She found a recipe for eggless eggnog and that had been when she made the decision: she would have a party.
She told Sophie first. Frances said, “I’m going to have a Christmas party,” and then quickly amended her statement and said, “We’re going to have a Christmas party.”
“Eggless eggnog,” Benji said when she told him. “Bad omen. Bad, bad omen.” Frances had stared blankly back. He shook his head before stating the obvious:
“The bastardization of a classic.”
Frances has an apartment now but she never signed a lease. She thinks that means she can leave at any time, though as Benji pointed out, that also means they can kick her out at any time. “Living on the edge,” she said, grandly enthusiastic, as if renting an apartment sans binding legal document was as exciting as life could possibly get.
Her apartment is sparse and barely decorated. It’s not because of the lack of a lease and it’s not because of the threat of eviction Benji hung over her head same as a neon-lit VACANCY sign, but simply because she doesn’t have that many things. She doesn’t have that many things, at least, not as far as interior design goes.
So she decided to call this chapter of her life spartan and minimalist. Other words for that could be empty and lonely but she made the active decision not to refer to her life at present as either of those things. Those words, she decided, could exist on the opposite side of the aisle, amidst the collection of all the things she does not have.
Frances can’t have the Christmas party in her tiny studio apartment. There is barely enough room for her and the potted fern she picked up impulsively on a muggy, rainy August afternoon. Each failure to remember to water it is treated by her as emblematic of even greater failures, so she hates the fern, she loves the fern, when she ran into Lev that one afternoon outside the Korean deli she had told him that impulse-purchased potted fern is the best roommate she has ever had because it’s beautiful and it agrees with her about everything and it also re-ups her supply of fresh oxygen.
“An even better roommate than Sophie?” He said it like a poke to the ribs so she pulled a grotesque face in reply, and then she said with the gravitas of the gravely serious, “Sophie is in a class of her own, my friend.”
So Sophie has the party instead, in the apartment she shares with Patch. Frances buys him a cheap bottle of vodka: I couldn’t afford a better peace offering written in the Snoopy card she re-gifted (it had come attached to a bag she had received at work, a box of cashews in a glittering gift bag that made the box of cashews look far more appealing than a box of cashews could ever be).
The party is not the party Frances envisioned herself throwing. For one thing, it’s not in her apartment. This place is decorated, seemingly, by a firm and guided hand with a taste for whatever might be on the current cover of Architectural Digest. And the fern isn’t there to give silent, leafy witness. For another, the party could easily be divided down the middle, the segregation hinged solely on those who could be classified as Friends of Frances&Sophie and those who would be labeled Friends of Patch. In fact, the delineation wouldn’t even work that way; it wouldn’t cut as cleanly. Frances, she is realizing, is still laboring under the false pretense that were life a pie chart, she’d still possess a larger chunk of Sophie than Sophie In Real Life is currently able to offer her. Of the twenty-odd people assembled in Sophie&Patch’s apartment, Frances knows perhaps seven of them by name (three more could be added to the total based on face recognition alone) and the rest belong to a world inhabited by Sophie&Patch, a place Frances doesn’t have the proper identification or passport or airline miles to reach.
And for a third, Sophie made her own eggnog.
“I told you I was making the eggnog,” Frances says in the kitchen, eyeing Sophie’s punchbowl with extreme prejudice, a jazzy rendition of “Sleigh Ride” threatening to drown her out in the name of season’s greetings and bygones be bygones, the more nog, the merrier. “I told you.”
“I know you did! But Patch’s mom had this recipe, and yours wasn’t going to have any eggs, right? And I just thought ... why not.”
Frances blinks at Sophie. The punchbowl sits between them, serving dual roles as referee and instigator. “You didn’t trust my eggnog?”
“I didn’t say – ”
“You didn’t think my eggnog would be good enough for your stranger friends?”
“My stranger friends? Frances, come on.”
Frances sighs heavily and plucks an open, mostly full bottle of wine off the kitchen counter.
“Mine? Was a healthier alternative anyway.”
Sometimes it feels like she’s living in a house with no walls.
She told Benji that once. Benji had knocked on the wall behind the head of her bed and Frances had felt the vibration of the knock in her own head and he said, “Bad metaphor.” He said, “Wall’s still standing.”
It wasn’t what she meant and they both knew that but they both moved past it, moved towards each other, and the word she thinks she had meant to conjure and employ was exposed.
Every person she has ever met has been better at hiding themselves. Not her. She’s all exposed live wire and cloying earnestness – “cloying earnestness” was another Benji Phrase, only he had trotted it out in the spirit of suppressed admiration. She liked that about him, that each and every compliment she might earn from him was cloaked in reluctance. That made it mean something, if only in her own private estimation.
There were a lot of things that meant something but only to her.
Frances sits in Sophie’s closet. It’s nothing like the errant clothes rack Frances has stowed near her bed, like a sad sample sale at a consignment shop. The trappings of adulthood – things like closets with doors, like Italian loafers, timely thank-you notes, and intimate knowledge of the vineyard the thirty dollar bottle of wine you bought came from – give her pause. They’re all a part of a foreign and exclusive club she can’t afford yet, her membership probationary, as an extension of Sophie's.
The label on the bottle of wine she snagged says Napa Valley and she’s considering this when Sophie joins her.
“This closet is bigger than my bathroom,” Frances tells her, stretching her arms to test the distance.
Sophie looks around, as if she’s never viewed her closet from this angle. “Patch’s doing.” She looks at Frances and in mock secrecy says, “I think it was an apology.”
Frances feigns horror. “For what?”
“A transgression he has yet to commit.”
Frances nods her approval. “Very forward thinking of him.” Frances looks up at the ceiling and the bottom hems of all of Sophie’s clothes. “Can we consider it an apology from me as well?” Sophie snorts.
Silence stretches between the both of them. Frances lets it. Even though neither of them are speaking, even though they can hear the boisterous noise of the party reaching out to them through the opened crack of Sophie and Patch’s bedroom door, Frances feels they are both together in this moment.
Frances squeezes the neck of the bottle of wine cradled between her knees
She wants to tell Sophie that she has learned so many things this year. Too many things. She wants to tell Sophie all the things she wants to look forward to, not just in the coming year, but any year, and how she is learning, as a part of the many things she has learned this year, how to imagine a future not entirely dependent on Sophie. There are so many places they both could go together, but even if they don’t, there will still always be this: two girls pressed shoulder to shoulder, exchanging tales of their private adventures in hushed excited voices, sure in the faith that these stories were never in fact private adventures but always meant to be shared, if only with each other.
As if proof of Frances’s train of thought, Sophie bumps Frances’s knee with her own. “I’m happy you wanted to have a party,” she says.
Frances grins. “And I’m happy you were willing to host it.”
In the kitchen, they clink their glasses together.
“Inedible,” Benji says after a sip of Frances’s eggnog. He gestures to Frances, “Undateable and inedible.”
Sophie finishes her glass all the same, and Frances grins with pride.