Lily finally recognized the waitress after her third glass of wine. The girl had definitely dyed her hair blonde, but she still had the same gapped tooth smile from high school.
“Excuse me.” Lily waved her over. The woman stopped in her tracks, order pad in hand. She smiled and walked over to Lily’s table.
“Everything alright, miss?”
“This is going to sound crazy, but do you know Delilah Brown?” Lily swirled her glass in her hand, the red merlot swishing around. Her bracelets clinked together.
“Oh, I’m Delilah Brown.” The woman grinned.
Lily laughed and tucked her hair behind her ear, recently manicured nails brushing the skin of her cheek. “You probably don’t remember me, but we went to school together.”
The woman scrunched her eyebrows. They were unruly and large. Several stray hairs stuck out between them, forming a slight bridge over her nose. “Oh my god, Lily. I haven’t seen you since graduation. How ya been?”
“Here and there.” Lily waved her hand in front of her face. “I work in the city now for this finance company.”
“No kidding,” Delilah said. Lily felt some pleasure seeing the slight envious glint in Delilah’s eyes. All throughout high school, Delilah tormented Lily, stealing every guy she wanted and always making fun of the way she looked, especially the mole under her left eye.
“I couldn’t help but notice your new hair color,” Lily said.
“You like it?” Delilah grabbed a piece. The end’s were frayed and damaged. It must have been an at home bleach job. “Of course, it can’t ever be as beautiful as yours.”
Lily smiled. “That’s so sweet of you.”
“Are you meeting someone?”
“You remember Brian Johnson?” Lily said. Delilah nodded. Brian had been the most popular boy in their tiny high school. All the girls drooled over him. “We’re on a date.”
“Lucky duck.” Delilah giggled.
“He should be here soon,” Lily said. “I’m sure he’s just running a little late.”
“I’m sure.” Delilah gave her a tight smile and wished her luck before hurrying off to a different table.
Lily chewed the inside of her lip. She pulled out her phone. He was only twenty minutes late. There was probably a lot of traffic coming back from the city. She would know. Sometimes, it took her over an hour to get home after work. Her mother always berated her when she got in late, saying that she shouldn’t be working anyways because once Lily found a husband and moved out, that would be his job.
A table over, a young woman sat with a man. She let out a joyful laugh and touched his arm. He grinned at her and placed his hand over hers. Lily ripped a bite out of her breadstick.
The wine glass was almost empty. Lily spun it around, the last bit of liquid swirled. Three dark lipstick stains marked the glass. She felt sorry for whoever had to wash those off.
“Hey, I’m real sorry, but if you don’t order anything, my boss is going to ask you to leave,” Delilah said. Her smile was sympathetic, but her eyes were impatient. Lily checked her phone. Almost an hour and no explanation.
“Fine.” Lily glanced at the menu, but nothing piqued her appetite. She was less hungry than when she arrived. “Can you just get me the house salad?”
Delilah didn’t write down the order before walking away. Lily held her head up in one hand and tapped her fingers on the table. Her leg bounced.
Lily pulled off the label from her beer bottle and rolled it up between her fingers, creating tiny balls which she then tossed into her half full glass of water. The salad she had ordered was pushed to one side, only two bites taken out of it. The lettuce was soggy, the sharp smell of the vinaigrette filling the air around it. She checked the time. An hour and thirteen minutes. Lily gnawed on her thumb nail. An older woman nearby stared at the empty seat across from Lily, eyes glued. When she finally looked up, she gave Lily a tight smile and a pity nod, like she understood what she was going through.
He wasn’t coming. She realized that about half an hour in, but now she finally admitted it to herself. Her cheeks flushed red. She tried to pinpoint a specific emotion among the whirlwind that crashed through her body. Was she embarrassed, sad, angry? A different feeling took over every second. The room felt cramped and her chair now was uncomfortable to sit on. She pulled out her phone. She couldn’t ask her Mom to pick her up, not after she had sounded so hopeful on the ride over. A taxi was out of the question. If a stranger tried any small talk she would burst, either in anger or tears. It was late. Eleanor was probably asleep since she always got up so early.
“You said Brian Johnson was your date, right?” Delilah stood at the other end of the table. Her apron was gone and she wore a faded red sweatshirt. Her frizzy blonde hair now pulled into a loose ponytail with a few strands framing her face. She actually looked decent.
“Supposed to be,” Lily said.
Delilah held out her phone so Lily could see a string of text messages on the screen, Brian’s name on top.
Lily stopped breathing. “What is this?”
“He just invited me to David Smith’s house. The one on the lake we used to go to? Well, not we, mostly me. Were you ever invited there?”
Delilah held back a smile. She waited for Lily to respond.
“That’s too bad.” Delilah frowned, but a joyful energy radiated off her. Clearly, she thought she had won.
“You’re going?” Lily asked. She tried to wrap her head around this whole situation. Was he really there or was Delilah just rubbing salt in her wound?
“Maybe.” That was a lie. Why would she tell Lily if she wasn’t going? “Want me to pass along a message?”
Lily smiled and tilted her head. “No.”
Delilah faltered a bit. “Um, well. Okay. See you around then!” She turned and walked towards the door.
“Why did you tell me?”
Delilah turned back and raised her eyebrow in question.
“You didn’t have to tell me, but you did. Why?” Lily leaned her head in her hands and tapped her fingers. Delilah’s eyes went wide and she clutched her phone closer to her chest. Then, she grinned and cocked her head.
“Just trying to be a good friend is all.” She walked out before Lily could get the last word.
Inhale. Lily closed her eyes and held her breath. Five seconds. Exhale. Ten seconds.
“Fuck!” She slammed her fists on the table. Plates and glasses shook. All conversations stopped. Everyone, including the staff, turned to face her. Only the generic Italian music still played over the speakers.
Lily pulled out her wallet and threw all the cash onto the table. “Sorry everyone.” She pulled on her sweater over her black dress and stormed out. She texted Eleanor just as the door closed behind her.
Lily sniffed and dragged the sleeve of her sweater across her nose. A gob of snot left a streak along the fabric. Around her, the streetlamp’s light reflected off all the puddles left over from the rain. Headlights illuminated the rest of the street. She sniffed again. Her eyes ached from the tears she tried so hard to hold back. She pulled the cashmere sweater, the nice one she saved for nice occasions, closer around her. She curled her hands into fists and grabbed the ends of the sleeves. The red heels she wore dug into the backs of her feet. She shifted from left foot to right foot in an attempt to ease the pain. A car drove by, closer than the others, and splashed water from a puddle onto her stockings.
“Perfect,” Lily said. She pulled out her phone again. 10:32. Ten minutes since she sent the text. “Hurry up, Ellie.”
The door to the restaurant opened behind her. Light piano music, laughter, and the clattering of silverware on plates released into the night. The smell of marinara and garlic wafted through the street and into her nose. The couple walking out stopped their conversation to look at her. They averted their eyes and continued down the sidewalk.
The curb was wet and cold, but it was such a relief to sit down. The freezing, dirty water soaked into the back of her dress and made her butt wet. It was still better than standing in her high heels. She tapped her fingers on her knees and glanced down the street. She brought her thumb to her mouth and chewed off the manicured white tip.
Another car drove by, headlights shining in Lily’s eyes. She squinted. The rusty pickup drove past the restaurant, but stopped short. It backed up.
“Hey, stranger. Need a ride?” Eleanor leaned out the window, one arm out. Her dark, tight curls were pulled back into a bun, her typical look. Her red flannel, rolled up past her elbow, contrasted nicely with her dark skin.
“About damn time.” Lily pushed herself off the ground and wiped the dirt off her butt. She jumped over a puddle and rounded the truck. She tugged open the passenger door and climbed in, careful to watch the ledge because it was a bit loose. Eleanor drove off once the door was closed and Lily was buckled in. Lily closed her eyes and inhaled the familiar scent of cigarettes and artificial pine coming from the three tiny green trees hanging on the rearview mirror. Each one a different shade of green with the newest addition distinctively darker than the rest.
“You’re an angel. I was so not in the mood to call my mom and have her come pick me up.” Lily kicked off her shoes. Her skin breathed. There was the start of a blister on her left heel. She leaned back into the seat, letting the gentle rocking of the truck surround her like a hug. Eleanor took a left and sent the bag of empty beer bottles flying around the back seat, the glass clinking together.
“You said you were getting rid of those last week.” Lily opened her eyes and glanced over at Eleanor. Her friend laughed, eyes squinting and chubby cheeks protruding. Lily smiled.
“Maybe someday I’ll get around to it. Or maybe they’ll be here until the end when Bertha finally craps out on me.”
Eleanor looked both ways before crossing an intersection. “I assume the date didn’t go well?”
Lily snorted. “That’s an understatement.”
“Brian seemed so nice in school. What did he do?” Eleanor glanced at Lily every so often. “Was he rude to the waitress? Did he eat with his mouth open? He’s not a democrat, is he?”
“He didn’t show.” Lily gripped her thighs. If he ever did actually show his face to her, she wasn’t sure she would be able to control herself.
Eleanor slammed on the brakes. The bag of beer cans hit the back of Lily’s seat. She jolted against her seatbelt, the strap pushing against her chest.
“Hell was that?” Lily asked.
Eleanor fully faced her now, eyebrows scrunched together and mouth agape. She always did that whenever she was pissed off. “He didn’t show?”
“Didn’t even text me.” Lily shook her head and readjusted her seatbelt. “Piece of goddamn shit he is.”
Eleanor slammed her fists on the steering wheel. That was the angriest Lily’s ever seen her. “Scumbag.”
“Wanna know the worst part?” The fiery anger she had been holding back all night started to spew out, fueled by the encouraging look on Eleanor’s face. “You remember Delilah Brown?”
“That weird girl from chemistry?”
“She was my waitress. And,” Lily leaned closer. Eleanor followed, waiting for her to spill the juicy details. “Brian invited her to a party at the old lakehouse.”
“He invited her?”
“During our date! I was eating a salad and she came over to show me his messages.”
“Did she know he was your date?”
Lily nodded slowly. Eleanor shook her head.
“She’s a bitch and he’s an asshole. All men are.” Eleanor started driving again. “That’s why I haven’t been with one in three years.”
Lily laughed, actually laughed, for the first time all night. “You haven’t been with one cause you scare them all off.”
“Ain’t my fault they can’t handle me and Bertha.” Eleanor patted the top of the truck’s dashboard. “Sorry about the brake thing.”
“S’okay.” Trees flew past the front window as Elenor got them back up to speed. She bit her lip in concentration. Her flannel was unbuttoned and she wore a white tank top underneath. Her boots had mud caked on them from working out in the rain. Her hands, now gripping the steering wheel a bit too tight, were dry and cracked. The only feminine thing about her were the tiny gold star earrings Lily bought for her tenth birthday.
“Thanks for picking me up. I really appreciate it,” Lily said.
“No way was I about to leave you stranded like that.”
Lily turned back to the window. The pine trees on the mirror bounced off one another. “You do too much for me.”
“There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you.”
Lily opened the window. The cool air pushed her hair out of her face. It felt nice.
“Mind if I put on some music?” Eleanor asked. Lily nodded her head. Some strands of her hair flew around her face.
Eleanor turned on the radio to a late night talk show. She pressed a few buttons before landing on one station. The Golden Oldies.
“An Ellie classic,” Lily said. Eleanor put the blinker on and turned onto a smaller dirt road. The truck lurched over a few rocks, but it was nothing she couldn’t handle. There were more trees here, blocking out the moon’s light. A thick grove stood along the road. On the other side, an open field surrounded by a wooden fence stretched out.
No matter what time it was or how far away, Eleanor always helped Lily when she needed it. Her heart constricted. Her stomach tingled. A good tingle.
“I love this song.” Eleanor brought Lily out of her thoughts. It took a few moments for her to place the familiar guitar chords. “Johnny Cash is basically the soundtrack to mylife. It’s like he wrote his songs just for me, ya know?”
“I do know, cause you never shut up about Johnny Cash.”
Eleanor turned the radio up. She sang along. When the song reached the chorus, Eleanor pointed at Lily, dedicating the performance to her.
Soon enough, her off key vocals drowned out the actual song. Lily snorted at the exaggerated hand movements and dramatic gestures. A few curls fell out of the bun she wore. The freckles on her face popped against her skin, especially on her nose. Most of her freckles were on her nose.
“Alright, you can stop now.” Lily jokingly hit Eleanor’s arm. “I get it. You love Johnny Cash.”
Eleanor turned the music back down. “I don’t just love him. I want tobe him. Singing onstage with a guitar, thousands of fans yelling and cheering for me. My name on billboards and stadium signs. Man, wouldn’t that just be heaven?”
“For you,” Lily said. “I just wanna have a family with whoever I marry and settle down in a big house.”
“What about your job?” Eleanor asked.
“It’s nice. Keeps me busy. But it’s more of a temporary thing.” Lily put her hand back out the window. A few fireflies danced around in the distance.
“So what, you’re just gonna quit as soon as you get married?” Eleanor turned the music off. “Did your mom tell you to do that?”
“I always planned to do that, even when I was a kid.” Lily curled her hand inward and extended it again. She let the air intertwine with her fingers.
The gentle hum of the truck was soothing for Lily. She knew this hum well. Whenever Eleanor took her somewhere or the two of them just went for a drive, this hum was there. Her eyes felt heavy.
Eleanor slowed the car down and pulled over. Pine trees and shrubs surrounded both sides of the road.
“Last I checked I didn’t live in the woods.” Lily said.
“He’s at the lake house, right?” Eleanor ran her teeth over her lower lip.
“That’s what Miss Delilah told me.” Lily rolled her eyes. Eleanor started the car up, but instead of continuing on, she turned around. “What are you doing?”
“Don’t know about you, but I’m in the mood for a swim.” Eleanor grinned.
“What have you done with Ellie,” Lily said.
The two drove on, albeit a bit faster than before. Lily’s heart pounded. Eleanor took a corner a bit too wide, and they ended up on a dirt road. She slowed down, almost like she was sneaking up on something. A large house came into view, the moon reflecting off a lake just behind it. Several cars were parked along the driveway and on the lawn. Some house lights were on, but most of the rooms were dark. Eleanor turned off the headlights and shut down the car.
“What are we doing here?” Lily asked. Eleanor put her finger to her lips and shushed. The two got out of the truck. They both closed their doors, gently and quietly, at the same time.
The dirt driveway was muddy. Puddles from the night’s rain littered the road. Lily was still barefoot, only her thin stockings protecting her feet. Some of the icy dirt found its place between her toes. Still better than wearing heels. She hopped over a couple of smaller puddles. As they neared the house, laughter and splashing came from the backyard. The smell of the lake, the water and the dirt, mixed with the distinct scent of weed. Several silhouettes danced and ran about. Two of them stood close to each other. It was too far to make out any faces.
“What’s the plan?” Lily whispered.
Eleanor stopped. “I’m not sure.”
“This was your idea.”
“It’s more like a spur of the moment situation.”
Lily scoffed and folded her arms. The two stood in the driveway facing each other. Eleanor looked anywhere but her face. She pulled out her lanyard, the one with the truck’s key on it, and swung it around. She caught the keys in her hand and stared at them.
“Do you know which car is his?”
No, Lily thought. But then she remembered something from her and Brian’s text conversation last week. He wouldn’t shut up about how he finally got his old Mustang to start working again. It was a classic, a beauty. He made sure to mention that part at least five times. Lily crouched down and walked towards the parked cars, careful to keep to the shadows. She scanned the cars on the makeshift parking lot.
“There.” she pointed. Eleanor walked up next to her. She was so warm.
“Which one?” Eleanor asked.
“The red one with the white stripes down the middle.”
Lily nodded. Eleanor moved towards the car. It was parked in the middle, closer to the front of the house. The window above it remained dark. Lily followed. She squatted down next to Eleanor who ran her hands over the hood.
“Baby, this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you,” she said.
“Stop apologizing to the car,” Lily said. Laughter rang up through the night. She whipped her head, but no one was there.
Eleanor took a deep breath. “It’s for a good cause.”
The light from the room above them turned on. Lily grabbed Eleanor’s arm and pulled her down. Her skin was warm and soft. They sat with their backs to the car, frozen. The light turned off.
“Shit.” Lily let go of Eleanor’s arm. “Do it quick.”
Eleanor put the tip of her key to the door and held it there. Then, she handed it to Lily.
“You do it.”
Lily grinned and grabbed the keys. Without hesitation, she put the metal tip to the car and dragged it. She did it again. And again. And a few more times for good measure.
“Should I write something on it?” she asked. Eleanor grimaced at the marks, but smiled at Lily.
“Draw a penis. Since he’s such a dick.”
Lily let out one single, loud laugh. It echoed through the yard. The conversations by the lake stopped. She held the key, the sharp metal digging into her palm. The light turned back on.
Eleanor grabbed Lily’s hand and pulled her up. They raced across the driveway, feet flying over the puddles and rocks. A man behind them yelled, but she couldn’t make out what he said. Eleanor took the keys from Lily and pushed her towards the truck. Lily jumped in and slammed the door shut. Eleanor started the car up and reversed out of there. Tires screeched. Several figures ran towards them, but they soon disappeared behind the trees. The car jerked onto the pavement and Eleanor booked it out of there.
Lily clutched her chest. She hadn’t done that much exercise in months. A bead of sweat rolled down her forehead. She took off her sweater. Eleanor cackled and hooted next to her.
“You were amazing.” She beamed at Lily. Sweat covered her face. She shimmered.
“You’re a crazy bitch.” Her heart pounded and blood rushed through her veins. She imagined the text Brian might send her, and how she would deny any involvement.
“Serves him right.” Eleanor slowed down to the speed limit and pulled back onto the main road. Lily opened her window again, the night breeze cooling off her face. She stuck her hand out and moved it with the wind. She thought about how mad Brian would be when he saw his car. How devastated he would feel. She grinned.
Soon enough, Eleanor pulled up next to a big white house. All the lights were off except for the kitchen. Lily’s mom was still up, waiting for her. Waiting to hear about how this man her mother so graciously set her up with was the one. That she would finally get married and move out, just like her younger sister did last year.
Eleanor put the car in park and turned it off. She turned in her seat to face Lily. “I was thinking. About what you said before. You don’t aim high enough. You’re so smart and talented. You could really make something out of yourself. Why just settle?”
“You’re still thinking about that?” Lily gathered her sweater and shoes off the floor. “It might be settling for you, but it’s what I’ve always wanted. A shit ton of kids to raise and take care of.”
“You can have a family and still have goals.” Eleanor picked at a scab on her hand.
“Don’t do that.” Lily placed her hand on Eleanor’s. “You’re gonna make it worse. It’ll never heal.”
Eleanor didn’t move. A hot blush fell across Lily’s face. She pulled her hand back and coughed. Eleanor stared at the floor. Lily cleared her throat.
“I guess I’ll be going now. Mom is waiting for me.” Lily put her hand on the door handle. “Thanks for driving.”
“Can I tell you something?”
Lily pulled her hand back. “Anything.”
Eleanor faced forward and placed her hands on the steering wheel. She opened her mouth. Then closed it. She inhaled through her nose. “You’re my best friend.”
“And you’d accept me no matter what.” Eleanor stared ahead, not even a glance in Lily’s direction.
“What are you gay or something?” Lily poked her in the arm and laughed, but it died in her throat when she saw the tears in Eleanor’s eyes. She rubbed her hands on her thighs. “Oh.”
“Sorry for what?”
“Because it’s not just—” Eleanor grasped the steering wheel. “I love you.”
There was only numbness throughout Lily’s body. The only sensation was a tingling in her stomach.
“Like you said. You’re my best friend. And I’ll help you with all this. We can get through it together.”
“No.” Eleanor said loudly “No. I am in love with you. Get it?”
Lily reached out her hand but pulled it back. Eleanor watched from the corner of her eyes. “You aren’t.”
Eleanor finally looked over at her. Her eyebrows scrunched and a wrinkle appeared on the bridge of her nose. “Are you trying to tell me how I feel?”
“Then what are you doing?”
“I don’t know.”
“Because I’ve thought a lot about this and I’m pretty sure I have feelings for you.”
“And I think you love me, too.”
“I’m not gay.” Lily slammed her hand on her thigh. She gathered her things back in her arms. “I’m not gay.”
The light from the front house reflected off Eleanor’s watery eyes. And as Lily took in the deep sadness etched on Eleanor’s face, she knew she would never erase that image from her mind.
“Maybe you’re confused. Maybe not. I don’t know. You can choose to feel those things, but I don’t want any part of it.” She shifted closer to the car door.
“I’m sorry,” Eleanor closed her eyes. A few tears fell down her cheeks. “Something about seeing you like this tonight. All I wanted to do was make you happy.”
“Because that’s what friends do.”
Eleanor groaned and lowered her head onto the steering wheel. Lily grabbed the door handle. Crickets chirped outside. She chewed the inside of her lip.
“Lily?” Eleanor lifted her head.
“I have to go.” Lily opened the door. “Mom’s waiting for me.”
“Wait,” Eleanor said.
Lily jumped from the truck and landed on the driveway. A few pieces of gravel embedded themselves into the bottom of her feet. She held onto the door, heels in one hand and the sweater draped over her arm. From the window, her mother pulled back the kitchen curtains. Lily slammed the door shut and ran barefoot towards the house.
Samantha Price is a recent MFA Creative Writing graduate from Fairfield University.