A fiction story by Melpomene based on the characters and backstory as created by Melpomene.
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Subject: it’s that time of the month…
This month’s quandry:
If you were given the chance to return to your youth and live your life over again, with all your adult memories intact, would you “fix” your mistakes or would you try to return to the life you already possessed?
Have fun, and in order to get the replies all in in a timely manner *ahem, three weeks is not timely, Brenda!* Why don’t we all get together for a good ol’ fashioned girls night? Let me know when all of you are available in the next few weeks.
Meg mulled over the question for a moment. ‘It doesn’t really matter,’ she thought, ‘it’s not as if it could happen anyway.’ Typing up a quick note with a list of days she would be able to flee the city, she clicked the send button and closed out her email account.
Throughout her high school years, one of her friends had consistently passed out small questionnaires once a month. They always had strange or philosophical questions and every member of their ragamuffin group was expected to provide an answer and return them by the end of the day. Meg had been sure that she’d seen her last questionnaire the day she walked across to the podium to receive her high school diploma but was pleasantly surprised to find a letter addressed to her in the mailbox a few weeks later.
All throughout their college years and on into their adulthood, Kelly had continued her monthly ritual. What had started out in school as hand written notes, progressed to typed and Xeroxed letters that eventually gave way to electronically sent emails. Even as their thirtieth birthdays approached, the questions kept coming.
So, now late in their twenties, each of the old friends had made a place for themselves in the world, not all of them were successful or even happy, but they each managed to get by and kept in touch with one another with some vague degree of regularity.
Meg spent her days at the keyboard of her computer, tucked away in the converted dining room of her apartment while she typed out the latest of her stories. She’d wanted to be a writer for as long as she could remember and had made a few lucky acquaintances while she attended UCLA, these people introduced her to other people who, in turn, introduced her to publishers and agents. Her first novel came out of the publishing house garnished with praise and high hopes of future successes and it allowed her to lease a tiny out-of-the-way flat above one of Chinatown’s many restaurants in downtown San Francisco.
The questioner of their group, Kelly found a home for herself in the political arena. The company she founded helped smaller interest groups be heard among the raucous jostling for voices in policy-making venues. She lived what her friends teasingly called “the high life” and bounced between governor’s balls, Congressional parties and rock concerts, rarely making it away from her newly planted east coast roots even to pay occasional visits to her distant friends.
Brenda, a woman who had been painfully quiet and shy throughout their school years, had found her voice and a talent for acting after leaving high school, throwing herself into the heart of the Hollywood scene and landing the leading role on what was to become the number two rated television drama in the country. Spending her time between taping the series and in readings and rehearsals for medium budget movies, she kept her sights on the major motion pictures of which she craved to be a part. She and Meg often paid visits to one another, touring the California coastline up and down highway one between LA and San Francisco.
Menoka had left the mainland after getting her master’s degree and returned to the home of her childhood, a small village on the western most coast of Maui, where she held a position as a social worker but mainly acted as a mediator between the government and native interest groups; she and Kelly often joked about having the same job with different credentials. She earned a pittance but it never seemed to bother her that she lived in a house no nicer than even her welfare clientele. It had been years since her last visit to the continent although she’d shared her tiny home with several of the others on many occasions when they flew across the vast swatch of Pacific Ocean to pay a visit.
Terri-Ann had surprised them all by running off and eloping after only her first semester of college. The man had turned out to be abusive and she had left him, five years, three children, and innumerable broken bones later. She had moved back in with her ailing mother in Oklahoma, where she worked in the local grocery store as a checkout clerk. She had aged at a frightening rate under the weight of her responsibilities, but she rarely complained about her situation, preferring to revel in the achievements of her friends instead, although privately harboring gnawing jealousy over their successes. She would always beg off of joining in on their infrequent gatherings, claiming a need to stay close to her children and mother.
The wanderer of the group, Tessa had held down any number of jobs in dozens of cities as wide spread as Juno, Amherst, and Mexia. With an ever-changing physical location, her whereabouts were never common knowledge to the whole of the group at the same time unless the information was passed along by whomever she had dropped a postcard to. She had never attended college and rarely took a stand for or against anything of import. Even having known her for more than two decades, Meg was generally just as much in the dark about the inner workings of her mind as anyone else. The addition of a laptop computer to her sparse belongings had helped her stay in touch with her old friends with more ease, although she sometimes failed to alert them to her spur of the moment movements across the country. Tessa was the only one of them to have paid visits to all the members of their group in the years after public school. She had even taken Menoka up on her offer once to stay for a while, occupying the other woman’s spare room for the better part of eight months before moving on once again.
Georgia, the youngest of them all by a year and a half, had married just out of college and then proceeded to become one of the worst voices of doom any of them had ever chanced to know. Nothing ever went right or was good enough for the woman who had been so seemingly happy when she had been younger. Everything from the way her children parted their hair to the time the mail was delivered gave her an opportunity to voice her disdain. No one was quite sure why she even bothered to stay in touch with the group, given her contempt for each of their lives, but none of them had the heart to cut her off from them, remembering their old friend in the bitter woman she had grown to be.
Returning her thoughts to the chapter she was trying to flesh out, Meg tried to block out thoughts of each of her old friends. She generally worked offline when she was writing, not wanting the distraction of emails or instant messages, but the chapter she was writing was becoming such a disaster, she had decided that a little distraction couldn’t possibly make it any worse.
The tone signaling an instant message preceded the sudden appearance of the message box. She grimaced at the sender, glad that she had the web cam turned off for once. She really didn’t want to talk to Georgia right now; if she did she very well might be tempted to have all the characters in the book commit suicide from the drudgery of trying to chat with her, not a good direction for the third chapter of the book to take.
‘Hi, Meg. Where did that question come from?’
Meg raised an eyebrow and cocked her head, maybe Georgia was in a civil mood for once. After all, hadn’t she asked herself the very same thing when she had read Kelly’s latest query. Deciding to risk it, she responded: ‘You know Kels… She’s always out in left field somewhere.’
‘So what’s your answer?’
Her brow furrowed, it didn’t really matter what her answer was, it couldn’t happen. ‘I dunno, haven’t thought about it much. What about you?’
The one word response had Meg trying to recall exactly what Kelly had asked. Something about going back to their teen years with their adult memories and whether or not they would change their actions. But what had the exact wording been? She quickly opened her email account for the second time that day and scanned the inbox in search of the note.
She took it that Georgia was responding so strongly to the aspect of “fixing past mistakes.” She knew her friend was unhappy in her present situation but she didn’t think it was that bad. Frowning slightly, she decided to alter their topic.
‘What about the get-together? Are you in?’
‘You better believe it. Harry can handle the kids for one weekend whether he thinks he can or not. Where’s it going to be? Isn’t it cold in San Francisco this time of year?’
Ah ha, some of the familiar bitterness was beginning to creep back into the conversation. Meg was much happier in known territory. ‘Not so bad here: it’s lovely in town, it’s snowing in the mountains though. But I haven’t heard from Kels, maybe she’s going to host it this time.’ Making a mental note to call Brenda that afternoon and see if she had a clue as to where their impromptu gathering was to be held, Meg emailed the same question to Kelly in a one line note.
‘Probably wants to show us all up with those snooty friends of hers in DC.’
Sighing, Meg replied, ‘It would be awfully hard for Kels to out-do Brenda’s place and new friends, even if Kelly does have a few congressmen and senators squirreled away in that townhouse of hers.’
‘That doesn’t mean she won’t try.’
‘How’s little Jackie?’ Meg wanted to divert the conversation from anyone Georgia might be able to be vindictive toward, and hoped that by asking about the little dog Georgia had bought that summer, she’d lighten the mood.
‘Harry’s spoiled her so much that she won’t hardly let me pet her anymore.’
Oops, definitely not the right road to take. It was time for her old reliable standby, an out-right lie. ‘Oh shoot, Georgia, I’ve got to run. I completely lost track of time while I was writing and I’ve got a meeting with my publisher in ten minutes.’
‘Don’t get screwed. You know those guys are all trying to cheat you out of the money you deserve.’
‘Thanks for the advice, I’ll be sure to be careful.’
Quickly signing out of the instant messenger, Meg reached for her cell phone. Three in the afternoon in San Francisco meant it was six in DC and the possibility that Kelly would be home on a Thursday evening was exceptionally good. But before she could push the appropriate buttons to place the call, the tiny contraption rang, startling her enough that she dropped it onto the rug.
“Damn…” She managed to pick it up again without too much trauma done to the caller’s hearing. “Yeah?”
“Yeah right back at ‘ya.”
Meg smiled. “Either you got the email too or you are getting incredibly psychic on me, girl.”
“The email bandit has struck again,” Brenda chuckled, her laughter sounding warm in the cool confines of Meg’s mussed home office. “Have you heard from the girl-wonder herself about a possible location for this slumber party?”
“No, I was just about to call her though. You still gonna be able to drive up this weekend?”
“Wouldn’t miss it… and, Meg? I’ll call Kels and let you know the word when I see you Friday.” There was an inexplicable tone to Brenda’s voice and Meg wondered at it briefly before it was gone.
“No prob. I just got Georgia on IM, be wary, the voice of doom hasn’t gone into retirement quite yet.”
“This should be an interesting gathering if nothing else,” Brenda sighed. “I’ll see you later.”
Meg ended the call, slipping the phone into the pocket of the jacket she fished out of the closet on her way out of her apartment just as she stepped out onto the front stoop of her brownstone. Since she did in fact have a meeting scheduled with her publisher for later that afternoon, she thought she might as well head out and get to the restaurant early for a change.
The greeting turned Meg’s head and she smiled in response at the young woman who stood on the narrow steps of the next building’s entrance. “Abigail! Hey, how’s PawPaw?”
Abigail grinned. “PawPaw was just trying to convince her doctor that she’s fine, so I guess she is. You know her, she’s getting ready so that I can take her down to the apothecary shop.” The woman pulled her thick black hair up into a long ponytail, twisting it in place with a plastic clip. Winking she adopted a heavy Chinese accent, “Those American doctor—chop, chop and still know nothing. We go to Chinese doctor-- no cut, just herbs!”
Meg laughed at Abigail’s rendition of PawPaw’s most common speech and nodded her head in understanding. “But you know, Abs, she’s got a point. She’s outlived how many of the American doctors ya’ll keep sending her to?”
“I know… But try explaining that to my mother.” Abigail turned her attention to the tiny woman who appeared at the door.
“Aye, Moy! Always run here, run there, no time for tea with a grandmother!”
Laughing in response to the ancient lady who shook her fist teasingly in her direction, Meg nodded. “I know, I’m no better than Abigail these days. How about I come by for mahjong tomorrow night. I’ll bet Mrs. Wong will take us up on a game.”
“Abigail, mahjong, tomorrow night!” Abigail’s great-grandmother tapped the young woman on the foot with her bamboo cane. “You bring the duck!”
“You got it, PawPaw.” Raising her voice to be heard, she turned her attention to Meg who stood at the bottom step of the entryway. “Any special requests, Meg, since I seem to be in on the game?”
“’Kay. See you tomorrow,” Abigail called one last time, waving cheerfully before she took her great-grandmother’s arm in her hand and lead her down the steps in a slow descent. “Alright, PawPaw, is there anything else you just have to have for mahjong besides duck?”
“I no remember. It will come—after Chinese doctor.”
Meg continued on her way, skirting a vegetable table the corner grocery had set up and smiling cheerily at the grocer who called out a greeting to her. Chuckling softly to herself, she mused over how much her neighborhood resembled one of those Hallmark movies that kept airing on cable.
Continuing down the sidewalk, she wondered what the other girls were up to.
Brenda stretched out on the wicker chaise, admiring the view of the Hollywood hills from her poolside. Most of the people she worked with thought she was insane to stay in the city instead of opting to move to Malibu or one of the other outlying communities, but she loved living in town. She fed off the energy of the city, the sights and sounds and constant motion of everything around her. Beverly Hills wasn’t what it had once been but then again, nothing ever was.
She glanced down at the phone in her hand and flipped it open. A call to Kelly was in order, especially since she had promised Meg she would deal with the query they all seemed to have. Pressing the speed dial, she waited for the familiar voice on the other end of the line.
“Kelly Atkin speaking, how may I help you?”
“You really should leave work at the office, girl,” Brenda admonished.
“Hey, Brend. Did you get the email?”
Brenda closed her eyes to the bright winter sunlight, dimmed by the dark glasses she wore but blinding nonetheless, and relished the warm rays on her skin. “Oh yeah, I got it. Meg and I were wondering where your little soirée was going to be this year.”
“You’ll never guess,” her friend assured her. “I had this flash of utter brilliance. How about meeting in Buckington this time?”
Brenda’s eyes flew open. “Buckington? Buckington, Oklahoma?”
“Yeah. It’s been years since I’ve been back and I thought it would be kind of fun to see the old places again. You know, reminisce a little.”
“Reminisce… yeah,” Brenda said, her voice lacking the enthusiasm of Kels’. “Sounds like a plan then, shall I tell Meg this weekend?”
“Sure, go ahead and spread the word, it’ll save me an email. I just got through to the principal of our old high school. He said he’d be happy to let us wander through for a while one evening. You know, the successful alumni checking out the place one last time.”
Brenda mused on Kelly’s words. Most of their group were considered successful, but what about Georgia or Terri-Ann or the ever elusive Tess? She wondered how they would feel about returning to Buckington, those who weren’t already there, that was. She continued to keep up Kelly’s benign chatter until the busy lobbyist remembered some other project she needed to get to work on and ended the call.
Dropping the phone onto the table next to the chaise, she sighed deeply. “Buckington, Oklahoma,” she murmured. She had absolutely no desire to return. When she graduated from high school she had left “good ol’ Buckington” as fast as the bus she had boarded would allow her. She’d never regretted her actions and had never looked back.
“Brenda! So this is where you’ve been hiding!”
She started at the sudden booming voice that filled her backyard, lowering her head to look over the top of her sunglasses at the rotund man who stood near her patio gate. She could never seem to escape everyone at the same time, no matter how hard she tried.
“I wouldn’t call sunbathing in my own backyard hiding,” she called, forcing a slight smile.
“They’ve been trying to reach you for an hour but couldn’t get through on your phone.” The man strode closer to her resting place, moving with surprising grace given his girth. “I found this on your hall table.” He handed her the cell phone she had turned off that morning and eyed the out-dated phone that lay next to her lounge chair. “It’s good to know that at least someone can get hold of you even when you decide to pull a Greta Garbo on the studio. Unless of course that’s actually a piece of modern art… or perhaps you’re beginning a collection of antiquated telephones.”
“I refuse to give you the number to this one, Teddy,” Brenda said, sliding up into a sitting position. “You’ve already got two phone numbers, my pager number and my email address.”
“All of which you’ve been ignoring.”
She flicked a dark lock of hair over her shoulder. “It’s my day off.”
Teddy plunged his hands into the pockets of his cargo pants, a slight frown lining his middle-aged face as he changed the subject. “You’ve created a great mystery now, my dear girl. Who could you possibly need to keep in contact with that it requires you to have an entirely different phone? Hmm? You don’t seem the type for illicit love affairs.”
She waved him off, rising from the lounge in a single practiced flow of muscles and tendons, standing to her full height and looking down slightly at her unexpected guest. “If you really must know, it’s the first cell phone I bought when I got the job at the studio way back when. I have a group of friends who still use that old number. I never saw a reason to change it.”
“Wouldn’t that make your day…” she demurred. “No, they’re all women, I’m afraid. We were best friends in school.”
Teddy chuckled and walked back toward the house. “I never would have pegged you for the sentimental type. Keeping in touch with old school friends and such.”
Following him into her home, Brenda paused a moment before turning to enter her bedroom in order to change clothes. “Yeah, well we’ve always been together. You even know one of them.”
Teddy leaned against the wall outside Brenda’s room. “Oh do tell, Brenda-sweet.”
“My writer friend, Meg? You know. The one who lives in San Francisco?”
“That gorgeous thing you traipse up the coast to visit incessantly?”
“That’s the one,” Brenda agreed, tugging a dress over her head. She stopped long enough to study her reflection. So much had changed in fourteen years. She wondered how Meg would react to their proposed meeting place. Before the thoughts had the chance to mull, her cell phone rang, its trilling muffled by the partially closed door.
“Ted? Could you get that for me?”
Tess stood in the phone booth, her fingers drumming slowly against the chipped enamel of the pay phone. She’d just happened to be on line when Kelly had sent out the emails but had needed to rush out the door too quickly to make any calls. She’d managed to slip away from her current job at a tiny side street metaphysical bookstore long enough to buy a phone card and locate the pay phone.
The masculine voice on the other side of the line caught her unawares.
“You’re not Brenda,” she stated in an even tone.
“Right you are,” the man replied. “She’s indisposed at the moment. Might I be of any help to you?”
“No.” Tess looked back up the street toward the bookstore, watching for any surprise customers. “Tell her to hurry, I’m on a time limit here.”
“Yes, yes of course. And might I ask who is calling?”
“Just tell her it’s Tess. She’ll know who I am.” She stared across the street at a pair of women who were watching her. As much as she traveled, she would have thought she would get used to the curious stares by now. As she waited to hear Brenda’s voice, she glanced down to check her outfit. Alright, so what if she did look a bit like a vagrant come fairy. She couldn’t help it if the bookstore owner preferred that she wear clothing a bit out of the mainstream.
a work in progress