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Name, April Banner. Aged, 17. Height, 5’5. Description, Mousy brown hair with a personality to match, green eyes and pale skin.
Teary eyed, I stare at the moment captured in a frame, my heart aches, how did things get this bad? Believing my childhood fairy tales would come true, I was so naïve. I wish it was all a dream. That the events had been just a figment of my imagination and that I could wake up and things would be back to normal. I wish that all the pain that had tormented me was just a childish nightmare of ghosts and goblins. That I could wake up and this horror would all be over. I seem to be on an endless road of misery, with no where to run and no where to hide. To be honest, I have almost forgotten what normal is. It’s been so long since I felt like I belonged somewhere and that I could call my life normal. It’s weird, all the stuff you think you ‘need’, but when it comes down to it all I really wanted was to feel like I was loved and that I belonged. I just wanted to get away for a while. I didn’t realise it would create this much chaos. That’s it. I am never going back. It’s all my fault that things turned out this way. I want to forget everything and wake up from this never-ending nightmare. I realise that this isn’t making any sense, but all in good time, things will come together.
Ever since nursery Austin and I had been best friends. It was because our parents had known each other since they were at college so it was only natural that we bonded instantly. I still vividly remember our first encounter. I was increasingly nervous about my first day so I went and hid behind mum and used her as a human shield. Then the door opened to reveal a young boy with his tired looking mother who was struggling to keep up with him. He came bounding up to me and introduced himself. That was it. Ever since that day Austin and I have been inseparable, just like kindred spirits. Through nursery, primary school, secondary school and even the same colleges, we helped each other survive whatever life decided to throw at us.
I suppose you could say that I have never really had much luck in my life so far. Not only was Austin my best friend you could say that he was like my own personal agony aunt. Countless phone calls trying to comfort me on the rollercoaster of upset that my life seemingly followed, I could hear that Austin was attempting to multi-task. Family life was my usual complaint. Some explaining is in order here. You see, when a toddler my parents went to fulfil their lifelong dream of becoming rock stars. This meant their child needed to be ‘taken care of’. By this I mean I was passed around like a parcel and ended up at my Grandma’s house. Their short trip meant I had never heard another word from my so called ‘loving parents’. Grandma Jill was always off on another holiday celebrating her retirement before she ‘kicked the bucket’. So whenever there was a festive occasion my home would be crawling with snotty nosed toddlers and my Aunt, my cousins had no understanding of hygiene or quiet. To say that this irritated me would be an understatement.
“I’ve had enough of this; I really can’t take it anymore Aus. It’s driving me crazy, I need to get out of this h*ll!” practically tearing my hair out I needed a shoulder to cry on, but being grounded meant the next best thing had to suffice.
“I know you hate it April, but the holiday season is almost over and we can go back to the other h*ll which is mountains of work for college, so take your pick. I know which I’d rather.” He’d heard me moan about this countless times but each time he still managed to tolerate it, times like that made me I realise that he really was my best friend.
This followed with what must have been hours and hours of ranting and complaining from me and then the usual sarcastic and witty comments attempting to cheer me up from Austin. I’d trained him well over the years to put up with my often pessimistic outlook. We were complete opposites, from the start he had always been a gutsy, confident and popular guy. In comparison to this I had spent my life dodging the limelight and living my life in the shadows of those who were headstrong. We even looked completely opposite, I would wear anything that would mean there was minimal attention drawn to me, whereas Austin would wear something so outrageous that it couldn’t help but capture your attention. His hair colour would change like the seasons of the year from one shade of neon to another, but somehow we managed to stay friends. Although walking down the street we must have looked like the most unlikely two people to associate with each other, but we didn’t care.
To every other person Austin would have been a dream boyfriend. To me he had always just been the little boy who came bounding up to me and introducing himself in his brightly coloured rain coat and wellington boots. He was the type of guy that would be there no matter what happened, he had top grades at college and would be what everyone considered good looking. I guess I had never really thought past the little boy that I had always known. Aspiring musician with big dreams Austin was the guy I could always rely on when everything else in my life fell to pieces, he’d be the one that pick them back up again.
Something happened. I didn’t know for sure immediately, but I knew something was wrong. I put it down to my pessimism and paranoia; it was too late when I finally realised.
It’s not like anything I did could change what was happening. I just needed someone to blame. It turns out the easiest person to blame was the person I hated the most at that time. I blamed myself, I had to be the reason that everything was going wrong. I look around now and it all comes flooding back to me. The feeling of my heart being ripped straight from my chest and left to bleed drowning in the bitter taste of abandonment. The feeling of hope draining from my soul and leaving my body in a slow and painful wash of dread and fear. The feeling that there was part of me missing that I couldn’t replace, like a wound that wouldn’t heal. The flood of panic and feeling physically ill when the words hit my ears and bruised my fragile heart. Nothing could have been worse than what I was seeing. Nothing.
Just friends. That’s all we were. I was having trouble convincing myself let alone anyone else. Everyday I would be interrogated at whether we were a couple and when I answered I was always asked why not. Apparently we were the perfect match. That’s what they all used to say, even people that barely knew we existed. Surely my heart was playing tricks on me. I had started to view things a little differently. I became more observant, instead of just listening to Austin, I started to watch him. His mannerisms, the expressions on his face the way his eyes shined with the optimism of hope. Then it hit me. Like a truck speeding at a hundred miles an hour it hit me. I began to see what the other girls saw. I began to see Austin the potential love interest, not Austin the yellow raincoat wearing toddler. It consumed me with a feeling of admiration and awe. He wasn’t just my best friend, he wasn’t just my agony aunt, Aus was my soul mate. No. Insanity, lack of sleep had driven me to insanity. I wasn’t thinking straight. After a good night sleep I would wake up feeling refreshed and laugh about these crazy feelings I had misled myself into feeling.
I had woken up late. The rush of panic swarmed over me like rats in a sewer. Something wasn’t right, I never overslept, I was too much of a worrier to even allow myself to over sleep. I was running down the road with tears and sweat streaming down my face, my heart was pounding hard against my chest as the college gates seemed further and further away. He was there. He was standing at the gates waiting for me, with a smile on his face and open arms. A burst of energy shot through me as if it was electric, as I stumbled into his arms and stayed there. Nestling my head into his shoulder I felt content…
This isn’t happening. I thought after a decent night sleep I would regain my sanity. Although it seemed that it had deteriorated even further during the course of the night. I had dreamt about my best friend as if he was a boyfriend. I felt contented in my dream and things felt natural. I couldn’t understand what was happening to me. I had gone through our entire childhood and then grown up with Aus, and now suddenly something inside me longed to talk to him and ached to see his smile. Something had changed, but what? I automatically picked up my phone and began dialling the usual number. I realised what I was doing. I couldn’t call Austin to talk to him about how I was starting to have feelings for him, I didn’t want to lose my best, and let’s face it, only friend in the entire world. The person I would run to when something went wrong was now the one person that I needed to hide this from. Maybe I didn’t. Maybe I could tell him and he would feel the same and then I could finally have my fairy tale happy ending. Who was I kidding? Nothing has changed, we’re still the people we always were, all I needed to do was snap out of this and let things stay the same.
Then I had an idea. Maybe I could pretend that I was having these feelings about someone else and then get Austin’s advice and sort out the situation without him being any the wiser. This had to work, he was the only one who understood me, he was the only one who actually knew me. I needed his help without him knowing how I felt about him. Who could I pretend I liked? My mind raced and ran through all of my classes and what could be potential pretend crushes. One name sprang to mind. Caleb. He was similar to Austin so describing him would mean if I made a slip up it would be left unnoticed and we both knew who he was. Perfect. I went straight ahead with the plan without a second thought. There was a thought niggling at the back of my mind reminding me of how I was deceiving my best friend, but I had to do it.
On the phone Austin seemed his average self.
“Hey Aus, can I ask you something?”, I drummed my fingers nervously on my desk as I waited for his reply.
“Well, you just did, so sure. Shoot.”, he seemed so relaxed little did he know what I was about to ask.
“Well, I like this guy. You know, Caleb from my art class. We used to be close friends for a while and now I think I like him and these strong feelings have suddenly come in a rush and I just feel overwhelmed by it all. I had a dream last night, we were a couple and things just felt right. The problem is I have no idea if he feels the same, should I tell him?”, my mouth became dry as I waited in anticipation for his answer.
“I really don’t know April, I don’t think you should tell him. I’m pretty sure he’s seeing someone from my music class. And… actually never mind. Anyway, I have to go now.” Immediately before I could answer the line went dead. What was wrong with him? All I wanted was some advice from my best friend. A lousy one at that. Usually we’d spend hours on the phone talking until the other person had reached a decision and felt better. It was safe to say that I was annoyed at him, he’d never reacted like this before about any problem I had.
The next afternoon I had plans to meet Austin at his house. Whatever I seemed to put on didn’t feel right to wear, usually it never bothered me what I wore around him. That afternoon was different; nothing felt like it was good enough. My usual minimalist approach to make up was not enough, I decided to experiment. Mum left when I was at a young age and my grandmother wasn’t the feminine type this meant that I had never really had a guide to make up. After experimenting with various powders, glosses and creams I finally gave up and started on my hair. It had taken me double the usual time it took to get ready. I was worried I was going to be late so I had to walk fast up the road this meant I began to feel flustered and I was almost definitely sure that my newly applied make up had run. This could only be a disaster. I arrived on the doorstep and desperately tried to find something so I could see my reflection and fix myself ready to see him. I was too slow. The door opened before I even had the chance to knock and there he was.
I looked at him like I had never looked at him before. I felt the same rush that I had felt in my dream and my stomach did somersaults and my heart did cartwheels as he looked at me. Something was wrong. I knew it. He looked paler than usual and his usual outrageous style seemed more ordinary than extraordinary. The thing I noticed the most was the silence. In all the years that I had known Austin, the one thing we had never experienced when we were together was silence. I felt the tension grip me as I stepped into the house and the sound of my footsteps seemed to echo in the emptiness.
“How’ve you been?”, I asked cheerily as I walked in.
“Fine. Everything’s just…fine”, that was it. All he had to say. I was used to a long explanation full of interesting things and ramblings about every minute detail. All I got was four words.
“Don’t lie to me, I know that there’s something wrong Aus, come on. You can tell me, we’re best friends, if you can’t tell me who can you tell?”, I couldn’t hide the fact that I was concerned, I had tried to mask it but the anxiety ran right through my words.
“I’m fine, I’m just feeling a bit under the weather that’s all. There’s nothing for you to worry about. Everyone has a bad day so just let me have mine. I think it’s best you go”, with a vacant stare from his pale, gaunt face these words slapped me across the face. I had hoped that he was joking and that it was all an act just to tease me. He was serious, more serious than I had even seen him before. This frightened me. I had to listen to him, but at the same time I had to work out what was wrong, and if he wasn’t going to tell me, I was going to have to find out for myself.
I left feeling scalded. Why couldn’t he tell me what was wrong? He didn’t look like he usually did, it was the empty and cold stare in his eyes that replace the usual sparkle that worried me the most. I knew that he used to always complain about his family life as much as I did, but I thought that things were getting better now.
As time passed, things seemed to go back to how they were. The problem was there always seemed to be something on Austin’s mind, but he never seemed to share it. We’d meet up as usual and things would seem fine. Mundane routine of college, followed by our meet ups and marathon long phone calls. I tried to forget about how I was feeling and pretend it wasn’t happening. It was no use, it had been months and if anything my feelings had got stronger. Everything felt so complicated and I felt I had no one to turn to, I didn’t want to lose my best friend, so I had to bottle up how I felt and ignore it.
I should have known. I was so wrapped up in how I was feeling that I hadn’t noticed what was happening with my own best friend. We had always been inseparable and would sense when there was something wrong. I suppose I had been trying so hard to ignore how I felt that in turn I ended up neglecting and ignoring my own best friend. In hindsight the signs were all there, I just didn’t see them. Maybe I didn’t want to see them. Maybe I didn’t want to admit something was wrong. He needed me and I wasn’t there, I am the worst best friend that has ever existed.
I found the letter.
My beautiful April,
Ever since the day I first saw you, I had always known that we would be best friends. What a sight I must have been in my bright yellow raincoat and wellington boots as I mustered the courage to come and talk to the girl hidden behind her mummy. Since that day I have wanted you to feel as safe as you did back then with your mum, but whenever you were with me. I never had the guts to tell you how I felt, but ever since primary school you have been the only one for me. The day you told me how you felt about Caleb was a day when part of me started to die. Ever since it has consumed my every thought and every feeling. I want you to be happy April. But you need to understand that I cannot be happy without you. So if you want to be with Caleb I give you my blessing, but I have to go. I am sorry if I seemed cold when you told me how you felt about him, I just hated the fact that you liked him and it made me so angry. I know I should’ve immediately felt happy for you, but I just felt so hurt and inferior. That’s why I told you not to tell him because I had hoped that things would stop and then I could be with you. I guess not.
Whatever you do please do not blame yourself or let anyone else blame you. All along this has been my decision. I tried to get used to the idea with you and another guy, I can’t do it. I really tried to tolerate the idea for you, because I figured that having you in my life as a friend would be better than not you having you in my life at all. I underestimated how I felt. I couldn’t bear to see you with someone that wasn’t me because I had always assumed that one day we would be together. I guess I should have acted on it sooner. I could spend this entire letter wondering ‘what if’ but at the end of the day, you are what is important to me.
I have something I need you to do. Up at Valley Point, I need you to look at the base of the tree where we used to sit. It sounds like an obscure request but trust me, you need to see it. Also I want you to know that I am not doing this to hurt you, and to even think about life without you tears me apart. I may seem selfish but watching you with someone I wish was me would destroy me. I want you to be happy without worrying about me and without my jealousy ruining our friendship. This is the only way I could leave but still leave our friendship intact.
I never meant for this to happen. I am truly sorry.
My love for you will never die April, even the sun, moon and stars cease to exist my love will live on. I may not be physically with you anymore but I will always love you. I need to go, I don’t want to go, but I need to, for both our sakes.
Each beautifully written word of italic script was more painful than the next. He’d got it all wrong. My best friend was gone. My soul mate. My kindred spirit. Just like that. My plan to try and get over him had meant he was gone. It was entirely my fault. I read the letter to the point where I thought I would wear it out. I had driven to him to a point where he didn’t think he could go on. It was my fault. I was the reason that Austin, my best friend had taken his own life.
He loved me. Austin loved me back. I had missed the one and only chance I had with him.
Describing what I felt after that is a near impossible. The unimaginable amount of pain and emptiness that swallowed my soul set in instantly. My heart had been pulled from my chest and viciously beaten and thrown in the fire for the final round of endless torture. Tears flowed from the eyes whose sparkle had died with my one true love. Every breath felt like agony, my heart yearned for the love I had lost. I had to be close to him. I needed to feel like he hadn’t really gone. I was in denial it was clear, but I didn’t care. I needed Austin. I knew what I had to do.
This is how I ended up here. This was our place, where we could be free. I run my fingers along the tree trunk where our names are carved in the bark. ‘Austin and April forever’ in the centre of a heart. Forever Austin, that’s what you said, I hope you meant it. Now you’re gone, don’t think I won’t keep that promise. I can’t be without you, I have to come and show you that you got it all wrong. Caleb was never the one for me. It was always you, and I need to prove that to you and the world. I’m coming for you, I will join you because wherever you are, and that’s where I want to be. Reaching into my bag there I found them, the key to my new life. All I had to do was use this to make my dream a reality. I unscrewed the cap and swallowed the pot of pills, so I could be with Austin. I don’t see this as the end of my life like some people might, admittedly you could say that it is. Closing my eyes as I lay my hand on our heart in the tree as I held our picture close to my heart. I spoke to him.
“It’s the start of our new life together Aus, up in heaven. It’s the end of one life, but the start of a better one, we can be together now. Forever”.