This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
The seventeenth entry of our Top 20 Undiscovered Shortlist is A Friend Like You by Jennifer McDermott.
Remember your favourite entry because you'll get the chance to vote after all twenty excerpts have been posted!
Over to Jennifer McDermott…
A FRIEND LIKE YOU (BLURB)
Issy and Hannah meet on their first day at university. Far away from home and trepidatious about the adventure ahead, they stick close together, not least because it quickly transpires that Hannah is an excellent cook and Issy hates not knowing where the next meal is coming from.
Through boys and booze, lectures, essays and rodents, they form a firm friendship that will affect who they are for the rest of their lives. Even after university, when their paths diverge, they remain each other’s emergency call; the person you know will be able to make anything better, even at 3am when the world is bleak and blurry.
So why is Issy sneaking in to hide at the back of her best friend’s wedding, rather than playing the major role they’d always envisaged on each other’s days? How did it get to the point where she wasn’t even invited to witness the happiest day of her best friend’s life?
This is a story of female friendship. About a relationship you always assume is immune from the breaks and fractures other partnerships suffer. About the utter desolation, grief and rage when you realise that your best friend, one of the most important people you’ve ever met, no longer even numbers you among her casual acquaintances.
READ THE FIRST 3000 WORDS OF A FRIEND LIKE YOU OVER THE CUT
A Friend Like You by Jennifer McDermott
It hadn’t been that difficult to track it down, thanks to a parish church that was arguably more up to date with its social media than Isabelle herself. Mind you, realistically, how many weddings featuring an Adam Goldman and Hannah Cross would be taking place in Oxfordshire on a freezing cold, grey Saturday in February? Not really Miss Marple skills required. She wasn’t here to make a fuss, no grandiose moments of objections when the vicar asked that question. No. She just wanted closure, a proper end to probably the most important relationship in her life. She’d grieved, she’d raged, she’d quietly accepted and now she just needed to know it was over.
She’d hidden herself at the back of the small, admittedly gorgeous church, helped by the enormous floral arrangements that loomed at the end of each pew. She knew she couldn’t avoid recognition but was hoping that feigning interest in the order of service, plus the huge hat that made eye contact difficult would fend off any acquaintances either surprised that she was there or concerned that she was going to go mental.
As the organ wheezed into life and the strains of Mendelssohn filled the church, the congregation rose as one to greet the bride’s entrance. Not that you could see much of her, hidden as she was behind what Isabelle privately thought was a ridiculous amount of veil. She was followed by four little bridesmaids dressed in red velvet. With the matching little capes, they bore more than a passing resemblance to a miniature Spanish inquisition. However, it was the grown-up attendants that made Isabelle catch her breath and threatened to bring the tears. Exactly as she’d expected. Midnight blue, full-length gowns. Exactly as they’d planned.
The ceremony passed in a blur, mercifully short and business-like. Until the congregation rose again and the happy couple turned to face their audience. The veil thrown back now, a bride beaming with joy and a groom unable to conceal his pride and happiness. They walked down the aisle, nodding and smiling as they picked out faces from the crowd. Until they reached the end. Until they saw her. Unless you knew, you might not have seen the colour blanch from their faces, the beaming smiles momentarily drop. She turned away, not wanting to ruin any moment of their day, and the bridal procession continued out of church. It was all over. One of the most important people in Isabelle’s life, gone and unlikely to return. Now the tears came, for the relationship that was no more. For the death of a friendship. For BFFs that, it turned out, weren’t really forever.
As they neared the Scottish border, Isabelle’s nerves were reaching an all-time high. Next to her, Dad was muttering about just how shite modern music really was and for once she couldn’t argue. Not least because Peter Andre belting out something about his flava wasn’t music in anyone’s book. But also because if she spoke she might just beg and plead that he did a quick U-ey, drove back the 150 or so miles they’d already covered, and they just all happily forgot that she’d ever thought going to university 300 MILES AWAY from home was a good idea. I mean, what kind of parents allowed their daughter to make life-changing choices based on Enid Blyton???? It had seemed so Romantic at the time, picking St Andrews because Darrell from Malory Towers had gone there. Well, that and it was miles away and she could stay up all night, drink herself silly, do Things with Boys and everything else that was nigh on impossible at home. Tutors warned that she shouldn’t set her heart on it – the way her studies had gone in the first 18 months of A levels strongly suggested she’d be lucky to get a place to study interpretative stamp-collecting at the University of North-West Manchester or whatever they poly was called these days, let alone English Literature in Scotland’s Oldest University. Pah! She’d shown them. By the power of Greyskull or some other superhuman force, she’d applied herself and surprised everyone, probably including the Virgin Mary, given that they’d stopped off for a quick Mass on the way to pick up the results, by coming out with four ‘A’s. Which meant a ticket to scholarliness and a place to read (note to self, not study) English. Oh god, she really was terrified.
Having wound up his monologue on the perils of modern music, Dad turned to her and smiled.
“Not too long to go, now, once we’ve crossed the Forth Road Bridge. Have you got the change ready?”
“It’s been ready since you bagged it up and put it in the glove compartment when we checked the car last night!” she replied. “Plus, we’ve still not even crossed the border into bloody Scotland – there’s ages to go yet!”
“Language, Isabelle! You know I like to be prepared. If that’s all sorted, pass me a Glacier Fruit and put something decent on the radio,” he replied.
Passing the sweets, she moved the dial to Radio 2. Not her favourite, but she’d rather spend these last few precious hours before she was ABANDONED happily humming along to middle-of-the-road tunes than arguing about the merits (or lack thereof) of Kula Shaker.
Several hours and two pit-stops later, there was no putting it off any more. Round a final corner, and there was the North Sea. There was the Old Course. All the sights that had thrilled her on her first visit now just filled her with utter nerves. A big ball of dread that had started in her stomach was threatening to spill over into her throat.
“Do you want to go straight to halls, or shall we get something to eat first?” asked Dad.
“Hall, I suppose,” she replied, well aware that she wouldn’t be able to eat a thing, which was almost a cheering thought – at least that would be one way to lose a few pounds.
“Righty-ho. Round the roundabout, I think, and past the Physics building.”
“Yeah, right as if there’s any think about it. You memorised those directions about three weeks ago!”
He grinned at her before turning back to the road. The lump of dread diminished slightly, only to be replaced with an even larger lump of sadness that she wouldn’t see her lovely dad every day for a while. Who would he take shopping on a Saturday now? Her mum certainly didn’t have the patience to sit there while he tried the size 9 and the 10 Clarks sandals before deciding against either and taking his best girl for tea and cake instead. It would be at least Christmas before they could both head off to Waterstones and lose several hours browsing, before he’d treat her to a paperback, on the strict condition that she didn’t finish reading it on the journey home. Oh god, that was it, that was enough – the tears were going to come and there was nothing she could do to stop them.
“PLEEEEEASE DON’T LEAVE ME!!!!!” she wailed.
“Now, then Issy, don’t start. It’s where you’ve wanted to go since you were little and it’s a brilliant course. St Andrews is a lovely place and I’m sure you’ll meet some nice, sensible friends,” soothed Dad, as he negotiated the speed bumps and got ever closer to the New Hall car park.
“Won’t. I’ll probably be stuck in my room from now until December. No one will speak to me and I’ll fade away from malnutrition cos I don’t know how to cook.”
“Again, it was your choice to go self-catering, largely so you didn’t have to get up for breakfast every day! Your mum’s taught you lots…..” he tailed off, aware that this wasn’t exactly true, given that his beloved wife’s talents didn’t really lie in the kitchen. So, yes, she’d taught Issy how to prick the lid of a ready meal and boil various starches (potatoes, rice AND pasta) but beyond that…..
“Anyway,” he hurried on, “You’ll enjoy your course and you can always buy meals if you fancy from the student canteen.”
With that, he pulled the car neatly into a parking space. With a clunk, the handbrake was on. They’d arrived.
Two hours later, having transported all her worldly goods from the car to room 249, it was time. They’d ooh’ed and aah’ed over what was, quite frankly, the swankiest student accommodation they’d ever seen (double bed! En-suite bathroom!) and shared shy smiles with the myriad other families also preparing to abandon their offspring. Dad had set up her telly and stereo, Issy had arranged her CDs and Doc Martens.
“Well, I’d better be getting off if I’m to get back before midnight,” said Dad. Issy just nodded, not trusting herself to speak.
They walked down to the car park together. Dad fussed around with the car, checking locks and seats and boots.
“Don’t forget to call us and look after yourself and be sensible,” he said. She nodded, again. “I’ll miss you, Is.”
He unwrapped a purple Glacier Fruit to detract attention from what looked like suspiciously watery eyes. He gave her a quick squeeze, and then, with what sounded like a choked, muffled sob, got into the car. For a man that didn’t really “do” tactile or emotional, this was powerful stuff.
As the car drove off, Issy realised she had a choice. She could burst into tears in the car park, thus ensuring her fellow freshers’ first impression of her was that loser who bawled her eyes out just cos Daddy was leaving her. Or, she could walk back to her room with her head held high and leave the histrionics for the privacy of her own bathroom. Excellent call, Is, she thought to herself. Let someone else be the sad arse. Biting the inside of her mouth to distract her from the total feeling of aloneness, she headed back to the room that would be home for the better part of the year.
Almost back at her room, thinking about a good cathartic cry and some healing chocolate, Issy noticed a girl down her corridor struggling with carrying a TV. She glanced at her room door, tempted to go and hide, but realised that probably wasn’t in the spirit of Making New Friends and might mean she didn’t actually speak to anyone until tomorrow. Be brave! she told herself. This is what it’s all about. She tapped the girl on the shoulder, ready to ask if she needed a hand.
In hindsight, some kind of throat clearing or other alert to her presence would probably have been wise. For probably the first time that day, the corridor was otherwise empty, meaning she’d crept up pretty much silently behind the girl. Who was clearly a little jumpy that day. Which explains why she jumped out of her skin at Issy’s touch and the telly jumped out of her precarious grip.
“FUCKLES!!!” screamed the girl.
“Oh, shit,” exclaimed Issy. “I am so, so sorry. I was only going to offer you a hand. Really didn’t mean to scare the shit out of you! Is this what they mean when a telly implodes?”
They both regarded the pile of plastic, glass and metal that lay at their feet.
“Nah, I’m pretty sure we’ve got off lightly – I reckon you’d have heard an implosion in Dundee!” said the girl, incredibly cheerfully given the circumstances. She extended a hand to Issy “I’m Hannah, Hannah Cross. Room 256.”
“Isabelle Dempsey, 249. But please call me Issy,” she replied.
“I’ll think about it,” said Hannah. “I’m not sure you look like an Issy, though.”
Considering that comment and her equanimity despite having smashed her telly, Issy wondered if she’d managed to meet an utter loon. She didn’t look that mad – similar height to herself, shiny dark bob, jeans and t-shirt. Although she did have the most enormous pair of breasts. Something Issy tended to notice, given her obsession with not being sufficiently blessed in that department herself and fanatical purchases of any underwear that claimed to help it out. Still, big jugs didn’t necessarily make you crazy.