I shook my head, amazed I’d let her talk me into this, but she’d been talking me into stuff for thirty-seven years. Best friends since college, we’d helped each other through every major event, and a few small ones she’d made into a crisis. “You wouldn’t believe my day…” started every conversation. Closer than sisters, we finished each other’s sentences and promised to spend our old age laughing together on the nearest beach, with dirty martinis in our hands and the latest gossip on our lips.
I opened the door. “Good God, do you realize how much makeup you have in this thing? There’s a small fortune in here.” I dropped the heavy case on the table with a thud and walked over giving her shoulder a squeeze. “You ready for me… whoa.” I leaned forward. “You sure about this outfit? Didn’t shoulder pads go out in the nineties?” I rolled my eyes. “Whatever, it’s your call.” I opened the case. “ I like the gold earrings, though.They’re perfect.”
Beautiful, sassy, and sexy, she didn’t walk into a room she sashayed. A taste for designer clothes and makeup, her personality turned as many heads as did her looks. A pro when it came to social events, she was the center of attention and perfect hostess. She worked a room better than any politician did, and people noticed. She was the exotic, social butterfly, and I envied her ease with society. I was the serious professional and felt plain in her shadow.
I ran the brush through her thick, blonde hair with more force than necessary. “Yeah, I know you want height. You might as well stamp a date on your forehead. Nobody teases hair anymore.” I laid the comb aside and reached inside the makeup kit for sponges. “Good thing I brought your foundation.”
“You look like crap.” I crossed my arms and leaned into the table. “What the hell’s wrong? You can’t just blow people off, they depend on you.”
She pulled the toothpick of olives from her martini glass, popped one in her mouth, and shrugged. “I’m tired. I didn’t feel like going.”
I sat back, my face puckered in a frown of surprise and irritation. “Since when? You’ve been a part of that organization for years.”
She shrugged, twirled her glass, downed the rest, and signaled for another, her third. “What’s going on? Why am I having to drag you, Miss Social Butterfly, out of the house just to go to lunch?”
“Kiss my ass.”
“You ever ask yourself, is this all there is? All I am is a trophy wife for some bigwig surgeon who, by the way, is probably screwing his scrub nurse, and look at you, successful, but divorced for the second time.”
“Well, thanks for that cheery little synopsis of my life. However, I like to refer to myself as single, not a two-time loser, thank you very much.”
“So, you’re happy?”
“Yeah, I am and you’re more than a trophy wife.”
She took a sip. “Whatever.”
“You do seem tired. Are you sleeping?”
“Not much, but wonder surgeon gave me something to help.” Her words sounded off and slow.
I signaled the waitress. “Be careful with those.”
She grinned. “Don’t be silly.”
I sent her martini back for a pot of coffee. “You don’t have to be unhappy. You have more connections in this city than an underground railroad, for God sakes. We’re strong women, there’s nothing stopping you. Do whatever you need to do. Return to work if that’s what you want, but don’t sit here and feel sorry for yourself.”
She gave me her dismissive wave. “I’ll be fine.”
I hugged her. “You know the old saying, ‘get busy living, or get busy dying,’ it’s your choice.”
“I love the lip gloss, it’s a perfect color for you.”
I gave the top of her hair one last fluff and spritz of hairspray. “There! I’m not much of a makeup artist. You were better at this kind of stuff, but I did my best.” I stepped back and nodded. “ Not bad.” I reached for the mirror and stopped. I sagged against the table, all the air seem to escape me, dropping my hands and the mirror to my sides.
“I’m so sorry…I shouldn’t have brushed you off, but I don’t understand this. Why didn’t you talk to me? What the hell were you thinking? Did you think of me at all? And since when did you start listening to my advice? You know I didn’t mean it. It was a stupid platitude, ‘get busy living, or get busy dying…’ The words caught in my throat. “Jesus, I didn’t expect you to take it.”
The silence was deafening.
I held the mirror up. “Our last major event and you look great; I made sure of it.” I kissed her forehead and reached for the doorknob. “I’ll tell them you’re ready.”
It was a ridiculous spectacle. Curiosity took on a strange new definition — so-called friends. People lined up as if waiting for the next big picture show. They wanted the details. They didn’t get them from me. She loved being the center of attention no matter the occasion, and the throngs of people waiting in line would have thrilled her. Her Farrah Fawcett locks looked foreign on the face with its stretched, thin lips and double chin, distorted in death. I’d done a good job, but the old woman lying in the pink-lined mahogany, casket belonged to someone else.
This wasn’t my friend. We were supposed to grow old together.
Sheila McIntyre Good holds a Masters Degree in nursing from the University of South Carolina, is the President of the Spartanburg Chapter of the South Carolina Writer’s Workshop, and a member of the Hub City Writer’s Project. Her short stories, and articles have been published in professional journals and online magazines, including Every Writer’s Resource, Angie’s Diary, and Downer Magazine. She resides with her husband in Lyman, South Carolina where she is currently completing her first novel, HELLO HELL.