Write On!

For Old Time’s Sake

In Responses on January 5, 2012 at 7:20 pm

by Tara Wiley

Should old acquaintance be forgot

And never brought to mind?

Should old acquaintance be forgot

And auld lang syne?

Elisabeth could not forget. Could not forget the moment when all beautiful and innocent became all confusing and bitter. And now, midnight on New Year’s Day, and the song playing – no, blaring – through the loudspeakers at the hotel bar was daring her to remember again. More than ever, she regretted not leaving the small town as soon as Christmas dessert was cleared from the plates. But her sister had needed her help, so she hid out at the country farm, hoping not to see any other familiar faces.

Yet here she was, dragged into town by a herd of cousins. The rounds of mixed drinks at the farmhouse must have been stronger than she realized. How else would they have gotten her here?

Somehow through all the smells of sweat and alcohol, above the yells and cheers, aside from the confetti and poppers, she could sense her before she saw her… smelled her before she felt the hand touch her shoulder. With a deep breath to steady her racing heart, she turned around to face her past.

“Mandy! Is that really you? Happy New Year…” Elisabeth could hear the strain in her own voice, the saccharin attempt at joy. She hoped the racket covered it, that the lights and shadows racing around them served to blanket the range of emotions she could not keep under wraps. But Mandy knew her too well, even with all the years’ separation from that day in the woods.

“Beth, oh Beth, it’s been too long, and I have meant… Oh, please, can we go somewhere and talk?”

For auld lang syne, my dear,

for auld lang syne,

we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.

For old time’s sake, wasn’t that what the odd Scottish phrase meant? And something tender in Elisabeth’s heart shifted within her. She felt herself turn and follow the frenemy out of the bar. They moved silently down the harsh, fluorescent corridor, away from the noise, until they were confronted with nauseating chlorine fumes from the indoor pool. Mandy turned here and they found a couple of used-to-be white plastic lounge chairs set up against a set of gaudy fake palm trees.

“Remember our sixteenth birthday here?” Mandy ventured.

“How could I forget? When Roy came down the slide, but his swim trunks didn’t make it with him? Epic!” Their shared laughter over the double-dog-dare leading to that moment almost broke the ice, except that the memory brought up Roy, and that seized whatever softness Beth had let loose. The space between Beth’s shoulders visibly shrank as she dared herself to ask, “So, how is Roy?” Mandy sighed and shook her head.

“That’s why I came to find you, Elisabeth. You deserve to hear it from me. He’s… He’s not well. It’s not good.”

Not well? Not good? All these years, Elisabeth had harbored bitter visions of Mandy and Roy’s perfect life together: laughing over morning coffee in the gorgeous farm kitchen Roy had built with his own two hands. Swinging out on the wrap-around porch while the cicadas sang them love songs at sunset. Snuggling together as they tucked their twin sons into bed after evening prayers. All the memories she had always thought she and Roy would share. Always, until she found him and Mandy that day in the woods.

The three were inseparable as kids, all the way into high school, but Beth and Roy always seemed to share a deeper bond. They were the most alike: musical, melancholy, mischievous. Mandy, on the other hand, was utterly sanguine, creating a party out of a picnic. Whenever Beth was struggling with the usual teenage angst, she would go to Roy for a sympathetic ear. Roy shared poetry with Beth that no one else knew he wrote. Mandy was their foil: exuberant, happy-go-lucky Mandy, who always knew how to make them smile. Mandy, overflowing with affection, handing out hugs like candy. Mandy, pressed against Roy under the oak tree, kissing him with a fierceness Beth had never seen in her. Mandy, stealing her Roy.

“Not well? What do you mean?” Beth searched Mandy’s face for clues.

“You know how he always had a dark side, Elisabeth, how he struggled with depression from time to time. It’s only gotten worse as time has gone by. We’ve tried everything – meds, therapy; I’ve even dragged him to church a few times, but this time is different. I can’t reach him anymore, Beth, and I’m scared…”

“Wait a minute. You dragged him to church? That’s a new one,” Beth interjected. Roy had always been the religious one in the bunch, though mostly through his parents’ coercion.

“Beth, there’s so much I want to tell you, and my relationship with Jesus Christ is just one part – well, the most important part, really. He has completely changed my life, and I know if Roy could just trust Him and find hope there…”

“Amanda. You might as well be speaking Greek. Trust who? Find hope where? I mean, Roy never trusted anyone except us. And I don’t know how in the world a person could find hope in a place like church, where you just get a list of rules you can’t ever keep. That seems pretty hopeless to me. I get why Roy was so depressed years ago. He could never live up to all those expectations. If I want to get depressed, going to church is a sure bet.”

Elisabeth nearly shook with emotion. How could Mandy, of all people, think that church could help Roy? When it came to religion, Mandy’s experiences as a child were even more vile than Roy’s. Unspeakable, even.

Beth searched her old friend’s face, really looking into her eyes. What she saw there shocked her: a softness, even gentleness. And through the tears of concern, there was something else Beth couldn’t quite name. Contentment? A settledness of some sort. In spite of herself, Beth wanted to know more.

“Elisabeth, I’ve learned so much recently. For starters, I’ve learned that the list of rules we always heard about growing up, they weren’t there for us to try and keep, like some standard we had to reach to get to heaven. God knows we can’t keep them all! I finally realized it’s not about rules, it’s about relationship. The whole point of it all is to draw us to Jesus, to help us see our need for Him, and His love for us.

“Beth, you and Roy are the most giving, sacrificial people I know. When it comes to someone you love, you will do almost anything for them, even if it hurts. Even if they can’t do anything for you in return. That kind of love that we get little tastes of here on earth are just the tiniest reflections of the kind of love God holds for each of us. He gave up everything, even his own Son, just so we could get past our own faults and find a way to Him. And that love He offers, it’s… It’s indescribable. Life changing. Transforming. And full of grace, and yes, hope. I wish you could come back here, be a part of the Bible study I’ve joined, so we could talk more…” Mandy fell silent, but her words continued to swirl in Beth’s head, until she found herself stuck on that last sentence: stay here… Bible study… Talk more.

The offer from the county hospital sat open on the bedside table back at her sister’s house. It was a huge opportunity, the chance to use her further education and become a hospital administrator. She had always envisioned that happening in the city, but when the offer came, she felt strangely pulled towards it. Coming back home for Christmas had only intensified that desire.

“Mandy, I don’t know about all you just said. I’ll admit, it makes me curious. And confused. And Roy; well, I am so sorry he’s struggling. And, um… I just don’t know how this all fits together, but I have to tell you, I just might be staying. And if I do, maybe we can get together again and talk more. You know, for old times’ sake…”

As they wandered back down the hall, they heard the New Years anthem repeated in the bar –

And there’s a hand my trusty friend!

And give us a hand o’ thine!

And we’ll take a right good-will draught,

for auld lang syne.

How strange and unexpected this night had become. As Beth and Mandy sat down to two glasses of champagne, an acceptance letter began to formulate in Beth’s mind. Perhaps she would come back…. For old time’s sake.

  1. Scene setter extrodinaire! I could totally see myself there. Didn’t hurt that I had just watched “Son in Law” with Pauly Shore the other night. Good job!

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