She walks through the open doors: long arms akimbo, blue eyes so round, and unusually watery and red. These eyes are already telling me how this “catching up” over pie and coffee is going to go.
Holly and I give each other big smiles, and the hug we share doesn’t involve the usual manic clinging people associate with two girls seeing each other after a period of time. There is no high-pitched screaming and running and clucking like turkeys. Her arms are long soft ribbons around me, with the essence of a dead fish. I pat her shoulder blades and we part.
We make it to a table and the catching up begins, which is a lot of her talking, and a lot of me keeping my mouth to myself. An Air-Pot of coffee is placed on our table, along with strawberry rhubarb pie. I pour, sip the depths of the earth while I listen to her confirm everything I had thought about her, about us:
“I’ve been day drinking all day at the pool,” the red eyes explained. Do you ever felt like you have a friendship where living is a competition? Where upstaging is the name of the game?
“I like your necklace,” she says to me.
I hold it out, the little crystals and flicker in the diner light, “I got it when we were hiking in North Carolina. They were selling them at the top of the mountain.”
She responds, “I got so high and went to the pirate museum, got this ring,” she flashes a plastic jolly roger ring. Wasn’t there a popular phrase recently, cool story, bro? Is there a “cool story, bro-ette?” I pour another cup of coffee from the pot and gulp the words back.
“I’m gonna apply again to be a Disney cruise-member. I think they didn’t accept me because my attendance history during my Disney internship. But whatever, I’ll apply like seven more times and hopefully by then they’ll know I’m serious and pick me.” I stop listening, and focus solely on the thick, graying mug nestled between my palms. The rich, brown liquid lolls slowly in the container. I think of coffee’s facets the acidity, the depth, the body. Holly is a French roast, full-bodied and abrasive, smoky, stands alone.
“You should go to $6 pitchers tonight, I usually go but I lost my license when I was out in Maryland before coming back here to school for the semester, and the bouncer I know isn’t working, so I can’t go.”
“Beer? No, thanks.” Holly doesn’t seem to remember or care that I hate beer, that the only bar I’ll ever be sitting at is an espresso bar. It’s apparent. She is a blend from Africa, I, a blend from South America—we are not of the same earthy glow at all. The light curls of steam rising from her cup hold up drinking stories like trophies. As if nothing in life could ever be complete without being drunk or high. As if this is all the world has to be prideful of.
“Oh, you’re only here for two days? I’m going to Orlando tomorrow… Or Tampa… dang.”
“Tampa?” I ask, making my first move to keep the conversation going, to get her to talk more about him.
“That’s where Will lives now.” Will. A boy she met after I had graduated and had never heard her speak of until now. Even though we were good friends in college, when she left for her internship with Disney World, we communicated less and less. After I graduated and moved, a texting conversation once every couple of months seemed good enough. Distance is a tool that can be used to isolate. But although she never speaks to me about Will, I know all about him. I know he’s a pool hall hustler and a piece of shit. I know he’s pushed her before.
But I also know Holly. I’ve sat with her hundreds of times, giving her all the gems of advice that my brain can produce from life experience and hardships, because when it comes to live and love, I’m a master of disasters. I should have been telling my advice to a wall—at least I know my words aren’t ever going to get through it, there’s no hope for a wall.
I take a last sip of my mug before we get up to say our goodbyes, noting how it only takes a minute for the coffee to go from hot to cold. Just as the coffee cools, so do friendships. We walk outside; say it’s been good catching up. But it’s a lie. And as she drives away, the miles take us farther and farther apart again. This time, I will let it stretch us out, let her do her own thing, since she will anyway.
This time, I know there’s no hope for Holly, she’s a concrete wall. I don’t say you shouldn’t trust a man who says he’s faithful and betrays your body and personal space. I don’t say trying out for Disney cruises instead of educator positions is a waste of time and money. Instead, I see her as she’s falling, like a leaf flittering down to the ground you notice out of the corner of your eye. When you look down you see a weightless white moth, wings stretched out in perfect symmetry with gray designs matching its concrete grave. You want to pick it up, but you just look at it, knowing it’s too late. It’s dead and there’s nothing that can change this fact.