The woman in front of her, “Call me Jan”, hard-faced and crazy eyed, demanded to know what was missing in her life. Jan’s words were sincere, but Rebecca knew better. She knew that the only reason this woman was bothering with her at all was for the commission she would make if Rebecca signed up to Milestones, all for the low cost of a $400 start up fee, plus a small annual fee, teeny-weensy ongoing fees for conferences, meetings, gatherings, forums and of course another minuscule (but so worth it!) fee for leadership training, at which point you begin to receive deductions for the amount of new people you sign up. Really, the only thing Rebecca was missing right now, she told herself, was a way out of this room.
She had only come to support her best friend Renee who was desperately searching for a way out of Milestones. Was it impolite to call it a cult? Rebecca didn’t think so. Rebecca watched Renee from across the room, wondering how her wonderful, sensible, beautiful, intelligent friend had become involved in this crap. She couldn’t reconcile this needy, sad Renee of the now with the Renee of her past, the Renee who had helped Rebecca through break-ups and moving house and the Alison debacle (someone had called someone else a slut, and Renee hadn’t judged. She had held Rebecca and let her cry on her shoulder and had told her that all people made mistakes, but that good people made up for them). Intellectually, Rebecca understood how someone could become involved in this. She understood the allure of the promise of having it all, the assurance of finally having the answers, of moving to where the grass was greener; a better life, prepackaged and available in shiny bite sized pieces for the modern consumer. Just enough to keep them coming back.
“I know why you’re here tonight.” Jan was persistent. “Have you been feeling as though things aren’t how you thought they would be when you were little? Have your dreams of your future melted away before you? Have you sunk into mediocrity? Are you wondering where your life went and what you can do to turn things around?”
Rebecca was twenty-four, and thought that was a bit much. “Not really,” Rebecca was noncommittal. You could not give these people an inch.
“Rebecca,” Jan’s voice oiled its way to the floor between them. Rebecca nearly shuddered. A familiar heat crept over her; her palms became sweaty and she felt droplets forming on her forehead. “What you don’t realize is that you have so much potential in you which you will never unlock until you learn life’s secrets.” Her mouth was filling up with thick saliva, and she couldn’t swallow fast enough. “You can do it, Rebecca. I know you might look at me and be intimidated, but you could have my knowledge one day, if you’re brave enough to accept it.”
“Excuse me,” Rebecca stammered as she turned and nearly sprinted for the bathroom. The door slammed shut behind her as she hurtled herself into the cubicle. The toilet cover felt cold through her jeans and she dug her nails into her palms, trying to force deep calming breaths but the nausea was too much for her. Spinning around and lifting the seat cover, Rebecca felt the all-too familiar bile rise in her throat, the scratchy heat as the warm, lumpy liquid came racing into her mouth, stomach contents splashing into the bowl in front of her, then it was over. The outside world went quiet for a moment, and all Rebecca could hear were her own harsh gasps and the quick thump of her heart.
Shaky hands pulling the seat cover closed, Rebecca took a sweaty breath. Jan was a bitch, but Rebecca couldn’t blame her for this. The thing was, Rebecca knew exactly what was missing in her life, and it wasn’t love, it wasn’t a reconnection with her parents, it wasn’t more money or success or failed dreams or lost hopes, it was a diagnosis; one that she was too shit scared of seeking.
She had no idea what the hell was going on with her body. Suddenly and without her permission (which just seemed rude, really), she had started to feel sick four months ago. Constantly, endlessly, vaguely sick. Exhausted, nauseated, bloated, sore, and – she paused there, thinking about the recent changes in her bowel habit. “Yuck,” she muttered to herself. She knew she definitely wasn’t pregnant because she had been too sick to have sex with her boyfriend for the past four months, but that was as far as she’d got in finding out what was wrong. There had been old articles in women’s health magazines, symptom trackers, medical textbooks and hundreds and hundreds of google searches, the top ten results of which were invariably cancer. Each time she saw the c word her blood ran cold; she thought of bald, sick, old people who were too weak to go to the toilet by themselves and who smelled and ate through a tube and who, invariably in her mind, died alone with relatives fighting over the will, and she was only 24 and she was in love and had her whole life to live and she had plans, damnit, and what if that was all taken away from her so suddenly in a quiet, well decorated office somewhere with someone she didn’t know sitting across from her telling her she might die and it might be soon and she shouldn’t be feeling like this at all and her family would be so mad at her if they knew she wasn’t getting treated but she just –
It was easier to ignore it. A sort of, ‘this too shall pass’, kind of attitude.
Renee’s voice cut into her thoughts. Bec drew a shaky breath, laying her palms on the cold floor either side of her.
“In here.” Her voice was weak as she leant forward to slide the lock open. Renee squeezed into the stall.
“You look horrible.” Renee’s voice was welcome as air. “Let’s get out of here before these Milestone weirdos realize I haven’t paid my cancellation fee.”
Renee started to cry on the train ride home. Ugly crying, the kind where her entire face went red, followed by her neck and her arms, the kind with visible snot and mascara everywhere where words aren’t possible. Renee tried to speak.
“I just,” Gasp. “I just,” Gasp hiccough. “It’s just-” unidentifiable noise. “I’m so freaking-” Whimper. “Relieved.” Rebecca stared at Renee, willing her to continue. Somehow, Renee calmed enough to piece a sentence together. “They were so awful, and now I can forget about all the crap they taught me and just bloody go live my life the way I want to. You weren’t stupid enough to believe in it. You’re not scared of doing exactly what you want.”
Rebecca held her friend close to her, marveling at how someone who knew her so well could be so wrong about her. She looked down at Renee’s head on her shoulder, and felt her heart
swell at how Renee saw her – as someone brave, someone to look up to.
Someone who, if they thought they might have cancer, would bloody well do something about it.
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