“I brought some, uh, refreshments,” Drew Nodar announced reaching into the back seat of his messy hatchback. He pulled out a three-quarter filled bottle of red wine out from underneath a bag of takeout. Had it been any other guy, and I would have said hell no and walked the two blocks back to my parents’ house in the dark. But it wasn’t anybody else. It was Drew Nodar. And we had some serious business to discuss.

We decided to go to the playground in a nearby park. It was approaching midnight, so we wouldn’t have to worry about any children joining us on this cool Wednesday evening in the spring. We climbed to the landing of the highest slide and sat across from each other awkwardly, the bottle of wine between us on the plastic blue plank.

“Fuck it,” I thought as I took the first swig. I needed all the help I could get. Despite having gone to high school with Drew, and sharing a plethora of mutual friends, the two of us had never really been that close. There had been that one semester at the end of grade 12 when we’d walk to the bus stop together, but that was short lived. Our mutual friends dissipated into different circles after we’d graduated high school, and we all kind of went our separate ways. Well, as separate as you can go while living in the same small suburban community. Some of those friends stuck around and some had become mutual enemies over the years. Actually, that’s why we were here now.

I put the bottle back down on the floor, feigning confidence, a little too hard and wine splashed over the top. Drew took no notice as he picked it up and took a long, purposeful sip. This was weird. It didn’t feel like we were 25, it felt more like we were 15 again. Actually, I imagined this is what it would have felt like, had I been the type of teenager to drink wine in a park after dark. I hadn’t been.

“First, of all,” Drew began to speak. “I really want to say sorry for what happened with Jonah and – ”

I shook my head. No. We weren’t here to discuss my momentary relationship with one of Drew’s best friends, or the harrowing post-break-up consequences. I had worked through all that by now, and even drunkenly called a truce with Jonah a few years back at a bar. That had been great for closure. No, this was, and always had been, about Seth Grady.

“Okay, Drew. I have a question.” I announced, licking a drop of wine from the corner of my mouth. This was it. I was finally going to know. “This is kind of random, but, two years ago. Were Seth and Lorena broken up over the summer? The summer she went to Italy? And you guys went to the music festival?”

To me, this question wasn’t random at all. This question had haunted me for two years. Drew, on the other hand, seemed taken aback by it. He frowned, and I watched his eyes flicker beneath the distant streetlights as he pulled up those memories. If anybody would know, it would be Drew. I held my breath as he spoke. “No, not that I know of.”

“So, maybe they broke up, got back together and you just didn’t know about it?” I pressed, holding on to my glimmer of hope. This would be the best case scenario.

“No, actually, I know for sure they weren’t broken up.” Drew confirmed, shadowing my glimmer. I reached for another long sip of wine as he continued. “The weekend we went to the music festival together, and Lorena didn’t come, they were very much together.”

“How do you know?”

“I was dating that girl Annie at the time, but we were keeping it a secret,” Drew explained. My eyes widened. Gossip! Annie had met Drew and Seth through other mutual friends. She’d somehow wormed her way into their group and our town. She wasn’t from around here, nor had she attended any of the local high schools. Then she was everywhere. She’d even worked with me at a steakhouse during that exact time, but I had no idea she’d ever dated Drew! I made a mental note to text my best friend about it later. Drew went on, “I remember because Seth got so drunk and high at that concert, that he started hitting on Annie. Aggressively. It really pissed me off.”

“Okay,” I replied defensively. Seth had told me this story too. In his version, Drew had wrongly accused him of assaulting Annie. I could still see the hurt look in his eye when he told me Drew had said those horrible things about him. I felt for him. I knew Seth Grady was not inherently a bad guy. “So, even if he got drunk and hit on a girl he thought was single. That doesn’t mean he did anything wrong.”

“No…” Drew agreed cautiously, remembering more about that summer every second now. A light breeze drifted through the air, and goose bumps appeared on my skin. Another gulp and Drew went on. “But I know for a fact, because the week after we got home from that festival, Lorena called me. She was back from Italy, and she was bawling her eyes out. Hysterical. Annie had told her everything, but she didn’t trust Annie. She wanted me to confirm that Seth had tried to cheat on her.”

Fuck. It felt like I’d been kicked. Hard. I turned my face away from Drew, pulled my legs up to my chest and leaned my back against a cold metal rail for support. I looked through the star-shaped cut outs in the plastic walls that encapsulated us, into the lit houses that surrounded us. I pictured Lorena, a girl I’d never even formally met before, out there. I could see her crying in her bedroom on that day two years back, face buried in a pillow, desperate for answers. I could feel her despair. Her pain. The wine from my last sip stung viciously behind my eyes. I almost wished he hadn’t told me.

It had been one thing to suspect this, but quite another to have actual confirmation of it. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone to meet Drew that night. Maybe I shouldn’t have asked. Maybe I should have just left the past in the past. But that just wasn’t my style. I really messed up.

“I really messed up.” Drew echoed my thoughts. “Instead of being honest with Lorena, instead of telling her what Seth really did, I told her I wasn’t sure. I sold out my own girlfriend to protect fucking Seth Grady. And then he turned on me when he found out I was dating Annie. I should have just told Lorena he was a piece of shit then, when I had the chance.”

“You should have,” I whispered. I peered through the planks at the empty swings below us, rocking lightly in the breeze. “Because Seth didn’t just try to cheat on Lorena. He succeeded.”

Drew avoided eye contact as he tilted the bottle to his lips. There was a little less than half left now. “With you?”

“With me,” I confirmed, my voice and heart simultaneously breaking. Now my deep dark secret was out. Now somebody else from that group knew about what had happened that summer. It felt kind of freeing, getting to tell my version of the story. “The night before you left for the festival. We went camping. And then..”

“Really?! And I defended him!” Drew’s voice grew angry as he realized how perfectly our timelines fit together.

I sighed, speaking slowly to keep my composure, “he told me they were broken up then. I thought they were broken up. I thought he was single. I kind of clued in that he wasn’t when he stopped talking to me suddenly, but kept turning up in pictures with her.”

It hurt almost as much now as it had then. Now my last little bit of denial had vanished. It was real. It was true. He’d lied to me. Made me an accessory to his cheating.

“Well, luckily, I don’t talk to him anymore. Haven’t really been friends since that period.” Drew announced proudly. He looked at me suspiciously. “What about you?”

“We hang out.” I admitted. I knew he already knew about that part. I knew Stewie Goode had already told him. God, suburban inner circles are so riddled with gossip, even in your 20s. But at least it saved me the trouble of having to explain to him that we had only just recently started hanging out again. That we hadn’t spoken for nearly two years before a few months prior. That I’d kind of forgiven him and tried to leave all the bad stuff in the past. That I’d even been the one to initiate contact. I took a deep breath. I was feeling a flush with emotion, now ready to spill all my secrets to Drew Nodar in the park. “I think I love him.”

“I know, deep down, I do too.” Drew sympathised. “I would have done anything for him, but he turned on me! He’s a hypocrite. Probably a sociopath. The Grady that we knew in high school drowned in a hot tub of alcohol and narcissism. All that’s left is the asshole Seth Grady who lied to you then, and is probably still lying to you now.”

“That’s not true!” I argued on instinct. At least this time, Seth and Lorena had been broken up for over a year. I knew it for a fact. “He’s really trying to change.”

“Is he?” Drew challenged. “Is he honestly treating you any differently than he was two years ago? Any better than he treated Lorena?”

I finished the last drop of wine. Stupid Drew Nodar and his infinite wine wisdom.

“Lorena should just beat me up.”

“It’s ancient history,” Drew reminded me. Little did he know, ancient history is often my favourite place to travel. Ancient history has a way of seeping back into your consciousness, replaying itself, relentlessly. “At least now you know the truth, and have the power to make better decisions going forward.”

He was right, of course. But that didn’t necessarily mean I would.


4 thoughts on “The Playground

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