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When Vivian said nothing for a moment, I found her eyes, discovering a strange look in them. For seconds, we simply sat with locked eyes and I found myself wondering what she could be thinking. "Take off your blouse," she said.
I'm sure my mouth hung open. We were sitting in, well, what certainly was the nicest restaurant either of us had been to. To our right was what was surely a tourist couple in their Sunday best. The group on our left, I'd sensed they were well-to-do. Very well-to-do. This certainly was one of the occasions we'd looked forward to on this trip. I considered Vivian's outrageous words. And with a sinking feeling, I couldn't escape the realization that she most definitely meant them.
I recalled what we'd just been talking about, what I'd been saying. Something about back when we'd shared the apartment, and my sinking feeling felt confirmed since I'd obviously put the thought in her mind.
The day. The day our friendship had come so very close to ending, had ended temporarily, in fact. They'd been dating a couple of weeks, and she'd been walking on air the whole time. And he'd come over that afternoon, looking for her I'm sure. And when I'd informed him he'd missed her, the grin he'd given me as he made a comment he surely shouldn't have. He was so god-awful hot. And then just minutes later when she'd walked in on the two of us. On our living room floor.
If there ever had been a half-hour I wanted to take back, to erase from my life, that was certainly it. He'd been out the door in seconds, leaving me to face my best friend and apartment mate. Still barely covered, speechless with guilt and shame, I sat there watching her. She wouldn't look at me. "I'm horrible," I'd heard myself say.
When she finally turned to me, I could see a touch of wetness in her eyes, but her voice was like steel. "I cannot believe..." she said, but said nothing more.
"I'm so awful, I'm sorry," I finally said, and then it was like the dam burst, I couldn't stop apologizing, "I swear, I'll make it up to you," I finally heard myself saying. "I'd do anything."
I guess I'd run out of steam, and found our eyes locked as she stood above me. "You are going to pay," she said, her words tight. We looked at each other. "Some day," she added, "I'll come up with something."
"OK," I'd said meekly, but practically before the words were out of my mouth, she'd said "You remember that," as she stormed out.
I'd sat there, stricken, a while before I ventured to stir, finally getting fully dressed. I'd been out of the apartment within a week.
But amazingly, we had gotten over it, and though we were no longer roommates, we were back to doing things together, the only lingering note being a guarded look in Vivian whenever I was anywhere near anyone she was dating. And now, three years later, we were finally on this trip we'd been planning for months.
And as I sat, looking into Vivian's eyes, I found the very same looked she'd given me that day. The simple command she'd just given me echoed through my mind once more. Take off our blouse. Studying her, I could see she was giving me time to consider, to recall what this was about. And what I owed her.
I gave another nervous glance to everyone around us. The waitresses, the other guests. I found myself forming the word no. I had to refuse. It was far too outrageous. I wondered again at myself for managing to stir up the topic. Was that indeed what had happened? Or had she planned this? "Vivian," I said, trying to think of what to say.
She said nothing, as if she knew there were nothing she needed to add. Please! I begged in my mind. I had to say it aloud. I saw the resolve in her eyes and knew the only way out was a flat refusal.
I felt a shudder. I lifted my hands, unbuttoning. For a moment, I heard nothing, as if Vivian and I were the only ones in that room, in the whole universe, and nothing else existed. On I unbuttoned. And I hadn't worn a bra! Her eyes never left mine, perfectly steady, as if it didn't bother her a single iota to force me to do this. With the blouse unbuttoned, I paused. Her eyes still never left mine. Finally, I slipped it off my shoulders, drawing it out of my skirt and I think it slipped to the floor.