Contest #10 shortlist ⭐️



‘It’s a sign.’

Lucy pointed towards the white feather fluttering to the ground, narrowly avoiding Freya’s coffee and landing on the table. It rested for a moment or two, rocking gently. Both young women watched as a slight gust of wind lifted it up, carrying it onwards.

‘It’s not a sign. It’s those two pigeons, up there, look, on the balcony. It’s biology. They’re, well, he’s ruffling her feathers, so to speak, and…’

‘Too much information,’ Lucy said, holding up what could have been either a conciliatory or peremptory hand.

‘It’s no wonder a feather was dislodged,’ Freya continued, looking upwards. ‘Listen to the racket they’re making.’

‘You have no soul,’ Lucy sighed.

Lucy and Freya were never going to agree over the provenance of the feather. It was the way of their world. It was a strange old friendship, theirs. From the outside looking in it really shouldn’t have ever worked. But it did.

‘So, you believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden, she’s the ultimate cynic. Believes in science. You argue, often. Why are you friends? You’re so, well, different,’ said Siobhan, an acquaintance (no more than that) of Lucy and Freya’s. They’d all been at school, then college together and would bump into one another every now and then, whether they liked it or not. This was one of those occasions.

Lucy stared at Siobhan. Siobhan stared back.

Yeah, they were different, Lucy thought, and Siobhan is jealous. Because she doesn’t get us and she doesn’t like it. Lucy wasn’t having that. Siobhan had friends, plenty, always had. Perhaps hangers-on more than friends, but not a bestie, not like Freya and Lucy were to one another.

‘I DO NOT believe in fairies,’ said Lucy. ‘What a ludicrous suggestion. Ridiculous.’

Now an adult, Lucy was well past the fairy stage. Well past. Guardian angels. They were most definitely a thing, but not fairies.

Freya and Lucy had been friends for years, close as anything despite their differences. That’s what some people didn’t get. Freya believed in science and evidence and proof, and Lucy usually decided that it was best to leave decision-making in the hands of the universe, the stars and the fates.

They’d first met aged six, when their paths crossed over usage of a swing at breaktime. They watched as Mrs Jones, the teacher on duty, appeared with a bell about to signal that it was time to return to class. That meant their spelling bees and maths tests were imminent. Freya hadn’t had the slightest inclination or desire to spend the rest of the afternoon spelling such words as toffee and coffee correctly, all in her best handwriting. Lucy dreaded the thought of columns of numbers whizzing about before her eyes.

Mrs Jones was about to launch the bell. There were moments of fun left. Moments. They glanced at one another, and they immediately understood. They both wanted to seize those moments. Right then. Right now.

A scuffle had ensued.

‘Miss, Miss, look, Freya and Lucy are fighting, Miss. Over there.’

Siobhan shouted across the playground, pointing.

Seconds later they were being pulled apart, hair and clothing awry.

‘Make friends, make friends never ever break friends,’ they had muttered, reluctantly shaking hands once Mrs Jones, their fiery and terrifying dinner lady had become involved, standing over them, arms folded, demanding they take turns next time. They agreed to do so as a gaggle of girls, led by Siobhan, looked on in silence, kicking the dirt and shaking their heads in disapproval.

Siobhan stepped forwards, the others, a homogenous bunch who looked just like their leader, stepped back.

Freya and Lucy shuffled closer to one another, each glad not to be in Siobhan’s gang.

Following the tussle a grudging understanding slowly evolved between Freya and Lucy. After all, this all occurred when they were six years old. Six year olds aren’t known for compromise and backing down. What more could you expect?

Slowly but surely the understanding became a friendship; a friendship in which they seized the moment, despite their differences. They found solidarity in togetherness. It was like they just ‘got’ one another. They’d giggle at the same silly jokes. Go out of their way to save a ladybird from a marauding gang of girls. Swap sandwiches at lunchtime. Cheese for ham, usually.

In a roundabout way Mrs Jones helped cement their friendship. The girls were under her beady eye following the swing incident. She spotted them cheating.

‘Yes, giving her the answers to sums is against the rules. So is whispering how to spell Tuesday.’

‘But, Miss, she’d put C-H-E-W-S-D-A-Y,’ proclaimed Lucy, who came out of the womb able to spell.

‘And I only corrected her adding up, Miss. Anyone knows 4 + 10 isn’t 16. I was just helping,’ said Freya, the one with the brain like a human calculator.

‘Helping would be to allow each other to make mistakes,’ said Mrs Jones.

The girls stared at one another. They didn’t get it.

Learning from mistakes wasn’t easy.

Being friends despite your differences – well that was.

Taking turns on the swing, one pushing, the other reaching for the sky with their toes, that became a daily occurrence. No more fighting there. No need. Cooperation became the name of the game. The one being pushed would drag the swing to a standstill just at the right time to give the other a good long turn before the bell went. Knowing when and how hard to push became intuitive.

It was when boys came within their sights that fierce competition came to the fore. Well, actually, one boy in particular, to begin with. They decided to chase Christopher Barlow, a gangly lad with blond hair and grey eyes, and once (if) he was caught, demand that he be their boyfriend forever and ever.

‘I’m faster than you,’ Lucy pronounced.

‘Yeah, but I know the short cuts,’ Freya retorted.

It was all bravado. They were invisible to Christopher Barlow who was kicking a ball around with his mates, not only oblivious to their attentions, but also extremely unlikely to take part in their game.

But the tussle over the thought of chasing Christopher Barlow was fun. Nothing wrong with a bit of healthy, but fierce, competition. And they knew where to draw the line. No way would they argue over Maths or Spelling. No way.

It’s a funny thing, isn’t it, how friendships begin? Just sheer accident, most often. Being in the right place at the right time? And carrying on from there.

Not that Lucy and Freya could agree on the nature of friendship and how it all began between them.

‘Chance. That’s what it was. Chance, that we both ran for the swing at the same time,’ Freya said as they argued one day, proving (with evidence) that she was the Doubting Thomas of the pair.

‘Don’t be daft,’ Lucy replied. ‘It’s fate. Have more faith. The universe brought us together.’ Lucy’s spiritual nature liked to believe there was far more to the world than we could see, touch or prove.

Christopher Barlow wasn’t the first or last boy they bickered over. Only, next time, it wasn’t who would catch him quickest, it was over who would keep him.

Years later they hadn’t intended dating the same man at the same time. In fact, for a good while, they didn’t even realise they were.

‘I’ve met this gorgeous man,’ Lucy had said, smiling dreamily. ‘He’s amazing It was meant to be, written in the stars. I really like him.’

‘I tripped over the feet of this guy,’ Freya said. ‘He picked me up and bought me coffee. I do wonder if he stuck his foot out deliberately. Still, he’s nice. We’re meeting up again.’

But, boy, when they did realise, things quickly escalated out of control. And who’d have guessed that Siobhan would be at the heart of it?

Greg had strung the pair of them along nicely for a few weeks. Sure, they thought it funny that they were both dating a Greg. But it’s a popular name, why not?

Fate, said Lucy.

Chance and coincidence, said Freya.

It was all good. For a while. Then, Siobhan, never the diplomatic type, spotted the pair of them together on a night out. Was that chance? Was it written in the stars? Or was it, well, stalking, in order to be the bearer of bad news?

‘’Hey, over here. I have something to tell you both.’

Lucy and Freya glanced at one another before going over.

The news came as a shock. But, they didn’t tussle, not in front of Siobhan. They maintained their dignity, and got their coats.

‘Night,’ Lucy said at the door.

‘See ya,’ Freya called as one turned left for home, the other right.

They needed time to work this situation out.

Turns out they needed lots of time.

They both contacted Greg of course, straight off. He bluffed and blustered. Greg was a salesman, born and bred. He knew exactly how to talk himself into – or out of – any sticky situation.

‘Sweetheart,’ he said to Lucy. ‘I wasn’t dating you both. Really. I see our future together, and it’s rosy. Stick with me, babe. I’m all yours. It’s fate.’

That’s the thing with a salesman, he reads his customer well.

He gave Freya an entirely different version of events.

‘It’s an equation, love is, simple. 2 plus 2 equals 4. Me plus you equals passion.’

You’d think both women would be able to see straight through him. That friendship would conquer all love rats, but the problem was, inexplicably, they’d both fallen for him. Fallen hard; blind to his faults.

And neither of them was prepared to back down. Their relationship was being truly tested for the first time ever. Since they had first argued over the swing way back then, in fact.

They stopped texting, calling and meeting for coffee. Just like that. Even after all these years.

Why? They’d each argue betrayal, maybe.

Greg didn’t stick around. Men like him are always on the move. It’s the conquering that matters, not the keeping.

Once their anger had abated Lucy and Freya both felt a little daft, rather than heartbroken, if truth be told. Not just a teensy bit embarrassed. For having fallen for a man like Greg in the first instance – deep blue eyes and a winning smile don’t necessarily a decent boyfriend make. And for having allowed a wonderful friendship to flounder because of love, lust, silliness, whatever you want to call it.

Neither of them were happy.

Not that they were ready to admit it. Not just yet. What if the other didn’t feel the same? Or they were still seeing Greg? All those years ago Mrs Jones had told them they should make their own mistakes and learn from them, but really?

Siobhan the ‘diplomat’, the one who had wondered why Freya and Lucy were ever friends in the first place, and who had delighted in snitching on Greg, was, in a roundabout way, the catalyst for the next part of our story.

It was her charms Greg fell for next, and fell for hard, once he was done with Freya and Lucy.

And Siobhan made sure her erstwhile acquaintances knew it. Photos on Facebook, stories on Insta. The Snapchat messages were going too far. Well and truly rubbing it in.

A pattern had emerged. Tuesday evening, The Rose and Crown, Siobhan and Greg nestling together and posting pictures here, there and everywhere.

It needed checking out. It wasn’t as though they had each other to talk to. In ordinary circumstances they’d have teased each other until it was all worked through. But not this time.

Both felt they needed to see it to believe it, even Lucy.

So, by chance or coincidence, or the stars aligning to ensure they arrived at the Rose and Crown together (albeit coming from different directions), Lucy and Freya encountered one another outside the pub.

What to do?

Greet one another? Look right past pretending nothing had ever happened? Impossible.

Still, they were a bit too old for a repeat of the tussle over the swings. So, a civilised nod in each other’s direction, and then peering in though the window was what they decided on, without saying a word. They understood.

There she was, Siobhan, sitting at a table in the corner opposite Greg – both women knew that curl of blond hair on his collar. Siobhan gave a wave of her fingers and a what can a girl do about it? kind of smile.

It dawned on Freya first what had happened. How she and Lucy been duped, not only by Greg in the first place, but by Siobhan too. Duped out of their friendship. Greg didn’t matter. That had to stop. The day and their happiness needed seizing.

‘You with me, Luce?’ she asked.

Lucy hesitated. Freya went to open the door.

Lucy totally understood where her friend was coming from. Totally. They’d both been let down, and not only that, nearly had their friendship wrecked. Up until now, ever since the swing incident, they’d been there for each other. Freya had looked out for her, she’d looked out for Freya. Together they were strong.

She held her friend’s arm, pulling gently rather than pushing.

‘No, don’t rise to her, to them. Let’s go.’

Freya stopped. Said nothing, turned to Lucy and held her gaze for a few moments. Then she smiled. Something happened between them. Something neither could put into words. History, maybe.

’You’re right. Let’s go.’

As they walked away arm in arm they glanced over their shoulders. Siobhan was standing in the doorway, hands on hips, the look on her face unreadable.

‘Thanks for stopping me,’ Freya said, once they were out of view of the pub.

‘I had to. Can’t have my guardian angel getting into a pickle,’ Lucy smiled.

‘Guardian angel? Let’s not go that far,’ Freya said, smiling, leaning against the railings. The park was behind them. They both turned and watched two girls playing on the swings. One was pushing, the other reaching her legs high.

‘My turn soon,’ the one pushing shouted.

‘A few more pushes,’ the other said. ‘I want to touch the sky.’

There was a second swing. It was empty. Friendship was about the pushing and being pushed, being different, but being together. Taking turns. And if you were different from others too, that was fine. So long as they had one another.

Together they could touch the sky, seize the day.

Lucy turned to Freya who smiled. She saw it too, the empty swing.

‘I’m quicker than you,’ Lucy said, starting to sprint.

‘I’ll find a short cut,’ Freya replied.

‘It’s a sign,’ they said, in unison.

Behind them two white feathers fluttered to the ground, landing alongside one another.

There wasn’t a pigeon in sight.

October 11, 2019 19:33

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