Siobhan Callaghan lives in the same town she grew up in—and has all of her life. She graduated from the local high school, attended the local trade school (but didn’t graduate), and has worked locally ever since. The most traveling she does is taking her delivery truck on the five-hour trip up the coast and back.
And, once a year, her cousins convince her to drive to the city with them to shop at a ‘real’ mall. Sometimes, she can even be convinced to stay overnight for a midnight movie premier.
“Look, that’s Victoria!” her cousin says, pointing at the movie screen. Siobhan isn’t sure which actor Miles is pointing at.
“Victoria Abbott, from school?” Dave asks.
“Yeah! This is her big debut, you know?”
“I didn’t even know she was an actor,” Dave says. “Isn’t she a little old to be playing a high school student?”
Siobhan squints at the screen; Victoria must be the blond with the hot pink braces. She’s playing a mean girl with a nerdy twist.
It doesn’t suit her. Not the mean part—the nerdy part.
Later, when they’ve returned to the cheap hotel room they rented between the three of them, Dave and Miles snoring in one bed, Siobhan scrolls aimlessly on her cellphone.
Victoria, she discovers, didn’t delete any of her old social media accounts when she became an actor. She doesn’t use them anymore—she hasn’t updated them in years, at least—but Siobhan can still see all of her pictures from school.
Siobhan is even in some of them; they were pretty close when they were younger. That probably had less to do with them actually liking each other and more to do with them being the only kids the same age on the lane. They didn’t really have a choice, either—it was play together, or not at all—especially when they were too young to take their bicycles and ride to their nearest neighbors.
She yawns and puts down her phone, the home screen casting blue light on the water-stained ceiling. The home screen goes dark and Siobhan closes her eyes, sinking back into the lumpy pillows.
If she gets lice, she’s going to shave her cousins’ heads.
Her phone vibrates and she cracks open an eye. It’s her policy to ignore messages after two o’clock in the morning. To be fair, her days start early, and her nights reflect that. She’s usually not conscious enough to ignore a message on purpose.
She closes her eyes. She has to get up early for the long drive home. The message can wait until morning.
The phone vibrates again, and this time she grabs it. She squints at the message on the screen until it goes dark, and then thumbs the home button, swiping up. She’s greeted by Victoria Abbott’s old profile picture, her frizzy blond hair taking up a good eighty percent of the icon.
Siobhan blinks. She thought it might have been one of those obnoxious ‘memories’ notifications triggered by her browsing old photos, but it’s a message from Victoria herself, maybe. It might also be a hacker trying to scam her into buying cryptocurrency, or sunglasses.
She stares at the message for a long moment and considers rolling over and really ignoring it.
Victoria is coming home for a break and wants to reconnect.
(Siobhan thinks she would rather have a lobotomy.)
She spends the next week dreading the arrival of her nasty neighbor and sometimes childhood friend. She doesn’t bother confiding in anyone—not after her cousins laughed at her. ‘Victoria’s an actor, not a goddess,’ they said. ‘What are you so nervous for?’
Siobhan has plenty of reason to be nervous. Victoria said she wanted to ‘reconnect’. Ha! What do they even have to reconnect about?
Maybe they can laugh about the time Victoria made her eat mud pies? Or maybe the time she pushed her off the swing at the park and broke her front teeth? What about the time she broke the teacher’s fancy new desk chair and blamed it on Siobhan?
That sure was a hoot. Siobhan only got suspended from class for two weeks and had to pay the school back for the expensive new chair—nevermind that her parents could barely afford to keep the gas turned on back then.
But no one else sees it from Siobhan’s perspective, because Victoria was everyone’s little angel. She could do no wrong, and when she did, it was only because she had no other choice. Philip cut her perfect little curls, so of course she gave him a bloody nose. He deserved it. No one seems to remember that she started it by dumping her chocolate milk all over Tommy’s coloring book—no one except Siobhan, Tommy, and Philip, probably.
Even her parents weren’t immune to Victoria’s charm. It didn’t matter how many complaints she lodged against the she-devil; it was always, ‘Oh, she must like you!’ and, ‘She only picks on you because she wants your attention, dear.’
Well, Siobhan never wanted her attention or her affection—and if Siobhan didn’t reciprocate, that was clearly on purpose, and not her being shy.
The day of Victoria’s grand arrival comes, and goes. Siobhan keeps her head down and schedules as many deliveries to the coastal communities surrounding their town as she can. She only has so many eggs and produce to sell, and only so many customers willing to buy three dozen eggs a week, or twenty pounds of potatoes and other assorted veggies. She probably spends more money on gas than she makes in sales on her last trip.
Her cousins laugh at her, again.
That’s fine. She’s happy as long as she doesn’t have to come face-to-face with her Majesty Victoria.
Word around town is that she’s only staying for a week. Her parents moved to the city when she made it ‘big’, and there’s only one small motel in town. Siobhan can’t imagine it suits Victoria’s tastes—she lived in the biggest house on the lane when they were kids, and had two bedrooms to herself until her little brother was born.
And God, didn’t she kick up a stink about that; it was all she would talk about for a solid month.
Siobhan pulls into her gravel driveway and parks at the end so Dave can get out in his SUV when he’s finished grooming his old gelding. She turns the truck around on the muddy lawn and backs up to the remodeled silo that doubles as cold storage. She originally had a ground cellar, but the goats kept breaking into it and eating all her cabbages.
Deadbolts, as she discovered, won’t stop a determined billy goat.
… And ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away.
The black SUV parked in her driveway is not Dave’s—it’s a rental. She grits her teeth and wonders if it’s not too late to floor it.
The driver’s door opens and Victoria Abbott steps out, wearing a tracksuit that’s about four inches too short in the body, and another four inches too long in the legs. The hems on her pants are already covered in mud and road dust. She ducks back into her vehicle and pulls out two cups of coffee from the McDonald’s on the highway.
Siobhan sighs. She hates coffee, but you don’t turn someone away (or run away) when they bring you coffee. She steps out of her truck and puts on her most neutral expression. The best way to get rid of uninvited guests is to look uninterested, after all.
“Hey, stranger!” Victoria calls, raising a coffee cup. “Did you get my message?”
Siobhan frowns. “What message?”
“Now that’s an Oscar worthy performance—but don’t think I didn’t see you online when I sent it, Se—Siobhan.”
She ignores her, clomping up the front steps of the porch in her filthy rubber boots. Victoria follows her over.
“I’m bad at checking my messages.”
She unlocks her front door, and Victoria clears her throat.
“I brought hot chocolate. No chocolate drizzle or whipped topping.”
Siobhan almost sighs, but opens the door wide.
“Come in. I’ll turn on the fireplace.”
After Siobhan finds a pair of wool socks for Victoria to tuck her muddy pants into, they sit in the dinning room, backs to the propane fireplace. The hot chocolate is good, and gone all too quickly. Her one or two word responses won’t cut it anymore.
“Enough about me,” she says, having finally run out of things to brag about. “What have you been doing with your life?”
Siobhan raises an eyebrow at her.
“Nothing much, I guess.”
She didn’t travel the world for a year like Victoria did, or have an affair with a married man, that’s for sure. She didn’t go to a prestigious university of fine arts, or act in multiple lead roles on stage before she was twenty-one.
Victoria picks at the fruit bowl in the middle of the table and looks surprised when she realizes they’re real. She reads the sticker and laughs.
“Real Fruit?” she asks. “Is that a joke? Or, you know, dramatic irony?”
‘Is this you owning your identity?’ she means.
“It’s the name of my company.” Siobhan deadpans.
“I know that,”—she picks the sticker off the apple and shines it on her tracksuit—”Mom orders vegetables from you every year for Thanksgiving, you know?”
Siobhan didn’t know. Miles handles all the deliveries to the city because she can’t stand how busy it is. It makes her anxious.
Victoria takes a bite out of the apple and reaches up to catch the juice before it drips down her chin and spoils the tablecloth. Not that it would bother Siobhan if she did—she has at least a dozen white table clothes.
“Oh! This is one of the apples from the old orchard by the creek, right? What did we used to call them? Cherry bombs?” She passes it between her hands, perfectly plucked eyebrows wrinkling. “It’s kind of bigger than I remember.”
Siobhan twirls the hair behind her ear.
“I bought the orchard. That’s a… well, it’s a hybrid. I took pollen from the cherry bomb trees and crossed it with this other red-fleshed apple tree that I planted out back. Then I took the seeds and planted them. This is actually the first year the new trees fruited.”
“Oh, wow. That sounds really cool, Sea—Siobhan.” She takes another bite and thoroughly chews before swallowing. “So this apple came from the cherry bomb tree’s kid? That’s cool. It’s pinker than cherry bomb’s apples—and sweeter too.”
Siobhan nods. “I got lucky. It usually takes years to get a good apple cross. I think this one’s going to be my orchard’s signature apple. I’m already starting grafts of Strange Red—that’s Cherry Bomb’s kid—onto my other established trees.”
Victoria laughs, and the lines around her eyes are just a bit tighter than they were a moment ago.
“You call it luck, but the way I see it, you’ve been putting the work in for years already.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve always known what you were going to be when you grew up,” Victoria says. “You were going to be a farmer, and nothing anyone said was ever going to change your mind. And when you realized who you wanted to be—well, no one could stop you from becoming who you wanted to be, either, you know?”
Siobhan looks away. Her face feels strange—hot. She turns off the fireplace.
“And I know I wasn’t always the most supportive. I was supposed to be your friend, and I pushed you down when I should have been lifting you up. I made your life hell, because you got to be who you wanted to be, and I was jealous because you made it look so effortless.”
“I know it wasn’t, okay? And I didn’t make it any easier for you. I took advantage of how nice you were and I made you miserable.”
Siobhan clenches her hands in her lap. Victoria’s eyes are red.
“Is this supposed to be an apology?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know…!” Victoria turns the half eaten apple over in her hand. “I thought this would make me feel better—or less guilty, at least.”
“Are you sorry?” she asks.
“Yes—oh my God, Siobhan…! Of course I’m sorry. I wouldn’t be here if I weren’t!”
“Are you sorry about the time you made me eat your mud pies?” she sniffs.
Victoria covers her face, scrubbing her tears away.
“Oh my God, Siobhan. That’s ancient history—and I didn’t make you eat the mud pies. I remember you getting a fork and saying they were delicious, you know?”
Siobhan laughs and wipes her nose in her sleeve. Victoria’s seen her do much worse, obviously. They’ve known each other since they were babies, after all.
“Yeah, I did, didn’t I?”