The Dark Secret
“John, you’re getting this round. I paid for the drinks last week and Stace is new.”
“And you also want to rince me dry?”
Anna looked over at John with an incredulous frown and a smirk. “When have I ever rinced you dry?”
“Erm, at last year’s Christmas do? I ended up spending £100 in one night on drinks alone. On the company card, which I had to pay back.”
“I was ****** and so were you. And if I remember correctly, half of that spend was on your drinks.”
John pulled a face, the kind you’d expect from an older brother taunting his younger sister. That 5-year working relationship had made them pretty tight despite being born in opposite ends of England and from two different families. Although I had only been in the UK for three months, I was just about differentiate Anna’s reserved Bristol drawl and John’s brash sing-song chatter that I’m now associating with Leeds. But according to Anna, accents both in the North and South are much more varied, even here in the Midlands.
They say a Dudley accent is worse than a Birmingham accent. And Nottingham has a whole dialect compared to Coventry. In all honesty, it sounds the same to me.
“So Anna, Gin on Tonic for you. And Stace?”
“Uh, I’ll have the Pisco Punch,”
John frowned in confusion. “The what?”
“It’s an American cocktail, fool. Erm, I don’t think we do that here Stace. But we can get you a Pimms, which is kind of similar? But not quite,”
I smiled. “As long as it’s sweet and fruity”
“Then it’ll be perfect for you. Go on John!”
John raised a hand and swiped it towards Anna’s head, just stopping short of her ear. Anna looked over with a cheeky smile, unflinching.
The chair screeched against the sandwood floor as John got up and walked over to the bar. It was Anna and John’s usual after-work hangout place, where they kick back and wind down with the other guys in sales and customer service. But it seemed like a lot of them had passed on tonight. And I wondered if it was because they knew I was coming.
“So, Stace! How are you finding the new job?”
“Uh, yeah, it’s great. The people are nice and it’s a good step up from my last job…”
“What was it that you did? It was business support in the Ohio office, right?”
“Uh yeah. I did that for about a year…”
“So what made you want to move to the UK?”
“I saw the Business Support Coordinator vacancy advertised for this office and thought I’d go for it. I wanted a change…”
Anna nodded and pulled her mouth downward. “Fair enough. I went to the Ohio office once – it’s remarkable. Makes our Coventry office look like a shambles. It’s a shame it was just a work trip for me. I would have loved to have seen more of the city, especially the Hocking State Hills Park.”
“Oh yeah, it’s beautiful there, especially in the summer. The sunlight really brings out the blue in the water,”
“Oh God yeah, I can imagine. I really want to see the rock formations. I was thinking of doing a road trip across America actually, would love to hike across the Grand Canyons.”
My stomach lurched.
“Yeah, it’s worth seeing.”
The mere mention of the Grand Canyon brought back a memory of me and Hailey followed his shadow along the never-ending stretch of red concrete, the afternoon sun baking on my skin as my water swished and gurgled in the flask in my Disney Princess backpack. I remember hoping that he had enough water if I ran out.
I immediately stopped myself from thinking any further. I knew I’d go crazy if I did.
So I looked over at the bar to distract myself. Thankfully John was making his way back to our table.
“There you go, Gin and tonic for you,” he said, setting a tall glass filled with clear liquid on Anna’s side of the table. “And Pimms for you.”
He set the larger glass in front of me, which was filled with what looked like juice crammed with strawberries, orange slices and mint leaves. John went back to the bar to get his pint glass, and then sat back down with us.
“So Stace, are you staying with anyone here? Any family?”
I paused. “No, just me.”
“Ah right. Any family back home?”
I looked down at the table. “Yeah, they’re all in Ohio.”
I had to change the subject.
“Parents have retired and my sister is working in a salon – she’s super busy. It’s not easy setting up your own business – paying rent, paying staff, making sure the customers are coming in…”
“Oh God yeah. My brother-in-law had his own business, but ended up closing it down after a year because the overhead was ridiculous…”
It seemed to work. The conversation quickly moved onto self employment and contracting, which in turn moved onto Thailand, as John’s self-employed friend left a company he was working with prematurely to live there for six months. Two hours later, we called it a night and after some hugs, we all drove back to our homes.
The flat was eerily empty when I got in. The four walls were so imposing that I put on the kettle just to break the silence. But even that didn’t last long enough. So I decided to call her.
“Hey Stace, you OK?”
“I could be better,”
“I feel like I’m close to having another episode,”
“Oh no. What happened?”
“I uh, went out with some guys from work. They asked about me. About us…”
“You changed the subject right?”
“Of course. I….”
“I don’t know if I’m strong enough. I feel bad about lying to them about you and…well you being in Ohio…”
“Stace, I get it. Besides, if you told the truth, it would have opened a can of worms.”
“I know, Hailey. I’m just wondering if coming here was the right choice. At least in Ohio, nobody asked about my life, but here, it’s…I just worry that in another conversation, they’ll ask something else…”
“Hey, look. It’s better you’re here than over there. At least here, you can have a real fresh start. You’re far away from there. From everything that happened.”
I closed my eyes.
At that, I finally mustered enough energy to put some pasta on boil. I took out some tomatoes from the fridge and laid then on the chopping board. Taking a deep breath, I took the knife out from the drawer underneath.
As tempting as it was, I refused to do it to myself again. And with that, I put the knife down and rolled up my sleeve. I ran my finger across the giant scab across my wrist.
For the first time, I resisted.