Second is Best by Aileen Friedman - HTML preview

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‘Rosalie hi. Gosh I have not seen you for ages. Well I haven’t been here in ages I guess.’

She sat down with her food and we chatted for a long time about our lives, about our wonderful school days and about Boyd and York. I suddenly missed York so much and at the same time I was annoyed at him for leaving me just as Boyd had done. I wondered where Boyd was and what he was doing. Rosalie had never seen him since he’d first disappeared. I wondered if I would ever see either of them again. I wondered so many things.

The weather changed rapidly as it often did on the South Coast, but this time we were in for a couple days of heavy storms according to the weather forecast on the radio in my car.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

27.

 

I bought a big slab of chocolate and went to Evelyn’s flat on my way home from Baggies. I was sure she would appreciate the gesture. I parked my car outside her building. The wind had really picked up by now and as I opened my car door it almost flew off its hinges – I just managed to grab it in time but too late to prevent the chocolate and my keys from falling out of my hand. When I had steadied the door with my one hand and collected my things in the other, I got out of the car. My hair, loose and still slightly wet from the sea, took off upward as I got out the car as the gusts of wind tossed it. I had to fight against the wind to close the door, hold the things in my hand and try to control my hair. Walking towards the building was a great effort as the corners of the building created swirling winds wanting to throw me off my feet. I was so grateful not to be wearing a skirt or a dress – it probably would’ve taken off with the skirt acting as a parachute.

When I eventually got to Evelyn’s flat I knocked on her door but there was no answer. I knew she was home as I had seen her car in her allotted parking spot. I knocked again and there was still no answer, so I turned the bronze doorknob left and the door edged inward. I opened the door just enough to let myself in and closed it behind me quietly.

‘Evelyn!’ I called out loud enough for her to hear me but not too loud that it would wake her up if she was sleeping.

There was still no answer so I put the chocolate on the table by the door and went to her bedroom. Evelyn was lying curled up on her bed crying into her pillow. I rushed to her side, sat down next to her and put my arm over her back.

‘Evelyn, what’s wrong?’

She looked up at me and I could tell she had been crying for a long time, her eyes were swollen and red. In fact her whole face was swollen and red. She just shook her head and sobbed out loud, her body jolting as it expelled the air from within her.

I got up and hurriedly went to the kitchen to put the kettle on. She needed something to calm her down and I knew she always had hot chocolate in the cupboard, she always said it relaxed her. I rushed back to the room where she continued to wreak havoc into her pillow and I sat next to her again putting my arms around her as best I could.

‘What has happened, Evelyn?’

She awkwardly sat up and after I handed her a couple of tissues she wiped her eyes and blew her nose several times. She tried hard to stop herself from crying but each time she tried to tell me what had upset her so much her emotions overcame her and wracking sobs escaped her. She sat on her bed, a sorry mess, her pale blue skirt was wrinkled and her red hair looked as though it had done an hour in the wind outside. Her dark eyes were blacker than usual.

While she went to the bathroom I made her hot chocolate and found some cookies, put them on a plate for her and went back to the room. When she came out of the bathroom I took her hand and led her back to the bed and helped her to sit down gently.

‘There’s some hot chocolate and cookies for you,’ I pointed to them and she nodded.

Through her sobs and snorts she managed to speak.

‘I went to the doctor this morning,’ she said as she took a deep shuddering breath before continuing, ‘I’m…I…Kaye…I’m...oh Kaye...I’m pregnant!’

She burst out crying hysterically once more, throwing her arms around me hugging me, holding me with such force that I felt her body jerk with each and every sob and teardrop.

‘Oh Evelyn. Oh, I am so sorry. Have you told Sian?’

I naturally presumed it was Sian’s baby as she had not dated anyone since they had broken up and she did not do the one night stand dates at all.

‘No.’

‘Have you told anyone?’ I asked while she still held onto me desperately.

‘My parents, this morning.’

I could feel the hysteria building up inside her again.

‘They...Oh ...They are ...So furious.’

‘I’m so sorry my friend.’

I did not know what else to say.

‘When are you going to tell Sian?’

‘No, not yet,’ she said and burst into another round of hysteria, her tears rapidly descending down her cheeks.

‘You have to tell him Evelyn. Why didn’t you want to tell me earlier? You can’t go through this alone.’

She didn’t reply but instead held onto me as if I were the glue she needed to stick her back together. By the time she had calmed herself a little it was almost dark outside, the storm was building up to be an epic one.

‘Let me quickly phone Spencer and tell him I am staying here for a while longer.’

I got up to do what I intended.

‘No don’t,’ Evelyn said hastily and grabbed my arm to stop me before I stood up fully, ‘my parents will be here any minute, please stay here just until they come.’

‘I will wait till they get here then and if you want me to stay longer then I will.’

Evelyn simply let her waterworks flow and as I held her trembling body, comforting her, it reminded me of the many times she had done this exact same thing for me after Boyd had left. I was so grateful to be here for her in her time of need.

She had just finished her second cup of hot chocolate when we heard the door open and slam shut not a few seconds later.

‘You need to leave now Kaye, thank you,’ her father said marching briskly into her bedroom. He was furious, the drive from Howick had clearly not eased his fury at all.

I gave Evelyn a final hug and kissed her cheek gently, I could see the pain and fear in her eyes. I greeted her father as I walked past him, who offered no response, and passed her mother sitting on the couch. She at least said goodbye. I felt so sorry for my dear friend.

‘Where have you been?’ Spencer blurted out when I walked into our flat windswept, and after putting my board back against the wall in the study I replied.

‘I went to Baggies, then to Evelyn’s. She is in some trouble…’

I was in the bathroom by now taking off my clothes and jumping into the shower.

‘What trouble?’

He seemed frozen to the spot still in the lounge which meant we were yelling at each other to be heard.

‘Come here and I will tell you!’ I yelled back.

He came into the bathroom, pushed the toilet lid down and sat on it while I stood under the hot water of the shower.

‘She is pregnant. I stayed by her until her parents got there. Her father is furious.’

I told him the events of my day from bobbing in the ocean to when I landed up at Evelyn’s. He never said a word but only listened.

After some time he finally spoke, ‘What is she going to do?’

‘What do you mean by that?’

‘I don’t know really,’ he spluttered, ‘I mean she has to finish her degree, that is going to be difficult with a baby.’

‘We couldn’t talk about it, she was far too upset for that. I suppose her parents will discuss everything with her.’

‘Oh right.’

He remained seated on the toilet while I went on describing what had happened between Evelyn and me without interruption. Spencer just sat on the toilet deep in thought and listened.

Much later in the evening I dialled Evelyn’s number at her flat. I did not expect her to answer as her parents were probably still with her or she would be in a restless sleep from pure exhaustion. So I was surprised when she did and by her voice it was easy to tell that she was in fact very tired.

‘Hi, how you?’ I said into the receiver.

‘Oh hi Kaye, I don’t really know right now.’

‘Are your parents still there?’

‘No they’ve left. It was so horrible.’

She sniffed, trying very hard not to burst into tears all over again.

‘Do you want me to come over?’

‘No don’t come over now, it’s too late and besides this storm is really crazy.’

‘Try get some sleep and I will see you tomorrow then.’

She couldn’t help the tears as we said goodbye and I would have to pray very hard for my dear friend tonight before I went to sleep.

 

It was strange that Evelyn had not yet told Sian she was pregnant. The more I tried to reason with her the more she put it off. Sian had moved to Johannesburg and occasionally phoned her, but the rest of us had not heard from him nor did we have any contact details for him and Evelyn was not sharing them with us either.

I worried about her, she had the worst case of morning sickness and still had to continue with her classes at university. She was extremely irritable, understandably, and sometimes she was so ill she had to miss class for days which meant she always had catching up to do. As much as I wanted to, there was nothing I could help her with.

Her parents had softened after the initial shock and that was a blessing on its own. She would need her parents, especially her mother, and especially since there was not going to be a father around.

She had stopped going to church and this worried me more than anything. I gathered she was ashamed and exhausted and I prayed constantly that she would return to the kindest people in the world and not turn her back on God.

Minister Lyle offered to counsel with her but she refused his offer. It was as though she was purposely cutting herself off from everyone. After Bible study one evening Minster Lyle asked me to stay behind for a few minutes. He asked after Evelyn and I could not shed any more light on the situation than what he already knew. We prayed for her together; it was all we could do for her.

Our Saturday morning visits were automatically at Evelyn’s flat as she never wanted to go anywhere anymore. She said she hated the way people stared at her, she got enough of that at university.

‘I wonder what it’s like to be pregnant,’ I said to Spencer one Saturday afternoon.

He was working even more than usual, if that was at all possible and so when he was home we rarely did anything other than vegetate on the couch. He would literally force himself to come with me to church on Sundays.

‘Don’t even think about it Kaye,’ he retorted.

‘I did not say I want to be pregnant. I said I wondered what it felt like. There’s a huge difference,’ I snapped back defensively.

‘Well that’s how it starts. First you think about it, then you start wanting it, then it becomes an obsession,’ he replied accusingly.

‘And I suppose you are now talking from experience?’

He angered me when he scolded me as a father would his child. I was not his child. I stood up and went to the kitchen just to move away from him before we got ourselves into a silly fight.

I felt his arms move around my waist and an apology was whispered into my ear.

I turned around and looked into his blue eyes, ‘I know we have our five year plan. I have not forgotten.’

‘I know, I’m sorry.’

He put his head down and looked at the white tiles on which we stood. I lifted his head so that he was looking at me again.

‘I don’t like the space we are in at the moment. I’ve told you this many times. We have such little time to spend together actually and those times I don’t want to spend arguing, especially over something we both know is not going to happen.’

‘I know, I’m sorry,’ he said again and held me closer, kissing my forehead tenderly.

‘Let’s go out for dinner, we could both use a change of scenery.’

‘Sounds like a plan,’ Spencer uttered while he still hugged me in his embrace.

I relaxed, relishing his arms around me, a rather rare occurrence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

28.

 

The subtropical torrential rains had hit our little town in full force. We had days and days of endless rain without any signs of it ceasing in the near future. I was sick to death of frizzy hair and wet feet.

My usually neat and tidy cubical in which I worked in the large room filled with journalists and editors was drowning in papers. The screened cubical walls were pinned with various articles I had published, various messages, and even more unfinished articles. My desk had papers everywhere – some falling out of their trays, some in little piles of their own and some were on the desk for reasons I still had to figure out. The wastepaper bin was full to the brim of scrunched up balls of paper. Story writing was not for the fainthearted.

I placed another piece of blank A4 paper into the typewriter – hopefully I would get the story right this time – and let my fingers do their magic, having to stop every so often to unjam the keys as I typed faster than the machine could cope with.

It was one of those days and it was only ten in the morning. Engrossed in the words flowing from my brain to my fingers to the sheets of paper in the typewriter, I was lost to the world around me. When the phone rang I got such a fright that I pushed down on several keys at once causing a huge congestion. Frustrated I answered on the third ring.

‘Hello, Kaye speaking.’

‘Good morning, am I speaking with Mrs Reed?’

I could immediately hear it was a person in an official capacity.

‘Yes, who am I speaking to?’

‘I am Sister Goodwin from Addington Hospital. Your husband has been in an accident and has been admitted to the ICU.’

I felt my heart collapse, pass through my knees and sink into the floor.

‘I’ll be there in a few minutes,’ I said, already standing up from my chair and grabbing my bag.

The jammed typewriter and its story would have to wait. Scurrying passed Rodger’s office I put my head in quickly.

‘Spencer’s been in an accident, I’m going to the hospital, and I will phone you from there. Sorry the story is not finished, the notes are on my desk and I have most of it done. Can someone else finish it?’

I didn’t wait for his answer.

The twenty-five minute drive to the hospital took almost an hour in the pouring rain and heavy traffic. I must have passed at least three accidents on the way. This did not bode well with my nerves.

As I reached the nurses’ station of the ICU ward, still taking off my jacket, the nurse ushered me to Spencer’s room. I trembled when I saw how still he lay.

‘Is he going to be okay?’ I asked, finally allowing the tears to roll down my cheeks.

‘The doctor will be with you shortly,’ she said motioning for me to sit in the chair next to the bed and then she left me alone with him.

The room was dimly lit and the blue curtains were drawn, shutting out the faint light from the stormy skies outside. The bed was in the middle of the room against the wall on the left with just a single machine on the shelf above his head, monitoring his heartbeat. Another chair was standing against the middle of the wall opposite the entrance of the room, it looked sad and lost.

I took his hand, it felt warm but lifeless, and I shivered and just then the doctor walked into the room.

‘Mrs Reed, I am Dr Braun.’

He shook my shaking hand.

‘Your husband looks worse than he actually is. From what I understand he was hit on the side by another car and he suffered a severe blow to the head. From the x-rays there seems to be no serious damage and he should come out of this state of unconsciousness soon. It might be today or it might be in a few days but definitely no longer than that. He needs to stay here in ICU until he wakes up.’

Dr Braun smiled at me reassuringly but I was not consoled by any means. I stared at him trying to say something sensible.

Instead, he said, ‘If there is anything you need to know please ask the staff. If they can’t assist you they can phone me. You are welcome to stay here with your husband until he wakes up.’ He smiled again.

‘Thank you I will stay here,’ I said and sat back in the chair still trembling.

I leaned on the bed holding Spencer’s hand.

‘Hey, it’s me. Wake up please.’

Not so much as an eyelash flickered. I put my head on his hand and prayed.

‘Is there someone we can contact for you?’

A nurse appeared at the door interrupting my prayer.

‘Uhmm…Would you mind if I phoned?’

She slowly walked with me to the nurses’ station and passed the phone to me.

‘Just dial zero to get a line,’ she said and went on with her duties.

First I phoned Spencer’s mother. His parents were in their late seventies and no longer able to travel. While I explained as best as possible that it was not serious, his mother remained unconvinced and distraught. I was afraid of what this news might do to his father’s weak heart, and I felt bad that I’d phoned.

When I spoke to Rodger he assured me that I could stay with Spencer as long as I needed to, and that he’d found someone to finish the story. I felt a little sense of relief at that.

Then I phoned Evelyn hoping the news would not upset her and the baby too much.

‘Oh no! Oh no! Oh no! Poor Spencer!’

Then she cried. Pregnancy made a woman far more emotional than usual, I surmised.

‘He will be fine,’ I tried to comfort Evelyn, ‘the doctor said he must just wake up.’

‘Are they sure? What if there is damage that they haven’t picked up yet? Maybe the x-rays didn’t show it.’

‘You’re scaring me Evelyn. Don’t talk like that. He will be fine, he has to be.’

‘I’ll be there in an hour,’ she said and put the phone down.

What if the doctors were wrong as Evelyn suggested?

What if Spencer never woke up?

I felt like vomiting. A nurse came in to check Spencer’s pulse and blood pressure.

‘You look a little pale my dear. Just stay in that chair and I’ll be back with some cookies.’

She rushed out of the room and returned a few minutes later with a glass of orange juice and a plate of cookies. I thanked her weakly. I sipped at the juice and nibbled on the cookies all the while holding Spencer’s hand, stroking his arm and talking to him. He didn’t move for what seemed like hours.

In less than an hour, the nurse returned with Evelyn close on her heels.

‘This lady says she is a close friend…’ the nurse trailed off.

Evelyn didn’t bother for me to answer or for the nurse to give her permission to come any closer, like a flash she brushed passed the nurse and threw her arms around me as I was standing up out of the chair. The nurse left us.

After embracing me with her now slightly enlarged tummy she turned to Spencer and with one look burst into tears. She lifted his hand as I had done.

‘Wake up Spence,’ she whispered.

Evelyn pulled the sad chair up to the other side of the bed opposite me. Both Spencer’s hands were being occupied by our hands.

We spoke to him, we stroked his arms. I wiped his face and ran my fingers around his eyes, down his cheeks and over his lips praying all the while that my touch would awaken his senses and that he would open his eyes.

‘Open your eyes Spencer, open your eyes,’ I pleaded – and Evelyn cried.

I returned from the fastest bathroom break of my life, to find Evelyn standing up leaning over Spencer, whispering to him. I approached the bed, touched by her concern for him, and held his hand again. Evelyn looked at me, tears streaming down her face – pregnancy really did make women emotional it seemed!

I looked at Spencer’s face and was not sure if I imagined it but I was sure his eyelid had twitched.

‘Watch his eyelid, I’m sure it moved.’

We both stared intently at his face.

Evelyn touch his eyelid softly with her index finger and it definitely moved this time. We both noticed it clearly. We waited a little longer to see if it would move again. I stroked his face and hair and stared at his face all the while. Both eyes twitched with definite movements this time.

‘Quickly go call the nurse,’ I said to Evelyn and she ran out the room.

‘Spencer, hey, can you hear me? It’s me, can you hear me? Open your eyes.’

Evelyn and the nurse were both standing by the bed before I had finished my sentence. Evelyn picked up his hand again. The corners of his mouth twitched and he mumbled, we were all sure of it.

‘Spencer love, hey Spence, say that again. Open your eyes!’ I pleaded.

His mouth moved as if he was trying to form a word and we all held our breath, his eyes flickered but not yet opening, and we all glanced at each other in anticipation. He was coming round.

The nurse left to phone the doctor.

Spencer muttered something again.

‘What was that you said Spencer? Say it again.’

I leaned closer to his ear so that I could hear him. We watched him carefully, his lips moved to form words.

‘Evelyn,’ he said, clearly this time.

‘What?’ I said confused.

Why would he call her name first?

‘Evelyn.’

He said it firmly and even more clearly than the first time.

‘What?’ I said a little louder.

Evelyn stood up straight and looked at me, her eyes as wide as saucers.

‘Evelyn,’ he said a third time and this time she lent closer to him. I stood up straight and looked at them incredulously.

‘I’m here,’ she said rubbing her hand along his arm, ‘I’m here.’

‘Love you…The baby…’

‘WHAT?’ I asked very loudly.

I backed away from the bed confused and in utter disbelief at what I had just heard.

Had I misunderstood Evelyn’s affection for him?

‘Evelyn what is going on here?’ I looked at her through horror-stricken eyes.

Slowly she turned in my direction, not looking at me but toward me, her hands clutching her tummy.

‘Evelyn!’ I said harshly, forcing her eyes to look at me.

She looked up still clutching her tummy, her eyes brimming with tears.

‘Oh, I’m so sorry Kaye, we never meant to…I...’

I didn’t give her time to finish her sentence.

‘WHAT ARE YOU TELLING ME?’ I yelled.

Evelyn stared at the floor, her hand still resting on Spencer’s arm.

‘Are you telling me that you and Spencer…? The baby…That it’s Spencer’s baby?’

I was shaking as I stuttered.

Evelyn was rooted to the spot, and still looking at the floor she moved her head to look at him and then she nodded. She remained holding his hand tightly.

‘OH MY WORD, HOW COULD YOU? HOW COULD YOU?’ I screamed at her.

The nurses had by now all gathered in the room due to the commotion and were trying to find out what was going on.

‘HOW COULD YOU?’ I shouted at Evelyn, hysteria overcoming me.

I couldn’t stop shouting the same question over and over again, I was so dreadfully shocked and confused. Evelyn just stood there by Spencer’s side, tears streaming down her cheeks, one hand gripping his and the other supporting her baby.

I couldn’t even look at Spencer. I turned and ran out of the room, down the corridor and ran down the four flights of stairs and out of the hospital entrance.

The rain slapped me in the face as I exited the building where I had entered as a different person, only a few hours before. I stopped and bent forward, resting my hands on my knees, battling to get my breathing under control. Between the lack of air from the running and the erratic breathing due to the shock of what I had just been confronted with, I struggled to find the correct rhythm to get sufficient air into my lungs. I stood up straight and looked toward the sky, I was drenched but somehow managed to finally regulate my breathing. Then I ran to a coffee shop in the building next to the hospital.

I was soaking wet, the few people that were in there already stared at me as I sat down at a table by the window that looked out onto the ocean, a pool of water already forming under my chair.

What had just happened?

A young lady came and got my order of coffee and as I stared out of the window the bad weather upgraded into a gale force storm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

29.

 

What was I going to do?

My husband and my best friend were lovers and in a few months were going to have a baby.

How had this happened?

Evelyn was such a strong Christian, and Spencer, although he put his work first, was too. Although, did he really work such long hours or had he always been at her place?

Was I being punished for putting our five year plan before God? Ha! Our five year plan – that was a joke. I wonder what plan he’d had with Evelyn.

I snickered in disgust at the thought of the fool I had been made out to be.

The elderly lady sitting next to me asked, ‘Are you alright dear?’

I moved my head just millimetres, enough so that I could see her from the corner of my eye. Her eyes were old and had lost a lot of the sparkle that shines with youth but they looked at me with concern.

‘I’m fine,’ I replied bluntly and returned to gazing outside, sighing heavily.

‘Oh Lord please help me. I don’t understand why this has happened to me. Please help me,’ I prayed silently, finally taking a sip of the coffee that had been standing in front of me for a while already.

It was almost cold but I drank it anyway. My hands were shaking both from the shattering revelation and my wet clothes that stuck to me. The heat from the room and all the people in it had indeed warmed me up somewhat, however my clothes were still soaked.

‘That must be cold dear, let me get you another cup.’

I looked up as one of the gentlemen at the table spoke and when I started to protest he shushed me and somehow caught the attention of the waitress, ordering another cup of coffee for everyone at the table. The poor waitress fought her way through the people blocking every walking area there was, and had to do it again on her return this time with a decanter full of coffee. She refilled our cups with a smile and left.

‘Thank you,’ I said to the kind man.

‘What brings you out in this weather?’

I suppose he thought to take this moment as a gap to strike up conversation with me. My table guests looked at one another inquisitively. There was nothing more intriguing than a story you knew would be interesting if told. They all sensed that I had one of those stories and I could see the curiosity in their eyes.

The storm was not going to abate anytime soon and I realised I had left my handbag and jacket in the hospital room. I had to go back there. My nerves fluttered through my veins at the thought of facing Spencer and Evelyn again.

What would I say or do?

How could they have deceived me so and worst of all how could they have deceived God?

I wanted to blurt out my sad and pathetic life story to these strangers, but what would that help? They would get a juicy story to tell their friends and families and I would still have to face the same sordid hurt and pain.

I took out the ten cents I had in my pants pocket – a habit I always kept – and left it on the table for the first cup of coffee.

Whether I left now or later, the weather wasn’t going to change and I still had to face the two worst traitors I had even known. I fought my way to the shop door and with someone’s help I managed to open the door against the force of the wind. I then fought my way back to the hospital. The raind

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