Caroline anxiously rushed into the restaurant and saw Missy already seated at their regular table. She skirted the other patrons with practiced ease and slid into her empty seat across from her closest friend.
“Tell me you're not mad,” she pleaded as she noticed the look of displeasure on Missy's usually smiling face. “I am so sorry I made you wait.”
“Why didn't you call?” Missy responded a bit snippily. “It's been over twenty minutes.”
“Missy,” Caroline said in a reasonable tone, looking patiently at her friend. She noted when Missy recalled exactly why Caroline couldn't call her.
“Oh, right,” Missy replied, mollified some. “I'm still not used to the whole ghost thing yet.”
“You and me both,” Caroline agreed. “Death is a cruel, heartless mistress.”
The server came by and took their order, though he looked at them strangely when they ordered for two and he could only see one of them. The women ignored it and went back to chatting. He was back within a few moments with their drinks and cookies.
“Why were you late?” Missy asked curiously. “That's not like you.”
“Do you ever feel like the entire universe is plotting against you?” Caroline questioned rhetorically. “That is the kind of day I've had so far. I swear, if one more thing goes wrong, I'm gonna lose it.”
“Honey, you lost it a long time ago,” Missy teased. “And I'm right there with you. Why else would we be sitting here in a public restaurant having a conversation? Not exactly subtle.”
Caroline laughed. “This was always our place,” she said, looking around. “And this was our table. Screw 'em if they can't take a joke.”
“I'll drink to that.” Missy raised her cup of tea and Caroline followed suit. They gently clinked the porcelain together in a mocking toast.
“How have you been doing?” Caroline inquired carefully. “Coming to terms with things a little better now?”
“I don't know,” Missy hedged. “You would've thought years of therapy would have prepared me to deal with something like this without getting all moody and depressed.”
“Hey, I know how you feel,” Caroline sympathized. “Denial isn't really working for me anymore.”
“Well, this isn't really helping to get us closure,” Missy acknowledged, motioning to the setting before them. “We've probably got to stop meeting like this to gain some acceptance.”
“I don't want to let you go,” Caroline told her friend quite seriously. “I'm not ready for that.”
“You are,” Missy contradicted. “You just don't want to be. And that's alright. Neither do I. But I think a licensed therapist would say it's adding to our feelings of depression.”
“I don't want you to be right,” Caroline pouted. “I don't want to go back to trying to get by without you. With just memories of you to sustain me.”
“Hey, maybe that's all this is,” Missy offered. “Maybe none of this is real and it's just a way to pretend for a little while longer.”
They stared at each other for a moment and then in tandem shook their heads and said, “Nah.”
“Do you remember when we went to the beach and we decided to go to one of those video booths and make a lip sync video?” Caroline asked.
“I remember you were pissy about it because it was like twenty-five dollars and you didn't want to spend that much,” Missy answered wryly.
“I was seventeen,” Caroline argued. “I had to pay for gas for my car and the lady I worked for owed me like four weeks worth of baby-sitting money. Twenty-five bucks was a lot of money.”
“Anyway, we picked that Salt-N-Pepa song and neither of us knew the words,” Caroline continued with a grin.
“God, we were so ridiculous, mouthing along to the wrong lyrics, looking like total idiots,” Missy groaned.
“Fly idiots,” Caroline corrected. “We thought we could kick-it like we were their back-up dancers.”
“Hey! We had some moves.”
“Whatever happened to that tape?” Caroline asked. “I gave it to you when I moved or you moved. One of us did.”
“You went to college,” Missy clarified. “Yeah, I kept it. It's probably in a box somewhere.”
“I would like to see our young selves acting like complete fools for the expensive sum of twenty-five dollars,” Caroline mused. “I remember you, even what you were wearing. But I don't remember me at all. I just know I wasn't wearing any make-up and I thought I looked terrible.”
“Yeah, it was your lack of make-up that made you come off as terrible,” Missy joked.
Caroline laughed. “Did I mention I was seventeen? I was worried about that kind of thing.”
The women chuckled. They began swapping stories of time spent together in their youth having crazy adventures.
“What about when you ditched that guy you were seeing so we could spend the afternoon at the mall?”
“You convinced me to ditch him!” Caroline protested. “I told him a friend of ours died and I needed to spend time with you. That was one of the worst lies I ever told. I still feel horrible about it.”
“It was quality,” Missy objected. “Then we got those balloons from the restaurant and named them Alex and Maggie.”
“And we had the windows down and Alex came loose from her ties and flew out the window. Then we started laughing because 'our friend' had jumped out a window. That was so terrible. We were evil little children.”
“Nah,” Missy negated. “We were foolish and thoughtless, but we weren't bad.”
“That was the last time I let you talk me into canceling plans on a guy with a lie. If I didn't want to go out with him, I just said so,” Caroline muttered.
“Please. You never said 'no' to guys who asked you out. You always felt sorry for them,” Missy pointed out. “That's just who you were, honey. Thank god, you grew out of it.”
“Ugh. You're right,” Caroline agreed. “I was such a bleeding heart. That's how I got cheated on by Harry and Michael and then the other Harry.”
“Good girls finish last,” Missy lamented with a shake of her head.
“Ha. I outgrew it.”
“You got smarter,” Missy corrected. “You were sick of being taken for a ride, so you stopped letting yourself get taken advantage of. In relationships anyway.”
Caroline gave her friend a sideways glance.
“Well, you have to admit, you let your work use the hell out of you.”
“I'm not discussing that,” Caroline stated. “I'm not saying you're not right. But it'll just make me angry to talk about it. Especially after the lawsuit.”
They ended up discussing the suit anyway and Caroline raged against her mistreatment. As always, Missy couldn't believe her friend had gotten so little compensation for such grave infractions against her.
The hour grew later and their tea grew colder. Finally Missy gave a heavy sigh.
“Caroline, you know we can't keep this up. We have to move on. It's just part of the cycle.”
The other woman bit her lip. “I get that. So, am I just supposed to walk away and not come back here again? And you'll do the same?”
“For now,” Missy agreed. “It's better in the long run. It'll hurt for a while, but it can't heal if it doesn't hurt.”
“For the record, I hate this idea,” Caroline complained, a tear running down her cheek.
Missy inhaled a shaking breath as if she were holding back tears of her own. “It sucks,” she agreed.
“Promise you'll stay away?” Caroline demanded softly.
Missy nodded. “You?”
“Yeah,” Caroline agreed. “So this is goodbye.”
“You go first,” Caroline instructed.
Missy rose from the table, took out some money to pay the bill and left it on the table. “I love you, Caroline,” she whispered. She walked to the restaurant door and took one look back at her friend who was turned watching her. They smiled at one another.
Once Missy had gone, the ghost rose from her chair and cast a look around the place. She wouldn't be able to return here for once she moved on, it would be for good. She knew it and so did Missy. She hadn't meant to get hooked on heroine and crack and weaken her body like she did. Even when she stayed clean, her poor heart had suffered too much damage to allow her to live past age thirty-eight. It hurt Missy most of all.
She had lingered on earth with her unfinished business, but soon realized she was making it worse for Missy and not better. Now her friend would take the steps to begin healing and remember her as she had been all those years ago. Not as the drug addict she became and the waste she was when she died. Maybe it hadn't been the most horrible idea in the world to meet her friend at their old spot.
Just one last time for tea with Missy.