Believe You

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I remember the school as being festive that day. Decorations for Christmas break were strewn about the hallways. Outside, fat snowflakes blanketed the landscape making everything appear uniformly white, pure and perfect. Inside, the excitement was infectious. The last period bell had just rung and shrieks of delight could be heard as the school emptied. Winter break had begun.

Sarah was waiting for me by the library, our usual meeting place before driving home after school. Sarah was my next-door neighbor and oldest friend. Today the third of our trio, Laura, decided to ride with her boyfriend Tim. She had no desire to be part of the conversation. She knew that it could get ugly.

I told Sarah all that I had heard as I navigated the snowy streets towards home. I figured she couldn’t get mad at me while driving. My mistake was thinking that she would get mad at all. She just looked at me with disdain and immediately called her boyfriend Jack. Their conversation was surprisingly brief and began with Sarah relaying all that I had shared verbatim. I didn’t hear his end of the conversation but his explanation must have been quite good. The call ended with Sarah making plans to see Jack later that evening.

“He said I shouldn’t believe you.”

“Why would I lie?”

“He said it was because you are jealous. Maybe you are.”

*****

A bonfire on the beach. Whispers in the night. A drunken Sarah emerging from the darkness; prom dress wrinkled, lovely up-do destroyed, lipstick smeared across her beautiful face. She had been crying. Her eyes found mine across the fire.

“You were right.”

*****

Years later Laura and I were pregnant at the same time and living back in our hometown. She had never left. I returned after I had gotten married wanting to be closer to my family as I began my own. Laura’s pregnancy was unexpected but she and Tim were thrilled and planning their wedding for the following autumn.

Sarah had long escaped our hometown. The last time she and I spoke she was settling in New York City after having landed a job at a prestigious law firm. Her Facebook page was filled with glamorous friends, travel to exotic places and celebrity sightings. I doubted she gave any of us much thought. When I said as much to Laura she gave me a strange look.

“You don’t know?”

“Know what?”

“She and Dan Lake are together. Officially.”

“Dan Lake? Really?”

Dan was a fellow graduate of our year with whom Sarah had always enjoyed a flirtatious but platonic relationship. He had pined for her for as long as I could remember and I had to wonder what finally brought them together. They did have a brief fling in the aftermath of Sarah’s disastrous prom night when she discovered Jack having sex with some random local girl he met at an after party. Given Jack’s past exploits this turn of events surprised almost no one apart from Sarah. She was shocked and devastated. I had always considered her relationship with Dan an ego boost or rebound thing, certainly nothing serious.

“They bumped into each other in New York a few months ago. They’ve been seeing each other ever since. Tim told me.”

This was encouraging news. Despite having little contact I still wanted what was best for Sarah. I had always thought Dan was a better match for her then Jack. Like Sarah, he was attractive and intelligent, with a bright future. Jack was exciting, admittedly, and quite a catch for serious, studious Sarah. Sarah knew she was different from Jack’s typical girlfriends and because of that thought she could change him. Like so many before her, she was wrong.

*****

Laura and Tim’s wedding was a reunion of sorts. Former classmates, a little older but not much wiser, flitted throughout the reception. Drinks were flowing, everyone was dancing, there was so much warmth and cheer all around. Sadly, there was no such warmth for Dan Lake. Sarah had humiliated him, failing to show for the wedding and most of the reception. Her late arrival was noticed and commented on by all. Sarah’s refusal to show any remorse for her inconsiderate behavior only fueled the chatter. Sarah always had a touch of arrogance and was not well liked. Though I had so many times in the past, defending her this day was not an option.

I spied Sarah and Dan huddled in the corner of the hall having a heated conversation as I went to get a drink.

“I told you I left their gift in New York and had to pick up another.”

“You could have easily done that later. Why didn’t you answer any of my messages?”

“I turned off my phone.”

“Why?”

“So that work wouldn’t bother me.”

“And you couldn’t have let me know?”

“Do I have to check in with you for everything?”

I spit out some of my drink at Sarah’s icy tone and she noticed me hovering by the bar.

“My God Kristin you’re a mess. Can you even see through your bloodshot eyes? Go get a drink of water.”

*****

I was in New York visiting my husband’s family when Sarah and I finally caught up again. Almost two years had passed since Laura’s wedding and other than a few brief e-mails all I heard of Sarah was through her Facebook updates. I had no real desire to see her but she learned of my visit through Facebook and asked me to meet her for lunch.

Sarah had a new beau – a sophisticated and charming British fellow named Martin. I met him briefly as I arrived at the restaurant. He was good natured and funny, and surprisingly down to earth despite the Armani suit and Louboutin shoes. He also obviously adored Sarah. He waited until Sarah and I were seated before excusing himself, blowing Sarah a kiss from outside the window as he hurried back to his office. Sarah smiled and shrugged her shoulders. We laughed.

As we reviewed the menu I gave Sarah a brief update of news around town. Predictably, Sarah’s relationship with Dan fizzled soon after Laura’s wedding. She looked nonplussed when I mentioned that he recently got engaged. She seemed more interested in hearing about Jack’s marriage to Liz Landry, an unremarkable girl who was a freshman when we were seniors.

“She’s a surprising choice.”

“Pregnancy tends to formalize things.”

Sarah shook her head disgustedly and returned her attention to the menu.

“Plus, she’s probably the only one who’ll put up with his habits.”

“What habits?”

“The usual – women, booze, drugs.”

“You must have it wrong. The Jack I knew would never do drugs.”

Granted, Jack and I were never close but the man I knew did do drugs, and often. Jack went to college but took a job with his uncle’s construction firm after graduation. Maybe the drugs started with boredom. Maybe it was disappointment. Whatever the case, Jack was part of the drug culture. I told none of this to Sarah. It was the first time she had mentioned his name since graduation. I had no reason to think she would care.

“Anyway, let’s order,” she said with a wide grin. “I’m starving!”

*****

As soon as I heard the news I called Laura. No one else in my present life knew Sarah or would care remotely about the events of her life. I got through to Laura almost immediately.

“Do you remember that handsome Brit I told you about? Sarah’s boyfriend?”

“The rich guy from New York?”

“London but yes that one. He wanted to get married. She broke it off.”

“Why?”

“Who knows? Sarah was always odd.”

*****

It was a bit of a shock when I received the twenty-year reunion notice in the mail. How had it been that long? In so many ways I still felt like that insecure high schooler who just wanted to fit in. She was still with me, but quieter and content now, happy with the life and family we somehow managed to build.

Laura and Tim were of course going to the reunion and because of that I could convince my husband Heath to attend. Predictably, Sarah wanted no part of the reunion. It was no great loss.

Late into the night and after many drinks, Jack found me near the ladies’ room. He wanted to know about Sarah, why she wasn’t there. I was too startled by his appearance to muster much of a reply and instead asked about Liz and his children. Frowning, he stumbled off into the cavernous reception hall.

*****

About a week later Sarah appeared at my home unannounced. She had been crying.

“He’s a junkie.”

I knew immediately who she meant and only nodded in reply.

“Dan, Martin… I didn’t… I mean, I waited. I thought there would be a time for us. Eventually. But he’s a junkie!”

“I told you that Sarah. Years ago.”

“I know,” Sarah sobbed. “But I didn’t believe you.”

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