February 14th read across my work calendar. And of course it was bold, in red, and italicized. Being the last of the single females in their late twenties, there was nothing worse than remind yourself of your ultimate lone life. My eyes began to move across my desk; the taunting calendar, a dark vintage framed photo of me and my French bulldog Frank, a bent and torn picture of my younger sister Jamie and I when we were about waist high, a line of perfectly assorted blue pens, and the ticking clock my parents gave me as a going away present. My eyes stopped at the clock, and my mind traced back.
I was born in raised in Mississippi; southern from head to toe. Maybe it was the slow drawl I obtained from my father, or the early wrinkles from engaging pre-sun exposure my whole life. I graduated from Ole Miss with a degree in Marketing, with the hopes of creating a life outside of this forsaken state. I remember sitting in lecture hall after lecture hall, with the hopes and promises from my surprisingly optimistic professors of creating a future for ourselves. And me, being the small town and minded girl that I was, believed their defaults.
My ma had always told me, “Lee, you gotta look at the glass haft empty. Then when sumthin’ doesn’t work out, at least you got the rest of the glass.”
Okay, Ma. But still in my prime and naive hopefulness, I pushed through my four years of the daunting schooling. I managed to make it to graduation and even with my best friend since ninth grade, Reene, by my side. The night of graduation was filled with bar after bar, memories after memories, and tear after tear. I remember sitting beside Reene outside of our favorite weekend pastime, The Dawgs, attempting to smoke cigarettes, and encourage one another about our futures.
“I… I just don’t know what to expect. We’re 22, and they expect for us to have our whole lives planned.” Reene slurred.
I just nodded in agreement. I wasn’t much of a talker, but that’s what made balanced our friendship. But, there was a time about when we were 15, that I was finally the one who let it all out. My sophomore year of high school, my younger sister, Jamie, was diagnosed with leukemia. When cancer enters the being of someone you love, if not only runs its course through them, but also yourself.
I was sitting at Reene’s, in her basement, over arguments of which N*Sync member was the cutest, when I received a call from my mother.
“Lee, I need you to get home as soon as you can. ‘Kay?” Ma had said.
Ma was always the easy going type, this stern demanding voice over the phone sent a race of electricity through my fingertips. “Oh…Okay, Ma.” I promptly picked up my backpack, gave Reene a shrug, and headed out the down towards my bike.
When I got home, I had found my Ma laying on the couch, with tears streaming down her face in their sympathetic rhyme. Ma never cried, and that’s where I knew my life would forever change.
My Ma and Pa did everything they could to help Jamie win the hard battle with leukemia. Doctor visits, chemotherapy, endless mornings and even more long nights started to define our family. But, in the midst of everything, Reene was always by my side. The day Jamie died is what ultimately tied our friendship into the unbreakable bond. Nurses and doctors were in and out of our house, cleaning up the memories of Jamie’s cancer. I ran out of the house that was overtaken, not knowing where I was going. I ended up on Reene’s doorstep, and I didn’t even have to ring the bell. She opened up the door as I began to press my finger on the doorbell.
“I have a gallon of Moose Track ice cream, a new mattress topper, and an endless amount of listening.” Reene pulled my arm, and we went up to her room. For the first time, I was the one talking, and Reene was the one listening.
Fast forward to when I was 22, I ended up receiving a job at the local chain-owned furniture store. And no, it wasn’t for marketing. The shifts became the longer and longer, which began to shift our friendship. Conversations became shorter and less, and the usual Saturday night visits to The Dawgs became fictional. Finally, about after a year of graduation, our friendship had become extinct.
Reene had moved off to St. Louis to follow her dream in fashion merchandising, according to my parents. I’m glad that ma and pa could keep me up-to-date on my old best friend’s life, I thought to myself. Over the next few years, my cynicism and jealously over whom I once called my best friend began to flourish. After long hours of answering phone calls and writing down types of love seats, my mind would begin to travel. I’m glad someone got to do what they wanted. Thanks for leaving me here, “friend.”
Sometimes I would grow enough courage to try to contact her, but as the third ring would approach, I would promptly hang up and sigh. What would I even say to the girl who I hadn’t spoken to in five years?
On my twenty-seventh birthday, I received an email for a job that I had applied for in the Windy City. Chicago was never my first choice, but it sure in the hell would beat the current job that I had. With pursed lips and doubtful fingers, I opened the email:
After examining your quite impressive resume, we would like to arrange an interview for you in the month of February.
I didn’t blink my eyes for at least two minutes. And when I say two minutes, I mean it. After the realization of this God send of an e-mail, I raced to my ma and pa.
“Ma, Pa. You’re never going to believe it. I finally got an interview.” My voice had raised a few octaves in excitement, and my parents just smiled back at me with their perfectly crooked teeth.
“Good gal,” was all Pa said.
With a shake of a hand and a wink from good ol’ Dan Lienmann, I was officially in at Ketchum. I had three months to pack up my life from my tiny apartment in my hometown, to my new and even smaller, but perfect apartment in Chicago. As the excitement of my new career became apparent, all I wanted to do was tell Reene.
I shut the trunk of my ’01 black Beetle, and turned around to my parents. Ma had begun to fog up her glasses, and Pa was staring at the ground. I brought them both in for a hug, and reminded them that I was only a phone call or a drive away. As I got into my car, Ma opened my door.
“I found this for ya at Anne’s Antiques. I thought it’d look pretty sittin’ on your new desk. I love ya, baby, and call us when you get there.”
She handed me a rusted bronze clock, and I couldn’t help but smile. I kissed my parents goodbye, and was on road, headed for my new life.
Now, here I am, 8:00 PM on a Saturday night, stuck at the office with the assortment of failure around me. Sometimes I think about just burning all the papers. And sometimes I think about never leaving my apartment. But I guess you gotta start somewhere, right? In desperation of the stress that surrounded me, I dove into the bottom drawer of my desk and pulled out the one perfect thing in my life: Valentine’s Day addition Reese’s Peanut butter cups. With each delicious piece of chocolate I consumed, I began to realize how much I have changed.
My thoughts traced back to every instant of my life; in the loss of a great friend, I became jealous. In the hustle of a new job, I became stressed. I had transformed into all these things I never thought of myself to become. I was hardened, but in all the wrong ways. I sat there at my desk for awhile, thinking about everything in my life. I wanted to turn a new leaf, but how? Finally, with the last of the Reeses’s, I jumped up from the cheap wooded desk and grabbed my purse. My heels and I clicked down the tiled hallway, into the elevator. With a quick poke to the “G”, the elevator began to move downward, the opposite of my spirits. I was going to change everything negative in my life. First, I was going to call Ma and Pa and tell them how much I loved them, and how they raised me. Second, I was going to write a strongly worded email to my boss, and maybe imply that I don’t like working on Saturday nights. Maybe. And lastly, I was going to find Reene. What I was going to say to her wasn’t in my direct thought, but I just needed to find her.
The revelation that I had imagined in my cubicle, brought out the old, hopeful college student in me. When I had reached the ground level and quite literally, quite literally, a skip in my step. Barnes, the security guard muffled a quiet laugh as I awkwardly passed him in the front desk area.
“Night, Barnes. You have yourself a good one.” I could hear the twang roll off my tongue, and it brought a smile to my face.
As I left the building I attempted to flag down a taxi. I had my purse held tight to my side, while I was bundled up in my fur hooded coat. I raised my gloved hands to each passing yellow taxi. No luck. Just as I became discouraged, I heard a loud whistle from my left side. I jumped; caught off guard by the demanding boom of the whistle. I glanced from beneath my hood, and noticed a vaguely familiar class ring on the stranger’s right hand. It had the red inner stone, with the Ole Miss engraved in the center. Intrigued, I shifted my hood backwards and began to examine the figure.
The first thing I noticed was the outfit. Damn, I thought to myself, I really like her boots. My eyes flashed upwards, studying her side profile. With a quick instance, the girl had turned her face towards mine, and I gasped.
“Oh. My. God.”
It was Reene. For the first time in five years, I was staring at the one person that I use to call my best friend. I didn’t know how to react; should I hug her, yell at her for all these years, not say anything? Hell if I knew. But with a sudden smile on not only her mouth but also her eyes, she hugged me.
As she hugged me, the jealously, cynicism, anger that I thought I had left on my 10th floor cubicle, had come rushing back. My cheeks began to redden, as I asked, “How have you been?”
Reene, in spite of the gap of years between our friendships, still knew me. I could feel the tension between us begin to build as she started to realize everything that had been building up over the years. Coolly and briskly, she asked, “Would you wanna talk over a cup of coffee?”
I nodded in agreement, and I began to walk towards the nearest coffee shop. Reene walked a few steps behind me, in hesitation. We reached the shop, and we sat down in the booth that was in the right corner, away from everyone else. And suddenly, words started to throw themselves out of my mouth.
“Where have you been? It’s been so many years. Why couldn’t you have called me? Why didn’t you tell me that you were leaving? Reene, you’re better than that. C’mon. You could have least told your oldest friend what was going on in your life. Like, seriously!” The threat of “like seriously” in my voice even caught myself off guard. I looked up from my coffee, and Reene sat there, wide eyed.
“Lee,” she said, “you could have done the same thing.”
A bubble of laughter came out of me. Thinking about it, I could have. Why had I become so angry at someone for not contacting me, while I could have done the same thing? I began to stumble over my words. Reene just looked at me, and smiled. Over an order of Moose Track ice cream, the conversation took a turn and soon we were talking about everything in our lives.
We ended that night at about 2 in the morning. Black coffee riddled through our veins, we exchanged our new numbers. All it took was one night to bring back not only my best friend, but myself. Five years of lost contact meant nothing. As I walked back to my apartment, Chicago felt a little less windy.
© Riley Hale
Riley Hale is currently a creative writing student at Southeast Missouri State University. Movie enthusiast and guacamole addict, she has yet to be published, but has high aspirations to put herself and her work out there.