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Any resemblance between the characters and any real life person is completely
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Have you ever loved someone so much that the very thought of life without them incapacitates you? I have. I knew the total devastation of it as the doctors told us that Cheryl's cancer was too advanced; it was terminal; she had only a month or two to live. Fifteen years were ending in a few short days. The pain took me to my knees and the only thing that kept me from hitting the floor was Carlos.
Carlos, our best friend since before Cheryl and I'd met. He had seen us through everything; the fights, the illnesses, the joys and the tears. I don't think our marriage would have survived without him. Hell, there would have been no "us" without him. He had been there at the beginning and now he'd see us through the end.
I held Cheryl's hand and Carlos held the other as we cried. When we were too sore, too tired and too hurt to cry anymore, Carlos guided me from the hospital and took me home. As he drove me to his apartment I sat, looking out the window, silently reflecting on my life; wondering how I would survive.
I'd met Carlos my sophomore year in College. He'd been on track; I'd been on the wrestling team. We were assigned to the same room and there was an immediate connection between us. I'd grown up in a small, midwestern town, where the population was ninety-nine percent white, conservative, protestant. I'd never met a Hispanic person or a Chinese person till I got to college. I'd known a few blacks but not many. How I grew up not being a racist, reactionary pig was anyone's guess. Fortunately, I hadn't, and it allowed me to make the best friend of my life.
It wasn't till our junior year that I found out Carlos was gay. Like with nearly everything else, I'd never met a gay person before. We'd stumbled back from another victory party for the football team; we were both shit faced. I'd fumbled for the keys for what seemed like hours before we could get into the room. Once in, I tripped over something and we ended up sprawled out on the floor, giggling like loons.
Once the laughing stopped, I realized Carlos hadn't gotten off me. His body was still pressed against me and it felt like he had a log pressing against my thigh. I stared at him, bewildered, as he leaned in and kissed me. I'd never thought about kissing a guy. It wasn't bad; it did nothing for me but I wasn't revolted. I just sat there, dumbfounded, as he pulled back. It took him a moment to realize what had just happened. He freaked. He was up and stumbling for the door before I could process everything.
I grabbed him and he hit the floor. Curling himself into a ball, he covered his head. "I'm sorry, Jack. I'm sorry."
I was stunned. My best friend was cowering on the floor as if I was about to hurt him. I knelt down beside him and pulled him to me. I wasn't angry. My friend was hurting and all I could think of was trying to keep him safe. I rubbed his back and told him everything would be okay while he cried and kept apologizing. I put him to bed and collapsed into my own bed shortly there after.
I woke to see him sitting on his bed, his elbows on his knees, watching me. "Morning," I croaked, and hated myself for it; my head echoed with the word for at least a minute.
He handed me a glass of water and some aspirin. While I drank it down and tried to wait for the throbbing to pass, Carlos watched me with a worried expression. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. "What?"
He swallowed and looked at the floor. "I'm sorry."
Rolling my eyes at the ceiling I grunted, "You said that last night; at least a hundred times."
"Well, I am."
I sat up, my head swimming a little, and glared at him. "Well get over it! It's not like you bent me over the bed and fucked me, Carlos. It was a kiss!"
He blinked at me. "Are you gay?"
I laughed and rubbed my temple. The aspirin hadn't taken effect yet. "No, Carlos, are you?"
When he didn't say anything I looked up at him. He had a haunted look in his eyes and he nodded. That took a moment to register. "Oh." I watched him for a few minutes while I tried to determine how I felt about it. Finally, I just decided it didn't matter. I shrugged and gave him a smile. "Okay."
Carlos smiled at me cautiously. "You don't care?"
"Nah. Just promise me something." I grinned at him.
"Don't grab my ass, or I'll have to hurt you."
He grinned back. "I can live with that."
The next weekend he introduced me to the "only other person who knew"; Cheryl. It was love at first sight. It took me six months to get her to agree to a date. It wasn't till after graduation, when I proposed, that she told me she'd loved me at first sight too. I was the happiest man in the world.
Carlos and I went into business together after graduation. I had a degree in Computer Technologies and he had a degree in Marketing. We started our own computer consulting business just as the PC boom took off. Within five years we were the hottest consulting company in town, had twenty-five employees and life was looking great.
Marriage hadn't been as easy business. Love was never an issue. Cheryl and I were so in love that any fight would make us sick. That didn't stop us from fighting, but we never went to bed angry. The one time we couldn't resolve the issue, we both stayed up all night and Carlos finally intervened and told me to suck it up and be the man. I did; we resolved the issue; life moved on.
Carlos tried for love a few times. It never seemed to work out. It was a shame too; Cheryl and I liked a couple of the guys a lot. I, however, was always the last to know. Where as I always went to Carlos for advice or a shoulder to cry on when things were bad at home, Carlos went to Cheryl. They'd been friends since grade school and the love between them was as strong as Cheryl's and mine; if Carlos had been straight, they'd have been a couple for sure.
Other than our inability to produce kids, we had no regrets. We'd been pregnant, twice, but neither child had made it to term. Carlos would grieve with us each time. I think he was the only reason we stayed sane. He was the best friend either of us could ask for; we needed him. I never knew how much till Cheryl was diagnosed with cancer. He was right there, helping with everything from the house to taking Cheryl to appointments when I couldn't. The guest room practically became his room for several nights out of the week.
Now, it was coming to an end. The chemo and radiation just couldn't keep up with the progress of the cancer. After months of treatments and more testing than I could count, there was nothing left. Cheryl would be returning home and we'd have hospice care for the time we had left.
It was more than I could deal with. Months of holding onto the faintest of hopes had worn me out. All I wanted to do was die with her. I was so tired, aching heart and soul, and lost. Carlos got us to his place and I sat on the couch, numb, while he made us food. I didn't even taste the soup as I ate it; it was a shame really, Carlos was an incredible cook. I just couldn't seem to focus on anything.
After sitting on the couch for who knows how long, Carlos sat down beside me, put his arm across my shoulders and squeezed. That seemed to unhinge something because the next thing I knew I was laying against him, sobbing into his chest. He just held me as I cried out the anguish. I knew he was hurting too but I didn't have it in me to face it. He was losing his best friend and I was losing my wife. We were both faced with living without the only woman either of us had ever loved.
As my sobbing stilled, I let myself melt against him. It'd been so long since I'd held anyone. After the first month of treatment, Cheryl had been in so much pain that I couldn't do more than hold her like a porcelain doll. Eight months of treatments and tests; eight months without any real physical contact; I was starving for it. I just lay there, listening to his heart beat, and let his warmth wash away a little of the ache. I'd never realized how safe I felt with Carlos; how he always seemed to point me in the right direction.
I don't know why, but I sat up a little and looked into his eyes. They were as exhausted as mine and so sad. I also realized that unlike me, he didn't have a "Carlos" to turn to. Cheryl wasn't available. I don't know how it started, but I found myself pressed against him with his hands in my hair and my lips pleading with his to take away the pain. Then I realized what I was doing and I jerked back. I was so fucking hard. Carlos was looking at me, breathless and flushed; confusion was written all over him.
This time it was my turn to panic. I bolted for the door; shame and guilt were riding me hard. I loved my wife more than life. I was betraying her while she lay, dying, in some sterile hospital room. I hated myself.
Carlos tried to stop me but I threw off his hands and screamed at him. At that moment I hated him too. It was his fault. I couldn't be in love with him. I called him every bigoted thing that he'd ever heard and possibly a few things he hadn't. I told him to stay away from me. I flew from the apartment in a fury of rage and self-loathing. For the first time in over fifteen years I really was alone.
Cheryl came home the next day accompanied by a hospice nurse. I held her and touched her as much as I could. I knew I wouldn't be able to spend every day at home; I had a business to run. Still, I wanted as much time with Cheryl as I could get. I stayed away from work for three days before there was no way I could avoid going back in.
The evening before I went back, Cheryl asked about Carlos. He had not been by since she'd come home and though the pain medications made her drowsy and messed with her sense of time, she knew his absence was unusually long.
I made an excuse about the business and that when I went back he'd be able to take time to visit. Normally, Cheryl would have seen through that in a heartbeat, but she wasn't as aware under the haze of the meds. My guilt and shame hadn't let me go since the night of the kiss and I couldn't face Carlos. I also couldn't keep him from Cheryl, what ever I might have felt; they were too close for her to be without him. I logged on and sent an email to Carlos. "I'll be at work tomorrow. Cheryl misses you. I won't be home till 5pm."
Okay, it was cold and impersonal but I wasn't ready to deal with him. Unfortunately, my subconscious had other ideas. As I dropped my head to my hands, my thoughts went back to how good it had felt. I could actually remember the faint smell of his worn-out cologne, the play of his fingers on my back, and how strong his lean body had felt beneath me. I found myself painfully aware of the throbbing in my jeans.
I got up from the computer and went to the bathroom. The water steamed as I stripped out of my clothes and stepped into the shower. I washed myself, trying desperately to scrub away what I'd been thinking. It wasn't that I was revolted; I was ashamed. The love of my life was dying in the other room and I'd become aroused thinking about her best friend. The problem was, my erection wouldn't go away. I turned the water on full cold and tried to chill my argumentative flesh into submission. It worked, but only after I was chilled to the point of trembling. Even after I'd dried off and warmed back up, a part of the chill remained in my gut. I went to bed, aching at the realization I was losing two people I loved.
Carlos and I avoided each other. There were times when coming in contact was unavoidable. We would have to accept conference calls and meet with clients. As the owners and primary representatives of the company, we couldn't let it all fall apart even if our personal lives were doing just that. It was hardest in the business meetings. Carlos didn't have the life in him that he normally had when engaging clients. I probably didn't either. Our ability to double team, one of our strongest skills, was practically nonexistent.
I just couldn't meet his eyes. The few times I did, what I saw made it worse. There wasn't anger or resentment; there was sadness and regret. How can you look into the eyes of the guy who's been your best friend for nearly twenty years and know the pain you see there you caused? How do you reconcile the fact that though you'd never had a sexual thought about a man before, the memory of his touch was enough to make your pants tight? How do you accept it when the woman you love is there, depending on you, and all you can do is hold her hand and watch her die? I couldn't, so I avoided any overture he made to reconnect. It was selfish and cowardly; I hated myself; most of all, I just hurt.
Our employees knew about Cheryl and all knew how close the three of us were, or at least "had been". They tried their best to keep things together without weighing us down. Carlos spent more time doing client visits and I immersed myself in the technical details of the business. We kept busy. I knew Carlos spent at least some time every day with Cheryl; I was thankful for that. Cheryl needed all the love and support she could get.
I spent my evenings with her. There were times when she could think clearly and we would talk and laugh as if nothing were wrong. Other times, she would slip into dark places or would be so hazy from the meds that I would simply sit and read to her knowing she wasn't listening. My own nights alternated from sleepless, to restless, to dreamless exhaustion. My nights were always worst if I'd been around Carlos that day.
One night I simply gave up. I had come home and found Carlos leaving. We looked at each other. His eyes were so red; so tired. I wanted to hug him and tell him how sorry I was. I wanted to apologize. Most of all, I wanted to know he was still my friend. Instead, we stood in an awkward silence. He tried to say something too, but couldn't. It was so painful to just stand there when he brought his hand up and brushed away one of my tears. He left without saying anything, unable to bear my silence any longer.
I could still feel his fingers on my cheek as I tried to wash away the sense worthlessness I felt. The shower warmed my body, but my soul felt cold. I closed my eyes and the heat of the water reminded me of the warmth of his body. I stood there, under the shower, hugging myself. I remembered his arms holding me. My hand began to stroke my aching shaft as I pressed my forehead against the tiles and remembered the touch of his lips. The memory of his tongue touching mine had me whimpering as I released against the tiled wall. My legs shook; I sank to the floor, and cried. The pressure was gone, but the emptiness felt worse.
It was a month after Cheryl had come home that she talked to me. It was "the talk". I'd heard that there were times a person knows when her time was near; Cheryl simply knew. She held out her hand to me and I took it gently. Her eyes looked into mine with such clarity that I was surprised by the strength I saw there.
"Jack, you know I've always loved you."
I nodded and tried not to cry again.
"I've only loved two men in my life and I'm going to be leaving both of you."
Some might think I'd have been jealous of that statement, but I only felt worse.
"Carlos loves you, Jack. He always has."
I blinked at her. It was something I'd always known, deep down, but I'd never been able to love him the way he wanted so I'd kept the knowledge hidden.
Her hand squeezed mine with more strength than I could have thought possible. "I don't want you to be without love. I couldn't go thinking you'd be alone."
I started to cry. I didn't want her to go. I started sobbing and pleading with her to stay.
Gently pulling me to her she cradled my head against her breast. "Maybe you can't love him the way he loves you, but don't push him away. Promise me you'll fix it Jack. Promise me that you'll make it right."
I nodded into her, unable to find any words.
That wasn't good enough. She lifted my face and looked at me. "Promise."
I choked through my tears, "I promise."
She smiled. "I'll always love you, Jack."
"I love you so much…"
I just held onto her till she got tired. Later that night she slipped into a coma. Carlos met me at the hospital. We sat vigil by her bed in silence; Carlos on the left and me on the right. Her body lasted another day, and then she was gone. We were ushered from the room as the monitors toned that horrible, monotone sound. A few minutes later the doctor came out and expressed his condolences. I needed something to hold onto and I found myself in Carlos's arms. We clung to each other in the hall and cried.
Cheryl's funeral was a week later. Though we had only a few people we considered friends, the funeral home was filled with condolers and people offering their sympathies and support. Carlos stayed with me the entire time. We hadn't talked since Cheryl's death, not about what had happened at least. We were consumed with the necessities of the funeral, business and dealing with the legal issues involved in dying.
After all the mourners and condolers had left, Carlos was still beside me as I stared at the grave. At some point I had slipped my hand into his and our fingers were still intertwined. I think that was the only thing that kept me standing, the feeling of his hand in mine. Finally, as the attendants came to lower the coffin and set Cheryl to rest, we turned from the grave and walked back toward Carlos's car.
He looked at our hands as we got to the car; then he looked at me. For the first time in over a month, I didn't look away. "I can't face the empty house. I don't think I could take another night there alone."
His weary eyes looked into mine. "What do you really want, Jack?"
I swallowed. "I don't know." I wanted to look away but I knew if I did, it would be over. "I promised Cheryl I'd make it right." I closed my eyes and took a deep breath before looking back at the darkness of his gaze. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean those horrible things I said that night. I just can't go on not knowing if I've pushed you away for good."
Carlos studied me intently before he asked; "You want to bunk at my place tonight?"
I nodded. Letting go of my hand, he went around to the driver's side while I got into the passenger's side. We rode back to his place in silence. It wasn't an uncomfortable silence, but more of an empty one. He got us a couple of beers while I pulled off my coat and undid my tie.
"Thanks." I smiled weakly as he handed me a bottle and sat down on the couch. After a deep swig, I joined him.
After a long silence, we looked at each other. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly before he started to talk. "You hurt me, Jack. I wasn't the one who started that kiss." He paused and then looked back at his beer. "I'm not sure if I can trust you."
I nodded and looked at my own beer. "I'm not sure if I trust me."
We sat in silence for a while. I closed my eyes and tried to find the strength to tell him the truth. "I've been dreaming about you." I didn't look at him, but I waited for a minute studying the bottle before I pushed on. "I felt like I was betraying Cheryl. She was dying and I was having thoughts about my best friend." I felt the tears slipping down my cheeks. "I didn't know what to do." I closed my eyes and tried to admit how badly it hurt.