Tap, tap, tap. Nora’s short fingernails weren’t good for much, but they could still make noise on the bar countert when she got impatient. She checked her phone. Resisted the urge to text again. What would I say? She thought. “No, but for real, are you coming?” after the last text from Jamie had said, “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.” That had been twenty minutes ago. There was probably traffic. Nora pushed her empty glass out of the way. Being anxious was thirsty work, but she was still waiting for the buzz to kick in. The bartender with his bright eyes and too-greasy hair walked over. “Get you another?”
“Nah, thanks, I’m waiting for my friend,” she said. Then thought better of it. “Actually, you know what, better make it a double. The same.” Gin and tonic with a twist. Even the dirtiest dive bar couldn’t fuck that one up. The bartender nodded and got her a fresh glass. She tried to stop herself from looking past the tiny LED spot lights into the darkness of the cabinets and low boys, below all the bottles displayed so neatly, the light flaring the amber and jewel-colored liquids just so. She knew she’d only be disgusted. Fruit flies clinging to every surface down there in a place like this. But she couldn’t resist. Blame it on industry curiosity. Couldn’t turn the chef off even if she tried.
But before the illusion could be completely broken, the bar door banged open and in breezed Jamie. Nora’s shoulders dropped as soon as she knew it was her. Dressed in long charcoal slacks, a flattering red blouse, and a pearl necklace, Jamie looked as fresh as eight in the morning. “Hi, darling,” she sighed into Nora’s ear as they hugged. Nora felt tears in her eyes and blinked hard a few times so they wouldn’t fall. “How’s you?”
“Um,” said Nora. “Been better.” The bartender delivered her drink and she gestured to Jamie. “She’ll have a Jim Beam on the rocks with a lemon wedge.” They knew each other’s drink orders, just like Nora knew that when Jamie cracked her knuckles, she wanted to leave wherever they were. Just like Jamie knew that if Nora took too long to choose something off a menu, she just ordered for herself, but everything double. “How’s you?”
Jamie laughed, that deep smoker’s chuckle, a little phlegmy. “I wasn’t the one who called an emergency drink about it meeting, darlin’. You ready to talk or you need that one still?” She gestured to the drink in Nora’s hand as Nora was tonguing the straw. When Nora took her time answering, Jamie took a gulp of her Jim Beam.
“I’m good,” Nora replied. She took another draw on the drink, then pushed it away. “It was just a rough day.” She stole a glance at Jamie’s profile. “I woke up bad, and then I borrowed some extra ovaries to talk to Pauline about the thing.”
“The thing.” Jamie sat back and gazed sidelong at Nora. “You’re gonna have to be a little more specific, Nor.”
“You know what I mean,” Nora said, spinning her glass in her hand, the drink sloshing but only just so. “The thing. The Event.”
“Fear of a name - “ Jamie started, but Nora shot her a look. “Okay,” she said, relenting. “So what happened?”
“She was fine,” Nora said. “Better than fine. Sympathetic. A little taken aback, probably, but she hid it well. At the end, she patted my shoulder like she was afraid to touch me.” She laughed, the mirth on her mouth outweighing the sadness and exhaustion in her eyes, but only just. “I’m not sure if that’s a win or not.”
Jamie scooched her chair closer, making the wooden floorboards under it squeak, and rested her head on Nora’s shoulder. “I’d say it is,” she said into Nora’s pulled up hair. She took another sip of her drink. “Fuck that guy.” She smiled ruefully. “You know that’s why I wear these.” She gestured to the chunky rings that glittered on her fingers. “So that if some dude ever tries to rape me or anyone I know ever again, I can punch him in the face. Square cut diamonds leave a lasting impression, after all.”
Nora smiled back, the shadows still holding sway over the pinched edges of her mouth. She wished she could magically make herself better, for Jamie, so she could be a better friend. Scratch that. A better human. “I’m sorry, J,” she mumbled into her glass. “I wish it had never happened.”
“It did,” said Jamie firmly, stabbing her lemon wedge with her straw and dragging it through the liquor and the melting ice in her glass. “And I love you just the same.” She paused. “Uh, but just so you know, your hair smells like fryer grease, and it’s gross.”
Nora flicked a wet straw wrapper at Jamie’s face, eliciting a yelp. “No, that was gross.”
Later, after the conversation had moved on to other things, they split an Uber home. The car slid through the early winter night, the soft crunch of frost audible against the tires. The women were quiet in the back, Jamie scrolling through work emails on her phone while Nora retweeted a famous chef’s deconstructed chocolate cake and added the caption “#goals”. They shot each other unseen glances, studying each other’s profiles lit by the glow of other people’s lives. The car got to Jamie’s house first, and Nora gave her a smile as she reached for the door, her shoulders slumped now with drink and drowsiness. “Be good,” she said, and they hugged in the backseat. “Thanks for coming.”
“Anytime, darlin’,” said Jamie, giving Nora’s hand a squeeze as she climbed out of the car. “You be good, too.”