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written by: Colleen M. Tice
The friends meet at the local café for coffee, Soups on Café was their favorite coffee shop. The first woman sits with her back against the corner wall, she had pulled her long dark hair into her high ponytail. Her blue jeans hung loose on her waist, her hard nipples poke at the fabric of her black t-shirt.
Her friend, a taller and thinner woman sits with her back to the front door. She waits for their conversation to begin, staring into her long-time friend’s eyes. Her own dark hair flows over her shoulders, and her own eyes sparkle. The young woman smooths her jeans and fidgets with her black tank top. The hazy sun sparkles across her watch and golden ring, causing little bursts of sunbeams to burst across the table.
The coffee shop is unusually quiet for the midday, but the friends barely notice. Lost in their own little world, they begin their conversation. The first woman fidgets with her cup of coffee, twirling it around her fingers, “It’s good to see you, Tahla.”
“It has been awhile since we have been together, Li. Too long.” Nodding Li continues to twirl her cup, looking out the dusty window. Oddly, the street beyond is void of traffic, the sidewalk is empty of people also. The sun glints off the pavement. Li returns her focus to Tahla’s mechanical tone, saying something but Li had not heard her. “I am sorry I didn’t hear you, Tahla.”
Covering Li’s hand, “Stop fidgeting! You are okay. I am with you as always. You can tell me anything. You can vent, cry, yell or sit with me.”
Li squeezes the calming hand, “Thank you, my friend.” They were alone except a lone waitress, waiting in the shadows for them to call her over. She paces around the small café, watching them.
Throughout the years Tahla became Li’s strength, the only one could count on. She had been part of Li’s life for as long as Li could remember. Although at times Li feared and despised Tahla.
“I know what you are thinking Li, don’t fear your thoughts or feelings. Don’t fear your friendships, relationships and love,” Tahla comforts.
Pulling her hand away Li shivers, rubbing her hands together. Li replies, “I am not afraid. I fear no one or anything. Why should I?”
“You do fear, you fear your memories. You fear so much,” Tahla taunts. Sipping her warm coffee Li ignores Tahla’s taunts, then she waves the waitress over to them. The tall pretty waitress hurries over to them, “Good afternoon, how can I help you?”
Li replies, “I would like a buffalo chicken wrap with french fries. My friend would like a grilled chicken salad.”
The waitress jots their order down, “Okay, it will be a few minutes.” “Thank you.” Leaving them alone, Li and Tahla return to their conversation. Leaning against the cool hard wall Li observes her old friend. Tahla sits in her wooden chair, tracing the top of her own cup with her forefinger. “I know you want to say something. You have something on your mind, my friend,” Tahla whispers. The deafening ticking of the nearby clock echoes through the empty café. The sound jars Li: a taunting murmur, “You are not here. You are somewhere else….”
Closing her eyes, blocking out the mocking sound, Li’s doubts become a hum. “I am here inside Soups on Café with my friend.” "How did we become friends? When did it begin?” she wonders.
“We have always been friends; our friendship started a long time ago. You don’t remember?” Running her temples Li sits straighter in her chair, the sun shimmers against her crystal necklace. Causing small rainbows to dance across the table.
Pulling the shade closed over the dusty window, “It’s too bright in here, the sun keeps bouncing into my eyes,” Li sighs.
“I could have pulled the shade closed for you, if you had asked,” Tahla sips her coffee. “I know,” a cold shiver of fear runs up Li’s spine. “Why am I frightened? Why should I be afraid of Tahla? She’s been my advocate, my strength and my warrior for so long.”
Tahla moves closer, filling the space between them with her demanding presence. “Are you alright? Do you want to end our visit?” Li shakes her head, “No… of course not.” Taking ahold of Tahla’s hand, “Why did we become friends?”
Laughing Tahla replies, “Because we needed each other. I am not sure. Because we liked each other, I guess. Why do we think we became friends?”
Li looks around the small room, searching for the waitress, “where is our order?”
“Don’t worry about our order for now. Why do you think we became friends, Li?”
Shuffling her silverware and cup around the table, Li does not respond. She thinks about Tahla’s question before answering. “We became friends when we needed each other. When I was a frightened and sad little girl. You helped me to hide away from the monsters.”
A shark-teeth filled smile forms across Tahla’s mouth, “Yes, I did. Didn’t I?”
Ashamed Li looks away from the creepy smile, “Yes you did. You taught me to hide from everyone!” Cold vomit rises from her belly, climbing up into her throat, ready to jump from her mouth. Fear and anger mingle, “Why am I feeling this way? I am happy to be with Tahla, am I not?”
“You fear me because you don’t understand me, you don’t understand why I am here. The reason we are friends,” Tahla states.
The sun begins to lower, and the café darkens, and the silence is heartbreaking. Their visit will be coming to an end soon. The waitress had not returned with their order, she had disappeared into the shadows. “Where has the pretty waitress gone?” Li wonders. Tahla places her forefinger against her ruby lips, “No need to think about her, don’t ask for her again. She will interrupt our visit and that won’t be good.”
Suddenly Li and Tahla are sitting in a white corner, nothing surrounding them but whiteness and a single lightbulb high above them. Li is sitting against the soft white walls, with her arms wrapped around her thin legs. “Where are we Tahla? I am afraid….”
Tahla soothes Li, taking ahold of her hand, “you are safe. I am here with you; you are safe with me as always. I am your security blanket, I am your friend, your sister, your family. I am your soulmate, I am your everything,” Tahla giggles.
Inside the locked white room Li sits, inside her a panic silence, she listens to her friend. While others watch them through the only window, a small dusty window, with a single flashlight peering through the door window.
“Our bond is everything. It will never break, Li. I will always be here for you. I am your rope to hang onto and to hang from. I am your friendship to grow in and your anguish to die in,” Tahla’s wicked laugher teases.
Rocking back and forth Li whimpers, “What are you talking about? Who are you?”
“Oh dear, Li, don’t you understand I am your mental illness. I am your monsters! Our bond is forever, you and I are together forever. You will never be rid of me, we are friends, family and enemies!”
Outside the small white room, the pretty girl has been observing the young woman. The young woman has been having a conversation with herself.
A Meeting with her mental illness, her only friend…...