My mother wasn't and has never been on my side, but the universe definitely was. I say that because the moment I settled into my room at Peacetree, the phone rang.
It was him - Cam. My one friend in the world.
I was so surprised. I’d left my phone on silent and I just happened to turn my head and saw the call coming through to my phone. I couldn’t help but smile. A torrential flood of relief washed all over my body. I wanted to weep, but I didn't want him to worry - he was quite good at picking up on me being upset, even when I did my best to seem anything but. I sent a silent prayer of thanks to whatever cosmic entity was looking out for me.
I took a deep breath before pushing the green button. “Cam, hey! Long time no see! I thought you'd forgotten about me."
“You? Never! Not in a million years.” He sounded cheerful as always. I wondered if that man ever had a bad day in his life. He was always happy. “I'm sorry I've been MIA, though. Life’s been crazy, but it’s finally calmed down on my end. Thought I'd give you a call.”
“That’s so sweet. I’m glad you’re thinking of me.” I meant every word. "It's so good to hear your voice."
“Why thank you, thank you very much.” I snickered at the sound his makeshift deep voice. Cam's natural voice was more of a baritone, not too high, not too low. "You know, if you want to hear more of it, you can call me any time you want."
“I know, I’ve been meaning to call, it’s just hard with my mother around." I rolled my eyes. "She never gives me any personal space and she’d pick a fight to embarrass me if she knew I was on the phone with you.”
“She still giving you a hard time?”
“Of course - it's what she lives for. But I don’t want to talk about that now. I’d rather talk about you, Cam.”
“Sounds great. I love it when I get to talk about myself.”
I rolled my eyes. “Anyway, how’s everything going? Last time I heard from you, your gaming company was really ramping up.”
“It still is!” he replied. “It's so crazy that we had to move to bigger digs, a real nice office that’s swanky and everything. It'll only get bigger from here, Nonon. I’m so proud of myself and my team, we’ve worked really hard to pull it all off!”
“I'm so happy to hear that." I smiled so hard, my jawbones began to ache. "I'm proud of you, too. This is what you've wanted since our days in college and now you're out there living your dream. Meanwhile, I’m on year two of working a dead-end job just to pay the bills. Must be nice.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy that my company is off the ground. I’ve been working hard for this for years and finally, we’re getting somewhere. But mobile games are a crowded market and everybody wants to create the next big game. I’ve got to work hard and stay on my toes if we’re going to continue to be successful.”
“True. True." I tried not to sound jealous. But I was very, very jealous. It must have been nice, getting to live the kind of life you always wanted, no bitter old woman doing everything in her power to drag you down. "By the way, where did the company move to? I think you guys were in the city before, right?"
“We were, but now my work and my home are in the same place now. Most of my employees live here, too. You’re familiar with the town yourself. You go there a lot after all.”
“What?” I sat straight up, my eyes going wide. When I think about it now, that should have been my first clue as to what would happen next. “Greenview?!”
“Ding ding ding - you are correct! We have a nice office space in Greenview's Corporate Center. My office has a lovely view of Mayfair, too.”
“You lucky man! You really are living my dream!" My pride was strong, but for a moment, the desire to beg him from a job, any job, even if it was that of a janitor, was even stronger. "I hope I can see it sometime."
“You can come over here any time you want! I'll give you the grand tour and everything and then we can go out and have lunch at Mayfair.” My sadness further dissipated, replaced with bubbling, fizzling joy. No matter how hard my life was, I couldn't help but feel so happy for my best friend. “We'll both have a great time, you and me."
My cheeks tingled. “I'm gonna hold you to that because I could really use one of those right now. A good time."
“That bad, huh?"
“Y-Yeah.” I took a deep breath. I really didn’t want to saddle my mommy issues on him. But the words just seemed to flow whenever we talked. “I mean, you’ve been busy with your company, and I didn’t want to distract you with my ‘domestic problems’. That's why I haven't called lately. There's been so many of them.”
“It’s not a distraction if I want to hear you out. You know I’m here for you, Nonon.” Be still my heart. “I'm a CEO but I'm still your best friend. And if my friend is having a hard time all by herself, well, I gotta do something about that."
“I know but...” I tried in vain to stop the tears from flowing. “You know me. I always think I can handle things all by myself. Little by little, I try to deal with her bullcrap as best I can."
"And how's that been going for you?"
"Poorly. Very poorly." I took another deep breath. There was no point holding it back now. "It's never going to get better with her, is it? These last six months have been rough. If I'm not working, I'm being hounded by my mom and if she's not yelling at me, I'm working long hours to keep us both afloat."
"Why do you have to do all the work?" There was a sharp edge to his cheery voice. "Can't she get a job?"
"This is my mom we're talking about here? Why should she get a job when she can just bully me into funding her lifestyle?" I sighed, shoulders heavy with all the burdens of my life. "And I just let her. Because it's harder to fight whenever your entire family thinks you're the selfish one. It's so hard...and it's definitely taking a toll on me. I want to get away from her but I'm trapped. Between a rock and a hard place."
He kept quiet. I don’t blame him.
“On the bright side, I'm free from her this weekend." I continued. “I’m actually at the Peacetree Motel right now. I came here to cool off for the weekend. Mom and I were at each other’s throats this time. I couldn’t let her little jab go this time and I told her exactly what I thought of her.”
The strangled gasp from Cam’s throat didn’t get past me. He was all too aware of my status as a reluctant doormat. “Seriously?”
“Yep. Told her that she needed me more than I needed her and that she was fully capable of making a living for herself. I don’t think I have to tell you how she took all that.”
“No, but she had it coming. Good on you for telling her like it is, Nonon."
Cam was right. There was still so much I needed to tell my mother - the words that I said were just the tip of the iceberg. She’d done so much to break my spirit, never thinking twice about how her actions affected me. It felt good to stop being nice and give it back as good as she gave it.
But as good as all that felt, I knew I wasn’t out of the woods yet.
“I really need to get out of that place," I said, exasperated. "I’ve been saving up to get out of there, but I barely have enough to cover rent and a security deposit. But I don’t know how much more I can deal with her. I can’t even relish that I told her off because I have to go back to that place Sunday night and I’m sure she’ll be at the door waiting to lay into me once again when I return. I don’t think she’ll let me sleep a wink. Not until she makes me pay for acting up.”
Silence. I pursed my lips together, hoping to mute any sounds that betrayed the tears streaming down my face. I wanted to sob, scream, throw a pillow, but more importantly, I wanted to rage. It wasn’t fair. The things my mother put me through…it just wasn’t fair.
“Ugh, I just don’t know when to shut up, do I?” I took a deep breath, wiping my tears away. I kicked myself for making things awkward with my domestic soap opera. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to let out that word vomit, Cam.”
“Don’t be sorry, Nonon, you needed to get that out.” His quiet voice comforted and soothed me. “I’m sorry I haven’t been there to help you through all this. I’m your friend and I haven’t been there for you.”
“Don’t be an idiot, you have your own life to live, Cam. You said it yourself, remember?”
“I can run a company and still make time for my friend who clearly needs me. You mean a lot to me, Nicola. You’re the best person I know on this entire planet and you deserve so much more than just sadness and pain in your life. If I can give that to you, even just a little bit, then I’ve done something greater than run a company.” A sob escaped from my mouth as the tears flowed once more. Damn it Cam, why do you have to be such a great person? “And that’s what I’m going to do while you’re here in Greenview. I’m going to pick you up tomorrow and treat you to an amazing day out.”
You don’t need to do that. I couldn’t bring myself to say the words. “I couldn’t really use one of those right now.
“Then it’s settled. I’ll come and pick you up tomorrow and we’ll go hang out at Mayfair or wherever else you want. It’s supposed to be warm and sunny tomorrow so we can go up on the mall’s roof and just hang out. Don’t worry about meals or anything, it’s all my treat.”
“You don’t need to treat me, Cam. I don’t want to trouble you too much while I’m here.”
“I know I don’t need to treat you. But I want to.” I sighed, defeated. Trying to change his mind would be akin to talking to a brick wall. That’s just the way Cam rolled. “Between you and me, I’ve always wanted to go to Mayfair for something other than business, but I never wanted to go alone. Handsome guy like me would have to beat all the single ladies off with a stick if I went in with nobody on my arm. Since you’re in town, I can drag you with me.”
“Oh, now I see how it is,” I replied with a giggle. Cam was a sweetheart, but he’s also a notorious flirt. He never wastes an opportunity to make himself out to be an absolute stud. Which was hilarious because he’s one of the most considerate men I have ever met. “I mean I don’t, but as your friend, I’m willing to volunteer to be your mall buddy.”
“Thank you. I appreciate it. What time should I pick you up tomorrow?”
“Hmm…how about noon?”
“Noon it is. I’ll see you then, okay. In the meantime, take it easy and get some rest. You deserve it.”
I smiled into the receiver. The first time I had a reason to smile, having something to look forward to after what felt like an eternity. “Thank you, Cam. See you then.”