Working for Friends

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Beneath the solar panel shades of a Coffee Bean table sat Herm, finishing as much homework a student could an hour before the deadline. Wind chilling his fingers, Habit fries to his left, Coffee Bean cup to his right, and his senses all over the place, Herm scrounged to make anything respectable for his writing class.

In the middle of his frantic pace, he wondered how much of this was self-inflicted. Perhaps he could have forgone hanging out with friends yesterday, “But now’s not the time to worry about that,” Herm told himself, “It’s important to socialize, right?” This was not his first time cutting it close, and he couldn’t stop himself from wondering why. He thought back to yesterday. Was it his friends? Was it just him?

“Whatever, let’s look at the prompt,” he said. The professor’s online assignment read as follows: “What is friendship to you?” Herm rolled his eyes. If the gods of fate ever wanted to poke fun at a mortal’s social life, this must have been it.

Before he could figure out an answer, an excited voice piped up. “Herm, is that you?!” Herm looked up and saw a familiar face: Terry, a high school friend holding a stained to-go bag from The Habit. 

Herm rebounded the same excitement. “Terry? I haven’t seen you in two years!” 

Terry took a seat across as she responded. “Yeah, I just transferred over from my old college! I forgot that you came here.”

As she ruffled her bag for her burger, Terry surveyed Herm’s disheveled surroundings. “Still working your butt off on classes? You really haven’t changed since high school.”

Nonchalantly, Herm relayed the reality: “As opposed to finishing this a week before it’s due, I’ve got an hour.”

“Are you serious? The professor’s got to be a jerk then,” Terry guessed. “Should I come back later? I can give you my new phone number,” she asked.

“No, no, you’re fine,” Herm said, a little giddy on the inside. He didn’t want such an old friend to just take off. “It’s not the first time I’ve done this,” he explained. After three seconds of undisturbed keyboard clacking, Herm noticed Terry masticating a fair chunk of burger, gesturing “hold on” with her finger.

“Still as rude as ever, Ex-Terror,” he joked, but also blurted. The nickname started out with a middle-school “relationship” that lasted three days. It might have also grown from how Terry was an “ex-terror,” since she broke up with several guys back then. Herm knew that this made her cry back in high school and hoped that he didn’t bring up bad memories.

Terry swallowed and retaliated, “Still as lonely as ever, Hermit,” with a smirk on her face. With nothing but the air to Herm’s side, this childhood moniker was self-explanatory. But it was ironic how Terry, well-known throughout middle and high school, came to be friends with Herm as he was.

Where others would feel offended, Herm laughed at the roast. “You’ve just proven my point. But for your information, I am at least 30% more social than I was back in high school,” he argued. 

Still turning up the heat, Terry continued, “you can’t have 0.3 more friends.”

Knowing he was futilely fighting a professional burn-meister, Herm conceded. “Alright, that’s fair. But really, I’ve been hanging out with some new friends for a while now. Went out yesterday, even.” Terry’s eyes widened. “Oooh, you made friennnnds on your own? Nice! What are they like? Anyone from back in high school?”

Rather than be prideful about his supposed progress, Herm pondered his response. “Well, uh, they really like partying. Like, a lot. Might have overslept today because of it.”

Terry raised her eyebrows. “You never seemed like the partying type. Are these friends or just people you know from class?”

Where others would feel offended, Herm spilled his guts. “Honestly, I think you’re spot on,” he said with a sigh. “I met these guys like a month ago because one of them was in my writing class, and we were working out here one day, and his friends passed by, and they invited me to a party, and I said yes …” he trailed off, gazing into the ground and feeling the exhaustion from his escapades.

After breathing in, Herm made himself clear: “I’m not social, we know that. I’m still not, but when you walk down this campus and see everyone else laughing it up with their friends, you start to wonder, ‘Man, I ain’t ever gonna know that.’ I think this past month is just me compensating, but in hindsight it isn’t helping. It’s also why I’m stressing like hell over this essay.”

Terry empathized. “Yeah, it isn’t a good idea. I think I was in your shoes, but more relationship-related.” Herm countered, “Well, yeah, but you had all those guys back in middle school, I don’t think it counted.” Terry’s mouth scrunched before she explained herself further. “No, I’m talking about high school. It was with Dave.” Herm was perplexed. “Dave? But you guys got along so well back then!”

Terry thought and experienced otherwise. “That was back in the freshman and sophomore year. It started out well, when he said something like ‘I’m not going to treat you like they did. We’re older and we know what we’re doing.’ Like hell we did, but love makes you stupid.”

Herm snickered before he could stop himself. “Sorry, sorry, but what happened then?” he asked. “When it was our third year my parents divorced, but neither of them wanted me because of how much time I spent with Dave over them. Then Dave took me in, because he was living off inheritance, but it was then that he got more demanding. He asked me to clean the place, cook for him and all that because it was his house, and he never did anything himself. He said that he loved everything I did for him, but it just made me tired and honestly? I didn’t feel appreciated at all. Eventually I left him, and now he’s got an actual maid. I was lucky that an old friend took me in, and they’re a lot nicer.”

Herm was bewildered at what he just heard. Terry was the nicest person Herm ever met and to think she had gone through hell and back was insane to hear. 

“Damn. Damn,” was all he could say. “Don’t worry, what happens happens,” Terry reassured. “My parents weren’t exactly doting to start with, and the divorce sort of sums up what it was like living with them.” She pondered what both her and her parents’ relationships felt like with a blank face.

“Everything just felt like work,” she finished. This was the person Herm had shared good times with back in high school? He couldn’t believe that. “But then there was you,” Terry said. Herm perked up at the line. “Honestly, you were one of my best friends back then. You were reading a book in class, I asked what it was, and you said ‘It’s about a big brother looking at everyone while they eat, sleep and shower.’ I laughed because it was so weird to hear, but it was funny anyway, and we sat down together and the rest is history. It sucks you haven’t found anyone that weird yet!”

Herm found it heartwarming to think that she remembered such an old memory. “So you liked me back then because I was weird?” Terry shook her head. “Maybe a bit, but I think unique is better. You’ve said the funniest things and somehow still gave the best advice. You’re quiet, but out of your shell you’re great to talk to! And none of it felt like work, right? It just happened, and it was fun. You’re my best friend!”

Even after two years? Herm thought. “Same to you,” he responded with a warm smile on his face.

“Two years? Who gives a damn?!” Terry laughed, and the two friends continued to catch up with each other, one eating a burger and another finishing up his work. Somehow, Herm’s essay on friendship didn’t feel like work anymore.

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