He was always the man who was just a little out of reach. He was the man whom always made an effort to protect me, to spare time for me and to comfort me whenever I was down, yet he was my deceased boyfriend's best friend. Having been with my late boyfriend for 5 years, before he passed, made the journey of living harder, especially after his funeral.
My boyfriend died upon impact shielding me in the passenger seat, with him in the back seat, trying to do the same. I felt like I owed my boyfriend my life for what he had done, and not once did I ever doubt his love for me. We had plans, to build a house, to marry and have a bunch of wonderful kids; it was the dream. Yet that dream was never to be lived, for a truck, in a rush to make its deadline, ran a red light just as our lights had turned green. I don't remember how many times I cried in the days leading to my beloved's funeral. It was torture for me, and him.
Yet years passed, I slowly got myself together, and having had him always by my side, it felt like I was always going to be safe. Naturally he was different to my beloved, his personality, his gentleness, his hugs, but we never talked of moving forward to what could be something. The guilt for his best friend, and my late boyfriend, made it hard to make any progress.
Rarely did he ever slip up or say anything that would make it awkward between us, and I did the same. Playing it safe and remaining as friends was our highest priority, despite many around us constantly suggesting we would make the perfect couple. Yes, we knew each other well enough to establish something with a strong base. Yes, we had a lot in common. But sadly yes, the only reason we were connected to each other socially, was because he was my beloved's best friend, and I was his best friend's girlfriend. My beloved's face would always pop up whenever I felt something different to friendship. I had longed to be loved by a man for so long, and with much encouragement from friends, family and him I embarked on new paths with other men. Yet none felt as comfortable as him. He was special and it was hard to contain myself whenever I was around him.
"Elaine?" he called out to me, waving his hand in front of my face, I blinked a couple of times before realizing I had spaced out once again, "Is everything okay?"
"I'm fine," I replied, looking around to where I was. How could I forget? The usual Sunday brunch with him, why did I have to always make him worry?
"Well, as I was saying, there is a guy I know who I think may make a lovely candidate to making you happy," he continued as the waitress brought their meals. Why didn't he understand from the many times I had turned to him for comfort, that he was what I wanted? Why couldn't I move on from Grant?
"Oh really?" I replied with a quick smile, grabbing my cutlery, "What is he like?"
"He likes walks on the beach, pina coladas, and donuts," he joked, a grin forming on his charming face, I raised an eyebrow at him.
"How do you know him?"
"He just recently joined our firm," he was setting me up with a guy he most likely hardly knew. How could he be so insensitive? He was your typical employee in a business firm, with the daily grind of a nine to five schedule. I could only assume this new employee was the same?
"You're setting me up with a guy you hardly know?" I asked in disbelief.
"You didn't really let me finish Elaine," he rebutted, "I went to college with him,"
"He's a really nice guy. You just might like him," he concluded, before digging into his meal more. I also continued my meal, not really liking the direction of the conversation. I had wondered where his endless supply of men came from, he most certainly wasn't gay, so it wasn't like he scouting random males to play candidate to my partnership. What bugged me more was that in the time since Grant passed away, he hadn't had one single relationship. It felt like his main purpose from that day onwards was to find someone suitable enough for me to continue my happiness.
"You really like setting me up with random guys you know huh?" I muttered, instantly regretting the sentence that left my mouth. I carefully looked up at him to see his reaction, my assumption was right; he didn't like what he heard.
"Is it really wrong for me wanting you to be happy?" he asked, looking rather hurt.
"I don't know how many blind dates I can go on," I complained, "Is it really that important that I find someone?"
"It's important to me,"
"And why is that?" I questioned, putting my cutlery down and my full attention on him now, "Did you promise this to Grant or something?" there. I had said it. From the day we both established we were moving on from the accident, not once was Grant brought up. Even during his death anniversary, we would simply visit his grave, pay our respects and leave soon afterwards, afraid that the pain would return like a second nature.
He was shocked; he just stared at me blankly, not knowing how to respond. I felt tension between us, and if anything, I just wanted to slice it with my knife – it was hard to deal with. Not once did we really have any conflicts with each other, and I was pretty sure neither one of us expected any conflict to do with Grant to tear us apart. But I did have to say, I was tired from the various men that had come in and out of my life since Grant died. They were all set up by my friends, my family and by him. Why was everyone so caught up in finding me with another man but it was obvious I didn't click with any of them? The only man who had been around long enough to be a part of my life was sitting right in front of me and it killed me that he never considered himself as a potential candidate. Surely he would have figured something out already? Why else would I still be single right? Yet he was constantly out of reach by just a little, he was there but not close enough to touch. I yearned to know what it would have been like if we were together. I yearned it so much I had already pushed away the fact he was Grant's best friend; I wanted him that badly.
"Something's bothering you huh?" he asked, starting on his breakfast again, "You never seemed to speak up about any of the other guys you've met,"
"Haven't you noticed that my friends and family have given up on setting me up on blind dates?" I asked, hoping he would follow their example.
"That's because they don't know what kind of guy you would be interested in," he answered, "They just suggested any male they knew within their social circle. I might have done the same, but at least I carefully went through the compatibility with you, before making the introduction," he was right, my mother began going through my phone book and thinking to herself whether any of them had sons who were currently within my age bracket and single. She stopped when I had put my foot down and exclaimed that if she continued, I would remain single for the rest of my life and will never give her grandchildren. Being an only child, this little tantrum worked like a charm and nothing of that sort ever happened again within the household.
In my mind, Grant had always been perfect, I had a long time in accepting his flaws and wished so much that he hadn't left me behind to find another. It was a painful process and the fact that everyone made it their private mission to find another man for me, made me bitter towards relationships full stop. It was probably half the reason why I didn't bother giving any blind date some effort. I would be polite and lady-like, but nothing else. None of my actual personality from radiate from me. Truth be told, I could have just been scared of dating again with the guilt of betraying Grant. But know the loveable man that he was, I knew he would have wanted me to find happiness in another man, to fulfill the dreams I had planned with him, so that I would live my life to the fullest. But was it wrong for me to imagine that life with his best friend?
"Elaine, what's really wrong?" he asked me, now putting his cutlery and looking directly at me, I avoided his eyes.
"I'm so tired of this. Really I am!" I replied, feeling tears well up in my eyes, "Is it wrong that I don't want anything for now?"
"You were the one who told me you were ready. It's been almost 4 years since Grant passed away. He wouldn't want you to live alone,"
"But I'm not alone. Can't you see that? I have my family and my friends. I'm content with just that,"
"And when you are alone?"
"I have you," I blurted out, my eyes widening when I realized what I said. He seemed surprised at my answer as well. We both knew it to be true; whenever I was going to be home alone, he would always come over or call me to keep me company. Whenever I needed someone to talk to, he was always free. As I looked deeper into his green eyes, why did it feel like my words had hit him hard? Like he was realizing something and it was quite a lot?
"Say something damn it!" I shrieked. He wiped his mouth with his napkin and then grabbed his wallet from his back pocket. Well done Elaine, you had made him mad enough for him to leave. He got up from seat and dumped the napkin on top of his plate.
"And what if I'm not around?" He started, grabbing a couple of bills from his wallet, "Do you really think you can be as content as you say you are?" he continued, tossing the bills beside his plate before taking his leave. I watched him leave and instantly felt a hold tear itself deep inside me. I must have been really selfish this time, for him to just walk out on me during a meal. If he was mad at me, we would just continue whatever we were doing in silence, to collect our thoughts, and then apologizing for the lousy time spent upon leaving the venue. But this time, it seemed different. I sighed heavily, pushing my tears back into my eyes; I refused to cry in public, whether anyone's eyes were on me or not, it was definitely not my style. I had also cried enough to last me a lifetime when Grant died. It was times like this when I really wished Grant hadn't left me, whenever Grant was mad, he'd just tell me straight so that I would learn not to do, whatever I did, again. I missed him so much and wished that he were with me instead of being alone. Alone… I was all alone now. Having made him so mad, I didn't know whether I would be able to patch things up again. It wouldn't revert back to the way it was if I were to apologize. I felt numb as I picked up my knife and fork and began eating again. Like I feeling I got from what had happened, my food had gone stone cold.
He never called me for the next couple of days, or was it a couple of weeks? Since I needed to use the annual leave I had saved up from work, I took the opportunity to have a solo get-away. I had quite a bit in the bank so there was no limit to where I could go. As I browsed on the web for places to go, late one night, my phone rang and his name appeared on my phone. I quickly grabbed it, but for some odd reason hesitated in answering. I watched it ring in my hand as I debated with myself on whether I should answer or not. Finally, from the hurt I felt from our conversation and him storming out without being able to explain myself, I let it ring out. My phone rang a couple of times that night, and I knew very well by then that he was probably drunk. From my knowledge, he only ever got drunk when he had a lot on his mind and wanted a temporary escape. He was known by almost everyone that he was your typical drunk dialer. In an attempt to muffle the vibrating from my phone ringing, I stuffed it in my sock draw, and deciding that Paris seemed nice. A couple of weeks to admire the beautiful city seemed enough for me to get my mind off things. I found the earliest flight possible and booked it, along with my accommodation. This was going to happen, and no one was going to take this opportunity of self-development trip away from me.
The next thing I knew, I was in Paris soaking in the beautiful city streets, eating fresh bread almost everyday and going to all the tourist attractions. The Notre Dame was my favorite place, and since I was going to be staying in Paris for 3 weeks, I visited there often, wanting to bask in its beauty. The architecture was simply baffling and I often found myself looking for different angles to take pictures of the church. Another thing I loved doing whilst in Paris was looking for new art to admire. Paris was full of talented artists who just loved sitting anywhere and everywhere just to sketch or paint the city as they artistically saw it. It seemed fitting to explore the city and watch the local artists complete their works of art. I bought a couple of sketches and paintings (on paper) to take home with me, with the plan of framing them and hanging them around my apartment when I got home. Yet no matter how much I amused myself with the city that was aesthetically pleasing to the curious eye, when I would get myself back to my hotel, freshen up and lie in bed, my mind would wonder back to him. Wondering how he was, whether he had found out about my trip overseas and whether he was thinking of me. I felt stupid even thinking he would be thinking of me in that way. For most girls it would make them feel butterflies in their stomachs, whereas for me, I felt sick, knowing very well that he would never see me in that light. I had been on so many blind dates; I must have blinded myself with the illusion of something, which I had thought was there, when it really wasn't. I guess one of the reasons I picked Paris was because it was known as the city of love. Perhaps I was hoping for a dreamy French man to sweep me off my feet so quickly I would completely forget about him. I was reaching the end of the trip and none of the men I had come across seemed to have caught my eye. I was beating myself up for always comparing them to him back home. It wasn't like he was waiting for me or anything, he was probably still mad at me for leaving so suddenly so much as an apology for the way I treated him during brunch.
I sighed to myself heavily as I lay in the hotel room for the last night of my trip. I really didn't want to go back to reality. My return hadn't really hit me until I started buying souvenirs for my family and friends. During my shopping trip I saw a rather nice pen, which I could definitely imagine him using whilst at work. Without necessarily thinking, I bought it and it was when I had left the store that I was kicking myself for buying something for him, when the point of the trip was to forget about him. I didn't want to forget him completely, just the feelings I had build up inside me, so that we could just make up with the mutual agreement of friendship only. I could then go back to the usual blind dates to make him feel that he was making a difference in my life and helping me move on from Grant.
Funny enough, I had an easy flight home and wasn't feeling jetlag or lethargic from my trip. If anything, I had a lot of energy, considering it was just before noon and a beautiful day as well, I dropped my luggage off at my apartment, taking only my keys and my favorite book with me, and went for a stroll in the park. As I walked down a familiar footpath I smelled the fresh air, as the trees swayed in the light spring breeze. There was just enough sun for you to be warm, and the chill from the breeze was just enough to clear your nose. I found a nearby bench and sat myself down, opening up my book from the beginning, readying myself for a good read.
I could tell it was just after lunch, because the park suddenly became a little busier, and I had already gotten to half the book. I decided to stop reading for a bit, just to soak in the scenery around me. I could see Mr. Rogers walking his gorgeous Dalmatian along the strip of shops nearby. Mrs. Eckleshot was outside of her flower shop, putting some new flower arrangements on the stand outside, it seemed she was having a good day in sales if she was replenishing her display during the early afternoon. As I continued scanning the area around me, my eyes landed on the group of buildings, one of them being his main office. I stared at the collection of buildings for a little while, before opening up my book again to continue reading. I was just getting into the chapter I had started when I heard a familiar voice.
"May I sit?" I looked up from my book, to see he was standing on the footpath in adjacent to the bench I was sitting on. I nodded with a quick smile, before going back to my book, "It's been a while since I last saw you Elaine," he said gently, as he took a seat next to me. I could feel my heart beating hard against my rib cage it was almost unbearable.
"Yes it has," I replied shortly. I didn't want to appear rude, but I guess you could say I was still somewhat bitter at the fact the last time we saw each other, was his back, as he walked away from me during brunch.
"I heard from Leah that you went overseas. Quite the spontaneous one you are, aren't you?" he began again.
"Yes I did. I went to Paris," I replied, he sighed after my answer, obviously not satisfied with my answer.
"Come on Elaine. Can't you give me just a little bit of your time? I promise that after I say what I have to say, I won't bother you again," he exclaimed. To honor his request, I pulled out an old bookmark from the back of the book and placed it where I was up to, as I did this, I heard him chuckle. I looked at him, rather confused as to what he found funny.
"Reading that old thing again huh? That book, from memory is at least four years old Elaine," he commented, nodding his head in the direction of my book, which was sitting on my lap.
"How is it that you remember that?" I asked, rather curious.
"I gave you that book and that very bookmark on your birthday," he answered with a smile, "I'm surprised you don't remember,"
"I remember well, I just didn't expect you to remember which year your bought this for me," I responded, feeling a little special that he remembered such a simple thing.
"So how was your trip?"
"Can I ask why you're not at work right now?"
"I only have a half day today. They are doing some maintenance on the electrical circuits in the office, that building is getting rather old,"
" I see,"
"You didn't answer my question though,"
"Because I already answered before?"
"You only told me you went to Paris, not how your trip went," It seemed I failed to see the error in my previous comment. I didn't know whether it was because I was nervous or because the only thing I was thinking of doing was hugging him tight. But I just couldn't bring myself to do that; since I wasn't so sure what position I was in with him.
"My trip was pleasant. Paris is really beautiful and magical as they say in the brochures,"
"I would imagine you must have had a field day visiting Norte Dame and all the artists there," he summarized, my jaw dropped. How did he know all this? "You look surprised?"
"Were you spying on me or something?"
"How can I spy on you in Paris? I have work and I didn't find out about your trip until I bumped into Leah at the groceries just last week,"
"I see," my heart sank, I felt like my trip meant nothing to him. It was like as if he carried on with everyday life, and didn't concern himself with my absence. The one thing that could finish me off was if he told me he had found someone. This could send me to the edge to the point of me wanting to move interstate.
"Although I was surprised that you didn't even tell me. I know we weren't talking for a little while, but surely a little notice would have been nice,"
"I didn't think it was necessary,"
"It was my belief that no matter what happened between us, I would still be within your inner circle. So I would be one of the first few people notified of anything you decide to do. Whether it be spontaneous or planned," I remained silent at this, I didn't know whether to feel special that he cared, or hurt. Only because the week before my trip, not once did he make the effort to call me. Or should it have been me calling him?
"Am I not that important to you any more Elaine?" he asked me, causing me to look at him. His facial expression changed from his usual composed manner to concern, having seen my face. It wasn't until he wiped a tear from under my left eye that I realized I was crying. I wiped the rest of my tears to save him the trouble.
"You know, while you were gone, even before you had apparently flown overseas. I had some time to think about what we spoke about during brunch," I shivered, scared of what I was going to hear from him. I actually didn't want to revert back to just a normal friendship. I wanted it to be more than just what it was originally. If Grant really wanted me happy, he wouldn't stop us for being together, if he also felt the same way about me that is.
"I was trying to figure out why you reacted the way you did. All I knew was that I was introducing you to my new work mate. Nothing harmless right?" he asked, I remained silent, looking at the ground, "You don't get frustrated or upset unless there is a reason behind it, so I thought to myself, why would going on another plain blind date upset you so much?" he paused, watching a teenager jog past us, "Elaine?" I tore my eyes from the ground to look back at him, "Do you have feelings for me?" I could feel my heart beating, if possible, faster and harder than it was before. A couple more tears fell down as I struggled to answer him.
"Yes," I answered, more tears falling down my face. I watched him looking at me and couldn't read his face for even the slightest clue to what he was thinking or feeling.
"Why are you crying?" He asked, wiping my tears gently with both hands. I tried my best to turn my head away from him, and away from his grasp, but he firmly held my head and turned my head back to facing him.
"Because I know you don't see me that way," I choked. He let go of my face after I answered him, I took the chance to turn away and wipe my eyes but the tears just kept flowing out. How did I end up feeling so positive and full of energy, to scared, upset and crying?
"You know, if you had told me this during brunch, I would have rejected those feelings," he started, causing more tears to drop from my eyes. I just couldn't take it, why of all people, did it have to be him who I fell for after Grant's death? Why couldn't it have been someone else? Naturally you can't go against whom your heart chooses, because it will only respond to that person it has chosen for you. But what should happen if that person is on the same boat as you? How are you supposed to recover from that heartbreak?
"Whereas whilst you were gone, and I had no way of contacting you while you were away, I had a lot of time to think things through. A lot of questions filled my head. Like 'What is she doing now?' and 'How did it turn out like this?' Shortly after Grant's death, I vowed to myself to find someone who could make you just as happy as Grant once did. I constantly told myself that I was not allowed to be that man because I felt it was like betraying my best friend. Grant would never want you to be left alone to live in this world and he strived always to ensure of your happiness. I also inherited that mission when he was still alive and after his death," I listened carefully, not wanting to miss anything, but also dreading what his overall response was to my feelings, "But you see Elaine, without really realizing it, yet alone acknowledging it, ensuring your happiness became something more than just a mission to enable Grant to rest in peace. It became something I truly wanted for you. But I also became a little selfish, I wanted to be the reason why you were happy," he paused, as if trying to collect his thoughts and say everything right. I clenched my eyes tight, waiting for him to continue. "What I am trying to say is, these past few weeks without you around, made me realize just how much you really mean to me. I can't imagine being without you, not hearing your voice every day, or you with anyone else," After he continued, my heart stopped beating so hard, and it felt like it made a massive jump in excitement. I couldn't believe what I was hearing, and before he could say anything more, I brought him closer and kissed him, holding his face close to mine. He didn't seem surprised, since he made no means of protesting from my sudden action. If anything, he reciprocated and brought my body closer to him, by wrapping his arms around my waist. When we parted from our kiss, he took one of his hands back to wipe the rest of my tears from my face. A big smile creeping up on his face as he did this, he rested his forehead one mine and closed his eyes, still smiling; I did the same.
"I guess you seemed to already know who was right to make you happy," he said, "I just wasn't ready for it,"
"I guess so?" I replied, jumping for joy on the inside that at my search was over. I really couldn't believe what was happening. He was finally in my arms and here to stay. From being just out of reach, I had come to the conclusion he was never really out of reach. I was already reaching ninety percent of the way; it was just up to him to reach out to me to make up for the remaining ten percent. I was happy, with high hopes that I was well on my way to fulfilling the dreams I had once planned to share with Grant. But I figured that upon Grant's death, he must have wished really hard that the two of us would survive. To help each other stand from his parting, but also to reach out to each other in all ways possible, including love. All that I know now is that I'll always remember Grant as my first love the one who taught me how to love. But his best friend was the one who showed me to love who I was through the hard times and to embrace what has been bestowed on you. And if ever I struggled to reach something, to believe it was never too far for me to one-day hold. It would one day move closer, for me to grab a hold of and never let go.