By Larry Faulkner
It was a nice day. Nice autumn day, not too cold, but just right.
A nice day for Thanksgiving Break.
A nice day for a funeral.
I sat in the cemetery listening to the priest talking about life everlasting and all that God stuff.
But all I could think about was Derek.
And I cried.
I sat there after the ceremony ended. Just sat there and cried.
They said that Derek "accidentally" shot himself. I knew better.
Derek had committed suicide.
My life-long best friend had given up on life.
Eventually, Roger came and sat with me. All I could do was hug him.
"Come on, Brad," he said as he patted me on the back. "Let's get out of here. Trine's waiting and we can go get some coffee. OK?"
My tear-ridden eyes looked up and saw his tender expression, his caring smile, his gentle brown eyes looking into my soul. I nodded and he held my shoulders as we got up.
Roger walked me his black sedan where Trine was waiting. Trine smiled at me with forced smile. She played the part of the grieving widow with all her heart. Derek and Trine had only been going out for a year, but she truly loved him, and the tears proved that fact. Trine drew in a sharp breath and encircled Roger and I with her tiny arms.
We drove to the coffee shop that Derek and I always went to, The Cup, where he first met Trine. She was waitressing there, when Derek first saw her. He was entranced by her long, wavy hair, the color of a coffee bean before it was ground and crushed, and by her eyes, a unique shade of smoky blue, encased in the gentle ellipses that were her eyelids. Derek was in love with her the moment that he saw her.
We got to the shop and I excused myself to go to the restroom. Once inside the small room, I peered at myself in the mirror. I looked like crap. My pale face and dark circles around my eyes made me look about 60 years old instead of 20. It seemed as if my usually bright features had been dulled with a million shades of grey. My normally flaring green eyes changed to a dirty shade near brown, my hair, regularly light brown, now looked the shade of mud. Where I was usually slim, I now looked a victim of anorexia. My appearance reflected the way I felt.
I finished my business in the restroom and rejoined my friends who had found a table. We ordered some coffee, not the cappuccinos or espressos that we would normally get, but just straight, black coffee. We waited in silence, and drank in silence.
I stared at Roger while I took the first sip from my cup. I studied him and saw things I never noticed before. I studied him and saw how he had subtle streaks of brown in his short golden hair. I saw how his nose flared whenever he breathed through it, and how his lips pursed whenever he swallowed the hot liquid in his cup.
Roger had moved into our neighborhood right before our freshman year of high school. Derek and I befriended him quickly and we all became good friends. I had always felt different towards Roger than I had towards Derek. I had felt a brother-like bond with Derek, while my feelings for Roger I couldn't explain. I guess part of it was admiration, but the other part was just a big question mark. Roger was smart, extremely smart, and was now in the honors program of the local university that Derek and I were also attending. I guess we planned it that way. It was our second year of college, and next year the three of us would get an apartment together. At least, that was the plan. The plan was pretty much done with now.
I stared at Roger as he stared down at the table. He had a blank stare of sadness on his face, as we all did. Just the sad looks and no words.
We finished our coffee and paid our bill. Roger dropped Trine off after assurance that she wouldn't follow her boyfriend's chosen path. Just Roger and I in the car when we started the long drive back to our side of town.
Roger finally broke the silence. "You okay, Brad?"
I cleared my throat slightly. "Yeah, just need a little rest. That's all."
"Helluva time for your parents to be out of town, huh?"
I shrugged. "Yeah, but my family is big on Thanksgiving. The only way I got out of Grandma's this year was because of the funeral. My parents always pull things like this on me. I can deal."
Roger stopped for a red light and looked over at me with that same look of concern and true friendship that he had given me in the cemetery. "I talked to my parents. They said I could stay the night, that is, if you want me to."
I looked into his eyes and felt like Roger really did care about me. I felt something else from Roger, too. Something I had never felt before. I was a good feeling, but I didn't know what it was.
I smiled slightly. "Sure."
I spent the rest of the afternoon sleeping. Lately, I was sleeping a lot. Today was no different. I slept until my stomach woke me with its grumbles. I got up, took a quick shower, and was just drying off when I heard Roger come through the front door.
"Brad?" he called upstairs to me.
"Up here," I answered back. I heard his big feet tromp up the stairs. Roger was a big guy, not fat, but tall, three inches taller than my six feet, and it was hard for him to take soft steps with his size 14 feet.
I was in my room with a towel wrapped around my waist sorting through my dresser drawers when Roger walked in. He was halted when he saw the sight of me half naked.
He turned to exit, apologizing, when I refuted and insisted that he come back in and sit on my bed while I dressed. He reluctantly agreed.
I carefully selected a pair of underwear from the drawer as I noticed Roger out of the corner of my eye. He didn't know I was watching him, but I knew that he was watching me. He was watching me and trying not to, which I thought was very odd. I put my underwear on, removed the towel and turned to face Roger. He immediately looked in my eyes.
It was my turn to play caretaker. Putting on a pair of denim shorts, I talked to Roger. "What's wrong?"
His eyes shifted, then closed for a moment. They opened once again and looked away. "Nothing."
I sat by my friend, putting my arm around him. "Roger, it's never gonna be the same. But it will be all right."
"I did it." He mumbled.
There was a pause as I tried to process what he said, and still I didn't comprehend.
"Did what, Roger?"
He drew in a breath. "I made Derek want to kill himself."
My eyes bulged out of their sockets. "What? How? Roger..."
He stopped me in my confusion. "I went to him the night before he killed himself. I wanted his advice on something."
"Like what?" I seemed to calm down a little.
"I...I don't know if I should tell you," he stammered.
I sighed and shook my head. "You can tell me anything, and you know that, but I'll respect your privacy, Roger. I'm sure, whatever it is, it didn't make Derek want to die."
"It did." Roger started to cry, sobbing more and more heavily. "It did. It did!!"
I took Roger by the shoulders and looked in his eyes, ready to chew him out for having such thoughts, when I softened. It was his face. His gentle, caring face, streaming with tears, and my anger was gone. Instead of cursing him, I hugged him, cherishing my remaining best friend as I felt him cherish me.
We drew apart, still holding each other, when I felt that feeling again. The feeling I had felt in the car. Only I knew what it was this time.
I looked in Roger's eyes, and he looked in mine. His head came closer to mine. I closed my eyes and felt his lips touch mine. No open mouth, no tongue, just lips, lingering and passionate lips. And then he drew back. My eyes opened and met his, which were filled with doubt and uncertainty. When I smiled, his eyes lightened and his lips formed a smile of his own.
And then I understood what Roger told Derek.
And I kissed Roger again. I kissed him passionately this time, and I could feel his love encompass me.
I woke up the next morning in my bed, in Roger's arms. Roger was caressing my shoulders as I turned to face him.
His eyes opened and a big smile formed on his face. He leaned over and kissed me gently. My eyes trailed down to his broad chest. "You told Derek that you were in love with me, huh?"
Roger's mood quickly went dark. "Yeah," he whispered. "He wasn't freaked by it, but he was surprised. He said it was okay, and didn't really know what to tell me. But he made sure that I knew that he was still my friend no matter what." Roger paused. "I guess I didn't make him kill himself."
"Then why did he do it?" I whispered.
Roger just pulled me tight against him. "I don't know, Brad."
And just then, I never wanted Roger to let me go.