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General

QUARTET

Lucia and Patricia, who were generally known as Lulu and Trisha, though they weren’t necessarily the familiar versions they’d have chosen for themselves, had been best friends since the Reception Class in the mixed infants, as their local school was still known, though nobody could remember a time when it had been other than mixed. Their mothers, Sylvia and Gina, swore that THEY had always been best friends too, and it wasn’t quite true, and wasn’t quite true now, either, but there was no harm in them believing it.

    Folk often said fondly (or occasionally in frustration) that they were exactly like sisters. The thing is, that they were like sisters, if not exactly, but it didn’t necessarily mean what folk thought it did. Like sisters, they fought, they got on each others’ nerves, they were jealous and scornful of each other at times. Even when they were five, Lulu said that Trisha was messy, and Trisha said that Lulu was bossy. They never felt the urge to exchange friendship bracelets, far less (and of course, it was strictly forbidden, even in the liberal world of Midpoint Mixed Infants) to make themselves blood sisters. Lulu couldn’t fathom Trisha’s fascination with their classmate Calvin Brookes, and didn’t hesitate to say so, and Trisha couldn’t understand why Lulu had to shout about everything, and didn’t hesitate to say so. But it was still by no means the attraction of opposites. They were united in thinking that most of their classmates (though Trisha was prepared to make an exception for Calvin) were remarkably stupid, and at the same time too demanding and too easily satisfied, and both of them were extremely bright and well aware of the fact. Neither was what you’d call a show-off, but both could see no point to making out they couldn’t do something and didn’t know or understand something when they could and did. After all, you were supposed to be honest, weren’t you?

    As they moved up the school (and there was talk of putting them a class ahead of their age group but at least for the time being the staff decided against it) another curious paradox struck their teachers. It was often quite impossible to say whether Lulu and Patty were being cheeky and yet somehow getting away with it, or if they were intending nothing of the sort, though they still said things their classmates wouldn’t, and it would be unfair to punish them for it. 

    They were certainly picked up on things others would have been pardoned and excused things that would have led to others facing the consequences. When they were eight, Lulu swung her fist at the face of a boy who had called Trisha “Gappy Gob” (she was between her baby teeth and her adult ones) and would not have denied herself she wouldn’t have minded putting the offender in a similar state, though she missed, and only caused a nose-bleed – it wasn’t broken, though at first their teacher, Mr Gibson, feared it was. To be fair, the boy wasn’t a tattle-tale, but of course it came out, and Lulu was called to the head-teacher’s office.  Ms Anderson could never quite make up her mind whether she had a soft spot for Lulu and Trisha, or thought some folk let them get away (not literally, of course!) with murder and it didn’t do at all. Probably both. Lulu already had enough acumen to know that there are ways of wrong-footing the opposition (though she rather liked Ms Anderson and didn’t really see her as the opposition) and had also long since mastered the art of humility without servility. “I know I was totally in the wrong, Ms Anderson,” she said, “I know what the school’s policy,” (she was glad she remembered that word) “on us hitting is, and I know why. But Trisha is my friend and he was being so – so hurtful to her – something snapped.” She had heard the phrase “something snapped” in a story and had taken to it – it did describe the feeling well. Ms Anderson still looked stern. Well, Lulu had known she wouldn’t be a pushover. “Your concern for your friend is admirable, Lucia, and be assured I’ll have a stern word with Gary – but as you say yourself, you know the school’s policy. And it’s there for a reason. We can’t let such things just go – unnoticed. Still, you have said sorry,” (in fact, she hadn’t, but Ms Anderson seemed to have overlooked that) “and though nothing excuses your behaviour, there was some provocation.” Lulu thought of asking her what provocation meant, but she had a good idea, and could look it up later. There were times when trying to change the subject was a good idea and times when it wasn’t. As Lulu knew, nothing that awful was going to happen. It goes without saying there was no corporal punishment, and Ms Anderson had no time for lines or standing in the corner. All the same, as she had already reminded herself, she was no pushover, and there was one thing she could do and just might do that made Lulu think a smack or writing out “I must not hit my fellow pupils” 100 times would be preferable. She was fairly sure she wouldn’t be excluded. That sanction theoretically existed, but nobody could remember it ever being used. But she most definitely didn’t like the idea of her parents being told. She loved them dearly and they weren’t over-severe, but if there were Olympic medals for disappointment they’d be record-holders. Her mother, especially, had a way of making you feel like a lesser species of slug, and even worse, she might weep. Oh bother! “I’ve decided not to tell your parents this time,” Ms Anderson said, “But you’re on litter-picking duties for the next month, and if I hear of any more – incidents – then I may have to think seriously about excluding you from the show.” Lulu thanked her and breathed a sigh of relief. It could have been much worse. Oh, she could live without extra litter-picking duties – she wasn’t lazy, but she was squeamish, and it was also so terminally tedious, and The Show at the end of term was a big deal, especially for pupils like Lulu who were slightly stage-struck. Well, more than slightly.

    Once she had ascertained that her friend’s punishment, if unpleasant (with the hanging threat of worse if she wasn’t a little angel for the foreseeable future!) was not horrible, Trisha was not nearly so grateful as she might have been for her intervention. “You didn’t have to, you know,” she said, “Gary doesn’t bother me.  It’s not as if ….”

    “Not as if it was Calvin?” Lulu suggested, in a way that anyone who hadn’t known them very well might have thought was spiteful. But that was just how they were. Their way with each other could be quite abrasive at times. They didn’t go in for sentimental scenes and sparing each others feelings and didn’t need to. 

    They went to the same secondary school, but that particular school had a policy (schools were certainly fond of policies, thought Lulu) of, wherever possible, putting children from the same primary school into separate first year classes. It was introduced for all the right reasons, the idea being that they should integrate and not stay in their little cliques, but it still caused a good deal of heartache and nobody could enforce (or had any intention of trying) such separation in the playground. On the surface, Trisha and Lulu seemed to cope with it better than many other primary school “best friends”. There was no sobbing in class, or pleading, from them or their parents, for exceptions to be made. They even, apparently “integrated” well enough with others, and weren’t seen as being aloof or unfriendly, though, as ever, there were mutterings about showing off and thinking they were cleverer than anyone else.  Neither was remotely jealous about the other forging an in-form friendship of convenience (though they only used that term later). In both cases – Lulu’s friend Amy, and Trisha’s friend Meg (they joked about the Little Women link but it was entirely coincidental!) the girl in question was amiable and undemanding, but just intelligent and sassy enough not to be entirely tedious. So they didn’t attract any undue attention on that account, and were spared heart-to-hearts with earnest teachers of (horror of horrors!) child psychologists. Ironically enough, Trisha was to become a child psychologist, but she always did her best not to grate or condescend!

    Trisha continued to hold a candle for Calvin Brookes. But she had to admit that as an adolescent he lost, she hoped temporarily, some of the naïve charm he’d had as a child. Like many slightly plump children, despite “experts” telling us there’s no such thing as puppy fat, he turned into a rather lanky teenager, and his engaging shyness, rather than being punctuated with wry observations that made folk say there was “more to him than met the eye” had become a far less endearing taciturn trait, with a tendency to mumble. Rather than being quite happy with his own company, which Trisha had been absolutely fine about, he turned into a loner, and there’s a difference. She told herself that it was a phase he was going through, but, and she hated to admit it, she was beginning to have a sneaking preference for her erstwhile tormentor Gary. She’d never especially borne a grudge against him, not because she thought forgiveness was good for the soul, but because it would be childish, and now she had decided she rather liked him. As the pupils progressed up the school, the “separating policy” fell apart rather, and when they were fourteen, all four of them, Trisha, Lulu, Gary and Calvin were in the same class. Amy was not, and Meg and her family had moved out of the area, so that, effectively, was the end of that. The foursome (who never referred to themselves as being a foursome) had no notion of “starting where they left off” or the like. Apart from anything else, even Lulu, who had the best way with words, and Trisha, who had the best memory, would have been hard-pressed now to say exactly where they left off. They agreed their primary school had been a good one, and they’d liked it, but had no especial attachment to it. But there was still something. Gary, who was good at sports and scrubbed up well, as the girls said (and his voice had already broken and rarely had squeaky moments) had, if he were honest, not much time for Calvin and certainly didn’t see him as his best buddy or the like, even for old time’s sake. But when other boys, and occasionally girls, teased him about being a rabbit – which for some reason nobody had quite fathomed was the insult of choice in the middle school for an ineffectual boy – he still stuck up for him. Gary had a certain way of saying “go boil your brains if you can find them” or the like that made it sound vaguely menacing instead of somewhat childish. His skill at insulting people had most definitely come on in leaps and bounds. 

    “The thing is,” he admitted to Trisha, as they ate lunch together one day, “It’s not just because I think I should stick up for the underdog, though I do, not that it stops me from being rude at times, as you know - but despite myself – the guy has something about him. And I don’t know WHY, nor what it is, and I’ve never been what you might call – intro – specting or whatever –“

    “Introspective,” Trisha corrected, automatically, having learnt the word from Lulu a while back.

    “Thanks. I always get annoyed when teachers say stuff like, oh, he’s not fulfilling his potential, as if there’s always something there, but – oh, I don’t know!” He broke off, and changed the subject to the fortunes of his soccer team of choice.

    Still, the fact that the last person you’d expect to say something is the one who says it is always thought-provoking. Some of the class were going through the almost statutory Scripture Union phase – Trisha wasn’t one of them, and wasn’t a wordsmith like Lulu, but still thought some phrases in the Bible were rather lovely and expressive, and one of her favourites was “pondered them in her heart”. She told herself she was pondering this matter in her heart, and at times she actually was. When he’d been a little kid, though gauche and condemned (did he see it as condemned?) to be an outsider, Calvin had still been, well, kind of cute, but also did have something about him, as Gary put it, something droll and deep, and managing to be childlike (fair enough, he was a child!) and mature at the same time. Could that kind of thing just disappear and shrivel up? True, you often heard adults say things like, she or he was such a winning child, you wouldn’t know it now. And even as a teenager herself, Trisha knew that the teen years were infamous for messing around with people’s minds. She had started to take an interest in such matters, and had even, though with no great hope of success, campaigned for psychology being on the curriculum. That was one of those things on which she and Lulu agreed to differ – and sometimes led to those arguments that made all but the most astute of observers think that their friendship was waning. Lulu’s extra subject of choice would have been Japanese, though as she said, “At least I know there’s not a cat in hell’s chance of it happening!” Trisha wondered if she were about to add not that there were any cats in hell, because she had a surprising devotion to her own cat, Fish, whom she sometimes wore like a stole round her neck. She did not.

    Time moved on, and they cast aside such childish things as name-calling and being remotely bothered by others who did. Trisha had decided she wanted to be a paediatrician (an ambition, that, as we have established, was not to be abandoned, but tweaked) and Lulu that she wished to be a writer, though as she firmly, and not untruthfully, made plain, she already was (she had been the youngest ever editor of the school magazine). Gary was not ready to abandon his ambition of being a professional soccer player, and was already on the books of a local team, but on the advice of a sensible and intuitive teacher, had agreed that there was no harm in training as a PE teacher. As for Calvin – well, nobody was quite sure. Himself, it appeared, included. The odd thing was, though he was to all intents and purposes neither especially quick witted nor especially diligent, he never fell behind and passed all his tests, if not necessarily with ease (though it wasn’t always easy to know what Gary was thinking) then with no apparent trauma. 

    Trisha decided, though she would have been hard-pushed to pinpoint the moment when, that maybe her childhood devotion to him had not been so misplaced after all. She was never one to go for the obvious. Perhaps, subconsciously – a word she would have approved of – she was already beginning to analyse him. Lulu, for her part, though never particularly keen on sports, if you left chess out of it, had developed an admiration for Gary’s prowess and skill, and conceded, at least to herself, that soccer required, if not necessarily brains, then a degree of lateral thinking and plain old-fashioned cunning. Lulu had never despised good old-fashioned cunning. Neither of them had spoken of it in so many words, but had wondered if their love-lives (not that they spoke of them in so many words) might risk impacting on their friendship. There was no sign of that happening, though Lulu reluctantly admitted that Calvin might be coming into his own again, and Trisha not so reluctantly admitted that Gary was not a brainless jock and had got over the feeling that she’d been silly for briefly having (though she hated the word) a crush on him. When it came to the issue of future careers, Calvin still hadn’t made his mind up. Oddly, though he had neither Gary’s sporting ability nor Lulu’s way with words, if he mentioned anything, it was being a sports journalist. Perhaps it was not so fanciful as it seemed. He certainly had a good memory, which probably played its role in his capacity to pass exams. He never actually DID recite the past winners of any given trophy for the last 100 years, but could have done, if he had to.

    Their parents hoped it might be a very long time before it reached that stage, and it would not have been the ideal, but the notion of a double wedding at some point was not one that horrified them. After they had been through college and established their careers, and had other relationships to make sure, of course.

    They all went to separate universities. They didn’t do it to prove a point, but it was harder for all of them than they’d have cared to admit. None of them was a massive distance from the other, and they met up regularly, and stayed in touch even more regularly. Just like in their first year at secondary school, they made other friends, and that, too, wasn’t just to prove a point.

    The first wedding (for there wasn’t to be a double wedding) came earlier than the parents may have seen as ideal, but they were wise enough not to try to put any spanners in the works. 

    It was a lovely spring day, almost too stereotypically the day you’d dream of for a wedding, but nobody was going to complain about it.

    And even those who’d had their misgivings were sure that though the issue of neutrality in reporting might be a touch problematic, Gary and Calvin would be very happy and wished them well.

October 11, 2019 06:58

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Sadia Faisal
06:39 May 26, 2020

nice story, also like my stories if you like them and send me me feedback if you would like and please follow me.

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