Great story, Rose! One of my all-time favourites of yours, I think. Just a conversation, just two characters, but a lifetime's worth of history packed into such a short space. Bittersweet, moving on like that. Thanks so much for writing!
Remember that time...?
It's been a while since I wrote a short story but you know that when I do, it's going to be in response to a prompt over at Black Ship Books! So, here it is.
The buzzing of her 'phone woke Sam from a deep sleep. She checked the name of the caller and smiled. Grabbing the tiny device she got out of bed as carefully as she could so as not to disturb Tasha, and tip-toed into the living area of her cabin. There she tapped the 'Accept' button on the screen and Tom's face appeared.
“Sam! At last! I thought...”
“Tom, do you know what time it is?”
He glanced at the clock in the corner of his own screen. “Yeah, it's...”
“Not there, here!”
“Errr... Oh, I forgot! You keep Earth time on the ship, don't you? That must make it...”
“Too late for a quick chat.”
“I'm sorry. I'll call you back.”
“It's OK. I'm awake now. Well, mostly. Just be grateful that I'm an officer with a suite, so I don't have to take this call in bed.”
“Oh, right. Tasha.”
“You don't have to say her name like it's a bad word.”
“Sorry. I didn't realise it came across like that.”
“Well, it does. She's my wife, Tom, whether you like it or not.”
“I know, I know. Look, I'm sorry I didn't make it to the ceremony. But I had... stuff...”
“Stuff that kept you away from your best friend's wedding. I know. Must have been really important stuff, right?”
He opened his mouth to speak and then closed it again. There was only one excuse for him not being there, and it was the one thing he could never say out loud. And somehow, she had always found it impossible to tell him that she understood. Until tonight.
“Hey, what was the name of that girl you were seeing just before I met Tasha? Alice? Annabelle?”
“Do you mean Anastasia?”
“That's the one! Remember the night we all got really drunk and you suggested we should have a threesome? She was really up for it, wasn't she?”
“I was drunk. I didn't know what I was saying.”
“I know. I was there, remember? But you know... It's funny, looking back but... I don't think you'd had half as much as me and Annabelle.”
“Whoever. Think about it. You were late getting to the bar and me and whatshername were half cut by the time you arrived. Then we went back to... was it your place?”
“No, it was hers. I was stationed on the moon, so I was crashing at her skypad while I was on leave.”
“That's right! God that place was gorgeous. Right at the top of the troposphere, so it was always dark and you could see the stars... But she only had a couple of bottles of beer and you wouldn't drink the wine.”
“So, you started drinking after us and finished before us.”
“I don't see where this is going, Sam.”
“I think you do.”
The silence stretched out between them for a moment. She kept her eyes on his face but he was looking down, to the side, anywhere but at her.
“Look, Sam, I'm sorry for waking you. Apologise to Tasha, too, if you have to. I'll call you...”
“Oh, no you don't! You don't get to walk out of this conversation. We should have had it a long time ago. And I have to apologise to you for not having it. I've known...”
“Known what? That I can fake being drunk?” He gave a forced laugh, trying to keep her away from the truth just a little bit longer.
“Well, you can't. Not even to a drunk,” she informed him. “So, that night, Annie and I are stupid drunk and she has a nice rack and I'm too drunk to be polite and not look and you must have noticed.” She took a breath. “With me so far?”
He nodded, his eyes misty with the memory of that night. “And you must have thought, 'Hey, this could be my chance to get in Sam's pants, because she's so far gone she probably won't even remember in the morning, and even if she does, I can pass it off as something that happened when we were all too drunk to stand.' Am I close?”
“But I was seeing Anastasia. Why would I want to get into your pants?”
“Because we've been best friends since we were three but somewhere around thirteen we both realised that we liked girls and the day I told you... Your face sort of crumbled because you realised we could never be more than friends. You recovered quickly, I'll give you that, and I could pretend I hadn't seen your reaction. But I did and it's been eating me up, knowing that I know but not being able to give you the comfort of knowing that I know...
“Or something like that.”
He was silent for so long that she began to worry that he was never going to speak again. Finally, he looked up and smiled a sad little smile.
“Thank you, Sam. You've made what I have to say much easier because now I can tell you the truth. I was going to tell you I'd been given a deep space mission and would be out of contact for years, possibly forever. But the truth is that I'm getting married and... I don't want you at the wedding. And I... I don't want to see you again. Ever.”
This was so unexpected that Sam simply sat and stared at him. “What do you mean? You really mean you don't want to see me, ever again? But why?”
“Because being in love with you has ruined every relationship I've ever had. Every time I thought I'd got over you, you popped up again and whoever I was with worked out what was going on and dumped me. I hadn't told you about Lucy because... well, you were never likely to meet her and she was never going to see that I feel more for you than for her. But I do love her. Truly love her. And I want to go on loving her and for her to go on loving me without wondering if I'm thinking about you.”
Tears sprang into Sam's eyes but she blinked them away and she did her best to smile for him. “Tom, I'm really happy for you. I hope you and Lucy have a long and happy marriage. And thank you for telling me the truth.”
“Well, I couldn't have told you if you hadn't told me, first. I... I'm going to miss you.”
“Me, too. I do love you, you know?”
“I know. Just not the way I wanted you to. I know.”
The silence stretched again, neither being willing to end the call, to end their friendship.
At last, Tom looked up and grinned. “After three?”
She grinned back and nodded. They counted together, “One, two, three!” and hit the 'End call' button together.
Remember that time...?
Date: | By: Evan
Remember that time...?
Date: | By: Joyce Juzwik
I really enjoyed your take on the topic. Two people, great friends, who almost compromised their relationship with one critical mistake, are finally brutally honest with each other. There's love there, but in a very detached way. Thing is, even though whatever relationship they ever had will end, it appears that now when they permanently part company, there will be respect for each other as well. Sad, but inevitable. Great story.
Date: | By: Mike
Great story. I like the interplay between the two, their easy bantering with a growing undercurrent of 'let's get serious for a bit'. Good dialogue too, although I did notice a couple of little things. When I read “Hey, what was the name of that girl you were seeing" for some reason I wasn't sure who was speaking. I assumed was Tom, since Sam does date girls, and had to backtrack when I realized had guessed wrong. So maybe needs a 'she said' just there. And maybe after "He nodded, his eyes misty with the memory of that night." I'd start a new paragraph.
I hope that the friendship does manage to survive.