Darby took her cup from the barista and squared her shoulders. It had been years since she’d last set foot in this café. She and Jen used to order mochaccinos and chocolate croissants and sit in the back corner booth, talking sometimes about school or boys, mostly about Darby’s family. After her last visit, she didn’t think she’d ever return.
“Darby, I’m so glad you could make it,” Jennifer said, pushing her chair back. She rose and hefted her belly past the edge of the little bistro table in front of the fireplace, waddling over to where Darby stood and throwing her arms around her.
Darby held her cup in one hand and her purse in the other, so she merely held her hands out to her sides and waited for the hug to end. “Of course I came, Jen,” she said into Jennifer’s ear. “Best friends don’t let each other down, do they?”
Jennifer didn’t miss the sarcasm in Darby’s voice. She dropped her arms like they were cinder blocks and awkwardly took her seat, gesturing for Darby to sit across from her. “I ordered you a mochaccino and chocolate croissant,” she said, gesturing to the cup and plate on the table.
Darby’s stomach roiled. The smell of sugar and coffee was making her lightheaded. The company was making her sick. But she didn’t show her distaste. “I haven’t eaten that kind of food in years.” She lifted her cup. “I ordered for myself. Green tea.”
Jen cleared her throat and looked around the room. “You look great. So, how long has it been? It seems like just yesterday.”
“Five years, give or take.” It had been five years, three months, and twelve days, but Darby wasn’t giving Jen the satisfaction of letting her know she counted the days. Obviously Jen hadn’t suffered from Darby’s absence. Darby sipped her tea and looked Jen squarely in the eye. Damned if the bitch wasn’t glowing. “The last time I saw you was the last time I was here. It was also the last time I had a mochaccino and a chocolate croissant. Sometimes you just need to cut toxic things out of your life cold turkey, you know?”
Jennifer laughed and played with her necklace, a nervous gesture that she hadn’t lost in the years since Darby had last seen her. Darby continued to stare at her. Jen didn’t hold the gaze. She kept glancing around the room. Finally she looked at the people in line. “Wow, look at those girls over there. They remind me of us when we were younger. Look at how the boys are falling all over them. They make quite a team. See how they’re sizing up the guys, making sure they’re going to get the right pair for the two of them? Just like we used to do. You know. Before. I bet they even end up at our old table.”
Darby waited for Jen to stop babbling before studying the teenagers at the counter. The girls really could have been them ten or twelve years ago. The blonde was tall and thin like Jen had been, and she could see the brightness in her blue eyes from twenty feet away. The brunette had wavy hair and brown eyes and even at a young age had curves that were turning the boys’ heads… just like when she was young. “The good old days. Someone should tell them how the story ends.”
Jennifer twisted her necklace. “Stories about best friends often have happy endings. Just look at those two.”
“You probably have seventy pounds on her now.”
“Yes, well,” Jennifer patted her stomach. “Not all of this is me.”
Darby sighed. She had already heard the news from her mother. Seeing it in the flesh was just a bit more than she wanted to bear. Talking about it was worse. She tightened her grip on her cup and suppressed the urge to throw the contents in Jen’s face. “So I can see.”
“That’s why I wanted to talk to you today.”
Darby hoped the flames from the fireplace accounted for the heat she felt rising in her cheeks. “I hardly see how your condition concerns me.”
Jen reached over and grabbed Darby’s hand. Was it to make contact or to keep her from throwing the cup’s contents? Darby wasn’t sure, but she pulled her hand away regardless and pretended to be studying her manicure. She was actually looking at her wrist, remembering the instances of bruises and broken bones. Only Jen had known the real story. Only Jen had helped her through those days. They had talked about it in hushed whispers in their corner booth. Thank God Jen hadn’t chosen that booth again. Darby looked at the booth and realized that’s where Jennifer kept looking. Then it dawned on her. The only reason they weren’t there now was because Jen’s belly wouldn’t fit comfortably. Darby shook her head.
Jen didn’t even acknowledge that Darby had pulled away from her. “You’re my best friend.”
“I think those days are behind us. They ended five odd years ago.” Darby looked at Jen’s stomach and picked up her cup again. “Surely you don’t have to ask why.”
“It doesn’t have to be that way. You aren’t just my best friend. You’re my—”
Don’t say it, Darby thought.
Darby slammed down her cup, cracking the stoneware against the granite tabletop. She didn’t even spare it a glance, although a few patrons turned to look their way. “It was a mistake coming here.” She wasn’t a teenager any longer. She didn’t have to hide from her problems in a café. She didn’t have to discuss them in one, either. She stood to leave and turned toward the door.
“I want you to be her godmother.”
Darby spun slowly back toward Jen. “Her?” She couldn’t breathe. Coffee-scented air whooshed out of her lungs, out of the room, leaving her breathless. The clinking of flatware against cups and plates faded to dull plinks in the background. Crackling fire receded to a mere popping in the distance, the heat no longer warm on her chilled skin. All that registered in the room was Jennifer’s face and the echo of the word. Her.
“Yes. We’re having a girl. We want you to baptize her.”
Darby shook her head. It wasn’t possible that Jennifer was that stupid. “You didn’t just say that.”
“Jim and I think it would be a great way to repair our relationship. All of our relationships. He wants you to do it.”
“Jim and I never had a relationship. You of all people know that. You know what he did to me. And after all of it, you still got involved with him. You married him. Him! And if that’s not enough, you’re having a kid with him. Are you crazy?” She bent down on quivering legs and, praying she wouldn’t collapse into Jen’s lap, spoke her last words softly, her face inches from Jen’s so she could look directly into her eyes. “You think you can fix things between us with coffee and croissants? He thinks he can fix things by sending you on his behalf? And you both want me to baptize my new sister?” She watched with no satisfaction as tears welled in Jennifer’s eyes. “You’re both sick. Don’t call me again. Friend.” Darby stood, turned, and started walking away.
“He’s changed, Darb,” Jen called after her.
“He’s not the only one,” Darby called back on the way out the door.
Staci Troilo grew up in Western Pennsylvania writing stories and poetry in her free time, so it was no surprise that she studied writing in college. After receiving her degree from Carnegie Mellon University, she went on to get her Master’s Degree in Professional Writing, and she worked in corporate communications until she had her children. Now she is a freelance writer living in Arkansas with her husband, son, daughter, and two dogs.