A man visits his friend since childhood to tell him something important.
|Tommy and Heath were never apart. He had practically grown up with him in this shabby, old house. However, it was not home, and manners were the rule, so Tommy knocked. He turned his back to the door for a minute and watched the wind blow the dead leaves down the curb and around his truck tires. Two leaves blew down the street in a pair, and it reminded him of the friendship he and Heath had through the years.
He heard the knob, turned, and saw his face in the storm door glass. His hooded gray eyes stared back. A girl told him once he had cupid bow lips. He wasn’t sure about it. Heath’s mother, Martha, answered by opening a crack. She always had a smile for him. “Hello, Tommy, come in,” she said, and he pulled the screen door.
He stepped inside careful not to let the screen bang shut. “Is Heath here?”
“You mean, is he up yet,” she said and laughed. Her chest rattled, and she coughed. Her long brown and gray hair rolled off her shoulders and hung hiding the front of her small face. “He’s still in the bed, at one in the afternoon.”
“I guess that’s what I meant. I didn’t want to say,” Tommy said. Heath said he wanted to live at home for a while more until he saved enough for rent deposits. Tommy believed him because Heath didn’t drink or party.
“You’re too shy. You should get over it,” Martha said with a wink.
Martha was as close to him as his mother, and she knew what made him blush. Tommy looked down at his shoes in the dark hall. He brought his head up looking at her, grinning, knowing his face was red. He pulled his long, black hair from his eyes. She patted his cheek.
“You know, you’re too pretty for a boy. If I were a young girl, I’d eat you alive.” She smiled.
“Lucky for me then. I’ll look and see if he’s asleep, if you don’t mind, Martha.” He came over today to talk to Heath. He had something nagging at him.
“Suit yourself,” she said with a flick of her hand.
Heath’s bedroom door was first on the right down the hall. It was the same blue, print wallpaper, peeling wallpaper, the same dirty white doors with skeleton locks he had known for years. Tommy gripped the knob but withdrew. He wiped the nervous sweat on his pants and tried again. Tommy had rehearsed his words and was ready. He stepped inside and eased the door shut.
He turned then jerked his head away averting his eyes. Heath was in bed with raven-haired Belinda Ramos. The sheet over them was casual covering the crucial parts but little else. Tommy looked down and away. It pained him seeing her with him. Why was Heath, the quiet loner, and the solitary landscaper, with her?
“Tommy,” Heath said. It was the way he said hello. He had dark shadowy stubble below blue eyes and black brows. His dark curly hair was bed messy.
“I’m guessing Martha doesn’t know she’s here,” Tommy said.
“What can we do for you, Tommy?” Belinda asked with a grin and a raised eyebrow. She laid on the outside closest to him.
“I’ll leave and come back later,” he said.
“No, don’t. Stay. Nothing’s happening here, anyway,” Belinda said, glaring at Heath. She pulled the tan sheet around her, twisted around, and grabbed her panties and jeans from the floor next to her. She dressed underneath it, wasting no time.
Heath turned, put his feet on the floor and lit a cigarette. “Well, this turned out to be low rent. I thought we had something going,” Heath said.
She squatted, still wrapped, and snatched up the rest of her clothes. “We had something going until you couldn’t, you know, get going.”
“Yeah, it happens sometimes,” Heath said.
“Not with this body, it doesn’t,” she said frowning, still dressing.
Tommy clenched his fists, his back to them.
“Tommy? You seem upset?” Belinda asked. She stepped close to him buttoning her white blouse.
“I’m fine, Belinda.” He smiled his best smile. She smiled back.
“Good,” she said. “You’re still my best friend. You know that Tommy.” Her smile didn’t get past her mouth. He knew her, had known her for years. With a little push, she would admit being tired of her stale friends, this shitty small town, her dead-end life.
He nodded. “Best friends, as always, Belinda.” Her big brown eyes did manage a smile for a second and dropped. She slipped on her shoes and left the room, for the bathroom, he supposed. The door clicked shut. He had seen her turn like that, with her long black hair flowing down her back, since they were in grade school.
Heath stood, and Tommy stared at his lily-white tan line from working outdoors shirtless. Tommy smiled.
“Mother has fresh coffee made,” Heath said. Tommy sensed that Heath wanted him to leave. He understood. He made Heath uncomfortable, and in a way, it surprised him. After all, they had grown up together and slept in the same bed.
Without speaking, Tommy left the room. He went down the hall to the kitchen on the right. He spent most his childhood at this kitchen table, either doing homework or playing with Heath. Martha always welcomed him.
Old wooden white cabinets lined the wall on the left as he entered, and the sink and coffee pot was further down the same side. The dinette set was in the room’s center. It was old aluminum, and two out of six chairs matched. It had always been a place of lively talk, good laughs, and coffee. He went straight to Martha at the sink and gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“How’s George doing?” She asked about his father.
“Dad’s holding his own, Martha. He comes to the shop, from time to time. I do most of the work now,” Tommy said.
“As you should. You’re a good son, always have been.” He knew that she knew he lied. Inoperable lymphoma, the doctor said. Dad was worse than ever. He was bedridden and not in the shop at all. His mother died years earlier from lung cancer.
“It’s hard bouncing back and forth from the house to the shop, but I manage,” he said.
Heath entered wearing jeans and a tee-shirt. He poured a cup of black coffee and sat at the table at the end chair. Tommy sat down beside him at a side chair.
Belinda breezed through the kitchen straight to the coffee pot. She flipped her long black hair out of her face as she took a cup from the tree. Martha didn’t ask what Belinda was doing there. Martha didn’t pay any attention to her. She didn’t even look at her. Martha knew she was there with Heath. Belinda smiled at Heath, and Heath smiled back at her.
Tommy watched this exchange. Her hair was long and silky, shining black as the night. She had huge brown eyes and sculpted eyebrows. Her skin was a rich, smooth brown.
“Hey,” Martha said, poking Tommy’s shoulder. “I asked you a question.”
He looked up to her standing over him. “I’m sorry, what did you ask?”
“Would you like anything to eat?”
“No thank you, Martha. I’ve eaten.” She shrugged and went to the dish cabinet.
This moment was it. Nerves or no, Tommy knew he had to say what he came to say or he would burst. Tommy sighed, “Belinda, I know you like Heath,” he said and looked at Heath. Heath eased his cup down locking eyes with Tommy. “I’ve been meaning to say this to you both for a long time. But I haven’t had the nerve.”
Martha paused and turned.
Belinda shook her head, “Tommy, don’t say it. I like you as a friend, but that’s as far as it goes.”
He held up his hand. His heart pounded hard enough to shake his shirt. He took a deep breath. “Hear me out. It must have been fate or karma that you were here today to hear this. So, here goes. I know you’ve been my best friends for years,” he said looking at Belinda. He turned and looked Heath in the eyes. “But, Heath, I’m in love with you.”
Belinda and Martha stood statue still, wide-eyed and caught off guard. Heath rose. His jaws hung slack and dumbfounded. He focused on Tommy frowning with his blue eyes begging. Tommy stood, too, scraping his chair.
“What? I…,” Heath said and darted out of the kitchen.
Tommy had not expected Heath to run, or did he expect the silence which muffled the kitchen. He hung his head. He peeked at Martha from under his hair. Her face glowed red.
Tommy covered his face with both hands. “I’m sorry,” he said, muted between his hands. He turned and bolted out of the kitchen and down the hall toward the front door. His sole thought was to get out and go home.
As he passed Heath’s room, Heath’s arm shot out and grabbed him. Heath jerked Tommy inside and slammed the door. Heath turned away and paced the room biting his fingernail, thinking.
Tommy, chancing he had nothing to lose, fronted Heath and stopped his pacing with a hand to his chest. With a thundering heart, he held Heath’s face with all the calm he could muster. He went up on tip-toes and kissed him. To his delighted surprise, he felt Heath relax. They parted.
“When did you know?” Heath asked. He looked away and shook his head. It wasn’t what he meant, but what came out. Tommy placed a fingertip on Heath’s lips and moved closer.
Tommy’s shapely lips parted as he lifted his chin and peered into Heath’s blue eyes. He tilted his head. They kissed again. And during the hard, fierce kiss, Heath gripped Tommy’s back and pulled him tight. Tommy let his arms fall to his sides in sublime submission. They had never been apart. They were inseparable since childhood. And now they were closer than ever.