Never Stop Being Friends

Ali Bryan

A tray of pens, blue and identical, was passed around the living room. Mary selected one and flattened the trio of fortune-sized slips of paper balanced on her lap. She didn’t know the other women at the shower because they weren’t really women. They were girls with foxy hair and marble cheeks and tiny breasts. Lady girls with PhDs and chalkboard paint and genderless toddlers with unisex clothing. Mary pulled her sweater tight around her Gen X belly and ate a crostini.

“We’d like you to inscribe a piece of advice for the bride and groom,” the host, smelling of nectar, said sipping a drink with a barbershop-style paper straw. Thick orange slices floated in the drink.

Mary took a notebook from her purse and tested the pen on the back cover. She selected one of the paper slips and wrote: never go to bed angry. Mary often went to bed angry. For the last five years at least. It’s why her dentist prescribed one of those Hannibal Lector mouth guards, so she didn’t clench her teeth or bite her husband. But there were so many delightful reasons to go to bed angry. Laird was always there with his wilted boxer shorts and changing moles, playing fantasy baseball or fantasy football. Fantasy planet earth. Mouth breathing, heavy, ordinary. His latest thing was wanting to buy a new shed from Costco. Ten grand for a place to store his failed dreams and youth.

Mirandaahhhhhhh slipped her tiny piece of cardstock advice into a fishbowl and nibbled on a petit-four, pink as a newlywed’s cheek. When the delicate cake had been absorbed, she blotted her bee-stung mouth on a napkin, collected her pen, and started writing a new fortune.

Mary was overheated, her bra barbed wire.  She adjusted it without finesse, the way one might yank a wetsuit on. She took a fresh slip of paper: learn the art of compromise. Mary started laughing. Mirandaahhhhhh smiled. Compromise was an art. Not the art of Monet or Matisse but the reckless art of children and criminals. Mary and Laird had a small yard. The shed would swallow a third of it. For it to fit and sit flat they’d have to shorten the deck where she drank silty red wine and read smutty novels about well hung men and waxed women, hairless grown-ups who wanted more from their lovers. Plus, the sunflowers would have to come out. On the other hand, if he moved his stuff from the basement to the shed, she might be able to do something with the room. Buy a nice chair, lock the door and stare at the wall.      

Laird’s niece was the bride. She’d been banished from this part of the shower. Mary could see her sipping a cocktail on the back deck, checking her phone. Her profile was machine-cut: perfect angles and beveled edges. A bee-stung mouth like Miranda’s. She was studying to become a gastroenterologist. Mary placed a hand on her stomach, her highway ditch of a gut, ravaged by years of gluten and farm animals, whole cans of food, bits of regret, unfiltered alcohol, and bad decisions. The bride gave a little wave. Mary returned it.

Guests eagerly continued with the newlywed advice. Mary used her last slip of paper and wrote: treat each other with respect. But didn’t this go without saying? Shouldn’t all people be treated with respect? Not just shed-seeking spouses with ear hair and mothers you wanted to slap. If Laird had listened to her years ago when they’d looked at the house and she’d said I don’t think it’s quite big enough for all your stuff and he’d said I think it’ll be just fine, he wouldn’t be considering the purchase of a shed. A complicated expensive one. They might’ve chosen a different house. One by the school so the kids could have walked instead of her driving them every morning. Or one near the ravine so she could’ve spent her afternoons jogging, maybe even running, passing people like herself with a righteous nod and a sculpted calve. Or maybe he would’ve at least got rid of some it. His collection of Guinness World Record books dating back to the eighties, the toaster oven that had never been cleaned, never had been plugged in since they moved in together. Concert t-shirts, Disney paraphernalia, high school textbooks, the shoe of a former lover. But she died! He’d said, when she pulled the pearly, studded flat from a banana box. Fuck, Laird.  Why is there only a single shoe? Did you kill her?

Mary ran out of paper. Miranda noticed, and frowned at the ruined pile of newlywed fortunes crumpled on Mary’s knee.

“There’s more in the kitchen,” Miranda said. “I can get you some.”

“I need more too!” piped an enthusiastic guest. She was all of twenty-six. How much advice could she possibly conjure?

“I cut extras,” Miranda explained, presenting a fan of tiny cardstock slips. “Just in case.”

Miranda probably had a back-up bride stored in the closet just in case.

The bride called from the deck. “Are you almost done?”

“No!” Miranda shouted playfully. “We’re still waiting on a few stragglers.”

Sweat collected on Mary’s sagging chest. She withdrew another paper: set realistic expectations. Like don’t buy a ten thousand dollar shed when you could just get rid of ten thousand things. Mary blew out a sigh. Maybe the problem was that the advice she was giving was too general. Maybe she needed to be more specific regarding those expectations. Like: don’t expect him to ever clean a toilet. Or your career will only matter as long as it doesn’t interfere with his. Or expect nothing. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Bad Mary.

She leaned over a side table toward the enthusiastic guest in the wing chair who’d already curated a decade’s worth of advice, spying on her.  She’d written: watch each other’s favorite movie together.  Mary relaxed. She’d been going about this all wrong. Practical advice. That’s what she needed to write. She scribbled: re-create your first date.

She’d heard that the bride and groom met in med school. They’d been assigned to dissect the same cadaver. Surely this didn’t count as a first date. Mary and Laird had met at a garage sale off campus in her third year. He’d waited patiently behind her on the lawn as she flipped through a shoebox of CDs. She hadn’t showered, having worked at the bar the night before, and she smelled of cigarettes and closing time.   He was wearing a Goonies t-shirt and carried a skateboard with a yellow deck. But what had been their first date? Her pen hovered over the slip of paper. Oh God, it had been at a concert. Some punk band from Seattle. They’d both drunk too much and she’d puked through the wrought-iron fence of a cemetery on the way back to his apartment, where they’d had unprotected sex in front of his cat. The next morning his mom had come over to clean his kitchen. Mary had peered through the crack in his bedroom door, from his mattress on the floor, at his mother tying off the over-flowing garbage in pale blue rubber gloves. Laird had given her gonorrhea that night. At least she let him think that. There was a good chance it had come from her.

“Five more minutes!” Miranda called, showing her five-more-minute-teacher hand. Mary could tell she was the type who taught lower elementary. The kind who thought she knew more about kids than the mothers of her students, even though she still used her parents’ credit card to throw Pinterest showers and whiten her teeth.

Five more minutes. Focus. Just one piece of advice. That’s all. Mary twirled the blue pen in her hand: don’t give up on each other. Wasn’t that really what marriage was about? Not giving up? No matter if your marriage smelled like a dishcloth and you were the proud owner of a ten thousand dollar shed that was being delivered on Tuesday and you needed to be home to receive it because he had a very important meeting that day and it was the only time.

“Time’s almost up,” Miranda squeaked. A little clap. 

Mary carefully folded the advice in half and placed it in the fishbowl with a swish of her wrist.

“Here comes the bride,” Miranda announced.

The bride shuffled in stilettos across the back deck and hauled open the sliding glass door. “Is it time for trivia?” she asked with a Julia Roberts mouth.

Mary stood. “I’m sorry, but I have to go. I have another shower.”

“Oh.” A choir of sighs and pouted lips.

“Thanks for coming, Mary.”

“Thanks so much for having me.” She concealed the lump of avocado on her shirt and headed for the door. Outside, Laird idled in the driveway. Mary darted around to the passenger side and collapsed inside his truck. There was a large coffee in the cup holder waiting for her. She bent back the plastic top and took a sip. Still hot.

He was wearing the Mudhoney T-shirt she’d found and ordered for him on Amazon. She didn’t tell him how much it cost.  

“It fits you,” she said.

“Perfectly.” He smiled.

She rested her feet on the dash. They drove home.


About the Author

Ali Bryan is a novelist and creative nonfiction writer who explores the what-ifs, the wtfs and the wait-a-minutes of every day. She lives in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies on Treaty 7 Territory, where she has a wrestling room in her garage and regularly gets choked out by her family. Her fifth novel, The Crow Valley Karaoke Championships (Henry Holt) comes out in July 2023. Follow her on IG: @alikbryan or

vector icon of building

Corporate Education

Learn how we can help your organization meet its professional development goals and corporate training needs.

Learn More

vector icon of building

Donate to UCLA Extension

Support our many efforts to reach communities in need.

Innovation Programs

Student Scholarships

Coding Boot Camp

Lifelong Learning