Part One : When It Rains

Ever since Scarlet's boyrfriend died almost six months ago, she gave up on everything and everyone else. But her best friend Cacey still has to struggle on with everyday life without her.

When it rains, on this side of town it touches everything...

 

Cacey knew that she wouldn’t pick up. Scarlet had not answered the phone once since it happened, but every day Cacey had continued to press the familiar pattern of numbers in the hope that today things might have changed.

As far as Scarlet was concerned, it seemed things weren’t ever going to change.

“I’m sorry, dear,” her mother’s familiar voice sighed into Cacey’s ear. The weary tone of it had also grown familiar.

“Did she eat today?” Cacey asked quietly. She held the phone with her left hand and fidgeted with the corner of the bedspread with the other during the tightly wound pause.

“No,” Mrs Summer replied, as if admitting defeat. “She wouldn’t come out of her room. It’s just... she's just having one of those days."

“Yeah.” Cacey gave a small hollow laugh, not loud enough to be heard through the phone. It was always one of those days for Scarlet.

“Well, thanks for calling, Cacey,” she concluded sadly, and there was a click as she ended the call. Cacey had heard what she hadn’t said in those words: ‘’Thanks for not giving up on her. I just wish you could get through.”

Well, didn’t they all.

Exhaling a loud sigh of pent-up frustration, Cacey tossed the phone onto the floor and flopped backwards onto the pillows. If Scarlet was staying in her room, she must have gotten out the photo album again. Or maybe the journal. Probably both.

Cacey ran her fingers through her short dark layers. The motion was soothing. It had been another tough day at school. It used to be bearable, back when she had a best friend.

She slid off her bed and opened the drawer built into its side. Moving aside layers of letters, unravelling thread jewellery, ticket stubs and other debris, she located a stack of photographs held together with a purple paperclip.

She shoved the drawer closed and sat cross-legged, leaning back against the edge of the bed as she removed the clip and fanned the photographs across the rug in front of her.

Her own grey eyes stared back at her out of most of them. Photos of Cacey always seemed to capture a pensive look, even those where she smiled or laughed caught a look of mild surprise as if she couldn’t believe she was doing it. However, the girl in the pictures with her always looked... well, radiant.

She had a way of smiling that made her eyes glow, and the camera had caught it perfectly. Her abundant auburn curls looked as alive as she did, a wild halo around her lit up face. These were the last photos Cacey had taken with her best friend.

“What happened to you, Scarlet?” she murmured, letting the photo of the two girls hugging drop through her fingers. It had been taken on their class’s trip to the theme park last spring. Before everything shattered.

The question had been empty anyway. Cacey knew what had gone wrong. The next photograph she picked up was of Scarlet, pulling a stupid face at the camera which Cacey had held, and holding her tight to his side was a tall handsome boy whose fair hair flopped into his blue eyes.

Cacey felt a shock, staring at them together. She’d looked at these pictures before, of course, when she had finally brought herself to have them developed. It had been a while, though. She’d forgotten what he had looked like, she realised when she stared at his face, smiling self-consciously for what might have been the last photo of him ever to be taken. Scarlet would not have. She wouldn’t let herself, which was why she holed herself up with the memories they had collected, in order to submerge herself in the past, not bothering to surface to answer her mother’s calls for dinner. It had been so long that Cacey had hoped Scarlet might be getting better, but apparently not.

Looking at this documentation of what had turned out to be the last fun any of them would have, Cacey could recall that afternoon as if it had been a pleasant dream. The photo in her hands sparked the voices of the memory in her head.

 

“You really need a haircut.”

Scarlet pushed his overgrown fringe out of his eyes, ruffling it like a child’s, until he reached out and grabbed her, securing her to him as he tousled up her already crazy mane of curls in revenge.

“Enough, people! I want to save the vomming for after the big one.”

Cacey grinned, jerking her thumb at the soaring metal tracks of the park’s main attraction that towered over the queue. She held up the cheap disposable camera she had picked up in the entrance shop. “Let’s document the “before” faces!”

Immediately Scarlet twisted her features into a crazy expression. He just smiled sheepishly as the flash went off and they were all temporarily blinded.

Cacey felt a sudden emptiness. She missed this, what she saw in the photographs. It had been a long time since Scarlet had smiled, and a long time since she had even seen Scarlet at all. The past summer had been the worst of Cacey’s life. It had been the loneliest she’d ever felt in all of her sixteen years. She couldn’t imagine what the past six months had been like for Scarlet. Perhaps it would have been better for both of them if Scarlet hadn’t withdrawn from everyone and everything.

Cacey secured the photos together again with the paperclip before she tossed them back inside the drawer, giving the picture on top a last glance. It was all three of them, taken by a classmate, with the dark twisted tracks zigzagging across the sky behind them. Knowing as she did what had happened shortly after the photo had been taken, the skeletal metal loops in the background seemed like a shadowy omen.

She tipped her head back and closed her eyes, remembering the last time she had seen Scarlet. It was back in July just after school had let out. Most of their classmates had headed down to the lake to celebrate the start of summer, but Cacey had ended up on the Summers’ doorstep. For the first two months Cacey had shown up every day after school and the weekends in an effort to help Scarlet. When it became apparent that her visits made no difference, she began to drop by less and less. For some reason, the celebratory mood that accompanied the start of the summer, and the bright sun overhead, had given her the idea that maybe this time when she got to her house Scarlet would be awake and dressed and ready to face the world again.

~ * ~

When Mrs Summer had let her into her daughter’s room, the curtains were still closed and she was still lying in bed; not sleeping, but staring with unfocused eyes at the swirling ceiling fan that helped to re-circulate the stale air. She didn’t hear the door close behind Cacey over the music that even Cacey could hear pouring from the white earphones that cut her off from any other sound. She only acknowledged her friend’s presence when she moved up to the side of the bed.

“School finished, Scar,” Cacey started tentatively, sliding her backpack off one shoulder and perching on the end of the bed. There was no response except a quick dart of the eyes in her direction. “Everybody’s down at the lake. We could go... if you wanted. It would be good for you to go outside."

The music still blared. She must have had it on full volume. Cacey recognised the riff that sounded tinny in the silence of the room. She was listening to his band.

“Scarlet.”

Cacey reached out a hand to tug the wires, but Scarlet wriggled quickly out of reach. Cacey tried not to let the hurt show in her face; not that it would bother what used to be her best friend. She felt a sudden flare of anger.

“Scarlet! Listen to me!”

She jumped to her feet, leaned over and tore the iPod away, cutting off the music in the middle of a crashing drum solo. The ensuing silence was deafening. Scarlet didn’t try to snatch it back. She just rested her eyes on Cacey steadily. They were dark, but not as blank as her face. In their depths something simmered. Was there a flicker of resentment?

“You have to stop this!” Cacey cried, gesturing to the dilapidated room that she wouldn’t let her mother clean, to her and her rough sallow appearance. “It’s gone on for too long, Scarlet. We know it hurts, okay? But you need to move on. You’ve had your time. You don’t have to grieve forever! Why are you still doing this?”

Scarlet looked away, at a movie poster on the wall. She opened her mouth; Cacey could hear the dry skin of her lips peeling away from each other. When she spoke her voice was hoarse and low, maybe from lack of use, maybe because she had cried recently, though there was no evidence of it on her pale cheeks.

“You don’t.”

“Don’t what?” Cacey yelled. Something had snapped. She was sick of everybody hurting. The sun was shining outside and life was moving on, but it wouldn’t penetrate this dark little room where everything was frozen.

“It’s not the same for you.”

That was the longest sentence Cacey had heard her say in two months.

“Of course it isn’t,” Cacey said bitterly, clenching her fists. “I didn’t know him like you did. But is it the same for you as it is for me, Scar? Have you had to sit alone at school for the past two months while everybody wasn’t brave enough to talk to you, as if you didn‘t exist anymore - as if you were dead, too?”

For a moment there might have been a glint of remorse in Scarlet’s eyes, before she closed them.

“Oh, that’s right. You haven’t been to school! You were too much of a coward to face anybody!”

“Leave me alone. Please.”

Cacey stared at her, breathing a little too fast.

“Fine.”

There was nothing else she could say. She grabbed her backpack and left.

All that summer she had not gone back. She phoned every day. For most of the six weeks, the Summers had disappeared on a holiday somewhere abroad. They thought getting away from it all would help Scarlet.

When the night before school started arrived, Cacey swallowed her stubbornness and regret and went back to Scarlet’s house. From the look on Mrs Summer’s face, Cacey knew that it had not helped Scarlet at all.

“She’s just the same,” she said in a low miserable voice. Mrs Summer had been the source of Scarlet’s inherited smile and bright eyes, but now, even though she was only thirty-eight, Scarlet’s mother’s face looked thin and there were creases in a permanent frown. That was what made Cacey mad the most, that Scarlet was too busy wallowing to even notice the effect she was having on everybody around her.

When they reached the top of the stairs, the lock turned on the inside of Scarlet’s bedroom door. She had heard their voices and footsteps. The message was clear enough.

“I don’t think she’s ready for school yet, honey,” Mrs Summer said softly.

~ * ~

It was October now. The leaves of the tree outside Cacey’s bedroom window had turned into a riot of gold and orange and brown. They would all have fallen to the ground within the next few weeks.

She was tired of remembering now. That was all that Scarlet did anymore. She was too afraid of forgetting the past to live in the present, and to her the future was unforeseeable. Cacey felt stuck in the past with her, unable to move forward without her.

The door closed downstairs. She heard her mother shuffle the mail on the hallway’s side table before proceeding to the kitchen. Cacey knew the routine by heart. Sure enough there was the sound of water running as she filled up the kettle. Her heeled shoes stabbed into the carpeted stairs for sixteen steps. The door to the study opened and her bag landed on the desk with a thump.

Cacey drew in a long shaky breath and got up, moving to the desk by the window and flipping open the school book on top of the pile. She was less likely to get a full inquisition if her mother thought she was doing homework.

“Have you eaten yet, Cace?” her voice asked from the doorway. Without looking up she responded with a shake of the head. “Okay. I was going to cook some pasta. Do you want a coffee or anything?”

“No, thanks,” she replied in a noncommittal tone.

“Okay. I’ll call you when the food is done.”

There was a pause, and Cacey might have let out a small sigh of relief that she had gone, if she hadn’t felt her presence still lingering. When she looked up, her mother had one hand on the doorjamb and was watching her with an inscrutable expression.

“Did you call Sara today?”

She already knew the answer to that; Cacey followed her mother’s gaze to the cordless house phone that she had thrown aside and forgotten about.

Cacey made a small noise that sounded like “mmhm’’. It was enough.

“Okay,” her mother repeated quietly, scooping up the phone and closing the door behind her on the way out.

When her footsteps had gone back into the kitchen, Cacey closed the textbook - it was for chemistry - and gazed out of the window. Her room overlooked the street out front of the house, though the view was partially blocked by the cherry tree in the small front garden.

The fading light filtered through the canopy of dying leaves, illuminating the room with a copper glow. A blue family car cruised past and an old woman shuffled by. There wasn’t much else to look at, so as usual Cacey turned to the pile of homework she always neglected until the night before it was due. This was life, she thought dryly as she uncapped a pen and tried to concentrate on decoding the jumbled letters and numbers on the maths page. It was funny; she hadn’t paid much attention in maths class before because she and Scarlet talked too much, yet she still did fine. Now there were no distractions, Cacey couldn’t make her brain work around things.

Cacey hadn’t realised how long she had been sitting in the desk chair. Her mother’s shout startled her out of her daze and she dropped the pen. She had guessed most of the answers to the questions, and in the corner of the sheet was a little sprig of cherry blossom that she must have doodled. Maybe it was looking at the tree that had led her to draw it. There was no cherry blossom on the tree now. The last of it had been coating the front garden like pale pink snow when... back when it was May.

The tree was pretty much full grown now, level with the house’s first floor. It had been planted about ten years ago. It’s crazy how time passes, Cacey mused. Crazy how much changes.

 

“You should eat more of that, it’s good for you.”

“Blech,” Scarlet grinned, pulling a face around her apple wedge. Cacey giggled as she swallowed her own piece. Scarlet liked apples really, but you weren’t supposed to like eating fruit and veg when you were nearly six. Cacey’s dad messed up both of their hair affectionately - Cacey’s shoulder-length brunette mop and Scarlet’s red-brown ringlets that were sticking out all over the place.

“Ew, seeds,” she complained, picking the little pips out and lining them up on the counter between them.

“You know if you plant those, you can grow an apple tree,” Cacey’s dad smiled, wriggling his eyebrows because he knew it made them laugh.

“Apple trees are boring,” Scarlet muttered. “They’re like normal boring trees, just with apples on them.”

Cacey’s dad laughed, and so did Cacey because what she said must have been funny. Her dad handed them a box of red cherries.

“What about these? You can play a game with the stones to find out who you’re going to marry.”

“Ooooh,” Cacey and Scarlet intoned together. They both loved the Disney movies with the princes and princesses and happily ever afters. Despite being tomboys they were both young romantics.

“And,” he continued, “the trees get lovely pink flowers in the spring.”

“Can we have a cherry tree, then?” Scarlet asked, a hint of excitement in her voiee. She was at Cacey’s house as much as she was ever at home, and the same went for Cacey, as the girls’ parents took turns with the babysitting duties. The tree would be just as much Scarlet’s as Cacey’s; there was no way Scarlet's own father would let a tree be planted at Scarlet’s house to ruin his perfect landscaped garden.

The next weekend, Cacey and Scarlet sat on the grass watching as Cacey’s dad patted earth down to secure the sapling in place, kept upright by a black pole he lashed to it with twine.

“It’ll be bigger than the both of you put together before you know it,” he smiled.

He would never see it grow that tall.

She heard a heavy sigh before she closed the door again and rolled the swivel chair back to its place.

She abandoned the rest of the school books and crossed to the dark wood bureau on the other side of her room. There were bottles lined up along the top, nail varnishes and make up, and she picked up a pretty pink one on the end and sprayed it into the air, inhaling the familiar scent. It took her back.

 

Scarlet brushed the petals off her head, laughing as she tipped up her book to let the cascade of blossoms to slide off. Cacey looked up into the boughs of the tree, which was in full bloom, before leaning her head back against the rough bark of the trunk.

“How come it didn’t shower over your stuff?” she poked Cacey, who was relatively petal-free.

“It likes you,” she laughed in reply, scribbling down the answer to the last homework question. Scarlet immediately leaned over and read it, before writing a rephrased version down on her own page. “You’re welcome,” Cacey teased, slapping her with the closed book. The motion shook the tree and a flurry of pale pink blossoms settled on and around them.

“Look what you did,” Scarlet reproached as she stood up and shook herself off like a dog, sending petals flying all over the grass.

Cacey kept her petal hat, grinning. “I think it suits me.”

“Dork.”

“Besides, I like the smell of cherry blossom.”

“Me too,” Scarlet inhaled appreciatively. “They probably do a perfume with that scent.”

“Yeah,” Cacey shook the flowers out of her hair so they scattered on the ground. “It would be our signature scent, just like our tree.”

She got to her knees to shove the school stuff into her backpack for tomorrow. She saw Scarlet bend down.

“Cace.”

“Yup?”

Cacey looked up and received a mouthful of cherry blossom.

Cacey realised she was smiling like an idiot and it promptly slipped off her face. It had been tradition to do their homework together under that tree when the weather was nice, ever since they had started high school. It had been a long time since they had last rested against the slim trunk with thick school books on their knees.

Cacey opened her bedroom door and leaned out; she could hear the TV on in the living room. The noise of a six pm talk show drowned out her soft footsteps as she crept past the doorway, while her mother’s attention was diverted, to the front door. She made sure the alarm was off before she slipped outside and pulled the door almost closed.

She was only wearing socks but the grass was dry. She crunched across the thin scattering of leaves and sat down in front of the tree. There was no blossom now to sprinkle onto her head. She had crossed her legs, and she spotted a withered petal in the grass by her right foot, and held it between two fingers before blowing it out of the palm of her hand, like the seeds on a dandelion clock. She watched it dance away on a chilly breeze that swept through the little garden, raising goose bumps on her bare arms.

Cacey had thought she might feel a little comfort from the familiarity, and she did feel suddenly serene with her head against the trunk, but there was an underlying stab of loneliness. She stared at the small gnome ornament that guarded the front door on its left side, topped with a bright red hat. Her dad had bought that as a joke a little while before he died. It had faded a lot. She got up, feeling the cold that had seeped into her jeans, and picked up the little gnome. He was dirty and dusty from abandonment.

She wiped as much off as she could, setting him back down in his original place. She had forgotten about the gnome. It made her feel guilty, as if she had forgotten her father. She did her best to remember him, not just what he looked like, which there were reminders of in the photographs all over the house; but the things like how his face looked when he smiled, how he ran his fingers through his hair when he was worried, how he always made too many pancakes for anyone to eat on Sunday mornings. How he treated Scarlet like his second daughter, how he had given them the tree.

Cacey sighed, running her cold fingers along the bark of the trunk. Scarlet must have forgotten about Cacey’s dad. Why else would she say that Cacey did not know how it felt to lose someone you loved? Maybe she was genuinely so ensnared in her own trap of self-pity that she had forgotten there were other people who suffered the same. Scarlet was too wrapped up in her own misery, that was how she was different, separate from Cacey now.

A heavy, fat droplet of rain splashed onto her arm, running down and dripping from her fingers. She squinted up into the churning mass of grey clouds as the heavens opened. The bullet-size drops thinned into sheets of almost horizontal rain, directed by the wind. Cacey was soaked through in under a minute. Her clothes stuck to her body and her hair was plastered to her head, and the rain was freezing. But she didn’t mind. She lifted one hand, palm up, and let the rain collect there.

“Cacey?”

Her mother’s incredulous voice made her drop her hand, splashing the water onto her already sopping wet jeans. The mud had seeped into her socks. She turned round and saw her mother in the doorway, looking annoyed.

“What are you doing out in the rain? Why aren’t you even wearing a coat or shoes?”

Cacey wanted to walk back into the house right past her mother as if nothing was happening, but her mother wouldn’t be ignored.

So she just shrugged. Her mother shook her head as she moved out of the way to let Cacey in. Rainwater dripped from her hair and clothes onto the laminate wood floor of the hallway. Wriggling her toes, Cacey heard the squelching of water and mud.

“Go and get a shower,” her mother commanded, plucking at the sleeve of Cacey’s shirt. “But take those socks off before you walk on the carpet.”

Cacey complied, peeling them off before walking up the stairs without looking back. She heard an exasperated sound come from her mother’s mouth before she reached the top, but she didn’t feel like saying sorry for making a mess.

It felt good to wriggle out of the clinging wet garments. It also felt good under the hot spray of the shower, feeling it rinse away the dirt. While she washed her hair with cherry-scented shampoo, it struck her that maybe she and Scarlet weren’t as different now as she had thought.

 

You always find an escape, just running away from all of the ones who love you, from everything...

The End

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