Friend or Foe, by Dawn Utech

Her sun-kissed golden looks were deceptive. With her East Coast, à la Kennedy[1] aura she cast a spell upon everyone with whom she met and chose to spin her magical charismatic web upon. Unfortunately, you learned too late that she was the master director of all whom she knew. As if, with cement blocked feet, you were firmly planted on her chess board. Yet, because she said, “Hello, Gorgeous!” every time you met or sincerely pledged her devotion to you because “You are the best!” you didn’t know you were just a pawn in her grand design. You felt wanted, included, important. To be her friend was like a golden ticket. But, instead of winning the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory[2], you won a place in the inner circle of one of the most popular of cliques.

It all started on a perfect, blue sky day. Instead of relishing poolside in the warmth of the sun, I chose to get chores done; which included laundry. The laundry room was located on the lower third level of the three-family home right next to the in ground pool. You took the outside, twisty turning steps down to the small, musty room that held the washer and dryer along with castoffs from former tenants; old suitcases stained by mildew, a king top spring mattress and rusty, once bright beach chairs stood forlorn and threadbare. This is where I saw her for the first time. On the hottest of summer days she floated in the pool; glistening and suntanned on a pretty green blow-up raft. Nearby a glass with tiny water droplets gently sliding to the bottom of the glass stained the patio wet.  This glass lay just out of her reach as she floated on the inviting water, her hand lazily playing in its coolness. The ice cubes rustled in the superb Chardonnay as they melted while crying for shade to protect them from demise. A glass of Chardonnay was like an accessory to J.C.; comparable to a necklace worn by CoCo Chanel[3]. Never be without.

I knew her Roommate, Peter, (my neighbor) and he always asked how she and I have never met. Different schedules, I presumed. I discovered less than a year later, from another J.C. victim that J.C. had been deliberate in us not meeting; the first of her competitiveness attributes to be verified by someone other than my own suspicions. But, here and now, standing poolside, I was being invited to join the queen (in her own mind) and become instantly the closest of friends. “Put on your swimsuit and get your butt in this pool! I am so glad we finally get to meet! – I won’t take, No, for an answer!” –Like everyone, I felt compelled to join her. I was equally intrigued to find out who was this infamous J.C. as I was desperate to cool off in the sparkling pool.

From the safety of our dark lens sunglasses, as women often do, we eyed each other up and gathered our first impressions. Her hair beginning to dry from the sun and wind took on a brassy, store box color blonde. She was above average in height with a slender build. You could see that she had once been athletic, but her definition was lost due to the habit of daily golden wine. J.C.’s upper front teeth were slightly crooked and when she let out her big laugh you could see she was missing a second bicuspid. I couldn’t help think to myself, “This? This is the woman I have heard so much about? The woman who has men falling at her feet… Paralleled to Helen of Troy[4]? – She looks pretty average to me!” – Aha! That was part of her lure to the web she wove. Being attractive, yet average gave her leverage by not being too threatening as far as looks were concerned. She could easily be your gal pal while she secretly plots to steal your pride, kindness, reputation and your boyfriend.

As you get older, and meet new and different people, you start to learn to discern who is and who isn’t going to be a good friend. I should have known that this new friend was more likely to become the frenemy of a lifetime. J.C. was always super enthusiastic about an idea or plan, but usually was a no show when the time came and she was needed. She seemed genuinely supportive in arranging a blind date for you with the greatest guy she just met – where, in truth, it was only to get him off her back now that she was done with him. Of course, you would feel a fool once the truth is known, but she would lure you back in and you would tell yourself that you will be wise and never be duped again. But, alas, only to run afoul in a new plot that includes your presence and particular naïveté. You couldn’t find comfort as you saw other friends lie in her path of destruction. Nor pity, because you knew that all concerned were smarter than the game being played, yet played it anyway.

It took a family health emergency to remove J.C. from the inner circle. It wouldn’t have mattered. By this time she had run out of excuses, money, and people to deceive. The departure came before a complete and total uprising took place that was destined to start. I wonder to this day, if she really had to return to her family’s home town, or, had she realized that she had played her last game. Her web had been blown apart by the strong forces of the wind of truth. We had finally learned, as young adults, that people will show you who they are…believe them the first time[5].

[1] 1960’s President family; Kennedy era

[2] Dahl; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 1964

[3] CoCo Chanel -French Fashion Designer 1910-1971

[4] Helen of Troy – Greek Mythology; most beautiful woman in the world

[5] “The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

― Maya Angelou

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