(IP) Anyway, don’t be a stranger.

“Please, come in,” The woman said to the other, seated at the table, her hands wrapped around a cooling mug of tea.

She put the mug down and beckoned the other woman inside, taking the shawl off of her shoulders and putting it carefully on the coat rack, shivering when the raindrops netted in the fabric fell on her fingers.

“Is there anything that I can get you, darling? Tea, water, some food? You look so…”

Many different words came to mind: lovely, desperate, sad, thin, peaky, stressed, but she didn’t voice any of them. She hadn’t been the one who had called this meeting in the first place.

“You look good.”

The other woman gave a weak, wan smile, and she folded her hands on her stomach, staring out at the rain-soaked city as if she didn’t quite know where to begin.

Despite no concrete response, the tall woman went to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of water, a can of cola, and half a lemon. Then she walked over to a covered dish on the counter and plucked some cookies from it, placing it in front of her friend, waiting all the while for her to speak.

They’d been best friends, and she knew as well as anyone that Jazira would speak when she was ready. Minerva would wait.

That was what she’d always done, and they hadn’t spoken in years. They’d grown apart, as young women are wont to do. So when Minnie had gotten a frantic call from an unfamiliar number, she’d almost hung up. But then she’d heard Jazira’s voice, breathless and panicked; it was as if her past had come back to haunt her, and she’d almost crumbled.
It was like a particularly nasty case of deja vu. All the things she’d tried her best to forget came rushing back to the surface, that awkward, desperate young woman she’d used to be, brought to Jazira out of great need for interaction, someone who treated her like a real person instead of a porcelain doll, waiting to be molded for the most ideal husband. She was still ashamed of it, all these years, that she never felt confident enough to be on her own. The sickly fire still burned in her throat, relentless, and she looked down at the table, reaching for the mug to still the shaking in her hands.

“You’re scaring me, Jazira,” Minnie whispered, more to her tea than the person sitting opposite her.
“I wish you’d tell me what was wrong.”

“I don’t know how to tell you,” Jazira finally answered, her voice little more than a whisper. “I never should’ve even called you, this isn’t about you.” The words came out like bitter poison, and Minnie flinched, unable to help it.

“I thought you needed my help. Why else would you call?” Minnie retorted, stung despite herself. “We haven’t spoken in years, remember?”

“Come on, Min, I really don’t want to fight. I just… I don’t know where to start.”

Jazira tilted her head downward, and soon tears were plopping silently into her lap.

“I’m in trouble.”

“What kind of trouble?”

“I… I lost my temper and did something bad.” She hiccuped, wiping at her face, not seeming to notice that her mascara was dripping in navy streaks down her face.

Minnie resisted the urge to sigh aloud. That had always been Jaz’s problem; she was fiery and defiant, and once upon a time, Minnie had loved her for it. Until that and all of their other differences that had ripped their girlhood friendship to shreds.

“What kind of bad are we talking here?” Minnie asked, reaching for Jaz’s hand and taking it gently.

She was dreading her former best friend’s words, but it was too late to abandon her at this point. She’d already committed and she had to see this through, if only for the sake of their shared past.

“I… I don’t remember a lot of it,” Jaz replied, wrapping her fingers around Minnie’s on instinct.

“He was drinking, and then we fought, and he was yelling and screaming and I just saw red, and…” She trailed off, and Minnie found herself gulping.

What, exactly, had Jazira gotten her into? Dread seeped into her veins like ice, and she swallowed.

“Tell me everything. And then we’ll focus on cleaning it up. Just start from the beginning, Jaz.”