This story is by Nyssa Clements and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
November 1st, 1:30 am
“Josephine, it’s me. I’ve left the party. I’m sorry I didn’t say goodbye, it was just so chaotic in there, I was about to implode. Look, I want to say that I love you. You mean more to me than life itself. You are so fucking beautiful and smart and amazing. You deserve so much more than that twat. Christ, you probably deserve better than me, but I love you and he doesn’t. You give him everything that you have and he gives you nothing in return. Leave him. Love me instead.”
Joe feels her phone fall from her hands, though she doesn’t hear it hit the pavement. All she can hear is the sound of approaching sirens. Jared is lying beside her, barely conscious. He lost what little clothes he had on ages ago, and now he’s only covered by a table cloth and vomit. She wants to hold him and to touch him. She needs him to tell her that everything is going to be okay, but he’s just staring up at her like she’s a stranger watching over his coffin. His face is wet like he’s been crying, but he doesn’t look sad.
When the ambulance pulls up, her whole body starts to vibrate. Her eyes don’t leave Jared but her mind races, and only seconds later, her feet follow suit. She’s running, weaving through suburbia, stomping on fallen leaves, watching her laboured breath in the air as her lungs burn. But she doesn’t stop. She promises herself that she never will.
. . .
October 31st, 10:10 pm
Taylor has never been to a Halloween party, and now as she stands waiting for Joe outside the house of a boy she barely knows, surrounded by classmates she never talks to, she feels like an intruder. She’s dressed in a black body suit with a black hooded cape and a black pointy hat, an ensemble that could be a witch, but could also be a black hole.
With any luck, she thinks, no one will even see me.
And at first no one does, but her anxiety seeps from her pores, drawing eyes to her like she’s oozing blood in the middle of the ocean.
Reluctantly, she turns around to see a drunk nurse skipping towards her.
Alice and Taylor were friends once, during the summer before the 8th grade. Then, one night Alice asked Taylor if she had a crush on her, and Taylor said yes. They haven’t really talked since.
“Want a drink?” Alice asks, reaching into her bag and pulling out a half empty bottle of tequila.
Taylor doesn’t answer, but still it makes its way into her hands so she takes a long, revolting swig. She vaguely hears someone call Alice’s name as she tries to swallow without vomiting it back up. She holds the bottle out for Alice to take back, but she just looks at it and shakes her head.
“You look like you need it more than I do,” she says.
Taylor doesn’t protest, mainly because she knows that it’s the truth. Alice laughs softly to herself and, without another word, heads inside. Joe was supposed to be here ten minutes ago. She’s with her boyfriend, Jared. Tonight is the end of his 6 month conquest, only Joe can’t see that yet. She still thinks that booking a cheap motel for their first time together is romantic.
Taylor closes her eyes and says a prayer for Joe, not to God, to someone else, hopefully someone far more powerful. Goosebumps cover her skin and she starts to shiver. It feels like it could start to snow at any moment, nearly all the leaves have fallen, and now the trees are dancing naked in the chilly night. She’s watching them and thinking about falling asleep in their branches when a delicate hand wraps itself around her arm, pulling her towards something warm. Joe. She wraps Taylor into her arms so suddenly it nearly knocks the two of them off their feet.
“How are you?”
“You’re not allowed to ask me that, Josephine. I’m fine. I’m not the one who just had sex.”
Joe’s cheeks begin to flush so she awkwardly finds a great fascination with her own cowgirl outfit, fidgeting with her straw hat and the cuffs of her plaid shirt. When her shoulders start to shake, it takes a moment for Taylor to realise it might not be laughter.
“How was it?” Taylor asks as gently as she can while still being heard over the blaring music and gossip.
Joe moves so they’re standing side by side, both of them watching the foreign scene in front of them with fascination and disgust. They can see Jared through the front door. He’s dressed as a Greek God, standing next to a keg with a bottle of vodka in his hands.
“It was uncomfortable, like something wasn’t right.”
Joe’s words are a sucker punch to Taylor’s stomach. With no air in her lungs, she can’t respond right away, so she hands over the bottle of tequila. Joe takes it greedily.
“Maybe you were doing it wrong,” Taylor finally manages to say, ending with a fake laugh to make it sound like a joke, even if it wasn’t.
“Yeah, maybe,” is Joe’s only response. She steps forward, starting to make her way inside, but Taylor quickly stops her, grabbing one of her hands and gently interweaving their fingers.
“Do you love him?”
“I thought I did.”
It’s like someone stuck a sword through Joe’s chest and it went straight through her, into Taylor. Neither one of them goes to pull it out. They stare at each other’s wounds like they’re mere scratches, and when Joe starts to move towards the house, Taylor has no choice but to follow.
Inside, the noise is almost unbearable for Taylor. She scans the room with her eyes whilst moving slowly behind Joe. She figures if she stays behind her all night, she may just go entirely unnoticed. But then Joe starts to walk towards Jared. He’s surrounded by the entire football team, downing a beer with a second in the other hand. Taylor doesn’t want to be anywhere near him but she also can’t stand the thought of walking away from Joe. So, she continues to move along like a shadow until Joe turns to face her and says, “Do you mind giving me a minute to talk to Jared?”
Taylor stops in her tracks. She doesn’t even notice her jaw dropping, but when Joe walks away and her chest starts spilling blood, the pain is excruciating. She takes a step back into a bare chest who mumbles for her to fuck off.
“That’s no way to talk to a lady,” his friends tells him, trying to meet Taylor’s eye to flash her a drunken smile.
“That fag is no lady.”
Everyone around them laughs. His friend looks at Taylor like she’s a starving orphan and it’s his job to decide if she’s worth saving.
Turns out, she isn’t, and he shifts his gaze to the more appealing scene around him.
Taylor looks back over at Joe who’s standing next to Jared, whispering something in his ear. With one smirk from Jared, the whole party becomes something from a nightmare. Jared’s laughing, Joe looks like she could burst into tears at any moment. With a clap on the back, someone hands Jared another drink like it’s a prize he’s won. It’s gone within seconds and it whips the cocky grin away.
Everyone is watching everyone.
Jared takes Joe’s arm and pulls her away from the crowd. Taylor loses them within seconds. Someone stumbles into her, she hears someone else vomiting behind her. The whole room spins but she doesn’t move. All she can think about is the time when her mom told her that parties were supposed to be fun. “High school will be the best time of your life,” she said, sitting in their two bedroom apartment, bills sitting on the table in front of her like flecks of dust that could be brushed away at any moment. “It doesn’t get better than this, love. Have fun.”
It feels like the whole room is drowning. Taylor is chased out by the sound of heartbreak. She doesn’t look back. Outside she sees a blur of Joe but she doesn’t stop. She makes it the street and starts walking. She goes for hours, trying to find her way home with a foggy mind and uncoordinated feet. She takes wrong turns onto streets that she’s been down hundreds of times. She strains her eyes to read street signs when she no longer recognizes the houses and the trees that surround her, smothering her.
Until, she finally makes it home.
Standing on her doorstep, she pulls out her phone, dials Joe’s number, and starts to cry.
“Josephine, it’s me…”