Chapter 34: Isla
Even from behind, Isla could tell that Dee was not okay. Over the weeks she had grown to know Dee well and was familiar with her usual posture. She tended to hold herself straight and tall, almost too perfect, too alert, like she was trying to play a part. But not today. Today there was a rounding of her shoulders that wasn’t usually there and her feet were planted less firmly on the station platform. She didn’t look strong like she usually did. She looked, from behind, like a woman who needed to be propped up before she fell. Concerned, Isla gripped Milly’s hand and upped her pace, keen to see her friend’s face and evaluate the scale of the problem and work out what could be done.
Dee turned as Isla and Milly approached and her eyes instantly marked her out as having wept. Her face was red, puffy and tear-streaked and she seemed to be past the point of caring. Usually shy about public shows of affection, Isla defied her own rules of engagement by gathering Dee in her arms and holding her tight. Dee broke down into a fit of sobbing.
Isla said nothing but just held her friend whilst she cried. Milly seemed unsure how to approach the situation at first but once Isla had led Dee to their favourite bench and settled her down, Milly curled into her lap and stroked Dee’s hair softly and calmly; each movement of her hand full of love.
Isla felt Dee’s breathing slow and soften until eventually she had regained control of her emotions. She took a deep breath and her loud exhalation coincided exactly with the arrival of their usual train. The train that bound them; but today they chose not to board it.
Choosing not to board the train came easily, Dee was so broken that Isla was unsure she would be able to stand and walk for a whilst and Isla was in no rush to hurry her. Isla didn’t want to push her friend into explaining what was wrong, but at the same time she was deeply concerned at Dee’s level of distress and was keen to do anything that was within her power to help.
“Do you want to talk about it?” She asked gently drawing her friend closer still whilst Milly continued stroking her hair. Isla’s kind words set Dee off again and it was some minutes of messy, uncontrolled crying before she sobbed.
“The house. They’re taking the house.”
Isla didn’t understand. She literally couldn’t comprehend what her friend was saying. She thought around the words several times but still did not compute until Dee whispered,
“Where will I go?”
And finally the penny dropped. Isla realised with a crushing certainty that things were about to change forever, that the new friend she barely knew was about to find herself homeless and cast onto the streets unless she was able to find an alternative place to live.
How and why this had happened, Isla could not even begin to contemplate – Dee had always seemed so together, and she had a great job. But Isla had been around long enough to know that appearances can be deceptive and there is often a lot more to people than meets the eye. She knew relatively little about Dee, but right now all that mattered was that she was hurting and that she needed help.
Isla took a deep breath and calmly said to her friend
“I think you’d better start at the beginning, don’t you?”
Then she sat back and she listened.
Chapter 35: Dee
But when was the beginning Dee wondered? What was the chain of events that had led to her, here, with no friends other than the stranger on the train, unsure where to turn because she was about to lose her house. Her once beloved house which had, in recent years, become a prison to her and her depression. What and when was the beginning?
Dee thought for a while about where to start. When to start and as the thoughts untangled in her mind, she thought too about not only where her story started to unravel, but also which parts of the unravelling it was safe to share. After all, sat before her she had the one person in the world she had come to trust and rely on lately, but that trust was built on a very superficial relationship, one that had never seen her exposed warts and all. Of that Dee had been very careful.
Never had she delved beneath the surface when talking about the details of her life. Never had she mentioned her depression or the dead girl and her mother that kept her awake through the night. Isla would not have suspected the lack of food in Dee’s house nor the fact that she had only recently laundered her clothes for the first time in weeks. She could not know that Dee had no other friends or family she could call on at all, nor that the job of which she spoke so passionately was now only a fiction based on memory and that in her telling of the fact she had, in fact, somewhat embellished it. She had told a version of her life that lived on a rose-tinted pedestal and not in reality at all.
No. Isla could not know these things because Dee had been a careful storyteller, constructing a more socially acceptable reality for her new friend. Creating a version of herself and her life that she felt was more sanguine. She had feared Isla at first, thinking her cut from a different cloth and far superior to herself; but over time she had grown to fear her less and respect her more. Before long she had an overwhelming need for the other woman’s approval. She needed to know that Isla liked her – and so she only told the relatable and likable bits of her story. It was quite a therapeutic process in truth, the more that Dee told this version of the truth, the more that she began to believe it and it was without doubt that she preferred the Dee in her stories than the real version presented to her, fully formed and screaming, in the mirror each morning.
So what now? What should she tell Isla? What could she tell her that would not make her lose all respect, kindness and liking. How honest could she be?
As these thoughts ticked over in her mind, tears still silently coursing down her face, Isla gently took her hand once more placing her other hand beneath Dee’s chin. Isla tipped Dee’s face towards her so that the women’s eyes connected. Wiping away Dee’s tears with the tender care usually reserved for a child, Isla took a deep breath and, her voice shaking, she said simply,
“Dee, you can be honest with me. There is nothing you can tell me that will scare me away.” She paused then, looking at Milly who had fallen fast asleep, her head nestled in Dee’s lap, her arm snaked around her waist. Then, gingerly she undid and removed first her coat and then the heavy cardigan she wore beneath. She was hesitant but determined in her movements and she shuddered, perhaps from cold, perhaps from a feeling deep inside.
As the cardigan left her shoulders revealing her bare arms, what Dee saw made her want to weep. Dee’s own arms were a canvas of cuts and scars telling a secret story of self-harm. Isla’s arms were a canvas of purpling bruises, some clearly in the shape of a hand which had gripped her, hard. Dee did not know what story Isla’s bruises told, but what became instantly apparent was that Dee was not the only person who had been sharing a distorted version of reality.
She suppressed a sob, then she pulled the other woman into her arms, taking care to avoid pressing too hard against the worst of her injuries and then Dee began to talk. Telling the complete honest and naked truth and no more, but also, no less.
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Thank you for feeding back each day. I’m building in your edits and suggestions to the version held on my local machine so the initial raw version will remain here. When I’ve got questions, I’m going to ask them each day – don’t feel obliged to answer them, but if you’re happy to they’ll help me as I try to craft the story. If you have questions or observations I’d be keen to hear them too.
Lots more suspense. One typo, Whilst instead of while.
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More emotional stuff Pooky and a lovely, trusting relationship growing all the time. I now have this dream that Dee, incensed, will go home with Isla and Milly and use her secret martial art and kickboxing skills to sort Peter out! Or maybe the two will come up with a plan to see him have an accident and claim a large insurance payout that will help them all. Of course you will have your own idea and I know that it will be more practical and doable than my fantasies. As ever I can’t wait for the next instalments so put that video down and keep writing.😉