The timbre in Katie's screaming voice when she announced the good news coupled with shrieks of exhilaration coming from Diane and Marissa had made every startled, befuddled, and displeased face inside the fancy restaurant turned to our table. As much as I, Pam, am mortified by the unwanted attention that we were receiving, I couldn't allow it to get the better of me. After all, one of my three best friends is finally setting off to an everlasting union with a man whom she has loved for years, and we just have about every right to be festive, don't we?
I may have not shrieked the way Diane and Marissa did though, but I did take the plunge into seizing a wondrous look (and some drooling, too) at the posh engagement ring that the elated Katie was showing off, causing us to articulate words of admiration over the sparkling ornament.
"That looks expensive."
It only took for our dinner to arrive at our table courtesy of the accommodating waiter by the name of Larry to suddenly transform our overly euphoric selves back to the well-behaved (and hungry) adults that we were. Still, the exuberant expression never left our faces, and this was moreover illustrated when the four of us chatted away like we have never chatted before, flouting completely the renowned dictum during meals, "Don't talk when your mouth is full."
After dinner and a shared bottle of red wine, the four of us were then set to leave. Just like the rest of the ritual Friday dinners in the past, Diane rode with me. Since the village where she and her husband Henry live is along my way, I made sure to drop her by each time.
However, there was something different about Diane during the drive. She had become exceptionally quiet when throughout the dinner she had been very bubbly and did the talking a lot. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her folded her arms tightly over her chest, rested her head on the car window and heaved a long sigh. I couldn't exactly make out what the sigh meant, but one thing was for sure—something was undeniably bothering her.
I could have left Diane be, respect her silence. Anyway, if she wanted to talk about her problem, she would not hesitate in doing so. Then again, we were halfway near her home and except for her light and brief giggles from my jokes and terse responses to my narratives, nothing really remarkable had come out from her mouth since the drive. Diane's bewildering behavior had placed me in a bubble of outright suspicion, and in a matter of a few seconds, that bubble had finally erupted.
I parked my car at a curb somewhere in the Park Boulevard. Before Diane could question the abrupt cessation of our journey to home, I beat her with all my haste to it. "Are you okay?"
Diane looked at me, a bit shocked. But she quickly smiled and answered, "I'm okay, Pam."
I'm no psychologist, and I didn't need either to have supernatural skills to detect that the smile that molded Diane's lips was a forced one. "You know, you might seriously want to try changing your strategy in attempting to hide what's bothering you, because it surely is getting old now. I've known you since high school, girl. I know the meaning of every crease that turns up on your face. Come on, spill the beans."
And that's when Diane's strained smile vanished, briefly superseded by a confused face, and then followed by a fit of wail which she unswervingly covered with the help of her palms.
"Oh my God, what's wrong ,Diane?" I worriedly asked, rubbing her arm to soothe her. "Is it Henry?"
I don't know why her husband was the first thing that came to my mind as the reason for her sudden outburst of wretchedness, but she nodded.
"Is he cheating?" I offered, somewhat hysterical by the thought that my best friend is deeply troubled by an atrocious and unforgivable deed—a transgression that all of us four friends have vowed that should our men had gotten tangled into it, revenge is the only thing to go about.
Diane instantly showed her glum face to me, shaking her head frantically as she answered, "No! Henry is not cheating!"
"Then what is it?" I asked, shrugging my shoulders in puzzlement.
It took Diane to succumb to a fleeting moment of whimpering again before finally divulging, "I'm leaving Henry, Pam."
While Diane covered her tear-soaked face once again, perhaps out of guilt from what she just told me, I was left to dwell in my utter shock. Questions started racing my mind at once. "What happened? Why are you leaving him? If he didn't cheat," I suspiciously squinted my eyes at her, "are you the one who's cheating on him?"
The last query was a bit foul, I must admit. How dare I, her best friend, question her faithfulness toward Henry? But one of the reasons why Katie, Diane, Marissa and I have such strong friendship is that we can be open about anything. So even if I was a bit bothered by the last issue I raised, I was also somehow confident that Diane took no offense to it.
"No…no…I did not cheat on him, Pam," Diane defended peacefully, and I yanked a sigh out of pure relief from that. The last thing I really wanted to find out from her was that she did something the four of us had always abhorred in men and vowed not to take into practice by hook or by crook—cheating. Diane went on, "it's just that I…I want Henry to be truly happy…and—and I can't give that to him…"
"What do you mean you can't give that to him?" I was essentially taken aback by that testimony. And that particular reaction came with very logical reasons. "Diane, I was there from the moment Henry courted you up to the point when he married you. I may not be seeing the two of you together always, but I'm pretty sure there was nothing that could make Henry the happiest man alive but your love for him. Wait…you…don't love him anymore? Is that it?"
"Oh, Pam, no! I love him…I love Henry so much."
Drooping my shoulders, I wrinkled the bridge of my nose in profound confusion coupled with a smidge of impatience. It's one of those feelings when you're itching to be victorious in answering a good puzzle but turns out that you really can't. It can be maddeningly frustrating. "I don't get it. Henry is not cheating. You are not cheating. You love him. He loves you. Why are you leaving him?"
I waited as Diane took a bundle of effort in composing herself. Once she did, she looked at me with those sad, watery eyes, and I could tell that by looking back and through those dark brown orbs, she was burdened with something seriously heavy. I know Diane well enough that she loved Henry so much and that when she made that eternal vow with him during their marriage, that she would stop at nothing to keep their love burning. Same goes with Henry. But unless I can rake into Diane's head, I may never be able to help her. Both of them.
And angels knew how much I wanted to do that. I had brought Diane and Henry together. Made them boyfriend and girlfriend during junior high school. Heck, I made them husband and wife right after college! So to see them breaking apart also ruptures my heart.
Aside from that, no matter how sickeningly mushy Diane and Henry can be most of the time, Marissa, Katie and I have always believed in their genuine love for each other. We very well knew nothing is perfect in this world but Diane and Henry's seemed to be an epitome of perfection because their relationship is so strong. They've suffered their own share of hurdles through the years yet none of those had ever kept the invisible love knot that binds them together got disentangled. For what they've shown and proven over time, that knot even interweaved securely, making the three of us go green with envy of the two of them. How we wish there was a man out there, ready and willing to give war against any detrimental obstacle that fate would bowl upon our way.
"I can't give Henry a child, Pam," Diane finally uttered, her dismayed tone and expression were nothing like I've seen and heard from her before. "I'm infertile."
"Oh, dear…" I threw and wrapped the wailing Diane in my comforting arms. I wanted to appease her, assure her with the overrated "it's going to be okay" phrases, but as a woman myself, I understand the magnitude of despair of not being able to give your man or husband a child, especially for a guy like Henry who badly wanted one. So I remained hushed and allowed Diane to cry her grief out on my shoulder. I couldn't help but chuck a few silent tears here and there as well. I could feel the intensity of Diane's distressing sentiments through her helpless hold on me. I could feel her torment in not wanting to leave Henry but seemed as if she had no choice but to do so.
And if I could only do something immediate to ease her distress to an enormous degree, I would. I really, really would.
"I'm going to tell Henry I cheated on him," Diane said when she let go. "It's the only reason I could think of so he'd hate me and leave me." She sounded confident, but scrutiny told me not one iota did she like her own idea.
"Diane," I gasped loudly, completely appalled. "You don't have to go to as far as Henry hating you. Why don't you just tell him the truth?"
"Because he will leave me anyway, Pam," Diane sobbed raucously at that. "And I'd rather be hurt by lying than telling the truth."
"But Henry deserves to know the truth. He is your husband, after all," I reminded her, fastidiously, as though she had forgotten that one true detail. "Besides, what if he doesn't care if you don't have a child after all? What if it's okay with him? What if the truth doesn't change anything between the two of you? Aren't you willing to take that chance?"
Diane's tearful eyes gazed afar, thoughtfully digesting all the questions I poured at her. On the verge of doing so, my phone resonated throughout my car. I fumbled inside my bag and once got hold of the device, I took a peep at the caller—who I actually had no plans of entertaining whatsoever. Diane needed one of her best friends and my time was all I wanted to give to her at this point, especially when her judgment is so bent in leaving her husband—which I decisively will stop at nothing from happening.
I was wholeheartedly ready to reject the call but upon seeing that familiar name on the lighted screen, I briskly changed my mind.
"Wait here, alright," I strictly told Diane who seemed to be studying by heart all the issues I recently raised. "It's just important that I take this call. I won't be long, I promise."
Diane meekly nodded in response. I climbed out of the driver's seat, closed the door, and then treaded a few steps away from my car before answering the phone.
"Henry," I mumbled, coasting my gaze back to the desolate woman inside the vehicle in case she heard me or was looking at me and somehow read my lips. Gladly, she didn't. Diane was still very much engrossed in her thoughts. Hopefully, the what-if questions I brought up seconds ago will slap some gigantic heap of sense into her. I didn't know what prompted me not to tell Diane about Henry calling, but I had a plan. And I'm crossing my fingers it's going to work out—damn well enough for these two lovebirds to not pitch their marriage into the kingdom of failure.
"Pam!" Henry was definitely thrilled to hear from me, but in critically discerning his tone, I could sense that he was also agitated and worried. "Is Diane with you? I know you have your usual get-togethers every Friday night but I was able to get out of the office earlier and—and I thought of fetching her from the restaurant where you had dinner but I can't seem to contact her. Her phone seemed to have run out of battery? Is she with you? Oh God, I hope she's alright."
I couldn't help but smile from Henry's over-the-top alarm for the safety of my best friend—his wife. To actually save his effort from showing off that concern, I could have cut him short of his speech and assure him that Diane was with me. But I didn't. No, there was no fun in hearing him worry for Diane, but it amused me in the sense that Henry loves her that much. It's rather entertaining to see two people show how much they love each other, doesn't it?
My smile faded though when the thought of Diane leaving him because of her inability to bear a child and moreover lie to him about it had cruised back to my memory. From the look of things, Henry has barely an idea of Diane's imminent agenda to place their marriage in the category of letdowns. After all, he wouldn't be this worried if he'd known already. His gaudy display of fret over his "lost" wife at this moment is certainly not a picture of a troubled and melancholic husband who had been lied to and left by his wife. Definitely not.
There's no doubt though that the terrible news of Diane's infertility will completely dishearten Henry, but he deserves to learn of it as much as Diane deserves to know his actual say in the whole situation. And that's my plan: to make the two discuss about the issue in question and try and settle it. I myself have no clue how the couple's confrontation will turn up. Heck, I have even no right to meddle into their affairs! I may have acted a human Cupid and brought Diane and Henry together but I am as much as an outsider to their relationship as their respective families and friends. Still, I cannot discount the fact that I've been a huge part in shaping their love bond from the very beginning and as a believer of the truth, it's fairly appropriate for me to intrude. I just cannot sit and watch them shatter the chain they've worked so hard to build and bolster over the years by one sheer unnecessary lie. Whether they are truly destined to be with each other or not, it had to be done the proper way. And I'm going to make sure I'll be there to implement that.
"Sorry, Henry, I'm a bit out of myself lately." I said, snapping my senses out of reverie.
"In love?" Henry teased.
"Heck, no!" What, just because he's in love, all the people around him are in love, too? This guy gravely needs to get in touch with the real world. He's been loitering in fantasy land for way too long. "But yes, Diane is with me," I quickly backed up to drop the I'm-in-love subject. "I'm just about to drop her off to your love nest."
I heard Henry drew a hefty sigh of relief. "Thank God. Can I talk to her?"
"Uhm…no, you can't."
"WHAT?" Henry's high pitch almost knocked off my eardrum to total destruction. "Why not?"
Gosh, this man seriously needs to trim down his madness for Diane. While we all think it's dreamy, it can also be a bit disquieting at times.
"Can't you wait?" I somewhat incredulously asked of him.
"I haven't talked to my wife for the whole day!" Henry was becoming frenzied. "The whole day, Pam!"
"I heard you the first time." So Diane had already been avoiding Henry? Which means she's already making her plan come to life?
"Then let me talk to her. I want to hear her voice!"
Messing with a desperate man can end up in violent and horrible results. But allow me to use it in my scheme. The more desperate he is, the more he'd (probably) be understanding of Diane's predicament.
"Hey!" I yelled quite impatiently. "Keep on whining like a three-year-old and you won't get your wish."
"Aw, come on, Pam, don't be so hard-headed. Pass the phone to Diane…puh-leeeeees…" Imagine him uttering the last word in a teensy weensy, cutesy as a chipmunk's voice. Crass, I tell you. Purely crass.
Oh, crap—Henry has definitely gone moonstruck. I'm betting my Hermes bag Diane can take the cheating part for real and Henry wouldn't flinch in forgiving her for it.
"I said, no," I insisted.
"Because?" Henry's impatient voice was starting to edge, but I could sense he was trying with all his patience to keep it from coming out.
"Because your wife's mouth is all taped up and is tied against a chair." I tried to sound as casual as possible, undaunted by the irritation skulking out of the person on the other end of the line.
Henry fell abruptly silent, and then cackled before animatedly voicing out his sarcastic response to my statement, "that's funny, Pam! Really. Really. Funny!"
"No, it's not. I'm not joking, Henry." I said flatly. "Diane has been kidnapped."
Henry plummeted into another pit of silence. I could picture an agape expression smearing his face right now. But shortly thereafter, his outraged voice boomed against my ear, screaming, "BY WHO?", which at this time could have really made a serious and full-blown mutilation to my eardrum.
However, pulling off the kidnapping joke was way too funny for me I didn't care that much about the fairly high level of impairment my sense of hearing had incurred. So I evilly sniggered like a six-year-old chubby scoundrel who duped a grandfather by hiding his dental plate somewhere (no matter how disgusting that sounded like) before answering the question smugly, "by me."
Right. So the joke didn't turn out to be a bestseller after all. Well, at least for me it was.
Damn it! And I thought I could flourish a career out of being a comedian and give Adam Sandler a run for his fame and money.
"If you don't let Diane speak to me, I swear, I am going to do everything to convince my wife not to appear on your ritual Friday dinners."
If I badly needed tutorials in trying to be funny, Henry awfully needed lessons in pulling off effective threats. He just blatantly sucked in that department.
"That's the best threat you can come up with?" I mocked. Did he honestly think he can scare me with that?
Henry didn't reply right away. He must have recognized his own lack of skills in intimidation. But perhaps not wanting to be outfoxed by me, he clung like superglue to the threat he just made.
"Yes, and I just know that Diane is going to listen to me." The melody he used in his tone was so bouncy I could imagine him dancing along to his statement. The guy was that confident.
And I wish I could say, "pal, your wife is already planning on leaving you, I don't think she'd still listen to anything you say." Oh, that would be an awesome comeback!
But of course, I didn't say that. For one, it's not like we are in a real warfare that required throwing cannonballs of snide remarks. Henry is like the brother-who-gets-easily-annoyed that I never had, and I was just being the pesky-sister-who-loves-to-annoy-the-brother-who-gets-easily-annoyed that he never had. Second of all, that would be mean, and I'm not mean enough to make such remark. And third, I wasn't in the position to tell him that. Let the wife do the bean spilling. My role was to merely make that happen.
"Which planet has your sense of humor had skyrocketed to? Go try and get it back," is what I said instead.
"You know, it'll save us both a lot of time, and my money right now if you could just pass the phone to Diane," Henry gritted. "I just needed to be assured that my wife is perfectly doing fine. Come on, Pam, be the angel that you've always been and let me talk to Diane. Now."
Henry was right. I'm procrastinating. It's time I get on with my plan.
"The problem is…Diane doesn't want to talk to you. What made you think her phone ran out of battery? Of course it hasn't. She turned it off because she's avoiding you."
The boy who cried wolf—or in my case, the girl—was the first thing that came to my mind when Henry thought I was joking again. I hope my story serves a lesson for everyone who will try to initially pull a (corny) joke and then the truth for the next. Yes, do think of my story. Learn from it. Be inspired from it.
"You and Diane need to do some talking more than just through the phone. Meet us at the Balboa Park," I added.
Henry must have sensed the gravity in my voice, he overlooked the idea of me joking him again. "What's really going on here, Pam?"
"Go to Balboa Park so you'll know, Henry. You remember where it is, right?"
"The hell I do! That's where Diane officially became my girlfriend and where I proposed to her for marriage."
"Right." And before Henry could have another question or argument to state, I reiterated, "Balboa Park. We'll be there in five minutes," and then hung the phone up.
Judging from the turmoil in Diane's emotional and mental state as of the moment, Balboa Park was probably the last place she would want to be at.
"Why are we here, Pam?" Diane asked dubiously the second I parked the car at a side street.
I simply smiled at her after pulling the key from the ignition. "I know I'm supposed to bring you home but it's still early so I thought we could spend some time here and talk about your problem."
I know I've established myself as a "believer of truth," but what I told Diane just defied that point. In any case, I'm lying for good intentions, so excuse me for my fibs.
"Of all places, you decided to talk here at Balboa?"
"Don't be picky now, sweetheart. Come on, get out of the car."
Reluctantly, Diane disembarked the vehicle. We walked the park's entrance and then found a place to sit by the water fountain. I made sure I sent a message to Henry of our exact whereabouts.
"Henry likes fetching me from work," Diane suddenly said with a distant gaze and a reticent smile. "I always see the thrill in his eyes when he watches the children running the school grounds." She works as a teacher for kindergarten students. "He never failed in telling me how he couldn't wait to have his own."
I gently rubbed Diane's back when she bowed her head, trying to cast a shadow on her crestfallen countenance. "Diane, I'm aware of how much you love kids. Knowing that you won't be able to bear one torments you as much as Henry will be, okay? Don't try to sound as if it's your fault and that you need to be punished for it because it's not. Henry loves you to your very core, I'm sure he will understand and accept your condition."
Diane looked at me, her cheeks once again drenched in tears. "What if he doesn't? What if Henry decides to leave me if I do tell him the truth?"
I was about to assure Diane's fears will never happen, unfortunately it got interrupted when another voice came to light.
"What truth?" That voice belonged to Henry.
He sure was fast. I was thinking he wouldn't be at Balboa Park for another 3 to 5 minutes. But who was I to complain. In fact, I was a bit happy and thankful. Because regardless of the intensity in my attempts to conciliate Diane's worries, it's only Henry who can expunge them all.
As Henry walked closer, Diane stealthily wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand.
"Uhm…you two need to talk," I stood up and motioned to leave, but Diane tugged my wrist, causing my bum to descend back on the concrete.
"You called him to go here?" she asked me in a muted voice.
"Actually, he was the one who called me because apparently your phone was turned off. But yes, I invited him here."
Diane rolled her eyes. She appeared slightly infuriated, but I guessed it wasn't because of me cooking up this meeting that she had no idea about. Okay, maybe a little. But I was leaning more on the part that she wasn't actually prepared yet to tell Henry the truth. Heck, I bet she hasn't even casted her vote yet as to whether to tell him the truth or not.
"What's going on here?" Henry probed, his squinted eyes and cocked jaw told me that he looked very much intrigued. When he immediately found Diane's crying eyes though, he swiftly dashed to her side and cupped her face, worriedly asking what happened while he wiped the remnants of tears on her cheeks.
I found that to be really sweet so I smiled. However, when Henry suddenly turned to me with a scowl, my façade turned to a quizzical one. "You made my wife cry, didn't you?"
Diane and I gasped in accord.
This is what I get for bringing him to his wife? An accusation? I better leave or angels knew what else this crazy Henry would indict me with.
"My job is done here. I'm going to leave," I informed them, turning around.
"No, wait." Diane stopped me. "Don't leave, Pam, please. If this confession doesn't turn out to be good, I need you to be by my side…please?"
I may be perfectly confident that Diane's confession to Henry of her inability to bear a child will yield a happy ending, but the what-if-it-won't question didn't fall short to beleaguer me as well, so I decided to stay.
"What confession, Diane?" I could sense in Henry's look and tone that his perplexity was swelling. I bet there was nothing more he would want to hear at the moment than the answers to his questions that were obviously all have been ignored.
Diane faced Henry. I know how difficult this was to do for her. But judging from her momentary silence, it seemed as though she was gathering what's left of her courage. She breathed deeply, and then in a meek voice, she began to speak. "Remember when I asked you what will make you happy and complete, and having as much children as we can was your answer? Well…that's not possible, Henry…at least, with me it's not…because I…I can't bear a child. And I'm sorry…I'm sorry because… because I… I disappointed you…" Diane was striving with all her brilliance not to cry throughout her speech, but when she ended it with her last sentence, she just burst into tears. "I will completely understand if you're going to leave me…"
Henry did not respond. I wondered if his wife's words were too much to take in for him. I wondered if he was going to leave her.
Would he really leave her?
Diane, perhaps couldn't take Henry's silence, decided to walk away.
I did not come after her. If there was one appropriate person who should do that, it would have to be Henry. But he didn't budge. And it had me stunned. I couldn't believe he was just there, standing like a statue.
"You're not going to go after her?" I still asked even though I knew the answer to it. No, he wouldn't.
I drew a frustrated sigh. I wanted to kick his balls for letting Diane go as simply as that. Or maybe I was just disenchanted by the fact that I was honestly hoping this meeting would have a beautiful outcome, yet from the looks of it, it's not.
Anyway, I ran after Diane. She was walking tediously so I was able to reach her quickly. She was still crying.
"I'm sorry, Diane," I told her. "Can you give me the blessing to whack Henry's face on every tree here in Balboa Park?"
Diane let out a faint chuckle. And I was delighted that she still got to appreciate humor even if she was an image of a dejected person walking the road of depression.
I put my arm over her shoulder and pulled her close to my side. "I'm not joking, Diane. I will really erase every part of his face, most especially his cheekbones, through these lamp posts." Henry's pair of jutted cheekbones was apparently his best feature.
Speaking of the devil, Henry unexpectedly turned up in front of us, causing me and Diane to terminate our walk. While I was still a bit enraged by his silent reaction earlier, Diane was completely taken aback.
"Please listen to me," Henry entreated to Diane, his eyes were earnestly begging for him to be heard out.
"And why would Diane do that?" I asked indignantly, enfolding my arms over my chest.
But Henry did not answer my question. He went on with what he wanted to say to Diane.
"There was no denying that I was greatly disappointed by your news. And the disappointment overwhelmed me I wasn't able to speak." Henry took a mouthful of air. "But when I was standing there, watching you slowly walking away from me, I began to realize that it wasn't just you who were leaving me…but my life as well."
I opened my mouth in astonishment. The good kind of astonishment. It seemed as if my hopes for a beautiful outcome will take place after all.
Henry went on. "You are already making me happy and complete everyday when I wake up in bed and I see your face first thing in the morning." He took Diane's hand and delicately clutched it. "I know I've always told you how I dreamed of having children…but losing you in that process wouldn't feel like achieving that dream at all…I can never see myself being with anyone else but you, Diane…"
Henry draped his arms around his wife and murmured gently to her ear, "I love you, babe, with all my heart and soul," and then wrapped the whole thing up with a sweet passionate kiss.
I felt tears trickled down my cheeks. Next thing I knew, I was crying hard, like I was watching an extremely romantic chick flick. Not only did I feel overjoyed by Diane and Henry's happy ending, I was also proud of myself—proud for being the friend that I was supposed to be with them.