One Shot - The Best Bits
Wrapped in an oversized cardigan, she sat on the bed and stared at the latest offering from Jeffrey.
Compared to the other packages she'd received from him, it was relatively tame. It wasn't, for instance, a collection of bald doll heads, or a Darth Vader stable table complete with cup holder. Still, from where she was sitting, staring at the blank mask, it was one of the weirdest things he'd ever sent her.
She wrapped the soft, brown cardigan closer around herself and sought the comfort she always got from the material's embrace. She'd found it at the back of her cupboard a few weeks ago, the night she'd broken up with Quade and her whole life had turned upside down. She didn't recognise the cardi, but assumed it belonged to her ex-boyfriend who must have accidentally left it there back in the early days of their relationship.
Thoughts of Quade, though, faded as the plain white mask in front of her gave her an insolent glare, demanding she focus on it again.
What was Jeffrey playing at?
Usually the highlight of her week was the parcel waiting for her on the kitchen table which, more times than not, was accompanied by her parent's bemused expressions. They'd never really understood the arrangement their daughter and the boy next door had agreed on when he announced he was going to spend his gap year travelling around the country.
Her eyes, incredibly accustomed to filling with tears since her break up, were right on cue to flood as she thought back to the night Jeffrey had suddenly announced he was leaving.
"That sucks," she'd said bluntly as they'd sat on the edge of his veranda in the cool of the evening, their legs dangling off the edge.
He'd looked at her in surprise, his good natured features crumpled by her response.
"I was actually going more for a Jack Kerouac, learning more about myself, this country and life in general kind of thing," He'd said, bumping her shoulder in an attempt to get her to look at him. "But I'll add 'that sucks' to the list if you like."
On a sudden inspiration she had allowed herself to look up at him and say, "If you're going to be Kerouac you'll need a Cassady."
"You?" He'd laughed, his teeth a flash of white in the dark. "Yeah, your parents would love that. I can just see it now, 'hi Mr and Mrs Butler, I'm off to bum around the country for a year. I know Phillipa's still got a year of school left to go, but can she come too?'"
He'd been right, there was no way her parents would have let her go and, logically, she knew that it wouldn't have been the right thing anyway. Jeffrey had needed to break free of suburbia, and being trailed by the girl next door wouldn't exactly have helped that.
"I'm sorry," she'd sighed, leaning her head against his shoulder. "I am happy for you, I'm just sad for me."
"Hey," he'd gently pushed her off his shoulder and ducked his head down to look at her, "what's there to be sad about? It's only a year."
"But it never really is, is it?" She'd argued. "People say that, but then they come back and they've changed so much you don't even know them anymore, that's if they even do come back. I'm going to miss you so much and you're going to be having such an awesome time you won't even remember I exist."
She'd known she sounded like a petulant child, but had been too upset to moderate herself.
"That's what you're worried about?" He'd asked incredulously. "Then you seriously do need to stay here and finish your education because you're an idiot."
When she still hadn't looked convinced, he'd let out a heavy sigh and ran a hand through his fluffy blonde hair before saying, "I'll send you stuff."
"Stuff?" She'd asked, "What stuff?"
"Stuff that I see that reminds me of you; stuff I come across while I'm travelling and want you to see. I'll send you something every week and then you'll know I haven't forgotten about you. Plus, we'll have email and phone, by the time I get back it'll be like you came with me and I stayed home with you because we'll both know everything that happened."
Unable to verbalise how good an idea she thought that was, she'd flung herself at him and hugged him fiercely in a way that, even though he was her best friend and next door neighbour, she never really had before.
He'd been true to his word and soon the white bookcase and desk in her room were full to bursting with the weird and wonderful things he'd found on his travels.
There was the little horse that he'd sent her after spending time as a Jackaroo at an outback property and had seen a mob of brumbies thunder past at sunset. It was amazing, he'd written, you would've cried like a baby.
When he was in Northern NSW the lump of quartz still embedded in the rock had arrived with the note: You can't move for this stuff up here. This one reminded me of your freaky eyes with the blue in the middle and the gold round the edge. Maybe you're not so weird after all, you're just like quartz.
The Darth Vader stable table he'd found in a Country Women's Association craft shop on the Eyre Peninsula. She could almost hear him laughing as he'd written, I shit you not, this was on a table next to some knitted booties and lamingtons being sold to raise money for fixing the church roof. I know you'd be with me in wanting to salute the CWA lady who put her hand up in a meeting and said 'Darth Vader stable tables could be a real money spinner'.
The old cameras had arrived a couple of months apart from each other, found in remote op shops and each with film still in them. When I get back, he'd written in nerdy excitement, we'll see if we can get the films developed. How cool would it be to see what some random person took pictures of years ago?
But it was the dolls' heads, unnerving as they undoubtedly were, that she loved best. They'd arrived on her birthday, four in total, their little faces painted with meticulous care, but all entirely without hair. The card that had come with them was the one that she read when she was missing Jeffrey more than she could stand; it was worn with many handlings.
Firstly, don't freak out. I know you've just tipped four dolls' heads out onto your bed and they're probably giving you the major creeps. Bear with me, there's a point to this.
I'm couch surfing my way through Perth at the moment and last night I stayed with a couple who have a four year old girl. I was feeling a bit homesick, especially since it's your birthday, and Emily, the little girl, asked me why I was sad. I explained that it was my best friend's birthday and that I wasn't there to celebrate and she ran straight out of the room and came back a few minutes later with these doll heads. She told me I should give you these because, in her words, 'the heads are the best bits'.
I don't know much about dolls and, frankly, these heads give me the willies, but the stuff about the 'best bits' got me thinking. That's what these past months sending you stuff has been about; I've wanted to give you the best bits. I don't want you freezing your butt off in a tent or picking up a job scraping road kill off the highway, but I want you to see the epic sunrise I saw when I climbed out of that tent, and I want you to meet the awesome guys who make it their job to collect animal corpses so other people are safe when they drive.
Happy 18th birthday, Pip, here's hoping you only ever get the best bits.
With love from your best bit provider, Jeffrey.
It wasn't Shakespeare, he was no Romeo and so he hadn't described her as a 'beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear'. In fact, it had contained the phrase 'animal corpses', but it was still the sweetest thing anyone had ever written to her, and reading his words made her physically ache for him to come home.
That return, however, was still a good month or so away and all she had to go on at that moment was a white plastic mask that had arrived that afternoon with no note.
Considering all the weird things she'd tipped out onto her bed from him, it was the no note thing that was the real kicker. Sure, maybe he'd written it and then forgot to put it in the package or something, but it didn't feel that way to her. Some weirdly intuitive part of her was firmly saying 'this is pointed'.
Reaching across to her side-table, she snatched up her mobile and dialled Jeffrey's number. It was a bit touch-and-go this communication method with him. Sometimes he had no credit or reception and sometimes he just plain turned his phone off, but she was in luck this time because, after a slight pause, it began to ring.
He picked it up after only two rings saying, as if they were already midway through a conversation,
"And she got the mask."
She allowed herself a moment to relish in the sound of his voice, warm and familiar, then focused again.
"Yeah, I got the mask, the message is proving a bit more elusive."
"Really?" He sounded surprised and, she swallowed, a little bit pissed off. "You've been blanking me for weeks so I thought it'd be pretty obvious.
"What?" She grabbed at the mask and her fingers tightened, pushing the plastic edges painfully into her skin. "What are you talking about?"
"Oh come on, Pip," Jeffrey said, almost scornfully. "For months I got emails so in-depth it took me about four visits to internet cafes to finish one diatribe about Mr Marshall's new, planet-destroying 4 wheel drive. The past three weeks that all stops and I get emails saying your dad's gardening heaps and is 'good', your mum's doing a lot of cooking and is 'good', and you're studying hard and 'also good'. I went from being treated like your best friend to be being treated like your bloody great aunt. If that's not blanking then I don't know what is."
She felt everything across her chest tighten. Busted.
"I..." she stammered, searching desperately for some excuse that wasn't as completely pathetic as the truth. All she could think of, however, was 'I thought I hid it heaps better than that!' That wasn't exactly going to help anything so she kept her mouth shut.
"I got so freaked out I called your mum," he continued and she stuffed the sleeve of Quade's cardigan in her mouth to stop herself squeaking in horror. "You'd gone so weird I thought you might be dying or something, and then she told me you'd been out of sorts since you and Quade broke up." He paused and she could feel his anger down the line, just as clear as she knew what he was going to say next. "So here's my question, Pip, who the hell is Quade?"
And there it was. Pip turned and sunk down against her pillows, her head swimming.
"He's you," she said finally.
There was a pause and then it was Jeffrey's turn to ask, "What?"
She wrapped her free arm tightly across her stomach and squeezed, knowing the time had come to let it all out, but not able to stop the sick feeling in the pit of her belly.
"Quade's a guy I met not long after you left," she forced herself to explain. "We started going out and we were together for-"
"He's me?" Jeffrey interrupted and her mouth twisted slightly. He clearly wasn't so desperate to know who Quade was now.
"He was your...replacement," she choked. "I didn't realise he was for a long while, but he was."
"My replace...why? I didn't need replacing," he snapped, "I was thinking of you every day. Why would you replace me?"
"Because I missed you and I wanted you back so badly and because...he was there."
That was the shameful truth, one she'd been forcing herself to face for weeks now. Quade was a good guy, a great guy, but she'd been with him solely because he'd been a distraction. This admission was something she'd known she'd never have been able to get out in email, but now, talking to Jeffrey, she knew she had to get it out there, even if it ruined their friendship forever.
"Damn, Pip," Jeffrey swore softly and she cringed, knowing he hadn't even heard the full awful truth yet.
"I used him," her voice was flat, in direct contradiction to her wildly beating heart. "And not just in a 'I miss my friend, make me think of something else' kind of way." She heard a cracking sound and looked down to see that she'd snapped the blank mask in half. Letting out a small choke of laughter at the symbolism, she finished, "I used him in a 'we're lying here making out on my bed, but sorry, mate, it's not you I'm thinking about' kind of way."
There was a long, long silence and then,
"Who were you thinking about?"
It was Jeffrey's voice she heard, but it was coming from the wrong direction. She held the phone to her left ear, but it sounded like it had come from her right...
She whipped her head round and let out a small sound like a whimper as she saw him standing there in her doorway, exactly as she had imagined so many times. This wasn't one of her dreams though, this was real.
Seconds ticked by and they stayed frozen, both with mobiles still firmly pressed to their ears. Even though her limbs felt like lead, her eyes were free and they roamed eagerly over him, searching out and cataloguing any little differences.
He was more tanned than when he'd left, and he stood differently, taller somehow. There was a fuzz of golden stubble across his jaw and he looked a lot older than when he'd left; not a boy anymore, but a man.
"That's my cardigan," he said, finally breaking the silence, but not at all in the way she'd expected.
"N...no it's not," she stammered, slowly pulling the phone away from her face.
"Yeah it is," he said more firmly, sticking his mobile into his pocket. "You took it off me years ago; you said 'boys shouldn't wear cardis'."
Oh God, she had too! So all this time she'd been taking comfort in something of Quade's, but she hadn't really. It had been Jeffrey again, it was always Jeffrey.
Clearly sensing the direction of her thoughts, he cleared his throat and asked again, "So who were you thinking about when you were with this Quade guy?"
A lick of anger broke through her numbness at his stupid, surely by now obsolete, question and she snapped,
"Mickey Mouse, who do you think?"
And then he was striding across the room and grabbing her wrists to slowly draw her up off the bed until she was standing in front of him. She braced herself for a friendly hug, a 'it's good to see you again, old pal' embrace, but it never came. Instead he leant down and ever so lightly brushed his mouth against hers.
He rocked back and looked at her searchingly as she raised a slightly shaky hand up to her lips, touching where he'd just been.
"What was that?" She asked quietly.
"That," he brushed some of her dark hair away from her cheek and she felt a giddy warmth spread down her body, "was what I've wanted to do since the day I left."
From the moment she'd broken up with Quade and admitted to herself that she was in love with her best friend, she had told herself that Jeffrey didn't think of her that way, that he was just her friend and that he'd be horrified if he knew how she'd started to feel about him. It had been conditioning, a truth she'd invented and then forced herself to believe, but all her hard work amounted to nothing when she looked at him then.
Unable to hold herself back, she launched herself at him and he caught her, swinging her round in a circle as she clung to him and kissed him over and over.
She knew she was babbling in between kisses, explaining how she'd never found the words to tell him about Quade and that, in the shame over why she'd broken up with him, she suddenly couldn't find the words to tell him about anything at all. He didn't seem to mind, though, he was doing some babbling of his own, explaining how he'd loved travelling, but had been blindsided by how much he'd wanted to be with her again as well.
"And then when you started blanking me I thought I'd lost you," he breathed, breaking off to press his lips to her temple, her neck, her mouth again. "You'd said all that stuff about people changing when they weren't together and how a year was so long, I thought you'd got bored of me, got over it and moved on. And then when I heard that you'd had a boyfriend pretty much this whole time and hadn't told me..."
"I'm not bored of you," the laugh at the ridiculousness of the suggestion caught in her throat. "Not now, not ever."
Eventually the words ran out and they stood locked together in silence, her head tucked against his shoulder and her hand pressed against his chest where she could feel his heart thumping.
"You actually put those doll heads up," he chuckled after a long while, and she looked up to see him staring across at the shelf above her desk. "I wouldn't have blamed you for chucking them."
"What?" She squeaked, horrified at the thought. "No, they're my favourite. That letter you sent...I think that's when I started to realise that you weren't just my best friend anymore."
He nodded, his arms tightening around her as he said, "I wasn't just saying that stuff, you know. You do deserve the best bits in life and I want to always help you get them."
If it was possible to explode because you were too full of happiness, she knew she would have in that moment. She didn't have the words to explain how she was feeling, was sure none had ever been invented that could convey how much she loved him, so she reached up to cup the back of his head and kissed him with everything she had, hoping it would go some way to show what he meant to her.
"You're the best bit in life," she said after several blissful moments, resting her forehead against his. "As long as I have you, I'm good."
Oh fluff, how I adore thee!
I wrote this for the A Drop of Romeo (ADoR) Star-Cross'd Round III Battle of the One-Shots prompt. To have a look at the picture the story is based on, please go here: adropofromeo . webs . com / starcrossd. htm, obviously taking out the spaces. The picture is seriously random, I spent so much time staring at the background going 'what is that?' If I got some of the things wrong, forgive me. I hope more than anything, however, that that is a Darth Vader stable table complete with cup holder.
The quote I used from Romeo and Juliet is in Act 1, Scene 5, when Romeo first sees Juliet.