Like The Prose Day#12

Today sees Part 3 of our melodrama set in a college dorm. You’ve heard the view of Ally, an impartial observer; you’ve also seen the story through the eyes of Ken, one of the people actually involved in the love triangle; and today, you’re going to hear from Emma, the wronged girlfriend – but is everything really as it seems?

Triple Aspect – Emma

May 1st, 3am:

Mandy – my lovely Mandy; my best friend. Tears stream down my face as I look at her. I know that life will never be the same again.

March 10th, 12.30pm:

I’m walking back to the dorm room after my morning’s classes when I catch sight of that cute, blond boy in front of me. I know he lives in the same dorm as me because I see him from time to time, although we never talk – he’s just way out of my league. The other evening, I was sitting in one of the campus bars with Mandy, my roommate, and after a while, I realised that he was staring at us from across the room. I say ‘us’, but it was probably Mandy – she turns heads wherever she goes with her long, black hair and her distinctive dress sense. Don’t get me wrong – I like Mandy: she’s probably the closest thing I’ve got to a best friend – but I can’t help feeling like the clichéd ‘plain Jane’ when I’m around her.

“I think you’ve got an admirer,” I say, nodding my head in the direction of the Ken doll.

Mandy blushes. I can’t believe someone like her has so little confidence. She told me at the start of the year that she looked totally different in high school and decided to reinvent herself for college, but at heart, she’s still a bit of an introvert – likes making jewellery in her spare time; hangs around our room, listening to music (loads of weird bands no one else has ever heard of). Neither of us are party people, and the fact we’re here tonight in the bar is a bit of a break from routine for both of us – I guess you could say we’re seeing what ‘real students’ do every night.

The guy looks over at us again – he’s tall and blond and I somehow know he’s fallen for Mandy. My gut twists as I think about this: if the two of them get together, I’ll be on my own again. There’ll be no more cosy crafting afternoons; no more nights in, eating cookies as we work on our assignments; no more nights out, just the two of us together. Somehow, I always end up being the one who’s left out, so I resign myself to the fact that I’ll end up losing my roommate when she starts dating Mr Perfect.

The memory fades as I watch him now, entering the dorm, and wonder if I should follow him to see where his room is. Not that I’m planning on stalking him, you understand – I mean, he’s cute and all, but it would be so embarrassing if he thought I liked him.

My mind whirls and I’m hit with another flashback – a much older one this time. I was fifteen and my parents had taken me on holiday to this hotel in the middle of nowhere. There were some other teenagers staying there too with their families – I think it was some kind of arty retreat or something. Anyway, there was a boy my age I really liked and as the days went by, I found myself developing more and more of a crush on him; and then, on the last day, a group of us went for a hike up some sort of mountain and I thought it would be the perfect time to tell him how I felt, only it turned out he was already involved with one of the other girls in the group and I had to watch them making out when we got to the top. I still feel nauseous when I think about it now.

But I follow the guy anyway and he leads me right to my own door. I’m momentarily confused, hanging back in the corridor and trying to look as if I’m searching for my key so I can open one of the other doors. He pushes an envelope under the door of my room, then turns to leave, nodding at me as he passes. I say nothing, my mind wondering what’s going on.

It’s only as I start reading the note he left that I realise I was right all along. He’s left Mandy a poem, although I’m pretty sure he didn’t write it himself because the lines seem vaguely familiar, and he’s asked her if she wants to meet up for coffee in a few hours’ time. My heart stops momentarily as I read that bit – if she goes to see him at Starbucks and they get together, I’ll be on my own. I crumple up the letter, knowing I can’t ever let her see it. If she doesn’t turn up, he’ll just think she wasn’t interested. Unless …

My heart’s restarted and it’s working overtime now as I formulate my plan. What if I go to see this guy instead? I could tell him Mandy’s not interested in boys, or that she’s got a boyfriend already. I uncrumple the paper and check the details. 3pm, and the guy’s name is Ken. (I knew he looked just like a Ken doll!) I suppose I should feel guilty, but hey – all’s fair in love and war, right?

March 10th, 3pm:

Ken blinks at me in surprise. I can tell he’s wondering whether he put the note under the wrong door as I sit down on the chair opposite his and thank him for inviting me for coffee. “Your note was a lovely surprise!” I babble. “I mean, I’ve seen you around, of course, but I never knew you liked me.”

For a moment, I think he might be going to tell me the truth, but good manners win out and instead, he smiles politely, showing off all those perfect white teeth, and asks what I’d like to drink.

Over coffee, we chat and tell each other about ourselves. I mention my roommate – “You’ve probably seen her with me,” I say carelessly. “She’s got long dark hair and a leather jacket.” – and by the look in his eye, I can tell he’s regretting ending up with me instead. “Mandy will be so thrilled to know I’m seeing someone now,” I say, watching to see if he’ll choke on his coffee. He splutters slightly and I wonder if I’ve gone too far. “We’ll be able to double date with her and her boyfriend.”

His face slumps at the mention of the imaginary lover. “Does he go to school here too?” he asks.

“Oh, no,” I say airily. “Rob’s at Stanford. I guess Mandy’s always had a thing for super-intelligent guys.” (I’ve only been talking to Ken for ten minutes, but I’ve already established that he’s not very bright. It’s a good job he’s pretty, as I can’t see him ever amounting to much academically.)

I think I’ve done what I set out to do, so I get up to leave, but Ken – ever the gentleman – insists on walking me back to the dorm. We reach my room and I ask him if he wants to come in – luckily, Mandy’s there too, so I make a big show of showing off “my boyfriend”, knowing that Ken’s far too nice to contradict me. The spark kind of goes out of Mandy’s eyes when she hears we’re together, but she recovers pretty quickly and even asks us if we want to go with her to hear a band tonight. “I’ve asked Ally as well,” she says, mentioning a girl she sits with in Philosophy. “I think you know her too, don’t you, Ken? What I mean is,” and she blushes, “it won’t be awkward or anything – it’ll be the four of us in a group, so no one will feel left out.”

After Ken’s gone, I turn to Mandy, my heart beating fast. “Do you forgive me?” I ask.

“What for?” But I know she understands what I’m saying.

“I know you liked him too,” I continue, “but I bumped into him in Starbucks and we just kind of hit it off – and I really want this one to work out, Mand – you know what a tough time I had in high school.”

She gives me a quick hug, but I can’t ignore the sadness in her eyes.

March 30th:

I am a horrible person.

Somehow, I’ve managed to keep things going with Ken for the last three weeks – he’s too nice to tell me it’s a mistake and he’s in love with Mandy, but I can tell by the way he looks at her. I keep telling myself that it’s all in a good cause – Mandy’s my best friend and Ken’s just not good enough for her; but deep down, I know that I’m getting a kick out of having a boyfriend – especially one who’s so good-looking. I love the way that other girls turn and look at me enviously when I’m with him – ha! Not such a loser now, am I? All those comments in the yearbook about me being “least likely to get married” suddenly don’t seem so funny, do they?

Anyway, like I said, I’ve kept it going for three weeks, but I can tell he’s gearing up for the big speech. I can’t let him end things, though – not yet. I need to spin this out a while longer so I can convince Mandy that Ken would be a terrible boyfriend for her. It’s quite sweet, really, the way he’s tried to put me off him by being late or acting like a jerk – I’ve made sure I’ve given Mandy all the details and I think she might be going off him. Now, if I can just get him to break wind violently in front of her, or roll up to our room all drunk and disorderly, I might have a chance of destroying her crush for good.

(Later) I hate myself right now. Ken and I went for a walk, and I knew he was about to tell me it was over, so I started crying and told him my grandpa’s got cancer. I feel really mean about lying, but Ken’s so nice, I knew he’d never dump me if he thought I was already suffering. I was going to say it was my mom, but she and Dad are bound to come and visit at some point, and I don’t want anyone asking her questions and finding out I lied, so I made it my grandpa because that’s a bit more believable. Besides, he actually died a few years ago, so it’s not like he can tell anyone I’m making it up.

I probably sound crazy right now, but I don’t care. Mandy’s my friend, and I don’t want to lose her. She’s being ultra-nice to me at the moment – Ken told her and Ally about my grandpa; and today we had another one of our legendary sessions, with her sitting at her desk, making jewellery, and me at mine, painting a ceramic pot whilst crafting all the details about my grandpa’s illness (bowel cancer: he has nurses going into his home every day as he’s too sick to be moved). They’re all so sorry for me and I have never felt so loved.

April 25th: 10pm

I think I may have outmanoeuvred myself. This grandpa story has resulted in unseen complications, like Ken and Mandy both trying to “give me space” because they “know I’m going through a difficult time”. I suppose I’ve had to try to act upset and withdrawn – I don’t want anyone to think I’m heartless; but I would have thought Mandy knew me well enough to stay in with me for moral support.

She’s out late too. I wonder where she’s got to, out on her own.

And then a horrible thought strikes me: maybe she isn’t on her own: maybe it’s no coincidence that she and Ken are both elsewhere. I can’t lose her now – not after everything I’ve done to preserve this friendship.

(Later) I’m lying in the dark when the door opens and Mandy creeps in. Her flushed face and shining eyes tell me exactly what she’s been doing and who she’s been doing it with, but instead of talking to her, I squeeze my eyes shut and pretend to be asleep.

April 29th, 1pm:

I’m pretty sure Mandy and Ken are seeing each other secretly. I need proof though, so I’ve managed to get a spare key cut for Ken’s room (I just told the guy at security it was for my room and that my roommate keeps losing her key) and I’m on my way there now to see if I can find any evidence. Not that I can put the clock back, you understand, but I can sure as hell make them feel guilty for what they’ve done.

I feel kind of mean doing this, though, because they’ve both been so sweet recently when I’ve been feeling stressed about my grandpa – except none of that’s real: sometimes, the lines blur and I forget what’s true and what’s part of my elaborate fantasy world.

I’m going through the drawers in his desk when I hear voices outside, so I slip into the closet and stand as still as I can, my heart beating so loudly I’m sure it’s audible out in the corridor. And then I listen as the door opens and Ken enters – and I start feeling sick because he’s not alone – and there’s another girl’s voice, and I feel dizzy because a guy only takes a girl to his room in the middle of the day for one thing – and that one thing’s supposed to be with me, not someone else.

The world tilts momentarily, and then it rights itself once more and I recognise the other voice: Mandy – my lovely Mandy; my best friend. Tears stream down my face as I listen to her. I had my suspicions, but even so … How can she do this to me? To us? I stand there, crying in silence, and I know that life will never be the same again.

May 1st, 1am:

My heart’s pounding as we creep along the corridor – not because I’m scared someone will hear us and realise we’re drunk – well, the others are, a bit, but I’m stone cold sober: I made sure the bartender gave me light beers when the others were drinking the regular stuff – but because I’m finally going to confront my best friend for stealing my boyfriend. There’s a part of me, you see, that hopes Mandy will feel so guilty that she’ll stop  seeing Ken and then things can go back to the way they were before when it was just me and her. I can’t believe that I still haven’t told them I know – but I’ve needed to wait until I could get the four of us together, because I have to see Ally’s face so I know whether she was part of it too – has she known all along and been keeping it a secret from me?

May 1st, 2.11am:

“It’s not you,” he says, “it’s me. I’m not good enough for you, Em.” He looks so sincere when he says it – apart from his eyes, and they’re as guilty as hell. A part of me can’t believe that he’s actually doing this, that he’s breaking up with me in front of Ally and Mandy. And then I realise that I can’t let him get away with it: I have to confront him and Mandy now and make them admit he’s been two-timing me – but the room starts spinning, and my throat is hot and dry and uncomfortable, and all I can do is look accusingly at Mandy instead of denouncing them both.

“I’m so sorry, Em,” Mandy whispers. Ken shoots her a dirty look, but it seems she needs to confess and get it all off her chest, so I let her continue. “I’m so sorry – we never meant to hurt you.”

“How long has it been going on for?” I have to know.

“About three weeks.”

Each word is a dagger in my heart. Three weeks of him lying to me, cheating on me, kissing someone else – and more – behind my back. And until two days ago, I didn’t know – well, not for sure.

I hate him right now and I hate her too – but I think I hate myself most of all. I was trying to keep them apart, and instead all I’ve done is push them together.

“Thank you for your honesty,” I say, my voice tight and brittle. I wander over to the desk and pick up my craft knife, testing the weight in my hands, then put it down again. I’m not that girl anymore – the one who self-harms. Or am I? All of a sudden, I find I don’t know who I am anymore and what’s real and what’s not.

And then I remember the fourth person in the room. Did Ally know? I wonder. Did she know all the time what they were up to? Tears are pricking at my eyes as I turn to her and ask, “Did you know?” 

May 1st, 2.30am:

I still don’t know why I grabbed the craft knife off my desk. All I wanted was for both of them to know how much they’d hurt me – how they’d ripped my heart out by getting together behind my back. Once the knife was in my hand, I wanted to make them watch me bleed so they’d know how my heart was bleeding too – I wasn’t going to cut my wrists or anything dramatic like that: I just wanted to nick the skin a little – Ken’s always been pathetically sensitive to the sight of blood: he used to go to pieces if I had a nosebleed. And then both Ken and Mandy start shouting and trying to snatch the knife off me – and I panic – and Mandy somehow gets in the way – and I watch in horror as the knife makes contact with her neck… But it’s okay, because as long as we leave the knife there to stem the bleeding and call 911, she won’t die – because I won’t let her. And I’m about to pick up my phone when Ken – stupid, stupid Ken! – pulls the knife out of Mandy’s neck and we all watch in horror as she slumps into unconsciousness in his arms. And then I hear someone screaming, and I realise it’s me.

Mandy – my lovely Mandy; my best friend. Tears stream down my face as I look at her. All I wanted was not to lose her, but instead it seems like I’ve lost her forever. I look from Ally to Ken to Mandy, and I know that all of this is my fault and that life will never be the same again.

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