The women were drinking peach schnapps, telling stories about the worst things they’d ever done. They had already skimmed through the missing years in haste, as though the past were gruesome, the two decades of lost friendship something untouchable and rotten. Maybe it was, Nic thought. Melodie had said she was a real-estate agent in San Luis Obispo, still playing the field. Her face was so artificially plumped and frozen that it resembled a Greek-chorus mask that had slid between genres and settled on tragicomedy. Sammie was overripe, a bruised apple. Five kids with Hank, she had said with a sigh, all seven of them packed into the little house her mother had left her, in the same little town where the women had all grown up. Birdie was dying, the reason they’d all been summoned. She had only her friends and her parents these days, because she had been a freelancer, working alone, and her boyfriend had taken off at the first diagnosis, stealing the cat. Only Nic was the same as she’d been when they’d last seen her, just a little more droopy and wrinkled now—a law professor, one kid, divorced, chunky jewelry, the whole shebang. In this room, she was hyperaware of how boring her life was, but also that she was the one who was clearly managing the best. A surprise; fortune favoring the brittle.
Snow hissed against the window. The hospital moved in its mechanical intricacy behind the door. The three old friends were perched near Birdie, who lay pale and skinny from the neck down, though her face was unreal in its puffiness, as if covered by a floppy creature sucking on the bones of her skull. Only those darting blue-black eyes were hers.
Melodie was now saying that the worst thing she had ever done was at an awful party she’d catered in the hills, just after some bigwig cornered her in the pantry and touched her under her skirt. I threw a bottle of olive oil at his head and burst out into the dining room, she said. And then I realized that I no longer had to take any of this shit, and that I was done trying to charm this room full of rich people, and for what? A nonspeaking part in a movie never released in theaters and a cruddy little efficiency with a rodent problem way out in Encino? No, thank you. So I stole a $20,000 mink out of the coatroom and took off. I don’t even feel bad, because I’m like, if you have $20,000 to park in a coatroom, you have $20,000 to throw away on me. And I still have it in my closet. I mean, it’s ugly as sin. But sometimes when I’m sad I get naked and wear it, fur side in, and I feel at peace with my life decisions for, like, a hot minute.