We played together as kids.
We knew each other at school.
In our teens, we were inseparable.
He got girlfriends.
Even so, he always insisted on me going wherever they went.
He took me on dates, for fuck’s sake.
He wasn’t a mate.
He was a friend.
My best friend.
Even when he met her, he still insisted we go everywhere together.
The three of us really gelled.
For two years we had great times, good laughs.
He didn’t need to take me with him.
He did though.
And I’m glad he did.
Then the inevitable happened.
They split up.
He ended it.
He wanted to be single.
She was hurting.
He still cared for her, but it wasn’t his job anymore.
“She’s really cut up, buddy.”
“I bet she is.”
“Look out for her, will you? Make sure she’s ok?”
“Sure. How are you doing?”
“I don’t know. I had to do it though. I did the right thing, didn’t I?”
”I suppose so. I’ll keep an eye on her. Make sure she’s ok.”
I kept an eye on her.
I’d always had an eye on her.
You can’t spend that much time with a girl and feel nothing.
I didn’t spend time with many girls.
I had lots of feelings for her.
We had tickets to a festival.
We all still went.
“”Mate, will you share a tent with her? I’m gonna kip in the tent with the lads, but I don’t want her to be alone.”
“Ok. I’ll share with her.”
“Thanks. You’re a pal.”
A real pal.
“Thanks for sharing with me.”
“The guys sound to be having a laugh in the other tent.”
“Yeah. I’m not bothered. I’m pretty tired.”
“I’ll get the light.”
I felt her breath.
We didn’t say a thing.
I’m a real pal.
She was only the second person I’d ever had sex with.
The first was pretty disappointing.
The second wasn’t.
When we came back from the festival, things had changed.
He didn’t know that.
“You’ll keep an eye out for her, won’t you?”
“Sure I will. No problem.”
“Are you out tonight?”
“No. I’m around at hers tonight. She’s still pretty cut up.”
“That’s really good of you. You’re a real pal.”
A real pal.
The penny dropped.
“He’s confronted me, you know. About us.”
“Shit. What did he say?”
“He said, ‘Are you fucking him?’”
“What did you say?”
“I said yes.”
I had to make a decision.
Keep seeing her, or stick with my best friend.
It was easy.
I dropped him like a stone.
A real pal.
She gave me the confidence I needed.
I grew older, stronger.
I got cocky.
Months turned into years.
I started to screw around.
He went to college, studied music, played in bands.
That’s the last I heard.
I was still working in Repro.
I hated it, but it paid for the beers.
I didn’t see him again for fourteen years.
“It’s getting close to Christmas. Is there anything you really want?”
She looked at me in a strange way.
It made me uneasy.
“I’d like a ring.”
I had some big decisions to make.
I dumped her.
She took it really, really badly.
Like I said, I’m a real pal.
Fourteen years isn’t a long time.
Not until you look back.
Then you get vertigo.
I read it in the paper first.
Then his brother phoned.
The bands hadn’t worked out.
He wasn’t going to be a rock star.
He took a little holiday with his parents.
Just to get his head straight, decide what he wanted to do.
He went night fishing off the rocks, under a bright moon.
And there, by the lapping waves, he lost his footing.
He hit his head, and quietly slipped into the cold water.
His parents searched for him next morning.
They found him on the beach.
No parent should have to see that.
Fourteen years does a lot to a man.
You learn a lot of lessons.
Nearly all the hard way.
I finally met my best friend again.
Only he was in a coffin.
After the funeral we went to the cemetery.
I’ve never cried so hard in my life.
She heard about the funeral, but didn’t come.
She should have been there, but she wasn’t.
Two years later, I was at a baptism.
She was there.
Our kids started playing together.
My wife was talking to friends
He husband was at the buffet.
“Good to see you.”
“I like how you’ve done your hair. It suits you.”
She didn’t mention mine.
The years haven’t been kind.
“You’ve got a cute kid.”
“Yours are cute too.”
“What are you doing now?”
“Erm… I’m still in the same job. Repro.”
She was stunned.
“Never! You hated it back then!”
“I know. It’s complicated.”
I’m lazy. I know it.
We looked at each other, but didn’t say anything.
There was nothing to say.
Time doesn’t heal, it just lays a strange sediment over the pain.
It’s best not to dig sometimes.
You don’t know what’s down there.
Neither of us mentioned him.
We didn’t talk about the funeral.
All the same, I just wanted to say, “You should have been there.”
She should have been there.
I should have been there all those years ago.
I was there at the end.
Too fucking late.
“We’re going now. Been nice to see you.”
“You too. Take care, won’t you?”
“I will. Bye.”
She left with her cute kid and her decent husband.
I went back to my family.
It’s strange how things turn out.