Once In Awhile
She don't want to call you
Speaking on the telephone
And once in your life
She don't want to know you.
The one you found,
She is gone.
--Once In Awhile "Rocky Horror Show"
She was gone. Really gone, this time. I wasn't going to get any more second chances.
Like all dramatic stories, it was a dark and stormy night. I was driving home from a meeting with some of the country's top military advisors. I had the radio playing to drown out the monotony of the rain on the windshield, and the constant beat of the windshield wipers.
Between song sets, the DJ came on with the news. I didn't pay much attention, until I heard the word 'Animorph.' I figured Marco was up to something again, so I turned up the volume.
". . . Cassie Rubin announced her engagement today to Ronnie Masters, a colleague. . . ."
I stopped listening.
I stopped paying attention to everything but my own thoughts at that moment.
Cassie. My Cassie. Engaged.
Of course, she wasn't my Cassie anymore. She hadn't been for a long time. But. . . engaged? I could hardly believe it.
I snapped out of my reverie when the dark highway began to light up with city lights. I glanced at the clock. It was after midnight; I'd been driving without a purpose for over two hours.
Almost as scary as the prospect of Cassie's marriage.
I'd driven past my own home a long time ago. I should have turned around then to go back, but the car seemed to have a mind of its own. Or maybe the news had just sapped me of my own will.
Why hadn't Cassie told me she was engaged? I'd met this Ronnie guy once, I was pretty sure, but Cassie hadn't said anything about them being serious enough to consider marriage.
The next thing I knew, I'd pulled into the driveway of a large, familiar house. The car seemed to have a mind of its own, but I didn't mind stopping here. The house was dark, but I was sure Marco wouldn't mind the late night visit. If he was home, of course.
I woke up with a start when the doorbell rang. I'd been sleeping restlessly all night; I think it was the storm. I'd never slept well during thunderstorms. It's one of my dark secrets.
I looked at my alarm clock. The red numbers showed it was almost one. Who the hell would be at my door at one in the morning?
The bell rang again and I threw the covers off. I groped for the switch on my lamp then, squinting in the sudden brightness, found my robe and shrugged into it as I stumbled from my room towards the front door.
The doorbell rang a third time just as I reached the door. I quickly tied the belt on the robe, then pulled the door open. I normally used the intercom, then checked the peephole, but I was too tired to go through all those security measures. No assassin was going to come to my door at one in the morning during a hurricane.
An ominous flash of lightening illuminated my front porch just long enough for me to recognize the figure standing there. "Jake?!"
"Hi, Marco," he replied flatly. "Can I come in?"
"Sure." I stepped back to let him in, flipping on the hall light as I did so. "What are you doing here, man?"
Jake shrugged his dripping shoulders. "I don't know. I really don't. I was on my way home, then I heard the news. . . did you hear? About Cassie?"
Shit. I didn't like the sound of that. "What happened?" I prepared for the worst.
I stood still for a moment, still waiting for the big announcement. Then I realized that was all Jake was going to say. "Oh. Um. Wow." Way to be articulate, Marco. "Hey, why don't you come in. Go take a shower, I'll put your clothes in the wash. I'll, uh, try to find something dry for you. And we'll talk, okay?" Jake nodded, then silently followed me to the bathroom.
I left Jake to his shower while I dug through my closet and dresser for clothes that'd fit Jake. I found a couple of possibilities, and set them just inside the bathroom door for Jake, then went back to my room to find suitable clothes for myself.
Half an hour later, Jake met me down in the kitchen. His hair was still wet, but he didn't look like a half drowned puppy anymore. The T-Shirt was a bit tight, and the jeans a bit shorter than was fashionable, but he looked a little better than he had when he'd appeared on my doorstep.
Can I get you anything?" I offered when he sat down across from me at the table. "Coffee? A Coke?"
"Have any beer?"
I was surprised. Jake wasn't usually the drinking type. But the news of Cassie's engagement was obviously hard on him. Once wouldn't hurt. I got a bottle for each of us out of the fridge and brought them back to the table.
"Did you have any idea?" Jake asked as he popped the lid of on the edge of the table.
I opened mine the same way. I knew what he was talking about. "Cassie and I don't talk much. I don't even know who she's been dating."
"Some guy named Ronnie. He works with her."
Normally I'd have made some witty comment about an office romance and how rarely they last, but Jake definitely wasn't in a joking mood. Besides, we both knew Cassie would agree to marry someone unless she was sure it'd work.
"I proposed to her once," Jake said softly before taking a gulp of beer.
I nearly spit mine out. "What?" I managed to gasp.
Jake nodded. "Just before the. . . well, before. I asked her to marry me. She said maybe. After."
I don't know which surprised me more. That Jake had proposed at 17, or that he hadn't told me about it until now.
"She never actually answered me. After. We just. . . drifted apart."
If it wouldn't have been kind of weird, I'd have hugged Jake then. He had the pathetic puppy look about him again. But we'd never been big on hugging. Besides, my relationship with Jake in the last couple of years had gotten to be sort of. . . complicated.
Jake took a huge gulp of his beer. "Have anymore?"
I welcomed the chance to focus on something besides Jake. This late night visit was dredging up memories and emotions I'd hoped were forgotten.
We drank in silence for a few minutes before Jake spoke again. "Why don't you think she told either of us?"
I shrugged, careful to avoid eye contact with Jake. "Like I said, she and I haven't talked much. And with
you. . . I don't know. Maybe she just wasn't ready to deal with all the bagged that'd come with telling you something this big."
"It just doesn't seem like her."
"I know, Jake. I know."
After another silence, Jake asked for his third beer. I wanted to say no but there really wasn't any harm in it. He certainly wasn't about to drive home. And when a guy finds out the love of his life is marrying another guy, he has the right to drown his sorrows. God knows I've done that more than once.
"Why don't we take these in the living room," I suggested, holding up his beer and my own. "It's more comfortable."
Jake shrugged, then stood. I led the way.
Jake sat in sullen silence while nursing his beer. His eyes were beginning to take on a drunken glazed look. Since I've never been a fan of awkward silences, I began babbling to fill it, telling Jake about my newest TV and movie projects and, by a slip of the tongue, romances.
". . . met this really awesome guy, Simon, while on the set. We went out for dinner -" I practically bit my tongue in my haste to shut up when I realized what I was saying. Surely Jake didn't want to hear about my love life.
But either he didn't hear, didn't care, or didn't catch the significance of the dinner reference. Or that's what I thought until, after a moment of silence, Jake asked, "Have you ever seriously liked, maybe even loved, someone, Marco? I read about the never ending supply of girl- and boyfriends, but I don't know how many of those are true, or how serious they are."
Oh boy. I should have kept my mouth shut.
I was tempted to lie. But what kind of person lies to his best friend? Besides, I could feel the booze loosening my tongue. "Um, there was one guy. . . awhile ago now. Nothing ever happened between us but. . . he was the first guy I ever really felt anything for." Had I meant that? Yeah. Had I meant to say all that? Not really.
But Jake looked interested, for the first time that night. "Yeah?"
I shrugged. "Really, there isn't much else to say. It never would have worked, so I didn't seriously pursue it."
Jake looked a little disappointed that I wasn't sharing all the details, but didn't push it any farther. I breathed a sigh of relief. Jake wasn't in a state to hear the whole story.
Because, of course, Jake was the 'one guy' of the story. A twist on the 'unrequited crush on the best friend' plot. I don't know how Jake would take the news that I had a huge crush on him at one point, and still harbored a small one. Especially now, when he was harboring his own heartbreak. Jake's great, but is, unfortunately, one of the straightest guys I know.
We finish our beers while making small talk. Jake tells me a little about the military work he's doing, but there's not too much he can say, as a lot is Top Secret.
By three o'clock, the storm outside is diminishing and Jake is half asleep. I was about to offer to take him up to the guest room, when he leaned over and rested his head on my shoulder, either passed out or fast asleep.
Despite tabloid reports to the contrary, I pride myself on my self control. I've never been stoned or high, never been completely drunk, and I've never taken advantage of someone sexually. Despite the number of times it's been tempting.
Now was one of those times. Nothing big, but how easy it'd be to sneak a quick kiss. . . .
I stop myself, just as Jake shifts position. I freeze and stare at him as he wakes and blinks at me. "I fell asleep?"
"Just for a minute. Come on, I'll take you to a bedroom." Jake nods and I help him off the couch and lead him to the nearest guest room.
The room Marco led me to was large and luxurious. If this was a guest room, Marco's own room must have been the size of a small apartment.
I bounced a little on the edge of the bed while Marco stood awkwardly in the center of the room. "Uh, anything else you need?"
I thought for a moment, the beer having slowed me down. "No. Thanks." Feeling about ready to pass out, I laid down. Marco nodded and left, turning the light out as he went.
But tired as I was, the moment the light was out my brain kicked in to overdrive and wouldn't let me sleep.
I couldn't forget what Marco had said, about the first guy he liked. I hardly remembered asking the question that led to the revelation; I certainly hadn't expected any sort of answer. Marco seems like the sort of guy destined for life long bachelorhood. Of course, with the answer he gave me, that could still be true. I certainly knew how unrequited love went.
My overactive, half drunk mind wouldn't leave the subject of Marco's love life alone. For want of anything better to do, I kept trying to figure out who the 'one guy' was. But trying to remember the boyfriends Marco had had didn't do much good because Marco had said nothing had happened between them.
And suddenly clues began locking into place. A furtive glance when I walked into the kitchen wearing the small clothes. Tensing when I'd fallen half asleep on his shoulder. Hundreds of seemingly innocent, but flirtatious, comments over the years.
"Holy shit," I muttered. I might have been dead tired and slightly drunk, but Marco was still my best friend and I often knew him better than he knew himself. I had a pretty good idea now who he was talking about, but I had a feeling I wasn't going to sleep until I knew for sure.
I'd only been in Marco's house a few times before, usually when it was light and I was sober, but I managed to find Marco's bedroom after only a few wrong turns. When I found it, I knocked lightly on the door.
"Huh?" was Marco's muffled reply. I took it as an invitation and stepped in.
Marco turned on his bedside lamp when I entered. I'd been right: his room was the size of an apartment. "Jake? You need something?"
I shook my head, but said, "It's me, isn't it?"
Marco looked shocked, and started to speak, but stopped before he actually said anything. "Yeah," he finally admitted. "How'd you know?"
I shrugged. "Mind if I come in?"
Marco looked nervous. "I don't know, Jake. . . ."
I stepped in and sat on the foot of his bed.
"Jake? I really think you should go back to your room. We can talk in the morning. When we're both sober and had time to think stuff over."
I wracked my brain, trying to come up with an excuse to stay. "I. . . I'm not sure I can get back to my room. Your house is too big." Did that sound as lame to him as it sounded to me?
Marco stared at me, trying to figure me out, I'm sure; if I was telling the truth. I half expected a gruff "fuck you," and the light to be snapped off, but instead Marco got out of bed, wearing just his boxers, and led me back to my room.
"Go to sleep," Marco instructed as we stood in the doorway. "We'll talk in the morning."
I nodded, but neither of us moved otherwise.
Marco whispered something under his breath. It sounded like, "I'm going to regret this," but the next thing I knew his arms were around my neck, pulling me down so he could kiss me easier. Hesitantly at first, but then as he realized I wasn't resisting, harder.
In the handful of relationships I've had, I was always the leader. In everything. From paying for dinner to sex. But in this case I had no idea what to do, or even what I wanted to do. For once I was more than happy to let Marco push me back to the bed.
It was a strange night. Marco taught me, step by step, what I was supposed to do, though I always felt I was messing something up. Marco never let it show if I did, though.
It's almost dawn when Marco falls asleep, spooned behind me on the bed. Sleep doesn't come as easily to me, though my head is pounding from booze, excitement and lack of sleep.
The clock reads six in the morning. It's been just eight short hours since I'd learned that the woman I thought was the love of my life is marrying another man. Now. . . well, I don't know where I stand with Marco. What if he wakes up, completely freaked out by tonight's events? What if I freak out as soon as I wake up enough to really grasp all that's happened? Can I handle something like that?
Marco shifts, and slides an arm over my stomach, keeping me close, and I feel a warm shiver spread through my body. It seems my body's made a decision without informing my mind.