By: Chantal Fernando

“I know, honey,” she says, face crumpling. “I know. I’ve been struggling watching you struggle.”

She rests her hand on mine and gives it a light squeeze. “So Dean’s packing up all of Ben’s things?”

I nod miserably. “Yeah. I know it should be me doing it, but I think I’m still in denial.”

“You’ll get there, Bina. I’m just glad that you’ve left your bed and had a shower.” She pauses then adds, “And washed your hair. Brushing it must have been quite the mission.”

“You have no idea.” I groan, then laugh a little. “I just wanted to pretend I didn’t exist, you know? But now it’s time to face everything.”

She nods, tucking her blonde hair back behind her ear. “I knew you’d get there. Seeing you not eating scared me though, because food is your life.”

I roll my eyes, even though it really is.

“How delicious is Dean, by the way? I haven’t seen him since Ben’s birthday last year. I’m surprised he even remembered my name!” she says, fanning herself. “He’s even hotter in person, I think. You should ask him for tickets to his next concert.”

“Why don’t you ask him?” I say, smirking. “I don’t want to ask, I’d rather just buy them myself.”

“And be right in the back as opposed to front row?” she asks, sighing. “Why are you so damn stubborn all the time? You aren’t going to owe him anything just because he gave you concert tickets. He’s your family.”

Is he, though? He was my family through Ben, and now there is no Ben. Soon, Dean and I won’t even keep in touch. He’ll just be someone I used to know, and I’ll just be his cousin’s widow. The thought makes me sad. Dean has really come through for me, and I don’t know what I’d have done without his help. I’d probably have left Ben’s clothes there forever like a total creep.

“It’s like you said, I just don’t like feeling like I owe people anything,” I say, giving her the short version. “I know you say that I won’t, but I would still feel like I did. So it’s easier not to.” I don’t know, I’d rather just rely on me and me alone, and I just hate asking for favours. If I ask you for something, I truly trust you. And I don’t trust many people. Tara and Ben are the only ones. And now it’s just Tara.

She expels a deep sigh, silently telling me how difficult she thinks I am. “Do you want to do something or just hang out here?”

I glance at my watch. “We could catch dinner and a movie if you want? My shout. Dean said he’ll need a couple of hours.”

“Sounds good,” she says, smiling. “Work’s been killing me, and I’ve been so worried about you. I can’t remember the last time I did anything fun.”

Tara’s an English teacher. I don’t know how she does it, especially with teaching high school, but she’s good at her job. Sometimes when the kids are mean to her, I feel like rocking up to the school and threatening them. Some of the boys make comments to her too, because she’s a babe and they’re sixteen and douchebags. But she handles everything with her usual gentle grace, and I don’t think there’s anyone who would make a better teacher than her.

“Besides messing my house up trying to make me eat?” I tease, playfully nudging her with my elbow.

“Priorities, Bina,” she says, huffing. “And it wasn’t that messy. What movie should we see?”

“I don’t know, I’ll check online and see what’s on tonight.”

She beams, her beautiful smile hitting me right in the gut. “Excellent. Let me go and get dressed, I can’t leave the house like this.” She motions to her shorts and singlet top, then stands and heads to her bedroom.

I think about how happy she is just to spend some quality time with me.

The simple joys of friendship, that’s something to push forward for.

Chapter Seven

I walk into my house and glance around. It looks exactly the same, but it feels different.

“Dean?” I call out, walking through the lounge room. When I can’t find him, I open my bedroom door but don’t enter. I just stand there for a few moments, unable to move. I turn the light on, and at first everything looks the same. But then I step into the room and see that his shoes aren’t in their corner. Everything that belonged to him is gone. I open the wardrobe, and his side is empty except for the few items that I decided to keep. Everything else is gone, like it never existed. Like he never lived here. I sit down on the bed, struggling to breathe. I calm myself, take deep breaths, and tell myself that this needed to happen. And it did. But it’s not easy. It feels so final.