All Stories, General Fiction

Girlfriends by Donna Tracy

Warning – References to suicide, bullying and self harm.

It is in the dead days between Christmas and New Year that Candy finally comes. The cat stands in the doorway, back arched, tail huge, hissing into the vacant space beside me and I know, even before I turn my head and see the pale shape in the tail of my eye, that it’s her. I am twenty-eight now, twice the age she will ever be. Perhaps I wanted to believe that she had forgotten.

She first arrived at Easter, as awkward and gangly as a spring lamb. Kirsty was chosen to show her around, to make her welcome – though I couldn’t understand why at first – then she ate lunch with us. I had hoped she would make her own friends and we’d go back to how we’d been before, just Kirsty and me, aloof and apart from everyone else, secretly sneering, knowing in our bones that we were better than all of them.

Candy changed all that. Kirsty liked her, insisted she hang out with us even when I said categorically that I didn’t want her to. Kirsty ignored me. She soon stopped wearing the thick kohl eyeliner we were always made to wash off in first period. She took to pulling her hair up into cute ponytails and French plaits, to wearing white ankle socks instead of black tights, to using glitter pens and scented erasers. I hardly knew her anymore. Her grades improved, teachers praised her work in class and shot triumphant glances at my scornful face. They had done it on purpose, but I realised too late.

I remember the absolute gut-punch of finding out they’d had a sleepover at Kirsty’s without me. A dagger in my heart, I remember thinking. It seems so trivial now, but at the time, it was everything. It consumed me – the rage, the grief, the bitter hatred. Candy had taken my best friend – my only friend – away from me, and I decided I would make her sorry for it.

It was easy enough once I found her online. Darling Candy turned out to have a lot of issues under her perfect veneer. She was insecure, like we all were, but she was trusting too. It didn’t take long to set up accounts in other equally soft, plushy names: Lara Love, Abigail Rose, Lisa Devine, and to connect with her, to bond over our deep-seated worries about boys, families, grades. She counselled us, sweet girl, advising us to be kind to ourselves, to make time for our hobbies and pets, to acknowledge our feelings.  

I took her at her word: she was my hobby, and I gave her my all. Each of us listened to her fears about failing at school, about her future, about her family. She argued with her mother, she said, she felt crushed under the weight of her expectation. She felt ugly too, and worried she’d never get a boyfriend. This, we saw, was our way in. We worked on her, got her to send us photos of herself and appraised them with brutal honesty, just as she’d asked us to do. Maybe you could work on slimming your thighs; you could try cutting your hair; you should try and cut out carbs, and sweets and crisps, skip breakfast; well, you could always wax your top lip, that might help.

I watched her at school, from across the classroom. I saw the dark circles appear under her eyes and I smiled when she turned up with a new short haircut. She lost weight and stopped smiling, stopped being perfect. Kirsty didn’t seem to notice, too busy showing off her new pink pencil case. I began to despise her too, wondered if it was even worth continuing for someone so weak, so pathetic. But it was about something else by then, and I had started, so I would finish.

It was in those dead days that the end came. She reached out to us just after Christmas, told us she was thinking of ending it all, said she couldn’t stand the pain of being alive anymore. What did we think? Was it the right thing to do? We gasped when we read it, held our breath, let the delicious thrill of our power glitter and crackle in the space above the keyboard. We waited before we replied, as if we were thinking it through, waited until she typed: Is anyone there?

‘Are you sure?’ Lisa asked. ‘Are you sure this is what you want?’

‘I understand,’ Abigail consoled. ‘I’ve felt this too. No-one would blame you.’

‘If you’re in so much pain,’ Lara reassured her, ‘then I think you should do it.’

We waited. There was nothing more to be said, and nothing to be heard until I returned to school.

A special assembly was called. Sad news, girls, the headmistress told us. I think she was trying not to cry. I was there for Kirsty, of course I was. I was her best friend after all, though it was disappointing to see how distraught she was. I wondered whether she would have been more upset, or less, if it had been me.

Candy’s mother – the pushy bitch – was on all the news channels afterwards, weeping, warning other parents about the dangers, telling them to look out for the signs, though she’d missed them all. She made a career of it, you know, she’s quite famous now. Best thing that ever happened to her.

No-one ever found out it was me, but even so, I don’t see Kirsty anymore. We drifted apart in sixth form; she started hanging out with other people and I spent most of my time online. I still do. I work from home mostly. At first, I liked it, not having to go to an office, not having to see anyone, but now, after a year, I’m sick of it, to tell the truth. Every day’s the same: wake up, eat, work, eat, sleep, repeat. Lately, I’ve been wondering what the point of it all is. I feel like I’m going nowhere. I find myself thinking about Candy a lot.

When she comes at last, we sit for a time, saying nothing. At first, I was afraid, but she is not malevolent, I think. Rather, she’s soothing, kind, just as she always was, and I wonder what she wants from me. She smiles and she listens – really listens – and I find myself telling her my fears, telling her my plan. I confide in her in a way I have never confided in anyone else, while she nods sympathetically. And that’s when I understand why she’s come back. To help me, of course, to guide me.

‘What do you think? Is it the right thing to do?’ I ask finally.

She smiles reassuringly, such a sweet smile. Even after everything I did, she’s still so kind. And wise too; she knows what she’s talking about, after all. She makes everything seem clear.

She looks down at her torn wrists then back at me, and just for a second, a darkness flits across her face and I feel afraid again. But then she smiles, and I relax, tell myself it was just a trick of the light.

‘Poor you,’ she says, reaching out her pale hand toward me as a tear spills down my cheek. ‘I’ve felt this too. No-one would blame you.’ She pauses, thinks for a minute. ‘You know,’ she says, ‘if you’re in so much pain, then I think you should do it.’

Donna Tracy

Image: – Laptop computer keyboard with hands of a young woman typing.      

12 thoughts on “Girlfriends by Donna Tracy”

  1. Hi Donna,
    This is dark but relatable. There have been so many of this type of tragedy.
    I am trying to think if we’ve had anything like this, slightly, but probably more of the bullying as a cause and not an out and out push towards a form of murder.
    I did quite like that it is open to interpretation, (Well maybe except for the cat’s reaction.) was this her own guilts doing? Or was it revenge from beyond the grave?
    …It is brave to take on something that you as a writer might be slated for.
    But why should you, there wasn’t a hint of your opinion, you simply told the story which sadly, is well observed and realistic.
    I always have an admiration for those writers who take on the darker subjects and let the story pan out in whatever way that it does!


    1. Thanks so much for your kind words, Hugh. I got the idea from a pretty horrible news story, sadly. It got me thinking about the kind of person that would encourage someone to take their life and what must be going on in their own life to make them behave like that.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Donna

    This makes the blood run cold due to the authenticity of the actions and costs. Things get out of hand, especially for the young, and often a hideous act you cannot take back is the result. Very well presented.


  3. You handle this incredibly difficult subject incredibly well. The almost clinical approach of the protagonist prevents this from being sentimental or contrived and delivers a story with real, and deep impact.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I really liked that the story can be interpreted in two ways: Is the ghost a pure figment of the main character’s imagination prompted by her guilt. Or is there really a ghost who appears, back from the dead, to exact vengeance? Either way, I felt the impact of your piece.

    Liked by 1 person

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