I’m walking out of the school grounds with Maurice and Xanthe and I can see Kane’s ex up ahead. Ugh. Awkward. I don’t want to have to go past her. I look down at Maurice, snug against my body in his red stretchy wrap today, and I look down at Xanthe dressed for preschool in her rainbow fairy dress, and suddenly I don’t care anymore. I don’t care if she remembers me, I don’t care if she sees me, I don’t care because that was my past and I no longer associate with those people. It’s over.
I hold my head high and I take Xanthe’s hand and we step out onto the footpath. A woman with long dark hair and glasses and a friendly smile overtakes us. She looks familiar. She spins back around to face me.
“It’s Anita, right?” she asks.
“Yes!” I say. “Hi!” I smile. I study her face. I think she’s the woman who runs the local Pippins group, but then I remember that the Pippins lady would know me as Fern. Who is this? I’m still smiling, and we’re still walking, and I’m trying to think.
“I’m Angela,” the woman says. “We went to Polytech together.” And finally my brain clicks, and I know exactly who she is, and I remember her well. We walk past Kane’s ex and continue up the street together. Angela’s walking home, I’m walking Xanthe up to preschool.
We chat as we go, and we have a lot in common. We both nannied during our first pregnancies. We hated it. We both had a brief stint as in-home child carers. We hated it. We both gave up on the whole early childhood education thing and went and studied a completely different subject. We liked it. We’re both mothers and wives and we went our separate ways 12 years ago, and now the universe has brought us together again. I wonder if we are going to be friends.
We reach the entrance of Xanthe’s preschool and it’s time to say goodbye. I smile at Angela and I tell her it was really nice to see her, and I secretly hope that I will see her again, but I feel too awkward to say it out loud. Xanthe leads me away, across the carpark to the gate, and I look back at Angela. She’s got her phone out and it looks like she’s texting. It’s weird to think that her life has continued without my knowing, and that it will continue whether I see her again or not. I stand with my children and I watch my old friend walk out of sight, and when she’s gone I remember…
I’m with Tarina and we’re driving along in my old Datsun George, singing songs because there’s no radio in here. My mobile starts ringing. I reach for my phone and I look at the screen and I see that it’s Angela. She’s never called me before. Weird. I wonder what’s going on.
I answer the phone and I’m still driving, but Angela’s tone is serious so I decide I need to pull over. I pull over. I ask her what’s going on.
“Renee stole my money,” Angela says. “All the money I had from selling my scooter is gone.”
I don’t know what to say, and I’m not sure what I’m hearing, and I keep saying what over and over. Angela is furious, upset, shocked. She’s talking really fast and she’s trying to explain what’s happened. She’s already called the police, but there’s not a lot they can do. She says she knows it was Renee, it had to be Renee, because it was only me and Laurie and Renee who were in Angela’s bedroom today, and Angela knows it wasn’t me or Laurie. Angela had only just sold her scooter. There was a thousand dollars in cash sitting on her bookshelf, and it’s gone. Taken. Stolen.
I’m listening, listening, listening, my mouth is open and my eyes are bulging and Tarina wants to know what’s going on, but I’m too busy listening to pay any attention to her. I think about Renee and I try to imagine her taking that money and putting it in her bag and walking out of Angela’s house as if nothing had happened. Talking and walking and laughing with us all. Pretending to be our friend. Stealing. I don’t want to believe it and I almost can’t believe it, but suddenly I can, I do, and I know it’s true. It’s true.
I think about the time I went to Renee’s house to organize a birthday surprise for Angela, and how Renee had a big plastic bag full of brand-new greeting cards, and how it seemed so weird and when I asked her why she had so many and where they came from she had no real answer. She changed the subject.
I think about the time we were in the library working on an assignment, and how we all went into the photocopy room together, and Angela accidentally left her wallet behind, and Renee volunteered to go back for it and when she came back she said she found it under a table and she said it was lying there open and she said the money Angela was missing was already gone. She pretended she’d done Angela a favour.
I think about the time she got me stoned, more stoned than I’d ever been in my life, and then she just dropped me off in town, at night, alone, and drove away, and when I managed to find a phone and tried to ring her to come and get me she didn’t answer, didn’t answer, didn’t answer, and when I asked her about it in class she said I never caller her. She lied.
It’s morning and I get to Polytech and Angela and Laurie are already there. They’re talking about Renee. The whole class is talking about Renee. Everyone knows now, and everyone hates her, and it turns out that everyone has always hated her and that’s why no one else wanted to me friends with me and Angela and Laurie. Suddenly everyone likes us. Suddenly there are no barriers. We’re all talking, gossiping, gasping, and the classroom door opens and Renee walks in. Silence. We all stop and we all stare and we all hate her. We hate her.
Renee looks down at the ground, and we know she knows we know. We know she knows we can’t prove it. She’s a liar and a thief and she’s not afraid. She walks over to a desk in the back row and she sits down. No one is talking. Everyone is looking. I can feel the outrage in the air and I can’t do it anymore. I turn away. I can’t believe we used to be friends.
We used to be friends
Renee ended up dropping out pretty soon after that. I saw her once, she came into the gift shop I was working in. I watched her like a hawk the whole time. I didn't see her take anything, but I wouldn't be surprised if she had. She was awful.