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Holiday

Anna was the first to arrive at the restaurant, which of course had been her plan. It meant she could take her seat and gather herself, without having to worry about being late and flustered. She’d hope that by being there, the same place they always met, she’d be able to absorb the atmosphere. She’d hoped she could find the person that she once was, if only for an evening of normality.

It wasn’t going well- not drinking made it particularly hard- until Lucy turned up and started yammering away. Listening was easy. All Anna needed to do was pull the right faces and make the right noises. That didn’t take much effort.

With a burst of laughter the other two finally strolled over to join them as well.

“Happy Christmas!” Nikita all but yelled.

“Can we still say that?” Lucy laughed. “The day’s been and gone.”

“Yeah, but it’s that awkward timeless stage. You might as well keep saying it,” Sarah replied as she took her seat. Now the evening could start properly, and the acting began in earnest.

It was their girly yearly tradition. Anna, Lucy, Sarah and Nikita would all get together, some time in that vague week before the new year. They all claimed it was to set their resolutions, but that topic normally didn’t last beyond the starters. The rest of the evening was guilt-free gossip, after they'd all sworn they’d be better and happier people next year. Of course the next year rolled around and they’d pull their resolution lists out, laugh at how badly they’d done, then write the same things on the list for the next year. No-one ever accomplished any of it, but it was their tradition. As they were getting older it was getting to be one of the only times they all saw each other, and there was an unspoken pact that they wouldn’t stop anytime soon.

Just like there was an unspoken pact that they wouldn’t ever get round to their resolutions.

Except for this year. Anna was already nervous about how they’d take it.

“I’ll start,” Nikita said. With a flourish she pulled her list out and started crossing the resolutions off in the most over-the-top manner that she could, without hitting any of the waiters going past. “Lose weight- nope! Get a promotion- nope! Buy a new car, like actual new not second hand- nope!”

“Oh man, are you still driving that old banger about?” Sarah said with a smirk.

“No. I’ve got a new old banger. Ah well, complete failure, as ever. Who’s next?” She scrunched the paper up into a ball with a smile and drained her wine glass.

“I’ll go,” Sarah said. For her play-acting she adjusted her glasses and read over the top of them like an old schoolmistress. “Lose weight- a good classic, but yet again, failure. Get married-” She blew a raspberry, which got them a few glares from the surrounding tables.

“What happened with that?” Nikita asked as she reached for the wine bottle. Of course they’d all had invites to the wedding, but they’d all gotten the text messages three weeks later saying it was off. The text had included the promise for gossip, and now that promise was being called in.

“After the resolutions, we’ve got all evening,” Lucy chided, trying and utterly failing to keep a smirk off her lips. Sarah’s ex was also her ex, and there was still plenty of bitterness there.

“And lastly," Sarah said pointedly, "get a better job. I mean, I interviewed for a better job. It just happened to be the week after he broke it off, so… that didn’t go well.”

“Oh, ouch. That’s rough babe,” Nikita said, topping up Sarah’s glass despite the fact that it wasn’t empty yet. “Lucy?”

“Oh god. Okay.” Lucy cleared her throat and put a hand to chest, her declaration of failure for the last year. “Pass my driving test. Urg.” She flopped her head down onto her chest. “If I ever see another car again I’ll scream.” The table burst into laughter at the stupidity of that thought and Lucy had to hush them before she continue. Even Anna genuinely laughed at that notion, and it wasn’t long before her cheeks hurt from smiling. It had been so long since she last had. “Move out of the parents’ house. Nope.”

“Still no luck?” Sarah asked.

“I came so close. We were about to move in to this flat, but then Casey- remember her?- yeah, she hooked up with this girl and was like, ‘we kinda want the space to ourselves, soz’.”

“Rude.”

“I know right? And my mum’s being just- ohh, just don’t get me started on that.”

“That’s fair hun. What was your last one?”

“Go to New York. That’s fine, I can definitely do that one this year.” She’d said that every year for the past five, but none of the others called her out on it. The whole point of ‘resolutions club’ was to achieve nothing after all.

The bottle of wine was emptied and another ordered from a passing waiter before they all turned to Anna. “Come on then. Your turn.”

Anna didn’t bother with any over the top flourishes. This was going to be hard enough as it was. “First up, lose weight.” With her desperate grin still stapled to her face she held her arms up in a ‘ta-da’ motion. Last year she hadn’t been the biggest of all of them- that had been Sarah, not that anyone was checking, comparing or keeping track. But there was no denying that Anna had lost a lot of weight. Her collar bones were vivid now, and even though this evening she wore a loose batwing-sleeve top it was easy to see that she had a lot more definition than last year. Her jeans had to be at least two sizes smaller, and they looked stunning on her hips now.

“How much weight have you lost?” Nikita asked, managing to keep the bitterness out of her voice while the other two took large gulps of wine.

“About twenty kilos.” The smile was strained now and she couldn’t meet anyone’s eyes. They all thought that was just smugness though.

“Wow!”

“Congrats!”

“That’s amazing. Come on, what’s your secret?”

“Cutting down on wine mostly,” Anna joked. Sure enough she hadn’t touched her glass, still full from the first bottle, and she was content with just the water provided on the table. Well, not content, but she knew it was all she could have.

“Huh.” Smarmy know-it-all, Lucy thought. “What was your next resolution? Bet you failed that one horribly.”

“Actually… It was to travel. Nowhere specified.”

“And where have you been then?” Sarah asked, her grin broad but her eyes sharp.

“I’ve done a couple of places in Europe, did a couple of weeks travelling round there. Then I did India and New York.”

Lucy let out a strangled cry. “You could’ve told me! We could’ve made a trip out of it.” There was a time, back in uni, when that would’ve been the first thing any of them would’ve done if they were going to New York. Yet Anna hadn’t even mentioned it until now.

“I’m sorry. It was a last minute thing, all kind of rushed.”

“Pics or it didn’t happen,” Nikita said before laughing far too dramatically. It was half a challenge, half a joke, and Nikita herself was too far through the wine to be sure which one it was herself.

“Oh, sure.” So they all had to sit through five minutes of Anna digging up pictures of her abroad in gloriously sunny places, and to add insult to injury she looked stunning in all of them. There were several of her on beaches, and damn she could pull off a bikini now.

“And the last one?” Lucy asked at last, already planning on downing the left over bottle of wine in the fridge when she got home. The evening was ruined now, and only drink could save her self-esteem.

“Try a new hairstyle.” Anna turned her head from side to side, showing off the new bob that she was sporting after a dozen years of mid-back ponytails.

“It’s a good look on you,” Nikita had to admit, slurring a little at the end.

Sarah gave a loud clap that made all of them jump. “Well, as you’ve achieved all your resolutions, the next bottle is on you. And I don’t care if you’re not drinking it, little miss goody-two-shoes.”

All of them laughed, all of it strained but for oh so different reasons. The food arriving was a pleasant distraction.

“Fine,” Anna said. “I’ll get a bottle from the bar on my way back from the toilet.”

“Make it a good one!” Sarah called after her, and Anna just gave a wave over her shoulder. It was easier than turning round and watching them all leap forward to gossip about her now she was gone.

In the bathroom Anna locked the door and leant against it. The evening was harder than she’d been expecting, but she had to be there. It might be her last one. Her eyes were damp as she checked her make-up in the mirror.

The blusher was still there, giving her some of the colour that she’d lost through treatment, and the concealer was doing a wonderful job of hiding the dark circles around her eyes. The loose top hid the worst of her skeleton, although she was wishing she had worn a scarf as well, to block out the sight of her razor collarbones. Ah well, no-one had commented. On the contrary- they were all jealous of how thin she was now.

“Let them have the bloody cancer then,” Anna growled under her breath, before taking a deep breath. No. Getting upset didn’t help. This was her evening off, and she was going to enjoy it. The smell of the food hadn’t helped, but she was sure she could stomach at least some of it now.

It would be easier to enjoy the night if any of the trips abroad had been helpful. She’d toured the world looking for obscure, traditional, natural, even religious remedies, but none of them had made the slightest bit of difference to her tumour. Her life savings were almost gone, but then again, her life was almost gone. You can’t take it with you, as they said.

With some sniffling and a little more eyeliner she turned to leave, checking that the wig was still level. The style did suit her, she just wished that the longer ones didn’t keep falling off so much. She had a funny shaped head as well, just to add to her list of issues.

But no, she was still presentable. Still normal. Still healthy, as far as anyone outside could tell. The other three had all drunk too much wine by now to notice the shivers.

Anna stopped with her hand on the door handle.

“Three resolutions for next year?” she said to the room that hadn’t asked. But if they were said out loud then they were real, there was more weight to them, and the idea of telling the plastic lily by the wash-basin was so much more bearable than telling anyone at the table. “Make the long wigs work. Tell everyone. And…”

The last one was obvious. It was what she’d been telling herself every day since last January, when she’d first collapsed, entirely out of the blue. This time last year all she’d been thinking about was looking prettier and partying as much as she could. Yet saying this resolution out loud made it all the more real, and she wasn’t sure she was ready.

“Don’t die,” she whispered, before opening the door and strolling back out to the restaurant, leaving the desperate promise behind in the bathroom while she carried on her facade.

January 25, 2020 00:27

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