maid of Honor out of habit, and I really didn't blame her for marrying Peter. I did blame her for publishing my poem without permission. But I had mostly gotten over that- it was just that a certain tension existed between Holly and me. I suspected she still held against me the way I had treated Peter. Which was a bit silly of her, really, because if I hadn't acted the way I did Peter might be marrying me instead of her. Or maybe that was what upset her. Whatever it was, she hid it extremely well. Only I picked up on it. I figured, however, that it warranted some sort of action on my part. So, when smoke began pouring from August's ears as she watched Maria, and it seemed dangerous to hang around any longer, I retreated and sought out Peter.

"Hey," I said quietly, when I got a chance to speak with him at last. "Um, I-I wanted to t-talk to you. I m-mean you're m-married to my best friend, n-now, so I… I wanted to apologize for- for being a bitch before."

"Oh, that!" He waved his hand dismissively. "No problem. That was ages ago. Forget about it. We're friends, now, right?"

"Sure." I grinned, though not entirely certain I believed him. Wondering if my concience would finally shut up now, I turned away. However, halfway back to my table I was hailed by Carla. She and her husband were sitting alone with Lorelei.

As I sat down, I had to ask what on earth compelled them to bring a six-year-old to a wedding.

"Well, I couldn't very well leave her alone, or with some stranger, now, could I?" said Carla, as she fought to keep the child in her seat. It was a losing battle, however, for a minute later Lorelei squirmed away and was off and running. Carla sighed and followed.

"She's very protective," said Carla's husband. What was his name? Oh, yes. David. I nodded.

He turned to me suddenly. "D'you know she won't even leave me alone with her? She won't let me be her father at all."

Why are you telling me this? I hardly know you. Embarrased, I didn't say anything.

He went on. "It's like she doesn't trust me."

I looked away. "S-she can be like that sometimes."

"I didn't know," he said.

I had begun to hate weddings.

* * *

Carla did far worse in marrying David. She enjoyed his company, but she was learning that was not enough. Maybe it was for some people, but not for her. She longed for the undying love she saw in movies, though she would never have admitted it. She wanted to be swept off her feet, though she loved the ground. She saw August and Maria, she wanted what they had. Wanted it so badly she felt like screaming and screaming until there was not a breath left in her body. When Holly got married, she couldn't take it anymore. She blew up at David over the smallest things so that she wouldn't have to talk about the big things. She started sleeping on the couch, or not at all, to avoid his bed. They both knew their marriage was falling apart around their heads, and she was letting it. He tried to make it up to her, without knowing what it was he was making up for. He gave her roses, and chocolates. She just stared at him. Chocolate? Chocolate? She hadn't been able to stand chocolate since she was sick on it all those years before. Didn't he know her at all? No.

* * *

She had planned it very carefully. A letter for Matt, a letter for Kwan, a letter for Lara, a letter to collectivley everyone else. A short note to her husband, a carefully chosen necklace for her daughter. That was the one thing that gave her pause- Lorelei. How, how could she abandon her own child? How? But she had convinced herself that Lorelei would be better off this way. In her letter to Kwan, she had detailed that Kwan should take on the child herself, and had told her husband in the note that she wanted him to give up Lorelei, for the good of everyone. She left the letters on her pillow. She left empty liquor bottles strewn around the kitchen and bathroom, broke one on the bathroom floor and walked on it. Here was the tricky part. She had to keep from fainting, knowing that her heel was practically gushing blood. She kept her eyes well away, but still it was a fight to stay on her feet. She got out the pills (tranquillizers) and flushed some down the toilet, dropping the bottle on the floor, where the pills scattered dramatically. She then limped out of the bathroom, leaving a careful trail of bloody footprints behind her. She walked out to the deck and down to the pier. At the end of the pier, she left her wedding ring, and jumped into the water.

* * *

Of course I didn't believe it when I heard. The question was, why didn't I believe it? I mean, no one really believes it when they hear their friend has suddenly killed herself. It's not something you can accept readily. But, of course, I was different. Was it simple shock that triggered this reaction? (No, it's not true. It absolutely isn't.) Or was it my gift? In a way I didn't much care. Either way, she was gone. And either way, all my friends were hit hard.

What a thing to do to the people you love.

* * *

She swam quite a ways down the shore. She emerged among an outcropping of rocks where she had previously (and secretly) hidden supplies for her journey. She had slipped her silk nightgown off in the water. She bandaged her foot, which the stinging salt water had cleansed and stopped from bleeding. It hurt a lot more than she had anticipated. Next, she pulled on the clothes she had bought for this purpose. A used pair of jeans and two shirts: white and black. She put the white on now, so she wouldn't be run over when she got to the road. She also stuffed her wads of cash in her bra, her pockets, and her socks. She limped across the sand to the main road. Here she stuck out her thumb and was able to finally pause in her flurry of activity: still, her heart kept beating at twice its normal rate. She wasn't safe yet.

After two hours of waiting by the road and being passed by, an old van pulled up by her. It was three college guys headed south on a summer road trip. She climbed in without hesitation, reckless and no longer caring what happened to her as long as she got away. Despite her stupidity, this time she was lucky. The guys turned out to be nice enough, reminding her a bit of Jacob's friends back at school. She got on easily with them, and before long it was decided that she would accompony them all the way down to Miami and the Keys. They like her because she was an attractive woman, and she paid for her own food, put in her share for the gas, and took turns driving. She, for her part, was glad, oh so glad, to be free. As they drove off that first night, she felt such a weight lift from her shoulders. It was like being born again, like flying, like a thousand other cliches.

And she thought no more of what she was leaving behind, her old life, and thought only of her future.

* * *

I won't try to talk about the funeral. It makes me literally sick just to think about it. Please, don't ask me to.

* * *

"S-so you're really just going to t-t-take her away."

"Yeah, I am," said Kwan. "I mean, I have to, don't I? Carla told me to."

I had never seen Kwan like this before. She hadn't cried once since she heard the news, but I knew she felt it deepest of all. It occurred to me I didn't really know Kwan, for all our being friends for years. I would never had expected her to take on the responsibility of a child this readily, but here she was, ready to follow Carla's instructions concerning Lorelei to the letter.

"I didn't even get a note," said Holly from the table, where she had been bawling her eyes out for days. We were at Carla's house, where we were spending the week trying to sort through things and clear stuff out, preparing the house to be sold. David had left right away, unable to stand being there. For the moment, Lorelei was with her grandmother.

"Well, you didn't really know her that well, did you?" said Kwan. Her voice was casually exasperated, but her words carried a bite that she might not have been aware of.

Holly stiffened. "Didn't know her? I knew her just as long as you did, I… I miss her so much." Holly burst into tears once again. She had cried so much since it happened that I didn't feel at all affected. When we were kids, I always cried when she did.

Kwan stared at Holly coldly. "She never confided in you, did she? What would she have to say to you? Look, why can't we just do what we're here to do? I don't know why you have to keep talking about everything. It's not helping very much, is it?"

"Kwan, you d-don't have to be so m-mean to her," I said awkwardly.

Kwan didn't say anything, which didn't surprise me. She'd just made the longest speech I'd ever heard her say.

She left the box she had been packing and disappeared into one of the bedrooms.

The silence that followed was typical of the past week. It yawned over us, wide and heavy, like the sinister blue sky outside. Even Holly's sobs didn't seem to break it, somehow.

There was a time when I would have rushed to hug and comfort Holly. Now I just stared out the window. I had no comfort to give.

* * *

August stood by the window in Maria's bedroom. "What does this mean?"

Maria was still in bed. "I love you, August. I always have."

"Do you?" August pulled the sheet tighter around her. What had gotten into her last night?

"Of course I do. I'm so sorry if I hurt you, I never meant to. I was just really confused. Can't you understand that?"

"No, I don't think I can. I've always known I loved you. I never wanted to pretend, I never needed to lie, and I was never ashamed."

Maria began to breathe more quickly. "I can't lose you again."

"I read somewhere," August said, "that sex is a natural reaction to death."

"It's more than that, and you know it!"

"Can't say that I do. And who's to say that you're not just fooling around now?"

"August. Please. You have to forgive me. I used to think I couldn't ever forgive you. But even when I hated you for hurting me, I still loved you. I can't escape that. And I don't think you can, either. I'm giving you another chance. Can't you give me another chance, too?"

"You're giving me another chance? What's that supposed to mean? Don't tell me you're still upset about that picture."

"I'm not talking about the picture, August, as you damn well know. I'm talking about how you treat yourself."

August turned her back and hunched her shoulders in an instinctive defensive movement. After a moment, she said, "If you're asking me to be happy…"

"I'm just asking you to try, that's all."

Tears began to slip through August's tightly shut eyelids. "I have been trying."

There was silence. Finally, Maria said what she had to say, as August knew she would. "I know you don't like the idea, but maybe you need-"

"I don't need drugs."

"August, don't you want to be happy?" Maria almost screamed.

"I don't need drugs!"

"Don't you want to live?"

"NO!"

Silence.

"Alright, then," said Maria quietly. "I guess that's it."

"So you won't love me unless I take drugs and become some fake person who smiles like a toothpaste commercial?"

"No, I'll love you either way. It's just a question, I suppose, of whether or not I can stand to be around you and watch you in pain."

"I hate you."

Maria stared at August's back. "No, you don't," she said almost fearfully.

"How do you know? You don't even know me, do you? And you don't care about me, you just care about yourself. You don't like looking at my pain because it makes you uncomfortable to think how close you are to that. It would be okay with you if I went on hurting and just didn't let on."

"That's not true. You haven't let on, have you? For years you did a very good imitation of a happy person."

"Whatever," said August. Thinking how Mark was the only one who really cared about her.

But then Maria came up and buried her face in August's hair. August lifted her head and stared at the spackled ceiling. She realized she was back where she started from all those years ago on the roof at school. She decided to try, for Maria's sake. She would try. Again.

But, oh God, she had forgotten. Carla was dead. How could she possibly be happy when Carla was dead?

But, no, that didn't change anything. She still had to try. Just try, that's all.

She let herself fall back into Maria's arms.

* * *

Lara was always gone by the time Mark came home from work, and still sleeping when he left in the morning. On weekends she slept. Whenever they caught each other in between, she avoided his eyes and didn't touch him. Since the funeral, she hadn't once mentioned Carla. Needless to say, he was worried. But he knew better than to confront her. He would just have to wait until something broke her.

In the meantime, August was moving out. He was losing her, too.

"I'm really sorry," said August, as they stood in her empty studio upstairs on her last day there. "I'm sorry I have to leave you, especially when Lara's like this." She shrugged. "Here's all the rent I owe you." She handed him a stack of bills. "And don't try and refuse it, because I know you need it."

That was fair enough. They did need it. Though it felt a lot like charity.

He wanted to ask if he would see her again, if they would still be friends, but thought it would sound stupid. Something which August, apparently, had no qualms about, (at least since the Prozac) because she suddenly hugged him. "I'll miss you," she said tearfully. "I love you a lot, you know."

He flushed. It was definitely the Prozac that was making her act like this. He wondered why she had let herself be talked into it.

She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek, then left. He watched her go, frowning after her.

* * *