Revival: The Convoluted Journey to Self-Worth

Design by Sami Hammond

To Alysia Seymour,

my mentor, guide, and healer through this creative journey.

I thank you for taking the time, energy, and everlasting courage to guide me through one of my life’s pivotal moments: confusion around success and money. With that said, it is with most sincerity I thank you.

And to you reading this, welcome to a story that would not be made possible without Alysia. If ever you are seeking guidance, healing, and empowerment through writing fiction, she will gladly be your heroine.

Graphics by Sami Hammond

Do you remember when the radio stroked the jazz records of older days? The ones where the horns pierced your eardrums and you wondered if it would make you cry or laugh, or maybe even wonder if those tenor horns would keep blasting the new rapid fire we now call rhythms?

It must have been such a lively time, the era of the 1910s when the New Orleans Jazz scene was formed. I’ve often wished I could’ve been around to witness it, but only the history books tell the tales so well. Nonetheless, the music itself takes me back to a simpler time where I swayed to the horns as a kid. Even though I’m still young, it feels like a lifetime ago. Was that time even real?

My parents were the ones that first introduced me to music. As a child, hymns were sung around the fireplace, with roasted s’mores sending fair warnings to our guts. But that was our Saturday night tradition, peacefully discussing the battles and plots of Beowulf, Shakespeare’s tragedies, as well as the murder scenes on Elm Street, derived right out of the newspapers to keep us up-to-date with our local mischief, all set the tune of some melody. No commercial breaks were ever needed.

Lately, I’ve been missing out on music’s soothing voice. Gone are the days where my blissful mind could rest in peace; nowadays, a beat to a different drum sounds through. Announcements calm us down, but for me, it’s with a gnawing headache I react to them.

They are filled with static, reformulating the sound of an exotic drum roll with a ballpoint pen tapping with uneasiness on a vinyl window frame. Disquiet are the sounds they reproduce; oh, the joy of airwaves, crushing reality with its everlasting distortions.

Please, don’t stop now. I’m only trying to figure my life out.

***

“Do you want to double down your money within the next thirty days? If so, I’ve got just the sales training for you! It will revolutionize your life, your choices, but most importantly, your income! Cali sure loves money. If you sleep on this, you’ll never have the opportunity to make a fortune like this ever again. This offer stands only for the next twenty-four hours so come visit us at our downtown location now. We can’t wait to meet you!”

My ears were in anguish; the screeching would surely make me go deaf. It was uncalled for. Both men shouted into their microphones, each screaming with feedback, as if they’d never tested out their equipment before.

“I can hear you loud and clear,” I uttered to myself.

The alarm sounded while Kate tossed and turned, hoping to snooze it once more. It was surprising to even set rest to our schedules, especially since we were only enjoying the pool-side view an hour prior to class.

The warm comfort of the sun’s beaming rays of fire were more than enough to motivate me to skip. After all, my freckled skin could use a nice bronzing. Birds were chirping and I could hear the ocean a mile away from the calm breeze. The air was redolent of fresh cut grass, a reminder that our tuition dollars were hard at work on the grounds.

The sophomore jocks tossed a volleyball back and forth to impress the freshmen women who would accidentally get splashed by it; I imagined they found the older men their type. And I couldn’t blame them. Our year had the most impressive male role models. Apologies were never made as the women giggled amongst themselves when they were on the receiving end.

“My hair, hey, watch it,” one among the pack of women yelled.

Jessica. I’d tutored her for 17th Century Prose & Poetry; she was always anxious when it came to having good grades. I knew there were many insecurities within her thoughts as she was always the first to throw on a pair of shades to cover her hazel eyes.

It didn’t matter to me. My gaze always fell on one busty brunette, and one only: Kate.

My thoughts were heavy as the goddamn ad stuck with me. And to say the least, every time it got repetitive, I was anxious enough to pen the address in my daily planner. When that voice would creep through the speakers, “Do you want to make more money?” it always stole my attention. It was addressed to a specific audience and I was part of its divide. What kind of foolishness was I a part of now?

“Kate. Wake up, we’ll be late if you don’t.”

But Kate would stay in position, not recognizing the hurry we were in. And to be honest, she didn’t have to be in a rush because her future was set.

Kate had it all. Well . . . her parents did. She was financially free due to her parents agreement of lending her money. Myself, on the other hand? I had to figure it out alone.

The radio’s ad still left an echo both vibrant and demeaning to my current state of income. My paintings and photographs sold so little these last few weeks I would have to restrain myself from eating three meals a day. Tempted was I to set foot in that Cali office, but I wouldn’t dare make the leap. The worst thing I could do would be to put myself in debt just a little more, not even knowing if I could eventually make more money.

The sun was out and the birds sang in melody to one another, syncing in time with the clashes of the pool’s waterfalls crashing together. It was a perfect moment in time, but confusion held its place in my mind — all due to radio hosts reminding me of my troubles.

“Kate, wake up. I need your opinion.” I shook her delicate body, soft as silk under my calloused hand, hoping it would not anger her slumber. “Should I invest money into the ad I just heard on the radio? I need to learn how to make more money.”

“That’s a simple decision.” Kate’s words barely made a sound, muffled since she was still lying face-down.

Then, all at once, she sat up, reached for her bikini top and pressed it against her bare breasts to make sure no one was watching. She pushed her chocolate river of hair from her face with a perfectly manicured hand and stared at me with the most intense pair of brown eyes I’d ever seen. I always seemed to find myself lost within them, entranced by tiny sparkles of light brown and green that hid in the pools of her mahogany colored irises.

“My parents invested in a sort of program years ago. That’s how they were able to invest in stocks and real estate. But to go and borrow money, I’m not too sure. Plus, you already owe me money. Have you forgotten to pay me back for the drinks we had last weekend?”

I huffed loudly and snatched my other arm from underneath Kate, soliciting an annoyed “Oomph!” from her. I really didn’t care. The ads, the potential return on my money, and even my best friend asking me to pay her back got my last nerve. I couldn’t possibly pay everything in a timely manner.

“Easy for you to say. Your parents are helping you pay our rent. I actually have to be creative in the ways I make my money. I can’t just sleep all day. Every dollar counts.” The words escaped my mouth in a rush, my voice bursting out in anger, making sure she understood my point-of-view. “You know, you weren’t always like this. I still remember the days where your parents didn’t give you a penny. Now they’re literally serving you by handing down hundreds each week. How do you deal with yourself? I wish you would realize how much you’ve changed.”

A blank gaze was all that met me on the receiving end. Kate’s eyes, dark like the ocean, were no longer seen as innocent. Had she forgotten about our friendship? It was as if caring for one another was now irrelevant.

She rolled her eyes. “Sure. I get it, I get it. So what do you want me to do about it? It’s not my fault. My parents invested in themselves and in real estate their whole lives. Their successes created my own, no big deal.”

“That’s completely my point! Aren’t you tired of being defined by what your parents did? Their successes are not yours nor will they ever be!” I tried not to make a ruckus out of it, but life wasn’t serving me a fresh plate of money every day.

“This is college. I’d rather just lay back with you, go out, and enjoy life. What can we possibly do as students? I know you’re motivated to make money creatively, but I‘m not you nor will I ever be.” Kate’s hand reached for her designer boutique bikini strap, firmly readjusting it from falling off her shoulder.

I took a quick peek at my own suit, a far contrast to the high-waisted ensemble Kate wore. Mine was plain, black and polka-dotted, a quick buy from the local drug store. Nothing special. It fit (pretty much), but that was about it. Though Kate and I were about the same curvy plus-size, my suit didn’t seem to love my body the way hers did.

Maybe it was just her and not the high-priced suit itself, but damn she looked good in it. The fabric caressed her body in vibrant shades of reds and blues and hints of gold. The top curved around her breasts and bottom, cupping them both like a lover.

Her beautiful eyes slightly narrowed at me. Just enough for me to notice. How could I not? “Just pass me the lotion, I’m starting to burn up,” she commanded.

And with the slightest of concerns, looking at her perfect tan opposed to conversing about her future, I had to make her snap — snap out of it. I didn’t want to lose the one and only friend I’d had through junior high, high school, and now college.

But our dispute was real. She was too arrogant to notice that her situation was just as bad as mine, except she would fear to notice when it would all end for her. A shrill ringing interrupted my thoughts.

“Give me a second, my father’s trying to reach me.” Kate’s phone ran between her fingers and tumbled from her polished hands. She waved a hand at me, as if I were a gnat.

“You’re not hearing me out…”

“Let me just answer.” She brushed the other hand down my back in an attempt to calm my discourse. I steadied myself against her touch. It would not work. Not this time.

“Hey, Dad, how are you?” Her carefree visage was startled by the voice of the authoritative other. She tensed almost immediately, bristled. “What do you mean I can’t have anymore money? I’ve only busted my credit card limit once. What gives? This isn’t fair!”

Her face in amber indicated that the sun was not the only force burning her down. I had never seen her this way. Bitter anger twisted her beautiful face into something terrible, something painful to look at. This time I wouldn’t be the only one trying to fix my life. She was in a similar situation and it would be heartbreaking to see her get back up.

I was used to a low standard of living; I’d dealt with it to the best of my abilities. How would she? She was always in boutiques purchasing the latest lingerie and skin-tight clothing.

How did I know? Well, Kate would always pull me into the dressing rooms with her, promising to buy me whatever I liked most. She would always be the first to let loose, pulling her denim shorts down below her waist, her hips, and even lower, her body a living display of thick and curvy perfection before me; shaved, she was, always surprising me as her body was free.

All that ever covered her was a change of lingerie and her ruby heels, flashing through the three mirrors. If one of her was hot, you could probably imagine how three looking back at you was overwhelming. I won’t lie that I didn’t like being so close. Her curves were all around me, braless as she changed outfits; free for quite some time.

Most times, she would parade back through the store when an article didn’t appeal to her, in search of another item that might quench her expensive tastes. I would sit down, waiting for her return, facing her once more. The tip of her finger would usually jab under my chin in an effort to raise my eyes to when she thought I was more observant to her curves than dedicated to giving her feedback. I can recall the nervousness the first time I stammered, “It looks good.”

“Great, now let’s see it in your size.” She would wait impatiently. “You’re okay with that, right?” While I struggled with my top, Kate had already set her perky breasts free, handing me a suit of clothes in my size to model before her.

“I’m not sure this will fit,” I’d tell her, but I had already tried it on and was frightened when her opinion roared.

“How do you feel? Would you be able to roleplay wearing this if we ever have a ménage à trois ?” Her latest wear would barely cup my breasts, letting my nipples slip through the faint fabric, but it was what she desired most when her dates would come over.

“I feel beautiful.” I was willing to spend the night with my friend and would do whatever it took to make it happen. She would dress me up like her doll, but darling, I would’ve let her all night long.

“Now for the bottoms. We want this look to blossom your wildest dreams.” She was my wildest dream but I guess she couldn’t believe that.

“Are you sure?” I questioned, as I had not been on a date in a very long time. My body didn’t always look its best like Kate’s.

“Let me help you.” She unbuttoned my shorts, passed her hand through them, and felt a warmness between my legs.

“You okay, Noemie? Take your shoes off. I’ll let you take off the rest but don’t be embarrassed. These new styles are probably bringing you to life, wanting you to try them out on your dates.”

I was doing it to get closer to her, no doubt about that. I remember how she would showcase my bare bottom to impress her dates as she led them to my room when she was done with them. I sure didn’t mind getting some attention from the men she’d selected, which always made for a wild between my sheets. I loved the scent of her on them. It even left me pondering over the women she’d brought back to me, although none found me appealing. Such a shame, as it was always a desire that I had yet to unlock.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Lucky for me, her look was elegant on my body, but my eyes could not forget how it gripped around hers. That, I could never pull off. I knew then that if she was spending so much time with me, there could eventually be a thing between us.

Sure, I wanted her to myself, but her taste in men fit like like a fine wine; hearing her moans, “Fuck me, fuck yes, don’t stop,” as her orgasms stretched to my room meant she was in good hands. And I would always be next.

I cleared my throat and emptied my mind of my favorite time with her. “What happened?”

My inquiry was misplaced, knowing it wasn’t easy to be losing such a privilege. Money can help us but once it’s gone, there’s nothing one can do about it other than figure a way to recreate that wealth.

“Well, my father and mother decided it was best to leave me empty-handed. My credit card has been revoked due to my excessive spending habits. Forget about paying me back. I have to pay myself back.”

Tears crept down her cheeks; Kate was left in sorrow, but I had to make sure money wasn’t the only container of value in our lives; it was our ongoing friendship. I just wished she understood that life goes on with or without money.

“You know what, Kate, it doesn’t matter if your parents are no longer helping you. See this as an opportunity to rise back up and make it on your own.”

We pulled our chairs closer to the pool and tugged our towels off them, held our belongings tight to us, and made our way around Jenny’s Resto Bar & Grill. Their food usually carried us in but not this time; class was set to start in a matter of minutes.

“Whatever money you have left could be an investment into a company we can build for ourselves. We can use your money to make more money. Why not display our passion for art and clothing to the world?”

“One bottle of water,” she ordered from a food truck.

And there went a dollar, one we could’ve used for something more logical. Her impatience always made her fall short of finding success for her future.

“That’s another dollar spent and one you’ll never get back if you keep spending the remaining money you have.”

I was struck with disgust, seeing my best friend wash over the remainder of her fortune like people tossing pennies from their pockets to the deepest of waters of a fountain. And for what, wishes of good fortune? I would never hand money to just anyone. But that wasn’t entirely true, as the radio ad would sometimes creep in from the back of my mind.

“Noemie, I can do as I please with my money. Why should I be using my money to start a business with you when you’re not investing anything in it yourself?”

Her smirk held tight, but somehow I could still see her most inner beauty. She was still the friend I cared for, I just had to be more gentle with her, hoping she would realize her full potential. One thing was for sure: she was right that I had no investment to make in my own venture. I was filling my mind with excuses, excuses that lacked any form of fulfillment for my life. Still, her words pissed me off.

“Kate, I’m broke. I have nothing to invest. I can barely buy three meals a day. What. Don’t. You. GET?! ”

She couldn’t care less. And now to think of it, I had trouble figuring out why we were still friends. These awful vibes misdirected the energy that was once so strong; it made me realize that I may be investing my time with someone that doesn’t need my presence.

“What’s your idea? I may come to terms with it if I can see how I might benefit from it, as well.”

“My idea is advocating for bodies of all sizes, displaying positivity, and sharing my original art on every piece of fabric by creating our own bikini line. I know you love sewing, designing, and selling while I love painting. We’re the perfect combination. What do you say?”

Her hand took rest on her curvy waist, thinking about it for a minute, thus slowing down our walk to class. “I like the idea, but if I’m putting in some of my money and you aren’t, you’ll definitely need to pay me back when we make sales. You agree, right?” Her authority took its course. I knew she was on board as far as working together but all else would end in a constant argument due to money.

“Forget about your remaining money. We don’t need it. If it’s just going to create conflict between us, we don’t need any money. We can make it without it but we’ll have to be extremely creative. And this isn’t the time to beg your parents either.”

She discharged my attempt at authority, ceasing my voice as a plausible weapon. Money was such a driving factor in her life that it was the only thing that kept her mind running. And it was at that moment I would numb the pain away.

I leaned toward her, gently pressing my lips on hers, delicately brushing my hand down her soft face, moving my tongue on hers; a pinch of serenity swelled within me, connecting our gentle souls anew as if we were one with each other’s stream of consciousness. Leaving my teeth a bitter print on her bottom lip as they sunk in, I held her tight then let go by creasing my lips for a whitened smile.

She froze for a second, not moving, not kissing me back. Then, I felt it. She leaned in toward me ever so slightly and puckered her full lips back at mine.

A burst of laughter arose from me as I wound my hands through her hair and pulled her to my lips. I nibbled at her neck, smelling her luxury-brand perfume that had melted in her pores; an array of freshness decorated her rose skin. She shuddered under my lips, her breath catching in her throat.

It was an honor to finally be up close, hand-in-hand, observing the littlest of details; her hair flat on her face, keeping her from seeing clearly, giving me the opportunity to grasp the faint fabric that covered her bottom. Moving my hand in one soft motion, it fluttered around to her front where it found its home, cupped and pressed between her legs, only for a moment. As she rocked her hips into me, I allowed my hand to travel north, setting the palm of my hand on a collision course with the bare skin on the small of her back. And for just a moment, I lay my hands on her curves, pressing my lips to hers once again.

“It’s going to be okay.” My whisper travelled out like a ghost creeping in.

Her arms locked around my neck. Her breath paced softer; in arousal, I was, and the warmth between my legs seemed to radiate all over me suddenly. She was right; my wildest dreams were blossoming but not from a look she had dressed me up in. Even if the moment were to simply shut her up, I was in heaven.

“Sorry about that. I just had to.” I was flirtatious in exchange for her attention and it worked.

All eyes were on us. She stiffened and her arms fell away although she didn’t push me back. And as the crowd gazed, an outburst voice bespoke of rage.

“Noemie, why’d you kiss me? You know we’re just friends.” A crack in her voice was present.

Her thoughts had started to wander, exactly as planned. I could see her panicked state coming to light. Now Kate would finally shut up about the money left in her name.

“You can’t say you didn’t like it.”

“That’s not the point. Seriously, what were you thinking? Here, around all these strangers! You’ll need to tell me when you started having feelings for me.” Kate, left in amazement, stood calm. Her verbal discourse did dictate a dislike for my kiss, but she hadn’t pulled away from it.

“My only feelings for you are geared toward our friendship. I just wanted you to shut up about your money — for just one second — and come back to earth. This talk about money has been driving me insane,” I yelled at the top of my lungs, keeping the crowd silent.

Her cheeks’ blush showed deep appreciation for our friendship; Kate was at once calm. My lie had found serenity within her. I agree that it was a little much to push our friendship to new heights, especially after her recent dispute with her father.

It had been years since I had seen her so fragile, vulnerable, and finally at peace with who she really wanted to become. Taking the kiss farther was unintentional, yet I had never kissed another woman before. I was happy it was her.

“Now, with all that out of the way, do you want to work together for this swimsuit collection? It’s just the both of us. You can decide to use your money to buy fabrics but you don’t have to invest if you don’t want to. I’ll take care of borrowing art supplies from the Art Department.”

“Let’s do it but we are going to be faced with a few challenges. Time is not on our side if we want to have some swimsuits ready for our end-of-the-year party.”

“We’ll make it work. If we’re still living and breathing today, I don’t see any obstacles coming our way other than finals, but there’s a way to work around that. We’ll make it as successful as it ought to be. Failure is not an option. Not today nor tomorrow.”

The clouds grew grey, thus invading our moment of light. Our current attire was no longer appropriate if the rain were to wash us off the shores of our traveled destination: UCLA.

“Noemie, I have a question. Have I been mean to you these last few years? Like, have I been a bitch to you?”

I probably could have answered, but as I was pulling myself through my old, cheaply made dress, I became bewildered by a tug. My darkened locks were stuck in the zipper. Damn, that hurt! And to be honest, it wasn’t time to start acting on our feelings with such a huge task ahead of us. I had my first-world problems and Kate would have to help me out.

“I’m dreadfully sorry for the pain I may have caused you. Will we possibly restore our friendship?”

“Sure, just help me get my hair out of this zipper.” My state of nausea added me to her priorities.

With a few gentle tugs, I was freed. “How’s that?”

I could tell that she was trying to get her act together. “Much better, thanks.”

Once my problem was resolved, I had to toughen up on her. I would let her know how we could possibly work together.

“I’m deciding to trust you throughout this process. Whatever we build, we build it as a team. The money we make, we split it in half and as for unexpected income, we use it wisely, got it? As long as we can both respect these conditions, we’ll be on good terms. This isn’t the time or place to discuss our past losses. Making a decision collaboratively means we remove all egos and set them aside.”

“I agree. Working together sounds fair to me. As for all the pain I’ve caused, I am truthful to my word and I repeat, I am sorry with all of my heart. It did get the best of me.”

“Apology accepted. Now let’s make things happen for us. No more looking back.”

With that, Kate slid into another form-fitting outfit. It always amazed me that she could adorn herself, even right after a poolside sunbathing session, in the most expensive clothing she had. It was like gazing into some sort of reverse-mirror, one where I was dressed in old cheap rags, hair tousled and frizzy, and she was decked out in a low-cut, cleavage-showing blouse and tight little pencil skirt that hugged her every curve in all the right ways. Even the messy bun she’d piled her dark hair into screamed, “Fashion Queen.”

As apologies formed, a nearby radio’s murmur was nothing but static, yet the words cut through clearly. “Do you want to double down on your money . . .” and as the voice faded, a clear “yes!” came from mine, but I wouldn’t fall for the ad, only learn from it.

I was also in a position to double down my money, but it would be on my own terms and therefore have my best friend alongside these struggles and successes.

***

“Do we have to go to class?”

As I was ready to accomplish the next steps in our venture, class was calling the both of us. Today’s class was not so much prepping for our finals but simply partnering up to grade each other’s works. I was usually uncomfortable with the process as I knew my art didn’t speak to most. My dry-brushed paintings, the a-typical acrylics glistening on a wooden-framed canvas and the calligraphy pressed upon a piece of birch would all stand before a judge waiting to claim my worth.

“Yeah, we do. This is the perfect opportunity to see what is most fitting for our venture. If we’re making a collective decision to stand up to our past, we must do what it takes, right?”

“You’re right. I just hope I don’t have a harsh critic for today’s assignment.”

“Worry not; whatever one says about your art can only improve your skills. By learning about your own faults, you won’t ever turn a blind eye to your true potential. You’ll know exactly how to improve with this class. It’s crucial.”

“You’re absolutely right. Having an outsider’s perspective will give reason as to whether or not these works can align with our venture.”

As we passed the classroom frame, the students grew silent, staring us down. I couldn’t quite understand their stares but I hoped it didn’t have anything to do with my best friend’s transitional moments.

“Ladies, please be seated. Your fifteen-minute mishap delays us all. As mentioned prior, all have been paired up for self-evaluation. You can probably take a wild guess as to who you’re paired with,” Dr. Williams murmured, finding rest on his podium while our footsteps grew faster. It was optionless.

“Sorry, sir, it won’t happen again.”

Lucky for me, I did make the initial guess of who would be criticizing my artwork. This time around, my artwork would receive its standing ovation. Our late arrival was another blessing in disguise. Everytime something seemed to be shrouded in heartache, it was actually the complete opposite.

“Please stay silent for the remainder of the class. You have disturbed us long enough,” he dictated as he swapped our homework for the works we were to evaluate. He stood over us and dared to give a lingering, angry stare. “You’re both evaluating each other’s works; please be realistic with the grades you evaluate each other with. I will be the one assessing your final grades. What you’re doing today is only one of many ways to know where you’re at with your latest assignments.”

With that he shuffled away, leaving us to our grading assignments. I excitedly turned toward Kate. “So will you give me a ninety percent?”
 “I’ll grade accordingly. Don’t worry; we’re friends, after all.”

I was receptive to her honest feedback. Gazing back at her, I noticed a wink … or had she just blinked one too many times? “Sounds good, you’re the best.”

“My pleasure. I’m always there for my bestie.”

Her whispers made no sound, but I had heard her loud and clear. I was always attentive to her words.

Evaluating others was never one of my primary concerns. I knew what great art meant to me; it was more than the visuals. It was its hidden message that others had trouble depicting that was most interesting. However, my evaluation was nowhere near done. Deciphering my art was not a complex task to start with. I was an amazing artist, above letting another student define my art’s worth for art’s sake.

“Are you almost done?” My inquiry was hesitant as a thirty minute evaluation soon jumped ship. Class was nearly done. And I was left empty-handed. No response from the person I cared most about. How could this be?

“Give me a minute.” She seemed more occupied than she appeared. How could evaluating a few art pieces take so much time?

“Alright, class, in a minute I’ll be coming around to pick up your evaluations. Please indicate the person correcting as I will always be grading you on that. As far as your artwork goes, you may keep them, bring them home, or display them somewhere to show others what we have learned this semester.”

Dr. Williams rounded the tables and took possession of the evaluations. “I appreciate everyone completing one of our last assignments. I’ll be sending your next assignment on the portal later today. Class dismissed.”

Kate rose from her seat a little too quickly. “Let’s go brainstorm about the venture in one of the cubicles in the library,” she suggested. Ahead she was, leading the way.

“Wait! You never told me if you gave me a fair evaluation.”

“We can discuss it later.”

“What about right now?”

Her rhythm was difficult to follow, her arse swaying from left to right, her footsteps crushing the floor tiles. She seemed to no longer care about what we’d envisioned prior to class.

“Your works just didn’t speak to me; grading fairly was my priority as much as it was yours.”

“What did you write down? It took you forever before handing back the evaluation.”

“Below a C average; was that a fair grade?”

My devotion to my art had been everlasting. Never had I thought of being defined lower than my own standards. Dedicated, I was. Spending night time with my works was all I held myself accountable to. How could I possibly receive lower than my true ambitions, the ones I was to implement after school?

“Do you know how many hours I put into these pieces?”

“I’m well aware. You just lack potential.”

My stomach dropped. What the hell did she know about art? I should’ve failed that fucking bitch.

“What makes you any better? I gave you an A average. You don’t deserve the grades I handed back to our professor.”

“What’s done is done, I guess.”

Chuckling before me, I knew she had fooled me once too many. How didn’t I see this coming? It was obvious she was plotting some sort of revenge against me, but what had I done wrong? I’d been helping her from the start.

“This isn’t funny. It’s my final semester!”

Her halt was sudden, eyes locked on me, and push came to shove. My books scattered through the hallway of passing students.

“That’s pushing things, don’t you think?” I scrambled, trying to pick the remaining pieces of my art and dignity. “Indeed, bringing you to your knees, begging for help. You couldn’t possibly see this friendship last.”

And closest to her feet was one of my acrylic paintings, the one that had taken me a whole month to make. “Look what we have here. An original piece; this one probably took you a long time to paint, right?”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“But I would. Don’t worry what I do with it. It’s mine now.”

She bent and snatched it from the floor. Her voice still ached tight around my surroundings, but she was long gone. But I knew our friendship would not cease. After all, giving up was not an option. Picking myself off the ground was no easy task; gathering my textbooks, artworks that were still at my disposal and my used-up purse took time.

I was used to growing thick skin and would make my way back to the apartment to help my friend and find out what was going on. My greatest asset was making things work for the better. I wasn’t willing to give up on the only friend I had left, despite our shortcomings. There still had to be some good in her, and I would find out what was bothering her so much.

On my way back to the apartment, the boardwalk’s sign, tied to the beach’s entrance, read, “Work together, be happy, and help yourself become a better you.” As banal as that may have sounded, it was true. I wouldn’t let myself or my friend become the scapegoat in this equation. Deciphering that sign was my realization for not letting me burst out in rage when I would arrive back home. Keeping my calm was necessary to see a change in myself and in my friend.

I would prep the words less spoken. Apologies would be made, received, and explanations would arise from the both of us. One’s problem would be another’s solution. Working collaboratively meant healing together; our fears didn’t have to become our reality. They could become a blessing in disguise.

Heartfelt forgiveness is real only if you let it manifest into your life. The words we speak about one another and ourselves become our reality. And in changing my reality, I must speak in high praise of gratitude. Every second of every day, I must be grateful for life here on earth. It could be worse, but it is far from it.

Now only to convince my friend that working together was the way to find our path to success.

My apartment’s key ran between my fingers; taking hold of it was never easy, especially with all of the accessories I had. My favorite? An old keychain, rusted but still so clear to me, of Bali. I had found it in a class; it could’ve been misplaced by one of our international students. I knew it belonged to someone else. My greatest possession was restoring my own life, stitching up the wounds that were left bleeding, and cleansing my friendship to its most honest form.

“Anyone in here?” My voice came back to me as an eerie echo.

Our cat rubbed its furry face all around me, affectionately surprised to have me there at that time of day. It wasn’t like me to step in mid-day. As I got closer to the hallway, a melody familiar in sound soothed through the bathroom door.

“Kate, are you in there?” The melodies fell short, the waterfall trimmed to a drop.

“Yeah, I’m here. What do you want?”

“Well, I know what happened earlier is abnormal. I want to make amends for our disputes. I take full responsibility for whatever happened today. I know it has been quite a shift from our usual.”

I knew there had to be more than just piles of unassigned events crashing together to be the cause for the end of us.

“I’ll compromise under one condition. I set forth the vision for the venture and the art that displays on our swimsuits at all times. I want to be the decision maker. Walk in if you dare.”

I dared, and so I did.

“Why do things always have to be your way? I took a great leap, accepting my weaknesses, giving you a chance for us to be on the same page. But my question to you is this: will we ever? I’m here day in and day out trying to make this work because you’re the most important person in my life. You’re all I have. And I don’t want to leave you behind in your self-inflicted misery. You are not a victim; you are my friend. And I wish to stay true to you. If you want to become the decision maker, I’ll fall at your knees, be obedient to the words you preach, and just be another voice to the hymns you sway to the masses.”

“That’s more like it.”

She pulled herself out the tub. Foam covered her curves, breasts, and legs. Nothing I hadn’t seen in awe once before. This time I was throwing in the towel, knowing it would diminish our friendship.

I was enslaved to this woman. I had always been but I had never known. Her busty body had always kept me crawling back for more. Her appearance always locked my eyes to her body; a state of hypnosis was always bearing over my actual definition of friendship. How was I so blind to it all? Years of giving this woman all she needed out of friend and suddenly I was nothing more than a domino crashing into the best friends she’d had prior.

“I guess your so-called positive mindset only makes you weaker,” she said while asking me to hand her a dry towel. She was right. The work I had put in fell through instantaneously.

“I guess not. We’re still together. That’s all that counts.”

But why was I sticking by her? I no longer had a hidden agenda. She was venom to the thick skin I’d built up. In times when I’d dared to believe in her, she was able to cleanse me from it. My most aspiring goals and my life’s purpose, gone.

This was no longer about building a life with a great friend but rather building a life for her own godforsaken reign. She would be living my dreams along with me on the sidelines. Her hair dryer distorted my own thoughts. Ceasing to think clearly, I simply held my lips tight without a sound.

And there I was, two weeks later, reaching for another designer outfit for her to wear to our first press release, her press release. It was a simple, black classy number, a snap-button dress that would easily fall away to reveal the masterpiece underneath. I was still attached to the littlest of details; the red in her jacket that covered the suit, our suit, which had been such a labor of love that hid all the secret places on her body I still longed to touch.

But … was I still serving my friend? It was an obsolete concept, thinking for one second that there was hope for the both of us. And yet, there wasn’t. There never was.

I’d fallen in love with the idea of creating a world where friends could be more than friends, business partners, and maybe someday even more than that. I was lost in desperation. I still was, as I waited for her arms to fall through her ruby blazer.

As I held it up, I admired the suit we’d created together. The one piece was painted in an Aztec pattern which hugged her body. The plunging neckline and halter top showed just the right amount of the tops of her voluptuous breasts while the cut-outs on the sides near her ribs played peek-a-boo with my imagination. She was stunning. Every inch of fabric covered her like a poet’s sonnet; every color had a rhythm of its own and I would be the one wanting her to rock my world, not the crowd.

Surprisingly enough, the crowd would also welcome the beta version of our new collection which revealed her body entirely to a flock of strangers. In a perfect world, that body would be kept in secrecy. But soon enough she would be out of my grip. And an inquiry came back to haunt me: would she even care about me?

Attention was what she needed, and therefore would receive.

Regardless of how things were going, there would be no happy ending — well, at least not for me. Nothing would hold me back from tearing apart these old beliefs, the ones I’d kept to myself for the longest of time.

A sigh came from beneath my breath. “Take care of yourself; I’m no longer going to associate myself with this venture.”

A devil of a business it was. Associating myself with such toxins would no longer become the undertow that would drain me to the bottom of my core. It was over — and I knew it all so well. Time to get the hell out of there.

“And to hell with your corrupt mind, I’m gone.”

The apartment door struck tirelessly, aggravating all those who were amongst us; a roar of terror annihilated the silence, hopelessly haunting its surroundings with its echoes.

With the door that led to outside wide open, I was blind-sighted from the rays of sunlight but I had no defeat. Behind me, a voice soared, “Wait, this isn’t how it has to be!”

But it had to be this way. I would not sympathize with the creature that claimed to be sorry.

“Well, there’s no other way.” But was my speech even loud enough?

I daresay it was as her posture was slouched and calm. She froze in amazement while I had the last word. Whatever would happen next would affect me not. I was the one teaching her greatest life lesson, to live in solitude when no one is ever there for you.

When you are no longer dependent on others is when you are set free by structured concepts. Life is about listening and receiving and she had done just that. Today would be the day she could become the person she wished to be, and that would be without my help. I was done giving to her being. I was done taking from her.

She was now at peace with her serenity. Her hymns of sorrow sang no more. This is life; no promises, no regrets to depend on. Life is about being one with yourself. That is life’s greatest gift and we must embrace every moment of it. We must be in constant awe of it. There’s no other reason the muses would have put us on earth for.

***

For now, we dance to the beat of a waterfall, one that is all too close to our friendship. We are now rooms apart, but we still stare at one another. She is still the definition of beauty but life shall not rejoice our presence any longer. We must learn to control our emotions when caught between wishing for a life of freedom and one of despair. However, one thing’s for sure: she will always be my sanctuary.

And I leave you with this, a poem that will one day reach her:

Ignite the first spark

From a time when we first met.

We had forever promised that our ashes would never coast the shores.

What would one day be kept in secrecy would be no more.

As for I, always cared about your well-being

And you have, too.

I still gaze through these sunglasses, pretending to be minding my own business.

But you are the one.

The one I want to one day make mine

On an island far from this city

In a moment’s time, you will one day decipher these heartfelt words, hoping what could’ve been becomes something more.

I leave you with a life enriched with love and hope that your everlasting beauty fades not.

You were always the one with a perfect bosom.

You were always mine.

You were always my awakening.

I am no longer lost without you. Kate, you no longer control me. I am finally free. But I do appreciate these moments. I will live in peace. And you will live without me, one day hoping to turn back and be more than a friend. You are forever a friend, but as for now, I must not fall for the slightest of temptations.

Friends help one another, not betray them. And I choose to walk away temporarily. All I am to you is a faded memory; I can tell when we both gaze when going to the pool. Ironic enough, we’re both dressed in our corporate outfits, the ones we would have worn if we would’ve been one with our business.

Until then, farewell my friend. Take care of yourself! If your call awaits me, I shall take just a little longer to respond with this feather and ink.

I hope my story inspires you to find yourself.

Love,

Noemie McKenzie

PS: You shall always remain my goddess.