I live near Earl’s Court in London. In Dave’s basement. Casey drove us down the long streets, past convention centres, tube stations, shops and restaurants. I didn’t know where we were going. I was just going along for the ride, there would be plenty of time to get out of this. I’m not going. I was defiant before, now I’m pure stubborn.
“Are those in your size?” Casey asks after about five minutes of silence.
“Are what in my size?”
“The clothes in the back. I don’t know if you’ve gotten fatter since Uni.”
“I probably have but,” I reach back into the back seat and grab a bag. “I think these will do. Seriously though, stop it. I don’t need looking after. I’ll do your story, just leave me alone afterwards.”
“I’m not going to leave you alone. You’re a good writer, and you deserve to be part of my website.”
“Case, I’m not a kid. Leave it alone. I’ll make my own way. I’m not sure I even want to do this anymore. I’m no good at it.”
She sighs as we reach a red light.
“Seriously Chris. Grow up. You know you’re good. I know you’re good. You’re just lazy. Always waiting for someone else to put your foot forward for you. It’s just not going to happen that way. You always wanted this, you’re just lazy. You think that everything is just going to land on your lap and you don’t have to work for it. If you wanna give it up, fine. But what are you going to do then? Nothing. Just bitch and whine about things not going your way because you’re not willing to put the effort in. Seriously Chris grow up. You’re nearly thirty and haven’t really done anything worth anything. It’s time you get on with it, whether it’s with this or something else. I don’t want you to fail. I believe in.”
She stops speaking and breaks eye contact as someone behind us beeps their horn. Focusing on the road she taps the accelerator and leaves that moment behind.
We drive in silence for a couple of minutes. I try not to move at all, not wanting to let the plastic bag make a sound. I think I know where we’re going. Back in Uni we used to have this chip shop down the road from the shared house. We would go there every Friday throughout the first and second year. During the third year I met Christie, I didn’t see a whole lot of Casey then.
“I love this place,” Casey slurred one night during freshers week. “I knew I made the right choice coming here. I wanna eat here every night. And now I can. No more parents telling me when and what to eat. I can do whatever the hell I want.”
“Come on Casey,” I said, only knowing her a couple of days. “Lets go home. You’re gonna drop that.”
“No I’m not,” she says while swirling her plastic tray around spilling chips on the floor. “I don’t care about them. This fish. I think I love it. Like seriously love it.”
“Guys, come on. Don’t make a mess. Leave if you’re not going to eat here,” the guy behind the counter grunted.
“Sorry. I think she had too much to drink.”
“I didn’t drink that much. You did.”
“No I didn’t. Come on, Casey. Let’s get you back to the house.”
“Do I look ugly when I eat?”
“No. You look ugly all the time.”
“You’re mean. I wanna go back home, I don’t want to see you again until your not mean. Meanie.”
She had drank so much. It started as a house get together, to get to know each other. We were all first years. We met up in the living room and introduced ourselves and said where we were from. I said I was from Northampton. Which wasn’t true. I’m from Westmeadow which is about thirty miles away from Northampton. It’s a tiny town, not much bigger than a village. There is a slightly larger town nearby, Wexgate, which is where the hospital Holy Trinity stands. Westmeadow doesn’t have a hospital. I told myself that I wasn’t lying because I had to get a bus to Northampton before going on down to London.
That was the first time I spoke to Casey. We got on quite well, very quickly, my first proper friend as an adult.
“I’m going to eat here every day. You can’t stop me,” she said once we were outside, as if she’d forgotten I’d just upset her.
“I won’t, you can eat there every day, but how about we both eat there every week? For the whole of University. No matter what happens. We can talk about our week. Help each other out?”
“You mean it? Really. You mean it? I would love that. I think that’s the best thing you’ve ever said, like ever.”
It’s hard to believe that she would be the successful one out of the two of us. That over the next three years she would constantly outdo herself and I would fade away and let myself get stuck behind. I would find distractions from Uni and then eventually away from the chip shop. I didn’t even really stay in the house during the third year. There was always a party or someone’s sofa. Always something to make me feel like less of a failure compared to Casey.
She stood by me though, and helped me make it through. Even if we didn’t get dinner together any more, she wouldn’t let me fail myself. I almost wish she’d just let me fail. It would have been easier in the long run. I’m not destined for anything great. I should be happy just getting away from home.
“Casey, I’m sorry. I know you mean well. I’ll do your story. You’ve helped me a lot over the years, the least I can do is go back there. God knows what you think I’ll find, but I’ll do it. Don’t worry. Are you sure Ryan Campbell wants to talk to me though? Things didn’t end well there before.”
“Good. I’m glad you’re on board. I don’t know what you’ll find back there, I just have a good feeling about this. It could be nothing, but it could be something. Either way I’ll let you off the hook once it’s over. Even if there’s no story, and of course you don’t have to write it if it’s too difficult in the end. I don’t want to push you. And yes, Ryan would only talk to you. He emailed me through the site, and then I called him. He said he read your story and thought you could be the only one who would understand. Who is he anyway? You never mentioned him when you told me about your childhood.”
“I know. He’s someone I really didn’t want to ever think about again. It’s not a good story. I’ll tell you sometime, but not right now. I really don’t want to relive that right now, although god. I know I’m going to soon enough. No avoiding that now. I suppose there never was. Always going to creep up again at some point.”
“Jesus, Chris? What happened?”
“Case. I wish I could tell you, I really do. But I’m just not going to. Not right now. I really don’t want to have that conversation right now.”
“Okay, Chris. You keep it to yourself. I’m sure you’ve got your reason. What did you want? The usual?”
“You remember the order?”
“Of course. Small chips, pea cluster and a non-buttered roll. How could I forget. I ordered for you every week for like two years. Long time.”
“Thanks, I’ll wait here. We eating in the car? Right?”
“No, I thought we could break back into the old house, see what’s different.”
“You’ve always been so funny it hurts. You know that? I honestly can’t move at the moment with how much I’m laughing. Can you see? Ha. Ha. Ha.”
To be continued…