IN THE INTERIM
To Meg, the most loyal friend I’ve ever had, thanks.
Editor – Kimberly Hunt, Revision Division, Maryland, U.S.A
Prologue – J.K. Lynch
It was second or third grade when I fell in love with my best friend. Of course, I couldn’t explain to anyone I had the same feelings for a girl that I should have had for guys. My mom had feelings for guys, LOTS of them. She spent a lot of time with whichever was the flavor-of-the week when I was in elementary school so I would spend as much time with the girl that lived at the end of the street as I could.
On Saturday mornings, Cry’s grandma would roll her oversized, baby-blue, Lincoln Towncar into our driveway. Grams would lay on the horn, and I’d dash out the door. The purr of the motor, the deep long honk, the crash of the screen door behind me as I launched off the two-step porch. Crystal would pop up from the front seat after I made myself comfortable in the back. Her beautiful face would grin at me.
“Ready JK?” she’d ask.
I would just nod my answer as a flutter would ripple through my stomach, and then lower. She was everything I ever wanted and our relationship was my most valued possession, if that could even be a thing for a child.
The first stop was always the car wash, one of those old fashioned ones that had the whirly primary colored pom-poms swishing and swaying, the colored spray and incredibly loud dryer that the car would creep through, the water being pushed this way and that.
I would gaze out of the moon-roof peering at the foaming bubbles, the automated arms doing their chores. It thrilled me, the ceremonious cruise through the car wash with Crystal. Then we’d head out to Denny’s for a late breakfast and sometimes the park. It’s my favorite childhood memory; the only good one really.
Whenever we drove under pedestrian walkways, when there were people crossing above us, Cry’s grams would instruct us to “Send them some love, ladies,” and we’d close our eyes, and picture red and dark pink hearts floating up from our passing car like millions of bubbles, popping around the people above us. I would look over my shoulder to see if they felt the love, if they were smiling or looking affected by our efforts. Grams would smile and nod slightly, her head bobbing as her eyes darted to the rearview and back forward. It seemed as if she were also checking to ensure our energy was finding its targets.
Grams read cards. She had a big blue bin of tarot cards, angel cards, totem animal cards, goddess cards, oracles and prophecy cards. On the days we went to the park, she would set up a card table under a portable awning and charge twenty dollars a reading. Sometimes we got to watch, other times she would ask us to go play at the playground to give her and her client a ‘bit ‘o privacy’. Most times the people that paid left in tears, a couple times hysterically laughing. Occasionally a client left muttering under their breath about being ripped off.
Once I heard a young man bark, “You’re a fraud!” and storm away. I looked at Crystal, her eyes wide with surprise and confusion. She asked Grams, “Why is that guy mad at you?”
“Oh, he’s not, honey,” she replied with zero emotion, “sometimes the cards don’t tell us what we want to hear and the truth hurts, that’s all.”
I doubt those few dissatisfied customers ever got under her skin, she looked just as radiant when the next person took the folding chair.
Crystal had her own deck, a plain old deck of playing cards from a casino. There was a star-shaped punch hole in the bottom left corner of each of them and when the deck was aligned you could look through the hole. She taught herself to read those cards. When she wasn’t immersed in her readings, we played fish or slap-jack.
With the playing card deck, the hearts were feelings, the diamonds material possessions, the clubs actions, and spades were logical thoughts. Sometimes Crystal would make stuff up; other times I felt like she was really channeling energy and spirits.
After the park, we’d head on back home. I lived at number eight Mastick, and the love of my life lived in one on the opposite side.
Mastick court is a dead-end. It’s tucked between a busy road and the water that leads to the bay. There are only eight houses in the court, and each is as individual as the families that have dwelt there. The numbers start on the west side. Crystal’s house was on the corner. Typical brick, squat rambler with a four foot chain link fence running around it. I lived in the pure white number eight all the way at the end. Four houses flanked the west side of the street, three on the east and our humble abode sat at the end, facing north. It was as if the whole road was our driveway. The biggest bonus about that house is that the end lot is twice as big as any of the others. The west side has a canal cozied up to the backyards that curves along our back yard.
Since Alameda is an island, we were used to canals, boats and water. San Francisco was the backdrop to our sunsets and Oakland was our gnarly big brother, giving us the Raiders, the A’s, and close, affordable city life.
During our senior year of high school, Crystal’s grams died. It rocked her world. We both were devastated. In contrast, when my grandpa passed away a few years later, we celebrated. I never felt it was fair that Grams died first, but as they say, only the good die young.
Crystal left Mastick Court after that. Her mom got a decent inheritance and they moved to ‘the right side of the tracks’, as the saying goes. I inherited the old, whilte house after good ole gramps kicked the bucket. For Crystal and I, once we had to work on our relationship a bit, it became more precious. As we grew up it became only the two of us against the world. We were just two besties, living our best life.
Then the murders began.
CHAPTER ONE: BFFs
Relationship after relationship, my best friend seems to know how to attract the most narcissistic, co-dependent and bitter men. She’s beautiful and has a great body but Crystal is mostly attracted to the ones that hammer away at her self-esteem. My job is to be there for her when the flings end. Then I will jump in, pump her back up before the next broken man sashays into her life.
Can I spend the night?
The text comes in like any normal text but feels frustrated and fed-up. If Crystal wants to spend the night, it’s because of turbulence in her relationship with her douchebag boyfriend, not because she wants BFF time with me.
I always thought it was cute the way Crystal spelled out all the words in her texts, she didn’t use acronyms like LOL, or ROTFLMAO; she would text ‘hahaha’ or ‘too funny’ instead. It’s an image of intelligence Crystal is creating, the anti-airhead. She makes conscious strides to construct the persona of someone with brains to back the pretty face. With a wicked grin, I text back the single letter, Y.
Crystal’s latest boyfriend, Kent, is most likely drunk and being obnoxious. Let’s just hope it hasn’t escalated to belligerence, or worse, violence. It makes my stomach tighten in knots when I think of Kent. It causes me to be overcome by a physical sense of illness, it’s that bad. These feelings verge on hatred if I'm being honest. It’s obvious to me that Kent’s affections towards Crystal are nothing more than how he would feel about a car or boat; he would miss it if it wasn’t there, but just momentarily, until the plaything could be replaced. He is cold, no fun, completely lacking compassion and empathy.
I see the pattern she misses probably because my mom did the same thing. I’ve heard women pick men like their dad, but since I mostly grew up with just a mom, and I like women, perhaps I’m drawn to partners like my mom. Naw, that’s the only thing those two have in common, shitty men.
Grabbing my iPod I flip to the ‘favorites’ category and tap on the cartoon looking album cover, select ‘Bumpin’ Bumpin’. Nothing like a little Kreay to lighten the mood. Every song on this CD somehow reminds me of Crystal. As the song fills the room and moves from the opening bridge to the first verse, I can’t help but reminisce about a random night when we had gone to a dance club in Oakland.
In my mind’s eye I can still clearly see Crystal’s ‘white girl moves’ on the dance floor, her hips shimming just a half beat off the music’s tempo, eyes closed, hands above her head as if she were wriggling through a tube. That night, I insisted my drunk friend come home with me instead of one of the three perverts that were vying for her attention.
“You’re coming home with me,” I asserted in a tone that left no room for argument.
Most likely, Crystal would have regretted going home with one of the vultures that were circling. They leered, drinking in each curve of Crystal’s form fitting green dress. Not gonna lie, my ego swelled as we meandered out of the packed club. The men ogled; the best-looking woman in the club exited with ME, another woman! I could feel the vanity rise in my chest. Crystal’s four inch stilettos hampered her step so she leaned into me.
“You’s a good buddy,” Crystal slurred, and placed her arm around my shoulders.
The hollowness of my stomach brings me back to the present. What could I serve for dinner now that I’ve got company on the way? I check my phone for Crystal’s reply, then check it again. After a minute, I check the volume to be sure I will be able to hear the incoming text and make a mental note of how many service bars are lit. After checking a fourth time, the text finally comes.
Thanks for all you do for me! Love you like a sister, Sista. See you soon.
Aren’t you the Chatty Cathy?! Hahaha!
It’ll take Crystal a little over an hour to pack an overnight bag, have a few more words with the asshole guy, and drive from San Francisco to my house in Alameda. I didn’t plan on dinner tonight, maybe a protein shake. When it’s just me, I can do that and not worry about groceries. Eating is somewhat of a chore I don’t derive much pleasure from. Ever since I was a child, eating causes stomach aches low in my abdomen. Stress? Probably. There have been times in my life I envied dogs, one bowl of food once a day just to keep living. No muss, no fuss.
A twitch of pleasure pangs in my empty stomach, oh how I enjoy cooking for Crystal. Perhaps it’s because Crystal enjoys eating; she looks sensual when she does, she closes her eyes and moans ‘mmm…’ with the first bite. Erotic. I shake my head as if to knock the image from my mind and rummage through my food stash.
There are linguine noodles. Alfredo or Marinara? Alfredo, it will pair well with the table wine. Digging through the fridge, I realize I could use the good side of a bruised pear to make a fancy side salad. Maybe I should light a few candles? No, don’t want to appear too festive. Crystal will be in a sour mood until she tells me her side of the story. After a glass of wine, or two, a few puffs off the bong and voila, the normal, upbeat, happy Crystal will be back.
The pear salads are done and chilling in the fridge, the pasta cooked to perfection. I like to toss my pasta and sauce together, a trick I learned from a professional chef I partied with in the Castro district.
The table is set, wine open and breathing when I hear the little BMW car turn into the driveway. The driver’s door opens and closes, then the beep of the locks engage. Glancing at the large steel and mosaic wall clock I smile to myself. True to my intuition, it had been only fifty-four minutes. Crystal must have kept the fireworks show with the fucked-up boyfriend to a minimum.
Crystal knocks once, opens the door and heads right to the kitchen. Her hair down and slightly messy, most likely windblown. She tends to drive with the sunroof and all the windows open. The stylish black skirt with a blue silk clingy top shows just the right amount of cleavage and make her blue eyes bluer. At her throat, she wears a simple, classic strand of pearls with small matching earnings. “Bring on the booze!” she whoops plopping onto one of the dinette set chairs.
I reach for the chilled Riesling, a sad smile on my lips, “You’re a mess, girlfriend, too much for this little ole bottle to fix, but it won’t hurt. What’d he do this time? Hit you? Hurt you? Rape you?” I ask the last one with delicacy.
Crystal rolls her eyes and sighs dramatically before answering. “He has gotten better about that part of his temper, seriously, he has… it’s just that… He’s impossible to please. I just have this horrible habit of always doing the wrong thing at the wrong time with him. Like nothing I do for that man is right.” She sighs and sips her wine. “Same old shit. It gets so old. He hates me, doesn’t want to be with me… He’d be happy if only… if only I folded his socks right or didn’t leave towels in the dryer, if only I kept the house cleaner, the car cleaner, if only I knew how to cook, if only I made more money, if only I was smarter, if only I were thinner, prettier, fuck… on and on and on! I’m done, seriously, I am done.”
“Oh, okay?” I state dryly taking a tiny sip of my wine and avoiding Crystal’s eye. I move towards the fridge and retrieve the little salads then set them on the table. “When you gonna ditch that loser, and find someone worthy of you, Cry?”
I’ve called Crystal ‘Cry’ since we were in elementary school. When we were just learning to spell, Crystal had sadly told me her name started with the word cry. I assured her that there were good Crys. Once, I heard my mom say on the phone that all she needed was a good cry, so I knew it to be true.
“I don’t know, Sista.” Crystal’s voice fades as if she may shed some tears right now. For Crystal, I’ve been Sista since a week after we first met. One morning, after a sleepover, while eating peanut butter covered Eggos, Crystal had announced we were going to be friends forever, ‘just like sisters’. Over the years it became Crystal’s standard text sign-off, ‘I love you like a sister, Sista’.
I slosh wine into the glasses and dish the pasta. Crystal is still bitching about her bad boyfriend. “I don’t know what to do, it’s like I’m screwed if I stay with him and I’m screwed if I leave him. I couldn’t afford a place like that on my own! It’s San Francisco for Christ’s sake, I couldn’t afford a closet on my own in that high dolla’ town. Fuck!” I nod in agreement and take a sip of my wine. Crystal continues after a long drink off her own glass, “Sometimes I feel like an accessory, just a pretty girl he can place on his arm like a fucking watch. You know?! What the fuck, JK? I just don’t know what to do.” Crystal takes a bite of salad and her face transforms, the anger draining away. “Mmmm… So, good.” Her delicate mouth curls into a small, tight smile.
I nod and watch her as discreetly as I can knowing Crystal’s eyes will close for a half a second and her face will look as if she were ready to have an orgasm.
“You could stay here for a bit,” I throw out there as Cry samples the pasta, diverting her attention to the food. “I mean, I really only live upstairs, come down to use the kitchen and washer and dryer but otherwise, the downstairs is hardly ever used. Dickheaded Gramp’s room is empty. We could paint it,” annoyingly, I can hear my voice starting to ramble as it takes on a desperate tone. I stop speaking and think, God knows I’ll never sleep in there. I would love it if Crystal would move in, but I sure the fuck don’t want to seem too anxious. The last thing Crystal needs is a needy roommate instead of a needy boyfriend. “The only real challenge I see with us both here is there’s only one bathroom, we could manage though, especially if it was temporary,” I emphasize the last word, hoping it will disarm any desperation I may have conveyed a moment earlier.