creme brulee
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Brenda Abrams had an orange shag carpet and a thing for Elton John. My room was hot pink and my heart belonged to Cat Stevens. We both believed in Herbal Essence, Frye boots, and boys named Brad. We got our periods, our ears pierced, and our learner's permits—in exactly that order. All we knew of drugs was what we'd read in Go Ask Alice. All we knew of sex was what we saw in The Way We Were. We gorged on Twinkies and Fritos and red pop, never dreaming that cellulite could someday come between us and our Calvins. We were good girls. We were best friends.

Thirty years have come and gone. She's Brenda Jacobs now, living with her husband, three kids, and nanny in a big suburban house outside Manhattan. I'm still me, living alone in a small prewar co-op inside Manhattan. She's on the board of trustees at her children's school, practicing law in her spare time. I'm on the computer writing this article, and my spare time is spent wondering how people find spare time. Most days I don't want her life. Most days she doesn't want mine—but we each have the occasional pang. We are still best friends.

There's an unspoken understanding that in case of an emergency we will always come early and stay late for each other, but our days of sharing a locker and nights of marathon phone sessions are behind us. We're down to meeting for lunch—it is an act of faith in faithless times.

On the first Monday of every other month, we take our latest assortment of absurdities, insights, outrages, and ironies to the little café on the fifth floor of Bergdorf Goodman and meet for the same meal we've been having forever. Brenda orders her standard, tuna salad on pumpernickel. She's a straightforward, no-nonsense eater. Her mother's desperate attempt to instill culinary diversity is still referred to as "the turkey tetrazzini incident of '74." I go with my usual open-faced-sandwich combo—three little toast discs topped with lobster in lemon mayonnaise, shrimp in brandy-chive dressing, and gravlax with dill. Though Brenda insists I've got a Lipton monkey on my back, I always order iced tea. Though I insist she's got a death wish, she always opts for New York City tap water. Between bites we catch up on Jan, Sue, Gina, Jacqui, and Alison—friends now scattered across the Midwest. Sometimes we find ourselves aching for a past-we couldn't wait to finish. Sometimes we study the very chic shoppers for signs of facelift. Sometimes we study each other. Brenda wears a simple black twinset and a silver chain around her neck. I wear burgundy lipstick and my heart on my sleeve. "I want a baby," I tell my friend, who has heard it all before.

"I know you do—I'm saving Lily's crib for when you have one," my friend answers in a voice that never fails to soothe.

"Can I have one of yours?" I ask.

"No."

"Then can I have your pickle?"

"No problem."

When the waitress offers us dessert, we simultaneously answer, "Just the check, please," then quickly reverse our decision and request one raspberry crème brûlée with two spoons. I crack through the burnt-sugar lid to the satiny custard below and complain that Brenda's half has all the berries. She wonders whether it's possible to actually feel one's arteries clogging, but I assure her that the egg yolks cancel out the heavy cream. "You'll see," I promise, "it'll be the raspberries that do us in."

The two women at the next table begin arguing over whose turn it is to pick up the check. They're 80 years old if they're a day. "Oh, for God's sake, Rosalie, I'm not calling you next time I'm in the city," says one as she grabs for the bill. "Joanne, your money's no good here," says the other as she snatches it right back.

And in a flash we taste our future memories.

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