It was going to be a new day today. Looking around the room I spotted the differences from the last time I had stepped foot on the 1st floor of Mansfield and Co. The paintings on the wall had been replaced with more modern art – ranging from abstract to digital – and the furniture had a modern feel to it. Hell, even the door was different. I clutched my satchel close to me as I edged further into the room, the office full of cheerful chatter about the past weekend and how they dreaded Mondays. I smiled to myself, shaking my head at the ridiculous stories I overheard as I passed through towards the only familiar part of the room – Graham’s office. I knocked once before being grunted at to come in (some things never change).
“Hey, you! I thought I’d come by and-.”
“Welcome. Please take a seat, Lucy.” I blinked in confusion at his hard tone but chose to ignore it, taking a seat in front of him, placing my satchel by my side.
“Well, I-.” I started again before a hand was held up, the other holding a phone to his ear as he muttered quietly to the person on the other end. I briefly pursed my lips as I sat in silence, staring at the assortment of memorabilia on his desk. There was a blank space and the dust gathered there knocked at my mind as if I knew what was missing but couldn’t quite touch upon it.
“Why are you here?” He stared at me blankly, despite the air of disturbance and impatience surrounding him.
“I…I just wanted to see how things were. We haven’t seen each other in ages.” I couldn’t hold back my hesitation and the impatience only increased, battering me away like a pest.
“Things are great.” Short and snappy…And a little cold.
“Great! Well, I was wondering if you wanted to catch up – maybe tomorrow lunch at Stephanie’s at 12 noon?” The smile faltered as I saw him sit back, tapping his watch in habit (something he only did when he wanted to be left alone).
“I’m sorry, I can’t make it tomorrow. I have an event out of town to attend to. Maybe next time.” He spoke definitively and kept his stoic gaze upon me. It was unsettling and I instinctively moved back in my seat.
“Right. ‘Kay. I’ll…see you then.” I stood up and he nodded before flipping through paperwork as if I wasn’t there and I nodded back, sidestepping out of the office in unease.
The further I walked away, the more I felt the thorns prick at my back and the cold seeped deeper into my skin, coiling itself around my chest. I risked a glance behind me but was only met with a closed blind. I furrowed my eyebrows and continued walking. Maybe he was just busy.
If I could describe joy, I would have. It was the biggest breakthrough of the season and I was not going to miss out on all of the joys of life on such a historic (Jen disagrees but I don’t care) day. I was going to throw a celebration party before going to give a speech about the most important people in the world – Stephen King, John Irving, Harper Lee and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – and they would all be present! All of them, in one room! Could life get any better? No. Nothing can ever beat meeting my all-time favourite authors. Nothing can – not even strawberry laces.
“Luce, this is amazing! Congrats!” I span around to hug my best friend, Jen and the excitement burst out in a series of squeals and frantic jumping.
“I can’t believe this is happening. Is this happening? Am I dead and this is just an elaborate prank by the ghosts? Wait, are you dead? Are we dead together?” She just raised an eyebrow before grinning and shaking her head.
“No, you idiot. This is happening and it is very real, OK? Listen to me, this is not a prank – it is real and- Lucy!” She grabbed my hand as I grabbed a handful of fizzy strawberry laces and proceeded to try to stuff them in my mouth.
“No! You’re not going in there hyper, you hear me? You’re eating one and that’s it. That’s your cut off point.” I pouted and put the laces down and she grimaced.
“Those have been in your mouth, Luce. Just throw it away.”
“Why can’t I just eat them? They’ll be wasted otherwise, right?” She frowned and I knew I had made a good case. I bit one of the laces as she stood in deep thought, looking around the room. He wasn’t here.
“Jen, do you know where-.”
“Stop. Eating. Those.” She snatched the laces away and put them in a clean plastic bag before closing it with duct tape.
“Jen, you know I’ll get through such weak defences.” I reached for the bag but she retracted her hand, shaking her finger at me.
“That’s why I’m keeping them with me.” I groaned and turned away from her as she cackled. As I stomped my way into my office in a feeble form of retaliation, I took another look around the room. The one person I wanted to see the most (excluding my idols) wasn’t present on the one day I wanted to see him. The last time we spoke was in April – it was now July and in the sweltering heat I had mustered no confidence to go outside and despite seeing the copious amount of messages I sent, he gave no real reply except a foul “OK” or “sure”. What is going on?
I whipped out my phone and decided against my better judgement to text him for the seventh time that day.
Hey! Where are you?
To my surprise, the reply came swiftly.
Sorry. Can’t make it.
It was not the reply I wanted but expected. Sucking in my breath, I pressed further.
Why? It’s been ages since you’ve seen everyone and they miss you.
Meeting. Can’t talk now.
I miss you.
The message was read but I received no reply. Typical and yet so upsetting. I glared at the screen until I felt a cold stream fall down my cheek, brushing past my lips. My eyes were dry, that’s all. I grabbed for my eye drops and made a motion of screwing it open before absentmindedly dropping into my bag, patting my face with a tissue. The knock on the door meant two things – the party was over and it was time.
“One minute!” I sniffed, and put on my best smile before opening the door. It was still my day.
It wasn’t until a year later that I was told Graham had left Mansfield and Co. to live abroad in Denmark. Down through the grapevine and I was told by his former co-workers. In fact, we were all told by his co-workers when we went over to his old office to throw him a birthday party. Mind you, we had been planning this for months since it was a big one – the big 3-0. This was the last straw.
Graham didn’t attend the single most important day of my life, he didn’t go to the numerous parties I had thrown for each holiday; he didn’t even wish me a ‘Happy Birthday’, but I couldn’t care less about those things now that I knew he moved to an entirely different country without telling any of us. We had been best friends for years (as a joke, he would call our “friendship” a blood-less rivalry) but I just couldn’t understand why we were the last ones to know. I know Graham. He couldn’t and wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about his co-workers but his friends? That I just couldn’t justify for him.
And so, we retreated back to our space in the park beside Mansfield and Co. in awkward silence. Glancing around I couldn’t decipher my friends’ thoughts and feelings and in all honesty, I couldn’t really figure out my own. I felt angry, sad and confused all at the same time and I just couldn’t think of what to do anymore.
“Maybe we should ask him.” There was no answer from any of us and the silence enveloped us once again. The sun shone but it only illuminated the frost that clung to each and every surface. The cool breeze passed through us, undisturbed and unknowingly gentle. Often times, we would look at each other but we simply sat in silence grieving the severed limbs of a lifetime spent together.