“I’m not competitive.”
“Neither am I.”
Kaley and Sam thought they knew themselves, but how well did they know each other? They’d been friends for what felt like an age. They’d done everything alongside one another for decades. It wasn’t planned, but their lives just seemed to converge time and again, like planes in a coordinated display - but they’d never been the fighter kind, just the friendly kind. Friendship is a tenuous thing. It can all change in a minute over something seemingly innocuous, like something slight that the wind carries in. People believe nothing can tear them apart until they’re looking at their own shredded halves of what was once one, shared page.
They thought they’d always be on friendly terms, until the house appeared. They were house hunting in tandem. They both sent each other any promising prospects they found online. They weren’t looking for the same thing at all – Kaley wanted something airy and city-based while Sam wanted to be sequestered away in a countryside cottage. It wasn’t a rivalry; it was a supportive search shared between friends.
That was why they were surprised by each other at the open viewing. They’d told each other they were both attending one, but neither had dreamt it would be at the same location. They had both fallen in love with the place before they’d even got out of their cars. It was one of those idyllic places that look like they can only exist in airbrushed magazines, but it was real and with an affordable price tag. Kaley gave Sam a strained smile and Sam returned it. They didn’t hide how unhappy they were to see each other well at all. They had genuinely always been happy to see each other until that moment. It’s funny how one small, added weight can tip the scale in the other direction.
The agent greeted them at the door, while he also greeted all the other viewers. There were so many keen potential bidders; everyone knew their chance of getting the place was as slim as the hallway felt with twenty people crammed into it. Each potential buyer lingered in the rooms, showing how loath they were to leave. It was a competitive atmosphere. One person looked another squarely in the eye, as if to say, are you going to dare outbid me? It wasn’t a friendly atmosphere, however friendly the house felt.
Kaley stepped in front of Sam and made her way inside first. Ordinarily, she always would have held the door open and said, “after you.” They both basked in the beauty of their new home – the one they would, they realised, lose a friend to get.
After being ejected by the agent whenever he jangled his keys to tell them the viewing time had ended, they left in separate cars without exchanging a word. Kaley went home, where she awaited a message from Sam, offering her the house, but it didn’t arrive.
From there, the bidding war commenced. The price kept jumping up, and no one seemed to find its increase unreasonable. They just thought of the pink horse chestnut trees in the garden and the little brook at the end of the lawn. They thought of the sun-filled rooms with the dancing shadows of tree branches that moved on the walls. They thought of the heady scent of roses and the joyous moments they would spend inside its walls. Kaley had always hated expressions like “forever home,” but that was what it was to anyone that had the pleasure of viewing it. They both went beyond their budget to outdo each other. Each of them had the estate agent as a regular contact on their phones. They both sought out constant updates on the status of the house sale. But in that whole time, they didn’t talk to each other – they didn’t even send a single, civil message. The sisterhood they’d spent their lives building had become nothing but a sham. They couldn’t bear to face each other, because doing that would be like facing up to their own disappointment, to their own need for acquiescence where the house was concerned. Neither of them was prepared to acquiesce and let the other have it, for the sake of friendship. The place had a personality as strong as a person’s. It felt like it would be enough to fill the void left by their dead friendship.
Their phones rang, simultaneously, with two different agents on the ends of the lines. They had both been outbid. The price had skyrocketed to the point that they could no longer match it, never mind outdo it. The professional tones of the agents weren’t sympathetic enough to their plight. They had invested their whole hearts in the house, and it was never going to belong to either of them. They didn’t know who the highest bidder was, and they didn’t know that it wasn’t each other. They just knew that their dreams were like mirages that had vanished, shattered like broken shards of mirror on cold, tiled floors.
A month passed by, and they individually drove to the house – an idea at once in their two heads. They pulled up on the opposite side of the street and parked under the draped veiling of the trees. They tried to approach the place, circumspectly, investigating to see who had taken up residence there. Neither of them believed it was right to do that, but they had to know anyway. And so, they ended up standing side by side, on the same side of the street, looking at the occupied house than neither of them owned. Their eyes met at that moment of realisation, as they watched a kid they didn’t know playing basketball in the driveway, sinking shots they never could have made. The longer they looked at the house, the more they realised it was never meant to be theirs, to be theirs to fight over. They looked at each other with coy smiles, mirroring each other, and took a simultaneous step towards each other’s spot in the sun.