it was years of work and criticism that landed her the well-earned title of published author. not just published author, but nationwide best-selling author. her newfound riches allowed her the luxury of an apartment by the lake where she had vowed (but so far had failed) to watch the sunset over the water each day. the apartment was small and just right for a single writer and her cat, so on the night of the party it seemed like every nook was filled with a crowd even though the party consisted of only four people and the hostess.
she had only invited those who had touched her life for the better: there was adrian, her best friend and the substitute older brother she’d never had; there was shirley, shrill and ever moving, and inevitably the life of any party if only for her rapid flow of words and loud, contagious guffaw––but who was the most dependable confidante and who had be present at all emotional breakdowns since the two were preteens; jack, the second and final man she had ever loved, had made it—to her surprise—and she was touched. once lovers, they had had to cease their romance when he was unable to return her affection. they remained friends and she leaned on and opened up to jack in ways she could never do with others, maybe because she still loved him unashamedly.
adrian, shirley and jack were key chapters in the novel of her life and, oftentimes, when the black cloud enveloped her, she would think of these three and feel the cloud lighten into a grey. sometimes she talked to adrian in great detail about her emotional agony and it was adrian who, on more than one occasion, had rushed over and kept her from putting the full stop on the sentence of her life. sometimes she talked to jack about specific agonies and he always listened kindly, yet seemingly indifferently, and gave her whatever advice he had. she liked his advice because it was always logical and never said with the intent of making her feel better but rather of educating her. she listened, sometimes feeling worse, but simultaneously feeling better just because she'd talked to him and learned something. oftentimes, after conversations with jack, she would give in to the black cloud in the melodramatic way of heroines of yore who saw no point of living lest it was to live with their love. jack was never the cause of her decision to end her life, though she believed he often thought so and that idea angered her that he believed a mere man would ever have such an impact on her life.
she'd gotten into the habit of surrounding herself with her loved ones when she got sad—whoever was available at the time would usually do—but this day was special and she had felt it from the moment she woke up that morning. usually when she woke with a premonition it was of disaster. she’d wake feeling as if an anvil was placed upon her chest and walk around for days with that feeling until the object of her premonition came true: another rejected story from a magazine, a warning letter from visa or mastercard, a particularly hateful bit of reader mail, a sudden illness (either hers or her cat’s) or a whole slew of possibilities that revealed themselves in their own sweet time. since the publication of her novel, the bad feelings had more or less disappeared until she woke this day with a particularly strange sensation. not a premonition of disaster, but of peace. waking up far earlier than her nine o’clock alarm, she stretched in bed under the shining rays of the morning sun, her cat stretching with her in unison. she smiled all of a sudden and allowed the feeling of calm exultation envelope her. she would go out and buy herself a new dress, she decided and that simple, happy thought only added to her growing gleeful calm.
it was as if the universe was finally on her side for a change. the first shop she entered greeted her with the perfect frock: polka dots on a silky a-line dress. the sort that would rustle deliciously whenever she moved and the skirt of which would expand and whirl like a carousel if ever she decided to do a little twirl. it was green and blue, her favourite colours, and just costly enough to be a splurge without being extravagant. her shopping done, she treated herself to a small brunch and then took the forty-five-minute walk home, unable to see anything wrong with the world as she knew it. it was wildly refreshing and liberating; it was a feeling she’d not been able to experience since she was a small child, unaware of the horror and agonies of the world and, worse, the horrors and agonies within herself. any other day she’d pull herself off this happy cloud to try to decipher what it all meant and why it was all happening so suddenly, but today she didn’t feel the need to. today, she did what she had never been able to do before: she just let it all be.
at home, with still hours to go before her guests were due to appear, she decided to actually relax for a change. maybe she’d paint something or cook up a little something special for the party; or maybe she’d just sit and read the afternoon away. the possibilities seemed endless and she felt that exuberance in her chest—the one that was borne from a satisfied soul and which so rarely ever dignified her with a visit. her usually heavy soul felt light and the exuberance bounced around like a happy little ball with ample space to do its bouncing. she usually wished she could capture it, even a bit of it, and bottle it away. she’d put it in a small glass bottle and cork it tight so that she could see that little bit of happiness every day and remember that it came from her and that she was capable of it. it would be a way to push through those really bad days; however, today, that thought didn’t cross her mind. it was as if she wasn’t ever expecting to be sad again, and for a brief moment a sliver of panic passed through her before evaporating out the open window which was letting in that hot, bright afternoon sunshine of her favourite time of day.
she baked a cake as the afternoon shadows got longer. it was red velvet, her favourite because it was nothing more than regular cake dressed up a little bit and convincing people that it was something greater than it was. she often thought of herself that way. she treated herself to a bubble bath, listening to classic jazz and watching her fingers turn pruny while her cat napped on the bath mat beside her. she soaked until she shivered in the now-cold water and emerged with a freshness she couldn't recall having ever felt after a bath. it was a continuation of that exuberance that had began in her chest and now felt like a smokey cloud that was enveloping her more and more as the day went on.
she decided to get dressed for the party even though her guests weren't expected for another couple of hours. she wore her new dress, twirled in front of the mirror to gleefully watch the skirt swirl about her in a swoosh. she combed out her shoulder-length hair and decided to pin part of it back with a velvet bow barrette. the bow––a green very similar to the green in her new dress––contrasted perfectly with her dark, wavy hair, and she paired it with minimal makeup: some thin eyeliner, some black mascara, and her signature plum-coloured lipstick. For her feet, she settled on a pair of navy blue mary-jane heels.
by the time her guests arrived and settled in with a drink in their hands, she felt like the luckiest girl in the world. she was in awe of the fact that she had collected so many people who loved her so dearly and who cared so much for her well-being. the fact that the number of her party guests didn't exceed half a dozen didn't faze her: for once, she was finding it easy to focus on the good in her life.
"you know, i love the hell outta you," shirley said numerous times throughout the night. "i don't know what i'd do without you around." though already a little inebriated, her sentiment was real because shirley never said anything she didn't mean.
she smiled at shirley and floated on that love. there were people in the world who didn't even have one person or living thing who loved them that deeply and here she had four people plus a cat. she couldn't understand how she hadn't seen it before––how she hadn't seen just how lucky she was. but, the black cloud was very good at manipulating reality, she reminded herself, and oftentimes she was helpless against its power.
jack was the only one who commented on her noticeable good mood. adrian and shirley had known her long enough to know not to question a good thing and had, instead, shared in her merriment without a word. but jack noticed a different sort of aura around her, one that he'd never seen before. she wasn't saying or doing anything out of the ordinary, but somehow she was extraordinary tonight: her smile a little more radiant, her laugh a little more infectious, her touch a little more electric. when he asked her what she was so happy about, she just threw her head up and laughed––not in a rude or obnoxious way, jack thought, but a feminine way that was new to her.
she took a sip from her cocktail and ran her free hand down jack's forearm. "you're cute," she giggled before flitting off in a rustle of flowing skirts and cloud of her signature scent, of which he could never remember the name. he smiled to himself and took a swig of his beer, watching her as she talked animatedly with shirley. her cheeks were flushed and he enjoyed her for a minute: whatever spell of pleasure had been cast on her, it did her good. he hadn't seen her look so beautiful before. she no longer looked like she carried the world on her shoulders nor like she was being stalked by an intruder who was bound to kidnap her and keep her hostage for an indefinite amount of time. she looked, for the first time since he had known her, healthy. looking at her now, he couldn't believe that this was the same person who wrote those heart-wrenching stories of melancholia, or the same person he had held for six hours while she cried uncontrollably for no reason known to him (or to her, he suspected).
she was gleeful like she'd never been before. shirley noticed it too and fed off it while talking with her. when adrian joined them, shirley threw a glance at adrian, who returned the look with a smile. they couldn't remember the last time she had been this cheerful and they were glad for whatever had brought her such peace. shirley had the sudden urge to hug her and she did, both of them laughing as if they were still schoolgirls. shirley and adrian answered all the questions she asked them about their lives, their work, and their relationships. she expertly controlled the conversation so that she asked all the questions but gave no answers herself. she wanted to soak in her friends' lives for a change, instead of dwelling on her own unremarkable one. she asked questions, she savoured the answers, she showed affection with hugs, kisses, compliments, smiles. she even pecked jack on the lips in a hurried moment of affection, then laughed and wiped off the smudge of plum lipstick from his lower lip.
at close to 11:30 in the evening, she stole into her room promising to be back
when at midnight she hadn't yet emerged, adrian knocked on the bedroom door and called her name. when he got no answer after the third knock, shirley laughed and told him to stop pussyfooting around. she threw open the door and laughed more when she saw the hostess laying peacefully on her bed, on top of the covers, with her cat curled up by her head, purring loudly. jack poked his head over shirley's shoulder and smiled, touched by her innocence and the small smile that played on her sleeping mouth.
laughing, the guests began gathering their things and prepared to leave to allow their friend to peacefully enjoy her night's slumber. they left the bedroom door ajar and collected their coats and bags in drunken stage whispers before filing out and locking the door behind them with adrian's spare key to the apartment. none of them had noticed the empty, overturned bottle of prescription sleeping pills on the bedside, just within arm's reach of the sleeping hostess.