Shuttlecock

The last snow falls over the city like a reverent hush.  With their faces tucked into their collars, the people on the streets aren’t talking as much as they might.  Sharp and I move over the thin, white blanket just a little slower than usual.  It isn’t the weather alone.  We have our own weather between us, a soft, silent storm building.

We cross at MacDougal and cut into the park.  Beside me, Sharp is watching his shoes against the snow as he walks.  The shoes are old, but the laces are new.  We were together, two days ago, when he impulsively tossed them onto the counter at a store across town.

He shrugged as I caught his eye, “I need a new pair.”

I had glanced away to watch two women bickering as they pushed out through the revolving door.  Valentine chocolates, stacked near the counter, were going for half off.  I’ve had enough sweets the last couple of months.

The park is beautiful in the fresh snow.  Yellow urine and tobacco stains are all whited out, homely mistakes corrected to make a tidy page of the morning.   We come to our spot near the fountain and use our gloved hands to clear the seat.  The fountain is still today.

“We have to clear the air.”

Sharp frowns into the distance.  “I hate that phrase.”

“I know.”

“Well, here’s the thing,” he says.  He casts me a quick glance, the frown fixed in place.  I know Sharp all too well; there’s a gentle pity in his brown eyes.  “I know you feel like Fiona is hurting our friendship, but really I think it’s you and me doing that.”

“I love you.”

“Well, I love you, too.  But this is about stupid, old school jealousy.  All friends have it and it’s nothing but trouble, you know?”

I look out over the park, feeling the needles of tears starting.  He doesn’t understand me.  Taking a a breath, I try again.  “Sharp, I know I’ve been short with you a lot recently.  And you were right the other night: I didn’t forget to invite Fiona over.  I decided not to invite her.”

“We spend more time together than most friends I’ve ever had,” he says. “As a matter of fact, I’ve been bending over backwards to make sure we get time to do our thing – you know, people watching and putzing.  I hate those guys who forget their friends when they get a girl.”

“Sharp,” I say. “I fell in love with you two years ago.”

One time, Sharp and I were walking home from a bar and we saw a taxi hit a homeless woman.  It happened so suddenly that it couldn’t have been avoided.  She just sort of fell into the street.  Everyone who saw it stopped in their tracks.  Sharp had worn the open mouth of an astonished puppet and, queerly, it made me giggle.  He wears that look now, but I can’t quite laugh today.

“I thought I was over it and then Fiona came along and it’s been eating me up.  It isn’t just that friend thing.  I just think you need to know.”

“Oh, fuck,” he says.  His eyes search my face, looking for a joke, then fall to his lap.  “You’re crying.”

“I know.”

He stands and turns away from me.  We’ve become the awkward staging of a Neil Simon play.  That thought will make me laugh later on, I tell myself as I scramble in my coat pocket for something to wipe my face with.

“The plus side of allergies is you always have one of these,” I say, holding up a used tissue.  “Although I think this one’s spent.”

He doesn’t say anything.

I turn on the bench and hook an elbow over the back.  “Here is the plain, unvarnished truth.  I fell in love with you and then I decided I wasn’t anymore. Didn’t feel that way.  And I know that Fiona is a perfectly fine person, but when you already have a reason to want to dislike someone, it’s not hard to notice their faults.  You and I have made days of finding fault in people.”

“I know,” he says.  He lets his shoulders down a little and turns to look at me.

His auburn beard is scotch kingly against the white morning, but his eyes are those of a sad fool.  Love is an astonishing thing.  I’ve been on his side of this mess before. Easing out a breath, I say, “I told you this because I can’t keep it anymore.  If you let it ruin us, I’ll never forgive you.”

He lets out a surprised laugh like a bark; the jaded park birds give him mild, quizzical glances.  Taking his seat again, he says, “For the moment, let’s put this aside.”

“Okay.”

“Hear me out.”

“I’m all ears.”

He rolls his eyes and glances away.  “Well, no matter what the motive, you can’t be cold and distant every time she’s with me.  I agree that she name drops a little.”

“But how could you like someone like that?”

He shakes his head, “And you were right when you said she dresses too nice for me.”

“Oh brother.”

“Well, what I’m getting at is this: Probably the perfect woman for me is you if you had a vagina.”

“Thanks.”

He laughs again and I want to laugh, too, but I bite my lip and look away.  “Think about it this way. How many times do people who get along as pals still enjoy the same level of comfort after sex?”

“I don’t know,” I say.  “Has this become a Nora Ephron script, may she rest in peace?”

I surprise another laugh from him.

“Besides,” I say. “I didn’t tell you to open up a hypothetical about us having sex.”

“Open up a hypothetical? Is that like a hypodermic?”

I bite back a grin.  “So what are you trying to say, shitbird?”

“I mean, dummy, that we’re lucky.  If I met a girl just like you, she and I would still never have quite the same friendship.”

“Because the sex?”

“Because the sex.”

I turn on the seat, my whole self aimed straight at the fountain across the way.  The snow flakes are getting big and feathery.  “They say that’s a sign the storm is almost over.”

“The snow?” he asks. “We’re talking about the weather?”

I look at him from the side of my face.  “Well, I’m not crying anymore.”

“So, you’ve loved me all this time,” he says.  “Whenever we’re out together, drinking and yukking it up, you’re undressing me with your eyes. I’m not even good looking.”

“I’m never undressing you with my eyes.”  I squint at him. “Not even now.  Besides, what do looks have to do with it? You think Fiona lets you have sex with her because of your abs?  Attraction is based on more than looks. You should know that.  You’re a smart person.”

“I do know that.”

“Well then?”

He straightens in his seat, too, so we’re both trained toward the fountain.  In our years, we’ve never had to look at each other to weave humor between us.  “But you think of me when you touch yourself?”

My eyebrows climb my face. “Actually, not at all.  Do you think of Fiona?”

“She and I have a great sex life.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

“No,” he says. “I think of Julie Andrews.”

“I know. You told me that once.”

“And you still loved me?”

It isn’t hard to imagine that we’ll come out of this okay.  Even though I’ve been confronted anew with my feelings since Fiona came into the picture, in many ways I’ve had a long time to find a sort of peace with them.  This isn’t a new burden for me, but time will tell if Sharp carries it heavy or if he carries it light.  For the moment, we must do what he and I have always done and kick it between us, always keeping it in the air.

“I’ll make an effort to like her more,” I say.

“And I’ll try to tone it down, not be so charming around you.”

“You’re off to a great start.”

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