Ingrid Morales was in a deep sleep when her doorbell rang. She jolted awake more than annoyed. Her Roku TV had powered off, leaving only the screen saver to inform her it was past four am. Who the hell would be ringing her bell at this hour? Ingrid sat up feeling a little nervous. The project building she lived in wasn’t considered the safest and more than once a drunkard would ring her bell or crash against her door making Ingrid rush to her bedroom where she would stay until daybreak.
“Damn,” Ingrid muttered in frustration. She had fallen asleep on the sofa again. Her roommate Evelyn Santos had gone out hours earlier and probably forgot her keys again. She had done that more than once, already irritating Ingrid even more. Ingrid smelled the freshly painted apartment and yawned. The doorbell rang more persistently. Damn that Evelyn. It was time to tell her off or something. She couldn’t keep forgetting her keys especially in this area. She knew better damn her.
“I’m coming!” Ingrid cried in the silence of the apartment. Her voice echoed, making her heart pound hard. At least she was already fully dressed. She approached the door but she couldn’t bring herself to look through the peephole. If Evelyn wasn’t ringing that bell, then she dreaded to see who was. She didn’t want anyone gazing at her eye looking through some peephole. That would alert someone she was home.
Ingrid shivered as she gazed towards the door.
“Who is it?” She swallowed as she gazed around wondering if she’d need a weapon.
“Me, Delilah,” came the answer that shocked Ingrid so much she froze. “Let me in.”
“Who?” Ingrid couldn’t believe what she heard. Delilah? Delilah Lucas? Had she heard right? It sure sounded like her long lost friend.
Not only had Delilah Lucas been Ingrid’s long lost friend she had been Ingrid’s best friend since childhood. They had met in the third grade and were practically inseparable. Despite having sisters Delilah was the only person Ingrid had confided many secrets. She had trusted her completely and they once became blood sisters during the fifth grade. They attended the same schools and graduated high school together. They had lived across the street from each other until Delilah’s family moved to Canarsie. Ingrid remembered because she had cried on and off that whole night.
So imagine Ingrid’s joy when Delilah agreed to become her roommate when Ingrid took over her sister’s apartment years later. Together they agreed to split the rent, utility bills and groceries. They both held jobs though Delilah worked part-time. She had worked at a bank she loathed while on weekends they spent the night smoking cigarettes and talking until the wee hours of the morning. They shared their dreams and gossip and Ingrid was content.
Then one night Delilah disappeared. Like a thief in the night she took off never telling Ingrid.
She left no word on where she was going. She just split and Ingrid never heard from her again. It was only in recent months that Ingrid discovered the book Delilah had published. A New York Times best seller on top of that. Ingrid had to take a double look to make sure this was her former friend. She wasn’t sure about the writing but she saw the picture. It was her all right. This had amazed Ingrid since she’d been the writer with Delilah’s support. That Delilah would turn into a sudden best-selling author was confusing to say the least aside from shocking. Now she is back? Just like that?”
“Come on Ingrid I know you’re in there. I just heard you.”
Furiously, Ingrid flung the door open. Delilah shrieked despite the late hour. “Oh my God! Ingrid!” She threw her arms around her friend as if she never left and much less without explanation. Delilah kissed Ingrid’s cheek but Ingrid didn’t move. Delilah hugged her again but Ingrid remained as stiff as a leaf on a summer day.
“What are you doing here Delilah?”Ingrid demanded. Delilah’s perfume was of floral scent. It was strong and likely expensive.
Delilah smiled. “Oh Ingrid. Cold as ever I see. You never were for hugging or affection. Aren’t you happy to see me? I’m so happy to see you. How could you talk to me that way, me, your long lost roommate?” Delilah sauntered inside the apartment dressed in the finest clothes Ingrid ever saw. And that didn’t include the expensive jewelry, the fancy hairstyle, the knee-high boots of fine leather. Delilah’s hair was rough and dark but Ingrid had never viewed it with the professional care it showed now. Her hair shone as the perfect makeup she wore. Ingrid was at a loss for words when Delilah sat on the green-gray couch and only then did Ingrid notice the red glittering nails. Meanwhile, all Ingrid wore was gray sweatpants and a black t-shirt. Her straight auburn hair was tousled from sleep and she wore no makeup. Ingrid couldn’t remember the last time she applied makeup.
“How do I look Ingrid?” Delilah rose and turned in a circle. Ingrid fumed then slammed the door hard. The nerve of this woman!
“Wait a minute Ingrid I left two suitcases in the hall!” Delilah rushed forward but Ingrid blocked her. “What do you mean your bags are in the hall?” Ingrid almost shouted. “Where the hell have you been? And how dare you call yourself my long lost roommate after the way you left? You stopped being my roommate ten years ago.”
Delilah hesitated. “Please let me get my suitcase, Ingrid. I haven’t been gone that long that I’d forgotten how bad this neighborhood is. That suitcase is pure leather and-”
Something in Ingrid’s face shut Delilah up. However, Ingrid flung the door open. She stepped out and quickly carried in Delilah’s suitcase. Only instead of standing it on the floor she flung it across the living room. “I don’t know why you brought that here but I suggest you find a hotel tonight,” Ingrid spat. “You don’t live here now.” Ingrid paused and threw herself down on the rocking chair Delilah gave her for Christmas ten years ago. They had always exchanged cards and gifts.
“Oh, Ingrid, that was nasty. I see you haven’t shed that nasty temper either. You’re always so emotional. So damn dramatic. I brought you some presents and you may have broken them.” Ingrid didn’t answer. Delilah looked around the living room. “I like the changes you made here,” she said glumly. “I love them in fact. You did a good job maintaining this apartment. Okay Ingrid. I know my showing up like this after ten years has to be awkward for you. Believe me it is for me too even more so. I didn’t mean to leave the way I did. I never planned it that way.”
Delilah sat again. “Ingrid I don’t blame you for being angry at me. But please assure me you don’t hate my guts. I would never forgive myself if you do. I still love you. I never stopped. I missed you so much. I know it’s not what you want to hear but it’s true. If you really want me to stay at a hotel I’ll go but please let me stay here tonight. Or whatever is left of it. I really don’t feel like going to a hotel right now. Besides, there’s so much to tell you but wait a minute. This is for you.”
Delilah reached for her leather handbag. She pulled out a book. “For you Ingrid. Straight off the press. Can you believe it’s being made into a Christmas movie? You’ll never believe what they’re paying me for the rights. And that’s not even including royalties, bonuses, and oh Ingrid. I came back to share some of my good fortune with you. For starters take the book. Please.”
Ingrid snatched the book and glanced at it. Christmas Through Wonderland was its title. By Delilah Lucas. Ingrid took a double look unable to shake the sudden feeling that it sounded familiar. But before she could pursue further Delilah snatched the book back and laughed. “I know you’re tired, Ingrid. We better get some sleep before hey wait a minute. You painted in here didn’t you? I can smell it and it looks great. I love the soft gray you chose.”
“We painted days ago,” Ingrid confirmed. “So that’s your best-selling book huh? You said that’s my copy? Taking it back already?”
Delilah let out an efficient little giggle. “Yes, it is. I signed it for you.” Delilah opened the book to the first page. And there Ingrid read “and my To Ingrid my best friend in the whole world and inspiration. Love Delilah
“And you are Ingrid. Did you know?” Delilah smiled. “My inspiration. Ingrid you were such a talented writer. I always envied your talent and wanted to write just like you. This book was inspired by that essay you wrote many years ago, remember? The one we wrote during the winter in fifth grade? Mrs. Birch loved both of our essays and chose them along with her daughter’s essay. You do remember that, don’t you Ingrid? Her daughter was spending the day with us so of course she chose her essay as one of the best. But she did pick ours too, remember?”
Not only did Ingrid remember she became misty eyed. Holding the book Ingrid almost cried. “Why did you leave Delilah?” she almost choked out. And just as sentimental as she had begun to feel Ingrid’s anger returned in full force. She slammed down the best-selling book.“Ten years Delilah! Ten damn years! You know how long that is to just disappear?” Ingrid paused to wipe the tears that began to fall. “Why are you here?” Ingrid still couldn’t believe Delilah was back. Maybe she was dreaming this and she would wake up any moment.
Delilah grabbed her tossed suitcase and pulled it towards her. As she did this Ingrid picked up the book and glanced at it again. It wasn’t a heavy book in fact it was pretty light. A few chapters at best.
“This is for you Ingrid,” Delilah handed her a wine-colored sable coat. “I picked it up in one of the most exclusive shops in Los Angeles. I even picked up another for your new roommate. I think her name is Evelyn or something like that?” Delilah was holding another sable coat a black one.
Ingrid pushed them aside. Oh, it was beautiful but Ingrid didn’t need such a fancy coat. “How did you know my roommate’s name? And, I lived alone for over five years in this apartment,” Ingrid hissed, determined to finish what she started. “I struggled to pay the rent you had agreed to help me with. My parents helped me even as they tried to get me to move back with them. My sister helped me. I had a few roommates, yes. A boyfriend who didn’t stay. And all along I kept wondering what happened to you. I waited for a letter, something but you never contacted me! Never! Now you show up dressed all rich handing me books and fur coats and think that’s all you need to do to win my forgiveness. I owe three months of rent! Evelyn just moved in and we’re working on catching up! I can’t believe you have the nerve to just show up and-”
“Hey there!” Evelyn’s sudden appearance startled Ingrid and Delilah.
“Do you know what time it is?” Ingrid almost screamed. Evelyn was a lovely dark skinned tall woman. She was from Honduras and recently learned the English language. She and Ingrid met in college when Ingrid was taking classes immersed in the social sciences. Ingrid hoped to become a teacher but she could only work full-time and had been forced to leave college on the back burner.
Evelyn scrunched up her face before bursting in laughter. “Excuse me Mom,” she exclaimed, almost falling towards Delilah who steadied her. Evelyn took a double look at Delilah’s fancy clothes. “Wow, are you gorgeous!” she exclaimed. Delilah wrapped the black sable coat around her shoulders.
“For you!” Delilah smiled. “And Ingrid. Your rent is paid in full for the rest of the year. I’m hoping you will leave this ghetto neighborhood behind where it belongs. I’m sure you figured out that I live in California now. But there are many beautiful neighborhoods right here in the big apple. Come on Ingrid. You can do this.”
Evelyn hugged the coat. “Is this really for me?” she gushed.
“I guess it is you damned drunk!” Ingrid snapped.
“Ingrid!” Delilah snapped in return, somewhat amused. “That’s not nice. Have you forgotten all those times you got drunk with me?”
Ingrid glared at Delilah. The glare was so cold Delilah nearly recoiled. “I guess now you’re ready to throw things in my face huh?” Ingrid asked in disgust. “I didn’t ask you to pay my rent, you damn deserter. And for your information, Evelyn is drunk not that it’s a crime. But she should know better than to come home so late in a dangerous neighborhood like this, especially that way.” Delilah nodded, unable to disagree with that. She sure hadn’t missed this old neighborhood.
“Oh Ingrid I’m sorry if I worried you,” Evelyn apologized looking contrite. “I went out with the girls from work and we stayed out later than I intended.” Evelyn paused to take a closer look at the sable coat. “This is a fabulous coat.” She turned to Delilah. “You must be Delilah.”
“The one and only!” Delilah turned in circles again making Evelyn laugh. “I heard so much about
“Bad things I’m sure. I came back hoping to help you know. I’m sure you heard about me leaving ten years ago.” Evelyn admitted she did and they got to talking.
Ingrid turned away disgusted. She couldn’t show it but she was terribly mixed up. She wiped more tears. For ten years she had struggled with emotions towards her childhood best friend. This friend who abandoned her. What kind of person abandoned a best friend for ten years? And why come back? To flaunt her wealth and success? Ingrid nearly became overwhelmed and decided going back to sleep was best. A drunk Evelyn readily agreed. She thanked Delilah for the coat.
“I can’t wait to wear this to work,” she boasted, hugging the expensive fur. “Thank you so much Delilah or whoever you are. Ingrid hated you for leaving the way you did. Wait a minute. Is this your suitcase? Are you moving back in here? That wouldn’t make sense. You look way too wealthy to come back to the ghetto. Oh and please don’t walk around the neighborhood dressed like that or they’ll rip you off something fierce. As it is I hope they didn’t see you come up here or someone may try to break in here.”
“Oh knock it off!” Ingrid scolded. That was the last thing she needed to hear. “No one is going to break in here and should they try we have metal doors. The projects have metal doors thankfully. Anyway, I’m going back to sleep. Delilah you can sleep with Evelyn or you can sleep on the couch. I was just sleeping there and it’s as comfortable as any bed. We’ll talk more tomorrow.”
“Okay Ingrid. I am tired. I was hoping we could talk a little before we checked in.”
Ingrid walked past her. “I was sleeping when you got here. I need to get back to sleep.”
Ingrid woke up to the familiar scent of Delilah’s French Toast. Despite herself Ingrid grit her teeth feeling hungry already. She remembered that french toast! No one cooked french toast like Delilah. Ingrid realized how much she missed those Saturday mornings when Delilah would fill a plate with them. Summer, winter, it never failed and they always tasted great especially during winter.
Reluctantly and almost eagerly Ingrid dressed and stepped into the kitchen. Delilah was dressed herself but in a much more comfortable outfit than the fancy crap she arrived in at four am. Even in these comfortable duds Ingrid could see they were expensive.
“Good morning Ingrid,” Delilah smiled as she placed a Christmas themed plate on the table with three french toast. “I know you didn’t forget my french toast. I whipped up a bunch of them so you could indulge as much as you used to. You have no idea how much I’ve missed this girl.”
Ingrid took a deep breath. “Where’s Evelyn? Still asleep? Maybe we should wake her?” Evelyn was likely sleeping off a hangover which wasn’t her first. Ingrid felt more than annoyed at the thought. She would have to take this up with Evelyn sooner than later. She would have tonight but Delilah showed up. First things first.
“Oh, Evelyn isn’t asleep. She already had five slices of my french toast and she loved them. She made me promise to leave some more for her so I did. She even went to the store and bought a few loaves of wheat bread. She told me of your diabetes Ingrid. I’m sorry I didn’t know. She also told me about your dad passing away.” Tears filmed Delilah’s eyes. “Why didn’t you tell me? You know how much I love that man. He was like my own father.”
Ingrid took her seat fighting not to swear which was all she wanted to do right then. “Why didn’t I tell you? How could I do that when you were gallivanting on the sunset strip in California?” Just the thought of Delilah visiting California made Ingrid green with envy. It had been Ingrid’s dream to go to California. Since high school days when Ingrid dreamed of becoming a journalist. She had even considered singing and movies. Delilah had been so supportive of those dreams and pushed Ingrid to go to college. Until Ingrid abruptly gave them up deciding she needed a job and apartment quickly.
“Okay, you got me there Ingrid. I still wish someone had…oh well. I want to pay my respects. I am so sorry to hear of his passing. I cried before you woke up. I can’t believe someone as strong as your father is gone.”
“Evelyn has a big mouth,” Ingrid nearly growled. “She shouldn’t have said anything.”
“You’re right you should have told me as soon as I settled in. How’s your mom?” Ingrid watched as Delilah poured each of them some orange juice. She suddenly noticed her stacked kitchen. Boxes of macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, cups of soups, oatmeal, tuna fish, even cereal. Packs of chicken, pork chops, steaks.
“Delilah what the hell is this? I didn’t ask and when did you even get a chance to do all this?”
Delilah laughed. “I took one trip to Keyfood while you slept. Evelyn and I went and had everything delivered. It was my pleasure Ingrid. I’m glad you’re still that heavy sleeper I remember. Especially on weekends. Good thing I still remembered your favorite foods too. Of course, I picked up a few things I loved like coffee and some of those raisin bagels too. And I didn’t forget Evelyn. She asked for steaks and pork chops. I bought those too. And those chicken wings you love.”
“And what was this about paying my rent for the rest of the year? Don’t you think you’re doing too much too fast Delilah? You can’t buy my forgiveness!”
Delilah winced then nodded slowly. She dug at her french toast. Ingrid couldn’t help admiring the blue sweater she wore. It fit perfectly. Delilah took a sip of her orange juice. “I’m not trying to buy your forgiveness, Ingrid. Just call it past rent money. My share.”
Ingrid finally cut a piece of the french toast and shoved it in her mouth. She viciously chewed it and it tasted as good as she remembered. “Why did you come back Delilah? And where did Evelyn go?”
“Evelyn went to the library. She said she had books that were due or something. Glad you got yourself another reader for a roomie Ingrid. I still love to read, you know.”
“Why are you back?” Ingrid coldly repeated. Delilah sat back and sighed.
“Come on Ingrid. I missed my parents. I missed you. I missed your family. I…I finally have money to get my parents out of here. I spoke to them a few days ago and they are thrilled to move to California. The advance they paid me for my next book is just phenomenal. Oh, Ingrid please be happy for me. I am sorry for abandoning you. I just couldn’t stay here anymore, not when I had dreams. I never wanted to stay in these projects. I told you that. But you insisted on it. You said the rent was cheap and how we would have a place of our own. We’d be independent. Sure I dug all that but when I began to write my own stories and poems… I didn’t want to stand you up Ingrid. I went to poetry readings and read. I tried to get you to do that, remember? But you were always too shy and refused. Once I even arranged for you to read at our library and you wouldn’t do that either. You drove me crazy. You had the talent to get us out of the ghetto to get yourself out but you wouldn’t do it. You squandered your talent. You decided to become a teacher instead of going for the journalism you should have pursued years ago. Ingrid when I decided to try my hand at writing I swore to myself that if it worked I would run away with it. And I have. I never looked back. I couldn’t. I sent my poetry to blogs and magazines. I sent short stories. And they praised them Ingrid. They really liked them. They began to pay me and before I knew it I was a writer. Just like you. Oh, I knew I couldn’t be as good as you but I don’t procrastinate. You do that. Not me. So here I am as well as you. Still in this ghetto apartment. Still struggling in some crappy data entry job. Don’t be angry with me for taking a chance Ingrid. You could have been the one to get your parents out of their horrible environment but instead, your father would die before you could do that. Well, not me. I’m getting my parents out of here while I still can. And I’ll get you out too if you let me. That’s why I’m here. I want to make up for leaving you. But you surely would have talked me out of it.”
“SHUT UP! Ingrid screamed jumping up. How dare she say what she just said? One look at her childhood best friend and Ingrid was aghast. She didn’t know this woman sitting in her kitchen. The french toast was familiar but this woman was a stranger. But what did Ingrid expect after ten years? Or worse was she right? Could Ingrid have succeeded first if she hadn’t become complacent for giving in to her fears? Ingrid wasn’t ready to face this question.
“How can you say what you just did?” Ingrid brought her hands to her face. “I wanted to get my father out as well as my mom. My sister has tried and-”
“Forgive me, Ingrid. You’re right. I had no right to bring up your dad when I didn’t even know he died. I’m sorry. I can’t justify leaving despite how I felt.”
“Where are these stories and poems?” Ingrid spat. “Why didn’t you show them to me? Why didn’t you tell me you became a writer? Surely you knew then as you know now that I would have loved to read anything you wrote. Maybe I could have guided you. Maybe I could have learned something myself. You know something Delilah? Something doesn’t sound right with all this. Why would you just leave and not face me? If I didn’t know better I would swear you were trying to hide something.”
“What do you mean Ingrid? What are you saying?
“I think you know exactly what I mean friend. I want to see your writings.”
Delilah paled or did Ingrid think she did? But just as fast as Ingrid wondered, Delilah broke out in laughter. “I gave you my best-selling book Ingrid. Why would I do that if I was trying to hide something? Read it. I already told you the book has been on the best-selling list and it’s being made into a movie. But what can I expect from you? Suspicion as usual? Of course. I don’t expect you to be happy for me for you never are and never have been. Remember when I worked as a temp at the bank? I’d been a miserable part-timer gaining no benefits. Then came the day when I found that other job, remember? I took you out to a bar and told you all about it. I asked if you were happy for me. You couldn’t say you were. You had been struggling to find work and had sunk into your usual depression. I knew it as the sun was bright. But I hoped you’d be happy for me. Only you weren’t. You were too busy feeling sorry for yourself like you are now. You could never be happy for anyone who succeeded more than you did. For that was you Ingrid. Miserable. Your name should have been Misery. Stephen King could have based that novel on you.”
Ingrid had heard enough. How dare this woman come here and…Oh, Ingrid could have screamed. Hell, why not? “Get out of here Delilah, get out of my house! You don’t belong here. Take your food, your gifts and as for the rent I’ll pay you back every penny of that money. I don’t ever want to see you again Delilah Lucas. Never again!”
“Truth hurts huh?” Delilah snickered. “Fine, I’ll leave. Like I already told you I came for my parents. I truly hoped to reconcile and come to some understanding with you Ingrid. But I can see that’s impossible. I was honest enough to tell you my true feelings. I could have told you years ago true. But it wouldn’t have mattered. You would still react this way.”
“Will you stop talking about me as if you know me so well?” Ingrid was furious. She was sick of this visit and was ready to grab her former best friend by the scruff of her neck and toss her out into the project hall.
“I know you better than you know yourself,” Delilah insisted. “But that’s okay. Stay in your complacency dear friend. However, before I forget. I saw your paintings. Evelyn told me that you became quite the painter Ingrid. I spotted one of your paintings on the table. You know the one with that white Christmas tree with the red background?”
“What about it?
Delilah shrugged. “Nothing. I liked it, that’s all. Are you planning on doing anything with them?”
“Of course, you would ask that. That’s none of your business now, is it? Now get out of here.”
“You may be able to make a career with these paintings, Ingrid. And I would be happy for you. I’m happy that you found a hidden talent. You see dear friend? I’m not like you. I can be happy for anyone I care about. I am not afraid to give credit when it’s due. Unlike you. I can still see that frown you couldn’t get rid of.”
Ingrid turned away then. “I’m heading back to my room, you traitorous…just get out of here. By the time I come out of my room you better not be here. You hear me Ms. Lucas? You better not be here!”
“Oh come on Ingrid don’t be so sensitive. But don’t you think it’s time for us to be fully honest with each other? Isn’t it time we tell our truths and-”
“Truths?” Ingrid briefly covered her mouth. “You dare talk to me of truth when you just left? Just get out of here Delilah. Go. Goodbye.”
Delilah looked hurt but Ingrid rushed to her room slamming the door hard. She half expected Delilah to follow her but for some reason she didn’t. This surprised Ingrid, hurting her too. Ten years was a long time. Her friend was a stranger now.
On her bed Ingrid sobbed. She sobbed as if her heart had broken which of course it had. It wasn’t just the way Delilah spoke to her that hurt Ingrid, it was the truth in her words. In her heart Ingrid knew and probably always did. Ingrid couldn’t be happy for her best friend all those years ago. She had told herself she had been. She congratulated her. But in Ingrid’s heart of self-pity she could only wonder why such a good job failed to come her way. Delilah had been so happy. She had thanked God while Ingrid questioned the same God. The God they both were raised to believe in. Why had God blessed Delilah and left Ingrid jobless? Did God play favorites? Ingrid wondered that then and she wondered again now. Why had God blessed Delilah with her gift, a gift she hadn’t been afraid to pursue. It wasn’t fair. And yet Delilah was right. Ingrid should have been happy for her best friend. But no matter how many times Ingrid had insisted she was in her heart of hearts she couldn’t be. And Delilah knew it. She had sensed it. Ingrid despised her for knowing her so well.
And it didn’t end there. Delilah had also been right to point out Ingrid’s failures where her own writing was concerned. Ingrid had written many short stories. She had notebooks filled with old poems she’d written. She had been too shy to submit them for publication. The thought of poetry readings filled Ingrid with hope but her shyness always got the best of her. Delilah was right. Yet her success as a writer gnawed at Ingrid.
Ingrid had known Delilah since they were in the third grade. In all those years Delilah never expressed interest in writing. On the other hand Ingrid had written a religious poem and had received a diary on her twelfth birthday. Then again Delilah’s winter essay had been chosen with Ingrid’s as one of the best in their class. Delilah had been proud of that but she didn’t write much else. Ingrid would have remembered if she did.
After drying her face with a towel Ingrid picked up the winter story Delilah had published. The book she had dedicated to the friend she abandoned. Ingrid could read it. Why shouldn’t she? Something about its title irked her however and soon enough Ingrid realized why.
Delilah didn’t write this! This was Ingrid’s work! She recognized her fifth-grade essay. Ingrid remembered what she wrote. Simple descriptions but her descriptions nevertheless. Heavy snows but still building snowmen with family and friends. The beautiful pink skies and the quiet atmosphere of fresh snow. Bundling up with mittens, hats and gloves. In fact, the more Ingrid read she not only recognized her long ago essay she also recognized a picture book she wrote and illustrated during college days. Delilah had been around for that too.
Delilah’s best-selling book was based on a young woman who loved Christmas but never had the money to enjoy it. The woman goes around the snowy town window shopping in tears because she’s always broke. She failed to understand that Christmas is not about presents and decorations but it takes time for her to learn this lesson.
Ingrid slammed the book down. In a fit of fury she stalked out the door ready to interrogate the thief who obviously returned to steal more material! Ingrid snatched the book she had just thrown and stalked to the kitchen only Delilah really had gone. Ingrid swallowed, not sure what to think. She threw Delilah out but Ingrid doubted she would just go. She looked around but Delilah’s suitcase was gone. She really had left. Oh well. Ingrid knew where she’d lived. She’d go there instead!
But as she opened her apartment door Ingrid paused as she placed a foot out the door. What if she was mistaken? There was that possibility. After all ten years was a long time to be gone. How could Ingrid be that sure that these were her writings? She asked herself this even as she knew the crushing truth.
“She’s a phony!” exclaimed Evelyn three days later. Ingrid scrambled eggs for their breakfast but she barely could eat any. Ingrid felt depressed. Delilah came and went even if she had been asked to go. But Ingrid expected her to return at some point only she hadn’t. And why would she? She was a thief. A crook. Ingrid found Delilah’s poetry books online and was sure some of the poems previewed were hers as well. Delilah or her editor had taken the liberty to change a few lines but Ingrid knew them. She had written these poems more than ten years ago and she had allowed Delilah to read them.
Delilah had expressed her love and admiration for them before she vanished. She had sat on their sofa and read some aloud. “Oh, Ingrid you have to submit these somewhere!” Delilah had declared. Ingrid had been pleased that her friend loved them but she couldn’t seriously believe a magazine would like them. She didn’t feel confident sending them. But Delilah did and it paid off. Ingrid bit her lip feeling so mixed up now. She was horrified to discover her thieving friend. Over the years some of Ingrid’s poems had gone missing but Ingrid assumed she misplaced them. Never in her wildest dreams did she suspect that her friend grabbed them and fled.
Ingrid could have cried realizing what a fool she’d been. She was angry and her depression deepened. She hated to feel so helpless so betrayed. She hated to feel like a fool.
“I found this in my room,” Evelyn revealed, slamming an old sheet on the table. Ingrid grabbed it, recognizing it at once. It was her winter essay! It was fading and yellowed but she remembered it. It’d been folded numerous times too.
“This was in your room?” Ingrid questioned. “You didn’t see it before?” Evelyn’s room had been Delilah’s room. Evelyn forked some eggs in her mouth.
“I would have given it to you if I had Ingrid. These eggs are delicious by the way. As usual.”
Ingrid nodded transfixed by the essay she hadn’t seen in years. Even old as it was. Had Delilah left it deliberately? Why would she do that?
“What a bitch huh?” Evelyn stated. “I’m sorry she did this to you, Ingrid. I thought she was so nice. Giving us coats and books and speaking of which.” Evelyn excused herself and left the table. Ingrid took a few sips of her coffee as Evelyn came back. She waved a stuffed envelope full of cash.
Ingrid was flabbergasted. “What is that?” she asked, amazed. “Did Delilah give you-”
“Oh no, Ingrid. She didn’t give me cash. But then again in a way she did. I sold that sable coat she gave me. And can you believe what I was able to get for it? Thousands Ingrid! Thousands of dollars. I think I have over ten thousand dollars here! I took it to a shop in Manhattan and they loved it. They had it examined and said it was an expensive piece of fur. Now I have enough money to get out of here! Now I can leave New York and-”
Evelyn froze when she caught Ingrid’s stunned stare. She hadn’t planned on telling Ingrid this way. She sighed and placed the stuffed envelope next to her plate.
“You’re leaving me?” Ingrid’s voice had lowered in sadness. She closed her eyes.
“I’m sorry Ingrid but yes I am. I know I agreed to be your roommate. I couldn’t afford to live anywhere else but I hate the ghetto. I never planned to stay here. These projects are dangerous. You need to leave too. Sell your coat. Take it where I took mine. And then you sue that sorry ass bitch who stole your work. This essay should prove she did just that. Take her to the cleaners Ingrid. She’s a fraud and it’s time everyone finds out. You need to do this otherwise you’re going to look like a sorry ass pushover. I’ll back you up too.”
Ingrid sighed in frustration. Delilah wasn’t done taking from her. In her own way she cost Ingrid her roommate. Had that been her intention? There was no point to it unless she had hoped to come back and obviously that wasn’t happening.
“Ingrid are you okay? I didn’t mean to sound so forceful. And I am sorry to be going. I don’t want to leave you in the dust though. I’ll give you time to find a new roomie. In fact, I know a few people who may be willing to move in and-”
Ingrid raised her arm. “No, no Evelyn. “It’s okay. I’ll manage. You do what you must. You have my support either way. Just let me know where you’ll be so we can keep in touch. Can you do that?”
Evelyn rushed to embrace her. “Of course, I can do that. I’ll be waiting to see you take your rightful place among those famous writers. You belong with them, Ingrid, not that fraud. I just can’t believe she did you like that. She should be in jail if anything.”
“I can’t prove she took anything from me,” Ingrid lamented. “This essay won’t do it. But don’t worry. She’ll hang herself in no time.” Ingrid wanted to believe that but after ten years she wasn’t sure. Delilah proved to be more crafty than Ingrid realized. But she wasn’t giving up just yet.
“I guess you started packing already?” Ingrid had to look away. She dreaded living alone though she could never admit it.
“I did but very little. I only began looking so I’ll be here for a while. Oh, Ingrid if you really need me to stay I’ll-”
“No! I told you it’s all right. I’ll help you pack. However, I would like to paint something today and- Ingrid almost screamed. “Oh my God!” She rushed to her large art table where she kept the paintings she had finished. Only they weren’t there! The table was bare and clean! Only three empty canvases had been left on the chair. Ingrid slammed the empty table. “My paintings! Evelyn, they’re gone!” Ingrid was frantic. Where are they? “Did you move them?” Evelyn shook her head approaching the table.
“You know I wouldn’t move your artwork, Ingrid. They were out of the way on this table. And even if I wanted to move them I wouldn’t dare.”
Ingrid’s teeth clenched. “Delilah! She did this. She held one of my paintings that morning. She said I was beautiful. I went to my room and oh no! How could I be so stupid Evelyn?” Ingrid nearly collapsed and had to be steadied.
“Don’t say that Ingrid. You were trusting not stupid. Ten years may be a long time for a person to just show up but she was your childhood best friend. You couldn’t have known she’d do this. You trusted her and it’s okay. What’s not okay is her doing this. Where is she? We’ll confront her right now!
Ingrid couldn’t answer. She sniffed before breaking down. Evelyn slowly went to hug her friend. “I’m so sorry Ingrid,” she said. “I guess this explains why she stayed away for so long. And before you ask what made her come back this is why. She came to take more. She knew you never stopped writing. While she didn’t expect to find artwork she did so it worked out for her. Damn crook. Cry your heart out if you need to but don’t let her away with it.”
At that moment Ingrid didn’t care if Delilah got away with it. Just being betrayed by her lifelong best friend nearly killed her spirit.
Delilah had championed Ingrid’s writing ambitions. For years she encouraged her and Delilah was right. She had pushed Ingrid to follow her college dreams after they graduated. Suddenly Evelyn hugged Ingrid close. “You do what you think is right, okay dear girl? I say go after her. Confront her about her treachery. But you have to do what you feel is right.”
Four hours later found Ingrid ringing the bell of the Lucas project apartment. Evelyn accompanied her and Ingrid was grateful for the company. She was nervous and dreaded coming here alone despite her history with Delilah and her family. And wasn’t that odd? Why was she nervous? Even if Delilah was a crook they could talk this out. “I’m sure she came back here,” Ingrid assured Evelyn, who hasn’t cracked a smile since leaving their apartment.
“Are you sure? She has money to stay at a hotel.” Ingrid wondered about that too but Delilah mentioned coming here.
“She’s always been somewhat of a Daddy’s girl. That was another reason I was shocked she split. I never thought she’d leave her parents.”
Evelyn shook her head. “She saw an opportunity and stole it. You know Ingrid this is a clean building for public housing. Not so much like our building huh?” Ingrid didn’t care about this building any more than she did where she lived but she had to admit this building was cleaner.
“Ingrid?” Ingrid was surprised to see Oscar Lucas Delilah’s father. He had opened the door not looking pleased at all. It’d been ten years since she saw him last maybe even longer than that. Yet he wasn’t happy to see her. Not a good sign. “Come in, do come in. It’s a little late for my standards but it’s okay. Delilah is back from California and she filled us in on her visit to you. She didn’t tell us to expect you so-”
“It’s okay Daddy Ingrid is welcome here any time.” Delilah had come out of their kitchen with two slices of Domino’s pizza. “You want a slice girl? We have plenty. I haven’t been gone so long that I forgot your favorite foods Ingrid. Come on in. You too Evelyn. That’s her roomie Daddy.”
Oscar smiled and Ingrid almost laughed. Oscar the grouch was the name she had given him years ago behind Delilah’s back naturally. He had always been strict with Delilah and everyone in school knew it. Ingrid witnessed some of his shouting when Delilah would ask permission to go across the street for a simple visit. She remembered how he hated visits past eight p.m. He would slam the door to his room if Ingrid happened to be there then. Ingrid recalled one afternoon when she invited Delilah to come over only for Oscar to refuse to embarrass her as he did so.
“You’re not going anywhere!” he yelled from his comfortable place on the sofa where he may have been taking a nap. “You have plenty to do around here and here is where you stay!” He had hollered those words ignoring Ingrid altogether. He didn’t even say hello. Often the grouch. He was also a prick. Delilah had once admitted to Ingrid that her father ridiculed her when she wasn’t there. This had crushed Ingrid who longed to be accepted as family. But Oscar Lucas would never accept a friend as family. As Delilah often quoted him, “There are no such things as friends.” He wasn’t wrong about that. Only Ingrid had been a friend and always considered Delilah family. She couldn’t force Oscar to believe that.
Ingrid walked into the small but cozy apartment. Not much had been changed including the beige walls and white kitchen. “I’m not here for a social call Mr. Lucas,” Ingrid smiled at him actually enjoying this. He couldn’t push her around now. Ingrid was ready for him.
Pushing her hair back she turned to her once friend. “I’m here for my paintings Delilah. Bring them out or I call the police. I want all of them and I do mean all of them.”
No one spoke. Delilah paled and had to put down her plate of pizza. Ingrid approached her but Delilah backed away.
“Whoa wait a minute now,” Oscar cried but Ingrid held out her hand to stop him in his tracks.
“You heard her,” Evelyn said, crossing her arms to show she wouldn’t interfere at least not yet.
“Wait a minute you don’t do that to me!” Oscar yelled. “You don’t come to my house with that disrespect. You don’t come making accusations against my daughter. Do you hear me? Ingrid Morales you know better.” Ingrid threw him a look of disgust. She drilled him without blinking. “I wouldn’t talk about disrespecting Oscar. I just want my paintings and I want them now. Delilah tell your father how you stole my writings. Tell him about that and your mama wherever she is. I read your book. I know where you got the idea from. You changed the name of the main character but that was all you did. I recognized my essays and college papers. That book is mine. That movie is mine. I already began to write the proper screenplay so I can send it to your producer in California. You haven’t written that yet have you?” Delilah looked faint.
“Get out of my house!” Oscar yelled pointing to the door. “Out! How dare you come to my house accusing my daughter of stealing from you? She admitted she was inspired by your writings but she would never steal from you. You have a lot of nerve coming here accusing her of that. You see that darling? I warned you of false friendships. Now you see what I mean? The jealousy. The-”
“What else Oscar? Do I smell bad? I forgot my deodorant?” Ingrid laughed as she mocked him with her arms raised. “And what else did you say about me? Let me see…” Oscar glanced at Delilah looking more than a bit uncomfortable. Then he glared at Ingrid hatefully. Not that she cared. She laughed again. “I know you talked behind my back Mr. Lucas. If your daughter had writing talent she could have written about that. But no your daughter is a crook, Mr. Lucas. “She agreed to share an apartment with me only to move away without a word or explanation. She stayed away for ten years never writing to me. She stole her share of our rent money to move to California with my poems and essays which she turned into a story which was recently picked up. Before that she had sold my poems and now she wants to sell my artwork! Your daughter has no talent! Never has! She worked in the public housing office and has done nothing but office jobs. Congratulations. Now she has become a plagiarist!”
“NO NO that’s just not true!” Delilah’s mother Sadie Lucas rushed towards Ingrid. Sadie was still obese and was struggling to move. Oscar placed his hands on her shoulders.
“Calm down darling. It’s not true. None of it is. This jealous harpy can’t accept that her writings were rejected while our daughter’s shone. Leave my home Ingrid. As you can see my wife has not been well. She doesn’t need this. Delilah is taking us to California with her and the timing couldn’t be better. Just go okay? Don’t force me to call the police.”
“Oh cut the bullshit,” Evelyn snapped. “Your daughter is the only harpy around here and the true thief.”
“That’s true,” Ingrid agreed, fighting the tears that wanted to escape. She wasn’t sure she could keep this up. She never stopped missing her best friend and it tore her inside to do this even if it was justified. She may have enjoyed cutting up Oscar but she hated to hurt her best friend and her mother. But what could she do? Her friend did steal from her. And Ingrid couldn’t let that slide. How far was she willing to go however? She didn’t know so she continued. “I’m sorry you’re not well Sadie. But as you heard your daughter is a crook. Just like your husband was once the cheat who sometimes put down your-”
“Stop it Ingrid!” Delilah cried in a broken voice. “You win. Take your paintings. They’re not that great anyway, believe me. You only began to paint recently and some of your works leave a lot to be desired. I may be able to sell some of the Christmas ones. Those look inviting and cozy. The one with the hot cocoa is really nice and I hoped to keep it myself. It would look great on my kitchen in Burbank especially on those hot days.”
Oscar sat Sadie on the velvet recliner. “What are you saying Dell?” Sadie questioned. “You’re admitting to stealing paintings? You said you painted those in California.”
Delilah ignored her mother. She fixed her glare on Ingrid before pointing at her. “Are you satisfied Ingrid? I wanted to discuss this in our apartment, an apartment you had no right putting me out of since I paid all that rent you owed. But that’s okay. Like I said, you are welcome to the paintings. I took them with some help but you’re going to have to find a way to get them back to your house yourself.”
“I’m welcome to take back my own paintings? Thank you Delilah. I want every one of my paintings that you stole including those Christmas ones you planned to sell. I want everything you stole from me including my poems. I mean it Delilah. Or-”
“I know you’ll call the police. Don’t be so hasty, Ingrid. Just hear me out okay? Let’s form a partnership. You and me. It’s another reason why I came back. You did want to know why didn’t you? You wanted to know why I returned. Well here’s the main reason.”
Ingrid was puzzled. “What kind of partnership? You stole my writings.”
“And? It took you ten years to find out. You don’t pay attention. How do you propose taking them back? You plan to expose me? Do you think anyone will believe you all these years later? I have tons of fans now Ingrid who believe these are my writings. However, you won’t be forgotten, at least not anymore. Come with me to California. Become my secret ghostwriter. Please Ingrid? You’ll be compensated greatly and you’ll never be poor again. You won’t have to suffer through any more frozen winters and you can finally get your parents out of their ghetto apartment. Come on what do you say? We can begin with this screenplay. I was looking into hiring someone but why do that when you can write the best one since you’re the writer anyway? Then you can write more poems for me and we’ll earn more money. You always wanted to see California right? Well here’s your chance. California beaches, the sunset strip, parties, expensive ones. You’ll meet celebrities, fellow writers. You’ll get to see them all as you’ll travel with me. So what do you say Ingrid? Friends for life?”
Ingrid was too stunned to respond. She glanced at Oscar and Sadie realizing they too were stunned. Oscar especially. His green eyes had dimmed like a fading candle. Sadie resembled a lost looking puppy. She shook her head vigorously. “Stop Delilah. Don’t say such things. Please stop saying such things. You’re no thief. We didn’t raise you that way. Why are you saying these things? Stop it.” Oscar embraced her.
Delilah glared at her parents.
“No, you only raised me to be insecure and unsure of myself. For all the years you kept me suppressed in this house denying me everything, even a simple visit across the street to see my friend. You two were the ones who denied me a normal existence. You were the ones who mocked the bible I tried to live by. So what if you didn’t raise me to steal? Whoopee!”
Ingrid and Evelyn exchanged glances. Evelyn’s eyes were a reflection of everything Ingrid felt right then.
“Oh stop it Delilah don’t blame them! You knew what you were doing. This falls on you and no one else. Now you ask me to relocate to California so you could continue to take credit for my work?” Ingrid was aghast. It was hard to speak but she forced herself. “You want to keep getting paid for my work? You want to get paid for doing nothing aside from just taking credit for my writings? Are you crazy?”
“You’re going to be getting a lot of the money yourself, Ingrid. Weren’t you listening to me? You’re going to be rich! I’ll be making you rich. So what if you don’t get the credit? You’ll still get paid! And you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that your works were successful. Isn’t that all that should matter anyway?” Or is your ego that huge?”
Was she for real? She had nerves. Ingrid glared at her before smiling at Oscar. “Thanks but no thanks my ex-best friend. You think I’m going to fly to California just so you could keep profiting from my writings? You would suggest that in front of your parents?” Evelyn had the darndest look while Oscar looked pained. Sadie looked helpless. But in the midst of this Delilah smiled as shameless as ever.
“I made your writings famous,” she bragged. “You couldn’t. You should be thanking me for giving you a chance to come to California.” Ingrid was ready to grab Delilah’s hair but before she could make a move Oscar jumped to his feet. He grabbed Delilah and shook her.
“I don’t believe you!” he roared with little control. “You admit to this? You stole someone’s writings? How could you? Delilah Lucas, you should be ashamed of yourself!”
“Yes you should,” added Sadie as she grabbed a blue handkerchief from a nearby table. “You can get in so much trouble Dell. Why would you do such a thing? Your father and I taught you better than that. Go ahead and deny it.”
“Oh stop Mother. Dad tore me down for years and you did nothing to stop him. You let him embarrass me in front of my friends even as you let him-” Ingrid shoved Delilah so hard she fell against a nearby glass table. Gasping Delilah gripped the chair that broke her fall. “You bitch you!” She rushed to her feet but Oscar grabbed her as Evelyn held Ingrid back.
“Don’t drag your mother’s name in the mud when you are the crook!” Ingrid knew Delilah was right as she had witnessed many of those embarrassing moments. In fact, Ingrid was already cooking up her own short story ideas where that was concerned. “Come on Evelyn. We’re out of here. Where are my paintings? And I mean all of them. You’re not to keep even one.”
“Take them,” Oscar instructed, unable to look at Ingrid. He was ashamed of his daughter’s duplicity. How did he become so stupid? For wanting to believe in his daughter? The magazines he collected with any tidbit about the new breakout author. The poet revered by many. How could this be? He felt a headache coming and just wanted Ingrid to leave so he could grasp what happened. It was obvious his daughter had lost touch with reality. After losing two good jobs Delilah did the only thing she could. She stole. For ten years he cherished the book of poems she had published believing they were hers. Now he had to face the embarrassing fact that they weren’t. They belonged to the woman he did sometimes make fun of.
Delilah shrugged, not looking the least bit remorseful.“Mind your own business Ingrid. Obviously, you don’t plan to help me?”
Was she for real? Ingrid had to stare at her for a moment.
“I said no! I’m not going to do it. At least not for you. Now get my paintings. And I forbid you to copy any more of my poems again. Believe me Delilah. I’ll know. So don’t do it. It’s the only warning you’ll get from me.”
“Please Ingrid,” Sadie interrupted, feeling so distressed. “Don’t expose her as a…” Sadie’s face collapsed in sadness.
“As a fraud? A thief?” Now Delilah shoved Ingrid but Ingrid laughed.
“Mother! Don’t you go begging her for any mercy. I’ll face the music if Ingrid decides to sing. It won’t matter to my fans. They love me. They’ll understand. You’re going to look like a petty jealous loser coming after your former best friend for no reason other than your own failure. You can’t prove I did anything. I’m way ahead of you loser.”
“Watch your mouth,” Ingrid warned.
“You should confess to everything,” Evelyn spat. “She shouldn’t have to expose you.”
“Which I don’t plan to do.” Ingrid decided then and there not to expose Delilah. What would be the point of it? It would be a complicated mess and Ingrid realized the media nightmare she would face even if she proved it. Some wouldn’t believe it.. Delilah was right about that. Besides Ingrid didn’t want to hurt anyone. It would be a struggle to handle it.
“You don’t plan to expose her ?” Evelyn was incredulous. “What was the point of this Ingrid? Why did we come out here?” Ingrid placed her hand on Evelyn’s shoulder.
“I don’t need to expose her. Delilah knows what she did. Her parents know. They’ll all have to live with themselves. Nothing will change that, especially now. It’ll be on their conscience. All of them.” Ingrid turned to Delilah who was twisting her fingers. “Remember what I said. Stay away from my writings. Return to California with what you stole and don’t contact me again. You may have gained wealth but try to find your self-respect. More than anything write your own story or poem. You know what they say. Can’t stay relevant if you don’t submit new writings. It’s like the singer who has to have new hits if he’s to stay hot. Or she.”
Ingrid turned to go. “Come on Evelyn. I’ll get us a cab so I can take my amateur paintings.”
“You don’t think I can write Ingrid?” Delilah grit her teeth. “My essay was also chosen as one of the best in our fifth-grade class unless you’ve forgotten. And it didn’t start like this you know. I sent one of your poems as a gamble. I never dreamed they would accept it. They asked for more so I obliged them and before I knew it some publications began to pay for them. I intended to tell you so we could figure out a way to profit together but when I asked you that one time-”
“Where are my paintings?” Ingrid hotly interrupted. She just wanted to go. She heard enough.
“They’re in her room,” Oscar offered. “All of them. I’m sorry for my daughter’s thieving. It’s shameful.”
Sadie got up and gripped Ingrid’s hand. “God bless you for not exposing it,” she said, almost desperate. “I know it’s wrong but…” Sadie shook her head and stumbled away cow heavy as ever. “Forgive my rudeness but would you like some coffee? I meant to offer it sooner. I’m sorry.”
“Oh thank you Sadie but I can’t stay. But thank you really.”
“What the hell is wrong with all of you?” Delilah shrieked. “This woman may ruin me and you offer her coffee? And stop talking about me as if I’m not here! Here take your damn paintings! Eat them if you want but get them out of here!” Delilah threw them towards Ingrid and that did it. Ingrid slapped Delilah so hard she fell face first to the floor.”
“Oh my God no!” Sadie cried but Ingrid grabbed the large black bag that held her stolen paintings. She would know which ones were missing once she got home. She called for Evelyn and they quickly bolted out of the apartment letting the door slam behind them. Good thing the Lucas family lived on the first floor. There was no elevator to wait for.
“Hah! You fixed that crook Ingrid! I still think you should sue her or something but she deserved that slap. Hell, she should have got more if you ask me. She’s lucky you weren’t the spiteful writer who could have made her life a living hell.”
Ingrid walked towards the bus stop. There they would catch the bus that would take them to the train station. Ingrid wished she had money for a cab. Maybe one day. Soon. “That can still happen, you know,” Ingrid smiled. “Delilah is as stubborn as she is stupid. She won’t let this go. It’s okay though. I’ll be ready.”
A.M. Torres has published The Child Series beginning with Love Child. It's followed by sequels Child No More, Child Scorned, and Child Game all available on Amazon. She has also published two poetry books Shadowed Tears, and Turmoil also available on Amazon. J and K Christmas has been her annual Christmas poem and short story publication. She currently lives in New York City, with her two sons Jason and Kristofer.