Friend, by Samantha Simmons

It said to come alone, and yeah, before I could even get around to considering all the rest of it, my first thoughts were: who in the hell writes letters these days, how’d she get my address and why’d she write come alone like something out of some goddamn cheap paperback thriller? But after I convinced myself that the letter itself, if not whatever it was trying to imply, wasn’t going to hurt me, when it was dumped on the table on top of all the other crap that had come through the letterbox and piled up there, I relaxed a little and told myself that, you know what, this is no big deal, life’s not that interesting, and there’s got to be a perfectly rational explanation to all this.

And there was, naturally, but the truth is we did have unfinished business with each other, or something like that. This was a long time ago, when we were kids – well, teens, eighteen or nineteen, but you know how it feels back then, you think you’ve seen it all already – and we were in school and there was a big group of us – I could tell you the names but that’s not important – and we all had this big, crazy time with each other for what must have been a year or more, the only problem being that me and Sandra, this girl who asked me to come alone, me and her weren’t taking it seriously at all. We were just there to piss around. Everyone else squeezed some studying in at least, you know? Not us.

But we never fucked, nothing like that. Actually, I had my eye on this other girl, but Sandra would always be there, getting in the way, on purpose or not, I don’t know, but nothing happened. And everyone else was getting pissed at her, after the first year or maybe sooner; didn’t like her jokes, didn’t like the way she’d bang on their doors in the middle of the night, drunk or even sober. We were all getting sick of her except maybe me, because I was the oldest – already flunked a year or two way back when I was younger – and I was above it, or understood it, or just had my eye on this other girl and didn’t want to blow it by acting like anything was a big deal.

So she was forced out of our group and then more or less forced out of school. I’d follow about a year later, naturally, except there wasn’t any forcing: I just left. And everyone else got on with it. Well, good luck to them.

Then this letter turns up. This is six, seven years later. I’d seen Sandra briefly before, once or twice, but I was in a state then myself – playing around with shit I shouldn’t have, and she’d seen me do it – and otherwise we were back to being strangers. Letter’s telling me what she’s been up to, asking what I’ve been up to, and saying let’s meet, we haven’t seen each other for a while, but come alone. And I think, okay. Perfectly rational explanation. She wrote the letter because she doesn’t have my number, or doesn’t want me to know she kept it, or because she doesn’t want to speak to me over the phone after all this time. Address part, I guess she could have got it from the phone book, or maybe it’s somewhere online, I don’t know and don’t care. And come alone? Easy. She doesn’t want me to bring any of our old friends. She’s embarrassed, or resentful, or something, anyway. She just wants to see me because I left school too and at the end maybe I was the only one on her side, you know?

Except all the while I’m heading to meet her, at one of those new chain coffee shops springing up all over the damn place, I can’t get it out of my mind that something’s not right about this. Something’s off. Something’s telling me to be careful, not let my guard down. I’m thinking maybe she’s got it out for me, you know? Maybe she’s holding a grudge or something, how should I know? So all the while I’m a little jumped up, thinking I shouldn’t have sent her my own letter arranging this little goddamn reunion in the first place.

And there she is, more or less exactly the same as when I last saw her. Big jacket with some kind of fake fur on the collar. Sounds the same, hugs the same. But she looks happy to see me. And when I realise that okay, I came alone, but she did too, I can relax a little. What the hell was I thinking, anyway? Big mob of guys hiding in the bushes?

We go inside the coffee joint, order something cheap, pay for it and grab a seat. We catch up. And at first it’s nice, and I’m wondering where all the time went, and I want to apologise to her for what happened before, tell her I’m sorry I didn’t do more to make it better, make her stay.

Then she gets around to asking. Close to a goddamn thousand, I shit you not. Doesn’t tell me what it’s for, and hell if I can guess. She’s really trying for it but there’s something about the way she acts, quiet and, I don’t know, something, that makes me think maybe I’m her last resort, that she’s already given up anyway. And while she’s giving me the speech I’m just sitting there, not wanting to believe it but letting it sink in, and thinking: yeah, life’s not that interesting.

She got her money, anyway, a little later on. Left without even a goodbye kiss and there were no more letters. And so listen, who’s the bad guy here?

Samantha Simmons lives in Oregon with her husband, Daniel, and dog, Ruffalo, both of whom she loves just the same. Her work can be found at various places online, such as Oblong and Untruth Journal, and her writing interests have most recently been drawn to her own take on revisionist pulp fiction.