The Last Page of Friendship

"The Last Page of Friendship" is the story of two old friends, high-powered Judy and Soo, living on Bainbridge Island near Seattle. They decide to become fiction writers, and to read and edit each other's stories, but soon jealousy takes over. Worse, they start writing about each other...unflatteringly.

A literary rivalry can be lethal. Who needs friends when you have best friends?


First page

Here is the opening page of the story, now available in Buy Books as part of Trio 1, The Man in the Gray Tie and Other Crimes.

Would you go into business with your best friend?

The Man in the Gray Tie


"The Last Page of Friendship"
 
“I do have the ability to sit down…you know, if you ask me to write a song for a movie or something. And they say, ‘it’s about this.’ I can sit down and sort of make a song. I wouldn’t be thrilled with it, but I can make a song like that. But I find it difficult to do that. But I can do it. You know, I call it craftsmanship, you know? I’ve had enough years at it to sort of put something together. But I never enjoyed that. I like it to be inspirational—from the spirit.”

John Lennon’s last interview, December 8, 1980

I t was Judy’s idea but Soo had the last laugh, assuming your preference is for laughing through gritted teeth while disposing of the body of your friend.

By their early-forties, both women’s careers were waning or discarded. Judy had married early in life to get out of practicing dental hygiene (she’d never liked it), her husband Hew making a killing with his high-end picture stores—‘Framed by Hew’—linking downtown Seattle to suburban Oregon. Judy was a bona fide housewife bored to distraction, her fragile identity slipping, her ambitions underfulfilled, but her sense of worth and ego still powering on most cylinders. If there was a screw loose, she kept it well hidden behind a veneer of respectability and upward-mobility comfort, the kind of affluent woman you’d imagine was high school valedictorian even though she was more likely a second-string cheerleader. Judy played by society’s rules and with her heightened sense of hairline fairness, she expected society’s rewards in equal measure.

Soo had hung up her professional spurs around the same age. Once promoted to West Coast Operator for FedEx, the equivalent of air traffic control for fifteen million daily packages, she’d wanted to retain her sanity and so quit one Monday morning. Unfortunately for Soo (and even unluckier for Judy), Soo didn’t have much sanity left to preserve. Confused about her sexuality since her girlhood, she was firing on too many erotic charges. Although less troubled by the middle-class mores of American life, Soo was more sensitive about her own self-image and self-esteem, coping with both by self-soothing (mostly in harebrained schemes to write fiction). Beset by financial worry, Soo was in a downward whirlpool of trying to shore up her life emotionally, mostly by keeping her son on a strong educational path. A born fighter, she was also an erratic one, less attracted to danger than the jump-first-don’t-ask-any-questions type.

“I need to get a life,” she’d frequently tell Judy.

“You’re telling me.”

So there they were, two old friends with middle-aged thumbs to twiddle. How to occupy the floating present, those five weekdays with eight-hour holes in the middle? What to do when career ends, the thrills of power and money and sex are faded, submerged, or completely dead, and life goes on? For the past few months, the answer was nothing.

They’d known each other a long time, sure, but that didn’t edge out jealousy. As far back as they could remember, being best buddies came laced with a fine thread of competitiveness: it was the fuel that made them friends, kept them ticking, and like most strong feelings, born inside and nurtured for decades, the warnings were few. A tipping point was breached in the dark. In the end, only words were needed to set them off.

As spring had sprung, Judy was excited to just sit in coffee shops sipping tea. She’d sport a slinky dress to entice glances from rich-looking men, the ones with no-good intent. Conversely, the ever-ambitious Soo hoped to be the only Republican inside a starkly liberal island community, a self-appointed accolade for the free market. As Judy would quip, if you looked for Bainbridge on a map—with Puget Sound in blue and the Democrats in blue—you might as well be looking for Atlantis.

May came, the summer beckoning. They met that Wednesday morning down by Eagle Harbor, in Peet ‘n Wally’s Bean Shack, one of those joints set up to rival the infamy of local legends, Starbucks. The main street of Winslow, Bainbridge’s city of under twenty thousand, stretched less than a mile in either direction, a few lights blinking away as it lurched up the hill via Winslow Way. That morning, a drizzle put the dampeners on this retreat of American bourgeois comfort, promising something sinister and yet ordinary, all the while lubricating the windshields of ‘soccer mom’ SUVs rolling down from Craftsmans-style houses to pick up their kids from school.

Soo had parked her Suburban behind Peet’s in the disabled space (her foot had been half crushed last year in a skiing accident in Wyoming, nullifying all other stories of her trip to ‘the equality state’), and today, more than most, she had time to kill. Her son Quest was tied up after school with rehearsals for The Merchant of Venice: he was Shylock, in full beard, demanding his pound of flesh in a West Coast accent. Meanwhile here sat Soo, café con leche wrapped in fingertips, ready to compare notes.

Soo Goodall and Judy Duquesne wanted to be writers, successful writers. They were going to be published, since they had long known worldly success, and they figured that acting as a team was the fast-track to achieving this shared goal. Not to write the stories together in real time, but to act as one another’s inspirational cheerleader, critic and motivational editor. The technique boiled down to the carrot and stick, the nudge and the wink, whatever was needed for an old friend, and then a book deal would appear like a surprise windfall in the forest.

They squired a table just outside Peet’s overlooking Main Street and Albatross Cove. Judy was the first to reveal her new writing idea, bitten by the bug to do something other than flirt with customers while Hew was measuring Andy Warhol prints.

“You’re late.”

“Well, you’ll be late to my funeral,” Soo smirked, pulling back a plastic chair and dipping her head under the umbrella. “I see you got yourself a drink.”

“Iced coffee. It’s better than iced tea,” Judy advised. “Healthier.”

“Pick that up from your boyfriend?”

“Soo, he’s been my husband for over twenty years.”

“But he still looks like a teenager,” Soo fired back and stifled a laugh. “You sure you’re married? Have you seen the paperwork?”

Judy’s neck twitched. She was used to these jibes and looked up at the sky, a pink envelope of cloud struggling to hold court. “Now you mention it,” Judy joked, “Hew does sneak off a whole lot to his other family. I knew there was something fishy when I saw lipstick and baby food on his collar.”

“Yeh, so I believe. A double of everything, kids too. Somewhere in Wyoming.”

“That was unnecessary.”

“The bit about kids?”

“No, Wyoming.”

They laugh.

“I’ll be right back,” Soo added.

“Oh my word, we’ll never get started.”

Watching Soo waddle away, Judy took out her notepad—never miss an opportunity. She’d been planning to write a story about Soo Goodall since forever, but only now did she realize how good a character Soo’d be: the lesbian who grew up in Texas, transplanted to the deeply Democratic Bainbridge, yet a staunchly Republican blowhard the whole time. Girlfriend just had to be different. The contrarian was back.

“There you go, Missy,” Soo’s arm extended. “I got you a cookie so you can put on some weight.”

“Whatever makes you happy.”

“Nothing will if a cookie won’t.”

The banter took a recess, and while Judy bit an arc off the crumbling cookie, the world turned.

Soo slumped down in her chair, massaging her bad ankle with a dipped hand. “That car’ll will be the death of me.”

Judy bit again. “Right, especially as you need blocks on your feet to reach the pedals.”

Soo didn’t rise to the bait but sipped her iced coffee, swirling the mocha mix over the cubes and rattling the plastic cup in mid-air. “So let’s get up to some no-good business. How was your writing week?”

“So-so.” Judy said. “Yours?”

“I put in the hours, as planned.”

“It’s still Wednesday, Soo. You say that like we’ve had enough time. It’s only been a week.”

“Well I’ve had time,” Soo insisted. “We said we’d swap after finishing a first draft, then meet again on Friday.”

Judy shook her head. “I think we should only meet on Wednesdays to give us time to read the stories, let alone edit them.”

“That suits me fine,” Soo said, searching her brain for a reason. “Quest has double rehearsals on Fridays. He’s playing Antonio, you know, the main merchant.”

“Quest’s a dog’s name,” Judy said, “you know.”

“Let’s not start that again,” said Soo. “It wasn’t funny sixteen years ago when I adopted him, and it’s sure as hell not funny now.”

Judy frowned, deciding again not to be drawn in. She pushed back her dirty blonde hair, flipping it up from a scalp-hugging state. “Okay, I take it back. Quest is a nice name.”

“Everything is up for grabs, except my boy. Besides,” Soo continued, “acting is better for the spirit than writing. Striding the boards is better than—I don’t know—sinking a nose in a Kindle.”

Judy sucked her iced coffee loudly through a straw, brushing a fallen leaf off her dress. “Whatever.”

“But I agree,” Soo said. “Let’s do the Wednesday thing. If the week’s going badly, at least there’s a check-in.”

“Very professional.”

“Exactly.”

Exhaling with that sense of achievement that comes with decisions and no actual work, they leaned back in their chairs and slurped.

Judy was passive-aggressively encouraging. “We should do this more often, now you’re ready for the challenge.”

“Yeh but we just agreed we’d make it less often.”

“Even better.” Judy’s eye drifted up Main Street and caught an old man eating a hot dog, his mouth lopsided to catch the mustard: the detail could have been useful for a story but her disgust was too great.

Meanwhile Soo squinted down at her ‘ideas book,’ a gloopy lined 8.5 x 11 pad, completely blank. “So what’s your story about?”

Judy tried to hide her glee. “I’m calling it The Cat That Liked To Dance.”

“Okay, and it’s about a cat?”

“Not really.” Judy half smiled. “I’m almost ready for sharing.”

“Well, I’ve got my title,” Soo said. “The Wife Who Didn’t Know.”

“And what didn’t she know?”

“I’m not open to discussion either, missy. Also, do you think I should use an ellipse?”

“A what?” Judy said.

“You know, in my title, I mean. Dot, dot, dot…The Wife Who…Didn’t Know.”

“Oh sure. It’s more dramatic.”

“And what if she didn’t know what she didn’t know?” Soo put the pencil in her mouth.

“That’s mysterious, but too confusing for readers.”

“Readers, plural hey?” Soo made a bad job of hiding her laughter. “Hah, sounds like you don’t even know what your story’s about.”

“I don’t,”

Soo looked up. “You don’t?”

Judy glowered at her friend without humor. “Of course not, or what’s the point of writing it? You’ve got amateur written all over your forehead, girly.”

“At least I know where I’m headed,” Soo fired back.

“Yeh, to some dumb cat getting the cream.”

“Okay, whatever. I’ve written the draft.” Soo tossed the manuscript on the table, five single-spaced pages. “So the balls are in your court.”

“Ball, you mean. I’ve only got one, but it’s brass at least.”

“Ug.”

Judy weighed the story suggestively with her open palm. “Feels good.”

They laughed a while, but Soo couldn’t hold back: “And where’s your story?”

Judy’s face crumpled like she didn’t care. “I’ll have something for you on Friday. Let’s just rendezvous then. I only need a couple more days.” Judy knew she wouldn’t be finished by then either, but she had to hold Soo’s enthusiasm back. To mix her metaphoricals, she knew from past experience that the bees in Soo’s bonnet often died on the vine.

“That works,” Soo said. “I might have a follow-up story by then, ha.”

Judy didn’t reply. Instead, she pushed her hair back like flexing a muscle, blonde locks twitching off her neck as though stunned by static.

“My story’ll really surprise you,” Soo needled, sensing her advantage. “It’s somewhat inspired by you.”

“By me, Soo?”

“By you.”

Their eyes met, narrowed, a fresh tension in the breeze blowing off Eagle Harbor. Here was ambition exposed and yet hidden, buried in their shared past.

The ice slipped in their drinks, the long suspense hinting that they might not talk for the rest of the week. It had happened before. Could they be falling out? Would literature miss out on two incredible geniuses on one small island?

Instead their smiles broadened, each one attuned to the writing challenge ahead. The test, they both knew, was to toe the line and walk the line at the same time, to enjoy the cocktail they were mixing before downing it, to taste the dish hot before serving it cold. Here was a stew of good-hearted animosity and vitriolic pleasantry where the ingredients dissolve beyond recognition, but you still want to try it.

They had been friends for a long time.

 

To Be Continued


Read on

To learn more about (the three stories in) Trio 1, see The Man in the Gray Tie and Other Crimes.

For the opening page to Story 1, see "The Man in the Gray Tie."

For the opening page to Story 2, see "(He) Said, (She) Said."

Video

For the video to "The Last Page of Friendship," see Video 3.


Buy

To buy Trio 1, The Man in the Gray Tie and Other Crimes, see Buy Books.