“Mom, is that you in the photograph?” My daughter was trying her best to grab my attention as I stared at my laptop screen, wondering where I got my presentation wrong. It had been an exhausting day already, my boss seemed pissed during my presentation today for reasons unknown to me and the constant distraction from my daughter was of no help either. When she showed no signs of shutting down anytime soon, I shrugged my shoulder in resignation and paid heed to Sarah; for a six-year-old, she surely had way too much energy! She was fiddling around with the old album that had been resting on the antique wooden shelf of our tiny living room since we moved here.
I looked at the photograph and it was indeed my younger self staring back at me; my face looked chubby, my hair appeared unruly, and my eyes were puffy but the glimmer in them couldn’t go unnoticed. On my left stood Aries with her picture-perfect smile, her hands wrapped around my shoulders, and her dark-brown hair looking the most beautiful as I had ever seen them. James stood to my right wearing his signature crooked smile, and after looking at him I didn’t feel so bad about my appearance anymore. We were standing in front of the colossal auditorium of our school; horde of students could be seen in the background, all draped in long navy blue overcoats. I flipped to look at the back of the photograph- “The best day of my life!” These words were scribbled on the photo that had been taken more than a decade ago.
It was my high-school graduation; a much-awaited day in the life of all high-schoolers. I could still feel the excitement and rush in the pit of my stomach that I had felt about fourteen years ago. The specifics of that day are a series of blur pictures in my head; I don’t remember posing for the camera or getting clicked by anyone. “Yes, it is me.” I replied to my daughter after what seemed like an eternity. I looked around to find that she had left already, the little kitten that we had adopted recently apparently more intriguing than the photograph.
That night I couldn’t sleep; my thoughts kept wavering back to the photograph and my graduation day. “Today, we three take an oath to stay together forever. No matter what happens but ‘Terrific Trio’ will meet every Saturday for our weekly meetings.” Aries had said those words like she meant them. “We will go to frat parties and clubs together. It’s going to be perfect!” I had meant those words too. Promises of forever were made but none kept. This fact hadn’t bothered me until now but I was sure that the unsettling feeling in my gut wouldn’t settle till the time I did something about it.
The next morning I skipped my morning exercise regime and sat down with my laptop in the living room but only after preparing breakfast for Sarah. Needless to say, being a single mother had made me much more responsible than I originally thought I was capable of being. Juggling life between stepping out of an abusive relationship, a divorce and fighting for my daughter’s custody, I lost all my friends along the way. I wasn’t even sure I could call them my ‘friends’ anymore. I frantically opened my Facebook page and typed the name ‘Aries Copperfield’ in the search bar. Various results popped up but none that were appropriate to what I was searching for.
Concentrating on work that week seemed like a gruelling task when my mind was preoccupied with so many thoughts. Upon reaching home latterly, I tried to look for my ‘friends’ once again. This time I looked for James and to my surprise it was much easier to locate him; I sent him a friend request but there was a great possibility that he would look at that request days, weeks or even months after. There was no information about his work place or his whereabouts on his page. It was exasperating that I didn’t even have a way to connect with my only best friends.
Just then it occurred to me that maybe I did have their phone numbers! How could I be so stupid? I rushed to fetch my phone and hastily dialled their numbers. Turns out, it was a useless idea since James’ number was out of service and I was so engrossed in my own life that it hadn’t occurred to me to ask Aries for her new number when she moved to Canada. My futile attempts to re-connect with my old buddies motivated me to stop working so hard. If they were as good as friends as I remember them to be, they too could have tried to contact me but they didn’t! Hitherto, I had felt guilty for being a bad friend but my failed attempts made me realize that they were no better than me. I wasn’t the only one who broke a promise I made, I wasn’t the only one who went back on their word; they were equally responsible.
Another month passed by and I had completely forgotten about the photograph until one day Sarah implored me to buy her chocolates and I agreed, much to my distaste. I was walking around in the super market when I happened to come across a familiar face. “Luke! I’m Emma Hastings from Fowler High School, remember me?” His brown eyes narrowed in disbelief but filled with warmth as soon as he recognized me. “Of course! Emma, how could I forget you? How have you been? How are Aries and James?” His question threw me off-guard. Was he not going to ask me about my divorce? My pity-worthy existence as my dear parents liked to call it; probably not. “I’m doing great. And...Aries and James are..I don’t talk much to them anymore.” Those words felt foreign coming out of my mouth. “That’s a shame!” He must have seen my horrified expression as he continued speaking “I mean you were three peas in a pod, inseparable, no one imagined that you guys would stop talking, you know.” All I could do was nod in agreement. “See you later, then.” He said as he started walking away from me. I don’t know if I was too offended by what Luke had said or if I was just looking for an opportunity to arise but I nearly shouted when I asked him, “Luke, by any chance do you have James’ contact number?”
1 WEEK LATER:
I was currently driving my car and according to my GPS, I was just 10 miles away from my destination. I was engulfed in a plethora of emotions- Excitement, happiness, nostalgia, guilt, and maybe a tad of fear. Excitement because this was probably the most exhilarating thing happening in my life in years, happiness because I was going to meet James and Aries after fourteen years, nostalgia because they were a part of that phase of my life that I coveted, guilty because until one week ago I was unacquainted with the fact that Aries had relocated back to the States and fear because she was nescient to the fact that I was coming to meet her. When I had talked to James a week ago he was surely infuriated but surprisingly tranquil and contented to talk to me; no surprise there since he was the calmest out of us three. I couldn’t say the same about Aries though; she was known to be cranky and thin-skinned. I knew I was walking into the lion’s den but this one was worth walking into.
I pulled over my car and was quite surprised to find that I was parked in the middle of nowhere. All I could hear was crickets chirping, birds tweeting, and the faint burbling of a stream nearby while I was surrounded by lush green thickets. I was starting to think of all the things that could go wrong right now; a mountain lion could be lurking around for a hunt and I could be its prospective prey or maybe a very poisonous King Cobra was silently slithering around me and just waiting for the right opportunity to bite me. The sudden rustling of the leaves startled me and I promptly turned around to see if my fears were somehow a reality. Instead it was a harmless little sparrow with a pretty brown beak. I tip-toed closer to get a better look at it but as I had anticipated, it flew away but I could now see a cemented staircase that was full of moss and looked pretty old but I just knew I had to go that way.
After climbing the stairs for a few minutes, I spotted a green roof and my footsteps quickened even though I was finding it difficult to breathe. Not a few steps later, I reached a plain area and the rusty walls of the building were easily visible. On walking further, I could see a lady sitting on a black bench in what looked like a garden. She looked perfect; her posture, her hair, the sunlight falling on her was all too good to be true. I knew immediately it was Aries. It had to be, there was not a chance that someone could be as humanly perfect as Aries was.
I took a few deep breaths before I gathered the resolution to go and talk to her. I had been a really crappy friend. It was foolish of me to think that it was only me who was going through a tough time and everyone else was living in a fairy tale, full of rainbows and unicorns. I had been oblivious when Aries lost her husband in a plane crash a few years ago and decided to move back to The States with her toddler or when James had finally bagged his dream job. I was not there for the good or bad times, I had not kept my end of the bargain but maybe my chosen family would choose to forgive me after all. If I were in their shoes, would I forgive myself? I honestly don’t know the answer to that but I had all reasons to believe they will because it wasn’t just my own will to meet them that brought me here today, it was so much more than that; it was synchronicity!