My name is Angela, although I prefer Angie as it sounds sweet and benign; like everybody’s best friend. Ultimately, that’s what I aim to be. I’ll be whoever you want me to be, a clone of yourself usually, because secretly, you’re an egomaniac too. It is tricky to maintain the correct balance and I run the risk of creating fury because, let’s face it, I’m a much better you than you know how to be.
January had been quite tedious until I spotted the brunette in the school playground; seemingly popular amongst the other waiting parents, talkative, animated hand gestures guaranteeing attention. She had three small children, all with the same porcelain doll face. I loathed this ridiculous scene every Monday to Friday; the cliques, the inane friendships created on random facts such as your postcode and at what time of year you all had your legs in the air long enough to conceive a child. It was similar to actually being back at school for me, being the bland and faceless shape in the corner that didn’t fit in. But there is a lot to be said, sometimes, for blending into the scenery, you can reinvent your identity many times over and nobody even notices you were there.
I’ve always dressed anonymously, pale, neutral colours, jeans, plain coat; invisibility. Though once I select a potential playmate I transform into her mirror image; I purchased high heel shoes, chiffon scarves, wore wear make-up and perfume. I curled my eye lashes, bought a designer handbag and appeared as much like the brunette as possible.
I started standing closer to this woman, listening in to conversations, developing a flavour of who she was, who she talked to, finding my way in. It was incredibly simple seeing as she appeared to volunteer for every single obnoxious event the school staged. So, baking on Thursdays it was, my son was in the same class as her daughter. She emanated some sort of Mother of the year notion; affectionate and soothing with her children, a frown for every scraped knee, and a kiss for every childish tear. My son knew better than to bother me in this way. I’d had him for an old conquest, my ex colleague Janet who’d been trying for a baby. I timed that one beautifully; they were born three days apart.
I digress, back to the story and my brand new target: Vanessa. So there I was, baking cookies with inept, small children with a kindly smile on my face and twinkles and rainbows in my eyes, when we first met. She loved baking, made birthday cakes from home for internet orders. Naturally, I informed her that this was a coincidence because I too sell fancy cupcakes online. How easy the words trickled off my tongue.
I have no interests, hobbies, job, or time wasting tactics to occupy myself. I just do what I want to do which mainly consists of finding new best friends and seeing how far I can take it. I live off daddy’s money because he believes every word I utter, every imaginary illness and bout of depression I portray. After Mum died last year it’s been a lot more straightforward, there’s nobody standing in my way.
We must go for coffee I tell her, get together and try our hand at selling our home baked wares at the weekends for some extra money? It’s an idea I’ve had for ages, I hear myself saying, but I don’t have much confidence, especially having just lost my mother, I’m full of anxiety and grief and have a heart problem. This could be just the therapy I need. That’s it, right there. I see it; the pity in her eyes, the sad mouth curling downwards, her hand subconsciously resting on her heart. I’m in.
I must say, at our first coffee morning, I was sublime. I squeezed out the impromptu tears, sorrow that my little Alexander didn’t have a father in his life, frustration at deep depression and worry that I could no longer afford to meet our daily needs. By the end, I had her phone numbers, email address and her solemn word that she would find us an event this very weekend, to make some money. I laughed all the way home.
The excitement got to me; I couldn’t wait and phoned her that very night full of gratitude, platitudes and plans. She listened intently and announced that we were booked to supply cakes for a children’s birthday party on Saturday: the birthday cake and 100 cupcakes.
We became friends on Facebook which was immediately helpful as I could see she was married and that her birthday was approaching, all her favourite films, books, actors, everything. It was a fast track friendship, just the way I like them. She was slightly more intelligent than my usual choice, this could have put me off, but I do so love a challenge. Despite her academia, Vanessa was as naïve as they come; after all she’d believed every word so far hadn’t she?
Before I knew it, it was Friday afternoon and I found myself with no cupcakes or the will to make them. I drove down to the fancy bakery in town and bought 100 of the damn things. Vanessa was amazed by “my work” and I happily took credit for the delicately decorated chocolate treats. We were deemed a success by the venue and subsequent orders followed. Vanessa was over the moon, gushing about our teamwork and grateful beyond belief because she couldn’t have done it without me.
Every day we met after that, I’d tempt her with a new sad story over coffee, invite her and the children round for tea, we’d spend hours looking at baking equipment in the shops and planning bigger and better desserts. Clearly this hadn’t been going down so well at home; the fact that she was rarely there wasn’t so appealing to her troublesome husband. The ironing pile reached a new level high; they argued. Occasionally, I would sense Vanessa beginning to try and pull away from my grasp so there was a lot of thinking on my feet and gentle manipulation of her husband’s words to keep up her resolve that she was in the right and perhaps he was hiding something himself to act in this way?
The one thing that I couldn’t quite drag her away from was her children, she’d dash home at every temperature, cough and sneeze, pissing on my day entirely. I needed something bigger to recapture her attention so I told her that it looked as though I might have cervical cancer and that I had to go to the hospital for some tests. That one worked a treat, she cried and cried into her cappuccino and promised to be there for me no matter what.
I had free reign then, I dialled her number at midnight in tears, afraid of what would happen at the tests I had researched on the internet. She agreed to come with me after I lied that my Mum had died after a losing battle with cervical cancer. This didn’t bother me one jot, I used to work at the hospital and still had a couple of contacts there. I just left her in the foyer and visited Pauline and Susan in Human Resources.
Once, after she’d got the children to bed, she phoned, asking if she could pop round for an hour, she sounded upset which thrilled me. I put on Edward Scissorhands (her favourite movie according to Facebook) and managed to fast forward it to the middle of the film before the knock on the door. She weakly smiled at the television and took a seat, her tears were immediate. It was her husband, they were rowing all the time, she could barely stand to be in the same room as him, she found a pair of red lace knickers in his coat pocket and they did not belong to her. Her eyes and nose leaked simultaneously, she smudged mascara on the cuff of her blouse. Whilst I’m sure I effectively conveyed sincerity and sympathy, the giddy butterflies that danced and crashed in my midriff almost had me laughing out loud. I had placed the knickers there yesterday, whilst returning some cake tins that I had borrowed precisely for this reason. I knew there would be fireworks.
I studied and matched Vanessa’s hurt expression and recounted a tale that left me in the same position, this had happened to me, I had no idea he’d been seeing someone else, he left me to be with her, I know how you feel, look, we’re just the same. She cried harder at that, questioning his actions, she thought he loved her, she’s so glad she has me to come to, such a wonderful friend.
The shit hit the proverbial fan later that night. Her husband denied strenuously any knowledge whatsoever of the offensive underwear and, of course, Vanessa didn’t believe him. He walked out, taking as much as he could carry, angry and confused. I didn’t see her on the school run that morning so I’d guessed what had happened. I went round with a large bouquet of white roses (her favourite flower) and a box of chocolates. Her eyes were red, the lids swollen, this was the first time I’d seen her without make-up; temptingly vulnerable.
The children were hungry and wailing; she wasn’t capable of putting cereal and milk into three bowls so I got up and did it, making myself instantly indispensable. Vanessa cried a lot over the next few days and I arrived at 8.30am every morning to walk the children to school and I would sit with her for long lengths of time, listening to her snivels of self-pity; she was broken.
Vanessa’s son and daughters now referred to me as Auntie Angie, an endearing term I had easily manipulated them into using. There was one rather delicious moment at the park when the smallest one fell and grazed her knee, loud sobs echoed and she ran to my open arms for comfort, leaving a vacant Vanessa to view the scene, alone on the bench, another stake in her crumbling heart. She looked straight at me, right in the eye, disturbed and horrified but too feeble to take control. I smiled, stroking the knotted hair of her five year old.
I bought ice creams, accepting the bought affection from them hungrily, wiping their sticky fingers and smeared faces. Vanessa’s bottom lip trembled, she hugged herself for warmth. She couldn’t look at me, her head moved to face my general direction and she asked me who I was. I didn’t say a word. She continued by adding that she didn’t know who I was anymore. Well I’m you, of course, I laughed, just so much better. Her mouth gaped open and she sprang into action, coercing the children to cut short their playtime and come on home. No, she said, Auntie Angie isn’t coming with us. Auntie Angie might not be calling round for a while because we were going to be busy looking for daddy and see if he wanted to come back home. The kids wept, they love Auntie Angie. Auntie Angie smells like Mummy used to smell and she buys them sweets.
Auntie Angie can go fuck herself, Vanessa whispered into the air. Auntie Angie is a fucking sociopath who screwed up her whole fucking life.
The one that got away, it left a bitter aftertaste. Vanessa found her husband and they moved away to start again within weeks. I haven’t let it get to me too much. I went back to the shadows and my jeans and have just spotted a new family; a fresh faced young Mum from down south. I heard her tell the teacher that they don’t know anyone. Well, it’s your lucky day. I’m your new best friend.