This is a commission for my patron Sonia Marie, as part of the offer I had on during February 2020. Sonia’s prompt:
Three friends in their mid-twenties meet at a fourth friend’s funeral. They haven’t seen each other since a fifth friend’s funeral when they were teens. Write their story.
Eight Years Ago
‘It arrived!’ Jacob told Natasha in Maths, who told Clemency at break, who told Benito in History, who told Aleksandra at lunchtime. They congregated at Ben’s house that evening under the guise of English-homework-and-planning-Jem’s-seventeenth-birthday-party.
Five vials, all neatly packaged and shimmering slightly. Five teenagers with five wishes, all badly suppressed and simmering slightly. They sat on Ben’s bedroom floor; chairs would have felt less magical.
‘Do we all know what we’re wishing for?’ Aleksandra asked. ‘Should we tell each other?’
‘Don’t see why we have to,’ Jem replied. ‘I don’t want you lot knowing my innermost thoughts.’
‘We already do!’ Clemency pointed out. ‘You haven’t talked about anything except being a billionaire since we were in primary school. I don’t care who knows I’m wishing for my mum’s giant tumour to fuck off. Everyone is already wishing that, I’m just the only one who can actually do something about it.’
Ben nodded thoughtfully. ‘I don’t mind who knows I’m wishing for my brother to get well.’
‘I’m definitely not telling you mine,’ Tasha said, looping a curl around her finger. ‘It doesn’t feel as worthy.’
‘Course it is,’ Ben said at once. ‘You’re allowed to want something other than to fix someone, Tash. It’s not your fault that Clem and I have family members with shitty illnesses.’
Aleksandra inspected her vial. ‘So, we down them on three?’
‘I’ll count,’ Jem said immediately. He put on his moon landing voice. ‘And we have lift off in three, two, one…’
For a moment, the room was quiet except for the sound of five teenagers knocking back magical shots.
‘What now?’ Aleksandra asked. She frowned at her friends. ‘You don’t look any different. Do I look any different?’
‘Same porcelain beauty as before.’ Clem patted Alex on the leg. ‘Right, next on the agenda: someone is turning seventeeeen…’
Five Years Ago
Really, Clemency thought, Aleksandra should have had the manners to die after A Level results day.
Crammed into the crematorium between both her parents, with Tasha’s family on one side and Jacob and Ben’s families in the row in front, it almost felt like the results day get together that hadn’t happened. Another thing, frankly, that Alex had ruined. Clemency’s mother shifted and Clemency tried to bring her attention back to the person doing the eulogy. A cousin or some shit. Mr and Mrs Reznik hadn’t wanted any of their daughter’s friends to speak at her funeral. Clemency didn’t blame them, but wished they remembered that Aleksandra’s first group of friends—the ones she saw out her GCSEs with, the ones she still met up with when she could, the ones she’d spoken to the very day she died because she thought things were getting out of hand—was infinitely better than the second.
How many of the second group was here? Clemency had spotted Marina Simmonds on the way in, but none of the rest. How many of Alex’s Instagram followers had contributed to her parents’ online fundraiser? Clemency had stalked the page with relish and discovered that most donations and comments were from Aleksandra’s real life, not her online one.
The cousin was saying something about Alex’s spirit, her tenacity for life. Clemency almost laughed. The Aleksandra she’d known since year seven was spirited and tenacious, but not in the way most people thought. Before the viral Instagram account, before the modelling, before the partying, Alex and Tasha would talk about how they were going to save the planet. They had contingency plans for getting arrested at rallies and wrote weekly letters to their MP. None of the speakers so far had mentioned the environment thing. None had mentioned the fad diets, the juice cleanses, the times Tasha and Clemency had found her hiding in the toilets at lunchtime because someone had said something while they got changed for PE.
Clemency turned over her order of service. The Aleksandra of old would have hated all those photos. Too many unflattering angles. The Aleksandra of the last few years would have been proud that so many of her #bodypositive posts had made it to print.
The cousin was still talking. No one was going to mention how she died, were they. That would be left until the wake, when whispers of so tragic and what a waste and honestly, I thought she was smart enough to not get in the car with a drugged-up driver were out of Mrs Reznik’s earshot.
Clemency realised she was crying.
The Present Day
‘I wished for the environment to get cleaner,’ Tasha said. She dabbed her wrist with a serviette. ‘I told you it sounded worse than yours.’
‘Did the environment get any better?’ Clemency asked.
Tasha considered. ‘Not on a global scale. At least, not because of me. The problem is too big for that.’
‘What about your environment? The dog shelter in Thailand achieved its goal of ridding the region of rabies while you were there, I saw it on Facebook. It happened about five years earlier than expected. Pollution levels are down in town, Tash. Down. Despite the new bloody ring road you campaigned against.’
‘It… I suppose. And you two got what you wanted. What about Alex and Jem, though? What did they wish for?’
‘The real question,’ Ben said quietly, ‘is what did they get?’ He picked up Clemency’s vial and rolled it between his fingers, frowning. Tasha took it from him and frowned too.
The couple on the next table had moved on to talking about how someone’s brother-in-law had spotted beavers in the nearest river. ‘Such a welcome bit of good news,’ the wife said. ‘I mean, I know we don’t really do nature, Greg, but it’s good news.’
Greg shrugged. ‘I’ll be a bit more excited if they stop all the flooding!’
A tiny smile tugged at Tasha’s mouth. ‘I don’t blame them,’ she decided.
‘I do,’ Clemency said.
Ben drained his glass and stood up. ‘I don’t know yet. Right. I’m buying this round.’
Did you know you can read my short stories before they’re public by joining my Patreon? When you join, I’ll name a character after you. Alternately, consider buying me a coffee – you’ll still be helping me to build a sustainable career, but with fewer direct debits.