In retrospect, she should have known. Lila Hayward sat in the ICU waiting room of Julia Butterfield Hospital waiting for news, any news, that anyone could give her on the prognosis of her boyfriend, Ryan Lake, and her former best friend, Cordelia Boston.
She shook her head as she stared at the cup of cold coffee in her trembling hands. Things looked grim—as grim as that dark coffee. There was no comfort to be found inside that cup, its liquid as unsteady as her pulse. She continued to stare at it as if searching for the answer to how she could have ignored the signs; to how she could have missed what was happening right in front of her.
She heard the code blue alarm sound and watched as a multitude of doctors and nurses ran past the waiting room door in the direction of Ryan and Cordelia’s rooms. She didn’t know which one of them the alarm was for; she just knew it was happening. She jumped up and ran to the door, dropping the coffee cup from her hands in the process. Tears were streaming down her face as she stood in the now empty hallway. She didn’t even know she was crying until she absently reached up to wipe away the tear that was tickling the side of her nose. She hadn’t seen whose room they had entered. She turned back toward her seat and saw the expanding mud-colored puddle. She cried harder. She cried because of the mess, she cried because she was alone, she cried because all of this could have been prevented. She saw her reflection in a mirror hanging on the wall.
They had known each other since childhood and had been fairly close for the past 10 years. They had attended Allendale Prep School together and later went to the same university. It was just a little more than 3 years ago when things started to change between them.
The relationship between Lila and Ryan had blossomed from one of mere friendship to one of love. Neither of them had seen it coming—hadn’t even entertained the idea—but still it happened. Lila couldn't wait to talk to Cordelia about it. It was the summer between their freshman and sophomore years of college.
Lila and Cordelia had both been accepted to Brown University in Rhode Island. It was the one university they both wanted to attend. They were over the moon when each learned of the others acceptance letter. Right away Lila called Cordelia.
“Hello,” answered Cordelia. She was trying to maintain her excitement because she didn’t know exactly why Lila might be calling.
“Did you get a letter?” Lila asked. Cordelia could hear the smile on her face.
“I guess this means we’re going to be roommates?” answered Cordelia.
Lila started screaming and jumping up and down. Cordelia was doing the same thing on the other end of the line. Lila’s mother burst into her room, wringing her hands dry on a dishtowel, terror on her face at what might be causing her daughter’s piercing scream. Lila’s face reddened in embarrassment. She covered the receiver and mouthed: “Sorry, it’s Cordelia. We both got into Brown.” The terror on her mother’s face softened to one of relief and she couldn’t help but smile even as she rolled her eyes at her daughter.
Ryan was uncertain about where he wanted to attend college. He had applied to Columbia and Brown. When he found out that his two best friends were attending Brown, he allowed his desire for their company and his unknown feelings for Lila to make his decision for him. He too chose Brown University.
It was near the end of their second semester that things truly blossomed between Lila and Ryan. They had chosen to take the same English class that semester. It was at 8am class and they thought if they took it together it would motivate them to actually get up and attend the class. By taking it together, they has someone other than the professor to be accountable to. One night after studying in the library Ryan walked Lila back to her dorm and it was then that he kissed her. He’d been wanting to for weeks, he just hadn’t found the courage. It was that night that courage found him and he kissed her with no warning. He was pleasantly surprised when she kissed back. When their kiss ended, they stood staring at each other with the goofy smile of first love on their faces. They made a pact to keep their kiss a secret, at least for the time being.
They were home for the summer now, though, and it was time that Cordelia knew the truth.
Lila had planned to tell Cordelia over cappuccino and scones at their favorite coffee house, Windsor, on Harborview Street. They had enjoyed patronizing it from the day its doors opened. It had old school New England charm; it was eccentric and charming without being too stuffy. It was the place they could always be themselves and relax. The view of the sailboats in the harbor didn’t hurt either. Inside this place of comfort there was no reason for her to be nervous, but she inexplicably was. It was kind of like the time she had borrowed Cordelia's vintage Pucci dress to wear for a photo shoot and had accidentally ruined it by spilling liquid eyeliner on it. She was sick with nerves when Cordelia got to her house and the moment was upon her to be honest about the dress. It was irreplaceable and Cordelia's favorite. Cordelia had been upset, but not angry. She had, in fact, forgiven Lila with a hug and a few tears.
It seemed odd to Lila that she should be feeling that same sense of dread at the idea of telling Cordelia something happy, something incredibly unexpected. The situations were completely different, yet she couldn't shake the feeling. If she was honest with herself, she just wanted to get it over with. The quicker she could say the words, the quicker she could assess Cordelia's reaction.
Cordelia had carried a torch for Ryan through most of prep school, though he never reciprocated her feelings. He might not have even been aware of her feelings for him if it hadn't been for a vicious rumor started by Livvi Grant who just happened to want nothing more than to humiliate Cordelia Boston.
According to Mrs. Grant, Cordelia's mother had treated her poorly at a recent “Save the Oak Trees Around the Eroding Bank of the Harbor” fundraiser committee meeting. In retaliation, Livvi told Ryan, and the rest of the student body at Allendale Prep, how Cordelia felt about him in an attempt to humiliate her. She took the mere telling of a secret a step further by spinning blatant fiction into fact, saying that Ryan not only wanted nothing to do with Cordelia, but that he was so disgusted by her that he would rather be gay than date her.
The plan backfired, of course. When Mrs. Boston found out what Livvi had done she promptly called Mrs. Grant and removed her from the fundraising committee altogether. Cordelia felt vindicated, superior, and crushed at the same time. Ryan never treated her differently after her true feelings were exposed. He acted as if nothing had changed between them. They all new it wasn’t true, but he didn’t want things to change with their friendship.
Ryan was good guy. He had had a solid upbringing in Thornclyffe. He was born into one of the oldest aristocratic families in New York. However, he had never let his birth into monetary privilege make him a snob. He was down-to-earth and honest; a well liked man, with a perfect smile and golden blond hair, his face accented with sapphire blue eyes. He was the epitome of a stylish, upper class gentleman. He would never do anything to intentionally hurt Cordelia’s or Lila’s feelings. So, never speaking of the knowledge that Livvi had brought to light was his way of making sure their friendship stayed the course.
Lila felt her stomach lurch, nerves and happiness duking it out, when she saw Cordelia.
Cordelia’s brunette pixie cut was perfectly in place; her large brown eyes shining, their makeup impeccable; her big, gorgeous smile highlighted by her trademark red lipstick. She saw Lila and waved at her as if they hadn’t just spent the past four months as roommates.
“I’m so glad you called and suggested we come here today,” Cordelia said as she gave Lila a peck on the cheek then sat down in her chair. “I know we were just here over Christmas, but I love this place.”
“Me, too.” Lila responded. Cordelia could sense the hesitancy in her manner and voice.
“What’s going on, honey, you seem weird?”
“It’s nothing really. I just have something to tell you,” Lila responded with a nervous smile parting her lips.
“Well, what it is? Nothing can be that bad. It’s Cordelia you’re talking to.”
Every way that Lila had rehearsed telling Cordelia went the way of the melting winter snow when she blurted out, “Ryan and I are dating.”
Cordelia’s eyes minutely widened and turned glassy; her eyebrows arched, almost imperceptibly, but she didn’t move otherwise. She sat stone still, staring at Lila, through Lila, as if to let what she had just heard penetrate the depths of her brain. To wonder if she’d left her body was not irrational.
Lila in turn held her breath waiting for what she feared would be a bad reaction.
Finally, Cordelia broke from the statue she’d become to look directly into Lila’s eyes.
“Well. That’s great, honey,” she said as she reached across the table and took Lila’s hand. The saccharine edge to her voice was not lost on Lila. “I can’t wait to hear all about how it started-“
Lila finally started to breathe again.
“-but I just remembered that I told my mother I would meet her at her office to help her look over her new remodel samples.”
Lila watched as Cordelia stood, then approached her for a goodbye peck on the cheek.
“Rain check on the cappuccino and scones?” she said, attempting a genuine smile, but failing. As a journalism student Cordelia was learning how to be impartial. As a friend her feelings were almost always the headline.
“Sure,” said Lila, trying to keep the astonishment and shock from her face.
“Good.” Cordelia smiled at her without focusing on her. “Ta.” She turned and confidently strode out the door.
Lila was surprised at not being surprised. She knew that Cordelia would react and she’d been trying to figure out what that reaction would be for the two weeks that she’d been keeping the secret. It had been miserable sharing the dorm room with her best friend and not sharing something as momentous as the kiss. She’d hated the secret and she’d hated even more that she had to tip toe around Cordelia’s feelings, but that seemed par for the course, as any friend of Cordelia’s knew.
©2011 Michael Rohrer