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Contemporary Friendship

Hazel burst through the doorway of her Communications 101 classroom, shivering from the biting mid-autumn wind. She was only five minutes late, but the professor was already deep into a lecture on crisis communications. A few of the other students glanced up at her as she squeezed past them and dropped into in an empty seat, but most seemed as though they hadn’t even noticed the interruption.

“You didn’t miss much,” the girl to Hazel’s left whispered. She was slender and long-legged, with warm brown skin and a bundle of curls piled atop her head. “We have a presentation due next Friday.”

“Thanks,” Hazel whispered back. What was the girl’s name again? They’d all introduced themselves on the first day of class, but Hazel was terrible at remembering names.

“…which is why it’s important to develop a unified message during an emergency, to provide the public with accurate information and prevent outrage,” Professor Da Silva continued. “Now, I want everyone to pair up and come up with three key messages for an emergency situation of your choice.”

The curly-haired girl turned back to Hazel. “Wanna be partners?”

“Uh, sure.”

“Cool. I’m Breanna, by the way.”

“Hazel. So, which emergency should we choose?”

“How about a blizzard?” Breanna eyed Hazel’s flimsy denim jacket. “Message one: invest in a thicker coat.”

“I’ll take that advice. I didn’t realize New England could get so cold so fast.”

Breanna laughed. “The worst is yet to come, trust me. I’m assuming you’re not from around here?”

“Northern Virginia, near D.C. You?”

“Born and raised in south Boston. What made you decide to come to Williams?”

“You know, high-quality liberal arts education and all that. I’m an English major; I want to be a journalist.”

An enormous grin broke out across Breanna’s face. “Me too! I want to work at The Boston Globe someday. Have you written anything for the Record yet? I’m doing a story about the new mandatory sexual harassment training for faculty. Earlier today I had the spiciest interview with the chair of the Political Science department.”

“Sounds… intriguing.”

“I’ll tell you about it sometime. Are you free after this? There’s a café in the basement of Chapin Hall that sells the most incredible hot cocoa.”

***

As they crossed the quad, Breanna told Hazel all about her sexual harassment story and Hazel promised to attend the Record’s next news meeting. They reached the café and paid for their cocoas, huddling at a table in the corner of the basement and discussing their shared love of journalism.

“When I was a kid, we lived in a shitty apartment in Roxbury. Every other day I’d see one of my neighbors get robbed at gunpoint or OD in an alley, but no one seemed to care,” Breanna said. “Newspapers only reported on crime or violence if it happened in a richer, whiter area. Eventually we moved to a house in a nicer neighborhood. I went to a better school, and my grades improved enough for a scholarship to Williams, but I’m moving back as soon as I graduate. I used to read The Boston Globe every Sunday. Someday, I want to be a reporter there, so I can tell the stories of the communities that the higher-ups have ignored for decades. Force the people in power to finally take notice.”

As Breanna spoke, Hazel could feel the passion in her voice. She didn’t think she’d ever been that passionate about anything. But the way Breanna seemed so confident that she’d reach her goal someday – it made Hazel feel more confident, too.

Breanna drained her cocoa and set down her cup. “So, what about you? Why do you want to be a journalist?”

“Um, I’ve always liked writing, I guess. My parents were always working, so I passed the time making up stories, imagining myself in a more interesting life. I was never really good at much else - I’m not athletic or musical or anything - so I just figured I’d end up writing for a living.”

“You will. We both will.” Breanna met Hazel’s eyes. “I mean, I know we barely know each other, but I haven’t met anyone else here – even the other writers at the Record – who’s as into journalism as I am. I’ve… been feeling a little lonely, to be honest.”

“I’ve been feeling that way too,” Hazel admitted. “Well, you’re not alone anymore. We’re in this together now.”

“How about we make a promise? As long as we’re friends, we’ll always support each other through everything – job rejections, unpaid internships; all of it. We’ll remind ourselves not to lose sight of our goals when things get tough.”

Unconditional support. Friendship built on mutual interest and shared ambition. Someone who could show her all the best basement cafés on campus. It was exactly what Hazel had always wanted. “I promise.”

6 years later

“How’s the review coming along?”

Breanna stopped next to Hazel’s desk, laptop tucked under one arm.

“It’s… coming.” Hazel rubbed her temples. “It’s hard to think of something to say about the latest postmodern gastropub that hasn’t already been said.”

“You’ll figure it out.” Breanna checked her phone. “I gotta run to a meeting with the news team. Meet out front at five-thirty?”

“I’ll be there.”

Breanna hurried off, heels clicking and curls bouncing. Hazel turned her attention back to the half-written document on her laptop screen, praying for motivation to finish before her deadline. After almost two years as a fact checker, she’d been thrilled to finally be promoted to staff writer at Back Bay Magazine, but so far her only assignments had been restaurant reviews and recaps of mundane Back Bay Neighborhood Association meetings. She knew this was essentially a rite of passage for every journalist – pay your dues, churn out stories, work your way up – but that didn’t make it any less grueling.

She glanced around the office at the piles of magazines spilling across desks and the wilted plants in the windowsill. At the surrounding desks, fellow staff writers rushed to meet deadlines of their own. Editors ducked in and out of their offices, shouting orders and giving updates on stories. Hazel inhaled, filling her lungs with the aroma of stale coffee and a hint of mildew from a leaky ceiling tile. She was writing for a living – the thing she’d dreamed of ever since she was a kid; the only thing she’d ever wanted to do. And Breanna, also a fact-checker-turned-staff-writer at Back Bay, had been by her side every step of the way. That was what made the cramped workspace and measly paychecks really worth it.

Somehow, Hazel managed to finish the review and turn it in by five-thirty. She threw her laptop and thermos into her backpack and beelined towards the elevator, pulling on her parka and scarf as she walked. Breanna was waiting in the lobby, texting rapidly.

“Talking to a source,” Breanna explained when she was done, sliding her phone into her pocket. “Another Black teenager who was harassed by a cop for standing in a grocery store parking lot, minding his own business.”

Breanna had been tapped by the magazine’s news editor to help with a story on increased reports of racially-motivated police violence throughout the city. It was her first major news piece, and she was determined to do it justice.

This time of year, it was completely dark by the time Hazel and Breanna left work each day. They stepped out onto the street-lit sidewalk, zipping up their coats against the sub-freezing chill. The two of them filled each other in on their days as they headed towards the train station, skirting snowdrifts and dangerous patches of ice. They rode the T to Mission Hill, then trudged to the third-story walk-up they’d shared ever since they first moved to Boston. 

“I really think this story could have a huge impact on the city,” Breanna said as she kicked off her shoes and collapsed into an armchair. “The mayor has been pushing for police reform, but still hasn’t gotten enough buy-in from the city council. Maybe reading the firsthand accounts of all the victims I’ve interviewed will be enough to convince them.”

“I hope so,” Hazel said. She wasn’t as involved in city politics as Breanna – Hazel would rather cover human interest stories and the Boston arts scene – but she knew Breanna’s work was important, and she’d learned enough about the BPD to understand what she was talking about. 

“Anyway, enough about work. Let’s keep watching Westworld.” 

They curled up in front of the TV, eating Oreos and interrupting the show every few minutes to vent and gossip. This had been their ritual for the past six years - just the two of them, Breanna and Hazel against the world. They’d made good on their promise to support each other no matter what. They’d helped each other study for exams and proofread essays; cried on each other’s shoulders and cheered one another on. During their time as co-editors-in-chief of The Williams Record, they’d grown closer to each other than Hazel had ever been to anyone else in her life, staying up late laying out articles and sharing secrets. After graduation, Hazel (well, Hazel’s parents) had put down the deposit for their apartment, and Breanna, who’d interned at Back Bay Magazine the summer before, helped Hazel get a job there too. Breanna remained laser-focused on her goal of holding those in power accountable, and Hazel on her goal of… well, she was figuring it out.

“Alright, I’m exhausted. See you in the morning.” Breanna rose from the armchair and slipped into her bedroom.

“Night, Bree.” Hazel lay back on the couch and tried to settle her nerves. Her anxiety eased as she felt her eyelids grow heavy, lulled to sleep by the traffic and chatter of the city below.

***

A week later, Hazel stood at the sink washing dishes when the apartment door burst open.

“I have news!" Breanna raced into the kitchen, eyes bright with excitement. “So I just got back from a police press conference, right?”

Hazel nodded. After Breanna’s article had been published, the topic had been picked up by a host of other news outlets and elected officials. The BPD had been under pressure to respond ever since.

“Well, the chief basically denied any wrongdoing; promised to put his officers through conflict de-escalation and racial sensitivity training. The usual bullshit. But then, after the conference, I felt someone tap me on the shoulder, so I turned around – it was Chris Chao.

Hazel’s eyes widened. Chris Chao was the news editor at The Boston Globe, and Breanna’s number one career inspiration. “Oh my gosh, what did he say?”

“He said he was extremely impressed with my reporting for Back Bay Magazine, and – Hazel – he offered me a job.”

“A job?? At the Globe? Shut the fuck up.”

“I mean, I’d still have to interview, but I think this is really happening. I’d be covering policing and race relations.”

“Wow, that’s – congratulations. I’ll miss you at the magazine, but I’m seriously so proud of you.”

Breanna clasped her hands together. “I have legit been dreaming of this moment my entire life. All those late nights at the Record, two years as an underpaid fact checker – it’s all paying off. I finally have the chance to make a real difference.” She turned to Hazel. “Thank you. I never could’ve gotten here without you.”

“Are you kidding? You’re the smartest person I know. I knew this would happen soon enough.” Hazel smiled earnestly at Breanna. “Still, you’re welcome.”

“I love you.”

“Love you too.”

***

Slowly, the snowbanks melted into slush and crocuses emerged from the muddy patches of grass lining the sidewalks. At Back Bay, Hazel churned out restaurant reviews like an over-caffeinated zombie. Ever since Breanna started at the Globe, Hazel commuted to work alone, dreading a long day of deflecting her boss’ passive-aggressive criticisms. Even at home, she didn’t see much of Breanna; she’d been earning her keep working ten-hour days and going out with her new colleagues afterwards. Hazel was genuinely happy for her, but she missed her friend.

One Sunday morning, Breanna invited Hazel to join her for coffee before she had to head to a police union meeting.

“The union is the city’s biggest roadblock to ending qualified immunity,” Breanna explained, sucking down her iced Americano. “The council’s voting on a resolution soon, and the union has been lobbying hard against it. A source in BPD told me that one of the council members has a conflict of interest with the head union rep, but won’t give me any more info unless we grant him anonymity. I’m hoping to talk to him at the meeting today, but – why are you squeezing your cup so hard?”

Hazel unclenched her fingers from around her latte, swallowing the lump rising in her throat. “It’s just, this is the first time we’ve hung out in weeks, and you haven’t even asked how I’m doing.”

Breanna’s head jerked back. “Oh. Um, how are you?”

“I – “ she forced herself to steady the quaver in her voice. “I wish we could, maybe, sometimes talk about something other than work. Sometimes.”

“Ok, fine, but this job is really important to me. And to the city. Reports of police violence against people of color are the highest they’ve been in decades, and someone needs to tell those stories.”

“No, I know, it’s just that we used to, like, do stuff together. Watch movies, go spinning, get drinks. Stuff best friends are supposed to do.”

“You’re a journalist too, Hazel. You know what it takes to do this kind of work. I’m trying to help people – to make my hometown in a better place for future generations. I told you the first day we met, that’s my priority. I’m sorry if I don’t have time to go spinning with you anymore.”

“I get that, but – “ Hazel fought to hold back her tears. “The magazine hasn’t been the same without you. I’m still writing all those bland, pointless pieces, and hearing you talk about the big, hard-hitting stories you’re working on – “

“Oh my god, are you jealous?” Breanna scoffed loudly, drawing stares from the patrons around them. “You’re seriously mad that I’m writing bigger stories than you? Do you think I’m bragging about getting to report on people being shot by cops all the time? I thought you were more mature than that. I thought you promised to support me, no matter what.”

“Maybe I am a little jealous!” Hazel raised her own voice. “I’m sorry for feeling a normal human emotion. I’m sorry I can’t flip a switch and be thrilled that you’re achieving everything you ever dreamed and I’m still writing about wine flights. And you promised to support me too, remember? To be honest, I’m not feeling very supported right now either.”

Breanna’s nostrils flared. “I have to go. I’m late for the meeting.” She pushed her chair back sharply and stood up. “Maybe you should start looking for a new roommate.”

“Maybe I should.”

Wordlessly, Breanna pivoted and stormed out of the café. Hazel watched her curls jounce with every step until the door slammed shut behind her.

5 years later

Hazel fired off the last few Slack messages to her writers, then powered off her monitor. She slipped her press pass into her desk drawer and leaned over to fish in her purse for her car keys.

Knock knock. “Hazel?”

Hazel’s head snapped up, nearly clipping the edge of the desk. Breanna stood in the doorway to Hazel’s office, looking down at her hesitantly.

“Is this a good time? The receptionist told me I could stop in.”

“What are you doing here?” The words had come out harsher than she’d meant. “I mean, I didn’t expect…” she trailed off.

“I’m sorry to show up like this, but I – I missed you. God, I’ve really, really missed you.”

Dropping her keys, Hazel stood up from her desk. She swiftly closed the distance between her and Breanna, flinging her arms around her. “I missed you too,” she murmured. “But seriously, what are you doing here? Why now?”

Breanna unwrapped herself from Hazel’s embrace and walked up to her desk, running a finger along her shiny new nameplate. “I wanted to congratulate you. Entertainment editor of the MetroWest Daily News. You totally deserve it.” She grinned. “I’ve read everything you’ve ever written, by the way.”

“Thanks. Same here.” Hazel still wasn’t entirely sure this was happening. She hadn’t spoken to Breanna in five years, and here she was showing up out of nowhere at Hazel’s office? “How are things at the Globe?”

“Um, I quit, actually. Last week.” Breanna tucked a loose curl behind her ear. “My editors kept pushing me to work longer and longer hours; publish more and more stories each week, and… I burnt out. I put up with it for so long because I thought that was the only way I could make a difference, but I can’t help anyone if I destroy my own mental health in the process.”

“Oh. So, what are you going to do now?”

Breanna shrugged. “Figure I’ll try and freelance for a while. I’ve thought about starting my own publication someday, but that’s still, you know, a pipe dream.” She took a breath. “Also, I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologize. It sucks about the Globe, but… you seem happy.”

“Yeah. I am now.” She glanced around, taking in the framed article clippings on the walls and the view of Framingham Center from the back window. “This is a really nice office, by the way.”

“It’s definitely an upgrade from Back Bay.” Hazel shouldered her purse. “I was just about to leave, actually. Are you doing anything after this? I know a great spot for hot cocoa.”

August 05, 2022 02:32

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