“It was raining the first time I saw her. Did you know that? Pouring outside and she was stuck under the overhang just outside Reed Hall with a friend of hers. I’m not sure which one but I remember coming around the corner to see this beautiful girl staring past me into the hall, trying to get in and struggling valiantly to stay dry, but to no avail.”
David stared off for a second, lost in that memory.
“Yeah, I remember the story,” James answered. He had heard it so many times before but it was something about the way David told it every time. Like you could really feel his love emanating.
Across the round kitchen table they sat from one another, lost in the past…lost in their friendship and the memories they had built together.
“First thing I saw were her lips, red against the pale of her skin.”
Her lips had that same look now, even a little redder, but slightly smeared from time and the circumstances of life. David had always enjoyed the look of her lips. They were his favorite feature about her. They were more swollen than they used to be but such was their situation. Life has a way of catching up to you.
“I met you shortly after I met her, I think. Didn’t I?”
“Yeah James, you did. We came together almost faster than she and I did,” David chuckled. He glanced at the clock. 8:45…wouldn’t be long now. “We were inseparable until I left. Do you remember the day I left?”
“Yeah, I remember. It was freezing out even though it was May. I didn’t want you to go but I knew you didn’t have a choice. Gotta fall in when the man calls your name, I guess.” James remembered driving to the airport with David and Brenda. He was being shipped out. Iraq. 6 months, at least. “We said goodbye at the plane and then you flew off to God knows what and Brenda and I went back home. “
David grew silent, staring past James into the wall behind. It became noiseless for a moment while he pondered this memory. His feelings about that day were roughly the same. He remembers boarding the plane, staring back at his wife and his best friend. Would he see them again? Time had made it so that he would.
“Hey David, remember when we took that trip south?” James’ face lit up a little. The air was thick in the room and the memories were helping to dissolve the heavy atmosphere. “We hit all those beautiful places in the hills and then went on our little ghost hunt.”
“Heh…yeah…that was great,” David said, the story pulling himself back out of his silence. He looked up into the face looking back at him. The space between them was filled with emptiness….and something else. “The ridges was creepy. We saw that thing…”
“Yeah in the window of that abandoned building. There is no way that it wasn’t something … I don’t know, weird,” James laughed quietly. A tear broke the brim of his cheek. “That is probably the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.”
David knew that it was true because he felt the same. Outside of his wedding, the trip was one of those things that would stay with him for good. There is nothing like driving with your friends to destinations unknown and exploring the unseen. They didn’t really believe but all those graveyards, overgrown with grass and weed, were now a part of them, having taken root alongside their friendship. That was something that was hard to pull out.
“The tunnel was the worst,” James continued. “I’ve never been so freaked out. I swear we heard something. At least, I know you did.”
“Yeah I definitely did hear something,” David agreed. “That’s gotta make you feel good though, right James? Knowing there is something after this. Something beyond what we have here.”
James didn’t answer. He glanced at the clock, an old wire classic with three big iron hands, ticking away the remainder of the night. He studied it for a second; 8:50. As he glanced back to David, he caught his friend also staring at the clock. The time was almost upon them and they both knew it.
The silence was almost unbearable and then, just as James thought he would scream, David quietly started talking…more to himself than anyone else.
“When I was over there, it was a constant struggle to stay positive. You two were all I thought about. I had to get back to her, back to you. You were my family. I wrote as much as I could but when we were under heavy fire, I ….I….” and he grew silent once more.
His hands were shaking and James leaned across the table to steady them but from the moment their hands touched, David withdrew. His face came up slowly and the agony and pain he saw there caused James to withdraw quickly. The tension flared and James could feel his ears burning into the air around him.
“I didn’t know what I would do if I lost either one of you. I was so happy to get your letters.” David’s speech was even quieter this time, barely audible above the hum of the refrigerator kicking into its cycle. “I gotta tell you, they got me through some shit, that’s for sure. To know that I was coming home to you two was something that I was hanging on to.”
“Yeah, the thought of you getting back was big for me to.” James answered, trying to catch David’s gaze again.
“I’ll bet it was,” David answered, barely whispering, with a strange, quiet venom in his voice. The room once again grew silent.
“Let’s play STARS,” James announced to break the silence. It was a game they had invented years ago, which played on their love of movies. That was the first thing they had ever bonded over. The game was simple enough; one person names a movie and the other names an actor from that movie. They would play for hours, reveling in the game that was so easy and yet so complex.
Without looking up, David answered with a slightly more cheerful, “Pulp Fiction”
“The only good Ashton Kutcher movie….The Butterfly Effect.” David chuckled a little. James could see his old friend returning, at least for the moment. This is when they were at their best with each other. Discussing a love of something common between them.
“Hmmm…” James thought for a second. You’d never want to be too obvious. They would crush each other if one of them pulled punches. “Amy Smart.”
David was into it now. A small smile spread across his face as he sat up straighter in his chair. “Crank 2.”
“Ughhhh,” James groaned melodramatically. “Why not just kill me instead,” and they both chuckled for a second but the room grew eerily quiet after. Not the best choice of words. “I’m gonna have to go with Statham, as much as it hurts me to do so.”
“The Mechanic.” David locked eyes with James and they could feel the bond that had been there for years. A bigger smile spread across his face as he searched James for what could possibly be next. The game was all about strategy, Lure your opponent into a corner that they would not be able to escape from and then drop the hammer. James could tell that that David was leading him somewhere but he wasn’t entirely sure where that was so he pressed on.
“Your man-crush…Ben Foster.”
“Yes! He is my man-crush,” David laughed. “Let’s go with Birds of America.”
“Shit….give me a second.” James racked his brain trying to figure out who the hell was in this movie.
“I’ll give you a hint. He had a coke problem and was on a very overrated television show, which took the place of a something much, much better.” The same old David, always preaching the glory of Seinfeld to the ineptitude of Friends.
“Mathew Perry?” James guessed.
“You are correct sir.” David said heartily. “The Whole Nine Yards.”
“Amanda Peet.” It was getting heated now.
“John C. McGinnley.”
“Freeman.” It was moving at lightning speed now.
David flexed his arms theatrically, signaling to James that he was about to drop the hammer. “Driving Ms. Daisy.”
James sat quiet for a second. He was beaten and he knew it. One chance to recover. “I’m calling you out.”
James sat silent for a moment. He was beaten. He knew David was right. “I’m dead…”
“It would appear as though you are,” David said, the melancholy returning to his voice. His face took on that of an old man’s, contemplating the life he had lived. The creases grew deep as he closed his eyes to think. James fidgeted in his chair, in the silence. The heaviness between them, the object on the table, laid out as proof of their friendship….as proof of what had happened between them.
A glance put them at 8:59…almost time. David contemplated everything. James looked down again at the floor where his friendship now lay. The thoughts and memories of all he had done in his life passed through him as the crimson finally reached his feet. A silken hand extended gracefully over the tile floor in the kitchen, pointing in their direction, but all James could see were the lips…red against the pale of her skin. Her brunette curls cascaded down around her face and framed those lovely cheekbones…those eyes, staring forever at the situation…forever at nothing.
The clock struck nine. James looked up into his best friends eyes. David raised the gun and steadied it; a black-hole of friendship lay at James’ feet, drenched in the life they held together. David took a deep breath, closed his eyes and pulled back the hammer.
Their friendship was for the briefest of moments hanging in the air between them, before the bullet passed through, erasing any chance of reconciliation.