Shari Low shares an extract from her new book A Life Without You.
She would hate that it wasn’t a spectacular occasion. Quite an ordinary day really. Not good enough. Not good enough at all.
A Sunday morning in January. Dull outside. The clouds a blanket of foreboding, a grey persuasion that staying inside, under a duvet, was the best course of action.
We didn’t take much convincing.
Dee was on one sofa, wrapped in a blanket, suffering from aching of the bones, I was on the other, nursing a mild hangover. The accomplices to our lazy day were steaming mugs of tea, the remnants of our Christmas stock of Matchmakers, and a movie box set: The Godfather 1, 2 and 3.
There were no ailments in the world that could not be cured by a young Al Pacino, even if the volume was a few notches louder than it needed to be, a strategy aimed at drowning out the thumping techno beat coming through the wall from the 24/7 party house next door. The neighbours had only moved in a few weeks before. Judging by the trail of people that went up and down their path, either they were exceptionally sociable, or dealing in products that had a high demand. I just hoped it was Avon, but I had yet to see anyone emerge with a flawless complexion, so I had my doubts.
Dee winced as she adjusted her position. ‘God, my shoulders ache.’
‘No sympathy at all,’ I quipped.
‘You’re a terrible friend,’ she countered, but her words were softened by her grin. Her smile was the first thing that everyone noticed. Julia Roberts wide. A natural spring of happiness that needed no encouragement and always lingered longer than it needed to, as if it just wanted to give a little extra to the recipient’s day. And it was a cliché, but the wild tangle of red hair suited her personality perfectly: unpredictably, fiery, prone to escaping constraints at the first possible opportunity. ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time,’ she groaned.
‘At what time? When you signed up for it? When you put the suit on? Or when you stepped out of a plane at 3000 feet and plummeted to earth, relying on a bit of flimsy fabric to save you from splatting your organs across a turnip field?’
She shook her head. ‘Nope, it was a good idea when we were all at the pub on the Christmas night out and I came up with it after three glasses of wine and a packet of cheesy Wotsits. Besides, it was for charity. That’s a good thing, right?’
That smile again. No-one was immune to it, not even me. It got her into so much trouble and then got her right back out of it again. Always had done. We’d been friends since we were five and met on our first day at Weirbridge primary school, so that was… ouch, my head hurt when I tried to concentrate… around twenty-five years of being rescued from tricky situations by her toothy equivalent of a SWAT team. Although, for the sake of full disclosure, most of those incidents were caused by Dee’s love affair with risk-taking in the first place, and I, the mousy, sensible, well-behaved, good girl was invariably in the wrong place, at the wrong time. The time she shoplifted two caramel wafers from the school tuck shop because we forgot our dinner money. She charmed everyone as she pleaded innocence, while I was caught with a wrapper and got detention. The time she persuaded me to bunk off school and a teacher saw me keeping watch while Dee snogged her boyfriend round the back of ASDA. I got marched to the headmaster while Dee snuck into Home Economics and won a prize for her Bakewell Tart.
Luckily, I don’t bear grudges. I put it down to love, an aversion to confrontation and exceptionally high tolerance levels.
The door opened and my boyfriend, Pete, materialised, clutching a six-pack of Budweiser. He took in the scene in front of him, the two of us, prone, tucked into cocoons.
‘I’ve just had an insight into what it looks like when whales get confused and beach up on the sand,’ he observed.
‘I’d throw something at you but my shoulders are too sore,’ Dee muttered, then turned to me. ‘Did I mention my sore shoulders?’
‘Several times,’ I answered.
Pete was already heading out the door and only the very perceptive would have noticed that his gaze barely met mine. ‘I’m heading over to see Luke,’ he declared, telling us what we already knew. It was a familiar pattern. Dee and I worked together in our shop in the centre of Glasgow from Monday to Saturday, but still, every Sunday, she came to the house I shared with Pete, and we commandeered the TV, while Pete headed over to Dee and Luke’s house to colonize the high-tech tech, optimum sport-watching, obscenely large, flat-screen there. It was the non-sexual, non-kinky version of partner-swapping.
Dee and Luke had been married for five years, but Pete and I had yet to follow them to the ‘death do us part’ stuff, despite the fact that our relationship had preceded theirs by a decade, the legacy of a lethal fourth year Christmas disco at high school that had served up the perfect storm of contraband wine and mistletoe. Making it official had never been high on our priority list. I’d always thought we were fine just the way we were. And mostly, that was the case. Mostly.
He backed out of the doorway. ‘See you later. I’ll bring dinner home with me, so don’t worry about making anything.’
There was a loaded dig in there. My cooking skills extended to salad and anything that could be put in the oven at 220 degrees for twenty minutes – and that was on a good, non-hangover day. Dee, on the other hand, could look in my fridge, find several food items of questionable origin and age, and whip them up into an appetising meal. It was like some kind of Marvel superpower.
The door banged behind him and there was a pause until my very perceptive friend cracked.
‘Things not any better then.’ It was more of an observation than a question.
I took a sip of my tea to deflect the question, but her raised eyebrow of curiosity made it clear Dee wasn’t for moving on.
I capitulated. I’d have made a rubbish spy.
Touching, funny, and bittersweet, this is a story that will make you laugh, cry, and call your best friend to tell her you love her.
Dee and Jen have been best friends since their days of teenage crushes, bad 90’s make-up and huge hair. They’ve passed every milestone of their lives together and now in their thirties own a successful boutique, sharing a bond that is as strong as the closest of sisters.
Until one day everything changes.
Dee is gone, killed by a reckless driver, leaving Jen to face the harsh reality of a world without her.
Jen vows to honour Dee’s dreams and take care of everything and everyone she loved. Until she realises that sometimes the only way forward is to let go of the past.
Shari Low lives in Glasgow and writes a weekly opinion column and Book Club page for a well-known newspaper. She is married to a very laid-back guy and has two athletic teenage sons, who think she’s fairly embarrassing, except when they need a lift.