Most of the time, I wish that I was stronger. I have no problem finding strength in my friends and family members, and I admire so many of them for so many different reasons. When it comes to finding strength within myself, however, I usually come up short. I guess most of us – most of us humans – are like that, though. Self-realization is a scary thing, probably because it is also a very powerful thing. I guess in a way it can be limiting, too. To know your potential essentially defines your limits, and no one wants to be limited. Everyone, or at least mostly everyone (I know it’s dangerous to speak generally and universally), would like to believe they are capable of amazing things, and that they were promised a life of intrigue and wealth – but not just of the monetary kind. No one wants to be mediocre.
I don’t want to sound too cocky, but I really do believe I can be something more than average. What scares me is that I also really believe that my own insecurities and fears could trap me. I worry that I’m not strong enough to overcome those obstacles, and I’ll be complacent for the rest of my life because it’s comfortable.
I don’t know if any of this rambling has anything to do with the prompt. You tell me.
THE PROMPT: “Best Friends Need Your Help”
You receive a phone call from your two best friends. “Hey, we’ve done something terribly wrong and need your help. We can’t talk about it over the phone. Please meet us at the spot where we made our pact back in high school. You know the place.” Nervously, you grab your coat and car keys.
Melissa had been sleeping pretty soundly when her ringtone rudely interrupted. Popping one eye open groggily, she reached out a thin arm to the lower shelf of her bookshelf and clutched the phone. She flopped over onto her back and squinted, narrowing her eyes to better discern the name printed across the display screen. Brittany was calling, which was strange because it was so late and like Melissa, Brittany had to be at work in just a few hours. It also struck Melissa as strange because she had just seen Brittany earlier. They had eaten a late lunch together, and made tentative plans for the upcoming weekend. Was everything okay? Sitting up, she answered the phone and called out, “Hello?”
“Melissa?” Brittany responded. She sounded breathless, and was talking louder than was usual. Melissa’s trepidation rapidly increased.
“Yeah, it’s me. What’s up? Is everything okay?”
There was a pregnant pause, a moment of hesitation that terrified Melissa. Brittany said, “Helen’s with me.” Brittany swallowed hard. “Listen, Melissa; something really bad happened. Helen and I, we did something terribly wrong. We need your help.”
Melissa felt the blood pool in her feet after it drastically departed from every other part of her body. She felt cold and dizzy; like she could fall right back on the mattress and pass out. “Brittany, what’s wrong? What’s happened?”
More silence greeted Melissa and she absolutely hated it. Under normal circumstances, Melissa couldn’t stand being left out and not knowing everything. Under these circumstances, it was torture. Why couldn’t Brittany just explain things? What was so terrible that her best friend had to operate under such secrecy? Melissa could hear Brittany’s voice thicken with emotion as she said, “I can’t talk about it over the phone. We, we can’t talk about it over the phone.” Helen was speaking very fast in the background and when she grew silent, Brittany began speaking again. “Listen, please, please, please meet us at the spot where we made our pact back in high school.”
Melissa was confused, and not just because it was late and she was exhausted. She placed a head on her forehead, as if that could calm the thoughts racing back and forth and refusing to form an orderly line so that they could be processed and filed appropriately. “Pact? What-“
“Melissa, you know the place. You know exactly where I’m talking about,“ Brittany interrupted, and she sounded like she was quickly losing patience.
“Okay, okay; I’m leaving now.” Melissa hung up the phone and took a moment to stare into the darkness of her room. She honestly did not remember making any kind of pact, and she was worried she wouldn’t show up at the right place. Or worse, she’d be too late and whatever mess her two best friends had gotten themselves into would only escalate and become some horrible, invincible monster that they would fall victim to. She wondered, very briefly, if she was being overdramatic, but she didn’t think so. Brittany’s tone and shady behavior were certainly causes for alarm as they were completely out of character. Back in high school, Melissa had idolized Brittany – Brittany had been smart across the board, and not just in a few subjects like Melissa. Brittany had been pretty in an unexpected way that made it all the more special (Melissa had often compared Brittany to the actress Molly Ringwald, and the two definitely shared a chemistry and appeal that were hard to define). Melissa had been overweight and remarkably lonely. Brittany had navigated the halls of the high school with an easy and enviable confidence that Melissa had always tried to replicate, but her imitation was only an imitation, and came off as lame. Helen was more like Brittany than Melissa, so the two together should have been a dream team of sorts. Together, they could have taken over the world and not one soul would have complained, or worried about the consequences. It seemed unfathomable that these two amazing woman who personified everything Melissa had ever wanted to be, would now be calling Melissa for help. What could she possibly do to help? She was weak, stupid, still overweight and afraid, always afraid. She felt her face flush with embarrassment even now, even years later when she was alone in her darkened bedroom, when she remembered how she had broken down and sobbed in Brittany’s old, red Jeep. They had been sitting in it, exposing themselves in ways that made them most vulnerable, parked at the lake that was one town over. They had spent the majority of more than one summer parked at that lake-
Melissa’s heart leaped into her throat. Helen and Brittany were at the lake. They would be parked by the second dock site when you took the thin, meandering road to the left of the parking lot. The water would be dark, and the moon would reflect off it beautifully, the way it had those summer nights, when the warm air would coax them from the jeep and onto the dock. It didn’t matter that the wood creaked suspiciously beneath their feet, or that the white paint was chipping. When you’re young, you’re immortal – or rather, you believe that you are, even in a place as dangerous as high school. Melissa flung the sheet and blanket far from her, scrambling into boots and a coat. She grabbed her keys from the hook beside the bedroom door, forgot her wallet with her license and everything important, and headed out to her car, barely remembering to shut the front door behind her.
She sped along the highway, thankful it was late so that she could speed and so that she could catch every green light. Melissa had to slow some when she got into the sleepy town that housed the lake within, not wanting to attract any unnecessary attention. As she drove, her nostrils were suddenly filled with the pungent smell of frying oil, and she could almost feel the chunks of salt that would stick to her fingers amid the grease as she ate the French fries. The memory was so clear and so completely filled her senses, but came unexpectedly. Was it because she had passed a McDonald’s, or because she, Helen and Brittany had always stopped there before heading out to the lake? She felt decidedly uncomfortable in her own skin and had a strong desire to just turn around. If Melissa could pretend as if she had never answered the phone, then she’d be infinitely happy. However, that was not a logical choice of action, and she sighed heavily as she turned into the parking lot at the lake’s shore, anxiety building. She stayed to the left, and noticed how creepy the road really was. If someone wanted to kill someone and dump the body somewhere, this would be the place. Oh Lord, what if Helen and Brittany had done that? They weren’t capable of such an atrocity. Were they? Melissa felt nauseous as she came around the bend, and worried she would vomit all over herself when Brittany and Helen came into view. They were parked alongside the trees on the wrong side of the road, standing outside Brittany’s car – which was a new, blue economy car as the jeep did not live through the college years.
Melissa pulled in behind them, killing the headlights and the engine. She felt tears crowd around the edges of her eyes and never before had she felt so helpless. Tremors wracked her body as she slid from behind the driver’s seat. Her door shut loudly behind her, smashing the silence all around them into dangerous shards. Slowly, haltingly, she walked over to her two friends. “Are you guys okay?” she asked.
“Yeah, we’re okay,” Helen said. “We’ve calmed down since we called you. I’m sorry if we scared you, but we were pretty shaken up when we called.”
Melissa’s heart started working double time. “Why? What happened?”
“Look,” Brittany said sadly. Melissa had made her way over to the two young women, who stepped to opposite sides to allow Melissa to see what they had been crowded around. A dog lay dead. A collar hung heavily around its neck. Blood had slowly leaked from the dog’s mouth, and it’s back legs were bent at impossible angles. It was a sad sight to see, and when Melissa looked closer at Helen and Brittany, she could see they had been crying.
“Did you guys hit the dog?”
Brittany nodded, and began crying again. “We were coming to the lake, you know, like we used to, and he came out of nowhere! He darted right out in front of us, and there was nothing we could do.”
“We weren’t going that fast, but by the time we saw him it was too late, and –“ she paused to gulp down the tears that were welling up, and then said, “we hit him pretty hard.”
Melissa knelt down to look a little closer at the dog. She was close to smiling – an accident was no big deal. An accident was easily remedied. She looked up at Brittany and Helen. “The way you two were talking, I thought you had killed someone.”
“But we hit a dog! This was someone’s pet!” Brittany said.
“Why couldn’t you talk about it over the phone?”
Helen shrugged. “We panicked, and just wanted you down here. We needed someone to tell us what to do.”
Melissa laughed, though there was not much humor in it – more a tone of surprise than anything else. “So you called me, to tell you what to do?”
Helen and Brittany didn’t exactly answer Melissa’s inquiry, but they looked to one another, and then dropped their eyes to the pavement. Melissa stepped closer to Helen, who was nearer, and asked for her cell phone. They would call the cops and go from there. It was sad, but it was just an accident. Melissa was about to dial when she paused. “What pact were you talking about?”
Brittany eyed Melissa skeptically. “Are you telling me you don’t remember?”
Helen popped a hip and rested a thin, bony hand upon it. “You don’t remember how we promised to stay friends forever, no matter what? We did that the summer after senior year, before we all went to college.”
Melissa smiled. “I remember. I just considered that more of a promise than a pact.”
Helen and Brittany both smiled softly.
The three girls were different, but all felt very silly.