Old Times' SakebyYDB95©
Two years out of college and in the city, and Mark and I still mostly did the same things every weekend - usually with his latest girlfriend just like back on campus. That was perfectly okay with me, of course. What wasn't nearly so okay was that Mark was still bouncing from one girlfriend to the next every few months. But it was none of my business, so I mostly looked the other way on it all. Mostly. I had learned my lesson about sticking my nose in his romantic business back in college after he tossed Becky aside. But three years after the fact, I still hadn't quite worked Becky out of my system.
So wouldn't you just know that Mark would bring her up when he tried to talk me into joining him and his current belle, Randi, for the Halloween party at the alumni club! "Got an e-mail from her a few weeks ago," he told me. "She says hello. I think she'd like to try being friends again. She'll be at the party, Andy."
"Do you want to be friends with her again?" I asked.
"Hell no!" Mark said, grimacing. "But that's different. We dated, we have a history. You were only ever friends with her. It's easier to patch those things up."
"Wish I could agree with that," I said. Mark and I did not talk about Becky in any great detail, ever. It was all too painful for me and too much of a hassle for him, now that he had moved on several times over. Besides, he had broken her heart back when I still cared about her, and though my feelings about her had since changed dramatically, the memory of how distraught she was that spring remained a sore point. I was never going to forget her wailing on my shoulder late that night...I wish the last seven months had never happened! Though I was sure he had at least an inkling of the fact I'd had a crush on her back in the day, we had never really talked about it. With Becky now out of the picture for over two years, I'd figured we never would.
That didn't change on this occasion, anyway. "Eh, have it your way, dude," Mark said. "But people do grow up. Maybe she's not so selfish anymore. It's worth finding out."
"Yeah, maybe it is," I conceded. "But I don't really feel any need to find out."
"So you're not going to the party?" Mark looked disappointed -- something I rarely saw in him. "It'll be the first time we didn't hit it together."
"Good point," I said. "I'll think about it." The hell I would, not with Becky there, but at least saying that would get Mark off my back about the whole thing.
"Cool," he said. "I got a great costume, sort of a clown-gone-bad thing, full mask and everything. I can't wait to see if anybody can even tell it's me. Not to be missed, dude. Even Becky says she can't wait to see it."
"I'll keep that in mind," was all I had to say.
"I got this brilliant idea," he continued. "I'm going to carry around some jingle bells, and use only those to speak. One shake for yes, two for no, something like that. The girls'll love it!"
Randi -- petite, blonde and always bursting with energy -- turned up at our table right then and grabbed Mark in the kind of squeeze women always gave him while the relationship was new and fresh. I could still recall Becky throwing her plump body at him the same way and desperately wishing she would do the same to me just once. "Hey, boy!" she exclaimed. Looking at me, she added, "Hi, Andy."
"How are you?" I asked, standing.
"Fine, but you're not leaving, are you?" Randi had the decency to look disappointed.
"I'm due back at work," I lied. "Maybe I can stay longer next time."
"Hope so, dude," Mark said. He might -- or might not -- have added a barely-perceptible nod acknowledging his thanks for my getting lost so he could be alone with Randi. Another hard lesson learned from the Becky days, that. Another thing Mark and I had never discussed was Becky's habit of being passive aggressive and nasty with me when she wanted me to leave so she could sleep with Mark. She had told me all about it after they'd broken up, and for once she'd apologized for something. So I'd been more careful since then, in that way as with so many other ways with respect to Mark's girlfriends. But I wasn't sure if Mark really gave me that courtesy nod or if I just imagined it. One never could tell with him, best buddies though we were.
It was a week to Halloween, and our favorite coffee shop was decked out in the usual orange and black décor everywhere. There was even a notice for some costume contest to start later in the week, grand prize being free coffee for a month. That was worth a try, only I never really tried at Halloween anyway. Even as a kid, I had only ever been in it for the candy. Suddenly candy sounded like a good idea, for any reminder of Becky got me a bit depressed. So I stopped off at the corner store next door and bought a Milky Way, and gave up on fighting the munchies or the nasty memories of Becky for the walk back to the office.
Becky -- plump but beautiful, spoiled rotten, long dark hair and a figure to die for, nice as pie when she wanted to be, but selfish and manipulative was her natural setting -- was a defining event in my loss of innocence back in college. Since on that October afternoon I hadn't seen her since graduation day, the memories no longer had the nasty bite they'd had a couple of years before. But when they did bubble to the surface, they still had the power to make me feel like a grade-A fool.
Really, though, a fool is just what I had been for falling in love with my best friend's girl. I'd known it at the time, too, or at least I'd said it to myself time and again; but it hadn't done me a damn bit of good. It was all down to that December afternoon alone in her room, just the setting that was sure to make a guy like me fall head over heels. Before that day, she'd just been another friend. Afterward? Months of longing and eating my heart out and waiting my turn. Which, of course, never came.
Mark and I had been friends since freshman year, and I'd long since grown used to the effortless attraction he held over so many young women. I didn't resent it in the least, because he and I were attracted to very different types -- until Becky came along. When Becky had turned up junior year, the only difference I could see at first was she wasn't quite so young as his usual dates. Two years older than us, she had taken some time off college for some personal reasons, and had come back with an odd combination of seeming at once world-weary and a bit immature.
Mark, too, was immature. I know that's a lousy thing to say about your best friend, but it was true. He was. And it was that very immaturity that attracted Becky to him. "He didn't make me feel fifty, like everybody else here does," she would whine on my shoulder months later, after he dumped her. "He made me feel young."
"Because he's so young himself," I remember replying. And she nodded through her tears.
I felt only friendship for Becky at first, though I couldn't avoid noticing her beautiful body and nice smile, and that lush dark hair. Add her outgoing personality against my own shyness -- there's a reason why Mark was always the one with a girlfriend -- and we made fast friends, just as tight as Mark and I had always been. Dinner together at least twice a week, studybreaks together, it was all perfectly innocent and proper for a guy and his best friend's girl.
But then came the morning during finals week in December when she joined me for breakfast. I remember her asking if I minded her joining me, and I nodded.
"You do mind?" she asked, pulling her tray away. For some reason, the vulnerability that gesture betrayed had stuck with me across all that had happened since then.
As my mouth was full, I shook my head and waved a welcome to her, and she sat down. The details of the conversation are lost to history, as I had no idea what was about to happen to our friendship, or to my innocence. There was some small talk about the final exams that awaited us that morning -- anthro for her, bio for me -- and how we'd been holding up through the ungodly hours of studying all week.
What I do remember is the invitation. "After the exam, come by my room this afternoon," she told me. "Mark brought by something I'd like to show you."
"Okay," I said. "Something to look forward to after the test, then!"
After finishing our breakfast, I walked her out of the dining hall, and then it was off to the exam, about which I also remember nothing. Bio was my token science credit, and I pulled a B in it. Good enough. At the appointed hour that afternoon, I went by Becky's room, still oblivious as to what was about to happen. "Come in!" came the usual cheerful voice from inside, and so I did.
"Andy!" Becky was curled up on her bed, set beneath the window on the other side of the little room. She was wearing a beat-up old white polo shirt and checkered pants, classic finals-week attire; but even so she looked adorable. All the more so in her cozy surroundings. "How was the exam?"
"Great, thanks," I said, standing uncertainly by the door and admiring the decorations on her wall. I'd never been in her room, close as we'd been the past several weeks. "You?"
"I don't know," she said, "But what's done is done." I was about to ask about the thing she'd wanted me to come see, but before I could say another word, she added, "Come sit on the bed! I'm in the mood to talk about anything except anthro."
It was a typical Northeastern December outside, cold and gray and wet, like the "before" photo in a cocoa commercial, and Becky's room was warm and well-lit, and as usual her smile could have lit up a stadium. We did nothing inappropriate, if that's what you're thinking, and at that stage I didn't even think of any such thing. But if my body was behaving itself, my heart began to slip within minutes. The conversation varied from Mark (I have no idea where he was that day, by the way) to my recent romantic misadventures -- I had lost my virginity to a psycho bitch from Sarah Lawrence that summer -- to childhood to plans for after college, and all manner of other topics. It went on for three hours or more, and I never even looked at my watch. There was nowhere on earth I'd rather have been but sitting there on her bed and chatting about everything and nothing.
Knowing what I didn't know then but do know now about Becky, I now see some hints that maybe she was trying to tease me or bait me. As I recounted my lousy experience with the gal from Sarah Lawrence, Becky was just a bit too deferential to what a wonderful guy I was and how I deserved someone better. "Honestly, Andy, sometimes I wish Mark were a bit more mature like you are." While the topic was on sex, she shyly added that "I'm reconsidering the whole thing about waiting until you're married -- why bother?" Then there was the Georgia O'Keefe poster on her wall, of which she noted, "All her paintings have a certain sensuousness, don't they?"
"They do," I agreed. "My roommate has one on our wall that's even racier than that one, though."
"The one that looks like a vagina?" she asked perfectly frankly. And I could only nod, savoring her shameless use of the V-word while she sat there inches from me on her bed. My kind of lady, all right.
By the end of the afternoon, I felt like I had made a new best friend. Amidst token mention of Mark, whom she planned to spend that evening with alone before we all went home for the holidays, she saw me off at the door with a warm smile and a welcome to come back anytime I felt like talking. I longed to hug her goodbye, but had just enough self-control left to know I shouldn't. Back out in the cold on my way back to my dorm, I felt toasty warm with the memory of it all. Knowing as sure as the spring follows the winter that Mark would have dumped her by then, the first thoughts of "I'm next in line" were already bubbling up in my smitten heart.
There was, of course, no way I could have known that beautiful afternoon would be the zenith of our friendship and it would only be downhill from there. Certainly I had no way of knowing the emotional intimacy we had enjoyed had been of far less significance to Becky. I have since come to believe women never appreciate just how precious that sort of emotional intimacy is to us guys. It comes natural to them, I guess, but not to us, or at least not to me. To her, as far as I know, it was just another afternoon with just another friend. To me, it was a revelation -- perhaps a fake one, but a revelation nonetheless.
In any case, I would be blissfully unaware of the unpleasantness dead ahead for some time yet. When I got home that weekend, it was straight off to the Hallmark shop to buy Becky a Christmas card. For good measure, I got one for Mark as well -- that would dispel any suspicions of inappropriate feelings on my part, I was sure. And with the blessed privacy that came with having my own room back home, Becky came into the daydreams of my evening. Heretofore strictly off-limits because she was my best friend's girl, she now pranced around my imagination in her underwear or nothing at all and stroked me oh-so-gently while I lay on my rickety old bed and jacked off to my heart's content. By the end of winter break, I had concocted a vivid view of her body from every angle, everything from the way that lush hair grazed her creamy bare back (which somehow never had a pimple or a mark from a bra strap anywhere to be seen) to the way her thighs framed her golden-brown pubic hair just so when she curled up enticingly beside me on the bed, to exactly how far her breasts hung when she sat up beside me in the morning and how stiff her nipples got when I admired them and played with them. In reality I had never seen her less than fully clothed from head to toe, but by January I could have been forgiven if I'd forgotten that.
Both Becky and Mark were very appreciative of the cards when we got back in January, and from then on the three of us were inseparable. For about a month. To my thrill and delight, Becky even referred to me alongside Mark sometimes. "It's a shame I don't have more time to spend with you and Mark this week," she said one day at lunch, and afterward I repeated the line all the way back to my room, where I imagined myself undressing her.
Maybe trouble was already underfoot before that month was up. More than likely it was, but I was still too blinded by lust and infatuation to notice. Or maybe it was just that Becky was even more manipulative than I would come to realize she was. In any case, the memory of that wonderful afternoon in her room was still quite fresh in my mind well into the semester. And it would remain that way even -- perhaps especially -- after the inevitable when he dumped her in April. All through that semester and the following one, bringing us up to a full year after that lovely afternoon in her room, the hope for another quiet, intimate afternoon alone with Becky cursed me with the patience of a saint when she warranted no patience at all.
Why did she warrant no patience at all? Because from the day Mark tossed her aside, Becky paid it forward to me. I wasn't willing to see it then, so I put up with months of phone calls and e-mails that were never returned. There were also plans that were canceled at the last minute, always with a pathetic excuse ("I needed a friend to talk to, guys wouldn't understand") or no excuse at all, and nary an offer to reschedule. She did indulge in hours of her crying on my shoulder about Mark, a favor that was never to be reciprocated when I needed a friend to lean on -- although to be completely fair, any angst I suffered in those months was about her anyway. But I looked the other way on all that and more. Through the times she lost her patience with my persistence and mistreated me on purpose so I would get lost and leave her alone with someone else (she tended to come clean about that after the fact, as if she were proud of it), and times she used me openly to get her closer to other guys she liked, I let myself believe it would all change once she realized just how much I cared. She never did, but hope sprang eternal. I thought I'd hit paydirt on the lovely day when she finally showed some willingness to communicate with me about the growing problems in our friendship, but it turned out she had done so only because she'd heard I had tickets to a concert she wanted to see. I, of course, was delighted to have her join us for the concert. No matter how many times I got a cold shoulder from her, the ever-slender hope for another day like the one back in December kept me following her around like a goddamn puppy. And I knew it.
And so did she.
Now, it's just a fact of life that sometimes you really need to have your heart destroyed before you see that special someone for who and what she really is. Thanks to Becky, I'll never forget the night I learned that lesson. It was at a dance. Perhaps that's why I had the visceral reaction when Mark told me she would be at the Halloween party. I really don't know. What I do know is that at the end-of-semester dance senior year -- exactly a year after our one precious day together -- Becky drove a stake right through the heart of my youthful idealism about love, and it was gone forever. Early in the evening I'd heard she was looking for me, and heaven knew I was looking for her. My feelings for her were mostly gone by then, for obvious reasons; but some semblance of friendship still survived right up to that night. I had one final wish, and one wish only. We were never to be a couple and I knew it, those fantasies I'd cooked up back in my room were never to come to fruition; but just once, I wanted to dance with Becky. One nice memory before we went our separate ways, it seemed only fair after all we'd been through.
But the room was awfully crowded, and she was nowhere to be found. At long last, though, I finally stumbled upon her just in time for the last song of the night. She was dressed in a lovely black and white frock with a full skirt, and I could already envision it swaying playfully around my legs as we danced together, just old friends but just the two of us! Thrilled, I stepped up and tapped her on the shoulder.
Her response: "Oh, hi, Andy," and then she immediately turned around and asked another guy to dance.
I never spoke to her again. Mutual friends told me she had no idea why I had turned on her. Apparently she also concluded that I was gay. Which did not offend me, but it did hurt me, because it made me realize that she'd never even really known me at all. That wonderful bond we'd created that day in her room had been even more one-sided than I had thought, I suppose.
Oh, and the thing she'd wanted to show me that day in her room? After our long, intimate and wonderfully comforting conversation, she had finally shown it to me just before I left. It was a picture of a penis that Mark had cut out of a porno magazine. She found it wonderfully entertaining. I never knew why.
I never did tell Mark about the dance incident. He no longer gave a damn about Becky by then, so why bother explaining anything? He did notice that she and I were no longer friends by then, but he'd been decent enough to never ask why. If he had known, I figured, he'd have had the decency not to suggest Becky and I meet up again at a dance of all things! I hoped, anyway.
I stuck to my plan not to go to the party, though I'd have enjoyed seeing how many people Mark could fool with that clown costume of his. The deadline for buying tickets came and went, and I made plans to stay home with a bowl of chocolate and a sixpack of beer and watch The Nightmare Before Christmas. I got as far as buying the beer on the afternoon before the party when Mark called.
"Listen, dude, can you buy my ticket to the party off me? Randi surprised me with tickets to Aruba for the weekend."