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Friday Flash Fiction: Close

March 15, 2013

Lou gripped the steering wheel, stiff with the fear of this wet, panicky night drive.

There wasn’t much traffic, but that was almost worse. A giant lorry would thunder towards them, blinding with light, terrifying, spraying up gritty water from the road. Then it would be pitch black and Lou would peer into the night, seeing nothing.

Her eyes were ringing with the effort. The road was too narrow. She was too tired. It was a strain not to be distracted by the swish-squeak of the struggling wipers.

She pulled into a lay-by and switched off the engine.
“I need a break,” she said, shutting her eyes and leaning back against the headrest.
“Are you OK?” said Helen.

It was raining hard, so Lou stayed in the car. She squirmed in her seat, trying to shake out some of that tension and tiredness. They were heading for Helen’s sister’s place, over in Chipping Norton. Far enough, Lou hoped.

It was a hell of a drive to be doing at five in the morning.

“Yeah,” she said. “I just need a minute. I’m knackered.”
“I’m sorry.” Helen’s voice was very quiet. Pale.
Lou reached out a hand and touched her shoulder.
“Hey,” she said. “None of that.”
Helen looked up and turned towards her friend. “Sorry,” she said again, but this time she managed a watery smile.
“Better,” said Lou. “I still can’t believe you did it!”
“About time, eh?” said Helen, sounding braver than she looked.
Lou’s hand, still on Helen’s shoulder, drifted up a little and touched the mess that Spencer had made on her right cheek. Helen winced and Lou withdrew her hand. She had not seen her much recently – her best friend. She had tried to tell herself it was the decent thing to do. Time out. Easier for Helen, too, in a way. She realised now that she had been wrong.
“Yeah,” she said softly. “About time.”

In the cramped space at the front of Lou’s car, Helen began to weep. There was no sound, no sobbing. Silent tears dropped down her face. Lou handed her the box of tissues.

She wanted to reach out to her, to hold her close. But… She shut off the thought. God, get over yourself. It wasn’t going to happen again. She leaned over, and put her arms around her best friend. The woman she loved more than anything. Helen hugged her back and it felt – normal. Good. That at least was a relief.

When they drew back, Lou carried on holding both of Helen’s hands in her own.
She looked carefully at the swelling cheek and then realised that Helen was looking right back at her. Really looking at her.

“Hi,” she said.
“I missed you,” said Lou.
“Me too.”

They were very close.
Helen freed her hands, rubbed her face. She tucked a lock of hair back over one ear.

“Now you’re crying too,” she whispered, and reached across to brush Lou’s tears away.
Lou tensed and for a moment she was paralysed by the lightness of it. Helen took her shoulders, pulled her further forward. Even closer. There was an unexpected look in Helen’s eyes: a question, maybe even an answer. She could drown in this. She could hardly breathe. Their faces were almost touching.

But then, abruptly, the cold part of her mind took over and pulled her away, away, back into the damp space up against the driver side door.
Panic rose up in her throat like sick. “Don’t!”
“What – ” Helen was bewildered. Hurt.
“It’s not fair!” Lou was shaking. She felt hoarse. She felt everything. “It’s not fair.”

For a long minute neither of them spoke. The only sounds were the rain and the occasional roar of traffic. The night seemed thinner, beginning to soften into a grey dawn.
“I’m sorry,” said Helen, sadly.
Lou didn’t answer. She had no words for this. It was like a knife.

She took a deep breath and belted up again.
“Come on, let’s get going. It’s only about twenty minutes or so now.”
She started the car. She thought about turning on the radio, to fill the silence.
“Jesus,” said Helen. “God, I’m so sorry.”

Lou made a decision. This wasn’t a time for histrionics.
“It’s fine,” she said. “It’s all been a bit mad, hasn’t it? It’s fine.”
She forced a smile.
“Are you sure?” Helen didn’t sound convinced.
“No worries. It’s fine.”

I’m sorry. It’s fine. Is this how life is?

[TOMW]

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