These days I am the worst friend ever. I let my acquaintances drift by acknowledged only by clicks on Instagram. I cancel on lunches and makes excuses via text as to why I can’t meet for coffee.
But if you need help moving, I’ll show up bright and early to pack and plaster tape over everything.
Home from the hospital? I’ll come by and help with laundry and housecleaning.
Just don’t get too personal.
“Ms. Lanning, you’re in fine health,” my doctor said, checking small boxes off on his clipboard verifying that I was a viable human being.
“Thanks, see you next year,” I said noncommittally, wishing I was back home already.
“One thing; I would like you to start taking a vitamin D supplement. You can pick some up downstairs,” Dr. Cheng continued. He smiled perfunctorily, shook my hand, and left.
Grateful not to be dying of Ebola or some flesh-eating bacteria, I left the examination room and walked downstairs to the pharmacy.
And there he was, fiddling with his phone while waiting in a chair.
“Jeff!” I said automatically, without thinking, and he looked up, his worn face breaking into a real smile.
“Hey, Sunny, wow, it’s been a long time,” he said, standing to give me an awkward one-armed hug.
Seventeen years ago we were students together at an MBA program.
“What have you been doing with yourself?” I asked, taking in his tired eyes and the way his mouth grimaced involuntarily as he sat back down.
“I needed something for my back,” he said weakly, gesturing for me to take the open seat on his left. “What have you been up to?”
Sixteen years ago I stood to one side of an altar as the maid of honor at his wedding, as he married my closest friend.
I suddenly realized all the reasons why I should have ducked my head and pretended not to see him. I could have bought Vitamin D at any CVS drugstore, but I had recognized his profile and involuntarily wanted to acknowledge him, remember him.
Remember us, as friends.
“Settling into Sacramento, you know, finding my community,” I said, the polite smile becoming a bit strained. I hadn’t sat down, pretending instead to look inside my purse for a piece of gum. Now I edged away, a little, as if pressing commitments called me elsewhere.
Directly after the wedding, still swathed in white silk and clouds of tulle, Olivia cornered me near the buffet table at the reception. “Sue,” she said.
I hate being called Sue.
“I never said thank you, for introducing me to Jeff,” she said, kissing me on the cheek.
“You left Sacramento? Where did you go?” he said, tipping his head to one side like a Golden Retriever.
“It’s nice to see you,” I said, my heart seizing inside my chest as I remembered drinking beer and watching hockey with this man who had become too old too soon.
We had been quick friends with the same easy sense of humor. “Hey, do you know that pretty girl who always sits with you?” he said one night when the San Jose Sharks were behind by 10.
“Of course! She’s lovely. Her name is Olivia. We’re study-mates,” I said. “I can introduce you.”
And that was their beginning.
“Say hi to the family,” I said, moving away with a wave.
Jeff nodded, saying, “We should get together, like old times.”
I blinked, rapidly to avoid crying, and walked quickly away, away, away.
That Judas kiss was the last time I ever saw Olivia, who shortly thereafter mailed me a polite thank-you letter that outlined in no uncertain terms that she and Jeff were now a family with no room for a mutual female friend.
Men and women aren’t meant to be friends, Sue, she wrote in her fat Palmer Method script. The words were surreal, unbelievable; I threw the letter on top of the ugly fuchsia bridesmaid’s dress and lit them both on fire in my backyard.
Fuck you, Olivia.
And Jeff? I am so, so, so sorry.