To say I’m nervous would be the understatement of the year. My hands are shaking where they sit in my lap, but I can’t let it show because I acted way too calm when she came into our store earlier. I think it was a mixture of absolute shock and mild panic that made me act that way. I was in the middle of teaching an oil pastel class on how to blend darks to lights when the windchimes on the door jingled. Violet was in the front of the shop, so I expected her to get it, but when a voice that sounded a little too eager and too familiar called my name, I wasn’t expecting to see her. I knew I should’ve called out sick.
“I’m sorry I was gone for so long, it was work. Where were we again?” Lillian sits back down at the table and I do my best to maintain composure. Her plunge black v-neck blouse was more than revealing, but I didn’t let my eyes linger. She wasn't this dressed up when I saw her earlier so it's a little jarring. It shouldn’t be this easy to still idealize someone who dumped you out of the blue. I mean, we’ve barely spoken thus far, and it's not as if our conversations are meaningful. So then, why?
“It’s fine. The food got here while you were gone, so at least you don’t have to wait.” I forced myself to smile, trying to fix the coils I had diffused only 30 minutes ago. I don’t know why she invited me out for dinner anyway. I mean, what was there for us to talk about? Remember that time we killed the guy who groped me on the bus and followed us home? Or maybe the time I cried in a jail cell after you had already left? Good times, huh.
“So how have you been lately?” She smiles, knocking back the last swig of her second glass of wine since she’s gotten here. Her fingers linger by the half-full bottle on the table which is being emptied by her alone.
“Good, good. Going to City College is okay, and I work at the art store down the street, but you probably know that by now.”
“Yeah! I was so surprised to see you there. I was only in this part of town to see someone and they wanted to drop by that little store since they're a painter -- it was total luck!”
“Avery,” I mumbled. They’re a regular and pretty good friends with Violet, so of course I would be familiar with them. But, who would’ve guessed they kneow Lillian. Small world, unfortunately.
“Yeah. They told me they go there often, but I would have never guessed to see you there.” She smiles and some of her red lipstick has transferred to the glass, leaving a lightened pink stain on her mouth. Her steak sizzles on the plate before her, which she promptly drowns in A1. I hate the fact that I knew she’d do it -- that I remembered.
“Well, what have you been up to? I heard you got into NYU forever ago, so how’s that been?”
“Wonderful! I thought it would be overrated and full of snobs whose egos are bigger than their bank accounts, but everyone seems really down to earth and all of the teachers have been great. I actually have an internship at the court of appeals in Albany next semester, so things are looking up for me.”
Good to know the criminal record point on your transcripts was wiped clean. “That’s amazing! I’m happy for you.”
She pours herself another drink before taking a bite from her steak. “Yeah yeah, but enough about me. How’s your Mom? It’s been years since I’ve seen her.”
Well, she reminds me of my no-good white friend anytime I do something that displeases her but, “She’s doing good. I’m sure she misses seeing you around.”
“Yeah well, I miss her too. Dinner was always better at your house.” She sighs and the awkward silence when I nod my head in response was deafening. I take a sip from my glass and push my pasta around the plate. I’m too nervous to eat, but Lillian looks like she’s out-drinking herself. It’s pathetic in a weird way.
“Why aren’t you eating?” She quips and her blonde beach-waves bounce with her tilted head. “Don’t tell me you're still doing those stupid diets.”
“I’m not, and they aren’t stupid.” I frown, taking a bite of the pasta I don't want and forcing it down to prove a point. She doesn’t know anything about me, so why is she so comfortable.
“Looks like I’ve struck a nerve,” she giggles a little too loudly and I’m afraid the alcohol’s gotten to her. “You were always so cute when you were mad.”
“And stop calling me Lillian. We aren’t strangers Rose.”
I take a deep breath before continuing. “Lily,” I take the bottle of wine and move it to my side of the table. “I think you’ve had enough.”
“Awww, but I was just getting started,” She frowns and I hate that my heart stumbles. It’s been five years since she left, and I thought I was finally over her, but this, this isn’t helping. It’s so unfair. “You’re so cold, Rose. Do you treat the girl with short hair like this?”
“What girl?” I frown when she takes another bite instead of answering. “Lillian, what are you talking about?”
“Y’know, the one at your job with the short braids and circle glasses near the cash register.”
Violet? “Why do you care about that?”
“Cuz,” She mumbles. “She kept staring at you when I saw you earlier. I thought you guys were like a thing or something.”
She’s… jealous. But I don’t want her to be. I don’t want her to feel anything towards me. I don’t even wanna be here but everyone was looking at us and I couldn’t really say no to dinner with fifteen people watching. “It doesn’t matter whether we are or not. Aren’t you with Avery? You two seemed mighty close.”
“We’re not… official… or anything. We just talk.”
I sigh and feel disappointment settle into my bones. “Why did you ask me to dinner, Lily?”
“Cuz, I haven’t seen you in years, and we ended on bad terms.”
“You moved. We could’ve just ended like that--”
“I wanted to see you.” She places her hand halfway across the table and I have to physically restrain myself from reaching out to grab it. “I missed you, Rose. Really. I- I wanted to apologize.”
“You don’t have to say anything,” Please don’t make me want you again. “I already know.”
“But you didn’t get to hear it from me and I’m sorry. I should’ve told you, but I was a pussy, and I was scared, and I didn’t wanna see the face you’d make when I told you.”
She continues talking anyway. “But I’m sorry for moving away. My parents didn’t want me living there anymore after what had happened. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you that I was leaving, or that I loved you, or that I was going to miss you. I was… so scared, But I treated you badly and that was wrong.”
“Lillian, you're drunk.”
“Drunken words are sober thoughts, aren’t they?” There’s a look in her eyes that conveys more than her slightly slurred together word vomit does. “Now can you be real with me? Instead of putting up this long time friend charade. I don’t wanna know how you’ve been Rose. I don’t care about work, or how school is, or small talk. I just wanna know about you. What happened while I was gone?”
“You won’t remember in the morning.”
She finishes the rest of the glass she poured before I took the bottle. “Then humor me.”
“Well, my mom hates you now.”
“I had a feeling,” she laughs, but this time it’s how she used to -- high and whimsical like music to my sore ears.
“And I hate my job, but the people there are nice.”
“Also had a feeling. You looked miserable before I walked in.”
“And I hated you. I don’t know if I still do, but I hated you so much it made my chest hurt.”
She’s silent this time only nodding along when I continue.
“You were… my everything. I would have followed you no matter where you lead me, I even lied for you. I loved you, Lily. So imagine my surprise when the case was dropped and you were gone the next day. I thought… I thought it was all my fault or that I did something wrong.”
“I’m sorry, Rose. I was stupid.”
“Yeah, you were. You really, really were, but I don’t hold it against you anymore. I mean, we were what, sixteen? Everyone thinks they’re in love at sixteen.”
“Do you think you’re in love at twenty-one?” she asks dryly and all the words I had planned to say were gone in an instant.
“No…? I mean, you were gone for so long that I--”
“It’s okay. Forget that I said anything.” She nods, pulling her hand back from the table. “Are you sure you don’t wanna eat? I’m paying.”
“I can pay for my own--”
“I said, I’m paying, Rose. Why don’t you get your food to go? I don’t really wanna eat anymore.”
“Well you drank three whole glasses, so I’d expect that.”
She flashes me a smile that turns into a grimace. “Sorry, I drink when I’m anxious. You’re done though, right?”
“Yeah, I guess. But I wasn’t done speaking.”
“What d’ya need to say Rosey?” She rests her chin in her hand on the table, letting her eyes flutter close and I feel myself get hot in anger. She does this thing where once she doesn’t get the answer she wants, she just shuts down. It used to happen with trivial things, but whenever we argued, this shit would happen too.
“I just… I just wanted to say that what you did wasn’t fair. I’m glad that you walked into the shop today though because at least I don’t have to keep wondering about how you are and where you’ve been.”
“I know it wasn’t. I know sorry can't fix what happened, but I’m sorry Rose. “
I look down at my still trembling hands, picking at the nail polish when I realize there's nothing more to say.
“Well, at least you don’t have to lie about your Mom liking me anymore.”
I snickered before looking up at her. She smiled wide as if that was the funniest shit she’s ever said, and with the mix of bloodshot unfocused eyes and giggles, she looks drunker than she should be. It makes me laugh harder than I should. “Shut up.”
“Why are you still standing here?”
“Because you drank the rest of the bottle even though I told you not to. I’m not just gonna leave you on some street corner by yourself when you're drunk.
“Aww, how sweet,” She puts a cigarette between her lips, lighting it, and letting smoke spill everywhere. “I didn’t know you cared so much about me.”
“Shut up.” I snapped, yanking on her arm so she wouldn’t fall over. Being this close, I could smell her perfume and the faint -- now strong -- sickly sweet smell clinging to her hair. “I didn’t know that you smoked.”
“I don’t do it often.” She pulled the stick from her mouth and exhaled -- the white paper now stained pink where her lips had been. “You wanna try?”
“Not really, no.”
“That’s a shame. I think it’d be cute.”
“Watching me smoke?”
“Watching you cough.” I have the sudden urge to drop her.
“Y’know, you were kinda cute when you were tipsy. Now you’re just annoying.”
Her head whips around and her eyes nearly sparkle. “You think I’m cute? Really?”
“Shut up,” I grumble and she laughs way too hard and way too loud. Passerby look at us and she cackles, leaning into me like a wall at a frat party. “Did you mean what you said about NYU earlier? I wanna transfer there once I get enough credits, but I don’t know.”
“Well, half of it anyway. I’ve met a lot of nice people, like Avery for example, but there are still people who blow smoke up their own asses. I mean, it’s an expensive school for a reason. They’ve got good resources. I’ve interned a bunch of local courts”
“Oh god, I forgot you were a law student.”
“Doesn’t look like it on the surface but, I’m kinda smart.” She giggles in a way that sounds extremely dumb but is still endearing. I hate how even if she’s adorably drunk or obnoxious, I still can’t deny her. It’s… upsetting. “Rosey Wosey, pay attention to me," She sing-songs in my ear annoyingly loud. “Don’t make me run into traffic.”
“How much longer till your uber gets here.”
She opens her phone which takes a painfully long amount of time. “Like four minutes, probably longer. Getting tired of me already?”
She hits me on the shoulder before swaying lightly. “Gimme your phone.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Because,” she suppresses a hiccup. “You want my phone number.”
It never even occurred to me that I didn’t have it. Instagram served as a perfect place to type out messages I’d never send, but I guess iMessage made more sense. So, against my better judgment, I hand it to her and watch as she stumbles through the contacts app.
“There we go, now you can bug me at any time.”
“Whose to say I’ll text you first?” I tilt my head and she reopens the contact list, scrolling all the way to the bottom to look at the ‘My Card’ info. “I was going to text you, you didn’t have to do that.”
“I don’t trust you. You hate me.”
“You think I hate you?” I raise an eyebrow at her and she pouts at me like a child.
“Yeah. I was an asshole at dinner, and now you’re babysitting me. I feel bad.”
“I don’t hate you, Lily. I thought I made that clear earlier.”
She squishes the cigarette she barely smoked under one of her heels. “Well, everything's a little jumbled, all I remember is the part where you said you hate me.”
“You’re an idiot.”
I freeze almost instantly, but she opens her phone again as if nothing was wrong. My heart ached at the memories in her bedroom: fighting over Mario Kart, crying over chemistry homework, all of the cuddles, the kisses, and playing Just Dance in her bedroom at 2 AM.
“Earth to Rose? I said it’s okay if you leave. I think my driver’s lost. I should call them.” She slurs a little. Her lipstick is smudged against the corner of her mouth where the wine bottle was. Without thinking too much about it, I rub my thumb against it, smearing the pigment off of her skin. When I look at her again, her eyes don’t meet mine, instead focusing a little lower on my face before we make eye contact again. Most of her red lipstick’s been wiped off at this point in reality, but I guess my lips couldn’t make it worse, right?
My forehead is against hers before our lips are touching and my hands are on her waist. She tastes like cigarettes, a lot of wine, and something else, but I can't tell what it is when I pull away after only barely kissing her. Her eyes are a little dazed and that’s when I remember, fuck, she’s drunk.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn't have done that! You’re drunk and that wasn’t okay, and I don’t wanna take advantage of you--”
She closes the gap I made between us before cupping my face in her hands.
“You’re so cute when you blush.”
I avert my eyes out of shame. “You can’t see--”
“I can tell. You always blushed when you kissed me.” She mumbles against my lips before yanking on the collar of my sweater and crashing her lips against mine. Steak sauce. That’s what it was. She tastes like cigarettes, and red wine, and steak sauce. She tastes like the past; like ice cream after passing a quiz in biology, like sunshine on the pier in summer, like getting to play Princess Peach in Mario Kart. She tastes right. Her waist feels like I miss you in my hands, her hands feel like I’m sorry in my hair. She feels and tastes like Queens, she smells like regret and missed opportunities, but it’s all so her.
And even when her Uber driver gets there and we slide into the backseat as a mess of limbs, unable to tell where one begins and the other ends, it feels right. It feels like Lillian.