It was the kind of day that had Sawyer wishing an asp would slither out of her clearance Anthropologie woven basket and bite into the interstate of veins on her wrist.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic and graphic, not that anyone would’ve been surprised. Sawyer’s mom had always told her she had a dark side. “As all women should have,” her mother said. “Along with a poison dart in their purse.”
But, it was indeed a full-blown disaster from the moment her alarm went off一which was ten minutes late due to her own zombie-state snooze. The handle of her beloved “for Fox sake” mug gave way, sending ceramic shrapnel and Darjeeling splatter in every direction within a five-foot radius. The tea soaked her to-do list, meaning she had to tack four new tasks (clean up mess, cry into shards of fox tail, buy new mug, and write out a new list) onto her freshly recopied to-do list.
Her middle school students were at the level of craziness and sass that accompanied a full moon, despite the fact that it was a waning crescent. Then, to top it all off, her staff meeting went 32一that’s right thirty-freaking-two一minutes over, none of which she would see reflected in her bank account.
By the time Sawyer crossed the threshold of her apartment, kicked her mules across the room, and pitched herself onto the couch with a groan, she was positively, unequivocally pissed. Ten feet away, her Scottie mix, Scotty (named after the Star Trek character, not because she was some uncreative imbecile, obviously) whimpered with the pitchiness of a pubescent choir boy.
From Sawyer, Scotty got no pity, only a hand held up as a cease and desist. “No, nope. Only one of us can have a mental breakdown tonight, and I pay the rent so, dibs,” Sawyer said without turning her head from the couch cushion. Scotty gave a heaving sigh. Oh, the theatrics. Like mother, like son.
Drained of the energy required to put her feet back on the ground, Sawyer settled for staying put and doom scrolling on her phone. Down the Facebook rabbit hole, where she saw eleven, yes, eleven dumpster fires of posts—some political, some racist, some pointless, all stupid—and that was only within the first five minutes. Lost in TikTok, where she dissociated somewhere between wacky dance moves, fancast books, and what was most likely non-fact-checked news. Never on Instagram, not ready for the reminder of lives once interconnected, but now only shared through pixelated photos. That would only make the day harder than it was.
When Sawyer ran out of apps to waste time and brain cells, her masochism kicked in and she decided to check her email in the hopes that the message she wished for daily would be hiding between Pottery Barn ads and a reminder to sign up for the Senate race town hall next week. But, it wasn’t. What she had was heaps of marketing emails, with a few news alerts and family updates mixed in. And there, right at the top of the pile, was a message she did not seek, but had been seeking her.
“Goddammit,” she breathed. If someone were to ask Sawyer what her favorite eatery in town was, she’d name The Chicken Coop. It would come as a major shock to anyone who had heard her talk of the restaurant, considering her “talk” always ended up as a rant about long wait times and missing cutlery or sauces. No matter how many times she reiterated the order, some part of it always ended up wrong. It could drive a woman fully insane, and on multiple occasions, she neared it, poor Scotty witnessing her outbursts and most likely wondering why week after week she came home with a paper bag decorated with tiny chickens just to start the cycle again.
It had the perfect amount of crisp, and never was too salty or pocked the box with too much grease. While the employees could not seem to follow an order, they could follow a recipe to the T, and until they couldn’t, she would sacrifice missing barbecue packets and mixed up sodas to keep having that perfect poultry.
Just like she continued to visit, after each of her orders The Chicken Coop continued to send her not one, not three, but five emails asking her to rate her service. Genni had told her that if she did reply to them, she may finally get a meal without an error. But despite the arguments in her head, Sawyers struggled to stomach confrontation, even of the virtual variety. So, in an effort to save herself and them from her many complaints/suggestions or as she termed them “suggaints,” she typically deleted the emails. Exiling them to the cyber trashcan couldn’t put a lid on her annoyance, unfortunately.
Was it too dramatic to say that she loathed them? Possibly, but it was also the truth. She hated their cloying language. Sawyer, you’re one of our best customers. We love you. What can we make better for you? Not giving someone a heap of honey packets and a dearth of biscuits, maybe. Then, it was the persistence. If it was one email or two, she could handle it. But it was the constant reaching out rather than taking the hint that when someone repeatedly did not reply, it meant they weren’t interested.
Swiping her finger across the screen, Sawyer trashed The Chicken Coop’s correspondence, and as it disappeared from her email list, her phone dinged with a different tone, one that signaled “You’ve got mail.” After almost a year, Sawyer’s response had become pavlovian. Her heart rate sped up, her palms clammed, breath caught halfway up her windpipe, like a dry piece of biscuit.
Slowly, she scrolled back up to the top of her inbox hoping, praying that what she had been waiting for would finally have manifested.
WHAT’S BETTER THAN TWO FOR $12 T-SHIRTS? THREE FOR $12 T-SHIRTS!
Shit. Of course. Why wouldn’t it be anything but this?
Maybe it was the day, maybe it was the number of days that had passed since she refreshed her email to find what she was actually looking for, but Sawyer could feel the tears pinching at the edges of her eyes, trying to force their way into their vision no matter how hard she tried to blink them away.
“Thirteen years, and this is what we are,” she murmured to herself.
She had seen friendships go up in a blaze of fire, gigantic fights prompted by gigantic and sometimes not-so-gigantic betrayals. She understood that sometimes there were things in relationships that were insurmountable. That love could fade, vivid color shriveling out to brown and gray. She knew that nothing could last in a world defined by change and evolution.
Except she and Genni. Sleepovers could be just as fun at 7 as they were at 23. Sharing Chinese out of boxes didn’t have to stop once they got jobs and could afford real dinner plates and silverware. Parents could divorce, loved ones could pass away, hearts could halve, but they wouldn’t. With failures, follies, and farewells, Sawyer and Genni had stayed solid, if not grown stronger. They were the exception to the rule, proof that through the chaos of childhood and adolescence and early adulthood, some things could endure.
Genni herself was an example of that. Diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer as a child, the doctor stacked the odds against her, predicting her survival rate at 5 percent after just as many years. But she beat them, and 22 years on, her bill of health remained clean.
She wasn’t so sure about that anymore.
One night, after Genni had buried her grandmother一the only person she had ever called her best friend一she and Sawyer lay awake, in different bedrooms but on the same phone line. Between memories of Grandma Maisie, and laughter-induced tears from Sawyer’s terrible Star Trek impressions, they made a promise sealed in a whisper that they’d never lose one another.
But death knells don’t only sound with coffins. This was plane tickets and 1,423 miles and new lives.
When Genni got her new job in Seattle, they told each other that it would be okay. They would talk all the time. They would come see each other, and have awesome reunions.
“It’s not like phones don’t exist, right? Our friendship isn’t relying on the Pony Express,” Sawyer had said with only a small amount of fear.
Unfortunately, after a couple months that were a flurry of emails and texts and phone calls, they all began to peter out until the hours that once went between them became weeks.They flew to see each other a couple of times, and while together things fell back into place, allaying any hurt that had occurred since they last saw one another. But, trips were hard to plan with conflicting schedules and a teacher’s salary to consider, so they disappeared, too.
In a year, the most regular interaction they had was commenting and liking each other’s posts, ones with other friends, and new partners, and the family they both knew and both loved.
How is it possible you’ve become even more gorgeous?
Wish you were here!
Miss you, let’s set up a Zoom date. It’s been too long!
It wasn’t as if they were on bad terms. That may have been easier to accept, because at least then she would have an answer, rather than stuck in the midway zone of friendship indifference, dying a slow death.
Bones aching under the weight of missing, Sawyer tapped the + at the top of her screen, and a new email window filled the space. With typing only two letters, Genni’s name appeared in the recipient section, and Sawyer clicked into the body section below.
I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately. How have you been? You still liking your job? Mine sucked ass today. Actually the whole day did. Like I was ready to faceplant into my desk multiple times. I hope yours didn’t, too. I —
Her fingers stopped their tip, tap, tapping. Every few days, Sawyer found herself here, wishing to send Genni a message, knowing what she wanted to say, but not knowing if she should actually say it. Because saying “The other day I heard my neighbor blasting Zeppelin, and it made me think of you singing “Babe, I’m Going to Leave You” at the top of your lungs, and it made me laugh, and cry a little if I’m being honest. I miss you. I miss seeing your face and hearing your voice. Even when you talk in the weird, squeaky baby voice you know I hate. Would you want to do that Zoom date we talked about? I’ll make it work whenever you can,” sounded desperate and pleading.
She had promised herself she would never reduce herself to getting onto her knees and begging for someone’s love. No amount of her dad’s groveling could make her mom stay, and she didn’t want to add pathetic to the list of all the things she would feel if Genni rejected her.
She couldn’t do it. Maybe one day she’d gather the bravery to finally ask the question and endure the answer, but today was not that day. She couldn’t bear the “no.” She couldn’t be another annoying email in Genni’s inbox that she didn’t want to reply to. She would not be Genni’s Chicken Coop. Only worse, because she could offer Genni no delicious chicken in return.
With one more tap, Sawyer sent the email to her drafts folder, where all her messages to Genni went to die, and felt pathetic all the same.
“What’s wrong with me, Scotty?” she asked, and the dog came trotting up, no sighing to be heard. He knew this sadness in her. Sawyer extended her hand to pet him, only for Scotty to give her his butt to rub, because why wouldn’t he?
“If I have to do this, can you at least tell me what’s wrong with Genni and me?”
He didn’t shift, no answer to offer. So she asked the question of herself.
What were they? Were they even anything? It was dark side talking, but this time, Sawyer couldn’t help but think her dark side was right.