I wake up five minutes before my alarm rings, which pisses me off. I’d rather be awakened an hour before it’s time to get up than five minutes. That’s not enough time to go back to sleep, but it’s enough time to make me not want to get up, either. I sigh and roll over, careful not to squish the cats who are spooned in a circle on the bed beside me. I give them a quick pet before sliding out of bed. They’re both out like a light and don’t move a muscle. I hop into the shower after winding my hair on the top of my head. I stay in for an extra five minutes because my body is sore. I don’t know why, except perhaps I slept wrong. The hot water feels great on my body, and I reluctantly turn off the tap. I towel off before dressing. Afterwards, I wander down to the kitchen to toast a bagel. Smearing it with cream cheese, I pop a Lactaid before gobbling down the bagel halves. I wash it down with a glass of orange juice. When I turn around, there are two fuzzy black faces staring at me. I start because I hadn’t heard them come in.
“Don’t do that!” I scold them, though my heart isn’t in it. I open a can of Solid Gold wet food and scoop half onto Onyx’s plate and half onto Jet’s. Onyx wolfs hers down, then eyes her brother’s plate. I pick her up despite her protests and cradle her to my chest so Jet can eat in peace. Once he’s finished, I allow her to squirm out of my arms and race over to her brother. She whaps him on the face, taking her frustrations out on him. He doesn’t even flinch, but when she draws her paw back for another smack, his tail shoots straight up in the air and puffs out. He hisses once, and Onyx retracts her paw. She runs roughshod over him, but she knows when he’s reached his limit. She butts her head against her brother’s instead, and he relaxes his stance. The two of them are sniffing each other’s butts as I tiptoe away. I find it’s better to leave when they’re engaged with each other because there’s less yowling that way.
I arrive at work five minutes early, so I pull out my phone and check the comments on my latest post. There are several complimentary ones, wishing Julianna a happy birthday. There’s a comment from YokoOno thanking me for the post and saying we’ll be besties forever. It’s Julianna, and I write a brief response to her before reading the rest of the comments. QueenBee comments, “Sounds like she’s more trouble than she’s worth. You can do better.” I frown because it’s the first time QueenBee has said something negative on a post. I respond by telling her that Julianna is the best, then I close out my phone. I go into the office, my feet dragging. I’m tired of hawking Groupon coupons and other online shit deals. I’m also tired of Sara’s advances, and I want her to just leave me alone. I slide into my seat and power up my computer. Sara is next to me, but she doesn’t say anything. I’m grateful, and I quickly finish some leftover paperwork before reaching for my phone. As I’m talking, I become aware that Sara is glaring daggers at me. Any time I glance over at her, she doesn’t bother hiding her anger. I blink. What the hell is her problem? I decide I don’t give a fuck and turn slightly so my back is towards her. It’s a busy morning, so I soon forget she’s even there. Before I know it, it’s one in the afternoon. I decide to take my lunch break and go to the break room so I can eat my sandwich.
“Well, fancy seeing you here.” An arch tone reaches my ear, and I look up into Sara’s stormy eyes. She’s wearing a pale yellow sweater that isn’t very complimentary to her skin tone.
“What’s your problem, Sara? You’ve been pissed at me all morning.” I stare hard at Sara, taking satisfaction in making her flinch.
“No reason.” Sara smiles, her voice tight. She clasps her hands in front of her while resting them on the table. “It’s just that time of the month. You know how it is.” I refrain from sighing at her archaic language. I also don’t like using my period as an excuse for moods, but I don’t mention that either.
“Right.” I stand up and throw away the detritus in the trash before returning to the office. I get a text from Julianna saying she’s going to be late for dinner by an hour. She doesn’t say why, but I’m used to that. The day Julianna is on time is the day I renounce sex.
I breeze through the next hour, selling shit items to twelve of fifteen marks. I’m feeling pretty damn good about myself by the end of the day. I’m humming as I drive home, bobbing my head in time with the music. The mood is sustained when I go inside, and Onyx and Jet are right inside the door meowing up at me. They are side-by-side, their tails swinging back and forth in unison. I give them both a healthy head skritch before nudging them to the side. They protest, but allow me to enter my own damn house. I slip off my shoes and pad my way to the kitchen. Onyx and Jet are hot on my heels, lobbying for some treats. I give them what they want, of course, because I’m a pushover for my cats. I’m in a quandary because I’m meeting Julianna for dinner in two hours, but I’m hungry. I settle on a Cliff bar, something I save for emergencies. I don’t like them, but they’re good in a pinch or when I don’t want anything too substantive. I finish it quickly, then throw away the wrapper. I go upstairs to take a shower, then I stand naked in front of my closet.
“What do I want to wear?” I’m picking Julianna up and taking her to Sakura for sushi. I can’t believe the first time I tried it, I didn’t like it at all. To be fair to me, I was seven years old at the time. It was ten years before I tried it again, unagi (eel), and I couldn’t get enough. It wasn’t easy to find back then, so it was a treat every time I had it. Now, it seems as if there is a sushi joint on every block, which is just fine with me. “Maybe this?” I hold up a slinky black dress, and my cats look utterly uninterested in voicing their opinions. “What about this?” I pull out a black velour sweater and black velour pants with flared hems. Onyx looks away, and Jet lifts his leg and licks his ass. “I agree. This outfit is hot.” I pull the sweater on, aware that it’s clinging to my every curve and bulge. I do the same with the pants, which are a little more forgiving. Not much, but a little. I wrap a silver chain link belt around my hips, brush my hair, and affix silver hoop earrings to my lobes. I’m satisfied with how I look, so I go downstairs to veg before I have to leave. Onyx and Jet follow me, and they’re unusually subdued. I think they can sense that I’m leaving soon, and they’re not pleased about it. Onyx’s ears are down, and Jet’s tail is drooping. They look at me with sad eyes, and I pet each of them on the head. They allow it, but they don’t tuck into it as they normally do. I give them more treats, and that temporarily lifts their spirits. Twenty minutes later, I’m on my way to Julianna’s in Loring Park.
“Hey, Liang. Come on in! I’m not dressed yet.” Julianna ushers me into her apartment, clad only in her bra and panties. She’s perennially late, so I’m not surprised. I cut her some slack because it’s her birthday, and I’m used to it by now, anyway. I glance around her apartment, marveling at how she’s transformed a drab two-bedroom apartment into a sunny, luxurious-feeling suite with rich colors and lush fabrics. She has several unique sculptures around the room, and many are women symbols, though they may not appear so at first glance.
“Happy birthday.” I grab Julianna around the waist and kiss her hard on the lips before handing her a gift bag with a bright red bow.
“Thanks, girlfriend.” Julianna grabs the bag and dives into it. She loves presents, and she’s not shy about showing it. She pulls out a canvas by Dong Yuan and nearly drops it in astonishment. “Holy shit. Is this a real Dong Yuan?” She clutches it in her hands, holding it reverently.
“Yes, it is.” I smile widely, taking pleasure in her excitement.
“How in the world did you get this?” Julianna hasn’t taken her eyes off the painting since she unwrapped it. Dong Yuan isn’t easy to come by in the States, so I’m extra-proud I had pulled it off.
“I have an auntie in Taiwan who is connected in the art world. I just asked for a favor, and she delivered.” I say it as if it’s no big thing, but it took some doing. My auntie, my mom’s younger sister, isn’t the most generous of spirit, but after half an hour of cajoling her and taking my dead mom’s name in vain, she finally caved. I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal when I was only asking her to locate one and ship it to me—I was going to pay for it. It had something to do with face and owing people, but I didn’t fully understand it.
“I love you, Liang,” Julianna says softly, her face stripped of all artifice.
“I love you, too, Araki,” I say, tearing up at the emotion in her voice. She sets the painting on the couch before grabbing me in a tight hug. It’s a Kodak moment, and when we disentangle, we’re both teary-eyed and sniffling. “Let’s get you dressed.” We link arms and walk to Julianna’s bedroom. She tosses half her clothes onto the bed, discarding one outfit after another. She finally settles on a brilliant blue tank-top dress with a slit up the thigh and a fuzzy black sweater over it. She takes fifteen minutes to fix her face, and it’s several minutes later when she’s finally satisfied with her jewelry selection.
We make our way to Sakura, chatting about Ramona mostly. I listen carefully as Julianna talks about her new lover, and I’m relieved to hear her being more realistic about the situation. Usually, she’s planning the cohabitation/wedding two days after the first date, raving about how the current woman is the only person in the life she’ll ever love. It’s hard not to roll my eyes when I hear the spiel because I’d heard it so many times before. In addition, the longest Julianna has been with someone is six months, and that was twenty years ago. This time, she’s enthusiastic about Ramona’s skill with her tongue, but she’s not as sanguine as to their ability to cohabitate. Ramona is a morning person and intensely introverted. She’s obsessed with cleanliness, and will clean a cup the minute Julianna sets it down. She’s also more pragmatic than impulsive. The more I hear about her, the more I’m convinced she’s the one for Julianna. Julianna is free-spirited to the point of reckless, and I worry about her whenever she has one of her flights of fancy. In addition, she’s bipolar and doesn’t always take her meds. That’s one reason she’s lost girlfriends in the past, though she’s usually the dumper and not the dumpee.
“I don’t know, Liang. I like her an awful lot, but I’m just not sure about…us.” Julianna cuts her eyes at me, which I see out of the corner of my eye.
“Why worry about an us just yet?” I counter, making a right turn just in front of a car who appeared out of nowhere. “Shit!” I speed up and avoid being hit by the other car. I’m a terrible driver, but this isn’t my fault. Julianna doesn’t even notice as she’s lost in thought.
“I want to have a baby,” Julianna blurts out.
“What?” I instinctively step on the gas pedal, but I manage to pull my foot off in time. Julianna is my age, so having a baby would be foolish at best, if it’s even possible.
“Not my own! I want to adopt.” Julianna pauses, then adds. “I started thinking about it a few months ago. I really want to adopt a baby girl from China.”
“I’m not sure that’s a great idea,” I say cautiously. “You’re not exactly a spring chicken, Araki.” I don’t say what I’m really thinking, that she’s not the best mom material. There are some things you can’t even say to your best friend, and this is one of them.
“Oh, I know. But I have the energy of someone half my age!”
“You most certainly do. What does Ramona think about that?”
“She is adamant about not having children. Says she’s too old, even though she’s seven years younger than I am.”
“Some women don’t want kids, Araki. Like me. Like you before you got this hair up your ass.”
“I know. And who knows? I might change my mind in a day or a week. But for now, it’s what I want more than anything.” Julianna’s voice is trembling, and that impresses me more than anything she’s said so far. I don’t ask why she feels this way because it’s quite possible she doesn’t know herself. We reach the restaurant in record time. It’s full, but not overly so. We wait fifteen minutes before we’re seated. We order appetizers and sushi almost as soon as we’re seated because I’m starved.
“Megan! Fancy running into you here!” I look up in displeasure at Sara’s beaming face. She’s wearing a nice blue dress, and there’s a hint of lilacs surrounding her.
“Sara. What a surprise.” I stare at Sara without smiling, and her own grin fades away. Flustered, she looks down at her hands.
“Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?” Julianna asks, poking me in the ribs.
“No.” I pick up my water and take a long drink from it. My hands are shaking, and I set down the glass so I won’t drop it. The server comes over with our edamame, short ribs, and wasabi shumai. After sensing the tension surrounding the table, she quickly sets down the appetizers and walks away.
“I’m Sara. From her work.” Sara stares hard at Julianna, a hint of anger in her eyes. Great. Now she’s fucking pissed at me because I didn’t fall all over myself at seeing her. Well, I don’t fucking care because I’m pretty angry myself. Scratch that. I’m fucking furious that she would ruin my evening like this.
“I’m Julianna. It’s pretty clear that Megan doesn’t want you here. Good night.” Julianna knows me pretty well, which means she knows I want Sara to go the fuck away.
“Well, I….” Sara bursts into tears and flees.
“Goddamn it,” I mutter. I pick up a short rib and chew fiercely on it.
“Care to explain, Liang?” Julianna asks as soon as Sara is out of earshot.
“She’s a coworker. She’s been clingy for the past few weeks. I have no idea how she knew I was going to be here tonight.”
“Girl, she has it bad for you. I’d watch out for her if I were you. That kind of obsession can turn to hate really easily.” Julianna wiggles her eyebrows at me, and I know exactly what she’s referring to.
“Has Simon been at it again?” I pop an edamame and eat the seeds. I love edamame, and I’ll eat the whole bowl if I’m not careful.
“Yeah. Fucker got out of jail three months ago, and he’s hitting me up for money again.” Julianna grimaces before draining her carafe of sake. “Trying to impress upon me that he’s a changed man.” I snort at that line because Simon has been conning people since the moment he was born. Julianna was married to him for a year when she was thirty-three, and she cleaned up his messes for another three years after that. I finally intervened when she was about to write him a check for ten thousand dollars after another of his crazy scheme. We argued for a good hour, with a lot of screaming on my side, before she finally gave in. He did not take the news well, calling her a Jap cunt bitch slut and threatening to cut her from throat to pussy. She put out a restraining order on him, and that was the last she heard from him for years. He shows up from time to time, asking money from her. Every time, he’s looking a little more worse for the wear, according to Julianna.
“I hope you didn’t fall for his sweet talk, Araki,” I say, gobbling down a wasabi shumai. Shumai is one of my absolutely favorite foods, and the wasabi adds a spicy touch to it.
“Oh, hell, no.” Julianna beckons to the server, indicating that she’d like more sake. I restrain a sigh because I don’t like it when she gets sloppy. It’s something we’ve argued about in the past—how much she drinks. It usually ends up with her telling me I’m not her mother and me telling her I’m just looking out for her poor, pickled liver. “That asshole can go to hell for all I care, and I told him so. He did not take that well at all, but fuck him.”
We spend the next few hours gorging ourselves and talking about nothing in particular. I tell her about my upcoming date with Rembrandt, and we spend the next twenty minutes arguing about whether I should sleep with him on the first date or not. She’s very pro, and I’m somewhat against. It’s not that I think it’s immoral or anything silly like that, but I do believe that sex clouds the brain, and I’d like to actually get to know the man first before deciding if I want to buy china with him. Julianna, on the other hand, is of the firm belief that the best way to get to know someone is to fuck their brains out. Who knows? She might be right and that the reason her relationships are so short is because she finds out everything about them in those first few weeks or months.
We talk about Ramona and how she likes to dance in bed. Literally. She’s very involved in Black Lives Matter, which makes Julianna uneasy. She’s not very political, and she’s had bad experiences with activists. Ramona likes B movies and Lifetime movies as a way to escape reality. I jokingly ask what size bra Ramona wears, and Julianna tells me it’s 40DDD. That devolves into a discussion about bras and boobs, and by the time we’re done, we’re both in hysterics. After I pay the check, I drive Julianna to her apartment. It’s early for us, not even midnight, but she’s got a date with Ramona, and I have to get up for work in the morning. I give her a big hug and tell her I’ll talk to her soon. I drive home, feeling sated and satisfied. When I get home, I change into sweats and sit down to write.
When I first met my best friend, it was lust at first sight. She had this melodious voice that immediately drew me to her. Sultry and commanding, yet intimate, I wanted to listen to her voice for the rest of my life. It didn’t surprise me later to find out that she was a slam poet—a voice like that deserves to be heard all over the world. I wanted her more than I’d even wanted anyone. We went at it like rabbits, and at the end of three days, we were as sore as sore could be. Our whirlwind romance lasted less than a month, but our friendship has endured for twenty years.
Sometimes, I think she’s spoiled me for life because I can’t help but compare my current lover to her. Any time I get close to someone, I think, “This person is not like my Julianna. At all.” It’s not fair, I know, and it’s not always conscious, but it’s there. In the back of my mind. “She doesn’t get my jokes the way Julianna does.” “He doesn’t like the same movies as Julianna does.” I can’t help but feel I’m settling when I’m with someone else. I hope one day I’ll meet someone who is as vibrant and passionate as my Julianna.
I write for another half an hour, delving into what makes my best friend so special . I post it as is, then go to take a shower until the hot water cools off. I go to bed shortly after, and soon, I’m engulfed in a dreamless sleep.