Our Secret Moments: Chapter 3


I USED to think there was nothing worse than a hangover.

But there is.

It’s that feeling you get where you’re not actually hungover because you haven’t drank much, but your head is throbbing, your back is aching, your stomach feels like it’s been squeezed out by a giant and the makeup you forgot to wash off last night does not look cute. Some people can pull off the raccoon look, but black mascara against my dark skin is not as flattering as some would hope.

After spending the entire night staring at my ceiling fan spin rapidly, secretly wishing it would just fall right on me, I rolled out of bed and told myself it was fine. That was fine. I used to think I was an optimist, but maybe I’m just delusional.

I never usually stress over grades.

Okay, so maybe one time I threw up before my third grade spelling bee when it wasn’t worth anything, but that’s totally unrelated.

Some people say that I’m a perfectionist, or that I care too much about the little things that won’t matter in the long run, but I’ve always been that person. Because if no one is worrying about these ‘little things,’ someone has to, right? And that someone just happens to be me.

Naturally, everyone in this dorm is a worrier. Growing up with Elle and Nora has shown me just how much we over analyse situations and see the worst possible outcome before settling on something rational. Usually, Elle is the most chilled out of the two of us and leaves most things up to the universe, or just lets them be.

I physically can’t do that.

I worry about the stupid things that could go wrong like an elevator breaking down or an attack happening in my apartment. Or like grades, even though I know I studied my ass off for my final piece on genetic mutation.

The thing about journalism is that when you have a story to tell, you have to tell it in a certain way for people to truly understand you and to feel connected with your story whilst trying to be funny and also sounding like your most authentic self.

I’ve battled with this for years and it’s something I’m still trying to get the hang of. My writing style is something unique to me and I always get that pang in my chest, a voice in my head telling me that I’m not good enough when my teachers mark me down for my style of writing.

Nora Bailey, my best friend, theatre major and my literal lifeline is also a worrier, but she’s a much more chaotic one. Nora is a natural born leader and a phenomenal actress, singer, and dancer. She’s always been a good performer and she sometimes takes method acting to the next level.

When we were kids, she once convinced a mean girl in our class, Emily, that she was Miley Cyrus over the phone offering her backstage access to her tour date in Colorado. The mean girl fell for it, but when she hadn’t heard back from ‘Miley’ in weeks she was heartbroken.

Nora put on the best performance when we went back to school, acting as if she didn’t crush that little girl’s dreams. I thought it was hilarious after the way she treated the three of us at school. Elle, however, a true Cancer through and through, couldn’t take it and started crying when Emily started crying in class. After that, Nora promised never to use her magic of acting for harm again.

Still, even after being accepted into the best performing arts course in the state, she’s pacing in the kitchen, script in hand, a highlighter in her mouth as she recites lines back to herself.

The small kitchen and living room areas are a mess. Throw blankets are covering the floor and the couch, perfectly set up from our reading session before we went to the party last night. The sink and counters are clean, apart from the bowls of ice cream. I pull out a water bottle from the fridge, shoving a pill into my mouth to get rid of the nausea and the headache that is festering.

“What did you get up to last night?” she asks, her voice oddly chipper. Well, Nora is always chipper, but considering last night’s fiasco, I assumed she’d be more concerned than she is.

“You seriously didn’t hear?”

“Hear what?” she asks, still pacing. “Wes made me stand by the pool for an hour while I watched him try to do backflips into the water. I had my phone ready to call nine-one-one the whole time. So, I was pretty busy.”

Wes Mackenzie is like the childhood friend you get forced to play with before you realise that you’re stuck with him forever. Ever since we were kids, he’s been attached to Nora’s hip like an emotional support puppy. I can’t for the life of me figure how they’re still best friends when all they do is argue and annoy each other. Nora being a theatre major and him being a football player makes no sense to me. But it works for them.

They’re always caught in ridiculous situations. He once got himself stuck in a washing machine for a TikTok. Nora once asked him for help while Elle and I were busy to help pin up a costume and he accidentally stitched her in.

Regardless of any foolishness they get up to, they’re always laughing by the end of it. At least they have fun together because the second her boyfriend Ryan turns up, he’s frowning and he’s constantly telling Nora to quit being friends with him.

I don’t think Wes and Nora could ever stop being friends. The world would have to split in two, forcing them on two different planets for them to stop being the crazy, chaotic ball of sunshine that they are together.

“Right. Well, guess who got shoved into the Manifestation Chamber,” I mutter, adding the much-needed fake excitement to my voice.

“Oh my god! You know what that means right?”

I knew that the second the words left my mouth that Nora would be all over it. If I thought Elle and I liked romance, Nora was a walking Taylor Swift song. She’s been obsessed with love since she knew what it meant. Which is why she is always starring in productions where she plays a beautiful heroine who has the male leads at her feet.

“Yeah, but it was with, uh, Connor,” I say, ripping the bandaid right off.

I drunkenly admitted to her once a few years ago that I used to have a crush on her brother when we were kids, but she never brought it up again. What she doesn’t know is that I’ve been caught by Elle checking him out a few (at least five) times.

He’s as good-looking as he is stupid. Which is a fuckton. So that’s why I’ve been politely declining all of Nora’s invites to go see him and Wes play. I know for a fact if I saw him in his uniform, his helmet in hand, I would lose all composure and fold like a lawn chair. So, I’m staying as far away from him as possible and it has been working out great so far. Until last night.

“Connor as in Connor Bailey?” she gawks, saying her twin brother’s name as if it physically repulses her.

“Unless we know someone else called Connor,” I say.

She stops still, dropping her hand with her script in defeat. She looks at me for a second, holding my stare, those bright chocolate eyes staring into mine. For a second, I thought she was getting ready to launch the highlighter at me, but instead she lets out a soft, “Ew.”

“I know! I mean, obviously nothing happened. He was just being annoying about the whole thing,” I say, my shoulders relaxing.

“Yeah, he was moaning through the door so people would think you were sucking him off,” Elle says nonchalantly.

I don’t know when she suddenly woke up, but she walks into the living room, her gym bag slung over her shoulder, looking as refreshed and put-together as ever, her curly hair tied into a bun on top of her head. Nora’s face turns pale at Elle’s comment.

“But that is not what happened. At all,” I say to Nora, trying my best to reassure her as she eyes me suspiciously. “I swear.”

“Okay…” she says slowly, packing away her script into the tote bag on the couch. “Because if you were doing anything remotely gross in that closet, I’d have to redact myself from both of your lives. You’d get all touchy feely and that would be uncomfortable for all of us.” She shivers at the thought, shaking her head. I stand, stunned into silence as I watch her take a deep breath. “Anyway,” she says, her tone suddenly bright as she hitches her bag higher up on her shoulder. “I’ve got to go to rehearsals. Good luck for your grade, Cat. I’m sure you’ll have done great.”

There’s something truly unique about how a Bailey exits a conversation.

The trudge to class is as gruelling as ever. Part of me doesn’t even want to go in there, sitting next to my more than amazing class friends who fly by these assignments with ease, while I’m constantly in fear of not living up to my potential.

My dad enrolled me into Drayton the second the applications opened. It’s where he and my mom met, and it got them both to where they wanted to be.

My mom was a romantic, a hopeless one. And my dad would do anything for her. He did everything to get her to notice him as she actively avoided him and pretended he didn’t exist. Until one day, she couldn’t ignore her feelings for him anymore, no matter how hard she tried, and she gave in.

They spent their days at the library, picking out books for each other and were doing ‘buddy reads’ before it was even a thing. From the stories I’ve been told by my grandma JoJo, they were inseparable and just being in their presence was what made everyone around them feel young.

When they graduated – my dad with a degree in literature and politics and my mom in literature and journalism – they both worked hard to get a stable career before they ever thought about having kids. They managed to balance their love, career and a child together and I was able to grow up knowing I was a product of their love and got to experience it first hand. As much as the fairy tales intrigued me, I wanted to know the deeper things. About my mom especially.

Since she passed away five years ago, my dad has found it hard to talk about her. Being born to immigrant parents from Jamaica, I wanted to know every single thing about my mom’s childhood.

When my dad told me stories about her, he never mentioned what she was like before they fell in love, or what she was like as a child or a teenager. He had always told me that she never wanted to talk about it and that never made sense to me.

My mom was a storyteller, the best one I know. So why wouldn’t she want to talk about her past? With my grandma’s health deteriorating and my grandad passing before I was born, it feels like I’ve got nothing left of her. It feels like before she met my dad, before she fell in love, she didn’t exist. It’s not that her story hasn’t been completed – it feels like it never really started.

“Are you stressed?” I turn around to the soft voice that belongs to my favourite class friend, George, as he pulls me out of my daydream. I sigh when he looks at me with complete sympathy, his green eyes softening as he takes me in. “You’ve got nothing to worry about, Cat. I read your final piece. It was perfect.”

“Thank you and I know I shouldn’t worry, but…” I try to think of an excuse, but I come up empty. There’s nothing major riding on the back of this assignment. I just like knowing where I stand in class. I like knowing that I’ll get a consistent grade. But when I submit a piece on something I had to do a ton of research for with very little prior knowledge, I question my work more than I need to.

“We both worked hard on our pieces. We’ll be fine,” George says, patting me on the shoulder as he nudges open the door to the classroom.

Drayton is what most people call the Hogwarts of Colorado. The deep stone walls are nothing short of beautiful and they make studying in the Grand Library feel like a fever dream. But the only problem is the heating facilities are pretty shitty. Which is why I feel a sharp breeze when I open the door to the classroom, hoping that that’s all it is. Just the wind and not a premonition.

Here goes nothing.

I blink at the paper in front of me again. I can’t tell how long it’s been. Maybe five minutes? Or maybe even an hour. All I know is that my face is covered in tears as I reread the comments and feedback in front of me.

This is surreal.

I’m not living real life right now.

I passed. I didn’t get the best mark in the class like I had hoped, but I got something even better.

Professor Rotford never leaves kind comments on reports. Ever. She’s prone to constructive criticism only. She even told us on our first day of classes that we should not expect a pat on the back for writing a sub-par essay and that tears are not allowed in her classroom. I was tough enough to take her criticism and I’ve been using it to improve my writing and it has finally paid off.

This is a lot better than your last, but not as good as one of your firsts. Your voice is coming along very well, Catherine. You should be grateful.

– A. Rotford.

I mean, she could have said ‘proud’ instead of ‘grateful,’ but a win is a win, right? I wipe my face with the sleeve of my sweater, knowing my makeup and my face in general is ruined. George elbows me, snickering a little as the rest of the class talk amongst themselves about their reports. I know he’s telling me to stop crying, but I can’t help it.

“Catherine.” Professor Rotford’s voice booms across the classroom. I snap my head up, my glassy eyes meeting her steel blue ones. “Do you need a second?”

“Oh, these are tears of relief! I promise,” I say through a sniffle, my voice betraying my words.

She sighs, looking back down at her desk as she murmurs, “The door is open.”


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