"Congratulations," says Jess as we pass in the hall. "You know you only made it because of her though, right?" She asks me.
"Hey!" says Priscilla, forcefully stepping forward, stopping her in her tracks. She turns back, looking at Priscilla with just as much force, daring her to look away.
My voice is so quiet when I speak that Priscilla seems to only just hear me. "Priscilla," I say, voice shaking. "Please don't..."
She steps back, touching a hand to my shoulder. "It's alright Beth, I got this." she says and I watch in horror as she turns her attention back to Jess.
"Look!" she says thunderously, pointing accusingly at me, and I shudder. "Look what you did!"
Jess folds her arms over her chest and raises an eyebrow as she holds Priscilla gaze. "No," she says, shaking her head in what seems like mock sympathy. "I'm afraid that's all your doing Priscilla."
"You did well too," I say, so quietly that both of their gazes turn to me without any sign of comprehension of my words. "You did well too," I say again, louder this time as I allow my gaze to rest on Jess.
"Thanks," she says warily, a hint at a smile appearing on her lips.
Priscilla glares at me, hard. "Have you ever thought about what might be going on for Jess?" I ask her, and from the very corner of my eye, I see a tear roll down Jess's cheek. Priscilla's expression fades away and I see the remorse in her eyes as her eyes turn to look at Jess. "I'm sorry Jess," she says before walking away. After a few steps, she pauses, looking back at me.
"I'll be there in a minute," I say in answer to her unspoken question.
When I turn back to Jess, she's on the bench against the wall. I cross the space between us and sink down on to the bench beside her. I fold my hands in my lap and wait in silence. Eventually, Jess looks up, hastily wiping the wetness from around her eyes at the sight of me. "What are you still doing here?" she asks, a faint hint of tiredness in her tone.
"I wanted to make sure you were alright," I say simply, "and, I'm sorry I made you cry."
"You didn't..." she says, trailing off as she wipes a few fresh tears from her eyes. "You... You just remind me of someone."
"Who?" I ask softly.
"My mother," Jess says, finally meeting my eyes. I am about to speak, but Jess beats me to it. "You were nice to me when I've been awful to you nearly the whole time. You gave me a chance. My mother would have done the same thing."
There is silence a while before I break it. "Am I right in thinking something happened to your mother?" At my question, a fresh round of tears falls down Jess's face. "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."
"No, it's ok," she says softly, "I.. I lost her when I was younger. Ever since then, it's been me and Aunty Dee."
I reach over, lightly patting her knee. "Jess, I'm sorry."
"Thanks," she says. "Thanks for hearing me out."
"You're welcome," I say, offering her a smile as I rise to my feet.
A little way down the hall from where Jess still sits on the bench, I see Priscilla hiding.. or trying to hide behind a nearby curtain. "Priscilla," I say in a hiss so as to ensure Jess doesn't hear us, "what are you doing?" Silently, Priscilla sidesteps away from the curtain and begins walking with me.
"I heard the whole thing," she says breathlessly, and I instinctively grab her forearm, just in case she were to fall. "I had no idea.."
"Sometimes," I say, "people are mean for no good reason, but other times, the way they are can be a result of something they've been through."
"I never forgave her for pushing me off the stage all those years ago," she says, "I held on to it, all of it. I hated her..." Priscilla says, "I was her best friend Beth. I was supposed to know all of this. But, she disappeared and then came back after a year. At first, everything seemed like no time had passed at all. But she wasn't the same person anymore."
"Priscilla," comes Jess's voice and we look up to see her in the doorway. I step back as Jess approaches Priscilla. "I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry too," says Priscilla and I see the beginnings of tears in their eyes. Mirroring one another, they hastily wipe them away. Jess is the first one to smile, followed closely by Priscilla.
"Friends again?" Jess asks, a smile on her lips.
"Let's just take it slow, ok?" says Priscilla, "but yeah, friends."