As questions mount about the fatal accident, Olivia is forced to go back and unravel their tangled history. But as Sally’s secrets start to spill out, Olivia’s left asking herself if the past is best kept buried.
When I think about it now, I realize that she always did make sure she had backup, even while she tried to keep my options to an absolute minimum. I remember bursting back through the door one This Life night, my stint in the library longer than I had intended. “It’s starting!” I shouted, running into the living room, only to find Lola, stockinged feet neatly tucked underneath her, sitting on the sofa.
“Hello, Livvy,” she said, giving me a brief, polite smile devoid of any warmth.
“Oh . . . hi! Lovely to see you.”
I walked toward her, hoping she’d let me hug her, but she might as well have been wreathed in barbed wire.
“We’ve got a house guest!” said Sally, sailing back in, a bowl of Pringles in her hand, not a trace of discomfort. I don’t know what she said to her, I never asked, but she somehow managed to lure her back into the fold. But now the fold was only big enough for two. They would hug and shriek and go for drinks, and occasionally I would go along, but it was abundantly clear who was making the bed sag in the middle now. Lola would tolerate me, but no more than that, and to go out with her on my own and lay it on the table would somehow have felt like going behind Sally’s back. Neither of us would have dared do that.
It wasn’t just Lola. It sometimes felt like she got crushes on people, girls as much as boys, and she’d suddenly want to see them all the time. She might invite me along, but it was always in a way that told me she was doing me a favor rather than relishing the idea of my company. After the first couple of times I learned not to be jealous. These people were like fireflies, their tenure brief, the friendship burning out before it gained any real momentum. And then it would be me and her again, almost as if I’d imagined it.
That apartment left me broke. The rent was sky high, and that was before you took into account how much it cost to survive the cold of a Yorkshire winter. We’d divided up the bills when we first moved in, putting a few in each of our names, but Sally would leave hers until they were red and angry, final demands and threats of court action. I’d beg her to pay them, and she’d laugh.
“They’re messing with us. They won’t do anything. I’ll pay it next week.”
She was right, of course, but I didn’t like the menace of it, the sense that we were in trouble. It gave me a feeling of living in the last days of a dying empire, like we were squatting in Buckingham Palace.
I dated a bit that year, but it was halfhearted. The real romantic punctuation came from my time with James. His visits got more frequent as the year rolled on, and any remaining awkwardness trickled away. It was still a pose on my part, but like
I said, I was craven.
It wasn’t just me who was excited when a visit was imminent.
“I love James,” Sally would say, and I would try and be pleased that my two favorite people liked each other so much.
It seemed petty to not be happy about it, but I couldn’t help but resent the way she’d never give us any time alone. I knew that if I asked there’d be all manner of trouble, and even the act of asking seemed to contradict my breezy assurances that we were no more than friends.
She hardly ever invited Shaun on our nights out with James, even though it seemed obvious to make it a foursome.
Instead we’d be a sharp- cornered little trio, jumping on a virtual trampoline, competing to see how high the fun could take us. One time we somehow ended up in a house club, full of bare- chested ravers sweating all over us and blowing whistles in our faces. It was the last place I wanted to be. Sally disappeared off somewhere, and after an hour me and James started to get worried. I finally tracked her down in a corner by the loos, snogging someone I could barely see, beyond knowing for absolute certain that he wasn’t Shaun.
I waited until I started to feel like a Peeping Tom, then gave up. When she got back I managed to make myself heard over the bass line.
“What were you doing?”
She looked at me, blank- faced, and then danced a little bit harder. Once we got home, I tried again. We were in the kitchen alone, waiting for James to sort out the music.
“Who was that guy?” I said, trying to stop myself from sounding disapproving. I didn’t think Shaun was the love of her life, but nor did I think he deserved her cheating on him.
He’d wanted to come out with us, but she’d claimed it was a girl’s night. She’d told us conspiratorially, said how much she was looking forward to us being the three musketeers, and I’d swallowed my irritation at the way she acted like she’d been there from the beginning.
“The one you were snogging.”
“I dunno what you’re talking about,” she said, pouring boiling water into our mugs, her eyes refusing to meet mine.
“You so do!” I said, trying to keep it light.
“Why are you saying that?” she said, blue eyes flashing ice.
“I saw you.”
“Shut up, Livvy,” she hissed, spotting James coming back into the room. “Hello, You,” she said, honeyed. “Cup of tea, or shall we go for one last cheeky vodka? You know it makes sense.”
It wasn’t really working. I’d always longed for me and Sally to be more like sisters than friends, which just goes to show, you should be careful what you wish for. Sally saved her worst behavior for her family, and I think that, once we’d moved in together, that was what I’d become in her eyes. Living with her made me anxious, the whole atmosphere dictated by the violent seesaw of her moods, and my grades were suffering as a result. I’d got a part- time waitressing job to help fund my rent, which made it even harder to focus. I started to wonder if my rackety finances might provide me with the life raft
I needed. Perhaps I could plead poverty, move back into a shared house, and keep the good bits of my friendship with
Sally and slough away the bad.
“That sounds like a fantastic idea,” said Mom, when I told her, her relief palpable. “You’re only a student once in your life, so you should jolly well be one.”
It was nice to feel that my family was there too, that not everything was dictated by my relationship with Sally, each experience taken back and pored over in the lab of our friendship.
I put off mentioning it for a couple of weeks, rehearsing it again and again in my head. In the end I broached it on one of our sofa supper nights, hoping that the chilled domesticity would soften the blow. As soon as she grasped what I was saying she burst into hysterical sobs.
“You’re my best friend,” she said, burying her face in the cushions. “Why wouldn’t you want to live with me?”
“It was only an idea!” I said, helpless in the face of her grief. “I just thought, we’ve only got a year left. It might be fun to share again.”
“If it’s about money I’ll pay more! It is about the money, isn’t it?”
I paused, trying to muster up enough courage to tell her that it was about more than that. That I couldn’t give her everything.
That if I did there would be nothing left for me.
“Forget it. Forget I said anything. It’ll be fine.”