What is more important in a friend: someone who makes you laugh, or someone who is always there for you?
Simone stood on the platform staring at her phone long after the rest of the passengers had moved on towards their destinations. Three bars connected her to anyone in her contacts list, but there were so few of those here in this small town she could even bear to see. She clutched the handle of her clear umbrella. What was she doing back here?
Her stomach grumbled. The wilted Caesar salad from the city station hadn’t been nearly enough to sate her for the four hour trip. She would have to grab a bite before she went to the motel. Rosie’s was just a few blocks from the station. They had the cheapest burgers in town.
A smile teased the corner of her lips as she remembered all the late nights she had spent in a corner booth with her friends. Tommy was always glad of the business, and he figured if they were in the diner they weren’t out getting into trouble like the rest of their cohort. Plus, his grandmother had been fond of Petra so he couldn’t very well throw them out.
Simone debated calling Petra to see if she wanted to visit after all this time. She was certain the other woman would jump on the chance to reconnect. She was just as certain that she couldn’t handle Petra’s exuberance as tired as she was. Still, it would be nice to eat with a friend in her first night home in five years.
The phone rang twice before a woman’s voice answered. “Well isn’t this a surprise!”
“Hey Jelena,” Simone said. “Is this a bad time?”
“Hardly. It’s just rare for you to call me out of the blue like this. Is everything alright?”
Simone smiled. “Actually I just got into town and I was wondering if you wanted to see if our old booth was available at Rosie’s?”
“Sounds great. Do you need me to pick you up?”
“No, I can meet you there. I could use the walk to stretch after the long train ride and I will probably still get there before you.”
Jelena chuckled. “Si, you probably will. Alright, I will be there shortly. Can’t wait to see you!”
“You too!” Simone ended the call and tucked the phone into her coat pocket. She adjusted her weekender bag on her shoulder and began walking. Her heels clicked on the wet sidewalk. She really should have changed into more sensible shoes on the train. Rosie’s wasn’t far, but it was far enough in increasingly muddy heels.
The door chimed as she entered the diner. Her chest tightened to see it exactly as she remembered it. A part of her had worried that it would have changed as much as she had. “Is that Simone?” The cook poked his balding head out of the kitchen and he grinned. He had one less tooth than she recalled. So not everything was exactly the same.
“Hi Tommy!” she called back to him.
“I thought I recognized those dark curls.” He came out from behind the counter to wrap her in a greasy, sweaty bear hug. She chuckled as he released her. “Got tired of the braids?”
Simone shrugged. “Wasn’t the style in the business so I went back to natural.” She could see the question rise in his eyes and decided to interrupt him before he could ask it. “Mind if I grab our old booth? Jelena is on her way to meet me.”
“Of course, of course!” Tommy grinned again. “I’ll whip you gals up something special. Just the two of you or is Petra coming too?”
“I didn’t get ahold of Petra,” she said, omitting the fact that she hadn’t actually tried.
Tommy shook his head and sighed. “Shame. I don’t see much of either of them these days. It woulda been nice to have all you girls back here like old times.” He waved to her as he turned back toward the kitchen. “Make yourself at home. I’ll catch up with you later!”
“Thanks!” The diner was pretty quiet this late. There were a couple older gentlemen at the counter having their evening decaf and dessert. A small family sat at one of the tables in the back, the mother wiping ketchup from her toddler’s chin while the father laughed at the mess his son had made. Her booth was vacant though.
She slid her bag along the seat and settled into the stiff cushion with a sigh. It had been a long day. A young girl Simone didn’t recognize came over to get her drink order. She had heard Simone talk with Tommy so she knew Simone didn’t need a menu. By the time she returned with a glass of water and a sweet tea, the door chimed again and Jelena walked in, shaking the rain from her hair.
“Simone!” The two women embraced as if no time at all had passed between their last parting. It was part of why Simone had called Jelena instead of Petra in the first place. No matter how long it had been since their last conversation, they could pick up right where they left off and there was nothing awkward or uncomfortable about it.
Not that Petra was awkward or uncomfortable. Quite the opposite. Petra was always a riot. Always cracking jokes and making the best out of every situation. She always knew exactly what to say or do to cheer you up and make you laugh again. That was why she made such a great kindergarten teacher. But it wasn’t what Simone needed yet.
“So,” Jelena said around the straw in her strawberry milkshake, “what brings you back to this backwater town?”
Simone bit her lip and swirled her finger in her water glass. “I just needed a break from the city,” she said, another half-truth.
Jelena nodded. “Do you have a place to stay?”
“I was gonna get a room at the motel.”
“You are gonna come home with me.” She said it so matter-of-factly.
Simone struggled to hold back the tears that had threatened to flow since she got her pink slip that morning. “Are you sure? I wouldn’t want to impose.”
“Nonsense.” She slurped the last of her shake. “No amiga of mine is gonna stay at Hicktown Bates. Certainly not in her own home town.” She winked at Simone.
Simone nodded her thanks. She didn’t trust her voice not to break if she spoke. She would fill Jelena in on her troubles later, over margaritas if Jelena had her way. That was just the kind of friend Jelena was. And she was just what Simone needed tonight.
Notes: It’s nice to have a friend who can always make you laugh, but sometimes laughter isn’t what you need. Sometimes you just need someone to be there for you, to let you talk through your problems, to let you stew in silence, to give you a place to crash, etc. I like to think I’m that friend. Mostly because I don’t think I’m very good at being funny but I am very empathetic and likely to drop whatever I’m doing to come help my friends with whatever they’re struggling with.
This one took a while to get going but once the ball got rolling it was hard to stop. I also just enjoyed writing this one, which is always a plus. But now it’s your turn. Which friend do you prefer? Why?
Have a great night! I’ll see you tomorrow!
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