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Take Me to the River

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‘I hope you brought some of that fancy ass furniture with you,’ Lily said as she opened the door and pulled her into a hug.

Andy fell into it, dropping her single suitcase on the floor and wrapping both arms around her friend tightly. ‘It’ll be here in a couple of weeks,’ Andy mumbled into the mass of her best friend’s hair.

‘Good, because I’m in desperate need of a new sofa.’ Lily pulled back and gave her a once over before shuffling her inside. ‘I can’t believe you all used to give me shit about living in Brooklyn. I could sublet this place and buy a house next week at the way rent prices are going.’

Andy laughed as she pulled off her coat and threw it over a chair. Lily lived in a large open plan apartment. There were paintings from various artists mounted on the brickwork and more leaning haphazardly against one wall, waiting to be hung.

‘Gifts,’ she said, catching Andy’s line of sight. ‘Those over there are going up in a space just down the street next week. Local artists.’

Lily built a successful career and had worked in a number of prominent galleries since they all first moved to New York. These days she was focusing more on putting together shows for artists she believed in. Prominent galleries didn’t tend to feature too many artists of colour. They were particularly averse to work deemed too political, and hence unsellable, to New York’s predominantly white 1%.

‘That’s a lot of gifts,’ Andy said, eyeing the collection around the apartment.

‘It’s my retirement fund,’ Lily laughed as she grabbed Andy’s suitcase and dragged it towards a door near the kitchen. ‘It’s not much,’ she said as she pushed it open with her foot, ‘but the bed is comfortable and the window gets good light.’

Andy grabbed her suitcase away from Lily and stepped in to look around. There was a bookcase, a desk, and a double bed. One wall was exposed brick, while the others were painted a plain white. A wooden closet stood against one wall.

‘I stripped everything back for you. You can do what you want with it. There’re drawers under that bed you can use for storage to save on space. I work out at the dining room table. You’re welcome to join me there, but I left the desk in case you need it.’

Andy felt tears welling in her eyes. It was like starting all over again. She was terrified, but for the first time in a long time she felt like she had retaken control of her life. It felt good. ‘It’s perfect,’ she said, beaming tearfully at Lily.

‘Get in here,’ Lily said, pulling her into another hug. ‘It’s going to be okay. You’re good at this, and this isn’t even a new city for you this time, it’s an old one.’

‘Thank you, Lil,’ she said earnestly.

‘Don’t mention it. I told you before: you’re welcome here anytime. I was worried about you out there, alone. Always working and no friends to speak of. It wasn’t a life, Andy. You made the right choice.’

Andy wiped a stray tear from under her eye. ‘Yeah, I’m pretty sure I did.’

Lily gave her a reaffirming grip on the shoulder. ‘Now, I think it’s time we had a drink, don’t you? But you have got to change,’ she said, eyeing Andy’s business attire with disdain. ‘Go and have a shower while I find you something to wear,’ she said as she pushed Andy in the direction of the bathroom.

By the time Lily was finished with her, she was in a pair of skin tight jeans and a button down, paired with white Converse which had seen better days. These were clothes she wore around the house; not clothes she wore out drinking.

‘Welcome to Brooklyn,’ Lily said with a shrug, ‘we’ll take you shopping tomorrow because my God your suitcase looks like you’re doing nothing but attending job interviews for the next month.’

‘Well, that was part of my plan,’ Andy said, a hint of defensiveness in her voice.

‘That was your only plan for most of your twenties. I thought you wanted to rediscover your creative roots? You’re not going to achieve that looking like an Alicia Florrick wannabe. I swore I saw an actual Elie Tahari pantsuit in there.'

Andy’s faced flamed.

‘Well, we’ve found your retirement fund,’ Lily said with a laugh. ‘Maybe you should go back and ask Miranda Priestly for a job, she might give it to you based on your wardrobe alone.’

Andy laughed at that, but her mind couldn’t help straying to Elias-Clark’s enormous publishing department. She had no interest in moving to magazines, but they ran a number of imprints which had diversified a lot in recent years. She had a lot of experience, and the novels she had edited had steady sales, even if they weren’t quite New York Times bestsellers.

‘Oh my God, you’re actually considering it!’ Lily said, tugging her out into the hall.

‘Considering what? Working for Miranda? I haven’t completely lost my mind,’ Andy said. ‘But Elias-Clark does ha—‘

Lily clamped her hand over her mouth. ‘Less thinking, more drinking,’ she ordered before turning to triple lock the door and march her down the stairs.

They hit the street outside Lily’s apartment and walked down a couple of blocks to a corner bar. It was a Thursday night and packed to the brim.

They pushed their way inside and Lily ordered them two Jack and cokes. Whisky didn’t feature anywhere on Andy’s usual list of drinks, but the usual was what she was here to escape so she didn’t argue.

As they picked up their drinks and moved deeper into the bar to mingle, a folk band fired up in the corner.

‘Is that guy playing a Guiro?’ Andy called out over the noise.

‘Yeah, these guys play most Thursdays. Most of them have small businesses in the area. The guy with the tattoos on the banjo owns a studio down the road from us.’

‘I feel old,’ Andy said.

‘You’re not. We’re not. You just need to loosen up. You’ve spent too much time in corporate Chicago. Drink up, it’ll help the process.’

‘It was hardly corporate,’ Andy grumbled as she thought back to her small company and downed her drink.

Lily ordered another round, and soon Andy found the taste of whisky to her liking. So much so that she found herself stomping her Converse on the floor in front of the band and wishing she had worn a pair of firmly heeled boots as a guy with an impressive beard went to town on an Irish fiddle.

She hadn’t felt this free for a while, and the reality that she had no one to answer to the next day was finally hitting home.

She had no job, no husband, no responsibilities. Her only responsibility was to herself. She could do what she wanted. She could eat, drink, and fuck whoever she damn well liked and no one was there to stop her.

The guy on the fiddle caught her eye and she smiled freely as he upped the tempo. She started stomping and clapping in time.

A few tunes later Lily appeared at her shoulder and grabbed her by the elbow. ‘Alright Michael Flatley, that might be enough for tonight,’ she said with a grin, dragging her away towards the quieter end of the bar.

‘You know,’ Andy began, a slight slur behind her words, ‘I never realised how much I liked folk music before.’

Lily steered her towards the towards the door and out into the fresh air. ‘You also never realised how much you liked five Jack and cokes in a row before, either. I don’t suppose you ate on the plane?’

Andy shook her head.

‘I hope you like kebabs,’ Lily said as they began to make their way home.

 

*

 

The next morning certainly wasn’t the best of her life, but having a hangover to focus on seemed to push a lot of unhelpful thoughts out of her mind and simplify her thinking.

Since the divorce, she had spent all of her energy focusing on her regrets. She had gone over her entire life with a fine tooth comb trying to work out exactly where it all went wrong, what she could have done differently.

The reality of it all was that she just needed to start thinking about what to do today. And then tomorrow. And then the next day.

She wanted to write, but wasn’t in a position to support herself on it. She worked in publishing, she knew the reality for writers out there. Freelancers were paid pittance unless writing for big publications, and returning to the novel she had left behind six years ago was going to be a process.

She needed a job.

But today, she needed to write.

She just wasn’t sure where to start.

When she wandered out into the apartment, Lily was on the phone, pacing back and forth and arguing with someone about the delivery of a collection. ‘It could be all the way in Australia for all I care. It needs to be here by tomorrow morning, otherwise you’re going to be liable for the lost revenue,’ she snapped before abruptly ending the call. She took a breath and then moved to the kitchen. ‘Coffee?’

‘Yeah, please,’ Andy said, moving gingerly to sit down.

‘How’s the head?’

‘It’s definitely been better.’

Lily laughed. ‘You were on fire, I felt bad dragging you away but I figured a one night stand with Vic the local bike mechanic wasn’t exactly what you needed. Although you certainly made an impression.’

Andy groaned as she sunk her head into her hands. ‘The dancing?’

‘Was magnificent. My Instagram followers certainly enjoyed it.’

Andy’s head shot up. ‘You didn’t!’

Lily laughed harder. ‘My God, your face. Of course not. Although I can’t say the same for the fifty other patrons who were enjoying your take on Irish dancing with their phones out.’

‘I hate the 21st century.’

‘Yeah, but at least it has good coffee,’ Lily said as she placed a mug down in front of Andy. ‘Look, I have to go into Manhattan this morning. The collection that was supposed to have arrived for an opening tomorrow night hasn’t shown up. The artist is local, so he’s bringing some other pieces in so we can at least start getting them up on the walls. I took the liberty of emailing you a bunch of links for local groups on Meetups. There’s a book club, some language learning groups, a couple of creative writing courses, meditation, you name it. Get out of the house, go do something fresh and I’ll be home tonight if you feel like taking another swing at Vic. He won’t have his fiddle but I’m sure he’s still interested,’ she finished with a wink.

‘You’re hilarious.’

‘Oh, I know,’ Lily smirked. ‘Right, I really need to go,’ she said as she moved to drop a kiss on Andy’s forehead. ‘It’s day one of the rest of your life, go and enjoy it.’

After finishing her coffee, Andy did just that. None of the groups were meeting during the day, so she packed up her laptop and made her way to Prospect Park. She found herself a space near the water, spread out a blanket and opened up a document she hadn’t touched in six years, save for transferring it from device to device.

As she scrolled through page after page she realised that the time to write that particular book had passed. It no longer felt relevant.
She opened a fresh document and decided to start somewhere small. Unfortunately, somewhere small wasn’t small enough. She didn’t know where to start. There was a time when writing had been second nature to her. She would walk through the world, observing and narrating and plotting out stories for everyone and everything that she saw. She saw articles she could write while reading the newspaper, things that could be expanded on and investigated further. Now, it was as if the door to that skill had been nailed shut.

She closed the lid of her laptop and sighed.

Perhaps she could find inspiration from someone who knew what they were doing. She exchanged her laptop for the book in her bag, laying back on the blanket and enjoying the feeling of being outdoors in the middle of the day. It was a simple pleasure; one she hadn’t enjoyed alone, perhaps since college.

It was an odd feeling having nowhere to go on a weekday. She hadn’t been unemployed since after her time at the Mirror, and even then, the period had been so short as she had thrown herself into the first internship she could land in the hopes that she could salvage something of a career before it was too late. She had been in such a hurry in her early twenties. Impatient. A costly credit card bill for a flight back from Paris was one of many examples of her hasty decision making.

Not much had changed, really. Coming to New York had been a snap decision, although she had done her company the courtesy of a two-month handover to her Junior Editor, who was long overdue a promotion anyway. She had grown, a little.

New York wasn’t a city she could tackle penniless or she would be out on her ass in less than six months. The move had sucked up a good portion of her savings. Lily had given her a place to land, but she needed to find a way to fund her lifestyle here if she was going to get anywhere.

She had a skill that could be utilized while she was trying to recapture an old one, as long as she didn’t allow herself to settle.

Later that evening when Lily got home, Andy was camped out at the dining room table, her pixie cut sticking out at all angles as she typed furiously on her laptop, her glasses perched down her nose.

‘I didn’t know you wore glasses,’ Lily said as she dropped her bag and went straight to the fridge, pulling out a bottle of wine.

‘Too much time in front of screens.’ She pushed her laptop away and pulled her glasses off, dropping them on the table. ‘Long day?’

‘You could say that, but the shipment arrived. We have enough time to finish the set up tomorrow.’ Lily poured two glasses and bought one over to her.

‘You need some help tomorrow?’ Andy offered. 

‘Wouldn’t mind it now that you mention it. You don’t have other stuff to do?’

‘No, I’ve just updated my LinkedIn and social media, and I’ve been on the phone with recruiters all afternoon. They’re setting me up with some interviews for next week.’

‘You’re going back to publishing, already?’ Lily said, a twinge of disappointment in her tone. ‘I thought you might take a bit more time. Maybe apply for some writing positions, like old times.’

Andy shook her head. ‘I need money, Lil. I’m not throwing in the towel yet, I just need an income. Plus, I have you here to pull me back if I start working a 60 hour week again.’

‘That you do.’ Lily took a deep sip from her glass and sighed contentedly. ‘It’s nice to have someone to come home to. I don’t think I realised I had been a bit lonely myself.’

‘It feels like old times,’ Andy smiled. ‘Although, with a few more wrinkles between us.’

‘Yeah, and much better wine,’ Lily said as titled her glass towards Andy, her face lost in thought.

‘There’s something I’ve been meaning to say for a while,’ Lily said after a moment, ‘and now is probably as good a time as any.’

Andy had an idea of where this was going. There were certain things they had never discussed, things which had put dents in their friendship over the years.

‘I was too hard on you, back then,’ Lily said. ‘Nate was always around, and you were nowhere to be seen. We saw how much it hurt him, but I took his side without asking you how you were doing. I thought you were trading us all in for your fancy new job, and all those fancy new people. I lashed out. You were my best friend, and I should have had your back, not his. I wasn’t there for you, and looking back, you needed someone in your corner. You were alone. I didn't see it until later. Much later, and by then? Well...you were gone.’

Andy shook her head. It was a long time ago, but that year had remained clear in her mind, like it had happened yesterday. ‘It was a long time ago, Lil. I didn’t ask for help, either. I lashed out, and then acted out. I put you in a terrible position with Christian. You’re here for me now, and that’s all that really matters.’

‘You couldn’t pay me to be twenty-three again.’

Andy laughed and screwed up her nose. ‘God, no.’

‘Do you think we’re doing much better now?’

‘You are,’ Andy said. ‘Give me a year and I’ll get back to you.’

Lily looked at her. ‘I think it might be sooner than you think.’

Andy smiled warmly at the vote of confidence. 'I missed this,' she said.

'Me too. It feels like you've come home.' 

Andy glanced around the apartment. She listened to the noises of people yelling merrily in the street as they made their way home and felt something settle deep inside herself. 'Yeah, it does.'