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Sooner Than Most
A bitter beat sounded into the cruel sky, Holly's fingers tapping away on the iced bottle she gripped in her hands. “Jaaaaappp.” She greeted, without moving, in a grand voice. “How good to see you, me old mate.”
Jap was leaning against the wall, fingers curled tight into her jacket, frowning. Her eyes twitched, attempting to peer into the blackness which shrouded part of the balcony. “Holly?”
“Right over here.” Holly's voice echoed out from the dark, with a slight hiccup.
The tinny rhythm Holly was creating had nothing on the pulsing, mindless blare coming from within the house they both stood outside. Jap could hear cheers and wolf-whistles being carried on the wind, vocal indications of a teenage party. The sounds unfurled into the air.
She shivered a little. With good reason- it was a cold night. The balcony on which Holly was crumpled had a view the owner had paid $4 million for. Dark towers loomed around them, bleeding clumps of neon, as firefly cars dribbled below. “Come out of the dark.” She said half-heartedly.
Holly seemed to consider her offer for two seconds, before stubbornly replying. “No.”
“Come and get me.” Holly's voice had a distinctly mischievous note to it.
Jap sighed. “No. Come on, come back inside.”
“It's cold out here.” She reasoned, huffing into the air to prove a point. Fog floated from her lips.
“Oh, I forgot your kind don't like the cold.”
The comment was a bitter snarl, resounding venomously into the night sky.
Jap didn't flatter it with a response. Instead, she leant against the wall, and watched the stars blink above.
Holly didn't apologize, continually tap-tap-tapping away on her empty bottle. Her face was reflected in its innocent curve, and she stared at it a little, her lip curling. “I shouldn't have come here.”
By here, she meant the end-of-term party the two of them had been invited to just a few days ago, admitted by a sympathetic blonde chick. One pleading look from Jap had been enough to convince the girl that of course Holly had to be invited. Jap knew she'd feel like a saint afterwards.
Helping a “charity case”.
“Why not?” Jap asked.
Holly snorted. “Aren't I supposed to be having the time of my life at the moment? It's the last few moments, of, of...” She trailed off, her words strangled in her throat.
Jap's face was illuminated by the street lights, dark skin glowing temporarily gold. “Have you been writing about it?”
Holly snorted. “Does it even matter, any more?”
Jap sighed, leaning from the wall onto the iron bars on the front of the balcony. Her strong fingers gripped steadily onto the metal. “It matters to you.” She said, with a shrug.
She was right. It did.
Back when the two had been the firmest of friends, Holly had depended on writing like her very existence. Holly, the writer, Holly, the dreamer, Holly, the girl who was going to run, fly, far far away from here. Her fingers would always be stained from newspaper ink, her eyes always some place none other could touch. Straight A-student Holly. Holly, the kid with the grand smile, with the quotes scribbled on her wrist, with the crappy jokes and the great taste in music.
They'd met on Jap's first day, Jap's quiet wisdom connecting instantly with Holly's complete enthusiasm for love and life and the awe-inspiring world around her.
Jap rocked against the iron bars, awash with nostalgia. She thought of Holly and her lying in the summer sun, draping school blazers over their heads, quiet in the appreciation of the music in their ears. She thought of the time Holly and her had gone to a festival, lighting candle lanterns and brandishing them with quiet pride. She thought of the happy nights they'd spent on sleepovers, watching comedy sketches and chuckling, content in each other's presence.
Holly, Holly, Holly, the writer, the dreamer, the friend, the teenager, the joker, the sentimentalist, the pedant, the empathetic, the person.
But now, all of those things had been swept away, a surgeon's curtain of identity, pulled away to unmask a naked, unstable side of Holly that was now crumpled on concrete playing with a vodka bottle.
“It mattered before.” Holly mumbled defensively.
Jap changed the subject. “Come out of the dark. You'll catch your death.”
She regretted it as soon as she said it.
A hysterical laugh pealed out of the blackness. “Does that matter, any more? Haven't I already...”
For a minute Holly's edge wavered on panic, on fear, on misery. Then bluster masked everything again. “Fine, go on in if you want, b**ch.”
Jap bit her tongue.
Instead of replying, she groped around on the concrete for a few seconds, her fingers alighting on a plastic barrel. She picked it up, flicking a button, and the balcony was engulfed with an intense, fiery light.
Holly screamed. She backed against the metal bars, and screamed, and screamed. Jap's voice rove above it. “No, Holly, chill, it's all right, it's okay, calm down-”
“TURN IT OFF!”
“JAP, TURN IT OFF!”
Jap's mouth quivered, her eyes filming over, but she didn't move to turn it off.
Holly's screams ended abruptly, but she continued hysterically gabbling. “Jap, Jap, please, honest to God, turn that off now, I don't want-”
But it was too late.
With the torch on, Jap could see everything.
She could see Holly, properly, for the first time.
The torch light bounced off her pale face, the fog rising from her mouth in orange clouds. Her eyes were wide and brown, bruises framing them both. A silhouette halo curled around her bald head like the glow of a deity, giving her a vaguely saintlike quality.
She wailed in agony, her fingers gripping her smooth skull. “Jap.” She sobbed, her chest heaving. “Jap, no, please, no.”
Her cries echoed around the balcony, down into the streets below, down into the gaudy city.
“I didn't want to admit it.” Holly had explained later, in a white room, anxiously running her finger over and over her hospital bracelet.
“Because to admit it, would be to admit that I was going to die.” Holly concluded, frowning.
“But you didn't.”
She raised her eyes, so shadowed and hollow now, they were mere shells of the deep dreamer's pools they had used to be. “Not yet.” She said with great finality.
“Not ever.” Jap insisted, childishly.
Holly exhaled, in a slow, rattling way, before looking over to Jap. “We all have to, someday.”
The usual silence was punctuated by the lifeless beeps and whirs that emitted from the machine that was needled into Holly's arm, threaded around her nose, two tubes feeding her nostrils purified air. The uniform white shirt she wore hung loose around her thin neck, shoulders, wrists. Her bald head was sunken into a pillow.
She closed her eyes, the veins tight and purple beneath her eyelids. “And maybe my time's a little sooner than most. I'm sorry for saying those things to you, you know I didn't mean them.”
She shrugged, a gentle rise of her whalebone shoulders. “I was just scared. Still am.”
Jap grabbed her hand, the one with the hospital bracelet around the wrist, so frail now. She squeezed it gently. “It's okay to be scared, Holly.”
“No, I mean it. I'm scared.”
Jap blinked, and frowned, staring at her friend's limp body. “Why not?”
“Because dying is going to be an awfully big adventure.” Holly whispered.
She smiled weakly, divulging her last big secret.
Her hand was listless and loose in Jap's grip.
Later, when Jap walked out, and saw the new colourlessness of her world, she'd kick herself for not saying more. Her lips had been dry and her mind had been unable to focus, unable to comprehend the situation. But all of that was no excuse to her. She sometimes felt like she could tear down buildings, punch through walls, with her insane rage at herself.
But once the cycle, of grief and love and pain and anger had finally arced around-
Then, with the discomfort reality brings, she'd known deep in her heart that she never could have said anything more.
Because, after all, Holly was the one who was good with words.