I spotted them as soon as I walked into the pub, sitting at the table in the far right hand corner. I waved. Tina smiled. Liv looked at her watch.
Tina stood up from her seat. She gave me a hug and ruffled my hair, sending snowflakes onto my cheeks. “We weren’t sure if you were coming.”
“Don’t be silly,” I said. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“I’m glad you made it,” Liv said, sipping her drink. “What took so long?”
I unzipped my salt-stained parka. “Traffic was a nightmare,” I lied. When I was running around the house frantically looking for my scarf, Rachael had suggested that I use traffic as my excuse for being late.
“They should be glad you’re showing up at all,” she mumbled from the couch, where she was curled up in the fetal position. “You’re running on, what, three hours of sleep?”
“More like two.” I spotted one end of the scarf peeking out from underneath the couch; I pulled it out and picked off the dust bunnies. “What time is it?”
Rachael glanced at her phone. “Three minutes past eleven.” I winced. “Oh, they’ll get over it. Who makes plans this early on a Sunday, anyway?”
“We used to go for Sunday hair-of-the-dog all the time when we were in college,” I said. “Now that we’re all in the same city again, Liv wants to revive the tradition.”
“Somewhere close by, I hope?” she asked, looking out the window. “It’s really coming down out there.”
I shook my head. “The Last Drop. Rosedale.”
“Ugh, too far,” Rachael said, a look of admiration in her mascara-encrusted eyes. “God, Molly, you’re so ambitious.”
I unraveled my scarf from around my neck. “Anyway, sorry I’m late.”
“Nah, you’re right on time,” Tina said. “We’re just about to order another round.” On the table were three empty glasses – Tina’s pint glass, Liv’s vodka soda, and a martini glass that the held the dregs of a bluish-purple cocktail. There was a smear of pink lip gloss around the rim.
“Didn’t realize Max had taken to girly drinks,” I joked.
Liv shook her head. “Don’t be silly, that’s Petra’s. I told you she was coming, didn’t I?”
I gnawed at a cuticle. “Don’t think so.” The girlish squeal that came from the direction of the bathroom was unmistakably hers.
“Well hello, stranger!” Petra bounded toward the table; she clutched my arms and gave me a kiss on each cheek. The scent of hair products and Flowerbomb wound itself tightly around me.
Tina and I locked eyes. I gave her a death glare. Be nice, she mouthed, and cocked her head toward Liv.
“Come on, sit down,” Petra said. She led me to the chair next to hers.
I settled into my seat, and a waitress approached us. “Can I get you ladies another round?” she asked.
“We figured it’s easiest to order rounds and just split the bill equally,” Tina said to me. I glanced at the drink menu. Cocktails were twelve dollars. Tina lowered her voice. “But if you’re short, or whatever, I can always …”
I tried to calculate the balance of my bank account. Then I remembered that Rachael had just paid me for the hydro bill, and the cable bill wasn’t due for a week.
I could probably swing it.
“I’ll have a gin and tonic,” I said to the waitress. “Make it a double.”
“I thought you’d have Max with you when you arrived,” Liv frowned, composing a message on her phone.
Oh.” The hairs at the back of my neck prickled. “Didn’t even occur to me to meet him on the way.”
“That’s right, you’re practically neighbours now!” Petra said. “Have you seen much of him since he moved back to the city?”
I shook my head. “No, not really.
“Can one of you text him?” Liv asked, annoyed. “He’s not responding to me.”
I reluctantly volunteered.
You’d better be on your way, my friend. If I can drag my ass all the way here, you can too.
“Feeling a bit rough?” Petra said, peering at my phone. I hastily hit “send.”
I shrugged. “Not particularly.”
A devilish smile crept over Tina’s face. “Really? You look tired. You’re sure you weren’t up all night?”
“The only thing that kept me last night was the sound of Rachael being sick in the bathroom,” I said. “When she doesn’t have work on Sunday, she goes pretty hard.”
“I didn’t know she was off today,” Liv said. “You should have brought her along.”
I tried not to laugh. If the thought of Rachael getting up, putting on pants, and taking a streetcar and a subway to get here wasn’t completely ridiculous, then imagining her going to such lengths to be in the company of my college friends surely was.
“What a fucking narcissist,” Rachael had said the night before, when we were getting ready. While I curled her hair, she had taken it upon herself to hate-read Petra’s blog on my phone. “No one reads this drivel, surely.”
“That’s the thing, people do,” I wrapped a section of her hair around the iron. “She’s got a ton of followers.”
“Every single post is about how great she is. Her amazing job, her beautiful apartment, her exhilarating love life.” She shook her head in disgust. “There’s probably even one in here about how regular her shits are.”
I snorted, and nearly burned her forehead.
“I just think that if her life really was that great, she wouldn’t be spending so much time trying to convince Internet strangers of it.” My phone went off. “Text message,” Rachael said. “From Max.”
“What does it say?”
“Says he’s going to Wrongbar tonight.” She handed me the phone. “Wants to know if you’ll be there.”
“How is Rachael doing?” Petra asked, tilting her head to one side. “She must find retail so tough. I really don’t know how she does it.”
Here we go. “She does it because she has to,” I said plainly.
“Well, she doesn’t have to,” Liv said. “She has a degree. She could get a real job like the rest of us.”
“How would she have time to go on auditions? How would she be able to commit to acting gigs?” I wanted to add that this was pretty rich criticism coming from someone who only recently left her menial admin position to take up a PR job that she wasn’t qualified to do—and had probably only gotten because her well-connected father called in every favour he was ever owed.
“Well, I work 9‑5, and I still get a lot of writing done,” Petra said. “It’s not easy, but it’s all about making time for yourself.” As she launched into preach mode, I sent Max a follow-up message.
Seriously. Please get here. Liv’s in a mood, and if Petra continues to talk about herself, I will gouge my eyes out with a spoon.
When I put my phone down, Tina whispered in my ear. “You look like you could use a shot.” I nodded enthusiastically. She announced that we were going to the bathroom, and we scurried over to the far side of the bar. The bartender poured two shots of whiskey and Tina paid him, waving her hand dismissively when he tried to give her change. We counted to three and drank. It went down too easily.
“Liv’s lucky she didn’t direct that comment about getting a “real job” at me,” Tina said, slamming her shot glass down on the bar. “Because I would have punched her in the goddamn face.”
“What’s with her today?” I stacked my shot glass on top of hers. “She’s had it out for me since I walked in the door.”
“She thinks you’re too hung-over,” she said. “Says you need to grow up.”
I gripped the bar with my hands. “That’s bullshit,” I yelled. “She thinks just because—“
“Shhhh,” Tina said, clutching my arm and looking in the direction of the table. “Just ignore her, you know she’s full of shit. Besides, when Max shows up, she’ll be pissed at him for being late instead.” I nodded, and reluctantly followed her back to the table. My mood brightened when I realized that a fresh round of drinks had arrived.
“Don’t you think you should take it easy?” Liv said as I took a long drink of my gin and tonic. “It’s not a race, you know.”
I rolled my eyes. “Says the girl on her third vodka.”
“This is water,” she said. “And my liver isn’t still trying to eliminate alcohol from last night out of my system. Where did you go last night, anyway?”
“The Caddy, then Wrongbar,” I replied.
“Oh, really? Max was going to Wrongbar last night. You didn’t run into him?”
“Nope,” I shook my head. “It was packed in there, I must have missed him.”
“I’m glad you agree that it’s a good idea to keep this on the DL,” Max had said, as I got dressed early that morning. “You know how the girls talk.”
I laughed as I pulled on my tights. “Tina would want every little detail. She’d want diagrams.”
“Liv would probably be really uptight about it.” He lay back down on the bed, and I regretted that I’d chosen his place instead of mine. “She’d think we were being selfish.”
“And I can just imagine if Petra found out,” I slipped my heels back onto my feet. “She’d tell me that we need to make space in our lives for relationships, that we’re not seeking emotional maturity.” I retrieved my handbag from his bedside table. “Who the fuck has time for that?”
Max shook his head. “Not me.”
“See you at the pub?”
“I just think it’s strange that he was in Parkdale and didn’t even text you to see if you were out,” Liv said, her eyes narrowing into slits. “He knows you’re in the neighbourhood. And Tina told me how happy you were when you found out he was moving so close by. ‘Ecstatic,’ I think, was the word she used.”
I said nothing, but I took out my phone.
Listen, this shit is unbearable, and I think Liv is on to us. I really don’t care if you come or not, but can you at least text one of them with an excuse?
I sent another message, and quickly regretted it.
This really isn’t a big deal, you know. We’re both adults, and I thought we were both cool with it.
All of a sudden, a wave of nausea came over me. I realized I hadn’t eaten anything in nearly twenty-four hours. Hadn’t had any water, either. And that shot was a really bad idea.
I got up from the table and walked calmly but briskly to the bathroom. I pushed the door open and made a beeline for the empty cubicle. As soon as the door was locked behind me, I released a spray of black vomit directly into the toilet bowl.
It just kept coming. I coughed and gagged and heaved. My body shivered and my stomach muscles ached. When the entire contents of my stomach had been expelled, every last drop, I slid down to the floor and rested my head against the toilet seat. It was cool against my skin. Maybe I could stay here for a while. Maybe I’d stay forever.
But then I heard my phone go off. Three messages from Max, all sent in rapid succession.
It’s not a big deal to me either. I just don’t think it’s a good idea for both of us to be around Petra at the same time.
You’ve been there for over an hour, so I’m assuming she’s told you by now.
You didn’t say anything, right?
I read the messages over and over. Once the words began to lose their meaning, I stood up, flushed the toilet, and walked out.
When I got back to the table, Petra was glowing. “We were trying to keep it quiet for awhile, you know, because we didn’t want to makes waves in the friend group.” She clasped her hands together and sighed. “But then we realized, why would we want to keep something so beautiful a secret from all our friends?”
“This is so exciting!” Tina cried. “I mean, I never thought anyone would get Max would settle down. And that you would be the girl to do it!”
“It’s just too bad he’s got food poisoning. Poor baby can’t even get out of bed.” Petra looked at a message on her phone and pouted. “He went out with the guys last night. Says it must have been the wings.”
While Liv and Tina continued to fawn over Petra, I wrapped my scarf around my neck and grabbed my coat. “Oh no, are you leaving?” Petra asked. The look on her face closely imitated the emotion of concern. “Oh my God, you’re so pale.”
“I’m not feeling very well,” I said. I mumbled an apology and headed for the door.
Tina and Petra’s voices mingled together as they called out for me to wait, to ask if I was okay, to let them call me a cab. But I could hear Liv loud and clear when she shouted over them.
“Molly, what the fuck?”
I spotted a cab with his light on at the corner. I flagged it down and hopped in the backseat.
My phone vibrated again. I retrieved it out of my bag and scowled. Max was just going to keep texting me until I assured him that he had nothing to worry about, I hadn’t said a word, ‘cause that’s just me, I’m just so cool about everything.
But the message was from Rachael.
When are you coming home? I’m lonely and I want to eat my feelings with you.
After what felt like an eternity, the cab driver parked in front of my building. I paid him, crawled to my fourth-floor walk-up, and put my key through the door. Rachael was still on the couch, swaddled in knitted blankets, looking like death warmed up. I sat down next to her and burst into tears. After a few moments, she sat up and placed her head on my shoulder.
“The good news is, I’ve ordered a pizza,” she said quietly, draping one of the blankets over me. “Should be here any minute.”