Story 27: Stay, Part 2

For StoryADay May Challenge

“How are you doing?” Annette asked.

On the other end of the line, there was silence. Annette could hear Lacey take in a breath, then release it. “I’m…fine,” she said. “I’m doing better.”

She did not sound terribly convincing.

Annette had been on the phone with Lacey for almost an hour now. They’d talked about everything they could have talked about: books, TV shows, family updates, the weather…

Everything except the elephant in the room.

Lacey had always been an accomplished young woman, a fun person with an engaging sense of humor. So Annette could not understand how she would suddenly develop a crippling depression, not long after their sophomore year.

It was so bad, Lacey had to take time off from school. She did not want to see anyone. Not even Annette, her best friend since forever.

Annette had done her best to keep in touch, leaving presents outside Lacey’s door, sending her emails, even snail mail cards, wishing her well, reminding her that someone cared.

Finally, Lacey had opened the door to her world a crack, and answered Annette’s phone call.

After that, Annette had to schedule a time to talk with Lacey via email, otherwise Lacey wouldn’t pick up. It was very bizarre to be communicating with her former best friend like this when they used to be roommates who’d sit on each other’s beds and jabber away into the wee hours of the morning about classes and boyfriends, and other everyday topics.

Now, Annette always felt like she was walking on thin ice when she spoke with Lacey. Lacey seemed extremely sensitive, and Annette knew that she sometimes would unintentionally wound Lacey with her comments or questions. Lacey would fall suddenly silent, or change the topic with false cheeriness.

But lately, Lacey seemed to be getting stronger. Her voice sounded clearer, like it used to, and she was able to crack a joke or two.

Still, Annette was afraid to talk about IT–Lacey’s depression. Not sure how her friend would take it. At the most, she would ask “How are you doing?” and then Lacey would say something like, “Fine,” or “better than before,”  and somehow, they would find themselves talking about something else, until Annette had to go to class or work or study or something.

“Okay, that’s good,” Annette said into the phone as she cradled it against her shoulder so that her hands were free to wash and dry dishes. “When do you think you can come back to school?”

As soon as she said it, Annette knew it was the wrong question to ask. She could almost feel the darkness descending on the other side of the phone line.

“It’s…complicated,” Lacey said.

“Oh, okay,” Annette replied quickly. “You don’t have to explain if you don’t want to. By the way, did you know that Professor Storm got a new puppy last week…?”

After another ten minutes of that, Annette said, “Hey, Lacey? I have to get ready for bed pretty soon. Is it okay if we end the conversation here?”

Lacey usually said “Yeah, of course,” pretty quickly whenever Annette ended their phone calls, as if she were relieved that the ordeal was over. So Annette was surprised when Lacey hesitated.

“Actually, can you…?” Lacey started, but was interrupted by a scream.

“Annette!” It was Annette’s current roommate, Christa. “Help!”

“Oh, sorry, it sounds like my roommate is having an emergency, I gotta go,” Annette said. “Can I call you back later?”

“No, that’s okay,” Lacey said. “It was good talking to you. Go take care of whatever it is. Good bye, Annette.” and quickly hung up before Annette could say more.

Annette ran to the bathroom, where Christa’s screams were coming from, and saw her roommate standing on the toilet seat, a towel wrapped around her torso.

“What is it?” Annette asked.

“A cockroach! Behind the trash can!” Christa pointed.

Annette wasn’t fond of cockroaches, but she did deal with them better than poor Christa did. She sighed.

“Not again. I’ll take care of it.”

“This is the last straw! I don’t care if the landlord is out of town, I’m not going to stop calling until he takes care of this!” Christa fumed.

“Yeah,” Annette said, going down the hall to fetch their vacuum cleaner. “We’re the third unit to have this issue. They really should have done something about it long ago.”

Annette dispatched the cockroach and after coaxing Christa down from the toilet and sending her to her room to get a change of clothes, she went to the kitchen to fix a couple mugs of hot chocolate to help Christa calm down and to cheer herself up after that draining conversation with Lacey.

“Sorry I interrupted your phone call,” Christa said as she came into the kitchen, towelling her hair dry. “Who were you talking to?”

“My friend Lacey,” Annette replied, sipping her chocolate.

“Oh, the depressive one?”

Annette winced inwardly at the coarse term. “Yeah,” she said.

“How’s she doing?”

“More or less the same, it sounds like,” Annette said. “Although at the end she did sound like she wanted to say something else…” Annette frowned. Come to think of it, that was really exceedingly odd of Lacey. She had never done that before–never reached out or asked for anything.

“Maybe I need to call her back,” Annette said.

“Go ahead,” Christa waved her away as she sipped her hot chocolate. “Thanks for the chocolate, by the way.”

Annette nodded, and hurried to her bedroom to give Lacey another call. But when she did, Lacey didn’t pick up. Well, that was to be expected. Lacey was in the habit of ignoring her phone nowadays, and Annette hadn’t told her she’d call back.

Annette logged onto her email and sent Lacey a message: How are you doing? Do you still want to talk tonight?

Then Annette checked her other social media sites as she waited for a reply. If she was lucky, Lacey might see her email and reply. She was better with written communication than with the phone.

But still, nothing.

After an hour, Annette closed her laptop and decided to get ready to go to bed. Christa had finished her chocolate and was already snoring away. It was late.

But as Annette brushed her teeth, something did not feel right. Her mind kept going back to Lacey and the conversation they’d had, her voice on the phone. Something wasn’t right.

And then Annette realized what it was.

Lacey never said good bye. It was always “See ya later,” or simply “See ya.” And Lacey also rarely called Annette by her full name, Annette. Having grown up together, Lacey still liked to use Annette’s childhood nickname, Annie, which Annette had given up in college. But what was it Lacey had said when she hung up that last time?

Good bye, Annette.

Annette rinsed the toothpaste out of her mouth, grabbed her jacket and her keys, and raced out of the apartment.

Annette arrived at Lacey’s house a little after midnight. The uncomfortable feeling in her stomach had increased during the drive over, and her whole body felt tense.

She hesitated a moment before leaving the car. What if it was nothing, and Lacey was asleep, and she was waking her up for nothing? How would Annette explain herself?

But what if it was the other thing…?

Annette forced herself outside and walked the few steps to Lacey’s door. Her parents were away for the week, Lacey had revealed during their conversation earlier. Gone for some convention in another city. And her brother did not live at home anymore, as he was attending college in another state. Lacey was home alone.

Annette rang the doorbell.

After a minute of nothing, she rang the doorbell again, and knocked. “Lacey? Are you there?”

She pounded harder and pressed the bell again. “Lacey!”

Then the doorknob turned and the door opened a crack. It was Lacey. Despite the late hour, she was not dressed in her pajamas, but in a cardigan and a long skirt, her hair neatly done, her face made up. But underneath the blush and eyeshadow, Lacey looked pale and exhausted. Her brown eyes widened as she took in Annette, standing on her doorstep.

“Annette!” she stammered. “What are you doing here?”

“We didn’t get to finish our conversation on the phone, so I came over,” Annette said. And then she stepped boldly into the house, despite Lacey’s protestations.

And that is when she saw it. Out of the corner of her eye, Annette saw the kitchen table off to the right. And on the table, a neat row of orange pill bottles with their caps off, and a large glass of water beside them.

Annette gasped. “Lacey! You didn’t…!”

She grabbed her friend, shaking her. “What have you done?”

“Nothing! Nothing,” Lacey said, starting to cry. “I was about to…but then you came…”

Annette was crying now, too. “Why? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I don’t know,” Lacey shrugged. “I didn’t want to bother you.”

“You didn’t want to bother me?” Annette said in disbelief. “And you thought this way you would not bother me?”

“Well, I figured you might be a bit mad at me,” Lacey admitted, “but you’d get over it, and I wouldn’t be such a bother anymore.”

Annette could tell Lacey’s “you” was not just directed at her.

“What about your mom and dad? Your brother?” Annette asked, giving Lacey another little shake. “How do you think they would’ve felt if they came home and saw you…?”

Lacey bit her lip and shook her head.

“Oh Lacey,” Annette said. “Why?”

And with that, she unleashed the torrent.

“It hurts too much!” Lacey cried, as she dissolved in tears.

Annette wrapped her friend in a tight hug as Lacey sobbed. At some point, Annette closed the door, grabbed a box of tissues from the restroom, then led Lacey to the couch where for the first time,  she heard the true story, the story Lacey had never told her, not over emails, or phone calls.

As Annette listened, she almost felt as if she was listening to another person. This was not the Lacey she had grown up with, the Lacey she thought she knew. This Lacey had hidden secrets so deep that they changed almost everything Annette thought she’d known about her friend.

But when Annette looked into Lacey’s swollen, tear-stained eyes, she realized: this may not be the Lacey she thought she knew, but this was still the Lacey she knew she loved.

When Lacey had finished pouring our her sorry tale, and had used up her tears, Annette gave her another hug.

“Thank you for telling me,” she said.

For the first time, Annette felt lighter. Before, all of her phone conversations with Lacey left her feeling heavy, drained. But for some reason, after hearing the real story, bad as it was, Annette actually felt better. Looking at Lacey, it was apparent that she did too.

Lacey sighed and looked at the pile of used tissues on the coffee table.

“I’m sorry for worrying you,” she said in a small voice. “And keeping you up all night. You have class tomorrow, don’t you?”

Annette shook her head. “It doesn’t matter.”

“You should probably go home and get some sleep,” Lacey urged.

“No,” Annette said, shaking her head again. “You are more important than any class.”

She got up, and Lacey followed her, like a puppy. Annette walked to the kitchen, where she scooped up all of the pill bottles, then took them to the bathroom and handed them to Lacey with a raised eyebrow.

Obediently, Lacey flushed the contents down the toilet.

When that was done, Annette gave Lacey another hug. “I’m proud of you,” she said.

“What’s going to happen now?” Lacey asked in a small voice.

“Well, you should probably tell your story to someone besides me,” Annette said. When Lacey blanched, Annette gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. “But not tonight. Tonight, you need to get some sleep.”

Lacey nodded slowly. “There’s space in the spare bedroom,” she said, “if you want to stay.” She paused, and then she looked at Annette with eyes that were beginning to shine a little again, with hope. “Will you stay?”

Annette smiled at her. “Of course.”

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