The Rarest Faith
by Jess

Friendship is never established as an understood relation.... It is an exercise of the purest imagination and the rarest faith. -- Henry David Thoreau

Danny is dead and Francie doesn't know what to do. They're only just moving into the age of weddings and baby showers for their friends, after all, not funerals. She doesn't know how to act, where to go, what to do.

She calls her mother. She cooks.

Francie knows all of Sydney's favorite dishes, and all of Danny's too, and so she eliminates any they had in common and makes the ones Syd hasn't eaten as much since Danny came around. She makes the seafood he was allergic to, the desserts they used to eat in college; Sydney's favorite shrimp dish followed by S'mores from the microwave and cheap wine coolers to wash it all down.

She worries. Sydney, Sydney, she thinks, sitting next to her friend on the bed one of those first nights, rubbing her back while she cries. And then she says it out loud, because it's the only thing worth saying, it seems. Just her name, over and over, and a lot of quiet, sad sighs.


"You have such a cool name."

That was what Francie said to Sydney the night they first met, really met, in the second floor lounge of their dorm in college, late in freshman year. Francie was watching Jerry Springer on the cable TV, and Sydney was using the microwave to make popcorn. Sydney was one of the shy ones on the hall. Francie wasn't.

"I guess," Sydney said, visibly surprised, a tentative smile following the words. "I've always thought it's kind of weird."

"Weird?" Francie answered. "Try having a name like Francie." She wrinkled up her nose when she said it. "No one has the name Francie." "I think it's nice," Sydney said. Francie could tell from her smile that she wasn't lying. The microwave dinged, Sydney pulled out her popcorn, and Francie told her she simply had to stick around to see Jerry's final thought. They split the bag, watched an infomercial for a rotisserie contraption after Jerry was over, and went back to their rooms at 2:30 halfway to being best friends.


Francie is relieved when Sydney says she's taking a leave from work. "I think that's a good idea, Syd. Too much stress for a part time job anyway," she says, and she does her best to keep the eagerness out of her voice. Francie has come to hate the bank, the part time job that eats up most of Sydney's life, but usually does her best not to butt in. Usually her best isn't good enough and she butts in anyway; this time she's allowed, but instead keeps it simple, smiles and says, "You can focus on school."

Sydney agrees, but there's a tightness in her expression that makes Francie wonder if she's thinking of before, of how the free time she's getting now could have been spent with Danny. Francie wants to say something but doesn't know how and so she just calls Charlie from the bathroom later and tells him she won't be coming home. He understands and she loves him for it, tells him in a whisper so Sydney won't overhear ­ irrational, she knows, since there's a room and a doorway between them, but she does it anyway.

Francie wakes up on the couch the next morning when Sydney gently shakes her by the shoulder, a mug of coffee in one hand.

"It's late," she says. "I was going to let you wake up on your own, but ­"

"You know that never happens," Francie says and sits up, taking the mug out of Sydney's hand.

Sydney stares at her while she drinks the coffee. Francie would fill the silence if she were more than half awake but she isn't, so she just sits there and sips.

"You know, you don't have to keep doing this," Sydney finally says. Her voice is small and quiet. "I'm okay."

Francie puts the mug down and places one hand on Sydney's shoulder, says, "I know."


May of their sophomore year: Francie found her wayward roommate in a cubicle in the basement of the library, leaned over a book, hair pulled back in a ponytail that hung most of the way down her back. She was taking notes. Francie shifted her weight, leaned on the edge of the cubicle, and announced her presence with a sigh. "You don't have to study, I don't know why you're here."

"I do too," Sydney said defensively , like she always did to such accusations, but Francie never believed her. Sydney was brilliant, after all, if shy about it. Francie only made the mistake of watching Jeopardy with her once.

"Come on," Francie said, lowering her voice after catching dirty looks from other students. "Let's go. The shuttle to the mall leaves in like twenty minutes and I want a new pair of boots."

"Francie, you have like fifteen pairs of­"

"I do not, I have four. Okay, five if you count the old ones but really, I couldn't wear them anywhere. And anyway, finals happen all the time ­ well, once a semester, at least. This shoe sale is a once in a lifetime event. Let's go, Syd. Go go go."

They went. They always did, after Sydney stared longingly at her books for a stretch. It was mostly a perfunctory gesture; Sydney was leaving before Francie even asked her to go. Francie could tell because she always closed her book and smiled when Francie arrived, glad to be discovered.


Will is worried too.

"How do you think she's doing?" He asks this after Sydney's slipped into the bathroom; they're having dinner together, the three musketeers. Just like old times, except not.

"Okay, I guess," Francie says. "I mean, how do you expect her to be? Her fiancé just died."

"I know, but do you think she's ok?" Will's eyes are wide and worried, desperate for reassurance. Francie offers it because it seems like the right thing to do even if she's not so sure herself.

"I think she's on her way to it."

Will nods and lets out a long-held sigh before he lifts his beer to take a sip.

Francie asks Will about a story he's doing and he's telling her about it in a funny way when Sydney comes out of the bathroom. Francie watches Will catch her eye and backtrack a few sentences, retelling it so she gets the full impact of the punchline when it comes a couple sentences later, and loves him for it when Sydney laughs.

"They really said that?" Sydney asks.

"I'm totally serious," Will answers. "I get no respect."

"You say that like you deserve it," Francie says automatically, and waits for Will's sure-to-follow sarcastic smirk. She gets it as expected, with a bonus: Sydney out of the corner of her eye, smiling at both of them the way she always used to, but hasn't for a while.


Junior year and Will became a friend almost without Francie noticing, until it had become Francie-Sydney-and-Will instead of Francie-and-Sydney. Francie didn't really mind. She liked Will.

Sydney did too, Francie could tell. She laughed at Will's jokes and tucked her hair back a lot when he was around, but when Francie accused her of liking Will, you know, like-liking him (said humorously, with exaggerated eyebrow-raising), Sydney balked, eyes wide, as if she'd never even imagined it.

He was a nice guy and they became friends, though for Francie and Will at least, nothing more. One night it came close; the two of them ended up back at Francie and Sydney's off-campus apartment alone one night, Sydney having been sent off on one of her first trips for the bank.

They split a six pack they'd lifted from a party down the block that had been broken up by the campus police and suddenly they were on the couch, leaning close to each other, lips almost touching.

"You know," Will said, words coming slow. His breath smelled like beer and Doritos. "You're really hot. You know that?"

"Yeah," Francie said. "Yeah, I do."

He stared at her, she stared back, and later she wasn't sure who started laughing first, but it didn't really matter. They laughed and laughed and watched an Adam Sandler movie and laughed some more, and woke up the next morning, wearing all of their clothes, Francie's neck stiff, Will's head and puddle of drool on her shoulder, Sydney standing in the doorway wearing her brand-new traveling suit and a grin.


Sydney's around a lot now. Francie is sure to make time for her, but it's never a chore. It's nice.

Shopping together, lunches out a few times a week, and Francie is always careful about mentioning Charlie, careful not to mention him too much, careful not to mention him too little, careful in general because she's not so very good at things like this. Francie's mother has always told her that she speaks without thinking and it's true. The thing is, most of the time Francie doesn't really care, but this is different. She can see her friend's fragile shell and fierce pride, can tell she needs taking care of but doesn't want it. Francie tries her best to do it right without getting caught.

Sometimes she forgets. At first she would forget big things, like the fact that he was gone at all, or how he'd died, or the last time she'd seen him. Those things came back to her quickly, usually before words could cross her lips. Time passes and she forgets other things.

"God, this paint job is awful," she says one day, visiting Sydney weeks after he died. The walls in her living room are splotchy, and there's paint on the trim. "Are you ever going to get it fixed?"

Sydney pauses before answering. "No," she says. "I think it's okay for now."

It's only later, lying in bed, that Francie remembers that weekend ­ Sydney and Danny meeting her and Charlie for drinks at some jazz club, Sydney fresh from a trip for the bank, Danny fresh from painting Sydney's living room. Danny arrived with paint on his shoes, the same well-worn sneakers he wore almost everywhere. They all teased him not just about the paint, but also the fact that he'd wear sneakers to a club at all. He insisted that he had the charm to carry it off. He was right.


"He took you bowling?"

Sydney was leaning against their closed apartment door, Francie sitting a few feet away, having been unashamedly waiting up for her on the couch they'd gotten eight months before, after graduation.

"Bowling," Sydney said, nodding her head.

Francie scooted over on the lumpy couch and patted the space beside her. "I didn't know English people bowled."

"Neither did I," Sydney said, and dropped down on the couch next to Francie. She opened her purse and pulled out a pair of Halloween-themed socks. "We had to stop so I could pick up these."

"Those," Francie said, "are seriously hot. I'm borrowing them. Tomorrow."

"Shut up," Sydney said, laughing. "They were on the clearance table!"

Francie snatched the socks out of Sydney's hands and gave Sydney a prodding glare. "Enough sock talk."

"He's..." Sydney's voice trailed off and she tucked some hair behind one ear. "I really like him."

Sydney wasn't around as much after that, but Francie didn't mind the disappearing act. She was happy.


Sydney's professor wants her to present one of her papers somewhere.

"Seriously?" Francie says through the cookie she just shoved in her mouth. She's testing a new recipe and invited Will and Sydney to try them out but she's eating the merchandise too. More cinnamon, she thinks.

"Don't sound so surprised," Sydney says, breaking her own cookie in half before taking a bite.

Francie rolls her eyes but she's glad Sydney's making jokes. "I'm not surprised, I'm excited."

"That's so great, Syd," Will says, in the slow way he does when he really means something.

"Thanks," Sydney says, with a nod.

It's been three months since she left the bank and Sydney's doing better. Francie's glad. Sydney's even started mentioning Danny again, not often and always gingerly, like she's testing the name out. "Danny always liked this," she'll say when Francie compliments an outfit, or mentions one of his favorite bands. His name had become commonplace and now it's strange and unfamiliar; Francie hears it and realizes that she'd missed the sound. Danny had been her friend too, after all. She'd almost forgotten.


"Francie," Danny said when Sydney introduced them, his accent making the two syllables of her name sound more elegant than she'd ever heard them before. "So good to meet you." "You too," Francie said. The bar had low lighting but Francie could still see that Danny was legitimately cute, the kind that would stand up under the harsh light of day.

"Will Tippin," Will said, putting out his hand after a short silence that Francie was pretty sure had been filled with her staring at Danny. She would have been embarrassed if Sydney, standing beside Danny, hadn't both looked so amused.

"Will, yes, the reporter," Danny said. "Sydney showed me your piece on elder care last week, I thought it was very good."

"Thanks," Will said, looking to Sydney for a moment before continuing. "Most of the time I'm working the Obits and elder care is really just the tiniest step away."

"He's just being modest," Sydney interrupted.

"It wears off fast," Francie added.

Later, over dinner, Will and Sydney got involved in a long, drawn-out discussion about international trading regulations and Francie sat back trying to look like she was paying attention and knew what was going on. Danny sat across from her looking interested but uninvolved and making conversation seemed like the thing to do.

"So, what do you think?" Francie asked, gesturing toward the other three.

"Honestly?" Danny said, and then leaned over the table, his voice lowering to a whisper. "Honestly, I haven't the slightest idea what they're talking about."

"Oh, thank God, me either," Francie said. They shared a conspiratorial smile and spent the rest of the dinner talking about the food and the couple at the table next to them wearing color-coordinated outfits. He was funny and kind and she saw how he looked at Sydney when she wasn't paying attention. Francie looked on and thought maybe, just maybe, she approved.


Francie's phone rings at 9:30 and though the Caller ID says Unknown and she usually screens, she picks up on the second ring with a short greeting because she's left three messages for Sydney, who sometimes calls from weird phones.

"Hey," Sydney says.

Francie doesn't mess with formalities. "Syd, where have you been? I left you three messages--"

"I know. I'm sorry." Sydney's voice is tinny over the line and strange in a way Francie can't pin down. "I had to ­ the bank called, and ­ "

Francie ignores the bank for the moment and asks, "Are you okay? You sound a little weird."

"Oh," Sydney says and there's the suggestion of a laugh. "You won't believe this, I had to have a root canal in Taiwan. I couldn't even talk this well until a few minutes ago."

"Taiwan? God, did you make sure it was a good dentist?"

"I didn't really have a choice," Sydney says after a pause.

"Well, you have to get it looked at when you get back here."

"Yeah," Sydney says and sighs. Francie thinks she hears a catch in it.

"You sure you're okay?" Francie says, and there it is again, the sigh with a catch in it that comes right before tears. Francie knows it from the first time Sydney told her about her mother, and the first few days after Danny.

"Just," Sydney says after a pause, and Francie's almost positive she's crying. "Long day."

"I bet," Francie says. "We're going to talk about this bank thing when you get home."

"Okay," Sydney says with a sniffle.

The sniffle gets her. The sniffle always gets Francie, and now she's talking without any thought at all, anything to fill the silence over the line. "We're going to talk about the bank, and I'm going to make you a milkshake or some soup or whatever it is you can eat immediately after dental surgery, and I'm going to tell you about this complete asshole who started at work today. Maybe we'll even watch some quality TV. Lifetime, I'm thinking."

"Or Jerry Springer," Sydney suggests.

"Even better," Francie says. "How does that sound?"

"Great," Sydney says, but Francie can tell she's still crying, a little bit.

"It's going to be okay," Francie says. "Really Syd, it is."

It was meant to be comforting but before Francie can find out if it is, the phone disconnects. Later, when Sydney arrives on her doorstep with cotton in her cheek and ice cream under one arm and says it was the signal cutting out over the Pacific, Francie believes her. She knows Sydney never lies.


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