Enjoy this extract from Friendship by Emily Gould, author of And the Heart Says Whatever.
In the weeks that followed the Sleater-Kinney show, Amy and Bev started taking their lunches together in the park across from their office building, where previously Amy had eaten her lunch alone while reading submissions. Amy offered to read the proposals that Bev championed in ed meetings and gave her tactical advice about how to appease her boss. Bev took Amy to cheap bars in her deep-Brooklyn neighborhood and listened to Amy complain about her pot-head boyfriend. Their friendship officially transcended the workday, surprising them both.
That summer, Amy and her pothead boyfriend finally broke up, undramatically for the most part, except that Amy had to find a new place to live in a hurry. Luckily for her, her alpha-bitch maneuvering at the publishing house had paid off in the form of a promotion, which enabled her to convince herself that she could afford to live alone. She’d had to clean out her retirement account to afford the first and last month’s rent plus security deposit, but the sacrifice seemed necessary. It felt psychologically important – after all those years of premature cohabitation and sedated early evenings eating chicken curry on the couch – to find out what she was like when left entirely to her own devices.
But on the first night in her apartment under the BQE, after the movers left and the energy of packing and carrying and unpacking drained from her limbic system, she surprised herself by not being ready to revel in solitude just yet. She sat at the kitchen table, hungry but too exhausted to figure out how to get food, drinking a dented bottle of Poland Spring water she’d been nursing all day in the July heat. She watched the daylight fade outside her uncurtained windows. A creak in the floorboards above made her jump. She realized that without being aware of it, she’d always assumed that she was safe when her ex-boyfriend was there, which made no sense to her conscious mind; if someone had broken into their apartment, he probably would have offered the intruder a bong hit and played him some prog rock. But still, up until this moment in her life, Amy had been going around assuming that her safety was at least partially someone else’s responsibility. But it never really had been, and now it was impossible to pretend otherwise. She was completely alone.
It was nine o’clock. Without quite realizing what she was doing, she dialed Bev’s number. They weren’t yet the kind of friends who called each other out of the blue for no reason, so Amy was relieved when Bev picked up.
‘Hi! How did the move go? You must be exhausted.’
‘Oh, the movers did most of it. I just carried the little stuff, the breakable stuff. The real nightmare is unpacking, of course.’
‘Want me to come over and help?’
‘No! I mean, don’t help. I don’t want to do any more tonight, and I wouldn’t inflict that on you. But do come over! I mean, if you want.’
Fifteen minutes later, Bev was standing at Amy’s door with a bottle of wine and a paper bag full of take-out sushi. ‘I had just ordered this, but I always order enough for two people,’ she explained. Her hair was in shiny plaits, making her look even more innocent than usual, like a milkmaid on an antique can label. Amy felt a pang of gratitude so extreme that tears briefly, unnoticeably came to her eyes.
They ate the sushi and drank the wine on a little ledge of roof they could crawl to from Amy’s fire escape, which the broker who’d shown Amy the apartment had described as a ‘deck.’ Rotting fallen leaves clotted one corner and made the hot summer air smell more like the woods and less like car exhaust. They balanced the plastic trays of spicy tuna rolls on their laps and looked out at the cars on the BQE and, beyond that, the storage warehouses, the Navy Yard, and, across the East River, Manhattan, just visible between the nearby buildings, skyscrapers with all their lights on, wastefully twinkling.
Soon the sushi was gone and they were on their third plastic cups of wine. Amy felt almost too tired to talk, so she listened to Bev, who was telling her about the latest terrible thing her boss had done:
‘It wasn’t even that she claimed credit for my work. I mean, that’s what I’m there for, I’m her assistant. It was that she wanted me to continue the fiction when we weren’t even in the meeting anymore, when we were just alone in her office. She wanted me to congratulate her on the great idea she’d had for the subtitle! If I felt like being really self-destructive, I’d have called her out on it, but it’s just not worth it. She’d just pretend she had no idea what I was talking about, and then she’d be angry at me for a week and take it out on me by deliberately leaving me off some crucial scheduling email, then having a screaming fit when she arrived at the wrong restaurant to have lunch with Marcia Gay Harden or whatever C-lister she’s currently courting.’
‘I think you should call her out on it, regardless of the consequences. If you don’t assert yourself, if you just keep being the world’s best assistant, you’ll never get promoted,’ Amy said.
‘If my boss despises me, I’ll never get promoted.’
‘Ahh, a catch-twenty-two.’
Bev pulled out a pack of Camel Lights, Amy’s favorite brand of cigarettes. Neither of them really smoked, but when Bev pretend smoked, she bought Parliaments. The Camels were another kind gesture on her part, like the wine and the sushi. They lit cigarettes and smoked with exaggerated seriousness, enjoying the ritual of the burst of flame, the first puff of smoke dissipating into the night air.
‘I have something I need to ask you, and I’m afraid it’ll be awkward,’ Bev said, speaking quickly. They were still facing the highway, not looking at each other, but Amy snuck a glance at Bev’s face. Bev seemed tense but resolute.
‘Okay, what is it?’
‘Well, you know, growing up where I did, I was often considered kind of an odd duck. I mean, I wasn’t a total social reject. I always had a couple of people to, like, eat lunch with in the cafeteria, but I definitely never had a best friend, and I’m not sure how it works.’
‘How what works?’
‘Like, becoming best friends. Do you have to say something, confirming that you’re best friends?’
‘Are you asking me whether we’re best friends?’
‘Well, yeah. I assume you’ve had a best friend before, so you know, generally, how it goes.’
Amy thought about it for a second. ‘I’ve had close friends, for sure. But mostly I’ve had boyfriends. You always think they’re your best friend, but that’s obviously bullshit.’
‘Yeah. If you’re having sex with someone, they’re not your best friend.’
Their cigarettes were almost done; Amy poured a little bit of wine into one of the empty plastic soy sauce cups and stubbed hers out in this makeshift ashtray so as not to further befoul her new deck. ‘Is this . . . are we having the DTR conversation?’
‘The . . . wait, let me guess what it stands for. Determining . . . No. Defining? Defining The Relationship?’
‘Yeah!’ said Amy.
‘Yeah, we are. Sorry, I just . . . Look, it’s okay if you don’t feel the same way. But you’re my best friend. And I guess I just wanted you to know that. No pressure! Ha!’
Bev’s tone was casual, but when Amy stole another glance in her direction, she looked pained.
‘Bev, of course you’re my best friend. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to say anything, but you are, for sure. I’d be lost without you. Like tonight, for example. I would have died of starvation, or gotten a second wind and tried to unpack boxes and then died of exhaustion. Or I would have gotten paranoid and barricaded the door with my one stick of furniture. Before you came over, I was feeling so unsafe here. Not for any good reason, but just because I felt alone. And now that you’ve been here, even when you go home, I won’t feel that way. I feel safe now because I know someone knows where I am and gives a fuck.’
‘And it won’t change when you get a new boyfriend?’
‘No. Will it change when you get a boyfriend?’
‘No, and anyway, it’s impossible to imagine that happening.’ Amy shook the wine bottle, determined that there was still a little bit left, and divided it equally between their glasses.
‘Well, we’re still relatively young, you know? I’m sure all kinds of unimaginable things will happen.’
Taken from Friendship by Emily Gould