The Inn On Bluebell Lane — Episode 33

But it was too late – Jess had stormed off, and Ava had begun to bawl. Jacob was struggling not to cry and Craig was picking a fight with them both.

“Enough!” Gwen shouted.

All three fell silent.

“Craig, go and set the table. Ava, wash your hands. Jacob, help me clean up this sauce. Don’t worry, there’s more in the fridge.”

Miraculously they all did as she asked, and a few minutes later everything was calm again, and the three children were finishing their pizzas.

Jess had already finished hers, so Gwen put it in the oven with the others, set the kids to playing a board game, then went upstairs to find Jess.

She was hunched on her bed, still in her stained top.

“If you take that off, I can put it to soak,” Gwen said gently. “I think the stains will come out.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

Carefully Gwen perched on the edge of the bed.

“I think it does.”

Jess plucked at the stained top, head bent so Gwen couldn’t see her face.

“Cora gave it to me.”

“Cora? Is that someone from America?”

“Yes, my best friend. Ex-best friend,” Jess clarified vehemently.

Ah. In a flash Gwen realised this wasn’t about tomato sauce or the top.

“What happened to make Cora your ex-best friend?”

Jess shrugged.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“You keep telling me things don’t matter, Jess,” Gwen said gently, “but I don’t believe you.”

Jess didn’t reply and Gwen let the silence stretch on. Sometimes there was nothing you could say to make it better.

“Cora has just forgotten me,” Jess burst out, her voice trembling. “She doesn’t even open my Snapchats, and she keeps posting all these photos with her new BFF.

“Someone we didn’t even like. I hate it!”

Gwen had never heard of Snapchat and didn’t know what a BFF was, but she certainly got the gist.

“That sounds very hard,” she said after a moment.

Jess looked up, tears trembling on her lashes.

“In fact, I’d say it stinks,” Gwen stated, and a small smile quirked Jess’s mouth.

“That doesn’t sound like something you’d say, Granny.”

“Well, it is,” Gwen said. “Sometimes life just stinks. It’s rubbish. Like this cancer. Like your friend Cora forgetting you.

“There’s no getting around it. No groping for a silver lining. It just is.”

“Yeah,” Jess said. “Mom always tries to make me feel better, but I don’t want to hear about all the friends I’m going to make, or how great this place is.”

She gave Gwen a guilty yet defiant look.

“Sorry, but it’s true.”

“I understand,” Gwen said. “Even if you live in the nicest place in the world – and I am partial to Bluebell Inn, I have to say – it doesn’t take away the pain of missing where you were.” She paused.

“Or even who you were.”

“Do you . . . do you feel like a different person?” Jess asked hesitantly. “Because of the cancer?”

“Sometimes,” Gwen admitted. “At the moment, it’s more being afraid that I’m going to change.”

“But you’ll still be the same inside.”

“Yes . . . I hope so. But we weren’t talking about me, we were talking about you. And Cora.”

Jess heaved a big sigh.

“I don’t even care that much about Cora. I mean, I do, but I understand why she’d get a new best friend. She has to hang out with someone.

“It’s just . . . I feel so lonely.” The smile she gave Gwen was heart-breaking.

“Is there anyone at school you can be friends with?” she asked.

“There’s one girl, Sophie. I like her, but she’s not Cora, and she doesn’t really know me.

“She just knows I’m the biggest loser in the whole school, and I guess I don’t like that. That isn’t me.”

“There are a lot of different parts to us,” Gwen said. “As time goes on, Sophie will get to know the other parts of you.”

“Maybe,” Jess said, but she didn’t sound convinced.

“Small comfort now, I know,” Gwen said. “The waiting is hard.”

“I’m sorry I shoved Jacob.”

“And I’m sorry he spilled sauce on your top.”

“I know he didn’t mean to.”

Gwen decided this was a good moment to head back downstairs; she could hear some sounds that could potentially be alarming.

“Why don’t you change and bring down your top? We’ll see if we can get that stain out.”

“OK.” Jess gave her a shy smile. “Thanks, Granny.”

“It’s no trouble.” Gwen contented herself with a pat of Jess’s knee before she headed downstairs.

That had been the first proper conversation she’d had with Jess, and she was very glad of it.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.