Friends Until The End

bar_scene_by_rhapsouldize“I’ll have a gin and tonic.” He took off his coat, folded it, and placed it over his lap. “So what’s up?”

He fidgeted on the stool and took a sip of his drink. “You want to grab a booth?”

“Sure.” He turned to the bartender. “Hey we’re going to move to a booth. Okay?” He didn’t wait for permission. He stood and tucked his coat like a football. He led the way to a table near the back of the bar. He put his drink on the table and slid into the booth. “Dude, you’ve got me worried. What’s going on?”

“Yeah, we’ll get to that. How are you anyway?”

He took his hands and held the edge of the table, leaned into it, rocked to the back of the seat, and exhaled. “Oh hell. I don’t know. …Work. … I’m writing again.” He took a drink. “How ‘bout you?”

“Kids. Everything’s kids.”

“You writing any of the shit I’m hearing?”

“Fuck no. Everyone I wrote for lost.”

“Write for the Republicans. It’s still cash.”

“No fucking way.”

The waiter approached. “Are you interested in menus?”

“Sure.” He took a menu and handed it to his friend and opened his own. “There’s no fucking way I’m writing for anyone on the right.”

“Okay. Write for the left. They’ll have a response to everything Trump.”

“Yeah, probably. I don’t give a shit about work. So what else is new?”

“Dude there’s nothing new. I just saw you last week. Oh wait. Got laid last weekend. It’s been so long I almost shot dust.” He laughed.

“You’re a pig.” He laughed.

“So tell me what’s going on.” He took his finger and fished the lime from his glass. “Jesus look at the size of that!  Cheap fucks. It’s a wonder there’s room for alcohol.”

“So what’s the writing about?” He took a drink, swallowed, and used his tongue to baste his bottom lip.

They spent the next forty-five minutes drinking, snacking on appetizers, and lamenting the elections.

The waiter approached. “Can I get you another round?”

“Not for me.”

“Let’s get one more. Do you have to be somewhere?”

He settled in his seat. “No. But I’m getting a buzz. Every time we lunch I get wasted.”

They agreed to order one more round.

“So tell me about the woman.”

“It was Sarah.”

“You gotta find something besides a friends-with-benefits thing.”

“Oh really? Since the divorce you haven’t dated once.”

“Well.”

“Well. Join Match.com. It’s not so bad. I haven’t done it in a while. Or you can do Tinder but Tinder is just to get laid. You won’t meet relationship worthy on it.”

He took a gulp of his drink. “I am interested in someone.”

He sat straight. “Cool. Who?”

He cleared his throat. “Okay. So. You know why I got divorced?”

“Yeah, she was a bitch. Never liked her.” He drained his glass. “You know I have to say that. It’s required.”

“I don’t care about her.” He signaled the waiter. “Hey, I’ll have another one.”

“Not me. Seriously. I’ve pushed it already.”

“Suit yourself.” He emptied his drink. “The reason I got divorced was because I wasn’t interested in her anymore. Being married was like being in prison.”

“Okay.”

“Okay. So. If you knew someone you were interested in, but you didn’t know whether or not they’d be interested, would you tell them?”

“Sure why not?”

“Well, because what if there was a pretty good chance they weren’t interested?”

“Well, what the fuck. Take the risk. Tell her. What do you got to lose? You’re not with her now.”

“Okay.” He exhaled and shook his head. He used his fingers as a comb and pushed his hair toward the back of his head. “Okay.” He sounded resigned.

“Do I know her?”

“Him.”

“Jesus! You’re gay?” He shifted his buttocks from cheek to cheek and balanced it back and settled against the booth wall.

“Are you surprised?”

“Hell yes.” He pulled his hands into fists and tapped the edge of the table. “Totally shocked.”

“I’m gay.” His shoulders collapsed onto his chest. “I’m gay,” he repeated. He sat upright. “I’m gay.” He smiled. “I’ve never said that out loud before.”

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to say. But okay. It must feel great to finally say it aloud.”

He laughed. “It does!”

He laughed. “I’m glad you’re happy.” His face fell flat. “Oh wait. Are you happy?”

“Yes!”

“Okay. Good for you!” He gestured to the waiter. “Hey bring me another one. Wow. I’m stunned. I so didn’t know. Does Nancy know?”

“No.” He shook his head. “I have to tell her but  … no. She doesn’t know.”

“She’ll be surprised.” He widened his eyes and relaxed them when he realized he had made a facial expression. “Wow. You guys were married a long time.”

“8 years.”

“I’m kind of speechless here. I don’t know what to say.”

“You don’t have to say anything.”

“So. You like a guy? Why not just ask him out?” He picked up his glass and took a drink.

“I don’t know if I have that kind of courage.”

“Oh Jesus! Go for it! Dude, you’re a great guy!”

“It could ruin the friendship.”

“You’re friends with him?”

“Yes.”

“Well he must know you’re gay. I had a gay buddy in college. He told me all about gaydar.”

“Bro I just said I was gay out loud for the first time in my life! I don’t even have gay friends!”

“You’re going to have them now!” He laughed. “Dude you look pained. People are people. Asking people out is the same no matter what. You’re a great guy! I love ya and I’m a dick!” He laughed. “Just walk up and tell your friend you like him.”

“You think so?”

“I think so.”

He drained his glass and set the glass on the table. “I like you.”

“What?” He put down his glass.

“I like you.” He crossed his arms and balanced himself on the table with his forearms. “No. I think I’m in love with you.”

“I’m not gay!”

“I think you are.”

“Think again. I’m not gay. And this isn’t the first time I’ve said that aloud!”

“Don’t be a shit.” He sat back. “You’re not interested is one thing but don’t make fun of me.”

“Oh my God I promise you I would never make fun of you!”

“Did you hear what I said? I said I think I’m in love with you.”

He whispered, “I heard you.”

“And,” he asked.

“And I’m not in love with you.” He took his hand and strummed the open space in the middle of his chest. “Look bro, I’m not gay.”

“We have everything in common.”

“No. Because I’m not gay.”

“You’ve told me you’ve loved me many times.”

“I tell a lot of people I love them but I mean love like in …” he searched for the word, “like in brotherhood.”

“You’ve never married.”

“Never met the right woman.”

“You’re very emotional.”

“Straight guys have emotions.”

“You’ve kissed me.”

“I’ve kissed you on your cheek.” He blew the air out of his lungs. He shook his hands into two fists. “Oh my God. I’m just really open.” He opened his hands and fanned them in front of his chest. “I’m just really comfortable expressing my emotions.” He raised his hands and rubbed his cheeks open palmed. “Oh my God I just never considered any of this.”

He took his hand and slowly lowered it. “Okay. I’ve misread this whole thing.”

“Okay let’s just stop for a minute. Everything is too frenetic.”

“Never mind. Let it go.” He gestured to the waiter. He scribbled in the air to suggest a check. “I’ve got to get out of here.”

“Stop.” He shifted in his seat. “Look I feel bad. I do love you. As a friend. Like a brother. I do. But that’s it. And I don’t want us not to be friends.”

His voice wavered between a quake and a shake, “I just told you I was in love with you. We can’t back up now.”

“Yes we can.”

“No. Look I don’t know how to deal with this. I’ve never said shit like this to a guy before.”

He held his hands like a priest reading from a lectionary. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Nothing you can do. This is my fault. I misread everything.”

“It’s no one’s fault.”

The waiter put the tab on the table. He grabbed it. “I’ll get this.”

“Dude, don’t buy my lunch. Let’s split it.”

“I’ve got it!” he snapped.

“I’ll get the next one.”

“There is no next one.” He stood up and slid on his coat, knotted his scarf, and pulled out his keys.

“Oh Christ!”

“Goodbye.” He turned and left the bar.

Drained

pexels-photo-167704He sat at the center island and watched as she moved through the kitchen. She stood on her toes and reached for a box of cereal. Her stretch made her t-shirt rise above her hips and he lingered on her nude frame below her waist. “I’ve forgotten what a great ass you have.” He reached down and adjusted himself through his boxer briefs.

She turned and looked through him and walked to a cupboard behind his back. “Now you’re interested.”

He sat back and scratched the center of his chest through his t-shirt. “What does that mean?”

She walked to the refrigerator and took out the milk. “That’s the most boring sex I’ve ever had.”

“Okay.”

“Seriously. Could you have been more bored?” She reached for two bowls and put them on the table.

He sat erect and leaned into his elbows until they touched the counter top. “I wasn’t bored.”

She crossed her arms over her chest. “I was.”

He took his hands and put palms down on the counter and used his arms to lift him until he stood straight. “Shit.” He stood still. “I’m not used to these pills. I get so damn dizzy.”

She walked over to a drawer beside the sink. She took two spoons from inside the drawer and turned and put them on the table.

When he felt oriented, he walked out of the room. He closed the bathroom door behind him and stood in front of the sink. He put a hand on each side of the porcelain and looked into the mirror and saw his dulled eyes. They didn’t match his mood. He leaned toward the mirror and dropped his head and looked at the drain. He leaked a sigh and whispered, “fuck” to the middle of the sink. He walked to the toilet, lowered his boxers with his thumb, and looked at the stenciled paint. He pulled his boxers back to their place, flushed, washed his hands, and walked back into her kitchen. “Look.”

She had poured the cereal and the milk and looked up while she chewed.

“This was the first time I had sex since this heart thing started.” He sat down and lifted a spoon. “Is this skim milk?”

“Yes.” She spoke through bites.

He swallowed. “Well, I was worried.”

“Why? Just eat the cereal. You don’t have to drink the milk.”

“No,” he said with a full mouth. He swallowed. “No. I was worried about having a heart attack while we were having sex.”

She sat back and looked at him. “You’ve really changed.”

“Well, this is a new thing to me. I’ve got to get used to it.”

“That’s not what I’m talking about. Even your conversation is tentative. Have sex? Since when did you talk like that?” She spooned another bite. “I don’t like it.”

He sat back on the chair. “Okay look. So I was too cautious. Fine. I get that. I’m sorry. But don’t take it personally. It had nothing to do with you.”

“But that’s the part I don’t like. You walk in here. You’ve gained weight. Okay. And you’ve nervous. That’s obvious. I can understand that. But the part I liked before was that you were the only man I’d ever known who totally lost himself during sex but still concentrated on me. That was the best part. You were like out of control but you knew I was there. Tonight was like neither of us were there.”

He silently sucked in his stomach and tried to roll the roll under itself. “I knew you were there.”

“No you didn’t. You were so careful you barely touched me. I bet you’re not that careful by yourself.”

“Okay you’ve got to understand that I don’t know my limits yet. I don’t know what I can do and what I can’t.” He pushed his bowl away from him. “And mentioning my weight is just goddamned mean.”

“I’m not the kind to be so cautious.”

“I have to be. Couldn’t you have just been nice to me? Would it have hurt you to be kind?”

“Apparently everything is about you getting hurt. I told you you didn’t know I was here.”

“That’s not true.” He felt too tired to fight.

She stood up and took her bowl to her sink. “So that’s it then?”

He stood up. “What?” He rinsed his bowl in the sink and set it on top of hers near the drain.

“You’re going to be cautious?”

“I have to be.”

“Until when? Is there any chance your heart will get better?”

“I don’t know. But I have to be careful. Look where carelessness got me.”

“Well, now you’re just like everyone else.”

“What are you saying? I’m too tired for this.”

“Everyone’s too cautious. Now you’re just another one. I’m going to bed. Just let yourself out.”

He sat down and watched the door swing into place.

The Man Who Knew Too Much

untitledI drove by as she sat on the boulevard. Her head hung like a Barbie’s when the neck’s been stretched by too many tugs to the hair. A cigarette hung from her lips as if gravity pulled it to her lap. Her torso slumped over her legs. They were crossed under her. She sat alone. Her thick eyebrows framed her face. “Wow, she’s stunning! She could be a model,” I thought. Although we’d never met, I instantly recognized her.

I drove by as she sat on the boulevard. I thought of her mother. I had dated her for a few months a few years ago. One day we stood in the middle of a snow slushed street and she casually told me, “I’m damaged.” She began her litany: two failed marriages and a teenaged daughter with more than a few problems. Our courtship was spent with us in defined and restricted roles: I was the sounding board and she was the sound. Her song was her daughter’s distress.

I drove by as she sat on the boulevard. She didn’t know me; she didn’t know of my existence. I know her intimate secrets. I shouldn’t know them. I have no right to have knowledge of her fears, failures, struggles, or sorrows. Her mother had no right to grant me – nearly a stranger – access to her child’s heart and soul. Her daughter’s despair is not hers to share.

I drove by as she sat on the boulevard. She didn’t know I know. She’ll never know I know. I’d never auction her secreted for affection or attention. I promised her a few moments after I drove by her as she sat on the boulevard.

Weighted Down

scale-149033_640He reached under his pajamas and scratched an itch just above his right cheek. He kicked off his slippers. He looked at them with disdain. They made him feel old; neuropathy made them necessary. He hooked his thumbs inside the waistband and pushed the flannel pajama pants as he lowered them to the floor. He kicked the reluctant leg off his left foot. He didn’t wear boxers while he slept. He only began wearing clothes to bed when the kids moved in. He reached behind his neck and pulled the white t-shirt off his back and over his head. He dropped it near his feet. Every morning he had the same thought. He thought it was ridiculous to remove a t-shirt by crossing his arms in front of his chest and pulling it off by the waistband. But that’s how they did it in films. Their ridiculousness irritated him. He looked down at his left foot and noticed the big toe that soldiered by itself. Diabetes had stolen its neighboring toes. The toe was wrapped in gauze. He maneuvered the toe and tapped the button that activated the scale. He lifted his right foot and placed it over the silhouette that shaped a foot. “It’s like a chalk mark” he thought. He braced himself with his palm against the bathroom wall and lifted his left foot and placed it on the scale. “Three pounds?” he said aloud. “How the fuck did I gain three pounds in one day?” He braced himself and stepped off the scale. “I went to bed hungry,” he thought. He picked up his clothes and tossed them into the hamper. He bent at his waist and removed the gauze from his toe. He examined it. The ulcer on his toe had smeared a crimson stain. It had leaked on the surgical tape that held the gauze in place. He noticed the cloying odor that wafted from the pad. He tossed the two into the trash. He climbed into the shower, twisted the tap, tested the temperature, and stepped closer to the stream. He palmed the antibiotic soap and began his tasks.

He arched his foot as he walked toward his bed. He kept his toe elevated. The towel around his waist dropped to the floor. He ignored its desertion. He noticed the dried beads of blood that blemished his bed sheet. “Fuck!” he said aloud to an empty room. He pulled the sheets from the bed, crammed the sheets into a bunch, and tossed them into the corner. His foot cramped from maintaining the elevation so he pivoted and sat on the naked mattress. He raised both arms and covered his face with his palms. He gave his face a causal rub and reached behind him to grab the roll of gauze and a roll of tape. He returned and lifted his left leg and crossed it over his right knee. He bent at his waist and examined his toe. He noticed his leg was a bit swollen. He stretched his legs and looked for a parallel. The left leg was swollen. “Fuck!” he said aloud to the empty room. “Goddamn it!” He bent and examined his foot. It wasn’t red. It wasn’t hot. It wasn’t swollen. He knew his foot wasn’t infected. Fourteen years since the surgery, he knew the signs of trauma.

He reached for his phone and located the contact. “Hey Diane. How are you?” He listened while she answered his question. Their routine interactions made their voices and conversations casual and comfortable. “Okay, I’m okay. But. I’m not doing the online report today because this morning I noticed my leg is swollen and I’ve gained three pounds overnight. And you said I should call. Could my symptoms be any more classic? Damn.” He listened while she talked. “Yeah, I have an appointment with the titration nurse tomorrow.” He listened while she talked. “Yeah, I’ll ask her. So should I go buy a diuretic or will she prescribe one?” He listened while she talked. “Tomorrow. I see him in the morning. I’m telling you, I love my podiatrist.” He causally strummed the space of skin over his heart and noticed the hair had begun to resprout. He felt the spikes of the stubble. “Thanks. I’m so glad you guys have this service. I don’t know this stuff yet. You’re a great resource.” They exchanged pleasantries and he ended the call. He leaned back on his bed and stared at the ceiling. “Fuck” he said to the empty room.