Surviving Normalcy
by Jennifer-Oksana

Sometimes, I think the tragedy of my life is that I'm the "normal" friend. Other days, I don't think. I know. I've heard my destiny chanted out in supposedly flattering terms.

Francie is reliable.

Francie is sweet and thoughtful.

Francie is boring.

I try to only think of the first two statements when I look at myself in the mirror the night after I realize I'm really and truly through with Charlie. Reliable, sweet, and thoughtful. It's okay to be all of those things, I say to Francie in the mirror. Those are things friends and people should be.

Unfortunately, Francie in the mirror seems to say back, people who are primarily reliable, sweet, and thoughtful are the kind of people who get taken advantage of. For example: your ex-fiance. Further reference: see Tippin, Will and Bristow, Sydney, your best friends.

It's not that I don't know that I'm their normal friend and it's not even that I mind that much, but what hurts is being the friend that takes all the shit and only gets the extra attention when her life is falling to pieces. Normal friends do all the work and get none of the perks. It's almost an advertisement for taking up workaholism like the aforementioned Sydney and Will.

Francie in the mirror raises an eyebrow. She and I know a hell of a lot better. If we're going to stop being the normal friend, we're not going to do it by taking on sixty-hour weeks and lying. I can't stand being lied to, and that was before I found out that Charlie was a pathological liar. No, we're going to go all out. Sex, drugs, and two pints of Haagen-Dazs a day until they find me sandwiched between George Clooney and Denzel Washington, having champagne licked off my naked body while I finish off the caramel gelato.

Someone knocks on the bathroom door in mid-thought.

"Francie?" It's Syd. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," I reply. "Just thinking."

"Well, okay," she says. "I'm downstairs with popcorn."

Air-popped, no butter popcorn, no doubt, because that's the kind of popcorn Syd likes. God forbid we salt it. I look at mirror Francie, who shrugs. Better than having telepathic non-conversations with your reflection.

So it's downstairs I go, resolving to be needier and less emotionally available. I've just lost my man, haven't I? Of course, my fiance wasn't brutally murdered and left in a bathtub. And my father isn't an emotionally distant headcase that I work with every day.

Hate. Normality. So very much. Any tragedy in my life always looks like the edited-for-tv version next to Sydney's, except it hurts anyway. A broken heart, for instance, hurts no matter how I try to pretend it's nothing next to my friends' problems. That's what gets me into this normality trap anyway, thinking my problems are just average, nothing much to worry about.

They're still problems, aren't they? Otherwise, they wouldn't be problems.

Syd is curled up on the couch, watching one of those really bad WB shows that Will and I mock behind her back. Oh, God. I think it's Charmed. I hate this show, more than even the show with the minister and the twenty thousand kids, because at least there you've got the unintentional humor.

"What are you watching?" I ask, praying that this isn't Charmed, because there is no way I'm watching Alyssa Milano in a mood like this. No way in hell.

"Just channel surfing," she says. "I was going to watch this, but I think I saw this ep of Charmed already."

"Oh, bummer," I reply gratefully, taking a seat on the couch. "But yeah, rerun season. I think there's a movie on AMC."

Yeah, because there would be something else on American Movie Classics, Francie. God, that's got to be the fear of Charmed talking. I'm not usually this stupid.

"Cool," Syd says, flipping channels. "So, how're you doing?"

"Better," I say. "It's been rough."

"Yeah," she says, looking away. She's doing it again. I've gotten used to the fact that Syd has Big Secrets she's chosen not to tell me, even though she swears she doesn't, but it sort of sucks that I can't call her on it because she'll just lie and say she doesn't. I don't need to deal with any more bull this week, so I try to let it go. "I'm sorry."

"Thanks," I say.

"I'm here for you, if you want to talk," she says, pausing on the Food Network. "Essence of Emeril?"

"No," I reply. "And it's cool. I was up in the bathroom, thinking about how I'm over him. Well, not over him. But I know he's not--that I don't want him back."

"That's good," Syd says, looking at me with big, concerned eyes. "It's okay to still want him, though. Even if you know it's bad. It's not like you stop loving someone overnight."

"I know," I say back, thinking about when my best friend became this incredible stranger who I didn't know. I could say it was when Danny died and she changed somehow, but if I think about it, there's always been a few things about Sydney that are different. "I don't know if I stopped loving him. But when I'm not feeling alone, I know that I don't want to love someone who lied to me. Someone I can't trust."

Francie is passive-aggressive on occasion.

Francie is very curious about what Sydney's hiding.

Francie is afraid of what it could be.

"Yeah," Syd says. "Something changes, I guess, when the trust is gone."

She means that, I can tell. But she's not talking about me or Will and I don't think she's talking about Danny or even her dad. They've actually been doing better lately. She's talking about someone else--something else. More of the stuff I don't know about Syd.

"Who are you talking about?" I ask before I can stop myself. Maybe it's mirror-Francie talking, I don't know. "Danny didn't--"

Syd stiffens like I've scared her to death. "No!" she says. "Oh, no. Not Danny. It's--I--"

"What?" I ask. "You can tell me, you know. I'm your best friend, right? I'm not going to judge you."

"I know," she breathes, looking at me strangely. I've seen the gamut of Syd looks, but this is the kind of look that she usually reserved for Danny, though I've caught her giving Will the same look once or twice. "It's complicated."

"It's okay," I say. "It's not like there's anything on tv."

Syd has to think about it, and that kind of hurts. What does she think I'm going to do, sell her story to the National Enquirer for a quick buck? Tell Will during one of our (increasingly common) ice cream and tv buddy nights while she's off working for her (increasingly insane) bank?

"Okay," she says finally. "When Danny died--things got weird. I mean, everything got weird. I did strange things to get over him. Things that weren't exactly smart."

"Of course," I say. "You were grieving. It's normal."

"Except that the things I did were really, really stupid," Syd replies. "I mean, really stupid. I was like, going insane, I think. I met this guy through a work assignment and I, I like him, right? Except it can't work out. No way. So of course I'm crazy about him. And I'm thinking about this guy all the time when I run into--well, she works for a rival company."

She? What's with the sudden switch to no-name? "Is she your guy's girlfriend?"

"No," Syd says quickly. "They've never even met, I don't think. But I mean, I've known her for years, but we don't get along. Our companies are really cutthroat rivals, right? We really don't get along. But I ran into her on one of my trips and--"

Her voice trails off and the pieces all come together with a good solid clunk. "Sydney?" I say. "You--you didn't?"

She holds up one finger. "One night. In Berlin. It was," and she pauses, trying to find the words. "I liked it. I really liked it. Don't like her so much, but now every time I look at the new guy, I think about how good she was at kissing me. And that's not what I want to be thinking."

"You went to Berlin?" I say stupidly, because that's the only thing I can say. "I don't remember that."

"I don't remember if it was Berlin," she says. Right. If she said Berlin, it was Berlin. What is it about Sydney and all the avoidance tactics lately? I mean, the new guy is a shocker, but not that much of a shocker, but this woman in Berlin, that's new. That's very unlike Sydney and I wonder why it is Sydney keeps looking at me like that.

"You know," I say, and then I stop. Because what do I say? Kissing a girl doesn't make you a lesbian, though there's nothing wrong with being a lesbian, and if you are, that's cool, but why the new guy and why won't you tell me what's really going on?

Francie is regretting asking the question.

Francie is wondering how this became all about Sydney again.

Francie is thinking that Syd is perhaps checking her out.

"What?" Syd asks.

"Forget it," I say. "It's big and complicated in my head and I think it's just stress getting to me. It's not like you're required to tell me every stop on your bank trips and it's not like I remember everywhere you go anyway. And that's not really important anyway."

Is it just me or did she relax when I said that? Not a lot relaxed, just a flicker of yay. Like she's glad she doesn't have to keep her story straight.

"I'm sorry, you know," she says, and maybe she means it, though it doesn't mean she hasn't been keeping secrets. "I've been a mess lately and I'm being a mess again when you really don't need it."

"That's okay," I say. "It's not like you don't have a reason to be a mess. And you are my friend. And I do love you and I'm there for you whatever mess you're in. But Syd? One thing?"

"Yeah?" and she's got anxious voice. I've made Sydney nervous. Wow. Kind of cool.

"Are you checking me out?"

Panic face. I was so right. "Um," she says. "Would that be too weird?"

"Maybe," I reply.

"Then no," she says solemnly. "Trick of the light. Except that. Yes. I was."

The air turns to something hard to breathe. Sydney's looking at me, calm as could be, but definitely looking at me. Expecting me to say something or do something. I don't know what to say next. I never know what to say, that's why I'm the normal one. If I had to live an exciting life, I might screw it up, the way I'm going to screw this up.

Francie is flattered, but not interested?

Francie isn't sure who you are anymore, Syd, but she wants to know.

Francie is scared to death.

Sydney is edging toward me. And it's all about what happens next. I have no idea what that's going to be, either, but for once?

It's not going to be normal.


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