"I'm not very good at these things, but I couldn't just hide and not say something. My best friend got married today. I'm gonna miss you both. May you have many happy days to come." His eyes filled with tears and whatever else he was going to say he either wouldn't or couldn't. "To the bride and groom."
I watched as he downed his glass of champagne. I took a sip of my own, feeling in the pit of my stomach that something had truly changed in the last few moments. As to what, I had no clue though. Jenny and I left a few minutes later and began our honeymoon. When we got back, Jenny searched for a house close to the university so she could continue her studies and I went off for training camp.
The first season, we did okay. The team had a winning season and we got eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. I was gone for pretty much six to eight months out of the year. I should have noticed what was wrong earlier, but I was blind. Jenny dropped out after the winter quarter, because she wanted to spend more time with me. The second season, we made it to the Super Bowl but lost. Jenny started spending money like mad. During the third season, we won the Super Bowl and my contract was renewed for an obscene amount of money. Jenny was happy, although I can't really say that I was.
Our relationship wasn't that much more than when we first started going out. We had sex. That was the one thing we did well together. But we had so little to talk about. Before the start of the fourth season, we were like two strangers living in the same house, occasionally sleeping together. It was right after the second game of my fourth professional season that I found out about the affair. The entire time, I hadn't heard one word from Byron. When I had downtime or during the off-season, I'd call him and we'd talk, but he never initiated it. My best friend was slipping away, and I now needed him more than ever.
In the final regular season game of my fourth season, after snapping the ball, the center got crunched and three guys came after me. The first I eluded. The second grabbed me and I landed, hard. My back popped and caused me to lose my breath. When the third guy landed on the two of us, I heard my back crack. After the refs called time, I realized I couldn't move. All I remember for the next two hours was watching the view I had from flat on my back on a stretcher, first in the locker room, then in the hospital.
When all was said and done, the pop dislocated my back and the crack was my spinal cord being severed. There was a surgery to repair the broken vertebra, but nothing else could be done. It wasn't until the swelling had gone down that they knew the extent of my paralysis. Through all of this, I was numb to it all. This couldn't be happening to me. It was with a supreme sense of detachment that I recuperated.
After nine days, I could start feeling a little lower than my back. There was that sharp tingling feeling you get when your foot is asleep and it was mid-thigh. Hope blossomed inside me, that perhaps I wouldn't be confined to the damn wheelchair I was in. Perhaps it was wrong and I could walk again, run again, and play again. Two weeks later, my hope was smashed. The tingling subsided at mid thigh. From that point and down in both legs, I was nerve dead. My feet and knees were useless.
Jenny sat by me, while the doctors told me the news. I kept the tears at bay the entire time the doctor was there, knowing that I only had to be strong until he left, because Jenny could handle it. After the doctor left, I turned to my wife and reached out my hand to her. She didn't take it.
"I don't think I can do this Luke."
The lump in my throat only got bigger, making my voice hoarse and scratchy. "What?"
"This isn't the right time, but I can't do this any longer. I'm so sorry, but I want a divorce."
To say that I lost my mind a bit at that moment would be an understatement. All I really know is that I screamed and yelled at Jenny for a good ten minutes and then threw things at her. Eventually, the hospital staff came and sedated me. Whether I was sedated or not, my life was a world of sleeping and fitful periods of wakefulness that seemed to be filled in shades of gray. After rehab was done, and my divorce final, I found myself alone, living in a condo in Seattle that was handicap accessible.
The divorce decree as well as my contract payout left me with about six million dollars to my name, but I was still alone. After three months of living in Seattle, on my own, I lost the will to leave my home. Dishes piled up in the sink. Laundry wasn't a concern; I'd wear the same clothes over and over again. To say I was depressed would be an understatement. I stopped going to therapy, physical or mental. I just didn't care anymore. My every waking thought was about how unfair my life was. 'Why me' was an almost constant refrain that would run through my head over and over again.
I wouldn't answer my phone, not wanting to talk to anybody, but when the phone calls stopped coming, I got even more depressed. Deep down, I know I was doing this to myself. I was powerless to stop the spiral into darkness though. My mind was my worst enemy, but I wouldn't let anyone try and distract me. It was in the middle of April, when the skies started clearing and the temperature rising, sitting on my balcony, and watching the boats in Eliot Bay float by where Byron found me.
In my heart, I was so happy to see him, but my mind wasn't operating right. "What the hell are you doing here?"
He smiled his small, shy smile at me, which made me angry. "Your mom gave me a key." He smiled at me; the spark of sadness in his eyes was strong and made me angry, hating his pity. "I'm keeping my promise."
For a moment, I couldn't figure out what he meant, and then I remembered his promise in the library. "Where were you last year when I found out my wife was cheating on me? Why weren't you at the hospital? Where was your promise then?" His smile faded a bit, just around the eyes. "I didn't know Jenny cheated on you. I'm sorry about that." He walked around me, to lean on the balcony railing. "As to why I wasn't at the hospital... I was keeping another promise I made."
My anger was seething. Watching him, standing there, so perfect, so tall and powerful, made me so jealous I could hardly breathe. "What promise?"
He looked anywhere but in my eyes. "The promise I made to your wife."
Now I was jealous, angry, and confused. "What promise did you make to Jenny?"
He looked in my eyes then, letting me see that it hurt to say what he was going to say. "She made me promise to never see you or talk to you again unless you called me."
What little vestiges of the love I had once felt for Jenny died right then. Of all the people and things I had given up for her, my best friend shouldn't have been one of them. The sacrifices I didn't mind, but she had no right to ask that of others. "Why would you possibly agree to something like that?"
He cocked his mouth in a half-smile. "She was worried about the competition."
Self-pity washed away everything else I was feeling. "She's taken everything away from me now."
Byron leaned over me, pinning me to my chair, and I didn't like the feeling. "You have a lot, Luke. More than a lot of people have. You're alive. You have money, a roof over your head, and people who love and care about you."
Scorn filled my voice, I was horrified at how bitter I was, but it was there nonetheless. "Fat lot of good that does me."
Byron grabbed a glass that I had been sipping scotch out of and threw it against the wall, startling me. "Everything has come so fucking easy for you in your life! When have you ever had to struggle? When did you ever have to try? The first obstacle that comes up and you turn tail and cower like this? How dare you!" He started pacing back and forth in front of me, more furious than I had ever seen him. "You're still alive Luke! You could have died, or been much more paralyzed than you are. Are you grateful? No!"
My fear at his tirade turned into boiling, seething anger. "When you've lost everything that ever mattered to you, then you can lecture me!"
He turned on me, molten fury boiling in his eyes. "When I've lost everything that ever mattered to me?" With that he closed the space between us, grabbed my shoulders, and then kissed me for all he was worth. For the first time since the accident, what had remained flaccid and unresponsive stood up and begged for attention. My mind blanked and all I could feel was his lips against mine, his taste on my tongue, and the scent of him filling me, all of me.
Before I knew it, he had released me. "Don't go near the glass." He started to walk back into the apartment. "I'll be back in a few minutes." Then he was gone.
I sat in confusion for several minutes, wondering what had just happened. My mind and body sang because Byron was back in my life. I had missed him so much, and now that he had left, even if only temporarily, I realized just how deep a hole in my heart there was that he had been a part of. I loved the big guy. He was my best friend, confidant, and yes, for a brief time, lover. I wouldn't say I was in love with him, but without him in my life, it had certainly been a hell of a lot emptier.
Within the hour, Byron was back. Wordlessly, he searched for a broom and dustpan, and then swept up the broken glass. He went to dump the shards and saw the mess that the kitchen was in. All he did was roll up his sleeves and start working. I felt suddenly embarrassed at my slovenly living habits and wheeled myself into my bedroom. With a passion that few could ever know, I detested the shower contraption that I was forced to use, but use it I did. Once cleaned, I donned fresh clothes and wheeled myself back into the living room to find Byron cooking something in a spic and span kitchen. I wasn't even sure what kind of food I had in my house. I normally ordered anything that would deliver. I looked down at my body, noticing that the muscles in my legs had shrunk and that I had started gaining a spare tire around my middle. Shame filled me. Oh I was still pissed at the world, but I had a new dose of reality thrown into the mix to temper it.
Byron served lunch at the dining room table and sat down and ate quietly. When I had finished everything off my plate, he took it from me and got me some more. When he sat down, he looked in my eyes. "I did give up everything."
My fork halfway to my mouth, I stared at him. "What?"
He chuckled, which was actually more like a snort. "You."
The word hung there in silence for several minutes. Shock had me drop my fork to the plate in which I didn't even hear the clatter. After several long minutes, Byron took a drink from his water glass then looked out the window, out to the bay. "I love you Luke. I have since we were freshmen in high school. It killed me when you told me about Jenny. It devastated me when you ran after her after she walked in on us making love." He looked back at me, directly into my eyes and I could see the shiny moisture, barely clinging to his lids. "You've always been everything to me."
I looked down at my plate, feeling my stomach roil. It hit me then. Everything. All the pain, the hurt, the betrayal, the failure, the fear, all of it hit me. I broke down in tears, gut wrenching, body-wracking sobs that went on and on. I was only vaguely aware when Byron wheeled me to the couch and picked me up in his strong arms and held me. The sun had lowered several degrees in the sky when I finally calmed down. Byron held me the whole time.
At that moment, I realized that I had been given a choice that night. I could have stayed with Byron, or I could have run after Jenny. I ran after her. Was it the right choice? I'll never know. It didn't change anything though. The one person in the entire world who had always, and I do mean always, been there for me I had hurt, crushed into dust.
I looked into Byron's eyes and saw that he had been crying too. Whether tears of commiseration or of pain, I don't know. "I'm sorry Luke. I didn't tell you that to upset you." He wiped a tear off my cheek. "I just wanted you to know, that in some small way, I do understand. Even if the situations are totally opposite, I do understand."
After my crying jag, I was physically and emotionally exhausted. Byron helped me to bed and then left, with a promise to return the next day. Over the next several weeks, Byron helped me clean and organize my condo, helped me get back into physical therapy and even to see a therapist. I learned the Byron had indeed gotten his veterinary degree and was working as an intern at an animal hospital in Seattle. Every day after work, he'd stop by my place. He would stay for dinner, which we shared chores doing, then leave. The visits were friendly, almost playful, but each night as he left, I couldn't help wishing it were more than that. Like that night all those years ago, when it came to Byron, I didn't know what to do. After his confession about his feelings, I couldn't ask for more. For once, I didn't know what to do at all.
I spent several of my therapy sessions working out my anger with Jenny and my feelings of anger over the accident. With time, I began to accept that my life wasn't over, just changed. But when we started talking about Byron, I had to learn all about myself, from the very beginning choices of my life, all over again. Byron wasn't easy. He wasn't something that I could easily conquer. After several sessions, I realized, that I gave up on Jenny. I didn't put the time and energy into it, because it didn't come easy for me. But with Byron, I had a new chance, a chance to start fresh. The realization hit me, that even though I knew all along how Byron felt, he wasn't easy to deal with. Being with him wouldn't be easy, so I dropped it, just like every other challenge. The big shocker came when in one of my last sessions, I came to realize how much I truly loved Byron, body and soul, and had, for quite some time.
That night, after therapy and dinner, Byron and I sat and talked by the fire. It was now November, and our friendship still ended after dinner. I wanted more. I needed more. Subtle hints seemed to fly right over his head. I had left several buttons open on my shirt. My jeans were extra tight. I licked my lips and touched him as often as I could. After an hour, I realized like that time in California, subtle doesn't work for me.
"Byron? Why won't you kiss me?"
Okay, so my timing sucked, because Byron had just sipped from his glass and ended up spraying it into the fire. "What?"
Shaking inside, but letting every ounce of bravado I had try to shine through, I slid over to him on the couch, touching his cheek with my hand. "I want to go to bed with you, By."
His smile was wistful, sad even. "You haven't called me By since the accident."
I chuckled, more surprised than anything. "I hadn't realized it."
Byron grew serious though. "I don't think it would be a good idea if we had sex Luke."
He was afraid. I couldn't blame him for it. I cupped his face with both my hands so I could look directly in his eyes, letting all my sincerity shine through. "I don't want to fuck you. I want to make love to you, By."
His voice was trembling, as was his entire body. "Why now?"
Fear kept me from speaking aloud what I wanted to say. "We never got to finish that night." I cocked a grin at him, but I saw his features fall, the hope drain from his eyes.
"I don't think so, Luke."
I panicked. I wanted the pain to go away. "God damn it! This is so fucking hard." I lowered my forehead to his, willing him to hear me out, willing him to believe me. "I'm fighting here, By. I don't want a fuck. I don't want to be lovers. I want everything." I looked in his eyes, seeing hope return there. "I want it to be messy and complicated. I don't want it to be easy. Because there is no such thing as easy when it comes to this."
He grinned at me, his full-wattage, one hundred percent happy grin. "What is this, Luke?"
I swallowed so hard, it almost echoed off the walls. "Love, By." I looked in his eyes and saw his tear up, but he blinked it back admirably. "I love you, By. It took me years to realize it and a nasty accident to fix my screw ups, but I'm here. Now. If you want me."
He kissed me quick, a light peck of his lips that only made me hunger for more. "Was that so hard?"
I laughed at his teasing glance. "You bet your ass it was." Then I sobered. "But I wouldn't trade it for anything."
With that, Byron let out a rebel yell then picked me up off the couch and carried me to the bed. He lay me down and slowly peeled off all my clothes, worshiping my body as he went, cherishing it, like he did that first time in California. But rather than be uncomfortable like last time, I reveled in it.
About where my body goes numb from the accident, is a ring of nerves that don't quite work right. At times, they can be ultra-sensitive. Byron found that spot on my thighs as he was exploring my body with his tongue and strummed against that spot until I was moaning, keening, begging for release. With a look of utmost love and tenderness, Byron raised his big, larger than life body over mine, and slowly took possession of me, completing something that had been interrupted almost six years before.
As he pressed into me, I squirmed for a moment, but quickly adjusted, taking him in deep. Like last time, the moment his thick, veined head brushed my trigger, I climaxed, quaking with release, painting Byron's torso with my pleasure. His arms bracketed my face as he leaned over me, his height allowing him to arch and pull my body, kiss me, and rub all that forested carpet of fur against me. As we both climbed higher, him to his first, me to my second release, we growled and moaned, gasped and cried out our pleasure. And when the pleasure became too much, had me teetering on the edge, Byron smiled at me again, that same, wonderful, reserved just for me smiles, and we both exploded, crying out our love and joy at once.
We took our time coming back to reality, panting and breathing heavy against the other. After a while, our bodies quickened again and this time, Byron was determined that I take control. It took some maneuvering, to find the right position, but it worked out fine. Having no sensation in my knees or feet, I couldn't easily brace myself on them. I could wrench my ankle or slip off my knees and never know that I had been in trouble. After a few frustrated minutes of searching for something comfortable, I asked Byron to let me lie on my back and have him ride me. He refused. Eventually, we found the right spot, the right way, and we spent many minutes reveling in what we were sharing.
I won't share the details; looking back, I realize it kind of looked like a comedy of errors. But that's the beauty of being with someone who loves you as you love them. There are no mistakes. There is patience and joy, love and commitment, peace and wonderment. It's all there. Is it easy? Hell no. But like I've learned, the best things in life never are.