Fourteen Years Ago - 2006
As a joke, we'd always called it the Artefact. The name made it sound old. Silly, even. It was my dad's old camera - the type that gave polaroids if you developed them in a dark room. But we'd used it since before I could remember. It was a clunky box of a thing, ancient but in that good, solid way. Sturdy and chunky, able to deal with taps that would splinter the technology that was proving popular in more recent years.
But that wasn't why I liked it. I liked it because it was the only thing I had left of my dad.
My dad had died when I was seven; he'd died in a car crash when he'd been run off the road by some maniac driver that was never caught. The car was found several weeks later, a burnt out husk whose owner had actually been dead for three years. The thief, and my dad's killer, was never found. Mum never got over it - over Dad. She never even dated; she was too heartbroken to even try. I think that's why she died when I was fourteen, leaving me to live with my grandmother, who'd died when I was eighteen.
Real lucky kid, huh? Then again, I suppose I shouldn't scoff. I had, at the very least, managed to stay out of the foster system. I don't care what other people might say, it scares me, and it features quite heavily in some of my less surreal nightmares. A faceless, nameless thing that takes you away from any remnants of family and familiarity to be categorised and shipped around like a wrongly-delivered parcel, and then has the audacity to call it kindness.
I'd kept the Artefact through all of this, taking pictures almost every day. I tried to take at least one each day, and I had a notebook in my pocket that would highlight the best parts of the day. Then, at the end of the month I'd spend a day and develop the pictures, sticking them in an album along with those "best bits". As a result, I had a massive box filled with photo albums from the age of seven up until now; I was twenty-one and in college, living with my roommate, Samantha.
I'd met Sam just before I turned fifteen, when I'd started high-school. We'd become best friends immediately; the simple natural click of someone who was like a soulmate, in a way. I'd always considered soulmates as not people who were perfect (because no one was, and it was stupid to think otherwise) but people who were homes. Someone warm and comforting and familiar. Someone that made you happy -- not necessarily ecstatic, or giddy, but simply happy -- every time you saw them. Sam was my soulmate.
Platonically, I should probably add, just to clear any confusion. But she was; like a sister I'd never had (and, according to Sam, that was a blessing, as she wasn't an only child, and she said it sucked), and we'd immediately gelled, having the same interests and even similar dreams - she wanted to be a pediatrician, I wanted to be a midwife.
Being my best friend and partner in crime (much to the ire of her parents and my grandma, we were fans of anything messy, even well into our teens), Sam featured in many of my photos, not being much of a shutter bug herself, but loving that I wanted to make my photos relate my real life as much as possible. Some of them were dinners with Grandma, some of hem were in the park with Sam and me each other, whilst a passer-by took the photo, or I held the Artefact outstretched in my free hand. Many were of seemingly banal objects; a perfect flower, a kind stranger who'd offered my help or started a polite conversation, a cute dog. But those seemingly banal objects were incredible to me; a marker to remind myself of that exact day -- of course, I made a point to write dates and locations on the back of each photo just in case.
We'd ended up going to the same college once we'd turned eighteen, and she'd been my rock when Grandma had died just after Christmas. It'd been a stroke, and she'd already had a pacemaker and a bunch of meds to keep her going each day. It didn't come as too much of a shock, but it still hurt. If not for Sam, I probably would've ended up a lot more of a mess than I was now. I probably wouldn't have made it to college at all. Depression had stalked me over the years, in bouts, and I had meds and a therapist to keep me straight, but Sam was the biggest help, never judging me, or making me feel alone. A guardian angel, Grandma had called her. I agreed.
It was just coming up to what I had begun to refer as Reaper Week over the years, because though my parents had died several years apart, the actual dates had been within a week of each other. It gave me the creeps, and I'd often spend several days holed up in my room with TV boxsets and lethal amount of Ben and Jerry's.
I'd been walking around campus, looking for a new boxset to watch; something to distract me for the anniversary of my mum's death tomorrow. It was probably a weird way to deal, but it was how I dealt. I liked living in another world for a few hours, something not real (hence why I tended to prefer sci-fi or fantasy shows) helped me get over it. I'd been in HMV, examining a few potential candidates, when Sam had called me.
"Hey, Charlie." She'd said, her voice full of sympathy. I'd always despised sympathy as a child, but somehow Sam had never made it seem patronising. I somehow managed a smile.
"Hey, Sam." I replied. Sam had been the first one to call me anything other than Charlotte. I was eternally grateful for that, because I'd really hated being called Charlotte ever since Mum had died. "What're you up to?"
"Well I'm just going for a shower right now," She said, "Jason's having a party tonight, and I was thinking we should go -- take your mind off things." There was the sound of metal creaking and water hitting ceramic; no doubt she was already wrapped in a towel, sitting on the edge of the tub whilst she waited for the water to warm up.
"I dunno, Sam..." I admitted, "I appreciate the offer, but I'm not sure if I'm feeling it." I'd done this sort of thing before, though; gone out and gotten so plastered and high that I could forget my pain -- and the name of the guy I woke up naked next to the following morning. But at the same time, I didn't always. Sometimes it'd just be me and Sam sat on my bed, marathoning whatever show that had taken my fancy that year (when I'd been seventeen I had blitzed through a series of animated kids' shows). This year, I could tell, was a boxset year, not a boytoy year (not that I made a habit of it or anything... Okay, when I was nineteen I'd been four guys for seven days----but that was my worst one and it had been my first year of college anyway).
"Well," Sam continued, "If you feel like it, great,we can go and take your mind off things. If not, also great, we can stay home and watch your newest crash show." Crash show being a term the two of us had coined, because whilst Reaper Week was the worst "crash" either of us had, there were still breakups and general down-periods that required the misanthropic healing of American-accented-Hugh-Laurie (House had been my crash show of choice the previous year).
"Thanks, Sammy." I smiled down the phone, but my heart hurt even so. "But I think that, if I do wanna stay in, it'll be an alone thing, y'know? You should go to the party -- besides, I think Jason likes you." Jason was a cute guy from around the campus (an engineer major, I think, btu I had a terrible memory). I'd only ever talked to him a handful of times, and he was a complete stranger to me, but he seemed nice, and very Sam's type.
"You do?" Sam asked, her interest piquing audibly, but then I imagined her waving her had dismissively as she continued, "No, wait. Not important. I don't wanna leave you alone in case you need me."
"Well, set your phone alarm as loud as you can and stuff it down the front of your shirt." I suggested, "Then if I call you, you can come over -- but I'm not even saying its a definite no. I might come along for a few hours."
"I'm serious, Sam." I protested, "I'll be okay. I'm not gonna dump on your night, especially since you were practically glued to my hip last year."
"You didn't force me to---" Sam began to protest herself, but I cut her off sharply,
"Sam!" I exclaimed in a pretty decent approximation of the tone her mother took when she was angry, "I'm telling you to go to that party! I will be fine. I have my TV, I have my ice-cream, and if things get bad I swear I will call you. Ba-da-da-da-da!" I added, making mindless noises to cut her off when she tried to protest again, "I'm not hearing any of it. GO."
"...Okay..." It seemed I'd finally beaten her down into going. Sam was clearly reluctant, but she didn't protest any further, "I'll... see you later then, Charlie."
"Later." I confirmed -- cheerfully, but still more so than I felt. "Bye."
"I love you." She told me kindly,
"I love you, too." I managed another smile, and then there was the click of her hanging up.
Some time later, I returned to our college room with the boxset of the first season of a fantasy show that looked pretty good. It's first season had just concluded and, yeah, it was a little pricey, but it was January, so it could've been worse. One thing I'd never really had to worry about was money. A slew of dead relatives had been responsible for that. By the time I was fifteen, I could have paid for my entire college education; tuition, board and all. I felt my mouth twist in a grimace. The perks of being an orphan, I thought, thinking of that scene in Harry Potter where he opened up his parents' bank vault to find heaps of gold.
Sam was just coming out of the shower, towelling her hair dry, when I came into our room. She smiled sympathetically as she saw me, "Hey," She said quietly, "What d'you pick this time?" I held up the DVD and threw it onto my bed along with my bag, pulling off my jacket.
"You made a decision about the party yet?" Sam asked as she pulled on a shirt; she'd already been wearing jeans and underwear, but never put on a shirt until her hear was perfectly dry, in case it got her shirt wet. It was a habit I, myself, had adopted since meeting her. She'd always had a fascination for superheroes and this time she had a black shirt with a red, encircled hourglass on it. I couldn't remember which superhero that symbol belonged to, though.
I shrugged noncommittally as I watched her finish drying her hair, my reflection perched on the bed in the mirror, copying my every move. Sam was a lot prettier than she realised, with curling, golden-blonde hair and soft brown eyes. She wasn't especially curvy, but she had wide hips and a fairly narrow waist, making her look elegant. She often complained to me about her height; a "meagre" 5'6", when I stood at 5'9". I had dark brown hair, quite straight, and much longer. Sam's hair only brushed her jawline, but mine came down to almost my waist. It was mostly laziness, I could never be bothered to get it cut. My eyes - imperfect in that I required contacts - were pale blue, which Sam had often and jealously proclaimed looked like crystal (I'd never really seen it). I had quite an athletic figure, and looked like an absolute stick next to her. I didn't mind, though, even now we weren't all that interested in guys. Sure, if we liked one we'd take him home for the night, but aside from that, we were single and happy about it.
"You're going to Jason's party like that?" I asked her, looking at the superhero shirt and jeans. It wasn't meant in a mean way, we both knew that, but when it came to parties, she tended to, well, dress up a little more. When she put in even a little bit of effort, she turned every head in the room.
Sam only shrugged, "Why not?" She replied, "I'm not really looking for someone tonight, and I don't want to be otherwise occupied if you need me." Shrugging on her old leather jacket that I'd always considered hideous, she gave me a flirtatious wink that actually made me laugh.
When Sam left to go to Jason's party, it was only after she made me promise to call her if I really needed her. She'd said that she wasn't going out with the intention of bringing anyone home, but even when she wasn't really trying, she looked gorgeous. With her cropped leather jacket on, she looked like a biker chick, and I knew that basically every guy thought biker chicks were hot.
"Have fun." I smiled as she walked out the door of our apartment. Sam smiled at me, but it wasn't too sympathetic this time, which was good, since it became annoying if she did it too much. It was probably just as well we got on so much, because we both had pretty short and fiery tempers, as well as a list of pet peeves as long as our arms.
"Make sure you call me if you need anything." She sad, pulling her phone out from the back pocket of her jeans, "It's at max volume and set to vibrate. I won't miss it, so you have to promise."
"Okay, I promise." I told her, for perhaps the fifth time, and my smile wasn't too forced this time. She gave me a final hug and then went down the hall; there was the sound of the front door opening and closing, and then I was alone in the apartment.
I moved over to my bed and picked up the boxset, as well as the Artefact. I'd made sure to take a picture of me and Sam sat on my bed, with the camera set to a timer on the nightstand. The shot showed us sitting, one leg hanging off the edge of the bed, Sam with still-a-bit-wet hair and a superhero shirt, and me snuggled up in an overlarge woollen sweatshirt. We had our arms wrapped around one another's shoulders, Sam grinning and myself managing a smaller, but still entirely sincere, smile. Another tugged at the corner of my mouth as I surveyed it.
It would be the last picture I ever took of her.