June 23rd, 2016
We’re back to the present tense; back to now. I had to start from the beginning to bring us back to this glorious moment in time, where I sit in my hotel room, revving myself up to visit Bret for the second time.
After I’ve showered and eaten, I look down at my phone to see a text from Kal. It’s the first time he’s communicated since the day he dropped me off, where he asked me if I got to a hotel safe a few hours later. I responded yes, and I left it there. I had a few missed calls and texts from my sister Jamie, too, but I didn’t understand why; I’m sure my parents told her that I had ran away, and that there’s nothing she should be worried about. It’s a totally reasonable scenario.
I check the text, and it’s Kal asking me when I’m going back to Bluebeach; I told him I live there on the journey to Presley. I remember him raising an eyebrow in surprise, knowing it’s a pretty rich part of Cali. He probably thinks I’m some sort of entitled fortunate kid who thought I could make my own life as far away from home as possible. He can never know the unfortunate truth of it all, which is both relieving and irritating.
I’m not sure whether to respond to his text right now, because my plan was to leave in a couple of days. I need to see Bret at least two more times before I make my way home.
The first time I saw him, last night, not much was said. Like I mentioned before, he just started crying. He was a drunken mess, completely out of his element and with no control over himself. He kept repeating how sorry he was, over and over again, and I could do nothing but console him like a soothing mother. I found myself rocking a thirty-five-year-old man out of his own shadowy depths, into a heavy slumber. I managed to slip away, feeling somewhat awkward and finding it hard to process what had just happened. I had trespassed into his apartment, seeing that the front door was left ajar for my convenience, like God knew I was making a visit. I kept saying to myself, what have you done? But above all, I got the reaction that I wanted, and that was just pure emotion and nothing else. No scrutiny or doubt; just emotion. This was something I now can see that Bret Walker needed.
As I sit in Bret’s living room on a sunny afternoon, I watch as the man turns towards the kitchen. “Want some juice?” he awkwardly asks, scratching his stubble as I kindly decline his offer. I can see him wondering whether he should have offered me one; if ghosts ever get parched.
I watched video tapes of One, trying to mimic how I thought she would act, despite the fact that our body language should be identical. She wasn’t born again so that she could give herself away as a glitch; an almost-there. I don’t want to be almost there. So I make sure any movement I make is in a way that I believe One would have done so.
Bret’s hangover is shining over his head like a halo; he can barely keep his eyes open, and despite being a lot soberer, I can tell that reality is still not something he’s in touch with. He’s walking through an interactive dream, a lucid dream. He keeps looking over to me as if he’s expecting me to disappear or morph into something else. I can tell that he’s quite uncomfortable with the whole ordeal, but I also know that he is way past doubt. He thinks he’s talking to Jennifer-Rose.
I’m not sure whether to play an omniscient ghost who knows everything in his life and has been watching over him like a hawk, or whether to play raised from the dead and doesn’t have a clue about the present. I can really only show him how much I ‘know’ about our past. One’s past. It’s not like I feel like I have known Bret all my life – I don’t feel that sense of nostalgia that you would expect. I do feel familiarity, but that’s something that I’ve imposed on myself more than anything. I forced myself to get used to him, and now I’m afraid I might not be able to give it up.
I’m wearing the same clothes that I wore last night; the beige cardigan and blue dress. They will be my default; I don’t know if ghosts change their clothes. But supposedly they stay in the same clothes they died in, and One didn’t die in these. Hey, well maybe when you die, God’s like “Pick an outfit” and you get to wear it for the rest of your eternity.
He had got out a vinyl CD and placed it on his record player before leaving for the kitchen, so I’m left with something of a soundtrack as I sit and wait for his return.
The record kicks off with a fade into jittery drums that scatter under a quivering laser-like melody and a whispered mantra, with a psychedelic ambience that built up as the vocals ensue. The song reaches peaks, crashing into echoing harmonies before falling, rising and falling again. It feels like I’m somewhere in the 70’s, floating to the sound of an old school band.
He comes back into the living room, holding his drink.
“You like this band?” asks.
“I don’t know them.” I respond.
“Their album is a masterpiece. I listen to this whenever I can. I’m sure somehow you already know I’m a fan.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know everything about you,” one truth. “I just know what I need to know.”
“Don’t spirits watch over us?” he asks, sitting on the chair opposite me. I can’t escape his gaze, and I’m forced to look into his eyes.
“Some do. Some don’t. I never stuck around to begin with. I only just decided to come back.”
“God, I can’t believe I’m having this conversation. This is just… something else.” He’s pinching himself, mentally.
“Well, you won’t have to have it anymore, soon enough. I’ll be going back.”
“Going back where?” he asks, concerned.
“I’m supposed to be dead, stupid. I shouldn’t be here. I have to go back eventually. Coming back to earth just disrupts the natural order of things. I can’t stick around forever.”
“I don’t get it. Where will you go?”
“I don’t really exist. In essence. I’m only here to let you know what you’ve wanted to hear.”
“…What’s that?” I watch his eyes cloud over.
“You want forgiveness for your lack of honesty and disclosure. Even though you should have told Sofia about your misconduct, I’m still going to be the one to forgive you. I know you need it from me.”
“Do you even have any clue why Sofia and I divorced, Rose?” he snaps, and when he mentions One’s name, my heart stops. I sometimes forget that I’m not being Anne. “We divorced because I told her everything. I did what I was supposed to do, what I was too scared to do all those years. I told her I was a cheat and that I had done things with other girls, back in high school. The thing is, Rose, she knew. But just not the full story. Remember at the Independence Party when you threatened to tell her the truth if I didn’t? She already knew I had messed up, and you knew she knew. But you knew I had lied – especially after seeing how she distanced herself from you, and how she forgave me instantly because I told her it was just that one time. With you.” He looks at me, miserably. Also, uncomfortably. He’s reminiscing his corrupt social life to who he has been convinced is a sixteen-year-old dead friend; I would be uncomfortable too. “She already knew I was guilty, but once I told her the full truth at some point in our marriage, she couldn’t look me in the eye anymore. I wasn’t the same person she loved; I treated her like shit, and I know I wasn’t the same person I used to be. Whenever I used to be who I once was – I can’t even draw the line.”
In my head, all I can do is think back to the diary entry One wrote where she vaguely recalled a drunken night with Bret around three months prior to her death. The shame she felt was immense, but she kept it to herself and wrote it down in her diary. In her Independence Day diary entry, she seemed fed up with Bret’s inability to do the right thing, as if his omission of the truth still bothered her up to that point. You can’t keep secrets forever. As if she was close to letting Sofia know for herself, but felt that she couldn’t. He had really put her in an awkward position.
But apparently, that’s not the whole truth. And I should already know that. Here comes the cryptic bullshit that I missed in the diaries, hitting me all at once.
I sit and stare at him, wondering what I should say. I knew that he felt immense guilt for cheating and playing around with Sofia’s heart, but it didn’t occur to me as his confession being a factor to their divorce. But for whatever reason, it makes everything a little more complicated. If he’s already confessed his wrongdoings, why can’t he still sleep at night? What has him so shook?
Then I clock it – he’s trying to say something. There’s something missing from the puzzle piece. He’s saying I knew he lied, when he confessed to Sofia, but about what?
I told her it was that one time. With you.
She knew. But just not the full story.
I, confused, trying to make sense of his admission, press on. “What do you mean? You messed around with me once, but why would that haunt you? Why would that ruin your marriage?”
“Rose, are you serious? You were at my neck about Naomi. She was the one, remember? You threatened me at the party, after Naomi told you everything about us. We almost got caught and I told Sofia it was you. Naomi must have told you, because you had my life from that point on. Remember? How could you forget this?” he seems agitated. It’s insane, how he can remember everything so crystal clear as if it all happened yesterday.
I start to clock how this is the golden nugget that One didn’t quite explicitly state – when she was angry with Bret, she wasn’t just angry with what he did with her; Naomi was part of the shitshow, too. Jesus Christ. now I’m just waiting to hear if he had a threesome with Tanner and Jonesy at some point.
I try not to act confused, I try to follow him like I know exactly what he’s talking about. He continues: “When I told Sofia about my infidelity, I only talked about the one time with you, right? I just felt it be best, because at least it was the truth, even if it wasn’t the full truth,” he sips his orange juice. “But then I felt it right to tell her about Naomi, because up to that point, she thought that I was fully fixated with you, and that you were the reason I couldn’t sleep at night for many years. I had thought to never tell her about Naomi, because I thought it would be easier to pin it all on a dead girl; someone who I would never have to see again. But the chickens all came back to roost, because it just pushed me further away from Sofia. Yet, when Naomi came into the equation, it made things worse. In her head, she’s thinking, my husband screwed two of his best friends during our high school relationship. I thought finally admitting to Naomi would dilute the whole obsessed-with-Rose notion. Because the guilt I felt ultimately had nothing to do with you, or even Naomi. The nightmares I’ve had all these years, and the insomnia I’ve battled… that was never so much about my lack of loyalty or my corrupt playboy tendencies.”
I frown. I think I’ve completely lost the plot, because apparently the sole reason I thought he was seeking redemption is not the reason at all. 1) he had already done what One had wished for him to do (tell the truth, and include Naomi in it apparently), and 2) that’s not even the damn thing that keeps him up at night! “It was what I did to you. What I let happen to you.” His voice gets lower in tone, softer, vulnerable. He’s folding into himself, I can see it. All the while, I’m wondering…. What did you do to me?
“Wait,” I breathe. “What do you mean, Bret? You let something happen to me?”
“I…” he stutters, close to tears. Whatever he’s afraid of saying, whatever has been haunting him all of this time, just won’t make it out of his mouth. Whatever he did must have been terrible.
July 1st, 1999
[three days before the Independence Party]
Naomi had left her history textbooks in Bret’s home study from the last she came over, so in the morning he gave her his house key so she should get them after school whilst he quickly diverged to buy some more marijuana from the local dealer. She had an important final the next day, but he had an emergency rendezvous to hook himself up with the finest strain from the best supplier in Upper Bluebeach. He was two miles further out from home, so the plan was that when Naomi went to get her books, she would wait for him to return a half hour later, return his keys and walk back home.
It almost went to plan, but it didn’t quite.
“Naomi?” Bret calls, sauntering into the foyer of his house, already high from blazing on the drive back. “I’m back.” He giggles to himself, imagining a scenario where he instead shouts honey, I’m home. He might as well be married to Naomi, though; for years, they just haven’t been able to keep their hands off of each other.
See, before Bret was a player and a Casanova who swept girls off their feet and toyed with their emotions, and before settling with Sofia, he had always had a thing for Naomi. They had known each other since middle school, especially once their parents began connecting with each other. Back when Bret was eleven, he would remember Naomi’s Dominican mother having herbal tea with his mother in the neatly trimmed back yard of his home. He was forced to become friends with Naomi at first, because he wasn’t too sure of her snotty know-it-all attitude, but he came to appreciate her as a friend, because she never took any bullshit. But any fleeting moment she would take a small pinch of his, he felt like he had unlocked or cracked a code within her. He was the only person who knew where her soft spot was, both mentally and physically.
They messed around with each other in the past, when he was single, but he never made a big deal about it, and it always remained something between just the pair. But now he’s with Sofia, and he needs not to overstep his boundaries like he used to.
But that becomes a near impossible task, when he opens the living room door and sees Naomi sitting up on the soft lavish rug next to the fire place. She has nothing on but a skirt and white sneakers, with knee-length socks. Her bra, or any top for that matter, is nowhere to be seen. “Welcome home,” she grins. “I’ve been waiting. Dinner’s in the oven. The baby’s sleeping. I mopped the bathroom floor.” She laughs. “Come on, Dear. Sit. You need to rest your silly head. Come, let me massage you.”
And he listens, stupidly positioning himself on the couch beside her. She rises, moving to sit on his lap. With her ass on his knees and her arms slung over his shoulders, she begins squeezing at the parts between his neck and collarbone. He sighs, eyes closed. He can smell her perfume; some sort of mango scent. The whole tropical island girl fantasy sends him a little crazy.
She kisses him softly, slowly, dipping her tongue in his mouth. Before she can go any further, he murmurs, “Keys.” They didn’t lock the front door. A masked burglar or a thief could take the opportunity to invade. Or even worse, Sofia.
Once he’s secured the house, he returns to the living room to find Naomi lying on the same couch they were on. This time, he goes straight in for it, stripping off his shirt and trousers and pulling off her skirt. She throws off her shoes, leaving them on the middle of the rug like a showcase. She looks into Bret’s eyes and smiles, but there’s a sadness there somewhere. She could never quite be all his. And it’s not like she’s obsessed with him, or anything. They’ve just been close for so long, and there were times where things could have taken that one crucial turn, whether it was the right one or not. It’s not like she’s head over heels for him – she just knows him, and what he’s capable of. She knows he’s good at keeping secrets, but terrible at acting innocent. She knows his weaknesses and his impulses, and she’s only ever used them for her own pleasures. She can have any guy she really wants, but she needn’t go through the effort of searching. She’ll just play Bret’s mistress until the straw breaks the camel’s back.
Fifteen minutes later, the pair are frozen into a halt when someone knocks at the front door with fuming fervour.
“Bret? Open the damn door! I know you’re in there. Your car’s parked out front.” Sofia’s usually soft voice is shrill, irate. “You didn’t answer your fucking calls, you tool.”
Bret panics, quickly scooping up his pants from the ground to retrieve his phone from the front pocket. It was on silent. Six missed calls and one text. Naomi sighs, rolling her eyes and hastily putting her clothes back on, minus her top and bra, which are both lying on Bret’s bed upstairs. She’s in a bit of a pickle now, because the only way she can retrieve them is by taking the stairs, which are located at the foyer of the house. The front door has windows which can see clearly into the house, and Sofia would easily see her ass running up the stairs. She’d be busted.
“What do I do?” she whispers, trying to keep her cool.
“I… I don’t know. Take that door into the kitchen,” Bret points to the back of the living room, which along with the door at the front, create a circular plan of the ground floor of the house. If she enters the kitchen, she could sneak upstairs when Bret lures Sofia into the living room.
She swiftly leaves, arms crossed over her chest like a bungee jumper. She has to firstly hide behind the staircase in the kitchen, waiting for the all-clear that Sofia has made it into the desired zone. She can hear everything clearly as it happens – as she crouches in a foetal position on the floor of Bret’s house, half naked.
“Hey. Shit, I’m sorry. Phone was on silent.” Bret says to Sofia as soon as he opens the door. He got dressed in record time, hoping nothing could give him away, if not the stupid look on his face that he always has when he tries to hide something. He’s still pretty high, but it’s already wearing off a little. He prays that his lack of current sobriety can cover his tracks; he was slow, inattentive, a tad neglectful.
“Did you forget the date night we were supposed to have in a couple of hours? You forgot, didn’t you? Fucking asshole.” Sofia spits, pushing his chest. Fuck, fuck fuck, fuck is all that courses through his head. He did forget. He forgot about the restaurant reservation he booked in town. He forgot how he was supposed to be getting ready for it. Naomi was supposed to take the books and leave, that’s how it should have gone. He’s ruined everything now.
“Sofia, I didn’t forget. I’m sorry for not answering your calls, I just got distracted. You know what weed does to me sometimes,” he chuckles awkwardly.
Sofia pushes herself into the house, entering into the living room in a fury. Maye if she wasn’t so angry, she wouldn’t have stormed into the middle of the room and tripped up on the white sneakers sitting on the Persian rug. Maybe she wouldn’t have noticed the one thing that gave everything away.
“Bret… whose are those?” she mutters, close to breaking point. “Whose goddamn shoes are those? Because they sure as hell aren’t yours, and they’re not mine!” she picks them up, lobbing them at him from the other side of the room. “Who have you got in here? Is it Rose? Where is she?” she screams. Bret can do nothing but stand like a deer caught in headlights. Or worse yet – like a silent lamb who knows his fate.
Naomi takes the opportunity to tip-toe nimbly out of the kitchen through to the front of the house where they both were, making her way to the stairs.
“Oh my God. Who is she? Who is the girl? Why would you do this to me?” she sobs.
Bret swallows. There’s nothing he has to say for himself. He’s too afraid to tell the truth. He just holds his heartbroken girlfriend, and tells her that it’s nobody. Of course it’s somebody, but he can’t say who.
“She’s gone, Sofia.” He mutters.
“And she left her shoes? What is she, a newly converted vagabond walking around Bluebeach barefoot?”
“No. She had more than one pair.” He says stupidly. That’s the best copout you had, you dumbass?
“She? She? Who the hell is She???” she shoves him hard.
“Nobody… just… just some girl. I don’t know.” He frowns, heart sinking. His face is a hot red, with fire prickling all down his neck and under his armpits. His neck. His neck, shit. He instinctively goes to cup it, trying to hide the hickey. It’s too late; Sofia saw it.
“Oh, God. Oh, no. You’re filth.” She hollers.
He looks down to the floor, staring emptily at the white sneakers that lie haphazardly between them.
Naomi quickly throws on her top and bra, slinging on her jacket. She has no clue how she’s going to get out of this mess, seeming as she can’t even leave the house at this point. She doesn’t know if Sofia has found her out, but even if she has, she’s not willing to hand herself in yet. Instead, she lies face down on Bret’s bedroom floor, listening carefully on the conversation downstairs.
“Tell me who it is. Or was. Please. Please, Bret.” She sobs.
“…Rose.” he mutters, avoiding eye contact. In less than a second, he feels an electric stinging across his face as she slaps him with all the strength she can muster.
“Have fun with her, Bret. We’re over.” She runs out of the house, ready to flee. But Bret pulls her back and holds her as she cries. They stand beside his car, and he makes the impulsive decision to propose getting in it, starting the engine and driving her down to the wooded edge and the lake where they could talk things through. Naomi, who listened carefully to every word that was being said, stands at Bret’s bedroom window, watching like a hawk as he softly coerces Sofia into getting in the car. She’s facing towards him, and he’s facing towards the house. A sudden anger rages within her; the realisation that she’s nothing but a nameless fuck brings her brimming over the edge with antagonism. He lied! He told her girlfriend it was Rose, for Christ’s sake! He would rather pin it on their own best friend than just put Naomi’s name out there. She’s a secret, and she’s not even worth the truth.
From the window, Naomi waves her hands to get Bret’s attention from his peripheral vision. She rests two middle fingers on the window glass before ducking, just before Sofia turns to see what he’s staring at. She realises that she’s screwed up, when she sees Sofia running back into the house, seeing the activity upstairs.
“Rose! Get down here, you whore!” she screams, and Bret follows, trying to grab her. He gets her at the bottom of the stairs before she can run up, but after they struggle for around fifteen seconds, Sofia slides out of his grasp and sprints up the stairs. Their mini brawl gave Naomi enough time to climb out of the window and lay low on the slanted roof below. She pushes the window closed once she is outside, as to not lead Sofia to look out.
The car is on the porch, and she’s close enough to climb on top of it. She just needs to shimmy down a bit more, and then lift her leg over the drain pipe and jump down. The car is still running, from when Bret was close to driving Sofia away as a distraction. Without thinking twice, she hops into the driver seat and reverses out of the driveway, tires burning and screeching on the asphalt, leaving a trail of smoke. All of this happens in less than thirty seconds, which isn’t enough time for Bret to run back out of the house and stop it, or enough time for Sofia to see that is was Naomi.
The couple just stop and stare into the distance, dumbfounded as the girl drives away with Bret’s car at sixty miles per hour.
Naomi sits and cries in the front seat of Bret’s car, parked by the banks of the lake just outside Bluebeach. Despite its coastal name, this lake is the only sign of any body of water that one could frolic in. The nearest beach is actually quite a while away, and Bluebeach is more inland than suggested. Despite that, it’s still in California, so everywhere might as well be a beach.
She looks down at her shoeless feet, knowing that her sneakers are lying somewhere in Bret’s living room. No wonder she was so close to being caught out; she did it to herself. But really, it was self-imposed from the moment she laid her fingers on Bret six months ago. She let herself become a fool, and the guilt in her heart tugs at her, because she made a fool out of Sofia too. Just seeing how erratic and broken she was, how insane she was, showed Naomi how much of a terrible person she is for ever playing around like that. She knows she would be distraught if someone she loved was ever sleeping with someone else behind her back.
She cries because she’s wondering why Bret couldn’t just say her name. Why was Rose’s the first one on his mind? Had he been there with her, too? Was Naomi not the only one? If that was the case, Naomi just became the biggest clown in the universe. It’s one thing to think you’re special, going after someone who is taken. It’s another thing when you’re that person’s best friend. It’s another thing when you may not be the only best friend they’ve gone after. She fooled herself into ever thinking she was special, or held even just a smidge of Bret in the palm of her hands. He took what he wanted from her, and she gladly accepted it. And he couldn’t even say her name, when he was caught red-handed.
Naomi wipes away her tears and begins to explore her temporary vehicle. She doesn’t find anything interesting, except for a decent amount of weed in the cabin hole; it must have been the one Bret had just bought. She shoves it in the pocket of her skirt, along with the rolling paper. In the back of Bret’s car, there are some golf clubs. The obnoxious cunt actually plays golf with his mother’s business colleagues on Sundays sometimes; she knows this is just a way for him to slip through the corporate cracks for when he does subpar after college and needs to secure a good income like his mother.
She opens up the trunk and pulls out one of the clubs, staring at her distorted reflection in the metal surface of the head. It’s almost an automatic instinct, to trash up Bret’s car. She stays away from the engine, just smashing the two back windows and denting the doors with all the oomph she can muster. If she had spray paint, she would shake the damn bottle and scribe her name in big bold letters on the front of the car, just to prove her point. It would actually be kind of badass, and she feels temporarily bummed out that she couldn’t return the car with that final touch.
She doesn’t feel like going home just yet, so she just turns on the car stereo and rolls herself a blunt. She sits and wonders where Bret and Sofia are now, and if Sofia managed to see her when she drove off. A part of her wishes she had just stopped being a coward and exposed herself, but she felt that it was Bret’s job. He had just one job, and he couldn’t execute it. Useless.
It's almost nine in the evening when she finally drives back to Bret’s home with the car – she fell asleep after smoking and woke up dazed, confused, and once her memory came back to her, angry again. She was ready to show Bret the little customised edits she had made to his multi-thousand-dollar whip.
It looks like his parents are home, and Sofia has gone. Bret opens the front door almost immediately, once seeing Naomi roll up. He has no words once he sees the state of the car; he can’t even yell at her. She steps out, asking for her shoes back. “Oh, and also, my textbooks.”
He quietly obliges, going back in to get her things.
“I’m sorry,” he tells her outside on the front porch. She slides her feet into her shoes and turns the other direction, dismissing his apology. “Hey. Naomi. Please listen.”
“There’s nothing I want to hear you say. I’m sorry for ruining your relationship.”
“You didn’t ruin anything. I talked everything through with her. We’re OK,”
“Well, congratulations.” She claps. “Did you tell her it was me who you were banging in your living room? Because you sure as hell didn’t say that when I was hiding up in your room. It also became clear when she bolted up the stairs, screaming for Rose’s blood.”
The silence that follows means only one thing. He lied his way out of things. Either that, or he wasn’t exactly lying about that, either.
“See you tomorrow in calculus.” She turns to walk down the road. Bret just looks on helplessly, foolishly, watching her silhouette turn a corner before he closes the front door.
Diary Entry, July 4th 1999
When will Bret Walker just do the right thing? Does he not know that you can’t keep secrets forever?
He’s been a slimy tool for a while now, but this is the straw on the camel’s back. He can’t get away with just messing around with the people closest to him. He can’t just hop into girls’ beds and then dance around the truth. That’s all he had to do – be truthful to Sofia. He couldn’t. This has blown out of proportion. There’s only so many times you can end up in bed with a friend and then try and bury it under the rug.
He needs to do the right thing, for once.
Bret Fucking Walker needs to do the right thing. If he doesn’t, someone will have to do it for him. if he doesn’t, it will end up biting him on the ass. He’ll just keep doing things he regrets and he’ll manage to bury the truth, and he’ll get away with it, like he always manages to.
But boy, nothing fucks you up like a conscience.
And if he has one, it will have his life.
You slept with my best friend, Rose wanted to tell him at the party. He cut her off, but he knew she was going to say that. As righteous as she may have felt, she had to expose everything if he wouldn’t. And you could say that this was Naomi’s turf, but the Rich Kids are just a mess of a mixture, and one kid’s problem becomes someone else’s. She has every right to speak on it as much as the next person. Naomi didn’t come to the party, so Rose let him know herself. She could see the anger in his eyes, and she knew it was because he was intimidated by her. But he couldn’t do anything to her – he didn’t have the power. His hands were tied now, and if there was any way he could try to liberate himself, he wasn’t going to do it by throwing other people under the bus.
Rose can’t get the look in his eyes out of her head.