I wanted to show up early to the confrontation, the reconciliation, the argument—whatever it was going to be. All I knew was that I felt pathetic, and Meredith was very sorry, and at 4 o’clock, we were going to meet at Starbucks.
I parked my father’s Toyota in the lot next to Dunkin’ Donuts. The lot was nearly empty, which was not surprising on New Year’s Day. I made my way to Starbucks, ordered a latte, perched primly on a stool, and tried to read until Meredith arrived. I found, though, that I couldn’t concentrate.
I’d spent New Year’s Eve alone with a fantasy novel. The book was Lev Grossman’s The Magician King, and my high school friends weren’t returning my texts.
Weeks earlier, Meredith and Brianna and I had decided to end the year with a low-key night at Brianna’s house. We’d watch the ball drop on TV, cuddle with her dog, and eat Filipino food with her family. I was looking forward to spending the night with them, as I look forward to any time we have together—Meredith’s off at Vanderbilt, with its odd, Southern academic calendar, and while Brianna is an easy subway ride away at NYU, our busy schedules prevent us from seeing each other as often as we’d like.
I’d expected that winter break would provide us with plenty of time to hang out the way we did back in high school, but our schedules turned out to be nearly as packed during break as they otherwise were. Brianna’s expensive spring semester in Prague loomed, and most days she commuted into the city to continue working at AllSaints. Meredith was spending a lot of time with her family. As for me, I was determined to finish reading a book each day of break. Thank God for the Millburn Public Library.
New Year’s Eve would be, I thought, the final opportunity for the three of us to spend some quality time together. On January 2, I’d fly to California to visit my older brother, and by the time I returned to New Jersey, Meredith would be back at Vanderbilt. At the end of January, just after I returned to Barnard, Brianna would fly to Prague for five much-anticipated months—we hadn't been apart for that long since we’d become friends.
But on December 30, messages from them in our emoji-riddled group text revealed that our plan for a quiet night was much more tenuous than I’d believed. A few parties were in the works, they told me, and they’d been invited. “Wherever we go, I’m sure you can come too,” Brianna texted.
I remember the sight of Bri in Mrs. Arnold’s second-period AP Language and Composition class on the first day of junior year. She seems cool, I thought. I’d like to be her friend. By the end of the year, she was bleaching the ends of my hair and helping me pick filters for all of my Instagram photos.
That year, I also became closer with Meredith. We’d known each other since preschool, sat through years of soul-crushingly boring Hebrew school lessons together, and carpooled to a dance class in seventh grade, but it wasn’t until the fall of senior year that I began to consider her one of my closest friends.
Sitting in Starbucks, not reading, I saw her coming. She swept into the room with a look of terror on her face.
“I am the absolute worst person in the entire world,” she said. “Are you, like, never going to speak to me again? I’m so, so sorry. I know Bri is too.”
I sighed. “Well, she still hasn’t answered any of my texts.” I took a careful sip of my latte, thinking. “I’m not that angry. I just don’t understand what happened.”
When our plans changed, I was annoyed, but kept it quiet. I spent much of high school feeling socially adrift—I’d mostly grown apart from elementary and middle school friends, and never felt as close with my field hockey teammates as they were with one another. Though I would and I do trust Meredith and Brianna with my life and all my most embarrassing stories, part of me fears that they’ll stop wanting to be my friends at the first sign of conflict between us. I’m working on it.
Two hours before midnight, neither of them was texting me back.
At 10:30, Meredith texted me to “come here.” But I didn’t know where “here” was. I replied as much and waited for her response.
At 11, I got dressed and asked my mother for a ride to the party. “I’ll be ready in a few minutes,” I said. “I’m just waiting for Mer to tell me where we’re meeting up.”
After that, I called my friends three times.
I watched the ball drop with my parents. They don’t mind that you’re not there, I thought. I thought about my brother, who always had plans with his high school friends on New Year’s Eve when he was still in college.
I busied my mind and hands with the pouring of a glass of water, drank it in bed, and read 10 pages of my book. I cried for a little while, then grew disgusted by my self-pity and stopped. I picked up my empty cup and threw it at the wall.
In Starbucks, Meredith opened her arms wide to hug me. “It was all a huge misunderstanding. We thought you were on your way,” she said, and as she did, her right arm collided with my mostly full latte and knocked it to the ground.
If you cry right now, I’m never speaking to you again, I told myself.
“I’m so sorry,” she cried. Everybody in the café was staring. “I’ll clean it up. I’ll buy you a new one.”
“It’s fine. I really, really don’t care. I can’t be in here anymore.”
I walked out, leaving a massive puddle behind, and she followed.
“Clearly you’re angrier than you’re saying,” she said. “I know you. Come on.”
For the second time since the year had begun, on the corner of Main Street, I started to cry. Crybaby. Drama queen. “I thought you guys weren’t texting me back on purpose,” I said. “I thought you didn’t want to see me, even though we’re all leaving soon, and I felt like a loser. I still do.”
She had the saddest look on her face. “Michelle,” she said, “you’re my best friend. The only way I wouldn’t want to hang out with you is if I were, like, dead.” We both laughed at that.
“I know,” I said.
“Bri and I thought you were on your way to the party, and then my phone died, and things got so crazy—I swear—that by the time we realized you weren’t coming, it was too late.”
I wanted to believe her. I thought about the way we’d quizzed each other as kids on the Hebrew alphabet, and of the morning after prom when we’d wandered the streets, talking until the sun rose about how wonderful and terrifying Barnard and Vanderbilt would be. I remembered the day Brianna bleached my hair.
And just like that—I swear—I forgave them both. There’d be time later to discuss the details of the previous night. Brianna, contrite, would text me later to apologize.
I smiled at Meredith.
“Hey,” she said. “Want to hang out? Right now, I mean.”
I laughed. I did want to. I always do.