To Old Friends
“You know,” she says, leaning against railings, eyes upturned to the blinking lights of a landing airplane in the distance, with the city laid out before them, a grid of lights and the steady stop and go of cars pulsing in the streets like toys, “This is exactly the sort of thing I would have dreamt of doing with you, years ago.”
He laughs, a slight, dry laugh. “But now…”
“But now, I think, what are we doing? Really. Are we silly enough to believe that this means anything? That this one evening will cancel out the days and days of answering emails and taking out the trash and serial watching TV shows in bed?”
He places his hand on her lower back, anyway, though her tone and words doesn’t call for it. “Is that what you think we’re doing?”
“Well, isn’t it?” She turns to face him and he can see the gold claw clasp of her necklace, misaligned, dangling near the small diamond pendant. He longs to reach out and fix it.
“I thought we were just old friends reuniting for a laugh.”
“Oh but,” she narrows her eyes and gives him a smile, that smile, that he remembers, that sly flash of teeth and flicker of tongue between her narrow lips—she used to always wear a coat of something, some peach creamy balm on top of them that made them look irresistible, but only when she smiled, for the rest of the time she kept her lips pursed and tight like a frosted fortress, that touch of a tease, “were we ever friends?”
She said friends like a dirty word, an inconceivable crime. Had they been friends? It is possible that he misremembered. He remembers fucking her, quietly, in the morning, when all their friends were still passed out, asleep around whichever East Village apartment, her soft whimpers and how perfect her hipbones were to grip, and how one night, breathless and giggling at a corner table at an expensive hotel bar she had begged him to kiss her and do no more, but then later she was the one who pressed against him, hungry hands grappling at his belt buckle.
He remembers that they had a talk, once. She had insisted and they were seated outside for brunch but the day was too chilly for that, and he spent most of the time cursing and rubbing his hands close together, while she kept biting her lip. The night before his mother had called with some bad news, awful news, about his father’s progress at the hospital. It was her calm, fixed tone that did it. But he wasn’t going to tell her, and she wasn’t helping anything, with the skittish way she picked at her salad, how she looked at him with this strange light in her eyes, and then when she caught him looking back how she quickly blinked and told him how she was woken up so early by the argument she overheard outside her window. He finished the huervos rancheros at a record pace and told her he had something he had to take care of. He was thinking about booking a flight home, that even though his mother said no, no, he knew.
After that it seemed far easier not to talk to her.
But maybe she was right, maybe they were never friends. “Well, does that mean we can’t be now?”
“Look at you.” There’s a cruelty in her tone, now, a sudden change that surprises him. He looks at her. Her face is flushed from the wine and something else. For a moment her lips are parted, revealing perhaps finally the secret she had wanted to tell at that last brunch, then she breathes in and her shoulders and breast release. She laughs, a clear, theatrical little laugh. “Well, sure. To old friends.”
She raises her glass and he clinks it. They stand for a moment, both looking at the skyline. She tucks the sliver of her black lace bra strap back beneath her dress. She has gained weight, all these years, no longer that willowy girl but fleshed out, maybe even voluptuous.
“I almost didn’t recognize you.” He says. He had looked and looked again, disturbed by the sense that there was something familiar at the book reading. Or maybe he was just struck by the way she seemed so confident, cocky in the way she crossed her legs and stared straight ahead, alone.
“Oh, I recognized you.” She doesn’t look at him. “Almost as soon as you walked in. I used to imagine how you would be, all grown up, silver haired and gold watched and dashing in a suit.”
”Did I meet your expectations?”
“Sure, above and beyond.” She finishes her drink. “Your wife, I’m sure she is quite the perfect accompaniment, too.”
He smiles, and reaches out to fix her necklace. Her neck is hot beneath his touch, and he feels a shock of something at the feel of the wisps of her loose hair.
“Did you expect to fuck me tonight?” His smile stays, fixed, tired at the corners. She nestles the pendant back into place and meets his eyes. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” He looks at his watch. “I should—”
She is still at the railing when he turns to look at the door. Her skirt flutters in the wind and he remembers now, how she used to wear one of the exact same silhouette and drunkenly he had tugged and laughed at it, and how she turned away, embarrassed, and that night when he woke up to pee, how she tucked herself into a ball in feigned sleep, but when he came back she was still clenched there, stiff and small.