If your friends won’t lie to you, who will?
“Seriously, Liza. You do not look a day over thirty.” Shelby takes a big swig of her whiskey sour and crunches down on an ice cube. “I mean, you still got it.”
“Uh-huh.” I blink. I look every day of my forty-six years, and she knows it. Shelby has been my personal cheerleader since we met at Washington Prep in sixth grade, and I don’t know what I’d do without her slightly deluded optimism. Especially this past year.
“I agree.” Todd leans across the small table so he can be heard above the din of the bar. “I’d date you.”
“Gross.” Shelby punches him in the shoulder. “You mean if you weren’t married to her best friend, right, hon?”
Archer lets out a howl, and Todd rubs his arm with exaggerated care. I laugh, too, maybe for the first time in months. The four of us have been friends since high school, and when we’re together, some subtle alchemy happens that melts away all of life’s problems.
Washington, and all the frenzied hustle of our complicated, busy lives, is less than three hours away, but crossing the Bay Bridge this afternoon was like traveling back in time to when we had nothing to worry about but how we would fill a long weekend.
Together, here in Dewey Beach, we are forever young.
“Remember when we needed fake IDs to get in to the Corkboard?” Todd asks.
“We didn’t need fake IDs.” Shelby gestures toward me. “’Cause we were cute.”
If anyone doesn’t look a day over thirty, she doesn’t. While Todd’s hair is salt and pepper now, and Archer has a few smile lines at the edges of his eyes, Shelby looks virtually the same. Thanks to an annual self-care budget equal to the GDP of a small nation and some good genes, she has the same glossy blond hair, smooth skin, and compact body she had in high school. I’d be jealous if I didn’t know how much damn effort it took. I enjoy my nightly half pint of ice cream too much.
“Here’s to Dewey.” Archer raises his glass. I raise mine. The Corkboard hasn’t changed. It’s still the perfect beach town bar—dark, divey, and ripe for anonymous make-out sessions. And there’s a pretty good crowd for a Sunday night. I watch as a woman nearby takes an oddly angled selfie that clearly includes Archer.
It always amuses me to see how people react to having a celebrity near them. And not a politician but a real celebrity like Archer. He’s even better looking in life than on TV, where his makeup smooths out the variations in his brown skin and gives him a plastic perfection. And fame like his makes people act weird. In D.C., most try to act stoic, as if acknowledging fame is a personal weakness. And Washington is nothing if not a town of overachievers with iron wills.
But we’re not in D.C. tonight.
The woman appears at Archer’s elbow. Up close, it’s clear from the way she is wobbling and having trouble keeping her kohl-rimmed eyes open that she’s drunk.
“Can I get a pic?” She gestures to the two women behind her, who wave. “We’re from Balmer.”
“Happy to oblige.” Archer scoots one way, and we all lean back the other way to provide them room. Even back in high school, Archer had that effect on people. He wasn’t voted God’s Gift to Women senior year for nothing.
“You’re so cute,” she says. “What’s your name again, hon? I know it’s not Don Lemon.”
Archer laughs. “Archer Benoit.”
“Oh, I knew that.” She wobbles away as our table erupts in laughter.
“Oh. My. God.” Shelby squeals.
“That was a great Baltimore accent,” Todd says. “Balmer?”
“And I love how she’s like, I know you’re not the Black guy on CNN…” Shelby laughs.
“Right? Why not just ask your name?” I sip my drink. “Why drag Don Lemon into it?”
“You would be surprised how often that happens. Sometimes they straight-up ask if I’m friends with Don Lemon. I’m like, no, he lives in New York, I live in D.C., and we work for competing news channels.”
Todd looks at his watch, then raps the table with his knuckles. “We’d better get going. We’re going to try to catch up with Chris tonight. Last chance, ladies.”
“Chris de Groot? Really?” Chris was part of our crew in high school, but has since drifted away. According to a Washington Post profile I read, he’s keeping busy churning out his Kurt Jericho: Rogue CIA Agent series. But I wonder if copious amounts of scotch, and a few DUIs, don’t also play a role.
“He’s at his beach house now?” I ask.
“Yeah, we’re going to head down there.”
“I keep trying to get him to return my emails.” Over the years, I’ve reached out to Chris, hoping he’d agree to let me write a profile on him for the school’s alumni magazine, where I work. In high school, he, Archer, and Todd were an inseparable trio. But if we do get a correspondence going, it peters out before I can get him to commit to anything. “He’s up to what—novel fifteen at this point, right?”
“Those books are crap,” says Shelby without looking up from her glass.
“And you’ve read them?” Archer raises an eyebrow.
“What? I read books.” Shelby tosses back her drink. “Anyway, I don’t need to read them. I read the Amazon reviews. Too many heaving bosoms and explosions.”
“Heaving bosoms and explosions,” Archer repeats and winks at me. “Good name for our band.”
I laugh. We’ve had a running joke about potential band names since Mr. Mooney’s civics class in tenth grade, when we first decided Penal Offense would be a great name.
“Forget novels,” Todd says. “Apparently, Netflix is making a series out of the books.”
“Oh, really?” I ask. My boss, Geoff, would go nuts for that. I can see the headline now: Wash Prep alum takes on Hollywood.
“Look at you all excited.” Archer smirks, but I can actually sense an undercurrent of competition. You don’t get to be a cable news star by being laid-back about other people getting more attention than you do.
“Well, I can’t keep writing about you, Archer.” I give him a wicked smile.
Shelby and Todd laugh. Because I do keep writing stories about Archer, and he loves it. I don’t add that it’s in large part because my boss is starstruck by Archer and always leaning on me to exploit my personal friendship with him.
Todd stands up. “All right.” He gives Shelby a long kiss on her mouth. I have to look away. Even though I know that their relationship has seen its ups and downs over the years, this display of affection stings me like lemon juice on a cut. In the wake of my recent divorce, I don’t need to see someone else’s marital bliss up close. Not too mature of me, but there’s no denying it.
Archer leans in for a friendly peck on the cheek. He’s like a second brother to me, and save for one drunken and horribly awkward attempt at a hookup during college spring break in Florida, we’ve never been tempted to try anything romantic. “We still on for coffee Tuesday morning?”
Copyright © 2022 by Agnes Blum Thompson