An excerpt from the third--yet unnamed--book of the Branded series. Every now and again we need a good friend we can turn to, be ourselves and let the friend take care of us. (First draft, please keep in mind.)
I've seen Emily cry many a times but, as I feared, this is way worse than with any other break-ups. The girl standing before me is broken, the cracks running through her heart showing right on her face and in her eyes. She doesn't say a word, but her lips are quivering.
“Oh come here!” I grab her hand and pull her close, into a hug. She sniffles and I squeeze a little tighter. The sniffles turn into light sobs and I continue to hold her, gently stroking her back when the sobs become louder and turn into a staccato. It's intense, so much so that I can literally feel her pain. I know there's nothing I can say that makes it better, nothing that will comfort her. All I can do is be there for her. The bag that is dangling from her left arm drops to the floor with a loud thud; a sound of a bottle of wine wrapped in fabric. I have no idea how long we've been standing here like this, in my hall, but the sobs become less and eventually ebb.
“I–look like a mess. I'm so sorry.”
“Don't be silly, Em. No need to be sorry. And I don't care how you look. I love you anyway. Here, come through. Let's have bottle of wine.”
“Tha–hank you,” she stammers, still gasping for air.
“What for?” I smile, open a bottle of Chardonnay, pour a glass and place it in front of her. She grasps it with a shaking hand. Yes, it hit her pretty hard.
“I really want to wring his neck!” I say.
“Me, too. I asked him why and he said he didn't know, said he was pissed and she'd flirted with him anyway.” She snorts and, for a brief moment, her eyes glisten with hatred. “And that's a reason for you to sleep with that fucking bitch?”
“Do you know her?”
She nods. “I've seen her once. She's nothing special, you know, no arse, no tits, not particularly pretty. Just normal. That's why I don't understand. If she were hot, I'd perhaps understand, not excuse, but understand. Men think with their cocks and when such a woman dangles an opportunity in front of them, their brains switch off. But that grey mouse? What did she promise him I couldn't give? What?”
“To be honest, I never thought Chris would do that to you—with any woman, hot or not. I know he was a flirt before you met each other, but that is really odd. Did you have an argument or something?”
Since her little outburst, Emily has become quiet, staring without focus, rotating the glass's foot between her thumb and index finger. “Let's say we had a disagreement.”
I look up, confused. “I didn't know.”
“Well, you were so busy recently. Working a lot, being at Tom's. I called you, but your mobile was turned off, so I didn't bother to leave a message.”
“When was that?” I have a faint idea and feel guilty.
“Some time last week,” she replies, confirming my thought. It was when I wasn't myself, when I fought my Dark Side. I wish I could tell her about it, but how could I possibly explain that the reason for not being there for her back then was because I was trying to kill my brother? I wasn't the Celia she knows and loves. I might not have recognised her.
“I'm sorry.” I squeeze her hand. “I'm the worst friend ever. What happened?”
Emily sighs deeply and wipes away another tear that had escaped her eye. “Chris and I looked at that flat and we couldn't agree on anything. I felt like he didn't really want to move in with me.”
“Did he actually say that?”
She shakes her head. “No, he didn't need to. It was obvious. That's when I thought something isn't right, but when I asked him, he said all was fine. And the next day he was all normal, his sweet self. You know, as if nothing happened. Until this morning, when I received the e-mail.”
“Bastard!” I shake my head. “Sorry, I shouldn't say that, but I'm really angry with him for hurting you.”
“You should have heard all the names I called him this morning.” Her eyes fill with tears again.
Emily blows her nose. “If only it would help.”
“Hon, do you see any chance of getting through this with him?”
“No. Once a cheater, always a cheater. I wouldn't be able to trust anymore.” She snorts. “I was pissed! What kind of a pathetic excuse is that?”
“Reminds me of ... you know who,” I say, the memory of my ex makes me shudder and take a sip of my wine.
“Yeah!” She pulls a face, then crunches the tissue into a ball and tosses it across the kitchen into the bin. “Three points!” she says in a thin voice.
I gaze into my glass, not knowing what to say. What can you offer someone who just broke up with her boyfriend? Tell her that time heals all wounds? Hardly helpful, even if true. Besides, Emily is normally not someone who analyses her relationships; she cries, swears, dives head first into work before she starts with rebound sex. At least that's how it was in the past. Since this is—was—her first serious relationship I worry about her. She throws her head back, her shoulder-length bob swinging at the sudden move and lets out a long low scream that probably can be heard two flats below, but I don't care. As long as my friend releases what threatens to drown her, she can scream how long and loud she wants. I pour us another glass, which Emily downs immediately. Right, getting pissed it is, then. But it would probably a good idea to eat something beforehand.
“You eaten anything today?”
She burbs behind her hand, then replies, “No, couldn't.”
“How about I rustle something up?”
“I'm not hungry, really.”
“But I am. I'll cook something and you can either have some or not, okay?”
“Do you have more wine?”
“The bottle you brought is in the fridge.”
“Right.” She stands, slightly wobbly. It pains me to see her like this and I wish I could make it better. Hopefully I can get some food into her; she never denies my cooking.
“I'll just sit and watch you.”
“You better, might even learn something.” Emily's cooking is rather basic. A few dishes like Shepherd's Pie or pancake, maybe a vegetable cream soup or Spaghetti with shop-bought pasta sauce, but that's hardly making her a cook.
“I can't concentrate on anything. It's like one of those cook shows, you know? When you watch them, thinking, I must try that, but never do. You're just like them: you need a bit of this, and a little bit a that, cut this,” she makes a fast chopping movement, “and stir, add this, hey, presto!”
“Are you making fun of me?” I ask, bringing the kettle to the boil.
She pouts. “Moi? Never!” With a big grin, she drains another glass. This will be an early night, and most probably one with a lot of sprints between bed- and bathroom. I cut the streaky bacon in fine strips, then roll the washed chard into a ball and lightly run my knife through it. Emily nurses the next glass and I put the rigatoni into the saucepan.
“You should slow down a bit, Em. Maybe have a water?”
“I don't want any water. I'm all right.”
I chop the garlic and red chilli, then cut the cherry tomatoes in halves. “Your headache, not mine.”
“Your headache, not mine,” she imitates me, pulling a face. Swollen, dull eyes glare at me without focus; the alcohol is beginning to kick in. I bite my lip and say nothing. Instead, I put a glass of water in front of her and kiss her on the cheek. She squints at the glass and dutifully drinks, then slams the empty glass onto the table, that I jump out of my skin, then, with the back of her hand, wipes over her mouth. “Happy?”
“Yes,” I reply putting the freshly roasted pine nuts aside, and throw the bacon into the pan.
“Celia?” Emily slurs.
“What is it?” The scent of tomato puree fills my kitchen and I drain the pasta.
“Why did he do that to me?” she whines.
“I don't know, hon. I don't know.” I scrape the garlic into the pan, then the chard and tomatoes and stir.
Emily sniffs. “Smells good.”
I smile to myself, hearing her scramble from the chair to venture to the fridge. “Can you pass me the Parmesan, please?”
She hands me the cheese and I grate it into the pan before adding the pasta and a tiny bit of cream and salt and give it as good mix.
“Hmm it does look good, though,” she says from behind, resting her chin on my shoulder.
“Two plates, then, my dear.”
She stretches her arm to open the cupboard, holding on to the table for balance. If the reason for her being so drunk weren't Chris, it would be funny, but all I feel is sorry for her. This girl doesn't deserve to be that sad. I take the plates off her before she drops them, serve the food with the roasted pine nuts, and watch with relief that she has developed an appetite.