I find Constance Straker in her college dormitory. Although she’s alone at the moment, as soon as I step through the door I’m struck by the plethora of empty mugs and pictures of her with friends. She finishes stirring two coffees, and I take the opportunity to look around. Everything provides an indication of a popular young woman. Connie is easily the most attractive woman – stunning, even – in any of the photos, with her classic blond hair and blue eyes.
“They’re a decent bunch,” she says as she looks down at the group picture I had picked up.
I put the photo down. “You’ve got a lot of friends.”
“Yeah.” Connie hands me a mug and sits on a settee. She waves me toward an armchair on the far side of the coffee table and clasps something in her other fist. “If they’re genuine friends, of course.”
“Money,” I say.
“Yeah.” Connie blows on her drink and takes a tentative sip. “With dad bein’ loaded, you never can tell who is a genuine friend. I’ve met some real goddam freeloaders out there.” She unclasps her fist, and holds up a key ring. It’s in the shape of an Indian woman. “Pocahontas,” she says.
She avoids my eyes. “My best friend.”
I take a sip and lean back in the chair while I wait for her to explain.
She takes a deep breath and a long sip of coffee. Two clear blue eyes regard me all the time, and I think she’s trying to think if something that sounds sensible. “My family went through an upheaval when I was six or seven. We moved a couple of times, and mum was findin’ it a struggle making friends while dad was always away buildin’ up the business. We all got a bit lonely.” Her eyes soften as she looks down at the Indian. “We went out to the mall one day, and I guess I just fell in love with this little lady. I treated her like the friends I couldn’t make when we were movin’ around. I guess even all these years later I never stopped thinkin’ of her as my best friend. Ain’t you, Pocca?”
The Indian didn’t reply.
“Pocca can be a bit quiet. But at least she doesn’t answer back.”
“Ah,” I say. “I see. But I suppose the upheavals were worth if for your family – financially, I mean.” I grin. “And I suppose you get to eat burgers whenever you want one!”
“And I don’t even like goddam StrakerBurgers! I’d never tell dad, after all the years he’s spent buildin’ up his business and now bein’ worth millions, but I’d prefer a Big Mac any day!” She bit a lip. “Do you think that’s wrong of me?”
“I mean, dad’s a multi millionaire big shot, and I can’t stand the stuff that made his fortunes. He even named a goddam burger after me!”
“I like ConnieBurgers.”
“I don’t.” She pokes a finger into her mouth and gives a mock gag. “I don’t like ConnieBurgers, or any of the burgers in the StrakerBurger range. And I can’t stand StrakerShakes.” She manages to keep the anger under control, and her grin is genuine. A shake of her head tosses a stray strand of blond hair back over a shoulder. “I guess I won’t be growin’ up to run the family business.”
I put my coffee on the table so I can spread my arms. “So, what will you do?”
Connie gives a deep sigh, and those blue eyes regard me. “I don’t know. But I’ve always said I won’t rely on dad’s millions. I reckon I can make my own way in the world. But I don’t know whether I can cope with getting’ an ordinary, low paid job.” She touches her ear studs and laughs, then looks down at her key ring. “I’m too fond of diamonds and designer clothes, ain’t I, Pocca? Maybe I’ll be one of those spoiled rich kids who says the money ain’t important and then squeals if it dries up.”
“So what will you do, if you’re not going to run StrakerBurgers?”
“At the moment I don’t have any ambition other than getting’ my degree, and havin’ a bit of fun in the process. And to be brave enough to run naked through campus, but I reckon I’ll need a whole lot of bourbon inside me before I pluck up the courage.” She shrugs, and nearly spills her coffee in the process. “My main ambition is to stand on my own two feet. And to be bought flowers.”
She looks away. “They say I’m decent lookin’, but I ain’t never been bought flowers.”
My brows rise.
“And I don’t want you buyin’ me a bunch of roses out of sympathy.”
“I won’t. I promise.”
“Why won’t you buy me flowers? D’you think I’m ugly?”
I withdraw from the verbal sparring by laughing. “No, you’re not ugly. You’re blessed with looks. As I should think you well know.”
“Blessed? If you could see some of the goddam jerks I get letchin’ at me, you’d not call it a blessin’.”
Her shudder is genuine, and its intensity surprises me. She tightens her grip on her key ring.
“Tell me about it.”
Her face hardens. “There was this one guy at school, in the year below. The college nerd. I can’t remember his name, but everyone called him ‘Spongehead’ on account of his thick curly hair. He were always lookin’ through his glasses at me, and followin’ me through the school, and hangin’ out in the corridors he knew I’d have to pass through.” She shudders again. “There’s somethin’ wrong with the lad. He was real creepy.”
This Spongehead character obviously unnerved her, so I don’t press the point. “I’m sorry,” I say after a difficult silence. “I didn’t mean to push it.”
“It doesn’t matter. I’ve left him behind. Now the only things that give me the creeps are enclosed spaces and heights.” She shudders again. “Ugh. I can’t think of anyithn’ worse than a big, black drop into nuthin’ness.” Two eyes fix me. “Unless it’s a big black drop into nuthin’ness with Spongehead letchin’ at me.”
You can find out more about Connie, Spongehead and Pocahontas in ‘The Well’.