Author: Cora Carmack
You would think I’d be used to it by now. That it wouldn’t feel like a rusty eggbeater to the heart every time I saw them together.
You would think I would stop subjecting myself to the torture of seeing the girl I loved with another guy.
You would be wrong on all counts.
A nor’easter had just blown through, so the Philadelphia air was crisp. Day-old snow still crunched beneath my boots. The sound seemed unusually loud, like I walked toward the gallows instead of coffee with friends.
I gave one of those funny-it’s-not-actually-funny laughs, and my breath came out like smoke. I could see them standing on the corner up ahead. Bliss’s arms were wound around Garrick’s neck, and the two of them stood wrapped together on the sidewalk. Bundled in coats and scarves, they could have been a magazine ad or one of those perfect pictures that come in the frame when you buy it.
I hated those pictures.
I tried not to be jealous. I was getting over it.
I wanted Bliss to be happy, and as she slipped her hands in Garrick’s coat pockets and their breath fogged between them, she definitely looked happy. But that was part of the problem. Even if I managed to let go of my feelings for Bliss completely, it was their happiness that inspired my jealousy.
Because I was fucking miserable. I tried to keep myself busy, made some friends, and settled into life all right here, but it just wasn’t the same.
Starting over sucked.
On a scale of one to ghetto, my apartment was a solid eight. Things were still awkward with my best friend. I had student loans piling so high I might asphyxiate beneath them at any time. I thought by pursuing my master’s degree, I would get at least one part of my life right . . . WRONG.
I was the youngest one in the program, and everyone else had years of working in the real world under his or her belt. They all had their lives together, and my life was about as clean and well kept as the community bathrooms had been in my freshman dorm. I’d been here nearly three months, and the only acting I’d done had been a cameo appearance as a homeless person in a Good Samaritan commercial.
Yeah, I was living the good life.
I knew the minute Bliss caught sight of me because she pulled her hands out of Garrick’s pockets, and placed them safely at her sides. She stepped out of his arms and called, “Cade!”
I smiled. Maybe I was doing some acting after all.
I met them on the sidewalk, and Bliss gave me a hug. Short. Obligatory. Garrick shook my hand. As much as it irked me, I still really liked the guy. He’d never tried to keep Bliss from seeing me, and he’d apparently given me a pretty stellar reference when I applied to Temple. He didn’t go around marking his territory or telling me to back off. He shook my hand and smiled, and sounded genuine when he said, “It’s good to see you, Cade.”
“Good to see you guys, too.”
There was a moment of awkward silence, and then Bliss gave an exaggerated shiver. “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m freezing. Let’s head inside.”
Together we filed through the door. Mugshots was a coffee place during the day and served alcohol at night. I’d not been there yet, as it was kind of a long trek from my apartment up by the Temple campus and because I didn’t drink coffee, but I’d heard good things. Bliss loved coffee, and I still loved making Bliss happy, so I agreed to meet there when she called. I thought of asking if they’d serve me alcohol now, even though it was morning. Instead I settled on a smoothie and found us a table big enough that we’d have plenty of personal space.
Bliss sat first while Garrick waited for their drinks. Her cheeks were pink from the cold, but the winter weather agreed with her. The blue scarf knotted around her neck brought out her eyes, and her curls were scattered across her shoulders, windswept and wonderful.
Damn it. I had to stop doing this.
She pulled off her gloves, and rubbed her hands together. “How are you?” she asked.
I balled my fists under the table and lied. “I’m great. Classes are good. I’m loving Temple. And the city is great. I’m great.”
“You are?” I could tell by the look on her face that she knew I was lying. She was my best friend, which made her pretty hard to fool. She’d always been good at reading me . . . except for when it came to how I felt about her. She could pick up on just about all my other fears and insecurities, but never that. Sometimes I wondered if it was wishful thinking. Maybe she never picked up on my feelings because she hadn’t wanted to.
“I am,” I assured her. She still didn’t believe me, but she knew me well enough to know that I needed to hold on to my lie. I couldn’t vent to her about my problems, not right now. We didn’t have that kind of relationship anymore.
Garrick sat down. He’d brought all three of our drinks. I didn’t even hear them call out my order.
“Thanks,” I said.
“No problem. What are we talking about?”
Here we go again.
I took a long slurp of my smoothie so that I didn’t have to answer immediately.
Bliss said, “Cade just finished telling me all about his classes. He’s kicking higher education’s ass.” At least some things hadn’t changed. She still knew me well enough to know when I needed an out.
Garrick nudged Bliss’s drink toward her and smiled when she took a long, grateful drink. He turned to me and said, “That’s good to hear, Cade. I’m glad it’s going well. I’m still on good terms with the professors at Temple, so if you ever need anything, you know you just have to ask.”
God, why couldn’t he have been an asshole? If he were, one good punch would have gone a long way to easing the tightness in my chest. And it would be much cheaper than punching out a wall in my apartment.
I said, “Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.”
We chattered about unimportant things. Bliss talked about their production of Pride and Prejudice, and I realized that Garrick really had been good for her. I never would have guessed that out of all of us, she’d be the one doing theatre professionally so quickly after we graduated. It’s not that she wasn’t talented, but she was never confident. I thought she would have gone the safer route and been a stage manager. I liked to think I could have brought that out of her, too, but I wasn’t so sure.
She talked about their apartment on the edge of the Gayborhood. So far, I’d managed to wriggle out of all her invitations to visit, but sooner or later I was going to run out of excuses and would have to see the place they lived. Together.
Apparently their neighborhood was a pretty big party area. They lived right across from a really popular bar. Garrick said, “Bliss is such a light sleeper that it has become a regular event to wake up and listen to the drama that inevitably occurs outside our window at closing time.”
She was a light sleeper? I hated that he knew that and I didn’t. I hated feeling this way. They started relaying a story of one of those nighttime events, but they were barely looking at me. They stared at each other, laughing, reliving the memory. I was a spectator to their perfect harmony, and it was a show I was tired of watching.
I made a promise to myself then that I wouldn’t do this again. Not until I had figured all my shit out. This had to be the last time. I smiled and nodded through the rest of the story, and was relieved when Bliss’s phone rang.
She looked at the screen, and didn’t even explain before she accepted the call and pressed the phone to her ear. “Kelsey? Oh my God! I haven’t heard from you in weeks!”
Kelsey had done exactly what she said she would. At the end of the summer, everyone was moving to new cities or new universities, and Kelsey went overseas for the trip of a lifetime. Every time I looked at Facebook, she had added a new country to her list.
Bliss held up a finger and mouthed, “Be right back.” She stood and said into the phone, “Kelsey, hold on one sec. I can barely hear you. I’m going to go outside.”
I watched her go, remembering when her face used to light up like that talking to me. It was depressing the way life branched off in different directions. Trees only grew up and out. There was no going back to the roots, to the way things had been. I’d spent four years with my college friends, and they felt like family. But now we were scattered across the country and would probably never be all together again.
Garrick said, “Cade, there’s something I’d like to talk to you about while Bliss is gone.”
This was going to suck. I could tell. Last time we’d had a chat alone, he’d told me that I had to get over Bliss, that I couldn’t live my life based on my feelings for her. Damn it if he wasn’t still right.
“I’m all ears,” I said.
“I don’t really know the best way to say—”
“Just say it.” That was the worst part of all of this. I’d gotten my heart broken by my best friend, and now everyone tiptoed around me like I was on the verge of meltdown, like a girl with PMS. Apparently having emotions equated to having a vagina.
Garrick took a deep breath. He looked unsure, but in the moments before he spoke, a smile pulled at his face, like he just couldn’t help himself.
“I’m proposing to Bliss,” he said.
The world went silent, and I heard the tick-tick of the clock on the wall beside us. It sounded like the ticking of a bomb, which was ironic, considering all the pieces of me that I had been holding together by sheer force of will had just been blown to bits.
I schooled my features as best as I could even though I felt like I might suffocate at any moment. I took a beat, which is just a fancy acting word for a pause, but it felt easier if I approached this like a scene, like fiction. Beats are reserved for those moments when something in the scene or your character shifts. They are moments of change.
Man, was this one hell of a beat.
Before Garrick could say something nice or consoling, I pushed my character, pushed myself back into action. I smiled and made a face that I hoped look congratulatory.
“That’s great, man! She couldn’t have found a better guy.”
It really was just like acting, bad acting anyway. Like when the words didn’t feel natural in my mouth and my mind stayed separate from what I was saying no matter how hard I tried to stay in character. My thoughts raced ahead, trying to judge whether or not my audience was buying my performance, whether Garrick was buying it.
“So, you’re okay with this?”
It was imperative that I didn’t allow myself to pause before I answered, “Of course! Bliss is my best friend, and I’ve never seen her so happy, which means I couldn’t be happier for her. The past is the past.”
He reached across the table and patted me on the shoulder, like I was his son or little brother or his dog.
“You’re a good man, Cade.”
That was me . . . the perpetual good guy, which meant I perpetually came in second. My smoothie tasted bitter on my tongue.
“You had auditions last week, right?” Garrick asked. “How did they turn out?”
Oh please no. I just had to hear about his proposal plans. If I had to follow that up by relaying my complete and utter failure as a grad student, I’d impale myself on a stirring straw.
Luckily I was saved by Bliss’s return. She was tucking her phone back into her pocket, and had a wide smile on her face. She stood behind Garrick’s chair and placed a hand on his shoulder. I was struck suddenly by the thought that she was going to say yes.
Somewhere deep in my gut, I could feel the certainty of it. And it killed me.
I should say something, anything, but I was stalled. Because this wasn’t fiction. This wasn’t a play, and we weren’t characters. This was my life, and change had a way of creeping up and stabbing me in the back.
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